Monday, May 16, 2022

The Age of Exterminations -VII: Can we survive by going undercover?


Italian members of the secret society of the "Carbonari" of the 19th century. They may be planning a revolution or maybe a pizza party. Is this our future?

Many ideas are floating in the memesphere on how to survive the current situation. Some people think of moving to a country ruled by less dangerous governments, others of retreating to an agricultural village in some remote area, and others about the possibility of going undercover. That is, disappearing from the sight of the government, waiting for better times that might come in the future. And even acting to bring those times closer.

Is it possible? Could you really hide in a world that's becoming more and more like the fabled "panopticon," a prison where the jailers have a full view of everything that the prisoners do? Difficult, surely, but it is also true that we still maintain a certain degree of freedom inside our brains, provided that we don't expose them to government propaganda. So, could people who think alike in certain matters get together and form a secret network?

As you can imagine, it is not an easy task, and it may also be dangerous. When we think of a secret organization, we think of something like the famed Al-Qaeda society. They managed to carry out one of the most successful terrorist attacks in history and, remarkably, they did so while leaving no traces anywhere, except for a videocassette tape showing a bearded sheik in a cave accusing himself of having been the perpetrator. 

The problem with discussing secret societies is that, obviously, they are secret. That means we know something only of the ones which were not so successful at keeping their secrecy. In any case, it seems that secret societies are typically based on a pyramidal cell structure, where each member knows only the members of his/her cell (typically no more than three). The reason for this structure is the need to minimize the effect of treason: any member can defeat and betray the others, but the smaller the number of members he/she knows, the smaller will be the damage. You can find a good description of how cell-based secret societies are supposed to work in terms of keeping secrecy in the novel by Robert A. Heinlein, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" (1966) (*). Similar descriptions exist all over the Web. 

A cell-based structure is well-known, but it is not very practical. One problem is that it grows very slowly. If you want to have at least a few thousand people in the pyramid, probably the minimum needed to start a serious revolution, with cells of three people, you need at least 6-7 layers. That makes no sense: an order coming from the top must go through each step before it arrives at the base layer, where it can be finally carried out. If a structure like this one were ever to work for real, cells would have to be much larger.

Even so, a cell structure is not a good idea in terms of generating a revolution. Nobody would want to join an organization so secretive that they would never be able to know who is at the top. People need leaders to act, and they need to know who their leaders are. But being a member of a small revolutionary cell freezes you in a closed world where you can only follow orders coming from above, together with just a few like-minded companions. Why should you do that? For some lofty ideal? Maybe, but how do you know that your leaders are actually working for those ideals? How do you know that the organization has not been infiltrated by your enemies? Or by aliens from Betelgeuse?  

In practice, cell-based secret organizations can work only as military covert operations, as you may discover if you take up a career as a spy. But, typically, people who take up spying do that for money which, indeed, is what keeps together the organization. The carrot is normally coupled with a massive stick: if you betray, you risk your life: either you will be hanged as a spy, or shot as a traitor by other members of the organization. I don't know how much spies are paid, but I think it is not a condition anyone would want to find themselves in. 

Can we think of more effective ideas? Yes, but we have to accept that the organization cannot be 100% secret, and neither it should be. Early Christianity is a good example of a semi-secret organization that was created in opposition to an oppressive government. A common legend has that the early Christians would hide in subterranean refuges called "catacombs." But these were never secret places (hiding in caves seems to be only a habit of bearded sheiks in Afghanistan). The historical catacombs were just cemeteries. But it is true that many Christians kept a low profile in a society that sanctioned their beliefs with death. Later, the Muslims practiced the Taqiya, a precautionary dissimulation in the face of persecution.

Both Christianity and Islam were successful, although only in the long run, and not without a harsh struggle. So, it is possible to fight oppression by a religion. You could even think of creating a new one, it is probably possible in the US. For those of us who think that the task is a little too steep, though, we may need a different approach. Can we think of non-religious groups that could successfully oppose state oppression? There are some examples in history, one is that of the Carbonari, who were most active in the 1800s, in Italy and in other European countries. 

The story of the Carbonari is as fascinating as it is scarcely known. They started around 1800 as liberals who hated all forms of oppression. They were anti-clerical, wanted to destroy the Catholic Church, and aimed at a revolution to get rid of the many petty monarchies that ruled the Italian peninsula. They were not necessarily favorable to a united Italy, although it must have been clear to them that it was an unavoidable consequence of the elimination of the local tyrants. 

As a political movement, the Carbonari were not very successful. They tried an Italy-wide revolution in 1820, but they failed. Over the years, they were replaced by more open organizations, such as the "Giovine Italia" (Young Italy) created by a former Carbonaro, the Italian intellectual Giuseppe Mazzini. Yet, we cannot say that the Carboneria was a failure. It was alive (and heavily repressed) during the Fascist period in Italy, and it was still playing a role in Italy in the 1970s, as a group of members of the Italian Republican Party. Some say they still exist, surely a legend but, who knows? In any case, the term "carboneria" is still used in Italy to indicate groups of people acting in partial or total secrecy. (do not confuse it with the carbonara, a pasta dish!)

So, what was the Carboneria, exactly? It was an offshoot of a burst of semi-secret societies that appeared at the end of the 18th century. The Freemasons are probably the oldest, there followed others with different names: the "Adelphians," ("brothers") the "Philadelphians," and more. The Carbonari were the Italian version of this movement of ideas that aimed at removing the old European ruling class, the landed nobility. The idea was to replace them with the entrepreneur class, a dynamic economic force that was growing on the availability of cheap energy from coal. This class took power in France with the French Revolution of 1789, and it advanced in Europe with a series of local revolutions, then with Napoleon and his heirs. 

The name "Carbonari" means 'charcoal makers.' The choice of this name goes in parallel with the older idea of Freemasonry. The Freemasons emphasized the knowledge of their members as "masons" -- people who knew how to design and build structures and so were independent of the rule of the nobles. The Carbonari, instead, focused on the technical prowess of the people who could make charcoal from wood. The "carbonaro" was idealized as an independent person who could make a living out of his knowledge and skills and would not accept being oppressed by anyone, including the government. 

A point that made the Carboneria successful was that it was never a completely secret society.  Indeed, most of what we know about the Carbonari comes from police reports. They knew who the Carbonari were and probably preferred to leave them relatively in peace rather than force them to go into true secrecy. From these reports, we know something about their rituals. Here is an example from a document of 1818, describing the ceremony of acceptance of a new member. 

Grand Master - What do you ask, Pagan?
He answers: the light.
Gr. M. - This will be granted to you at the third blow of my hatchet.
The Assistants turn their hatchets against him. The Master of Ceremonies takes off his blidfold.
Gr. M. - These hatchets, which you see in our hands, will be used to kill you in case of perjury on your part. On the contrary, they will fly to your aid if you need them,
The Master of Ceremonies leads him to the Throne.
You must pronounce again and ratify a part of the Oath you swore blindfolded. Repeat with me: I swear and promise to recognize and observe the General Statutes and Regulations of the Carbonic Order and of the High Sale of Naples and those no less of this Respectable Sale of which I am a Member.
That said, the Baptism of the Initiate happens, which is done as follows: 
The Grand Master touches his eyes, ears, nostrils and lips with a linen cloth slightly wet in water, saying afterwards:
- You shall not see except by our eyes.
- You will not hear except by our ears.
- You shall smell the effluvia of our coal.
- You will speak only wise words.
Having said this the Grand Master continues:- To the glory of the Grand Master of the Universe, in the name of Saint Theobald and under the auspices of the High Sale of Naples, by the powers confided to me, I constitute you an Apprentice Carbonaro and a Member of this Respectable Sale.
(He rises and gives him the decorations).

I know that it sounds like the Simpsons' episode of the "Stonecutters" and that is because the episode was created specifically to reflect the way these semi-secret societies work. But if you imagine the ceremony taking place in some secret place, maybe a shack in the woods at night, then it must have been quite impressive. The idea was to generate fealty bonds among members by creating an elaborate symbolism and word codes supposed to be known only by initiates. For instance, a local carbonari association was called a "Vendita" (sale), the reunions were held in a "Baracca" (shack), the aspiring members were called "Pagani" (Pagans), and so on. It worked reasonably well if the Carboneria thrived and survived for so long. 

So, the question is: could we create a new Carboneria, today? And would it be useful for something? Maybe the answer is positive to both questions, but we need to be aware of the limits of what can be done. Essentially, as the Carbonari learned, you cannot hope to obtain and maintain real secrecy. If you strive for it too hard, not only you'll fail, but you'll make yourself suspect. Even if you don't do anything illegal, never forget that governments are constantly looking for people to blame for their own failures -- scapegoats. And when they find a suitable target, they have no scruples. That is, unless you have the power and the money to create a true secret society to take over the state. It has happened many times in history (**), and it will surely happen again (it may already have happened). But, in this case, it is unlikely that you would be interested in this post -- you already know enough on the matter.

What you can do is play the game relatively in the open. In most Western states, it is perfectly legitimate to form associations, formal or informal, that pursue some goal that may be weird, but not illegal. For instance, it is perfectly legal to believe that the Earth is flat and to form an association of believers. It actually exists (the Flat Earth Society, FES) and may have several thousand members. It is normally dismissed as a group of slightly feebleminded people. But ask yourself a question: could the FES be the front of an association that has entirely different purposes? Imagine that the core members are Aliens planning to exterminate humankind, how would you know? Then, of course, the group would be formed of an outer "ring" of true believers and an inner ring of initiates who actually know that they are servants of the Green Oozing Aliens from Betelgeuse and that they are bound to feed to their masters one baby to eat every week.

So, you can shroud your group with some harmless or weird purposes that will not attract too much attention from the powers that be. Then, there remains the problem of how the members will actually know what the society is about. That becomes a question of communication, and communication always involves codes. Again, you have to be cautious: all codes can be cracked. More than that, the very fact of using codes makes the users suspicious. That's especially true if you use the Internet, as you obviously must do. Some people use special precautions for their everyday communications, things like encoded messages, hidden servers, all that. Maybe is a good idea, but I am not sure. The more you try to hide, the more suspicious you look to the powers that be. The problem can be circumvented, in part, by using the technique called "steganography" which consists in utilizing terms or objects as symbols with a hidden meaning. So, if you agree with your follower that the term "lawyer" means "Alien from Betelgeuse," then an innocent sentence that goes as, "let's go meet our lawyers" carries a meaning that the non-initiate cannot decipher. There are limits to what steganography can do, but it can be extremely effective.   

In the end, what's realistically possible for a carbonaro of modern times? We are going through enormous changes, and we simply don't know what shape a future society will take. If we don't go back to the Middle Ages (or to hunting and gathering), what role will have governments in the future? Will there exist governments? How will the internet be shaped? As a centralized entity managed by hordes of fact-checkers? Or by a large number of "rings" of like-minded people who speak mainly to each other? For the time being, a blog with a funny title that mentions an ancient Roman Philosopher may be seen as the equivalent of a vendita carbonara, not a secret place, but a baracca where the adepts don't do so much damage that they deserve active repression. So far, at least...


(*) From "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" - By Robert A. Heinlein (1966)

Dialog of the three of the protagonists, professor Bernardo de La Paz (Prof.), Wyoming Knott ("Wyo") and Manuel Garcia O'Kelly-Davis (Mannie) (speaking voice)

Prof: "..... revolutions are not won by enlisting the masses. Revolution is a science only a few are competent to practice. It depends on correct organization and, above all, on communications. Then, at the proper moment in history, they alight. Correctly organized and properly timed it is a bloodless coup. Done clumsily or prematurely and the result is civil war, mob violence, purges, terror. I hope you will forgive me if I say that, up to now, it has been done clumsily." 

Wyo looked baffled. "What do you mean by 'correct organization'?" 

"Functional organization. How does one design an electric motor? Would you attach a bathtub to it, simply because one was available? Would a bouquet of flowers help? A heap of rocks? No, you would use just those elements necessary to its purpose and make it no larger than needed—and you would incorporate safety factors. Function controls design. "So it is with revolution. Organ must be no larger than necessary—never recruit anyone merely because he wants to join. Nor seek to persuade for the pleasure of having another share your views. He'll share them when the times comes. . . or you've misjudged the moment in history. Oh, there will be an educational organization, but it must be separate; agitprop is no part of basic structure.

 "As to basic structure, a revolution starts as a conspiracy therefore structure is small, secret, and organized as to minimize damage by betrayal—since there always are betrayals. One solution is the cell system and so far nothing better has been invented. 

"Much theorizing has gone into optimum cell size. I think that history shows that a cell of three is best—more than three can't agree on when to have dinner, much less when to strike. 

"Here is a cells-of-three tree. If I were planning to take over Luna. I would start with an three. One would be opted as chairman. We wouldn't vote; choice would be obvious—or we aren't the right three. We would know the next nine people, three cells. . . but each  would know only one of us." 

"Looks like computer diagram—a ternary logic." 

"Does it really? At the next level there are two ways of linking: This comrade, second level, knows his cell leader, his two cellmates, and on the third level he knows the three in his subcell—he may or may not know his cellmates' subcells. One method doubles security, the other doubles speed—of repair if security is penetrated Let's say he does not know his cellmates' subcells—Manuel, how many can he betray? Don't say he won't; today they can brainwash any person, and starch and iron and use him. How many?" 

"Six," I answered "His boss, two cellmates, three in sub-cell." 

"Seven," Prof corrected, "he betrays himself, too. Which leaves seven broken links on three levels to repair. How?" 

"I don't see how it can be," objected Wyoh. "You've got them no split up it falls to pieces." 

"Manuel? An exercise for the student" "

"Well ... blokes down here have to have way to send message up three levels. Don't have to know who, just have to know where." 



(**) On 7 or 8 December 1970, a coup d'├ętat was allegedly planned in Italy by a combination of military forces, the Sicilian Mafia, and the Masonic Lodge "P2" (propaganda 2). This unholy alliance of subjects failed utterly to carry out the coup, but it is true that there existed a masonic lodge called P2 that collected a large number of high-profile politicians, bankers, professionals, and entrepreneurs. Were they aware that their organization was organizing a coup? And do such organizations still exist today? And, if they exist, how would we know what they are actually doing?


  1. Ugo: I have always wondered if joining a group like the Masons and using them as a cover to create a "sub-secret" society would be the way to go.

    1. Are you aware of George Washington's October 24, 1798 reply to a letter from G.W. Snyder concerning the infiltration of the Freemasons by the Jacobins?

    2. No.... I'll have to look it up

    3. Interesting story. The "Illuminati" were already around. Who knows? Maybe they exist for real!

  2. In the modern age we also have the 100% decentralized and anarchic alternative like the hacker group Anonymous. Everything discussed in complete openness, anyone can join, but no one knows who anyone else are. I guess it's main weakness is that you can't coordinate any specific plans and that it can be co-opted by a (group of) sufficiently savvy person(s).

  3. It is ironic that this post is published under the name "Anonymous". Should we read this as a dispassionate observation or a self critique by a disgruntled member or an official communique from the group? I think the uncertainty demonstrates the problem of secret societies.

  4. Ugo, I feel obliged to make a correction to my previous message. I may have been a bit too harsh. I have just spent a couple of hours studying the subject you propose, and I realize that you have just given me the central piece of the puzzle I was trying to solve. I now understand why you remind me so much of someone that I know and why I have followed your work with such interest.
    This is perhaps the best example of synchronicity I have ever experienced. I will not elaborate on the implications here. Life is strange and full of surprises and will continue to be so.

    1. Not so sure I understand your point, Thierry, but it is true that we are all thinking similar things.

    2. My previous message went under moderation, or was lost. Maybe this is preferable although there was a quite serious warning. What I mean is that Carboneria (Charbonniers in French) is still alive and well. This explains the events that have happened to me recently and it is not a coincidence.

  5. Hmmmm one ex is el gato malo. Today el gato is gaming the algos with this:

  6. Hi everyone, this might be little bit off-topic but before we start to organize secret society of templars, can we as intelectuals atleast agreed on what has really happened recently? I know it's not welcomed topic, specially in not so called "academia" this days but I would love to see some conclusion from this. And it bugs me, when our "thinkers" can't get this straight. So, does someone have conclusion about what we witnessed?

    Has that been really only disinformation campaing and curruption? Or someone still believe in danger from virus? And are we finally allowed to discuss it openly?

    (Thank you our masters, that you let us to speak now and not shuting our mouth with this stupid nonsense from fabric)

    1. You mean whether our leaders really eat babies? (coded message)

  7. "But ask yourself a question: could the FES be the front of an association that has entirely different purposes? Imagine that the core members are Aliens planning to exterminate humankind, how would you know? Then, of course, the group would be formed of an outer "ring" of true believers and an inner ring of initiates who actually know that they are servants of the Green Oozing Aliens from Betelgeuse and that they are bound to feed to their masters one baby to eat every week"

    You sure you aren't talking about Republicans and Democrats? ;)

    1. You noticed that my post contains hidden messages, indeed!

  8. You assume the "internet" will be available, and universal? Doubt it. Mail, from country to country? Radio waves? What languages? I think of Marie Antoinette : Milk ink? Something very simple, hiding in plain sight, being in plain sight but without identifiable mode. By their works ye shall know them? Tunnels, like the cartels? But there is heat sensoring? "the cathars the Albigensian Crusade destroyed the open, tolerant culture of Southern France, replacing it with the rigid, dark, and narrow-minded ethos of the medieval Church but did nothing to stamp out Catharism itself. The Cathars who survived the purge of the early 13th century CE continued to live as they had before, only with greater care and secrecy." How will we know who has transhuman genetics and is programmed?

    Hide in plain sight; don't discuss who you are, but see if there are those who are like you in plain sight; intuition and common sense will be more important than smartness; resist in ways that can be marked as slow or stupid, not clever so attention is not drawn to you. Wait patiently. Maybe we will all die waiting; maybe they will kill themselves ( and us too) off with their cleverness and arrogance. We can allow ourselves hope. As things stand now, the Western world of NATO Whites is going to be a prison; living outside of it in areas/among people who are less regimented, messier and harder to control is the best starting point.


  9. One other thought: if the underground criminal web is as large and uncontrolled and powerful as it is said to be, things may be happening there that we have no idea of.

    1. The Italian underground exists. It is part of the way the government works. In some respects, it IS the government. I could tell you a few stories I know, but I won't.

  10. JMG points out that two secrete organizations were very important in the founding of the USA. The Committee of Correspondence (later became the continental congress) and the Sons of Liberty (later becomes the US army).

    That might be why he published a book on How to Run a Magical Lodge .

  11. Flat Earthers! I met an ardent one a few years ago. He was an intelligent, well-travelled man, who happened to be of the same ethnic background as you. Sr. Bardi. (Although his parents had immigrated to here after WW II, so he was thoroughly acculturated to this land.) We had many discussions about the Flat Earth and other conspiracy theories, such as the Pope being a secret Lizardoid alien. He had a YouTube video of Il Papa (the Nazi one) speaking on a platform with background decor which DID resemble a serpent’s mouth with eyes and fangs, if you looked at it the right way. “This proves my point!” he would argue. He had been employed by airlines and flown across the world for thousands of hours, and he never saw any curvature of the Earth from his vantage point, further proving his point (in his mind.)

    The man was a patient on a psychiatric ward where I worked, and I was one of the nurses. He liked to talk to me because I am a collector of conspiracy theories. So I would engage in dialogue about these ideas that obsessed him, whereas other staff would roll their eyes and politely break away. The fellow had been high-functioning through much of his life, not classically mentally ill like a chronic schizophrenic. Not dementia, either. For various reasons, which I will not detail to protect his confidentiality, he had lost his mental moorings. He alienated most his his friends and family due to his monomaniacal conversation, and that aggravated his depression. This led to some serious and grotesque suicide attempts. One of my duties was the daily change of the dressing (“bandage” in common parlance) where he had slashed his neck.

    The point of this anecdote (aside from criticising Flat Earthers, who I have met a number of in the psych wards, and they’re irritating with their smug, stupid certainty) is that there’s a fine line between thinking outside the lines of everyday humanity and hopping on an express train to Looneyville. Secret societies are attractive to people whose way of thinking has twisted and folded in upon itself. They’re often led by such folks -- witness Lyndon LaRouche, Jim Jones (of Guyana mass suicide infamy) and L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology (although he was more of a charismatic con man than a true cuckoo.) Having nutters in your ranks make it hard to keep a society secret, because they can’t keep their yaps shut. There’s a part of human nature that wants to think “I’m smarter than the rest of you sheep because I have the hidden knowledge.” Then they have to announce it. Those are the ones who are drawn to secret cells. It’s a rare leader who can weed out the fools from the followers, especially if the leader is a trifle tetched in the head himself. Hence, secret societies tend to be self-limiting.


  12. One final point, which I’ll make in a separate comment, because Blogger limits the blather if it gets too long:

    Your post operates from the premise that the Internet will be around in its current form as a means of organising conspiracies and also spying on them by the forces of power. Probably not so!

    As a Peak Oil and Resources Limits savant, you would understand how energy intensive the entire operation is. Millions of server farms humming with electricity across the (non-flat) planet, so that blog posts from 2005 can still be read almost instantly with a few keystrokes. All this dependent on a complex spider web of globe-spanning fibre-optic cables and computers that synchronise at the speed of light. Joseph Tainter (did he live long enough to see the Age of the Internet? I can’t be bothered to Oogle it at the moment) would shake his head at the collapse potential of our complexicated civilsation. To say nothing of the embodied energy in high-tech devices such as the god-like computerphones in our hands, plus the complicated supply chains that produce them.

    In an energy constrained future, is that still going to be happening? I think not. While it’s great to be able to look up dozens of recipes for pasta carbonara on an assortment of foodie websites, that’s not going to happen when entire regions are browned out for weeks because the temperature hit 47.9 degrees C and the electric lines melted. Plus, governments are going to prune back the content available on the Internet the way a gardener does with weeds getting into his potato patch. It’s happening already to proles who spout Badthink against the “latest thing,” as you experienced with your C.L. blog.

    And this is while things are relatively calm; before starving mobs have started burning large parts of cities in their angry flailing. As the current pattern of civilisation slides down that Senecal Cliff (cynical wordplay intended) there might still be something called “the Internet.” But it will be a commercialised sphere under the boot of the Power Structure. Not the relative information free-for-all we have today. Billions of people will be too poor or (electric) powerless to muck with it. Even before the Dieoff!

    I give the current Internet less than 10 years. By 2030, our current selves would not recognise what will be left. Hardly the place to organise a secret movement. Insurrections of that dark future will be led by voices yelling to crowds that are carrying weapons and flammables, not glowing screens.

    If you want to write about exterminations, consider the extermination of information. Every website that’s taken down, every server that goes 404 because it costs too much to keep the juice flowing to it, is like a cell dying in the human brain. Humanity is going to have a series of mini-strokes, or a progressing dementia, where intelligence evaporates. Our global brain is going to die, Prof. Bardi.

    One might say that will cause humanity to become stupider. Or perhaps we’ll end up smarter. Smarter about things that are real in the physical world, as we emerge from the Plato’s Cave of our electronic artifice.

  13. For some reason the RSS feed is not working anymore :(

  14. Ugo,

    I've got another story for you!

    "In March 2021, NTI partnered with the Munich Security Conference to conduct a tabletop exercise on reducing high-consequence biological threats. The exercise examined gaps in national and international biosecurity and pandemic preparedness architectures—exploring opportunities to improve prevention and response capabilities for high-consequence biological events."

    "Developed in consultation with technical and policy experts, the fictional exercise scenario portrayed a deadly, global pandemic involving an unusual strain of monkeypox virus that first emerged in the fictional nation of Brinia and spread globally over 18 months. Ultimately, the exercise scenario revealed that the initial outbreak was caused by a terrorist attack using a pathogen engineered in a laboratory with inadequate biosafety and biosecurity provisions and weak oversight. By the end of the exercise, the fictional pandemic resulted in more than three billion cases and 270 million fatalities worldwide."

    What are the odds?

  15. I enjoyed this post, makes me want to make a carbonara recipie an Italian colleague once gave me.
    Bukko: thats an interesting take on the future of the interweb.
    Hopefully decentralisation might increase