In 1999, … Eric S. Raymond wrote an influential essay called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”
Raymond, a stereotypical programmer-libertarian, saw two architectural archetypes of software-development organization: the cathedral, a closed, corporate, centralized project planned for profit, and the bazaar, an open, volunteer, centerless organic community of patches crafted from love. …
Any centralized organization is a cathedral. Any decentralized movement is a bazaar. The cathedral is a single coherent building with a single purpose; the bazaar is a chaotic covered souk of alleys and stalls.
Close your eyes; the cathedral is one soaring, enclosed hymn with one clear message; the bazaar is a medley of hot, buzzing auctions for silk, opium, and broiled kid-goat. ..
Cathedrals and bazaars are different tools. They solve different problems. Neither replaces the other … Either may prove itself fair or foul, useless or essential, elegant or messy.
Regime, commons, and clientele:
In 1899, … Gaetano Mosca wrote a much-forgotten book called Elements of Political Science. Mosca, … arguably the Darwin of his field, … saw that within every governed society, all human beings can be divided into three clear sets.
One is the officials, people “in the loop” who have the power to control or affect government decisions. Anyone who isn’t an official is a subject.
The set of all officials is the regime. The set of all nonofficials is the public.
Subjects are divided into two sets by a simple accounting: clients, who are economically dependent on the regime; commoners, on whom the regime is economically dependent. Clients naturally admire the regime; commoners naturally resent it.
Individual human opinion is never deterministic. But these three human perspectives — regime, commons, and clientele — nourish three kinds of political cultures, classes, or traditions. And while there may be many distinct common and client cultures, there is almost never more than one official culture: the people who govern, plus the people who think like them. Every objective political theory is a theory of this official class. …
Democracy soon fails:
While functional democracy — in which the subjects are the ruling officials, and even the permanent full-time employees of the government are their obedient public servants — is possible, functional democracy is historically rare.
Most so-called democracies are only ceremonially so — and the few historical exceptions actually worked quite badly. One test for this condition is whether the so-called masters could replace their so-called servants. If this is unthinkable, the servants may be in charge of the masters. …
Who wanted to hear this message? Dear reader: Do you want to hear it?
Autocracy evolves, supported by its narrative:
It followed, saw Mosca, that sovereignty is not just physical but also psychological. Every regime is an autocracy. Every regime, outnumbered by its public, must obtain its psychological consent. While in theory the best way to obtain consent is to do a good job and tell the truth, in practice this strategy is not always available — or even optimal.
Organic consent is never guaranteed, even if genuinely deserved. And as regime quality declines, organic consent disappears. Therefore every regime, good or bad, must engineer its own consent. Every regime controls its subjects’ minds by managing the stories told to those minds.
An incomplete regime that neglected this task would be ceding sovereignty to any power that picked it up. Regardless of the truth, this power could paint the rest of the regime as despicable, and dominate or destroy it to become the next regime. So even the best regimes must arm themselves with psychological weapons.
In the long run, saw Mosca, there is not even any such thing as freedom of speech. Nobody believes this. I don’t even want to hear it. …
Learn to recognize the narrative:
The psychological sword of the state is the political formula. A political formula is any thought — good or bad, true or false, crazy or sane — that convinces the subject to love, serve, and obey the officials.
For instance, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is a political formula. It exhorts us to support those forces, persons, and institutions that promote, or are purported to promote, “Black Lives.” Since such forces have power (otherwise, how could they promote anything?), they must be official. …
The ideal formula has a message for each culture.
- For the regime, the best formula is self-affirming; it convinces the official class that it is doing the right thing.
- For the clientele, the best formula is self-interested; it convinces the clients that the regime is working for them.
- For the commons, the best formula is self-deprecating; it convinces the commoners to stay humble and pay their taxes.
It is easy to see how “Black Lives Matter” solves all three problems at once — a kind of sinister masterpiece. …
You thought autocracy was going to be Orwellian? Merely a magician’s distraction:
Most people know that the 20th century was characterized by universal psychological warfare…
But most people expect only one kind of psychological warfare. They expect Orwell’s stereotypical 20th-century dictatorship: centralized, cynical, and coercive. The evil Ministry of Truth knows the truth, but publishes only sinister and mendacious political formulas, punishing or censoring anyone who contradicts authorized Ministry personnel.
They expect a literal cathedral. They see no such regimented organization. They can buy all the ideas they want at any stall in the bazaar. Therefore — despite the evidence of their eyes — they conclude that their minds are free.
Some do believe their eyes — which show them a new climate of coercive repression…
The fundamental historical problem of the current period is why, though we can buy our ideas from any stall in a huge open-air bazaar, they all seem to come from the same manufacturer — exactly as if made in some cathedral. Yet there is no such conspiracy — and certainly no such agency. No person or institution is coordinating the party line.
What is the source of this anomalous unanimity? What makes a nominal bazaar behave like a functional cathedral? It must be some type of what economists call spontaneous coordination: a Darwinian arrow. Like genes, the formulas themselves become in a sense the power. …
Ceremonial versus functional:
Elizabeth II is ceremonially Queen of England, as was Elizabeth I. If we thought about U.K. politics as if Elizabeth II functionally controlled the government, like Elizabeth I — the Queen did this, the Queen decided that — any possible analysis would be useless.
No one today falls for this charade. But England has had a more or less ceremonial monarchy since 1688: old for an illusion…. Yet for half a millennium, the royal ceremony has not decayed at all. For most of that period, the monarch has been treated ceremonially as an autocrat, but functionally as a mere celebrity — a hereditary Kardashian, with a unique airline honorific.
And for most of that period, Englishmen have taken their mostly ceremonial monarchy with almost complete seriousness. Most seem convinced by the illusion. In 1914 they died in droves for their show-pony King — in a war set up by their invisible Foreign Office.
Perhaps a comparable reality-appearance disparity is affecting our marketplace of ideas, a nominal bazaar, which appears more and more to function as a cathedral? …
Woke, SJW, PC:
Let’s try these abstract theories out on a concrete problem. What is — wokeness? Where did it come from? Where is it going? What does it mean?
Start with the label itself. “Wokeness” is less than 10 years old. … I heard all this stuff 30 years ago at Brown [University]. We called it “PC” then.
Power hates to be named. Power has to stay ahead of its enemies. These labels evolve as private, informal codewords among cool insiders; are discovered by their enemies; and are abandoned by the insiders, who change their codes — then start to insist that they never used those codes in the first place. Power does not exist. …
Many still insist that “politically correct” was never used seriously.
Google has the receipts: Until the ’80s, “politically correct” meant what it meant in 1934 — “conforming to the correct political tendency.” Campus conservatives cracked the code; “advanced” critics abandoned it; and the graph needed a new scale: … “SJW” has gone the same way and “woke” is not far behind …
This is a new phenomenon? Or multiple things, sharing one label, and adding up to a single, rising, centurylong curve? …
Look behind the curtain:
At the start of the 20th century, the [American] official class combined wealth, status, and politics. At its end, the official class combined wealth, status, and intellect. Perhaps the reversal in the relative authority of politicians and intellectuals has caused a change in the types of ideas that succeed among intellectuals.
This cathedral hypothesis suggests that the marketplace of ideas becomes a monoculture when it becomes official. Power itself poisons the bazaar — selecting not for true ideas, but for important ideas — for political formulas.
We first ask whether our marketplace of ideas — journalism plus academia — is official. Not as activities, but as institutions — mainstream journalism and prestigious academia.
Nominally, the answer is clear. Harvard is a weird 17th-century nonprofit. The New York Times is a private, Nasdaq-listed company. There is no difference in formal status between a Times reporter, a Harvard professor, and a Subway prep cook. Nominally, all three have a job, like you — not a rank, like the Queen.
But if a regime can hide one of its agencies in the private sector, that agency can act with public authority but private immunity — especially if the agency comes with its own super-private immunity written into law.
Objectively, an agency is official if it controls government decisions, or the government controls its decisions. A classic Orwellian state-controlled press is easy to recognize, even if the control path is informal — such as a financial subsidy. What about the other direction: a press-controlled state?
In the modern regime, government literally leaks power into journalism, by tolerating leaks: nominally unauthorized, but objectively permitted, disclosures of confidential information to the legitimate press. Leaking is both subsidy and control.
An objectively private newspaper, without objective permission to steal government secrets and sell them, could not compete with the legitimate press. On Wall Street, selective disclosure of material nonpublic information is a crime: A public company must release all information to the whole world at the same time. If the government enforced this standard on its own employees, journalism as we know it could not exist.
Yet leaking gives the press power over government as well. The source of a leak has a bureaucratic objective; the journalist who is the conduit must share that objective. Any journalist today will admit that their personal satisfaction and their professional success is a function of “impact” — a track record of “changing the world.” These are not even subtle euphemisms for power.
Once we rename legitimate journalism as a government agency, turning all its outlets into branches of the Department of Information, all these informal anomalies start to make formal sense. …
The exercise is even easier with our prestigious universities. Not only do they receive copious subsidies, they receive a direct flow of power. Since the official government employs no experts of its own to make technical decisions, these decisions must be based on “the science.” Objectively, “the science” is whatever the Truth Officers say. …
Putting these camouflaged agencies together, we see a Department of Reality which is unquestionably the center of power in our regime. No other agency can withstand it — certainly, no elected politician can withstand it. Sovereignty equals unaccountability, and our Reality Department is accountable to no one. …
Our cathedral looks nothing like an Orwellian dystopia. Instead of being centralized, cynical, and coercive, it is decentralized, sincere, and seductive. Yet its power to weave a narrative of universal illusion may be no less — and the illusion, not the coercion, is the heart of the dystopia.
Hence the central battle: reality versus politically correct fantasies foisted upon us as reality for the political advantage of the bureaucrats and their allies. The carbon dioxide theory of global warming is a good example.
The cathedral hypothesis tells us something important: Our disease of ideas cannot be cured by ideas. The problem is structural. Truth will never beat power on this tilted playing field. The winning ideas will always be the most potent and exciting political formulas, just as vitamin C will never outsell cocaine. So how do we get out of this? …
Aristotle saw three forms of government: rule of one, rule of the few, rule of the many. He called them monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy. Our Reality Department calls them: dictatorship, democracy, and populism. …
Since we have neither any alternate oligarchy to replace these institutions, nor any legitimate procedure by which it could do so, our only possible cure for “wokeness” is a change in the structural form of government — to one of Aristotle’s two other forms, democracy or monarchy. Or as you know them, dear reader: populism or dictatorship. …
The difference is in the voter’s mind. The populist voter elects the politician as a servant: the follower of the popular will. The monarchist voter elects the politician as a master: the replacement for the popular will. The democratic voter takes power. The monarchist voter gives power.
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