THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 516, April 26, 2009
"The stuff that history is made of"
Pulling Alongside Night
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
J. Neil Schulman is a prophet.
Two weeks after his twenty-third birthday, on May 1, 1976, J. Neil Schulman finished the first draft of Alongside Night, a novel that accurately discerned the outline of 1996 reality. He finished the final draft in 1978, for publication on October 16, 1979.
Alongside Night describes things that weren't around in the '70s but arrived later, or are becoming commonplace now. "Citizens for a Free Society" could be the populist/libertarian source group for today's Patriot movement. The "TacStrike" division of the novel's Revolutionary Agorist Cadre could be recruited from today's militias, revolutionaries, and mercenaries, while today's cypherpunks could form the basis for the novel's "IntelSec."
In the future of Alongside Night as in our own 1996but not in the 1970's when it was writtenpanhandlers and the homeless are omnipresent due to economic hardship, professional youth gangs roam the streets of New York freely while big-time drug and people smuggling are ubiquitous; videophones are hitting the consumer market and computers are in use everywhere.
Schulman's "First Anarchist Bank and Trust Company," a Swiss bank subsidiary, uses accounts denominated in gold, linked offshorea dream of today's cypherpunks. He predicts re-prohibition of gold, with TV actors warning "that just one little ounce of gold bullion can put you away in a federal penitentiary for up to twenty years."
Transportation to one of Schulman's "Agorist Undergrounds" shields against all transmissions to prevent discovery of location aboveground, including heartbeat detectors being put into use in 1996 by the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the Mexican border. Weapons, cameras, recorders, transmitters, and radioactive materials are checked in transit.
Security at the A.U. uses non-lethal weapons. Guards disarm guests upon arrival, then return their guns on their way to the trading floor. One shop is called "The Gun Nut," and "Lowell-Pierre Engineering" sells nukes. Rental per-square-foot calculates any risk of a government "G-Raid" against the costs of security measures.
Cadre General Jack Guerdon, also the builder of some A.U.s including "Aurora," explains how the location of a large complex could be kept secret from the construction workers:
Thinking about it now, robots with telepresence may achieve the same security, with even less risk, since only Cadre equipment would be inside.
TransComm's smuggling of contraband predicted marijuana traffic expanding into the sort of operation done in the 1980s by the cocaine cartels, small airports and all.
Aurora's trading floor offers non-prescription drugs, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and LSD sold in defiance of DEA and FDA regulations, but with voluntary warning labels.
Dialogue in Alongside Night decries smoking prohibition at the time of the story. In California today, you aren't allowed to smoke in restaurants, workplaces, airports or other public buildings. The U.S. FDA classified nicotine a drug this year, so it's just a formality to prohibit delivery systems (cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) nationwide as well.
Classroom video intercoms exist in the novel, even before consumer VCRs were a hot item. One of Alongside Night's characters, Chin, uses a video capable laptop in a sequence written years before IBM introduced the first PC, and more years before anything you could call a laptop.
Consumer electronics? "Aurora's library had a fair collection of books, videodiscs, and holosonic music cassettes"years before DAT was introduced.
All trading and billing is done by computer with access controls, a projection made before most banks even had ATMs, much less telephone bill-paying.
Elliot chooses a pass phrase like today's PGP requires, and the Cadre contract assures authorized disclosure only. Aurora's hotel room keys are computerized in the novel, but it wasn't like that at hotels in the 1970s. Also in Aurora, computer terminals are in each hotel room.
The electronic contract used by the Cadre in Alongside Night is imitated today by digital forms used millions of times daily on the World Wide Web, including Schulman's own site http://www.pulpless.com/.
Schulman wrote the first chapters of the book in 1974, describing his fictional economist "Martin Vreeland," winner of the Nobel prize for economicstwo years before Milton Friedman actually won his in 1976. And while Schulman did fail to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, his description of the almost casual fall of the United States government over the two week timespan in his novel parallels the bloodless coup attempt against Gorbachev in 1992, which completed the fall of the Soviet Union.
Neil predicted Chinese Norinco handguns and rifles being imported into the United States: Elliot Vreeland carries a ".38 caliber Peking revolver." Such imports were legalized after Alongside Night was written and, after becoming popular items, imports of Chinese firearms into the U.S. are now banned again.
The Cadre are armed, but not on an aggressive revenge mission against the feds, as a "drive-by" with a non-lethal, temporarily-blinding magnesium flash, used to evade a FBI sedan, demonstrates.
Foreigners with hard currency buy relatively cheap U.S. assets in Alongside Night, before Rockefeller Center or major portions of the entertainment industry were bought by Japanese conglomerates. Schulman predicts the "mall-ization" of America because of fear of crime on city streets, and police replaced with private patrols such as "Fifth Avenue Merchant Alliance Security (FAMAS)."
"Air Quebec" indicates Schulman's prediction of Quebec secession, which seems likely soon after a fifty-fifty split in the last election to test the issue. The secession of Texas doesn't seem as far-fetched these days as it did in 1976. Just think of the Montana legislators who introduced a bill to secede a couple of years ago.
Schulman's novel is set during the final two weeks of a catastrophic "wheelbarrow" inflation. Confiscatory taxes have forced people out of aboveground jobs and into either working "off the books," or unemployed on the dole. Gresham's Law has Americans using blue "New Dollars": "More than anything else, it resembled Monopoly money"; and fixed-value coins disappear so fast for their metallic value that vending-machine tokens fixed daily to the price of the "eurofranc" are just about the only real money in circulation.
The President complains about the U.S. being treated like a banana republic by the "European Common Market Treaty Organization, a combination of the European Common Market and a U.S.-less NATO," the U.S. having been kicked out for no longer being able to afford keeping overseas troop commitments. The Chancellor of EUCOMTO informs the White House, "Mr. President, even bananas do not decay as quickly as the value of your currency these past few months." In the 1970's, the European Union was not yet negotiated and NATO was still almost entirely controlled by the United States.
In Alongside Night, political dissidents are arrested on secret warrants, and the FBI gulag they're stuck in (codenamed "Utopia") is blown up by the feds as a cover-up. Of course, nothing like that could ever happen in real life, right?
Schulman's account of a Federal Renovation Zone rebuilding Times Square in N.Y. predicts today's sweeping federalization of lands, opposed by the sagebrush rebellion.
Future conflict between militias and the feds seems inevitable today since both sides see the other as a fatal threat and neither side is backing down. An Oracle headline in Alongside Night: "FBI Chief Powers attributes last night's firebombings of bureau offices to outlaw 'Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.'" The recent FBI raids in Colorado and West Virginia against militia groups supposedly planning terrorismnot to mention Waco and Ruby Ridgedemonstrates that anti-federal sentiment isn't laughed off as harmless anymore.
The FBI chief in the novel keeps copies of "confidential" enemies lists at home, long before Filegate. In the 1970's when J. Neil Schulman wrote his novel, the general image of the FBI was Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., on The FBI. Today's FBI is better characterized by the paranoia of The X-Files, where higher-ups are usually in complicity with dark forces.
The Emergency Broadcast System in Alongside Night extends even to telephonesusing the phone system during the crackdown requires authorized beeperswhile radio and TV programming simulates normality while the government collapses. Today's FBI digital wiretap law will provide capability for millions of simultaneous wiretaps and the major broadcast networks have accepted official explanations uncritically of everything from who started the fire at Waco to the cause of the explosion that destroyed TWA Flight 800.
In Alongside Night, we learn that a New York Times front-page story headlined "Vreeland Widow Assures Public Husband Died Naturally" is disinformation. Echoes of Vince Foster and the Arkancides?
An "Oracle" headline in Alongside Night predicts military dissent: "TEAMSTER PRESIDENT WARNS POSSIBILITY OF ARMED FORCES WILDCAT STRIKES IF PENTAGON DOES NOT MEET DEMANDS..." And whendue to a busted budgetan absence of government paychecks combines with the latest government scandal, a two-century-old superpower collapses like a house of cards.
Where did a prediction of revolution in the U.S. come from, if not the fevered dreams of a militant paranoid? Young Schulman, a student of Austrian economics, just "followed the money," determining who would earn it and who would control it.
During the 1970s, hippies dropped out and moved to communes, while tax and sagebrush rebels fought to keep the government out of their pockets and off their lands. California's Proposition 13 and the election of U.S. President Ronald Reagan were the results of the establishment co-opting anti-government positions.
Despite this, the current political situation in the U.S. is more volatile than ever. Job security doesn't exist for anybody, so leftists are forming new parties out of disgust with the Democrats, while right-wingers who believe Republicans indistinguishable join militias.
But perhaps the most revolutionary development is the Internet and the World Wide Web, which threaten government currency controls, tax collection, and media restrictions.
Alongside Night predicted revolutionary cadres organizing to resist and replace the State with an "agorist" society. Agorism, according to Samuel Edward Konkin III, who coined the term, is the integration of both libertarian theory and counter-economic practice, neither inactive "library libertarians" prattling on with their idle complaints, nor simple criminals preying on society.
Agorists insist on both civil and economic liberties for all individuals, encourage efficient restitution for contract and rights violations, yet oppose a monopoly of coercion from even a limited "minarchist" State.
From Konkin's New Libertarian Manifesto: "Coercion is immoral, inefficient and unnecessary for human life and fulfilment." This is not pacifism because defensive violence is not coercion. Coercion is the initiation of violence or its threat. You can't morally start a fight, but you can finish one.... "When the State unleashes its final wave of supressionand is successfully resistedthis is the definition of Revolution."
Most citizens go along with the government, whether "right or wrong," to preserve order, defend freedom, and more recently to assist the poor and protect the environment. When it becomes obvious that the government is hostile to these purposes, many of its subjects will no longer feel guilty about joining the radical opposition.
A rich, slave-owning, dead European white male cracker named Thomas Jefferson (sorry, he's not "the Sage of Monticello" anymore), wrote similar things about King George III in the Declaration of Independence.
I'm sure T.J.'s writings would be found in Aurora's library, along with the following titles, most of which are specified in Alongside Night. Productive workers will "withdraw their sanction," according to Ayn Rand's 1957 magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, and this will lead to "the collapse of the Looter's State." Rand also described an underground "Galt's Gulch" of black market revolutionaries in her classic novel. Murray Rothbard hinted at stateless defense in Man, Economy, and State (1962). Robert Heinlein portrayed a stateless legal system and revolution in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (1966). Rothbard describes stateless defense services fully in Power and Market (1970), echoing Gustavus De Molinari's 1849 essay "The Production of Security."
Molinari was an economist in the original French laissez-faire school of Frederick Bastiat. Molinari concluded that justice and defense were goods like any other, best provided in a competitive market rather than political monopoly. Konkin's New Libertarian Manifesto (published in 1980, based on a talk given in February 1974 which influenced Alongside Night) inspired the creation of The Agorist Institute, "symbolically founded on the last day of 1984," now with a web site at http://www.agorist.org/.
That's all fine for free-market supporters, but wouldn't "progressive" groups try to impose their own one-party dictatorships? What's in it for the masses?
Despite their famous friendship with Newt Gingrich, Alvin and Heidi Toffler are active in labor and ecology circles. They point out that telecommuting is 29 times more efficient than physical commuting in private cars. If 12% telecommuted, the 75 million barrels of gasoline saved would completely eliminate the need for foreign oil and future Gulf Wars. Real estate now used for office space could be used for local housing. The Tofflers believe traditional factors of production such as land, labor, and capital are being dwarfed by the growing importance of information. Information is inexhaustible, it can be shared but still kept.
Widely copied software brings more user suggestions and faster improvements. It puts scarcity economics on its ear. Expensive bulky production methods are being "ephemeralized" (to use a term coined by Bucky Fuller), replaced by flexible cheap computers to satisfy local consumer tastes. More people can afford access to computerresources, with less damage to the environment.
Telecommuting is safer than driving, which currently kills a Vietnam War's worth of fatalities each year, without requiring "strategic" resources to fight over. Silicon comes from sand, which is plentiful. Because programs like PGP protect users from both evil hackers and a fascist global police state, traditional leftists embrace the new technology, and even build their own web sites.
Karl Marx wrote of objective and subjective conditions being necessary for Revolution. "Objective" in this case means the physical ability to overthrow the current regime. "Subjective" means the desire and mass support to do it.
The 1960s arguably provided the subjective conditions: an unpopular war, a vicious police crackdown on agitators, and hundreds of thousands of protesters marching in the streets. But these subjective conditions weren't perfect. The economy was still robust, not yet weighed down with the debts racked up in the 1970's by the Wars On Poverty and Vietnam, and no stagflation and oil crisis yet. The objective conditions were bad. Individuals and small groups could not do much mischief without being overwhelmed by Chicago police or National Guard troops thrown against them.
Today, a single troublemaker can afford to sign up for Internet service under a pseudonym and use anonymous remailers to post messages in widely read "newsgroup" conferences, distributed to more than 135 countries without identification.
The Rulers and the Court Opinion Makers won't let their ill-gotten monopolies collapse without a fight. Every day we hear about the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse: Terrorists, Pedophiles, Money-Launderers, and Drug Smugglers. Defenders of privacy and free speech on the Internet get smeared for "fighting law enforcement" just like the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre in Alongside Night.
Restrictions on the Internet are likely to be passed for "crime and security" reasons and to hold users "accountable." Civil libertarians complain that such pornographically-explicit words as "breast" are being filtered by online services fearing prosecution, with the "unintended consequence" of forcing breast cancer survivors to choose euphemisms like "tit".
Critics of data censorship say these restrictions are like trying to stop the wind from crossing a border. For example, when France (in anti-laissez-faire fashion) blocked some newsgroups, an ISP in the United States, http://www.c2.net/, made them available to French users via the World Wide Web.
Next there's the problem of how to make a living underground. Schulman watched Anthony L. Hargis found a "bank that isn't a bank" in 1975, with "transfer orders" instead of checks, denominated in mass units of gold. ALH&Co. survives to this day, despite IRS inspections, hassles with the Post Office and local authorities, and ever-tighter banking restrictions against "money-laundering."
Hargis explicitly forbids (by voluntary contract) his account holders from selling drugs, which suggests how proprietary communities can choose to be drug-free within a future agorist society. Hargis is sincere in this restriction, not just playing clean to fool the authorities. Unfortunately, Hargis is not enthusiastic about encryption or the Internet. "Honest Citizens have nothing to hide."
Rarely does the weed of government research bear anything but the bitter fruits of mass destruction, disinformation, and bureaucratic disruption of innocent people's lives. Exceptions may include public-key cryptography, spread-spectrum radio and the Internet Protocol.
Programmers such as Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)'s Philip R. Zimmermann are using the government sponsored RSA algorithm to thwart the efforts of every State's security agent. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), where PGP is used by rebels fighting dictatorship, the mere possession of a network-capable computer will bring a lengthy prison sentence.
In 1995, David Chaum announced the availability of untraceable digital cash ("Ecash"), denominated in U.S. Dollars (Federal Reserve Units, or "frauds" as Hargis would call them) from Mark Twain Bank in St. Louis, MO.
Ecash can be withdrawn, deposited, and spent without fee anywhere on the Internet. The only charge is when exchanging Ecash for a particular currency. Chaum lives in Amsterdam, the location of the "secret annex" in The Diary of Anne Frank.
During World War II, the Nazis seized the government records in Amsterdam before partisans could burn them, and used them to track down and kill Jews, including members of Chaum's own family. Perhaps this explains his desire for computer privacy.
In 1985, David Chaum described his invention in an article as "Security Without Identification: Transaction Systems To Make 'Big Brother' Obsolete." Ecash protects privacy yet thwarts deadbeat counterfeiters. Similarly, software filters against "spam" and other unwanted messages obviate a State crackdown against anonymity.
Chaum's Digicash company now serves a number of banks in different countries, and provides the "electronic wallet" software for use by their account holders. With Ecash, items may be purchased without identifying the buyer, even if the banks and merchants exchange information, but the seller may be disclosed if the buyer wishes to publicly dispute a purchase. As it exists, privacy is compromised because of bank disclosure requirements, but it isn't hard to imagine underground banks with unofficial ecash (as opposed to proprietary Ecash), using their own currency or gold.
Respecting your right to be secure in the privacy of your own home would let you advertise, send catalogs, take orders, send processed data or tele-operate machinery (in other words, do your work), then send invoices, collect ecash payments, and deposit your unreported earnings scot-free in offshore accounts. Using ecash and encrypted remailers, there would be no way for tax collectors to tell if you made $100 last year or $100,000,000.
If measures such as mandatory internal passports and routine checkpoints can't restrict who can work or determine accurate income taxes due, they'll have to employ ubiquitous surveillancea totalitarian system will be the only way to protect the privileges of the tax eaters. Although necessary for the future survival of the State, a crackdown will provoke resistance. Private communications bypass official propaganda, as the Committees of Correspondence did during the American Revolution.
They'll be forced to bug your house. Don't worry, the automatic image-processing (exists today!) 24-hour cameras will be labeled "for your protection." Worse than Orwell's 1984, they won't need humans to look through them, they'll identify everyone and trace their movements with blessed convenience.
Couldn't they just tap the phones? Sure, but with encrypted data to and from an Internet Service Provider they wouldn't get much. Couldn't they require back-door "escrowed" keys and outlaw strong encryption? Not good enough, they need constant monitoring (not just with a court order) to collect taxes.
Scofflaws might send innocent looking images and sound files with steganographically hidden data using methods designed to thwart detection and disruption. In 1996, for real, any data collected about you can be shared with the FBI, U.S. Customs, DEA, IRS, Postal inspectors, and the Secret Service because the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), located down the street from the CIA in Vienna, Virginia pools the data. I guess anything goes to stop crime and protect the children, right?
In Alongside Night, temporary relays and infrared modulation of engine heat disguises communication signals. With enhancement of spread-spectrum radios recently introduced, a channel wouldn't be defined by a single radio frequency, but by a "spreading code" of frequency hops with staggered dwell times, so that jammers and eavesdroppers won't be able to predict where, and for how long, the carrier will go next.
A hybrid with the direct sequence technique would mix each bit of the message with several pseudo-random "chip" bits, to spread the signal at each hop. A transmitted reference in one band, of purely random thermal noise in a resistor for example, can be compared to the reference mixed with a message in another, so that the authorized receiver correlates the two to recover the message.
Low-powered microwave, lasers, unreported underground cables, antennas disguised as flag poles and many other methods would insure that the email got through during a blackout.
Today, when "rightsizing" has made a temporary placement firm the largest employer in the U.S., and the President's own budget projects a federal tax rate of 84%, not including state, county, city and other local taxes, we can count on greater numbers swelling the ranks of radical movements in the face of a hostile establishment.
"Dr. Merce Rampart," the woman leading Schulman's Cadre, offers advice to dislocated personnel in the "New Dawn" of a proprietary anarchist revolution:
In the 1980's, after Alongside Night was published, this idea became popular among libertarian-leaning conservatives. It's called privatization.
Alongside Night shows us a world where such ideas aren't merely a smokescreen for greater efficiency in the service of an ever more encompassing State.