“The Government is Us”: Brahmin Tic and the Civil War

dead soldiers, from Ewell's May 1864 attack at Spotsylvania
Dead soldiers, from Ewell’s May 1864 attack at Spotsylvania

Looking back at American history, there’s one big group of whites that harnessed the power of the Federal government to oppress another big group of whites, in what was likely the largest of all internal American events other than the conquering of the country itself.

600,000 white people died in the process of one group of whites imposing its values on another group of whites. I happen to agree with the victors that slavery is a great moral evil, but I note that most other western countries managed to end slavery without slaughtering their own people in the process.

Now let me stop and declare outright: I am not a Civil War historian, and I know there are thousands, perhaps millions of people more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. I do know, however, that Southern secession was motivated by fear that the North would outlaw slavery and use the power of the Federal government to enforce it.

1 in 13 Veterans returned as amputees
1 in 13 Veterans returned as amputees

According to Wikipedia:

The war produced at least 1,030,000 casualties (3 percent of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians.[12] Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker believes the number of soldier deaths was approximately 750,000, 20 percent higher than traditionally estimated, and possibly as high as 850,000.[20][208] The war accounted for more American deaths than in all other U.S. wars combined.[209]

Based on 1860 census figures, 8 percent of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6 percent in the North and 18 percent in the South.[210][211] About 56,000 soldiers died in prison camps during the War.[212] An estimated 60,000 men lost limbs in the war.[213]

You might think that all of this was at least for the good for the slaves, but according to historian Jim Downs of Connecticut College, thousands of the freed slaves died of hunger, disease, and exposure in the aftermath of the war:

as Downs shows in his book, Sick From Freedom, the reality of emancipation during the chaos of war and its bloody aftermath often fell brutally short of that positive image. Instead, freed slaves were often neglected by union soldiers or faced rampant disease, including horrific outbreaks of smallpox and cholera. Many of them simply starved to death.

After combing through obscure records, newspapers and journals Downs believes that about a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. He writes in the book that it can be considered “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” and yet it is one that has been little investigated by contemporary historians. …

Downs reconstructed the experiences of one freed slave, Joseph Miller, who had come with his wife and four children to a makeshift freed slave refugee camp within the union stronghold of Camp Nelson in Kentucky. In return for food and shelter for his family Miller joined the army. Yet union soldiers in 1864 still cleared the ex-slaves out of Camp Nelson, effectively abandoning them to scavenge in a war-ravaged and disease-ridden landscape. One of Miller’s young sons quickly sickened and died. Three weeks later, his wife and another son died. Ten days after that, his daughter perished too. Finally, his last surviving child also fell terminally ill. By early 1865 Miller himself was dead. …

Things were so bad that one military official in Tennessee in 1865 wrote that former slaves were: “dying by scores – that sometimes 30 per day die and are carried out by wagonloads without coffins, and thrown promiscuously, like brutes, into a trench”.

So bad were the health problems suffered by freed slaves, and so high the death rates, that some observers of the time even wondered if they would all die out.

re-interring the war dead
re-interring the war dead

The echoes of this moral imposition are still with us. There are those who refer to the government as “we” and “us,” as in “We ought to do something about poverty” or “we should make healthcare a basic right” and then there are those who refer to the government as something alien and outside, as in “the government killed 85 people in Waco.” (By the way, it looks like the Branch Davidians set their own compound on fire.) or “the government is raising taxes on the middle class.”

Or as Moldbug puts it:

Surely one of the most grievously forgotten authors of the 20th century is Freda Utley. In the immortal words of Rutger Hauer, Utley “saw things… you people wouldn’t believe” – she moved to Moscow as a Communist true believer in the 1930s, lost her husband to the Gulag, and never remarried. Her honesty and fearlessness did not make her popular, especially when she spoke out against American abuses in the occupation of Germany, or against Maoism 40 years before it was fashionable. …

Perhaps Utley’s most acute realization in Odyssey, though on a trivial subject, is when she notices that her friend Bertrand Russell always uses the word “we” to refer to the government. She points out that this little linguistic tic is an unmistakable mark of any ruling class.

Apparently this “nostrism” (if I can risk another obscure quasicoinage) was more unusual in the ’50s than it is now. Because, although I have tried repeatedly to break myself of the habit, I use exactly the same pronoun. It’s an unmistakable sign of my Brahmin upbringing. I can’t imagine counting the number of times I’ve heard someone say “we should…” when what they really mean is “the government should…” Language is repetition, and though my considered view is that it’s just as bizarre to define “we” as the US Federal Government, especially for someone who isn’t actually an employee of said entity, as it would be to use the first person plural for Safeway, Comcast or OfficeMax, habits die hard.

Today, Russell-style nostrism is peculiar, I believe, to the Brahmin caste. Certainly Helots, Dalits, and Vaisyas all think of the government as very much “they.” If Optimates go with “we,” it’s probably because they’re so used to having to pass as Brahmins. I find it rather hard to imagine a cardiologist or a hedge-fund hotshot genuinely thinking of Uncle Sam as “we.”

Given that this is Moldbug, this is actually a short quote.

Civil War cemetery, Andersonville, GA
Civil War cemetery, Andersonville, GA

More culturally, there are those who generally think the government is on their side and can be used to solve social problems, (or at least they did before Trump was elected,) and those who think the government is basically against them and creates social problems, and which side you’re on probably has a lot to do with whether or not the government marched in and burned down your great-great-great-grandparents’ farm in 1864. Today the South remains poorer than the North, which they blame on the long-term effects of the war and punitive reconstruction policies. (Which is about as true as the story about Japan being poor today because the US military bombed its cities to smithereens.) Nevertheless, much American politics can be simplified as a continuing conflict between poor southerners and rich northerners.

The group that currently talks a lot about “institutional racism,” “white privilege,” and the importance of using the government to correct social ills through programs like Welfare and Affirmative Action happens also to be on the side that did the marching back in 1864 (even if they are actually just the children of immigrants who only recently moved to the area.)

Let’s take a quick look at poverty in America:

(Obviously poverty is relative and few of us are living in what passes for poverty in the third world, but let’s stay on topic.) So here is the census data (pdf) on poverty rates by race:

picture-3

Obviously blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans have the highest poverty rates, while whites and Asians have the lowest.

But remember that there are a lot more whites than anyone else in America. When you multiply poverty rates by actual numbers, you get 17.8 million whites in poverty compared to 10 million blacks. (source.)

And as you might have noticed, we still live in a democracy, where numbers matter.

Summary: The side that thinks it imperative that we listen to their ideas for how government should end the poverty of black communities doesn’t understand why the white communities whose ancestors were invaded and killed by that same government, who are actually the biggest community of poor people in the US, disagree with them on the matter.

This might just be coincidence. I’m certain there are other factors involved (including genetics.) But it might also be an important thing to keep in mind when trying to convince others of the importance of using the government to enforce social change.

Intra-ethnic violence is crime; Inter-ethnic violence is war

Proclamation issued in 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Tasmania.
Proclamation issued in 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Tasmania.

Peace is a government that can prevent both, but people will settle for preventing war.

I was thinking today that people are far more concerned with the harm done to them by others than the harm done by themselves. 1 in 5 of you–about 700,000 people per year–will be killed by your own over-indulgence in food, and you are three times as likely to kill yourself with your own gun as a stranger is to shoot you with theirs. And don’t get me started on cars. By contrast, the past 15 years have seen a few thousand Americans murdered by Islamic terrorists and domestic mass-shooters. These events might be terrifying, but America’s enemies could kill a lot more people by providing us with free soda, cookies, and cigarettes than by flying planes into buildings.

America has spent approximately 5 trillion dollars pursuing Bin Laden and his associates, and yet no one (sane) has proposed shooting everyone involved in the production and sale of Coca-Cola.

One of the central tenets of this blog is that people are not merely random in their irrationality; if millions of people do or think something, then there is likely to be some sort of cause.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

Coca-Cola isn’t trying to kill anyone, so we tend not to think they deserve to be killed.

Humans are bad at estimating risks because we are not adapted to TV. 100 years ago, if you saw a bunch of people being horribly murdered, there was a war going on and you were either killing them yourself or about to get killed. Today, you’re probably just watching a movie.

As a practical matter, this means that people do, in fact, get completely worked up and devote absurd amounts of money to fighting trivial problems. The “Satanic Daycare Scare” of the 1980s is one such case.

For those of you who don’t remember the 80s very well, or have blocked the Satanic Daycare Scare from your memory due to sheer stupidity, here’s a rundown:

A bunch of mentally ill people–that is, people actually receiving treatment for mental illness at the time or who were later discovered to be schizophrenic–began coming up with stories that their parents or their kids’ daycare workers were part of a vast, underground Satanic conspiracy, ritually murdering and torturing children, ritually sacrificing giraffes and drinking their blood, flying on broomsticks, etc.

The Wikipedia page lists 19 major cases involving over 100 defendants; as of 2006, the McMartin preschool trial, for example, was “the longest and most expensive criminal trial in the history of the United States.[1]” Over 1,000 smaller cases were brought on similar evidence of “Satanic ritual abuse,” (SRA) and even Geraldo Rivera claimed on TV that:

“Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in [the United States and they are] linked in a highly organized, secretive network.” (source)

Eventually the FBI got involved and figured out that it was all nonsense:

Kenneth Lanning, an FBI expert in the investigation of child sexual abuse,[151] has stated that pseudo-satanism may exist but there is “little or no evidence for … large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies”.[46]

Lanning produced a monograph in 1994 on SRA aimed at child protection authorities, which contained his opinion that despite hundreds of investigations no corroboration of SRA had been found.

The Satanic Daycare Scare is a fascinating subject in its own right, but beyond our current scope; for now, the important thing is that even intelligent, trained folks like lawyers, doctors, judges, and Geraldo Rivera can believe obviously false things if you just put it on TV or in a book. We are really bad at dealing with modern mass media, and probably even worse at math.

But the instinct to protect one’s children from people who would hurt them are perfectly sound, reasonable instincts. You should protect your children; you just have to protect them from actual dangers, not made up ones.The Satanic Daycare Panic of our day is the conviction that the police are brutally slaughtering black bodies in the streets. Statistically, of course, they aren’t; not only is a black person far more likely to be murdered by a fellow black person than by a police officer (of any race,) but the police don’t even disproportionately kill blacks: shootinggraph

Graph originally from Mother Jones magazine (and if Mother Jones can’t find evidence for disproportionate police shooting of blacks, who can?) but helpfully cited by Slate Star Codex’s extensively researched article, Race and Justice: much more than you wanted to know. I strongly recommend that article; I also wrote a rather long piece about crime statistics back in Bully Part 2: Race, Crime, and the Police.

The short version is that blacks get into a lot of conflicts with the police because blacks commit a lot of crime, much of which is aimed at their fellow black people. We know this from crime victimization surveys, which ask people who have been victims of crimes to describe their attackers.

Thousands of black-on-black murders barely make a blip on the airwaves, while one white-on-black murder can dominate the news, streets, and college campuses for months.

By contrast, when a shootout in Waco, Texas, left 9 people dead, 20 injured, 239 detained, and 177 arrested, allegations that police snipers had actually murdered the 9 victims resulted in exactly zero campus protests.

White on white violence? Snoozefest. Black on black? *Zzzzzzz* Black on white? Hate Twitter notices. White on black? College campuses explode.

People notice inter-ethnic violence in a way that they don’t notice violence committed by their own ethnic group.

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Every group has its own, internal way of dealing with their own malefactors, from compelling murderers to pay a fine to the victim’s family to ostracization to stoning. This is, in short, what police are for. But sans an extradition treaty, it’s almost impossible to deal with malefactors from some other group. If a neighboring group of tribespeople starts killing your tribespeople, the only way to stop them is to kill them back until they stop.

From an evolutionary standpoint, your own criminals simply aren’t as big a deal as another tribe coming in and killing you. If my brother kills me, horrible though that may be, my genes will still live on in his children. Furthermore, my brother is highly unlikely to kill me, my children, and my parents, then burn down my village and carry off my wife and cattle. But if some guy from the next tribe over kills me, the chance of any of my genes making it into the next generation goes down significantly. Historically speaking, inter-ethnic violence has probably been a bigger deal than intra-ethnic violence.

Modern countries are, with a few Polynesian exceptions, much bigger than individual tribes. As a result, their priority becomes not just protecting their people from outside attack, but also protecting their people from each other.

In a world of limited resources (and no obvious technical advantages), a group that cooperates with itself and defects on others will out-compete a group that cooperates with itself and others. But the government of a large, multi-ethnic state has little to gain from everyone falling into default-defect scenarios; the government wants everyone to cooperate in order to maximize economic growth (and thus tax revenues.)

The Pax Romana comes immediately to mind as a famous historical example of a government conquering a whole munch of little tribes that formerly warred against each other, and using its military might to put an end to such conflicts.

The Mongol Empire, after destroying everything in its path from the Sea of Japan to the gates of Vienna (a conquest halted only by the Khan’s death,) brought about the similarly named Pax Mongolica:

[Pax Mongolica] describes the stabilizing effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire on the social, cultural, and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory that the Mongols conquered in the 13th and 14th centuries. The term is used to describe the eased communication and commerce the unified administration helped to create, and the period of relative peace that followed the Mongols’ vast conquests.

The conquests of Genghis Khan (r. 1206–1227) and his successors, spanning from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, effectively connected the Eastern world with the Western world. The Silk Road, connecting trade centers across Asia and Europe, came under the sole rule of the Mongol Empire. It was commonly said that “a maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”[2][3] Despite the political fragmentation of the Mongol Empire into four khanates (Yuan dynasty, Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate), nearly a century of conquest and civil war was followed by relative stability in the early 14th century. The end of the Pax Mongolica was marked by the disintegration of the khanates and the outbreak of the Black Death in Asia which spread along trade routes to much of the world in the mid-14th century.

I know less about Yugoslavia than about the Mongol Empire, but Yugoslavia’s various states were clearly at peace with each other under the dictatorship of Josip Tito, and fell into civil war after Tito died, democracy came to the country, and everyone began voting along ethnic lines.

I recall–but cannot locate at the moment–an interview in which Lee Kuan Yew, erstwhile autocrat of Singapore, expounded on one of the reasons why he didn’t support western-style democracy for his own country. Given a country with three major ethnic groups, he asserted, democracy would quickly break down into each group attempting to vote for its own interests, against the interests of the others. Singapore may be a small country, but it is also a successful one.

A national government does not need to do anything about crime if sufficient local institutions exist to handle local conflicts. If the Amish want to handle Amish criminals and the Zuni want to handle Zuni criminals, that is no skin off anyone else’s nose. However, inter-group conflicts are better handled and adjudicated by an outside third party that can A. enforce its rulings against both groups, and B. does a good job of convincing everyone that it is being fair and effective–that is, a higher level of government.

This seems like the most effective and expedient way to avoid mutual defection in large, multi-ethnic societies. (The other option, I suppose, is to not have large, multi-ethnic societies.)