The Slog

BRACE FOR IMPACT

In this insightful post, AJC Boone concludes that the days of Left-Right duopoly have passed, and that if we want to survive in (and work against) the New Model State, we have to understand its assumptions, strengths and weaknesses. She proposes three palms to lash ourselves to in the light of the coming tsunami

My every morning’s waking thought is that we now live in a science-fiction horror movie.

(Hang on, you too?)

And I have tried for weeks to find words about the unfurling and accelerating nightmare. And I have mostly failed. But find words we must. And share them, because with words comes understanding, and only with understanding comes the possibility of protecting ourselves and what we hold dear.

First, an accounting: In large part, the current nightmare is one in which an arguably worse-than-normal seasonal flu has been hystericised into the Black Death to justify the UK (and a significant portion of western world) government’s bizarre assumption of dictatorial powers. These powers are in principle limitless (“if it saves just one life otherwise lost to COVID..!”) and de facto unchecked (who, or what, is interested in challenging them? Would a Labour Party of Sir Keir or Jeremy Corbyn ever reverse the government overreach? Moreover, so far from being able to check the government policy-makers, any public scepticism towards COVID policy was very early on demonised and may be criminalised

In the interest of preserving our collective horror at what is happening (outrage being one of the few valuable political commodities wielded by the plebs), let’s remind ourselves that the government’s tyrannical trespass includes
-imposing universal house-arrest without robust debate on cost-benefit trade-offs;
-the consequent slicing off of great swathes of the economy like steaks off a dangling beef carcass; 
-demonising normal human interaction as health- and life-threatening; 
-explicitly or indirectly cancelling milestone-marking and contemplation-inducing traditions of christenings, graduations, birthdays, weddings, holidays, funerals — I wonder if one day our grandchildren will watch nature documentaries showing elephants mournfully circling a deceased herd-mate and ask us why humans don’t do that;
-cutting off the arts and museums from their audiences, and so dissolving the ties binding us to whatever greatness can be gleaned from our past;
-and promoting the mass disorientation and mental health calamity all of this inevitably entails.

It is a nightmare, further, in which the 24/7 “news and information media” messaging is both 1) insanely at odds with tangible reality and 2) obstinately incurious about why all manner of worldly authorities’ messaging is also at odds with the observable world.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the American Republic was in the last 72 hours taken off life-support, a few years shy of her 250th birthday, having been essentially raped to death in the early morning hours of November 4th according to hundreds of eye-witnesses and technical affidavits, though we are told by our self-appointed superiors in the media and political Establishment that the criminal event was entirely consensual.  (Vengeance is now quietly being wrought upon the brave witnesses, pour encourager les autres.)

So now we wander dumbstruck, like tourists on a Thai beach on Boxing Day 2004, picking up and marvelling over an octopus revealed on a seabed emptied of seawater (“Oh, look, Honey, 5th Avenue is completely devoid of humans…”), without grasping what is imminently headed our way.

While I cannot see the future, and it’s far too late to run for higher ground, I would like to point out what look to me like a couple of sturdy coconut palms to which we might lash ourselves and brace for the impact of a coming onslaught.  There are a few things it will be useful to confirm collectively, and these can serve as anchors against an incoming flood of insanity. Because I’m pretty sure much more is coming. And that it will be insane.

“LEFT-V.-RIGHT” NOW FULLY TRANSFORMED INTO “TOP-V.-BOTTOM”

First of all, for orientation purposes, let’s tackle the main question — “what the fuck?” — because I think I have an answer.

It is quite clear that the basic political antagonism that has defined western democratic politics for the last two centuries — the Left-Right, workers v. owners, BIg Government v. Small Government tension — has been fully replaced by a Top-Bottom tension: the Blob versus the People.  The metropolitan, transnational elites of an awesome Weberian Administrative State and its affiliates in media and academia, versus the free-thinkers whose economic and political self-determination are an Enlightenment birth right tied to identity and joy in life.

You did not need me to point out the existence of the Top-Bottom trope. But I must underscore that its explanatory power for current events has lately assumed devastating importance. Top-Bottom is now unmistakably the tacit political arrangement under which we live. Top-Bottom systems have their own particular logic and imperatives, which we must identify in order to find a way to fight against them. This is Coconut Palm Number One.

Notice that today’s ruling-class Blob is a canny reconstitution of elements from the Left-Right wreckage. The Blob has digested the ruthlessness and cynicism towards adversaries that characterised the Marxist Left, but has spat out the Left’s egalitarianism. Or, rather, the Blob’s egalitarianism, exactly as played out by the history of the Soviet Union, is selective egalitarianism (thus morphed neatly into an oxymoron, like “two-tier justice”). It is the equality enjoyed by galley-slaves, peered down upon by the Pigs-who-NEED-to-eat-apples from their aeries in Davos or on the “7th Floor”. (Did you know that the CIA, the US State Department, and the FBI each house their respective poohbahs on a “7th floor”, and refer to it in such phrases as “You’ll need to rewrite that report — left as is, it’ll piss off the 7th floor”?)  As to the galley-slaves, “You will own nothing and you will be happy,” proclaims the World Economic Forum’s own ghastly p.r. video.

The Blob has also absorbed the worst of the defunct Right, namely its material insatiability and its entitlement, while rejecting any compensating sense of duty and responsibility that tradition once apportioned to those “to whom much has been given”. The Blob is all droit du seigneur and no noblesse oblige.

Of course Blobs have lorded over Serfs throughout human history. It’s the Standard-Issue Regime, the human default.  But the Enlightenment was supposed to put an end to the Top-Bottom political order in the West because Top-Bottom is incompatible with equality, the right of self-determination, and freedom of thought, speech and assembly. 

And yet glance again at the basic, supposedly inviolate, rights contained in the Enlightenment-born US Constitution’s Bill of Rights with its Anglo-Saxon roots in the Magna Carta, and you will notice how many of them – espousing rights of free speech and assembly, privacy, property, habeas corpus, transparent and peer-based justice — have been blithely cast aside. Vivid examples verging on parody, of their breach, lie in the cases of Julian Assange, General Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, police action and draconian fines deployed against “COVID-related” acts throughout Britain, and the vast and unregulated surveillance-state apparatus, intravenously penetrating our lives via social media.

Moreover, while a common foundation of Enlightenment values allowed for pendular alternation between Left and Right parties and their respective sets of policy preferences, the Top cannot “alternate” with the Bottom. Public chatter since November 3rd’s pantomime election showed many people intuiting that if the implausible result were allowed to stand, with mass-fraud claims unexamined, then no free and fair elections would be allowed to occur in the US ever again. They sensed the structural imperative that Top can never peacefully give way to Bottom.

In the era of Trump, the rare anti-Blob pundits have pointed out the eye-watering snobbery of functionaries who claim to “smell the Walmart shoppers” or media figures who chortle over Deplorables scurrying off to chain-hotels and chain-restaurants.

But this is no mere snobbery, nor even hatred (though hatred has indeed been stoked artificially for tactical purposes). It is the accidentally revealed logic of a structural reality. The Tops’ very survival depends on their steady “boot on the human face of the Bottoms — forever”. Up to now this boot-on-the-face business has been obfuscated, or portrayed as the reasonable reaction of Decent People specifically to the “hate-able” Mr Trump and his supporters, or against the “bigotry” of Brexiteers. But do not misunderstand a continual sluicing of sneering contempt upon any challengers to the Tops’ monopoly on authority. Persuading the masses that the Top deserve to monopolise the truth about what is Right and Good is what the Top must do to remain the Top. It’s basic maintenance work, exactly as are purges of dissent and the calendar of Orwell’s Hate Campaigns in “1984”. 

I wrote in an earlier essay about the strikingly ready recourse to (deception-based) demonisation by the Democratic Party, and how this made democratic politics impossible. I am now realising to what degree this is a feature,-not-a-bug. And if it is the structural imperative of Top-Bottom systems that the Top maintains a monopoly on authority to rule, then this requires putting an end to conversations about alternatives. The Top will try to convince us that the Top deserve to be on Top, but having already failed at that (see the shocking plebiscites of 2016), they will ultimately be forced to coerce us to go along with it. See the trajectory of COVID vaccines as a model: happy-hype persuasion degenerated quickly into the coercion of “get vaccinated or forfeit the right to travel” (among other things).

There is a meta-Purge (no longer merely of wayward individuals, but of access to alternative free speech platforms) currently underway in the social media. These platforms have presented themselves as, and were generally used as, the virtual Public Square to host a mass Public engaging in rational discourse entwined in the idea of consent-of-the-governed. This meta-Purge amounts to a dismantling of the machinery of public discourse.  It is another betrayal, another demonstration of how Top-Down systems reject and are at-odds with the Enlightenment. 

Thirty years ago, I flubbed a question on my Ph.D. oral exam. My professor asked me why the Soviet Union fell. There are a million answers to that, and I gave a few, even while feeling strongly that none were very satisfactory. That is, until a week or so after the exam, when this esprit de l’escalier came to me: Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev had wanted to make the USSR a system-of-consent, but he only had to-hand the tools of the existing system-of-coercion. Hence the violence in the Baltics and Georgia, and the ultimate collapse of the empire. 

What we are watching in the US and the UK (and elsewhere) is the film-reel of the end of the Soviet Union being run backwards. We are watching the transition from a system of consent to a system of coercion. This is Coconut Palm Number Two.

THE KEY TOTALITARIAN SWITCH

Speaking of which, much of the New Normal reminds me of an old normal, namely, that which prevailed in Leningrad where I lived and studied for the first half of 1985. Brutalised and brutal, equal parts menace and braggadocio, set against the grandeur of its history, letters and the arts, the Soviet Union, in five months, taught me a life-time of cause and effect. It is not a time and place I would like to return to. In fact I had nightmares of not being able to get out, even months after I had left, while I slept in a high-rise in Chicago. 

The things I learned could fill volumes, but one supremely relevant point was told to me by an older Soviet gentleman who risked taking me to a cafe. “In the West,” he said, “Everything is permitted, except that which is forbidden.  Here in the Soviet Union, everything is forbidden except that which is permitted.”

Last April, a cheerful article in the Bay Area press publicised the (short) list of outdoor activities permitted by authorities in the new world of coronavirus. Everything else, by implication, was forbidden.

I saw the article and shuddered. We in the West had crossed a Rubicon. 

That is Coconut Palm Number Three