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April 24, 2018

Given the State of Near-Hostilities in Our Political Culture, Is It Unthinkable That the Country May Split?

Before quoting National Review let me point out that a failure of imagination is not the same thing as a counter-argument or rational theory. All during Trump's run through the primaries, people kept saying that he couldn't win the nomination. It just couldn't happen.

I wasn't pro-Trump at that point (though I did see him as useful blocker to clear out #FakeConservatives like Mario Rubo), but I kept asking these people who said it couldn't happen: What's stopping it from happening, apart from your desire that it not happen, and your lack of imagination of imagining it as a possibility?

Things that could stop Trump at that time included, for example, a candidate rising up to steal Trump's issues, other candidates dropping out and throwing their weight behind the candidate best positioned to steal (or blunt) Trump's issue-portfolio appeal -- Ted Cruz being the obvious choice, except to the Establishment #FakeCons, etc.

In other words: real things. Not just postulating that the Keepers of Universal Order would get together to conspire to arrange circumstances so that he just wouldn't win.

So let me repeat: Someone's failure of imagination to contemplate a possibility as possible is no argument at all against its possibility, just as the religious faith that Trump can't win, I don't know why, but he just can't was no talisman of protection against that very event.

The fact that some people are rather dull in terms of imagination and unschooled in terms of history -- yes, countries do divide as well as combine; both happen with some frequency -- is not any kind of magic protection against the unexpected or even unprecedented happening.

The unexpected happens literally all the time. The unprecedented happens almost as much. Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, The Black Swan, pointed out that, as a simple statistical matter, not only were near-impossible events possible, but were guaranteed to occur lots of times over any period of a decade or longer, given enough trials

People very wrongly assume that very improbable things -- those chances way down at the skinny end of a bell curve -- just can't happen.

Of course they can. If you tell me the odds are 1,000,000 to one against something -- well, as any idiot can tell you, so you're saying there's a chance.

And not just a hypothetical chance that we can pretend isn't a chance at all. The odds are hugely against anyone winning any particular Powerball lottery, and yet, every month or so, we hear of someone hitting the jackpot.

The thing is, if you just let history run a single time for each one in a million incident, you'd probably be right, most of the time, in predicting that one in a million possibilities wouldn't happen.

The trouble is, history is always running, 24/7/365.24, and it's running many, many, many Monte Carlo non-simulations of various possibility scenarios at all times, which means that the world is going to see a bunch of one-in-a-million events happening.

After an "unprecedented," "no-experts-could-have-predicted-such-a-thing" event actually happens, all the experts gather round for a chin-rub and then announce: We could have, and indeed should have, predicted this was at least a live possibility.

And yet, the day after that, they go back to insisting extremely unlikely events cannot happen and are not worth thinking about.

Taleb used some simple math to illustrate this. I forget his exact numbers, but they went something like this:

1. Assume an "impossible" event is one which we'd say are one-in-a-million events.

2. Assume that someone who consumes media will be exposed to -- in the sense of hearing about, reading about, knowing about -- one thousand or so bits of news about events happening each month.

Given those two assumptions, Taleb figured (again, I'm just guessing at his estimate) the average news-watching human being would witness (indirectly, through media reports) something like thirty "impossible" events in his lifetime.

Those who say that the United States cannot break up only because it hasn't happened before used the same logic to unsuccessfully predict the election of Trump being an impossibility.

Bear in mind, this almost happened once before. One would think that something almost happening once before, and only not happening due to a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, would be proof against people dismissing this as "impossible" and thus not even worth thinking about.

Ben Shapiro has a saying: Facts don't care about your feelings.

Let me propose another rule: The iron law of probability -- that, given enough trials, near-impossible events are not only possible but almost guaranteed to occur -- don't care about your failure of imagination. Or your innumeracy in statistics and probability theory.

So here's Geraghty allowing his imagination to imagine "the impossible:"

Some people gave my friend Kurt Schlichter some grief about his speculative fiction novels that imagined the United States splitting into two countries, a traditional United States and a breakaway "People’s Republic of North America" that attempts to enact the progressive idealist dream and encounters quite a few problems along the way. Some contend that Kurt is rooting for this scenario or attempting to encourage some sort of secessionist fantasy. I don’t think that's a fair reading of a man who says his military service in the Balkans shaped his view of this issue, but I suppose some might think that depicting a formally divided America might inadvertently encourage people to think more about a formally divided America.

But to those who feel so horrified at the thought of the United States no longer being so united, it feels fair to ask . . . just what road do you think we're on? Did we see a lot of soul-searching after the attempted mass shooting on the Republican baseball team, or the attempt to run Representative David Kustoff off the road, or the assault on Congressman Rand Paul? Was there anything like the aftermath of the Gabby Giffords shooting, when President Obama spoke of the need to debate our differences "in a way that heals, not a way that wounds"?

If we no longer even go through the motions of calling for a debate that doesn’t demonize and dehumanize our opponents -- "Deplorables!" "Soulless!" -- just how wild and unthinkable does more political violence seem? And if more political violence doesn’t seem so unthinkable . . . why would a future formal national division be unthinkable as well?

If a People (capitalization intended) no longer act in fact like a People, how long will they remain, formally, officially, a People? At what point will the formal arrangement change to reflect the actual on-the-ground reality?

Generally formal on-paper-only fictions do not last very long. Marriages-on-paper-only do not last too much longer after one party begins strongly questioning why a fictitious marriage should be maintained as a polite fiction.

Victor Davis Hanson notes that we're living in "revolutionary times."

Insidiously and incrementally, we are in the process of normalizing violence against the elected president of the United States. If all this fails to delegitimize Trump, fails to destroy his health, or fails to lead to a 2018 midterm Democratic sweep and subsequent impeachment, expect even greater threats of violence. The Resistance and rabid anti-Trumpers have lost confidence in the constitutional framework of elections, and they've flouted the tradition by which the opposition allows the in-power party to present its case to the court of public opinion.

Instead, like the French revolutionaries’ Committee on Public Safety, the unhinged anti-Trumpists assume that they have lost public opinion, given their venom and crudity, and are growing desperate as every legal and paralegal means of removing Trump is nearing exhaustion. Robert Mueller is the last chance, a sort of Watergate or Abu Ghraib that could gin up enough furor to drive down Trump’s poll favorability to the twenties and thereby reduce his person to a demonic force deserving of whatever it gets....

The danger to the country this time around is that the Left has so destroyed the old protocols of the opposition party that it will be hard to resurrect them when progressives return to power.

We are entering revolutionary times. The law is no longer equally applied. The media are the ministry of truth. The Democratic party is a revolutionary force. And it is all getting scary.

I think most people can agree that "Political norms are being tossed by the wayside." Progressives and virulent anti-Trumpers will say that Trump's responsible for most of this. They then use that as an excuse to themselves toss political norms by the wayside -- does anyone still maintain the fiction that the media is not an overt political agitator any more?

Well, if almost all political norms are being discarded, why keep the main one that keeps everyone trapped in this unhealthy, unhappy toxic failed marriage-on-paper-only?

One last point: Just imagining these things and contemplating them is no grounds for the inevitable shrieking about Badthought.

In the sixties and seventies, there were a group of scientists called the "Nuclear Use Theorists." It was their job to game out what would happen in an actual nuclear war.

They had to plot out expected casualties and such. Best counter-measures, risk of nonaction over a believed but not absolutely known Russian first strike versus risk of acting without absolute knowledge, etc.

Whether it was best to deploy nukes counter-force (against Soviet nukes and troops) or if terror of using them counter-value -- that is, against population centers -- would be, terrible as that idea is, the best way to dissuade nuclear aggression in the first place.

All sorts of things too awful to contemplate -- except that someone did have to contemplate them.

The fact that they were actually thinking about what would happen in a nuclear war -- and what our best response to a Soviet missile attack would be -- was hardly evidence that they actively sought a nuclear holocaust.

As bad as all possible outcomes might be in a nuclear war, there were scenarios which were less bad than others, and the nuclear use theorists (who I think were just branded that so that wags could call them "NUTs") were the people charged with thinking about the unthinkable.

I'm not even talking about war here -- but I do think it's useful to start thinking about the unthinkable, and considering the possibility of the "impossible," that a peaceful national divorce might be in everyone's best interests -- especially the children's.

I'm open, of course, to explanations as to why it wouldn't be.

But I'd like to get past the part where people just start jumping up and down screaming "But that's unthinkable! Why that's impossible!"

People who claim that everything they don't like is unthinkable are really just saying they don't like thinking very much, and would prefer straight-line projections involving nigh-unchanging circumstances so that they aren't forced into that whole bother of thinking at all.

These things aren't "unthinkable." They're being thought about. That right there is all the evidence any non-idiot should need to dismiss the claim that they're "unthinkable."

Whether a national divorce is advisable is of course open to debate -- but the claim that it's "unthinkable" is just something thick-witted people say to impose their own defect of imagination on people smarter than they are.

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posted by Ace of Spades at 06:33 PM

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