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Politics

One of the central questions of human civilization is: once a man has a weapon, how do you keep him to the norms of society? How do you divert him from the train of thought: “Hey, I have a weapon! You don’t have a weapon. Why should I do what you say? Why shouldn’t you do what I say?”

Over the centuries, various methods have been tried. Military hierarchy, codes of chivalry, geographic separation, the rule of law. They don’t always work. Often, the men the weapons end up with political control. To give an example: Heian-era Japan was one of the least militarized societies in history. Poetry, Buddhism, and incense guessing were the keys to power. But in the end the ruling class, centered in the city of Kyoto, began to utilize certain of their country cousins, cousins with swords, for security. Eventually those country cousins brought their swords to the capital and ended the Heian peace, pushing the emperors to the background and establishing a millennium of military rule.

Here in the United States, we have established, laboriously, the principle of civilian control of both the military and the police. Those who hold the weapons are supposed to take orders from those who do not hold weapons. This is thought to be one of the pillars of modernity. As with many such pillars, many Americans tend to take it for granted. We don’t realize how unusual our freedom is.

The civilian population of the United States is having a discussion about the nature of police power in our society. About what role the police should play and how they should do so. If we are free, the police cannot determine the outcome of that discussion. And if they do determine the outcome, then we are not free.

Are they doing what we say? Or are we doing what they say?

Jesus pooped.

Jesus pooped and peed. All his life. Every day. He was fully God and fully human, and humans poop.

Muhammad pooped. Moses pooped. Gautama Buddha pooped. Mahavira pooped. Baha’ullah pooped. Guru Nanak pooped.

Augustus Caesar pooped, and that poop wasn’t purple. Queen Victoria pooped. Napoleon pooped. Churchill, Hitler, and Stalin all pooped.

Mao did not poop, or at least not as often as he should have. Mao suffered from chronic constipation. Perhaps this contributed toward certain tendencies of his.

Barack Obama poops. When he was in office, his staff had to carefully allocate segments of his 24-hour workday for him to poop. Even the President of the United States poops.

Jeff Bezos poops. Warren Buffett poops. Mike Bloomberg poops. No amount of money can buy off the need to poop.

Fictional characters rarely poop, relative to real life. The distance between our regular need to poop and pee and their paucity in fiction is telling. We would grow bored with stories if characters really had to poop and pee as repetitiously as we ourselves do. We look to narrative to screen out the need to poop, to offer things besides pooping, so we can pretend people don’t poop.

We all poop, with individual degrees of difficulty. We may end up with colostomy bags, but that’s just pooping in a lateral direction. If we can’t poop, we die. When our bowels call, we must stop and poop. Pooping bring us all to the same level.

This was a dream I had back in 2016. What with the continued protests against the regime, it seems appropriate to post it now.

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I dreamed I took political action. I drank a glass of water in the Tehran library.

Why this was political, I don’t know. For some reason, “drinking a glass of water at the library” had acquired overtones of opposition to the Iranian regime, and become a gesture of protest. So there I was, wandering around the stacks, a plastic tumbler full of water in my hand, waiting for someone to notice and wondering what would happen when they did.

Sure enough, a virtue monitor quickly pegged me. “Is that yours, too?” she asked, pointing to a crystal punch bowl of water, complete with ladle, that someone had left on one of the shelves. “No, no, this is all I have.” “Well, come with me.” She didn’t sound brutal. A little harried, actually. I guess there were a lot of us making this action.

As we went down to the processing room, I started to think what was going to happen to me, and how this was going to affect my wife and kids, and having second thoughts in general. Was this really the most effective means of protest?

We came to a window with a desk behind it, and another virtue monitor carefully recorded my misdeed, in pencil in an ordinary notebook. So far nothing bad had happened.

Then I woke up.

In our time, to be one who  “stands athwart history, yelling Stop” is to be doomed to perpetual disappointment. In the Unprecedented Era, change is a constant. The only way to stop one track of change is by forming another, so if one manages to stop Change X, it will cause Change Y. Either way, change wins.

The only way conservatism has managed to achieve any victories in the Era is by allying itself with capitalism. But capitalism is a fearsome champion of change, a universal solvent. No past can maintain itself where capitalism prowls. A fire might as well try to win by allying itself with the ocean. Thus the conservative becomes a tool of his own disappointment.

If we now see movement in the West toward actual constructive action in Syria, it will be a glass-case illustration of something I have long believed:

Moderates are the only people who actually get anything done in this world. But moderates require radicals because to get traction moderates need to be able to point to radicals and say “If you don’t deal with us, you’ll end up dealing with them. And those guys are crazy.”