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Category: Book review

Please email me at matt@wmbriggs.com before sending books to be reviewed.

August 22, 2017 | 17 Comments

Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” Reviewed: Why “Poetic Naturalism” is an Oxymoron — Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Another version of this article first appeared at Kurland’s site.

Scientism, the belief that science can explain everything about the world and ourselves, is a religion, although not formally expressed as such. When I call it a religion, I mean that it is founded on faith, a faith that its proponents say is not faith, but rationality, but which is in fact a faith that denies rational objections to scientism.

There are many scientists who write books justifying their faith that science gives the only answer to the question, “how should we live?” Whether they do this to gather people into the fold or just to make money is a question I can’t answer.

Some—I’m thinking of Richard Dawkins in particular—are so convinced of the righteousness of their belief and the evil of religious faith that they would prohibit the practice of religion. Others—I’m thinking of Sean Carroll—take a more balanced view, conceding there may be legitimate reasons for belief in God, but those reasons aren’t for them. Carroll’s new book, The Big Picture, gives his account of a materialistic ethos that doesn’t need God.

I believe there are serious flaws in Carroll’s arguments used to justify his non-belief, particularly in the two foundation stones for his thesis:

  • “Poetic Naturalism” is a philosophy that will enable one to lead a moral, satisfying life, one that doesn’t need God;
  • Bayesian probability analysis and abductive reasoning demonstrate that it is very unlikely that God exists.

I will also argue against Carroll’s views on the Anthropic Coincidences, Mind and Free Will, and Morality.

Poetic Naturalism

Carroll defines “Poetic Naturalism” as follows (pp 3-4):

Naturalism claims that there is just one world, the natural world…’Poetic’ reminds us that there is more than one way of talking about the world. We find it natural to use a vocabulary of ’causes’ and ‘reasons why’ things happen, but these ideas aren’t part of how nature works at its deepest levels.

Carroll goes on to say that phenomena that I put outside the purview of science—for example, love, morality, beauty—are “emergent”. Let me explain this more fully: often in science when descriptions at a molecular or atomic level become very complicated and collective phenomena are involved, it is easier to describe things in a semi-empirical way. Thus, for viscous flow hydrodynamic equations are set up; or to analyze ferromagnetism a collective description, an Ising model, is used.

For example, when we say “water is wet”, we could (in principle) give a reductionist picture and explain what’s happening in terms of the surface tension of water, and at a deeper level, by an analysis of intermolecular attractive forces. In short, we very often use a different language to explain or describe what could ultimately be explained by fundamental laws of physics (down to the level of subatomic particles and field theory).

I call that view—that it’s only a matter of what descriptive language is used—a cop out, a “scientism of the gaps”. This position is not one that can be easily defended. Indeed, poetry itself, the joint appeal to our sensibilities of Shakespeare, Shelley and Bob Dylan, is not to be parsed by science.
So, as my subtitle suggests: the term “poetic naturalism” is an oxymoron. It does not really explain, it just evades fundamental questions.

Abductive reasoning and Bayes

Carroll uses a combination of abductive reasoning, “Inference to the Best Explanation” (IBE), and Bayesian probability analysis to argue that it is very unlikely that God exists. Here’s one such argument (p 134):

We have two competing propositions: one is that God exists, and that transcendental experiences represent…moments when we are close to divinity; the other is naturalism, which would explain such experiences the same way it would explain dreams or hallucinations…To decide between them, we need to see which one coheres better with other things we believe about the world.

Clearly Carroll believes the second explanation is the best, i.e. naturalism. Others (myself among them) would believe that transcendental experiences cohere better with the existence of God, as does everything else we believe about the world.

Before discussing how Carroll applies Bayesian probability analysis to support naturalism, I’d like to emphasize some general points (taken from Briggs’s post and book). First, all probability is conditional, depends on evidence; such evidence may be facts, or it may be beliefs, beliefs founded on facts or knowledge, or—dare I say it—on Revelation. It’s just a way of working backwards from evidence to infer a probability. Second, probability is quantitative. You assign numerical values to probability based on the evidence; otherwise, there’s no way to judge between probabilities based on different evidence.

One well-known example of Bayesian analysis is the Monte Hall three-door problem. I want to emphasize that Bayesian analysis requires quantification (even if it’s just a best guess), and a definition of an appropriate population (or prior probability) to conform with updated information and evidence. This isn’t what Carroll does.

Carroll argues that if God existed, he would create a world that provided overwhelmingly conclusive evidence for his existence (pp. 147-148, emphasis mine):

Imagine a world in which miracles happened frequently, rather than rarely or not at all. Imagine a world in which all of the religious traditions from around the globe independently came up with the same doctrines and stories about God…Imagine a world in which religious texts consistently provided specific, true, nonintuitive pieces of scientific information…Imagine a world in which souls survived after death, and frequently visited and interacted with the world of the living. Imagine a world that was free of random suffering…In any of these worlds, diligent seekers of true ontology would quite rightly take those aspects of reality as evidence for God’s existence. It follows, as the night the day, that the absence of these features is evidence in favor of atheism.

This view is simplistic in the extreme. It does not follow “as the night, the day”, that the absence of these features is conclusive evidence for atheism. Consider just the statement that Scriptures should contain “specific, true, nonintuitive pieces of scientific information”. The Bible is certainly not a science text. It’s about how and why we should live. Would a shepherd on the Judean Hills have made any sense out of Maxwell’s equations, or even Newton’s law of gravitational attraction? Carroll’s argument here simply begs the question, assumes the answer he wishes us to believe.

To say that “God should make it easy to believe” is to support a proposition that ignores theology and philosophy. Jesus said unto him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29 (KJV).

That quote says it all. I’ve argued there are excellent reasons why God does not make it easy to believe. And there have been hosts of books on the problem of evil, theodicy, that show it is not truly evidence against the existence of God.

Anthropic coincidences

The Anthropic Coincidences are a set of restrictions on physical laws, constants, and geo-astronomical features, fine-tuned, so to speak, to enable the development of carbon-based life. As explained in the post linked above, a probability cannot be assigned to this “fine-tuning”, but it does strongly suggest that some sort of designing intelligence set up a universe in which humans could exist. To quote Fred Hoyle (“The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 20:16, 1982):

A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Carroll acknowledges the force of this argument (p 303), “…fine-tuning is probably the most respectable argument for theism.”

Nevertheless, he says fine-tuning is not sufficient evidence for the existence of a designing intelligence. He argues that the universe is what it is, we wouldn’t be here to speculate about the fine-tuning if the universe wasn’t there. He also proposes that “eternal inflation” creates an infinity of universes, a “multiverse”, so that amongst this multitude of universes one or more will be fine-tuned as ours is. Yet belief in a multiverse is as much an article of faith as belief in God. Many eminent physicists (including Roger Penrose and Paul Steinhardt) consider that inflation is not a proven physical theory.

Following David Hume (his favorite philosopher?), Carroll says that talk about causation is empty and fallacious; we can only describe and give correlations, not give causes for the way things are. Consequently we can’t say that the universe was purposely designed for anything. There was no cause for the universe and its fine-tuning doesn’t need an explanation. Thomas Nagel has a fine response to this sort of argument (from Mind and Cosmos):

One doesn’t show that something doesn’t require explanation by pointing out that it is a condition of one’s existence. If I ask for an explanation of the fact that the air pressure in the transcontinental jet is close to that at sea level, it is no answer to point out that if it weren’t, I’d be dead.

It’s worth pointing out that Nagel is an atheist, not a theist, but believes that the universe is indeed purpose-driven.

Mind, Soul & Free Will

Books could be (and have been) written about the problem of mind and soul. Rather than giving a full discussion and rebuttal of Carroll’s views on these issues, I’m going to cite some quotes and then, very briefly, argue against them.

Under naturalism, there isn’t that much difference between a human being and a robot. We are all just complicated collections of matter moving as patterns, obeying impersonal laws of physics…Wants and purposes and desires are the kinds of things that develop naturally along the way. [p 295]

If the world is purely physical, then what we mean by ‘understanding’ is a way of talking about a particular kind of correlation between information located in one system and conditions in the external world. [p 348]

Consciousness isn’t an illusion, but it doesn’t point to any departure from the laws of physics as we currently understand them. [p 351]

One popular definition of free will is ‘the ability to have acted differently’. In a world governed by impersonal laws, one can argue that there is no such ability. [pp 380-381]

I’ll not respond specifically to any one of these, but will only say that were I to believe them, I could see no reason for living. I’ll add that there are philosophers and scientists who disagree strongly with each of these assertions.

Morality

Given that Carroll doesn’t believe in Free Will (or to put it more specifically, says that it’s only a way of talking about how we conduct our affairs), what does he say about morality? How can there be ethical standards or moral values if we are not free to make decisions about our conduct, if they are predetermined by physical laws?

Let’s see what Carroll says about this; first, he acknowledges that without God there is no absolute moral standard (p 495, emphasis mine):

As Abraham learned, having an absolute moral standard such as God can be extraordinarily challenging. But without God, there is no such standard and that is challenging in its own way…Nature alone is no help. as we can’t extract ought from is; the universe doesn’t pass moral judgments.

Then, according to Carroll, morality must be a personal construction (p 412) “We have no objective guidance on how to distinguish right from wrong: not from God, not from nature, not from the pure force of reason itself…Morality exists only insofar as we make it so, and other people might not pass judgments in the same way we do” and “Poetic Naturalism refuses to offer us the consolation of moral certainty…How you should act depends on who you are.”

So, that’s the problem, and I don’t believe Carroll offers a solution, other than that of the doctor in Camus’s The Plague:

‘What on earth prompted you to take a hand in this?’

‘I don’t know. My…my code of morals, perhaps.’

‘Your code of morals. What code, if I may ask?’

‘Comprehension.’

Summary

There it is. Poetic naturalism offers no support for a moral standard, and indeed, for any value system. There is no reason we should take a system based (presumably) on Bayesian probability analysis and abductive reasoning to understand the world, other than that of the doctor in The Plague—it’s comprehensible.

And here I think is where Carroll falls in to the honey-trap of scientism—that which can be explained in a scientific, naturalistic mode is that which is to be believed, and nothing else. There is not a logical reason to follow this; in fact, at the very beginning of The Big Picture Carroll emphasizes that science has nothing to say about the supernatural.

I say Carroll’s The Big Picture” is not that big. It leaves out much of what is important and real for many of us. But even so, reading his book, one gets the impression that Carroll is a thoughtful, learned, humane person. I wish him well and hope he finds a belief system other than Poetic Naturalism.

August 3, 2017 | 14 Comments

Austin Ruse’s ‘Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data’

Austin Ruse kindly sent me a copy of his new Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data, a book readers of this blog will take to like a socialist reaching for your children.

My review, if you can see it, is in tiny print on the image’s left. Excerpts from the Introduction:

…Late-breaking news: A man isn’t really a woman just because he “identifies” as female. Unborn babies are living human beings…

The sea level is going to rise twenty feet and everyone will starve because of catastrophic global warming. But when those disasters fail to materialize, no, wait, it’s not warming at all, it’s “climate change.”

And when the real, hard science actually is settled, it’s ignored, even if that means that people suffer and die unnecessarily. Rice genetically modified to produce beta-carotene could have saved the vision—and in some cases the lives—of literally millions of poor people across the globe if the anti-food activists on the Left hadn’t kept it off the market for more than twenty-five years.

Humility—the willingness to submit your opinion to the real facts of the matter, wherever they may lead—is the hallmark of real science. But the purveyors of leftist pseudoscience are anything but humble. No matter how often their predictions fail to pan out, how often they reverse their advice, or what obvious facts contradict their theories, they’re never deterred. They go on making absurd, unscientific assertions and issuing new recommendations with absolute assurance, all on the authority of “science.” Being wrong—even laughably wrong—doesn’t even slow them down…

[The Left has] distorted, faked, misreported, and skewed the real science, all the while claiming its mantle for their highly unscientific political agenda. And dangerously, the fake, politicized “science” is undermining our faith in the real thing. Whole disciplines have become profoundly degraded and therefore increasingly worthless—except as a source for political propaganda…

And the fake science doesn’t just affect scientists and the tiny minority of disturbed people whose delusions they are enabling. With the full authority of “science” behind them, the leftists are imposing their agenda on the rest of us, backed by the crushing power of the state. You can now be fined up to $250,000 by the New York City government if you’re a shopkeeper and you persistently refuse to use someone’s preferred gender pronoun. In other words, you will be bankrupted if you don’t go along with the fiction that a person with XY chromosomes and male genitalia is really a woman.

And if you’re a scientist, you’ll discover that vital funding, opportunities for publication, and the other necessary accouterments of a successful career are difficult to come by if your research challenges the leftist narrative. As we’ll see in chapters six and ten, research results that tell against the global warming scare, for example, or the lie that same-sex-couple parenting is good for children, can be highly dangerous to your scientific career. The Left controls what counts as “science” by excluding not just inconvenient facts but inconvenient fact-finders. Any scientist whose work turns up evidence that calls the program of the Left on any issue into question is inevitably said to be “discredited.”

But it deserves repeating: fake science is not just a problem for scientists. The fact that science has become so degraded by ideology does not give any of us an excuse to simply ignore it. We’re not off the hook; it’s too important. The current state of the debate requires that we evaluate the “scientific” claims made by the other side. A surprising amount of them are junk science—while real science often backs up conservative claims…

Even now, your local school board is probably debating what to do about the transgender issue, inviting so-called experts into their meetings and into the halls of your schools to spout the latest nonsense. Will you simply stand aside and let them have the field uncontested? There is plenty of hard science that debunks “transgenderism.” Boys are boys and girls are girls; science confirms what we all know is common sense. But to fight the crazy ideology you need to have the real science at your fingertips—so that you can engage at all levels of the public policy debate, from the dinner table, to the school-board, to your college campus, to the U.S. Congress, to the United Nations.

Here’s a brief rundown on the chapters: (1) Pollsters’ Waterloo (bad statistics), (2) The Transgender Moment (the lunacy most supreme), (3) Not Born That Way (there are no such creatures as ‘gay’ etc.), (4) Everything They Say about Abortion Is a Lie (or a vicious damned lie, or worse), (5) Never Mind the Herpes, Full Speed Ahead (I read lower-intestinal cancers are way, way up in Millennials; golly, I wonder why).

(6) The Grand Experiment on the Children (families are hated above all), (7) One Hundred Eighty-Two Pounds of French Fries (cancer and other food scares), (8) Poverty Could Make You Rich (if you’re an activist selling tears), (9) Flaming Water, Flaming Lies (frack you).

(10) Global Warming is Real—and It’s a Good Thing (in which Yours Truly is quoted), (11) Life on an Empty Planet (you can’t have too many people), (12) Back Off, Man, I’m a Scientist (take it from me, a scientist, scientists get too much respect).

August 2, 2017 | 15 Comments

How Do We Stage A Coup In The USA? Part II

Review Part I first.

Face of the coup

There is a reaction against the spreading decadence. Two groups are better known, the so-called Alt-Lite and Alt-Right. The Alt-Lite are tomorrow’s progressives today, and include libertarians, NRO readers, and folks who want to “uphold” the Constitution. The Alt-Right contains angrier and (in some cases) more realistic people whose focus is one or another aspect of the decadence, and who believe they have discovered the one thing that will restore Reality (there are thus several “one things”).

These groups have even taken to forming militias of a sort (Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Michigan Militia, etc.), at least in the vague hope these militias will become politically important. They are nascent, but interest in them is growing. Yet Luttwak reminds us, “In spite of their military bearing, uniforms, and often expensive weaponry, in almost every instance of confrontation between such militias and the forces of the state, the former were defeated.” Yes, in Germany and Italy in the mid-Twentieth Century, too. Weapons aren’t even necessary (so far). It didn’t take more being noticed by a far-left organization to cause a purge of right wingers from the Proud Boys.

This is not an argument against forming these militias, which are not without use, but a demonstration that regime change will come about by a coup, in the way discussed in Part I. Expecting Trump to declare himself First Consul of the United States of America, as the Left frets and as Putin might label himself in Russia, is bound to lead to disappointment. Still, miracles happen.

Who will lead the coup? Look for somebody in the upper—but not top—echelons of the military. An ambitious and connected major or lieutenant colonel, perhaps: generals aren’t as likely because they largely have all they want from the current regime, as discussed. If (or when) the dreaded Leftist singularity arrives, it will not do not by coup, but by and within the current system, because though the Left loses some battles, they are winning the war using the system. So a coup will almost certainly come from the right.

Recruitment

Who should we recruit? “Technicians”, not “leaders”, Luttwak says, people who know how to work in the system, but who aren’t directing it; the latter obviously rely for their livings on the regime, while the former want to be leaders but have been stymied. We need to watch for plants from security forces. They will be on to us. To mitigate against plants we should seek those of our own “tribe”.

African tribalism is merely an extreme case of a very general phenomenon—for example, sophisticated and utterly unreligious Jews will ‘happen’ to marry other Jews, though they may regard themselves as thoroughly assimilated.

Recruiters themselves must not be told much about coup plans but “must be both valuable and expendable”. Difficult slots to fill.

The real danger is recruiting somebody a mite too ambitious or extreme: “in the confused and dramatic situation of the coup, the extremists could gain in power and political support, and it is possible that the time we have allowed them to discredit the opposition will work in their favor.” This is why a coup, if it were to happen in the USA, would be a long time brewing. Assuring loyalty among core coup will be a slow, painful process.

The coup must come from the military, or be constituted of a substantial portion of soldiers (or sailors etc.). Only the threat and use of actual violence carries weight. Recall that the real threat of violence is what keeps you from many misdeeds.

Intelligence

Luttwak says “the intelligence community has grown enormously into a many-headed bureaucratic monster, largely because each intelligence failure caused by gross errors induces Congress to give even more money to those who fail, instead of the opposite.” Department of Homeland Security and the TSA, anybody?

As said last time, there are at least nineteen national intelligence agencies in the USA, and many other local ones, like those associated with the metropolitan police forces. Their scope and sweep is astonishing. Don’t be distracted by media reports and rumors of intelligence agencies scaling back. The NSA, who is reading these very words, and “whose ambition to intercept any and every electromagnetic transmission, including idle chatter of infants with cell phones, was merely dented by the revelations of Edward Snowden, the most patriotic of traitors.”

Yet we shouldn’t be overly concerned, either. We will be known at some point to some intelligence groups. But “Even if the security agencies could isolate the real data from the ‘noise,’ they will not usually take immediate action. Their professional instinct will be to try to uncover all the ramifications of the plot so as to be able to arrest all its participants.” Luttwak shows this scholarly inertia almost always gives the careful coup time to occur. Of course, the “noise” should be augmented with false rumors.

When to strike? “The timing of the coup will therefore be dictated by the progress of our infiltration of the armed forces and police; as soon as a satisfactory degree of penetration is achieved, the coup must be executed.” Wait too long and fear and fatigue set in. That’s when the arrests of coup brass happens.

Post coup

The device has done its work. We are in position. Now what?

“Our first objective will be achieved by conveying the reality and strength of the coup instead of trying to justify it; this will be done by listing the controls we have imposed, by emphasizing that law and order have been fully restored, and by stating that all resistance has ceased”.

We have to switch off or control as much media as possible. Major newsrooms can be occupied. Disrupt the Internet, or at least kill social media sites temporarily. This will require recruitment of genuine technicians. We’d want the NRA on our side and those parts of the Church that amenable. Other groups will suggest themselves. Liaisons will be needed. As will be a good spokesman.

Control of information is key. After the deed is done and we have told the media and people we are in charge, we need to issue vague (but real) threats to those would challenge us. “We should avoid taking any action that will clarify the nature of the threat and thus reduce the confusion that is left in the defensive apparatus of [whatever is left of the old] regime”.

As quickly as possible those elements of the military who were not with us need to be issued orders to stand down or to reinforce troublesome areas.

Luttwak shows that great majority in the old regime during a coup take a “wait and see” approach. Only the most dedicated (or confused) of the old regime will stand against us. The others will watch which way the wind blows. Think about this. How many in power now love the system so much that they would die for it? Not the country or some other idea. But the system itself. The question answers itself.

In the days that follow the coup, we need to seek out “recognition of foreign powers”. This is what the Left fears Trump is doing now. We need to recruit at least some seasoned diplomats. But to let any foreigner know in advance of our plans is sheer folly. The leaders of other governments either reflexively protect the status quo, or they would fear our rule. Since the coup will be right wing, we can somewhat assure other countries our designs are not on Empire. Still, we need to watch for tests our of strength outside the country. Withdraw is good, retreat is not. Again, the reassurance that All Is Well needs to be put out to all.

A commenter on Part I said that the governors of the States would appoint new Senators to replace the dead ones. This is very true. But (as I said) all of these folks can be waved aside. They won’t be appointed instantly. We’ll be long ensconced by the time they arrive. We can even welcome them, as long as they abide by our martial law. They can be kept from meeting easily enough, at least in DC. If they are forced to congregate in small numbers in, say, Nebraska, they won’t be taken very seriously, especially as they won’t have military backing.

Now what?

The coup is over. The power is ours. What do we do with it? How do we hold it? Will States want to break off and should we let them? What system of government will we institute? How long will martial law last? Do you cut off all “entitlements”? What about a revolt?

What would you do? Luttwak is silent on this point. As he should be. He only tells how to snatch a kingdom, not how to rule it.

July 25, 2017 | 30 Comments

How Do We Stage A Coup In The USA? Part I

I ask the titular question in the same spirit as that posed in Edward N Luttwak’s Coup D’État: A Practical Handbook, a classic which was revamped and reissued last year, a book packed with dry humor and good advice on how to throw off the shackles of tyranny. Update If you find yourself “troubled” by this article, ask yourself: should Luttwak withdraw his book?

Reactionaries of all stripes ought to pay the closest attention to this book. These folks are full of thoughts and words most glorious describing the ills which plague us and of which of all forms of government is best. But they are relatively, or even wholly, silent on how to get from here, from the Hell to which we are descending, to the sunny uplands of monarchy.

Well, you can’t fault them. Nobody really knows how. Or rather, we do know how, we just don’t know the details.

Here, then, is a sketch—a prediction—of how such a change might be brought about; or may be brought about by forces who are as yet unknown to us. These “forces” probably won’t be anybody we’ve heard of. Men at the top of the current regime’s hierarchy won’t be too interested in toppling it, unless their love of God and Reality is overwhelmingly strong. And if it was, they’d scarcely have reached the top of system, unless they were heroically and exceptionally devious and patient. No, look for somebody like an Army major, a Southerner with a strong network of brother soldiers who, say, snaps after being ordered to treat a tranny as if the tranny was sane.

Take this article as an outline of what might happen. Except for the form of the main strike, which I insist is the only workable mechanism, I emphasize sketch, because much of the plan lacks flesh. Readers are invited to supply this flesh.

First strike

We speak of a coup and not a revolution or civil war. We’re discussing a direct seizure of power by elements either in or close to government. The techniques for this move vary, as the Handbook details, but I’ll be blunt and suggest that while there are many paths to revolution or civil strife, there is only one clear possibility for a successful coup in the USA.

We must clancy the government.

In his 1994 Debt of Honor, Tom Clancy has a rogue pilot crash a 747 into the Capitol building during a joint session of Congress. Everybody in the building, including the Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet, and Joint Chiefs, was killed. Clancy’s hero, Jack Ryan, who is Vice President, happened to be absent and so became President.

To clancy, then, is to kill all potential enemies at once, a true decapitation, thus creating a clear path for our ascension. I say “kill”, because this is war and there is no point to squeamish euphemisms between we compatriots, and also because that is the sole solution. (It is also Luttwak’s word.)

Nothing less than killing every Senator, Representative, Cabinet member and a few token military leaders like the for-show Joint Chiefs (the theater commanders have the real power) would work, and the reason is simple. If any group, comprised of members in or out of the current government, were to seize, say, the White House and declare itself in charge, the entire media, people and military outside that group’s control would fall in behind the highest ranking Federal politician who has escaped that group’s knives.

Say we waited until the President was undergoing surgery and we incapacitated or isolated the Vice President and Secretary of State, while simultaneously barricading ourselves in the White House supported by whatever local brigade we have backing us. Everybody would watch television for the spectacle, waiting to see how we were destroyed, and absolutely nobody would take our claim seriously.

Even if we killed the President, VP, and the Cabinet, say by sneaking a device into Camp David during some important retreat, the Speaker of the House would assert his right and we again would not be taken seriously. Of, supposing we had the Speaker killed, too, then some Senator or Representative would say he rightfully holds power and he would be believed, even though the right of succession only officially runs through the Cabinet.

It has to be everybody, all at once. The people and media know who the government is, which is why everybody in it not with us must be killed. The government that people know must be rubbed out in its entirety, because the form and structure of the current government is too ingrained in the thoughts of minds of citizens, who would latch onto and support any remnant of the old regime that slipped past our dragnet.

It would be best, for the “optics”, if we could have as a leader or a front some current high-ranking official with us as part of the coup. We could trot him out in front of the smoldering ruins of the Capitol and his claims of succession would be embraced by most. (This is clearly not the current VP; but perhaps General Mattis sees himself in this role; or perhaps President Trump himself, though this is extraordinarily doubtful, because these men were promoted within the current system.) There would probably be other minor officials making or disputing our claim of succession, but these people can be quickly arrested or otherwise dissuaded.

The Mechanism

Now it does not have to be a plane that does the clancy, but the coup has to begin at the State of the Union address. Nothing else is as big a draw, nothing else gathers the government in one spot. This makes planning easy and difficult. Easy, because the dates and many of the details are known in advance; difficult, because when the word of a potential coup leaks, which it will, the annual address will fall under the hazy gaze of the intelligence services. Of which there are at least nineteen and growing. (Luttwak lists them: “That more is less when it comes to intelligence will no doubt be recognized one day.”) More on them later.

We might try to make the incident appear as an accident, but nobody will buy a “gas explosion” or “electrical fire” or whatever; besides, people will ask how come some people did not escape a simple fire? No, we need either an aircraft laden with explosives, a missile, an in-place explosive device, or something equally devastating (biological weapons are far too iffy).

A plane or missile requires extensive planning and cooperation with either the Navy or Air Force, and for a device probably the Army. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. We only need those men in charge of the particular weapons, men who can ensure they have loyal soldiers, sailors, or airmen under them. A device is best, because its origin has the best chance not to be positively identified quickly (don’t forget the military will be under our control at this point). Long after we seized power, it doesn’t matter much that people figure out we planted it, and indeed this could work in our favor. A missile or a plane will be seen (as in tracked), and their origin can be identified easily. We wouldn’t want it known that the missile was shot from a Navy ship, for instance. A true clancy with a civilian aircraft is workable only if the Air Force commander in charge of the planes protecting the Capitol airspace is with us.

Getting the device inside the Capitol won’t be too hard. Not if we have at least some of the security forces working for us. Since we will have planting rumors of potential attacks by foreign entities (Muslims), we can call the device “protective electronics” or whatever. The real work will be in co-opting the normal security procedures and radiation sniffers (we can admit our device has radioactive material; science demands it, or whatever). You can see how quickly membership in the coup must grow. (We don’t want too strong a radioactive device, anyway, because we must occupy the White House for the symbolism.)

The Event

We’ll have to ensure that the particular Address we pick packs them in. We will have planted various rumors, and caused some small incidents not too far in advance that will heighten the interest of government to be there, either to hear something “important”, or to be seen. We won’t get everybody. Somebody always has a reason they cannot attend. That means the closer we get to the coup, the more we have to pay attention to attendees. We will have to have enough members in our team that we have sufficient manpower to go after whoever does not attend—but we must remain small enough so that we are not exposed.

For instance, a politician could be back in his home state for some reason and miss the Address. So we’ll have to have in our bag flexible plans to arrest these members after the coup. This will require a lot of thought since the places the absentees can be are various.

Arrest, not kill. Why? Because the incident we stage which takes out the Capitol must be made to look like it was carried out by an external or internal enemy that is not us. We need to act in the controlled media blitz aftermath as bewildered as anybody else about the cause (about that control, more later). How could this unknown enemy attack the Capitol and the stragglers? We would fall under suspicion too soon. Of course, if we can get to the absentees before they can make public statements, then they can be killed.

Those arrested must be watched by especially zealous or loyal troops working for us. By definition these men will be leaders, well used to commanding and “bending people to their will.” Luttwak has great insight to the psychology of these men, and shows how often coups are lost by careless guarding of them.

On that same line, we must be most suspicious after the coup of the members we recruited from the current regime, because, of course, “it would be unusual to have the complete loyalty of those who (since they joined our coup in the first place) must be to some extent inherently disloyal”. And somebody has to be boss. As the movie said: there can be only one. Kerensky should have killed Lenin on Day Two. “Assertions of loyalty will usually be worthless because they are made by men who have just abandoned their previous…masters.” This is the most dangerous time.

In Part II, we discuss recruitment, various technical details necessary for implementing the coup, the media, what to do about foreign powers, and more.