Publicani in Berkeley



(Part I here, some subsequent clarifications here. Disclaimer: this is more metaphorical or more literal based on your preference. I don’t think it changes much about the argument.)


I know, I know. We live under fascism now, according to people who know that fascism is a word one can use. I’m extraordinarily excited for some greenhorn to notice the fasces in the House of Reps and tie it to Trump, but currently the #Resistance is focusing on (sigh) Milo Yiannopoulos. This is annoying for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that now I have to talk about him.

Milo’s a twat, etc. but the press is also worthless.

A term much favored by Milo is snowflake, to which the left tried “Enough snowflakes make an avalanche!” After they’ve landed, sure, but before that snowflakes make blizzards. This is also a powerful thing but one that has different effects. An avalanche crushes you; a blizzard blinds you, turns the world a furious wail of black-and-white, and slowly freezes your lost ass.

It’s easy to go snowblind in the media, for the media also covers everything in dichromatic fluster. Not coincidentally the Left controls it (zing!),  so +1 for drawn out metaphors. In Milo’s case, the media would have you thinking that there are two options: #resist and free-speech (obligatory “for fascists, you mean!”). There’s a vague third option, which is #resist but be nice, but that’s the liberal option and everyone knows that liberals are cowards. All of these are stupid and bad and misunderstand where we are. They’re close, but frontier folk used to get lost between the barn and the house in blizzards. 100 yards and 100 miles snowblind both mean death.

One side calls it “the 1st”, and one side calls it “Freeze Peach” (again the blizzard side, so +2), but they’re both peddling the same nonsense. Rightist speakers, such as Milo, are part of a “rising far right”, and the left is taking extreme measures to combat it. To be sure, the left is going after Milo. Left power is social, as is Milo’s. It’s natural that they’d go for him. You want to exert dominance in your sphere of control, and he’s the nastiest brigand in their territory.  But that says nothing about protest tactics, it simply designates a target.

The trick is focusing the debate on Milo, which makes it an issue of right vs. left, rather than examining a larger leftist dynamic. Politicizing it this way makes both sides line up, defend or attack, and the question becomes one of “censorship of conservative ideas” vs. “resisting the far-right”. The Right likes it because victimhood is politically potent, and they they get a killer rallying cry (“Liberty! The First Amendment!”). The Left uses it because it makes then look like the hardcorest nazi hunters, far superior to those reactionary liberal nazi hunters.

While that may be happening or not, it’s not the root. The narrative is blinding you to a much longer arc. Quoth the enemy a mere two months ago:

[…] the people who heckled Kimberly Peirce—director of Boys Don’t Cry, a groundbreaking film about a transgender man—during her recent appearance at Reed College were far-left students.

The students hurled a litany of insults at Peirce, putting up posters that read “fuck your transphobia” and “you don’t fucking get it” among other things. Worse, when Peirce ascended to her podium, students had placed a sign there. It read “fuck this cis white bitch.” That Peirce is actually gender-fluid is quite beside the point.

The students’ unbelievable rudeness crossed the line into a kind of censorship when Peirce tried to speak: the students simply shouted over her. Eventually they let her talk, but some students continued to yell things like “fuck your respectability politics” and “fuck you scared bitch.”

Excluding Berkeley, that’s no different from your run-of-the-mill anti-Milo protest. Where’s your argument about the Leftern oppression of the Right now? Or the whole “we only do this to stop Nazis” thing? Assuming of course that Boys Don’t Cry is not the sequel to Triumph of the Will (an argument I would actually be very interested in hearing), neither story can explain the protest above. It’s in both right and left interests to maintain the facade, so I understand why they’re masquerading. But for the rest of us?

The obvious question then is “What is happening?” There is a large right-wing movement that’s gaining ground, and there is a Leftist response to it, and they definitely are related. But I don’t think it has anything to do with a struggle over free speech rights, nor does it have to do with actual conservativism (yeah, yeah, no true scotsmen and w/e), nor does it have anything to do with “leftism” considered as a political position. The left isn’t radicalizing the right with its censorship (as Milo and so many others smugly claim).

It’s about taxes.


Last time I talked about Augustus’s use of the Roman mores to scaffold his political changes. That was part of the discussion on social power, a discussion we will be continuing.

It’s nice for the metaphor that he did something besides affecting purely political structure. Everyone knows that the Republic is different than the Triumverate is different than the autocratic Caesar. But most people don’t know that he did something even bigger.

In Rome there were people called publicani. Pre-Augustus, the publicani acted as tax collectors. Their job was to gain a specific amount from the provinces and then convert it into the state currency themselves. This was quite lucrative. They were given the bid by the state based on what they might be able to raise, and then set off to raise it. The publicani often could charge an absolutely absurd amount, gather what they wanted, and then hustle a smaller amount (the equal in “denarii”, possible because there were no formal conversion rates) back to Rome. They’d collect this from provincial governors, and thus the citizens were technically largely unmolested. But it’s not hard to see all the ways that hassle could trickle right on down.

Augustus ended the publicani tax-collecting role. A lot gets made about Augustus using this as a power-grab, because with the new census he was more knowledgeable about goings-on in the provinces. That’s probably true, but if that was the intended effect then the secondary ones are more important: 1) Taxes were set and obvious. No more running around charging sometimes-less-sometimes-more at a whim. Over time, this helped grow the market because people could plan ahead better. 2) It meant that citizens had to pay in Roman money and use it in their daily life. This invested the citizens in Roman currency, and thus in the state that maintained the market.

Yes, it’s more complex than this. We know that taxation can create markets, and we know that Rome had this at least partially happening. This paper is a fantastic and far more intelligent description than I could give (armies and credit are  important to consider, duh). And yes, later on the tax became resented (it was raised, changed, etc.), and it looks like some provinces were charged a flat rate (good!) and others a poll tax (terrible!) but the principle is roughly the same. The transition into a more equitable system grew the Roman market substantially, integrated distant parts of the empire, and expanded the market to include them.

The Augustus metaphor isn’t perfect, because as the autarch he used both social and structural power. But it is instructive nonetheless for how “tax change” can reorient citizens to the state. Keeping those rates low is a crucial a part of the plan. Tax too high and you risk a revolt and/or the citizens lose productivity. Tax too low and people won’t care enough to use the market. There’s a golden mean.

When 1. For what it’s worth, this wasn’t just a Leftist thing: Right-wing movements did the same thing with anti-Communism in the decades leading up to this, and they were successful enough that “communism” as a worldview has only become acceptable in perhaps the past decade or two. the Left began constructing its form of this (sometime between the 1960s and the 1970s), they follow his model almost to a T: set the rates explicitly, keep charging, and watch the provinces adopt your currency. They just used social power, and hence social currency. [1] I’ve already discussed this, so I won’t be repeating myself, but it’s a big deal.


I’m obviously gearing up to connect this to social states and their taxes, which means I’m about to take a swipe at the Left. Before you throw your laptop through the window, give me a chance to explain. My narrative looks like it’s heading to a place it isn’t.

“The Left taxed the citizenry too high” pattern-maps directly onto the “Right wing revolution against PC oppression” Milo school of thought. Against this is the Left’s “fight the oppressor” narrative. But I already told you that these are wrong, and I already showed you why they are. Campus protests are equal-opportunity at best, and I suspect they’re even more common against leftists and liberals. That’s certainly true of things like twitter mobs and cultural purges. Social tax (and the punishment for failing to pay it) mostly falls on other leftists.

Put 2. Those aren’t even particularly apt, because leftist power is social. The real comparison would be protest vs. political campaign, etc. But you get the idea. another way, there’s a reason that we see these protests happening at universities rather than in offices. Or that we know about Silicon Valley’s gender ratio, rather than coal country’s 96% male labor force. Or that they tend to target media figures instead of specific politicians, or specific bankers, or specific [thing the left hates]. No, that reason isn’t lack of focus or “reverse discrimination” against coal miners. It’s that all of those (universities, tech, and media) are left-wing spaces.[2]

I’m not saying anything new here, leftist infighting is justifiably infamous and a large part of this can be chalked up to cultural/political stratification. People in those spaces are going to be predominantly leftist, and thus the Left is going to spend a disproportionate amount of time protesting and censoring other Leftists. If it’s all self-selection, then that’s more-or-less benign. But… well, I don’t think that self-selection accounts for all of it. There’s something much more insidious about modern bubbles. The problem looks leftist, but it’s actually social, and the left just happens to have social power at the moment.

Modern social groups (and the left, with all its social power, exemplifies this) have thoroughly integrated the gnostic view. This is part of social power (good vs. evil instead of structural’s rich vs. poor), but it’s more directly from the “personal is political” school. Bad politics does not equate merely to bad politics – it equates to bad personhood. When the left fully embraced this (and really exacerbated it in the culture war), they began to only communicate among themselves. Which means they only retained a social tax among themselves, i.e. in leftist spaces.

When we determine that the enemy is, well, The Enemy, then we won’t reason with them. Further, we won’t impose our conventions on them (i.e. social tax) because – fuck, why would we? It would be like putting lipstick on a pig. Hence, social taxes are not levied in the same way. Why apply them to someone who’s evil? To go back to finances: would you levy taxes on [barbarians] in your currency? Even Rome took some time before levying in the denarius. It’s a much better idea to just have them send some kind of tribute, they don’t want your system of finance anyway.

But if the left spends all of their time with other leftists, and all social tax comes from them, then that means the converse also applies: Right-wing resentment isn’t over a leftist tax rate.

The assumed argument is (hilariously?) inverted: the isn’t a growing tax rate on the right. There’s a shrinking one.


In other words, it’s a return to the publicani. The Augustinian reforms are coming undone. Milo or [rightwing outrage magnet] aren’t operating like citizens, they’re operating like governors and messengers from rightyville, and are taxed accordingly (or told to gather up taxes from the plebs).

There are a million reasons for this, but I think the easiest way to put it is: the original civil rights conversations took place publicly. Part of this was speeches (now justly famous), but it was also because the right and the left were forced to debate one another. Further, there was debate within the right between those gaining social power and those losing it, i.e. Buckley vs. Wallace, the Review vs. Birchers. I don’t mean to suggest by this that people changed their minds overnight, which is obviously silly. But I do mean that people understood what the going social rate was, and the choice to pay that or not became theirs. The failure of Thurmond’s campaign, and no (serious) attempt to revitalize a segregationist South, ought to show the impact of that.

In 3. I’ll exempt the gay-marriage debate, which is notable for being both public and for gaining successive support from that. stark contrast, almost all of modern civil rights conversations take place in academia. It’s top-down, in other words. [3] What doesn’t come directly from academics (read: the upper class talking down to the lower) comes from college kids developing or parroting their words. Occasionally avatars from the academy will descend and tell the Right that they’re wrong (read: evil), but they won’t explain why. You don’t understand that? Well, “it’s not my job to educate you, shitlord. There’s google.”

So when I say “the right is not being taxed like the left is” don’t think of [famous figure] getting in trouble for intentionally making [un-pc statement]. Think of a random construction worker. That worker would certainly have known about civil rights conversations in the ’60s, and afterwards would have known what things “to say” in public to maintain social status. What odds will you give me that he can accurately name the list of genders one can select at [university]? Do you think he knows what ableism is? But then what about this one: if he somehow wound up on television and was asked about [gender thing], how many blog posts would be devoted to “what a bigoted fucking moron” he is?

What I’m talking about isn’t the governor’s gleeful breaking of rules. I’m talking about a random rightist who is less opposed than he is confused. They’re resentful, sure, but over what? The most literate of them will definitely tell an ecstatic Vice Media reporter that they’re sick of “hearing about white privilege” or whatever. This outburst will then feed back into $30,000 debt’s worth of confirmation bias (worth it). But “white privilege” is old hat, and their dismissal of it isn’t a sign of awareness. It’s a sign of how behind the debate they are. The social left has already moved on to [whatever is popular at the moment you read this].


Publicani operate by going after the governors of provinces (read: visible right-wing figures, i.e. Milo) while leaving those on the bottom untouched and uninvested (read: Buck from the Ozarks). The Right increasingly aren’t citizens of the social state, so no one makes them pay in denarii. Since citizens aren’t being taxed and publicani do the conversion themselves, there’s precious little currency moving down into rightist circles to invest them. There’s some trickle down in currency use, but not much, when you tax the governor; more often there’s confusion and outrage.

To be sure, there are some vague remnants left over, i.e. maintaining a belief in color blindness or [conservative idea here]. This is no longer accepted as enough. The response might have been a conversation about acceptable tax rates (i.e. social mores). But the response was simply to to shut out the right. In other words, publicani give you this guy: He Doesn’t Care If You Call Him a Racist. Note one thing extraordinarily important: he says that his actions and beliefs have not changed, whether or not he’s now a racist. This should say to you: the same tax no longer applies.

The right and the left are splitting, because neither will communicate with the other. That’s also not a new insight: ingroup/outgroup, balkaniztion, blah. I don’t want to get too into this. But I will say this: conservative ideas of social justice and leftist ideas of social justice are diverging enough that they might as well be different economies at this point. But this means that two currencies are developing. The one the social state uses, and whatever the provincial equivalent is.


This is worse for the left than it is for the right. It’s a thing that’s obvious but apparently no one notices: only when people are “invested” in a system do they bother about the value of its currency, i.e. have the debate. I don’t have any idea what a tenge is worth, and I don’t give a shit. When Republicans argue over “who the real racist is,” they’re demonstrating that they care about its (racism-is-bad’s) value, i.e. they don’t want it inflated. That they’re increasingly barred from this debate isn’t going to make them change – it’s going to stop them from caring.

Social power works by changing the values of the populace, i.e. providing an impetus for interpretation (legitimacy is how I phrased it in the last essay). The most powerful form of this is when it can passively change a culture. This occurs when a society adopts new social currency and behaves accordingly. I argue that this is roughly what the left did, see: previous essays.

Social power is (normally) used by parties that are structurally weak because it allows one to circumnavigate traditional structural power. This might be forcing new legislation through pressure groups, but it can just as easily be reinterpretation of already-existing laws or customs. I think the latter is both more powerful and more common, as evidenced by the supreme court’s use of the constitution in light of social dynamics (see: Brown v. Board) but both exist.

Either way, social power is the relatively weaker of the positions because you’re required to engage and accept the enemy. Social power is, well, social. To wield it one has to meet with the opposition. The strongest form is to get them to accept your values (to a greater or lesser degree). The weaker form is brute force, forcing their hand with a protest or the like. Indeed, the second (weaker) can only happen when some kind of acceptance (the stronger) exists. If a group protests a lawmaker for racist remarks, then “racism is bad” must already have been passively accepted. When the passive acceptance is lacking, it becomes quite a lot more difficult to persuade anyone, see: NAMBLA, a possible future project for Milo.

In recent years, the left has cut off communication with the right. This might be morally justified or not, but that’s irrelevant for what it’s done. The effect has been to deplete the left of the stronger form of social power. When the right is not engaged with, they are not taxed. When they are not taxed, the market doesn’t develop as fast. When the market doesn’t develop, they aren’t as ready to adopt the currency. When they do not do that, you have no market and you are powerless. In this context, fears about “normalizing” certain views by engaging with them is flat-out bizarre.

No-platforming speakers and refusing to debate with [baddie] aren’t moral or principaled, and my problem with them isn’t that they’re “mean” or “uncharitable”. What they are is fucking stupid. The left is by far the more powerful party in terms of social dynamics, and hence accepting the opposition requires them to adopt your rules. You won’t be normalizing them – they’ll be forced to assimilate to your norms. Rejecting that power over the opposition while claiming to #resist them is delusional.


This 4. Fun fact for liberals who blame 2016 on third parties and write-ins: if McMullin voters had gone Trump instead, Trump would have taken Minnesota solves one mystery but leaves a further question. Namely, that no matter how many times the media tells me that the ‘cons have gone looney, I see absolutely no evidence of a Republican revolt. “Trump”, yeah, but that’s kind of my point. Traditional conservatives hated Trump and they still do, see: National Review, Foreign Policy, every senator during the race. And it isn’t the “far-right” loosely categorized, see: Nick fucking Land. Some may have voted for him or not[4], but they weren’t excited by the prospect. There are a few very excited paleoconservatives and fascists, but that’s a smaller demographic than [exceedingly small demographic]. I’m talking about large populations, not an anecdote someone wrote about on Medium. In other words, “tax revolt” is the wrong narrative for the traditional right. Can’t have tax revolt without taxes. There’s resentment for the publicani, but currency divergence is ameliorating at least part of that.

There absolutely is a growing far-right but it’s not coming from the GOP. So then where is it coming from?


The right is nominally afraid of being called racists or whatever, but the real brunt of leftist anger falls on other leftists. See Peirce above, who was pilloried for failure to (retrospectively) adhere to what is now a social tax. But it’s much higher than what the right has to pay.

In other words, the right isn’t the one being overtaxed. The left is.

This 5. Rome’s economy became less progressive after Augustus’s reforms, so it’s funny that undoing the reforms should make the social state taxes more progressive. is a feature, not a bug. The provinces of Rome paid either a flat tax (August and Tiberius…ish) or crazy made-up taxes (publicani). Rome itself tended to have a progressive tax or supplemented a flat tax with tax on investments. The central state taxes itself more – a way to keep those in charge of it invested.[5]

You’re not going to like what I’m about to say, but it’s the only way to answer the question. “They aren’t cons, and they cons aren’t having a tax revolt. So what is happening?” The Alt-Right (or New Right or w/e) isn’t being resisted by the left, it’s a creature of the left. I’ll phrase that as an equation for the quantitatively inclined:

(Social Power + Ibn Khaldun) / Augustinian tax reform = Alt-Right

The final thing to discuss is the Ibn Khaldun part of that equation.

top image from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil

update: continued here

Author: Lou Keep

One thought on “Publicani in Berkeley”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: