The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 14.2

March 6, 2011

"'Leaderless revolutions,' as seen currently in North Africa, pose
important challenges to outside media and to foreigners, generally,
seeking authoritative voices to clarify the picture of fast-moving
events. But genuine revolutions are made from below, with the myriad
energies and objectives of hundreds of thousands or millions coalescing
at least around certain fundamental demands. Time constrained and
impatient foreign journalists and audiences, dependent on fast
analyses by the usual hierarchical menu of ‘experts’ and political
leaders, naturally resist an arduous process of grassroots inquiry."

"When only the head of state like Mubarek, his cabinet, his ruling
party or a few military leaders are discarded, when even a constitution
is re-designed or replaced to allow greater representation, such changes
rarely go deep enough to affect the realities of oppression in people’s
daily lives. Understandably, there is genuine immediate relief from
previous regime brutality and an opened atmosphere for free expression.
These are great accomplishments by the Egyptian people. But if the
hierarchical logics of capitalist economics, liberal democracy, dominant
foreign powers and social exploitation such as sexism remain in place,
a political revolution has only partially succeeded. Much of the old
regime remains. Those millions of Egyptian "leaders" who have tasted
the exuberant possibilities of utopian community, however briefly,
will now confront the realities of resuming their long resistance
struggles for lives of freedom and dignity."

- David Porter

"Especially is this so in technologically advanced societies where
electronic surveillance can often penetrate the structure revealing
its chain of command. Experience has revealed over and over again
that anti-state, political organizations utilizing this method (a
pyramid style organization) of command and control are easy prey
for government infiltration, entrapment, and destruction of the
personnel involved. This has been seen repeatedly in the United
States where pro-government infiltrators or agent provocateurs
weasel their way into patriotic groups and destroy them from within."

- Louis Beam

How much the world can change in just three short months.

When the last Burning Blade was sent out the Wikileaks release of thousands of State Department documents had just begun and the United States government was hard at work trying to stop the steady trickle of revealing, embarrassing, but not too scandalous, memos from reaching the general public. Though the releases themselves didn’t seem to hold any major revelations, although the cables describing the horribly corrupt and Orwellian nature of the Tunisian government may have played a contributing role in the mass uprisings in that country and beyond, the age old cat and mouse game between authority and resistance played out once more, this time across the internet, with what seems to be a victory for the notion of an anonymous, leaderless resistance. Though the U.S. Government succeeded in shutting down mainstream media coverage of the leaks, cutting off sources of funding to Wikileaks, jailing the leaker, and defaming Wikileaks’ founder, the leaked documents found their way on to over two-thousand mirror sites and now nearly anyone with an internet connection can peruse them to their heart’s content.

Not long after, Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest of Tunisian government policies and became a catalyst for what could be the long awaited revolution that could sweep through the Muslim world and wipe its many dictatorial regimes from the page of history. Both the Tunisian and Egyptian people have thrown out their leaders, using massive, continuous, and admirably peaceful demonstrations, and many other North African and Middle Eastern countries are following suit. Ruling families and leaders who have been in power for decades are now scrambling to appease the masses with bribes and reforms or are cracking down on them with aggressive police state tactics. To be sure, one thing that these revolutions have done is put to rest the stereotype of the crazy, violent Muslim. So far the protesters have exercised great restrain in the face of violence, intimidation, and broken promises. But a far more important thing that has happened is that an effectively leaderless mass of like-minded individuals have won a potentially resounding victory over the very idea of authoritarian rule.

The development of such leaderless movements is the natural result of modern ideological warfare, specifically the use of police state tactics, such as spies, surveillance, and moles, to compromise and destroy opposition groups of every stripe. As Louis Beam points out in his quote above, modern surveillance technology and methods allow powerful institutions, like governments and corporations, to intercept communications within a clandestine organization, track their members, analyze their behavioral patterns, discover who their leaders are, and then corrupt, compromise, or eliminate them using any number of methods, legal or otherwise. As spying technology becomes more and more advanced, organizing a resistance movement and remaining hidden from those in power is becoming extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve.

To get around this problem, a resistance movement can intentionally expose its leader, having him or her serve as the public face and voice of their movements. If the movement is popular, the leader’s notoriety can serve as a shield of sorts, making any moves by the opposition to silence or subdue him or her appear draconian and sure to win more supporters to the movement’s cause. However, while heavy handed tactics can still be effective against such public figures, especially if the leader is very important to the movement’s success, it is far more effective for those in power to simply compromise opposition leaders by bribing them, seducing them, and bringing them into the fold, making them into tools of those in power. Once a leader is compromised in this way the movement will end up following along, splitting into pieces, or fading away, its power marginalized and its goals left mostly unachieved.

Thus, resistance movements with hierarchical power structures are quite vulnerable, and the same can be said of any hierarchical power structure including our many ruling ideologies. This has been the case since hierarchies of power first arose thousands of years ago, a time when gods and kings were either one and the same, or the kings were direct descendants of the gods. As went the king, so went the kingdom, for wasn’t his fate determined by the gods themselves? The logic is a double-edged sword. For example, in military clashes in years long passed when leaders often fought on the front lines alongside their soldiers it was common for the battle to be effectively over when the opposition’s leader was slain, much like how a chess game ends when the king is checkmated. This is because a leader serves many roles, not just as the one who is ultimately in command. The leader also serves as a rallying point, a moral authority, a symbol of the potency of the movement’s cause, and even a divine crusader, and the members of a movement identify strongly with their leader. Followers feel emboldened when the see their leader standing strong and fighting with conviction, and they feel disheartened when their leader appears weak or compromising. And while there may be equally competent tacticians, brilliant intellectuals, and charismatic individuals in the ranks to rise up and take a leader’s place if he is killed, the loss of a leader is a powerful psychological blow to a movement, especially one who has inspired many of the movement’s followers with great words and deeds. The success of a hierarchical power structure all focuses around the leader’s ability to inspire, motivate, organize, and endure.

The vast majority of ideologies in the world today are comprised of a hierarchical power structure. All major political systems have either a single leader or a group of people chosen to make decisions for the rest of the people. All major and most minor religions have either a hierarchy of power or a single leader who reveals the will of their god. Similarly, our economic system focuses around the concept of ownership, allowing the owner of a thing to rule over it as they will, giving rise to the authoritarian hierarchy of the corporation. Even our schools follow an autocratic, hierarchical model of organization, and so we are all well conditioned at an early age to respect and surrender our will to authority.

Thus, ideologies determined to rise to supremacy or stay in power will seek to undermine or eliminate the leaders of rival ideologies, causing them to collapse as their followers lose faith in their ideology. This tactic has been used in ideological warfare for thousands of years in one form or another: the statues of gods, symbolic of the gods and ideologies themselves, were once stolen or destroyed in order to break their believers’ wills, conquerors commonly slew a nation’s royalty publicly to win the subservience of the conquered population, usurpers of every stripe have taken advantage of the peoples’ fealty to their leader to seize power merely by killing and taking the place of the king, rivals to those in power often found themselves imprisoned, defamed, or killed as threats to their leader even of they had no intention of seizing power, and resistance groups can expect to have their leaders tortured, broken, and publicly executed when they challenge the powers that be. In modern times the assault on leaders has become even more harrowing, with the various forms of media serving as channels for blistering attacks against rival ideologies by trying to defame their most cherished public symbols. The reason for this is simple, when the leader goes down, so goes the movement.

As a result, ideologies have been evolving to become less dependent on a single leader. This can be seen most vividly in how terrorist organizations seek to stay loosely connected, using cells and limiting knowledge of the organization so that if one member is captured they cannot reveal much about the others even if they confess all that they know. Additionally, terrorist groups can also grant a great deal of autonomy to their cells, allowing them to grow and act without communication with the top level leaders. This makes them difficult to find even if the leaders are killed or compromised. If one “cuts the head off of the snake” the body can still live on and strike anew.

Democracies are also less dependent on a single leader, at least when compared to the aristocracies and dictatorships that preceded them, their constitutions ensuring that state power is spread out through many individuals in several branches of government. If a President is killed, succession goes according to pre-written laws and is very orderly. The people may become disheartened by the loss of a great leader, but the symbol of the Presidency endures and the faith in the system remains strong. Furthermore, leaders of democracies can be changed, and often are, by regular elections, ensuring that unpopular leaders are removed from power in a civilized manner. No single leader is ever allowed to become too powerful and is always held in check by other branches of government which hold equal sway. Also, power can be further decentralized in democracies which take the form of a republic, where a number of states are assembled under a single governing body which has a relatively minor amount of power and the individual states are granted a great deal of autonomy. However, recent trends in the world show governments moving in the opposite direction, towards more centralized concentrations of power, as can be seen in the establishments of the E.U., the creation and strengthening of centralized governing bodies and central banks, and the establishment of large “free trading” blocs of nations. These trends are natural as they make the whole more efficient, at least at first, but they are not ideal as centralized power tends to become insulated, corrupt, and abusive, inevitably leading to rigidity, inefficiency, and collapse.

This leads us to Egypt, a nation governed for decades by an insulated, corrupt, and abusive dictator who held elections, often with only his name on the ballot, seemingly out of some narcissistic desire to feel the approval of the masses. As an aside, one of the more glorious parts of the many revolutions stirring in the Muslim world is the hysterical ravings and antics of the dictators as power slips through their fingers. In the past their behavior would have confused me, how they cling to power, claim that without them the country would collapse, insist that they are still popular and that they shall win in the end, but now that I understand narcissism it all makes perfect sense; that is, their senseless actions make sense in a psychotic and sociopathic way. In Egypt, Mubarak ruled unopposed by smashing any opposition to his rule. Rival political parties were undermined and their leaders were jailed. This strategy was very effective in keeping him in power, but his abuse of that power forced a widespread ideological mutation of the opposition into a form without prominent leaders. In the end the opposition did not need a leader to depose him.

This could well be a watershed event in the history of the world. What we could be witnessing is the birth of a new ideology, and perhaps one substantially different than anything in the world today. As David Porter mentions in his quote above, the media was challenged to make sense of the revolution and had difficulty in finding an authoritative voice to explain what was happening and what the opposition wanted. This is an important point: there was no authoritative voice because there was no authority. There was no leader of the movement because anyone capable of fomenting such opposition had been jailed long ago. But the idea that it was a “leaderless movement” implies that it was a movement like any other, just without a leader marching out in front. In truth the movement was fractious and non-uniform and lacked a set of shared goals or a unifying notion of what a new government should be like. Reporters’ views of what the opposition wanted depended on whom they interviewed, but they were all unanimous in wanting Mubarak out. In that they succeeded magnificently, their internal “disunity” hardly being a weakness, and in fact their lack of shared ideals may make this burgeoning young ideology stronger than any which have come before.

Without a leader, an ideology is no longer vulnerable to the many failings of putting too much trust and power into one person’s hands. There is no single person, or group of people, who can be corrupted, bribed, compromised, threatened, jailed, or killed, spelling an end to the movement. There is also no risk of their leadership becoming brainwashed by their own bluster inside an echo chamber of narcissistic mutual admiration until their lives seem to attain messianic importance. Instead, in a leaderless ideology power has been shifted radically towards every individual with no single one having control over the masses. This presents a different problem though, without someone to direct and organize them, how does a leaderless movement become anything other than a lawless mob? The answer is that they achieve their direction through communication; a lot of communication, but instead of that communication being authoritarian, one person speaking down to the masses, it goes from many people to many others and in all directions at once. This style of mass communication has been greatly assisted by cell phones and the internet, which have connected people like never before. Within these mediums there is constant chatter, a continuous voicing of new ideas which spread far and wide, and a relentless weeding out of those ideas that do not appeal to others. In the end the ideas that spread the farthest and inspire the most establish a consensus among the mass regardless of who originated them. This is the futurist’s dream of “mass intelligence” made real and coming to life before our eyes. Furthermore, this leaderless cacophony is unpredictable, and thus uncontrollable, making it ideally suited to challenge existing authoritarian based ideologies.

The “Western” media presents the Egyptian revolution in its own founding image, that of the people crying out for democracy and deposing a dictator. The media tells a tale of two potential outcomes, one being the establishment of a classic parliamentary democracy with elections and a constitution, the other being that power will be seized by either a military dictatorship or a theocracy led by Muslim extremists. Naturally the media favors the former and warns of the latter and it is quite possible that in a year’s time or so the Egyptian people will be content with one of those two possibilities, or some combination thereof. However, I see the possibility of something completely new arising in the cradle of civilization. Democracies, with their separation of powers and elections, are still quite authoritarian in form. They still have leaders, centralized power, and allow wealthy elites to have a huge influence over the state. And while elections and individual rights have put power in the people’s hands, political parties, big money, economic necessity, and national security have steadily degraded the peoples’ ability to control their own fate. What I see the potential for in Egypt is an even more radical shift away from centralized authority, something that exposes everyone who is given a position of power to the same sort of direct democracy that we witnessed in Tahrir Square, something that allows the people to oust anyone in power who is doing a poor job. In such an ideology, leaders would have to become more like managers, coordinating people and listening to their needs rather than following the guidance of those above them and imposing it on those below. These new “managers” would not be selected by their platform, beliefs, or political views, but simply by how well they execute the will of the majority and do their jobs. No longer would people with power be appointed by the ruling class, or work their way up by winning the favor of their bosses, instead they would have to focus on being good at managing their charges, with those “below” them deciding if they should stay in power.

Thus, the entire hierarchical structure of our world could potentially be stood upon its head, from politics to economics to religion and beyond. No longer would it be strictly top down, or top down with intermittent elections, but truly bottom up. And as radical as that notion may seem this type of structure would simply be continuing the ideological progression which had a watershed moment in the American Revolution, except that “We The People” would no longer be a distant governing body asked for its opinion every few years, but a direct and immediate force making sure that those given power are serving the common good.

Furthermore, this revolution may also have a radical affect on the notion of national sovereignty and on nations themselves. The revolution is already proving to be contagious; spreading through many parts of the Muslim world, and it wasn’t too long ago when much of the Middle East was united under the Ottoman Empire. Also, for many Muslims, the “Golden Age of Islam” is much more than a chapter in a dusty old history text; it is a time that they feel may one day come again. Islam already features a strong notion of equality between individuals, which would accommodate an ideology based around decentralized power. However, a new ideology, should it arise, could not be founded upon Sharia. Sharia is part of old world, failed ideology and a new governing system must embrace new ideological concepts as much as it must embrace new technology in order to compete. Of course, arising in Egypt any new ideology would be somewhat Islamic in character, but it wouldn’t have to be so.

Of course, a new ideology might not arise in the Middle East, but an ideology similar to what I’ve described above is likely to emerge somewhere in the world, as trends seem to be indicating. In just the past two years we have seen other leaderless movements achieve some very impressive accomplishments. The aforementioned Wikileaks battle was effectively won by the website’s supporters, including the notorious internet group “Anonymous”, rendering the United States government powerless to shut the leaks down. Anonymous is a perfect example of a leaderless, amorphous, and unpredictable movement that is loosely held together by the notion of internet freedom. However, Anonymous has yet to evolve beyond being little more than internet, and in some cases real life, pranksters, and shows no intention of becoming ideological in purpose. The Tea Party movement in the United States was also, to a degree, leaderless, it being a conglomeration of Americans angry about government, though it was also financially supported, encouraged, and somewhat guided by wealthy conservatives with their own agendas. The Tea Party movement managed to get many candidates elected to office, but their impact so far has been minimal. It remains to be seen whether Tea Party candidates will stay true to their ideals or become co-opted by the political machinery in Washington, the pitfall of having leaders represent a movement. And the ongoing battle over public sector unions in Wisconsin and other states has featured spontaneous mass protests similar to what has been seen in Egypt. However, like the Tea Party, these protests do not break any new ideological ground nor unite bitter foes, mainly professing the ideas of one of the two major parties, only louder and more extreme.

But these three examples show how leaderless movements can be both powerful and determined, surprising those in authority with their capabilities and their reach. They also show how modern mass communications via cell phones and the internet have enabled a new form of group consciousness to evolve, which will have major impact on ideology as we know it. Also, all of these movements are very open about who can join them, generally featuring a very narrow and focused goal and welcoming anyone who agrees to join in regardless of what else they believe in. Furthermore, all three movements are primarily anti-authoritarian in nature despite being either anarchistic, socialistic, or libertarian. But to go from being a transient movement into being an ideology, these groups, and this also includes the protesters in the Muslim world, must find a source of lasting cohesion. Authoritarian ideology leaves people dependent on those in power to tell them what to do, and individualist ideology tends to make people sequester themselves into a private life where their personal narrative is all important. To be strong an ideology needs to be able to assemble people into organizations where they can be at their most effective, which requires the correct blend of coordination and independence. Ideologies which profess only freedom or demand rigid adherence to narrow guidelines will be inferior to those which can combine the two effectively. So if the Egyptians, or anyone else for that matter, discover a new way to do this, then the world could be in for another great awakening.

Speaking of awakenings I may be on the verge of a major change in my health situation. Of course I have to keep in mind that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is notorious for relapses and that nothing I’ve tried up to this point has worked for very long, but the current regimen that I’m on feels different. Since the last newsletter I’ve added a third and fourth piece to the puzzle and I feel that I am steadily pushing back the tide that has been drowning me for over nine years. I don’t know how many pieces to the puzzle there are, nor if there is a cure somewhere out there that will work for me, but as long as I am alive I will fight. Should I ever get back to my old form, or close to it, I will surely announce my rejuvenation with a resounding cry, musically of course, recording it for all of you to hear. Until then, as always, the battle continues.

A big ‘Hello’ to anyone receiving the Burning Blade for the first time. This is the Fireaxe newsletter.

The Myth of Sustainable Maximum Efficiency

Despite being demonstrably failed ideology, laissez-faire economic theories are becoming fashionable in the halls of power again and recent history is being rewritten to show that it was what little remained of government regulation which caused our global financial crisis and not the lack thereof. This is not particularly surprising given how ideologies transform their adherents into fanatics over time. In over-regulated systems, such as the economy in decades long passed, the economy is needlessly burdened by red tape and maximum efficiency cannot be attained as too many potentially productive strategies must not be followed in order to ensure the integrity of the system. So by removing regulations from such an environment, the system as a whole can become more productive. This reinforces the belief that regulation is bad in the minds of the proponents of deregulation. When the process is repeated and the gains continue to grow, generally as the result of excess borrowing and the growth of bubbles and other manias, proponents will embrace their beliefs even more, leading them to further deregulate the system in pursuit of even greater gains. Eventually the system becomes unstable, and later dysfunctional, as a result, but by that time deregulation adherents have become so attached to their beliefs that they will only advocate for more of the same, seeing it as a cure all for any systemic ills. Even now there are many who speak of a financial utopia that could be realized if only complete deregulation could be achieved. This is the same sort of purist idealism that can be found in religious cults and needs to be dismissed.

The elusive answer is to find some middle ground where there is enough regulation to keep the system stable while allowing the system to run as efficiently as possible. Most people would agree to this principle but differ on where that ideal middle ground is based, mostly due to their ideological leanings. What most people tend to assume is that there is a perfect point at which the system will run at maximum efficiency indefinitely, as if it were a well maintained machine. If something is tried and the system runs faster, that is viewed as success and more of the same is tried. If something is tried and the system runs slower, that is viewed as failure and the idea is discarded. So the general process is to keep trying new ideas to make the system run faster and faster, thinking that faster is always better. This is a problem because an ideological system, such as an economic system, which runs at full speed, or maximum efficiency, is inherently unstable. Such systems may seem stable at unsustainable levels, but they are kept in equilibrium by unsustainable forces, and as those forces change, the system shifts into different equilibrium conditions, following a familiar cycle of growth, euphoria, and collapse.

So, what is equilibrium? By definition, equilibrium is a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces, which assumes nothing about the efficiency of the system. Equilibrium can be achieved at any output level. Take, for example, a car engine at idle. The engine could be said to be in equilibrium because it is not accelerating or decelerating, but it is not running at full speed. If the accelerator is pushed down the engine breaks out of its equilibrium state, spinning faster until the amount of energy delivered to it from the flow of gasoline is offset by the inertia required to keep the engine moving faster; at that point the engine stops accelerating and can be said to be in an equilibrium state once more, only this time at a higher rate of speed.

To use this analogy and apply it to economics, the engine is like the economy and the accelerator is like stimulus, which can be in the form of something like borrowing or investment capital. The greater the stimulus, the faster the engine will run, reaching a more efficient equilibrium point. When the stimulus is removed, the engine will slow back down, but in the case of this analogy we can use the additional output from the engine while it was running faster to represent monetary gains that we can use to buy more expensive parts for our engine. When we install those parts, our engine will run faster on less gasoline, which is the same as making the economy more productive. We could also siphon off those monetary gains, awarding them to investors to buy luxury items instead of using them to improve our engine. Of course, we always need to reward investors or they will stop investing, but as pointed out in past newsletters, if too much of the output is siphoned off the engine can actually become less productive, requiring even greater stimulus to produce the same output. That would be like selling off our fuel injection system and replacing it with a used carburetor so that we can buy a stylish set of spinning rims. Our engine would suck up a lot of gasoline, but it wouldn’t run any faster, and that hurts us in the long run.

However, this is the situation that much of the Western world finds itself in, their economies floundering due to their debt burdens and obligations and with devoted economists on either side of the argument demanding more stimulation. Proponents on one side favor increased government borrowing on the order of trillions of dollars and proponents on the other favor tax cuts for the rich so that they will invest more and provide stimulus that way. Neither side seems to realize that the lion’s share of our economic output is being siphoned off at the expense of the engine and that this must be rectified. More stimulation means that more interest will be paid to investors in the future, and current interest payments on public and private debt are killing our growth. Neither lower taxes nor increased spending will revive the economy since neither addresses the fundamental problem, which is too much of our gains being siphoned off towards unproductive purposes such as debt service and entitlements. The usual remedy is to cut entitlements and forgive debts, which is not entirely fair but which has been proven very effective in turning economies around. However, since forgiving debts would harm banks, investors, and the wealthy, it should not be expected any time soon since they are the ones in charge. Their solution is even less fair.

At present we have an undersized engine trying to pull an oversized load. This load has several components, some are expensive entitlement programs such as social security, medical care, and unemployment insurance; others are monetary rewards to investors in the form of interest payments, dividends, high executive salaries, and profit taking. Of course, the only burdens on the economy which in danger of being cut are the ones that benefit the poor and middle class and not the ones that benefit the wealthy. This is what happens when your democracy is taken over by moneyed interests: budgets are balanced on the backs of those who can least afford it.

The system is headed toward a new equilibrium state; and not one where the economy is running at maximum efficiency. If the amount of siphoning off due to social programs can be sufficiently reduced, which is the current policy direction, the gains available to make the engine run more efficiently will start growing the economy again, only much more to the benefit of the wealthy than in its previous state. However, if the cuts are not sufficient, the result will be a debt spiral with investors slowly sucking the blood out of the economy even as they try to pump it back to life with bigger and bigger loans. Note that the Federal Reserve’s unreserved support of low interest rates and U.S. Treasury bond buying has convinced many that the debt spiral is inevitable and underway.

With this analysis it is clear that complete deregulation, and letting the economy find its own equilibrium state, is seldom desirable, thus debunking laissez-faire economics. Without structure in place to ensure the long term health of the economy, too much of its output will surely be siphoned off towards unproductive pursuits. Thus, regulations must be put in place in order to control the amount of gains which can be siphoned away from growing the real economy, which implies controlling the amount of borrowing and investment allowed or reducing the rate of return that investors demand. Additionally, sufficient economic gains must be redirected into growing the economy rather than spent on luxuries and frivolous pursuits. Rewards are necessary to motivate people to work hard, but rewards cannot become so all-consuming that they come at the expense of a brighter future.

As an aside, anyone who’s ever played a “Civilization” style war game understands this principle implicitly. In that game you need to put as much of your resources as possible into building up industry, technology, and infrastructure, and as little as possible into building mansions, golf courses, and other forms of entertainment, or you will not keep pace with your rivals. And trade should be a mutually beneficial endeavor, not a source of debt and dependency which can leave you high and dry when allegiances shift. Here in the U.S., our industry has been dismantled, our infrastructure is crumbling, and technology isn’t going to be enough to save us, but we have entertainment options galore. Any gamer looking at how the U.S. has conducted itself economically over the last few decades would conclude that we are doomed.

The forces that drive economic systems away from stability and towards unsustainable equilibrium states affect all ideologies, making them follow a predictable course not unlike the economic boom and bust cycle in economics. In their essence, an ideology is a falsehood, a promise of more which it will not be able to deliver in the end. However, the promise serves as an opposing force to offset the effort a believer makes in serving the ideology and thus a temporary equilibrium is achieved. At first the believer works hard for little return, helping the ideology to grow, but eventually the promises must become the promised reward, which forces a change in the equilibrium point. The cycle that results is familiar, and is outlined as follows.

When an ideology is born it must fight with other ideologies to survive. During this time it can’t afford to give out rewards, needing to put everything it gains into growing stronger. But it can make promises that will be delivered upon once victory is achieved, so ambitious and committed adherents are willing to forego their rewards in the present and work hard for only a promise in the future. This is similar to the investment stage of an economic boom, where money flows in and is used to build productive capacity but no returns are given out or expected until later.

When an ideology defeats its rivals and rises to prominence it begins to be able to deliver upon its promises, rewarding the loyal who made it a success. Since its initial promises have been met or exceeded, a good return on investment looks likely and that draws more adherents into the ideology. The ideology, in return, makes the same deferred promises to the newcomers while reaping the benefits of their hard work. This is similar to the peak stage of an economic boom where the original investors become very rich and everyone else is scrambling to get their piece of the pie. Maximum efficiency has been attained, an equilibrium point, but one which will not last for long.

When an ideology matures and the realization sets in that there are not enough rewards to make good on all the promises it has made to its many adherents, disillusionment sets in and a new equilibrium is found, one where coercion replaces promises and where rewards are fought over and generally end up in the hands of those favored by the powerful. This is similar to the first part of the collapse stage of the economic cycle where the weak and over-leveraged businesses go bankrupt, the survivors cut costs in order to meet their obligations, and overall productivity wanes. This equilibrium point can hold out for some time depending on what adherents are able to endure in the hopes of eventually getting their promised reward. In the case of ideologies, leaders will often make bigger promises to keep their people working hard, or declare war on a new enemy to channel anger away from the leadership, or conduct internal purges to stifle dissent. In the case of economies, leaders of a company or nation often go on a borrowing spree to shore up sagging profits and growing costs, or break up unions and cut benefits and salaries, or reduce returns of investment for investors. In either case, equilibrium is maintained by increasing promises, coercion, and reducing expectations.

Finally when an ideology is collapsing the leaders will hoard the remaining rewards, make even bigger promises, accuse others of causing the failure, and do whatever it takes to stay in power, still convinced that they hold the truth and that the promised rewards will one day be delivered if their word is followed to the letter. This is similar to the bust stage of the economic cycle where bankruptcies, productivity cuts, and payments to investors have eaten away at the base economy so severely that it cannot recover, but where a select few do end up very wealthy in the end. This equilibrium point is highly a dysfunctional one where the few hold all the power and wealth and refuse to give it up. In this stage ideologies become police states and businesses become sweat shops. In place of promises, force must be used to keep long suffering adherents working and the institution is ripe for a revolution.

One might also notice that this cyclical process is similar to a Ponzi Scheme: the returns promised to those who join in can only be delivered upon if the scheme continues to attract members, but once it grows past a certain point it inevitably goes into decline and collapse. This is true, ideologies function in the same way that Ponzi Schemes do, which is a frighteningly disturbing reality given that our world is controlled by them, but unstable growth is a necessary factor required for ideological survival. As one can see from the examples above, growth is maximized when resources are coming in as fast as possible and rewards are being deferred to a later date. If an ideology’s promise is seductive enough, people will set aside their meager rewards gained by following their current ideology and work hard for the new one in exchange for much less, believing that their rewards will eventually be greater than before. This leaves plenty of resources to pour into increasing productivity and expanding the ideology, allowing it to succeed. For a while this is very effective, the promises look like they will all come true, and the growth gives the ideology power to confront and defeat rival and ruling ideologies. In the end though the ideology will inevitably fail to live up to all of its promises and descend into a dysfunctional equilibrium state.

There are many examples of systems which can grow quickly at first only to descend into sub-optimal equilibrium. One is the typical master-slave relationship, where one person is given complete control over another. Ideally it can be a strong, symbiotic relationship with the slave deferring his will and doing whatever it takes to help the master achieve his goals, and the master rewarding his slave when he achieves them. The battlefield is one example of this, where a soldier will sometimes charge into certain death knowing that he must do his part so that his general’s grand strategy will succeed. Even if the soldier dies, the greater good, victory, will have been served, and if he survives he becomes a hero and is usually granted a boon, such as plunder rights or an estate of his own back home. Here the equilibrium comes from the promise of victory and the good life balanced against the risk of life and limb and all goes well when the army is on the march. But the relationship can also become a dysfunctional one. If victory looks unlikely, or the general is too stingy when victory is gained, or the war drags on and on with no end in sight, the soldier will have fought long and hard with little to show for his efforts and may become less motivated, not giving his full effort in battle. The general in turn may respond with threats or harsh treatment, prompting the soldier to do as little as possible in order to avoid punishment, or the general can hand out what few rewards he has, prompting the soldiers to do as little as possible to get those meager rewards. Unmotivated soldiers are less likely to win battles, and so it becomes a vicious cycle of soldiers underperforming, victory looking more distant, and morale lowering yet further.

Another type of cyclical relationship is the partnership where two people treat each other as equals, set a mutually beneficial goal, and cooperate to achieve it. Neither partner is dominant, which avoids the problem in the master-slave relationship where the master creates dissention by withholding too much of the rewards, but the partners must rely on communication and negotiation to make decisions and divide their spoils, which can either lead to conflict and arguments or to collaboration which surpasses what either could achieve as master over the other. The equilibrium condition when the partnership is on the way up is the same as that for any other relationship: both partners defer their rewards to some point in the future and work hard to ensure that the partnership itself is successful. This is the most wonderful part of any relationship, where anything seems possible and the good times seem like they will go on forever. However, a lack of success, an excessive reaping of the rewards, an encounter with challenges that are difficult to overcome, or anything which results in disagreement between the partners, can throw the equilibrium into a suboptimal state. The grand, early promises become less likely to be fulfilled and neither partner feels motivated to work as hard as they had before. Each partner might feel that the other is not doing their share or is doing something the wrong way and they might respond in any number of ways, such as trying to force the other to work harder, or quietly pulling away and working even less, or engaging in all manner of subterfuge so that they can get the rewards they feel they deserve instead of their partner getting them. Although the collaborative nature of this relationship makes it potentially superior to the master-slave relationship it is still not immune to the boom and bust nature of the classic Ponzi Scheme.

The lesson here is that the optimal performance of a system is not sustainable over the long term. The promises that drive “selfless” efforts must one day be delivered upon. Thus, lasting equilibrium can only be achieved at sub-optimal levels of performance which means that there comes a point at which increasing the performance of a system ends up destabilizing it, dooming it to a bust comparable to the boom that preceded it. Promises must not exceed the capacity of the system to deliver them or else disillusionment and doom will surely follow. In economic terms this means that it is important to resist the urge to engage in excess debt and capital injection as well as limit the amount of profit taking, how much people spend on luxuries, and how many future benefits are promised. In personal relationship terms this means setting attainable standards for a partner, setting realistic goals for one’s relationship, and being able to be satisfied with less if one’s hopes don’t fully materialize. In ideological terms this means not filling adherents’ heads full of impossible victories, utopian dreams, and fantastical afterlives in order to get them to support a dysfunctional order and sacrifice all for the common good. When one shoots for the moon one generally sets oneself up to fail, sometimes spectacularly. If you want to achieve your goals, don’t set them so high.

The trouble is that stability pales in comparison to the boom, both in desirability and survivability. Ideologies do not exist in a vacuum, they compete against each other, and the ones that boom and grow will crowd out others, often starving those others into submission or extinction before they reach their inevitable bust. Being sub-optimal and stable is a recipe for defeat when competing against ideologies that are gobbling up resources and adherents as fast as they are able. Furthermore, if you could choose an ideology to follow, and have big dreams you wanted to realize, getting swept up into an ideology in its boom stage is the best way to make those dreams come true. These factors encourage people to chase after hope-filled promises, set unrealistic goals for themselves and others, and try to get in on the ground floor of laughable yet plausible schemes. It’s not all madness though, sometimes when one shoots for the moon one actually lands on it, and a few others fall a little short but end up satisfied with what they achieved. The stories of those who risked all and won inspire the rest of us to do the same.

The final result is a world which resembles a great churning broth of fierce ambition, wild promises, ecstatic successes, and crushing failures. Everything is booming and busting all around us and there seems to be no place to find a little reliable stability. It isn’t maximum efficiency but it is equilibrium, equilibrium in a way similar to how a guitar string vibrates when it is plucked. The silver string cycles back and forth, never stopping, difficult to see, but always making the same sound. So we cling tightly to that guitar string, riding out our booms and busts, trying to catch the waves and hoping that they take us somewhere where we want to go.

It’s a crap shoot though, and our lifetimes of efforts are merely food for our mad gods, but sometimes we do win, for a time, so we must take our best shot.

The Fireaxe theory - Outline

I. Basics - well established theories

  • 1. Emergent systems - that complex systems can arise from the interactions of simple things
  • 2. Natural selection - that organisms mutate, proliferate, and compete, with the "losers" becoming extinct
  • 3. Behavioral science - that neurological systems, at their core, function according to the rules of conditioning
  • 4. Entropy - that within a closed system, entropy always increases, which limits the amount of transformation that can occur

II. Extensions

  • 1. That consciousness is an emergent system: a complex system arising in the human mind from the interaction of simple neurons.
  • 2. That civilizations are emergent systems arising from the physical interactions of humans whether conscious or not.
  • 3. That ideologies are emergent systems arising from the psychological interactions of conscious humans
  • 4. That emergent systems follow the laws of natural selection in much the same way that organisms do
  • 5. That the universe is, by definition, a closed system

III. Contentions regarding consciousness

  • 1. That consciousness is a survival advantage
  • 2. That being a member of an ideology is a survival advantage
  • 3. That making its members conscious is a necessary part of an ideology's survival
  • 4. That consciousness is created by instilling within a person a permanent sense of inadequacy - in essence a state of constant fear
  • 5. That the deeper the sense of inadequacy, the stronger the person is motivated - generally to serve their ideology

IV. Contentions regarding ideological struggle

  • 1. That ideologies fight for survival using many methods including, but not limited to, war and enslavement
  • 2. That aggression is a survival advantage
  • 3. That survival in the short term outweighs survival in the long term prompting ideologies to pursue shortsighted and sometimes suicidal strategies
  • 4. That aggressive ideologies make members of rival ideologies feel afraid and inadequate which in response become more aggressive, thus creating a vicious circle
  • 5. That aggressive ideologies must continue to grow or face internal strife as their aggressive members will feed on each other to satisfy their needs
  • 6. That internal struggle results in ideological mutation

V. Contentions regarding the future

  • 1. That internal strife is inevitable since the laws of entropy imply that continuous growth is not sustainable
  • 2. That the abstract bases for ideologies transcend mortality and thus suicidal aggression is not restrained by fear of death
  • 3. That technological progress has made the destruction of the world through ideological warfare possible and will continue to make it easier to effect
  • 4. That ideological mutation will eventually result in the creation of a suicidal ideology which will destroy the human race in the attempt to save it

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Or if you want to do PayPal, just send me the answers to 1 and 2 above in an e-mail and I'll tell you where to send the money.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess: $6 / $9
Food for the Gods: $12 / $15 (SOLD OUT)
Victory or Death: $5 / $8 (free with any purchase)
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $8 (SOLD OUT)
A Dream of Death: $3 / $6 (SOLD OUT)

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

The Future

Unfortunately 2010 was another total bust for Fireaxe as far as recording is concerned. Health issues sidelined projects scheduled for completion during the year and other than the guitarist taking the opportunity to get a whole lot better with his axe, nothing was accomplished. With any luck these wasted years will end up in the past and no more will be added to the pile.

Considering that I may not be able to put as much time and effort into recording in the future, I’m strongly considering setting the “Food for the Gods” remake aside indefinitely. The same might go for the overhaul of “A Dream of Death”, something that I still really want to do one day, but I have to face the reality that I may never be able to get healthy enough to complete the task. If the reality is that I can only make one or two more CDs in my career I feel that they should be new ones, with music and expression that capture where I have been and what I have been through during this ordeal, rather than rehashing old tracks. I’d love to have the time and energy to reproduce all Fireaxe music, making it all as rich sounding, well executed, and emotionally moving as I originally envisioned it, and it makes me sad that I may never reach that goal or even come close, but the fact that my music is out there, that it sounds as good as it does, and that it still manages to reach and inspire people, humbles me and makes me feel as if it my efforts did not for naught. We can all imagine what could have been, but let’s not lose sight of what is. Fireaxe has made some damn good music, flaws and all, and if I am unable to make any more I hope that you have enjoyed hearing it as much as I have enjoyed making it.

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the single CDs for $5 or $6, $12 for "Food for the Gods" since it is three CDs, which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge an extra $2 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. Do not fall in love with the Dark Goddess. I mean, seriously. She's the goddess of death after all. It's not a good idea. Furthermore, do not have sexual fantasies involving the Dark Goddess. She does not have a womb and thus lacks the entrance to that particular organ. Also, attempting to use other entrances will likely result in castration. Again, it's not a good idea.
  • 6. You are vehemently discouraged from doing anything depicted in the CD "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" such as: torturing someone, lying for corporate profit, rationalizing greed, beating, raping, and murdering your girlfriend, destroying the lives of those who've wronged you and their families, corrupting the government, trying to kill yourself with pleasure, kidnapping and ransoming people, committing atrocities, cutting someone's face to pieces, destroying half the world as revenge, and especially stating that any of these things are okay because "God is on your side." Please, think before you act.
  • 7. You are food for the gods.
  • 8. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 9. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 10. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 11. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

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