So here are a couple of macro-trends, all tangled together, unfolding slowly over the past several years, that seem worth painting on a wall to look at. I’m still not sure what to make of them or what we do with them, but here they are.
- There’s an exponentially increasing decouple between ordinary people/civil society/the peasants, and their ‘ruling’ classes comprised of the politicians and their wealthy funder/controllers (individuals and corporate bodies)
- There’s an increasing disenchantment and discontent with “the way the world works” — meaning, mostly, the economies of thrash capitalism. It shows up as flare-ups on both the left and the right ends of the political spectrum (misleading though that left-right dichotomy is!) And even in the middle.
The Peasants are not Revolting
Well, peasantry’s disenchantments with the ruling classes is nothing new under the sun. Either it goes the way of submission and grinding discontent, often for centuries on end, or it ends with a bit of choppie-choppie and a reset of the who’s-who (for a while, until the next round comes around). A key difference this time, though, is that the peasants are actually reasonably well educated, literate, have quite powerful tools at their fingertips for communication (mass and p2p), for coordinating and organising, and they wield a historically unprecedented amount of effective (economic and social) clout in the ordinary run of things.
The most frequent (read: cheap, effective) strategy the elites have for dealing with uppity peasants is to co-opt them into the privileged classes. It still works. Strike some ordinary body with a few billion dollars, invite them to Davos and ply them with private jets, and see which side of the fence they land.
Trouble is, there’s a bunch of physics at play this time around. Runaway climate change and habitat loss (and, just recently, SARS-CoV-2) are not going to magically go away just because you managed to quiet a few noisy malcontent shit-stirrers and misdirect their attention/energy for a short while.
For a couple of decades, now, political leaders the world over have become comprehensively, catastrophically dependent on spin, gloss and outright lies, on bending facts to fit their preferred narrative. To be fair, politicians have always done a fair bit of this, but in the past couple of decades it has become the preferred, indeed, the only modus operandi they comprehend.
The World Trade Centres attack and subsequent fallout was a key turning point… A point at which all pretenses of subission to the straitjacket of objective reality were abandoned in favour of The Authorised Account — really a thin tissue of perfidious invention — that would dupe the masses into following a mendacious, deceitful and cowardly leadership into a war against a country that had little or no real involvement in events, using as excuse some chimerical Weapons of Mass Destruction that existed only as a figment of the most deranged and fervid imaginations, while leaving untouched the country that actually did harbour the organisation that trained the 9/11 terrorists, funded their attack, sheltered their handlers and acted (still acts) with the most flagrant abuses of human rights to suppress critics — a feudal, theistic monarchy devoid of all moral compass, progressive tendency or democratic inclination.
Ever since that attack, facts, reality, objective evidence,.. all can fuck right off. We’re expected to swallow the shallow and most transparent of lies that tell whatever story the world’s political classes deem convenient to justify shitfuckery they’re up to now.
Mr Trumps’ egregious, incessant and tedious lies don’t fool even his most ardent supporters — they merely go along with him because they like the lies — they fit a narrative they enjoy: Draining The Swamp. Trouble is, when Don says it, and when his support-base say it — “Draining The Swamp” (late-night DJ voice) — they’re not talking about the same swamp. And the peasants/support-base don’t seem to get that. He lies to them and they love him for it. Surprise! Trump is a symptom, a manifestation of the disease. He’s not a cause.
Lies, story-telling (the kind that earned you a hiding when you were a small child), smoke and mirrors, confabulation, spin… these are the coin of the realm, the currency of the day for the political classes the world over. What’s working in the USA is also working in China, Russia, the UK, Brasil, Hungary, Sudan, Venezuela, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Australia,.. almost everywhere.
And We The People accept it and go along with it. At least we seem to have done up to now. There’s not a lot a person can do about this beyond voting for the next less-dishonest-sounding douchebag at the polling station. And we all know how effective that is! (Even my British friends and relations ought to have figured it out by now.)
And then: Along came SARS-CoV-2.
Now here’s an enemy who pays no attention to ‘narrative’, cares nothing for ‘optics’ or spin. An enemy who doesn’t veer or duck or dive. An enemy with no apprehension or appreciation for the way you’d like the world to look. An enemy that can’t be persuaded, bought off, hidden behind smoke and mirrors or explained away as a figment of the collective imagination. It’s not even an ‘enemy’ in any normal sense, more an implacable force of nature. And that’s just the point.
You can’t argue away a tsunami. You can’t persuade a volcano not to erupt. Nor, once it has done so, can you fool people into thinking, “The Village is still there, really, if you just squint a bit.”
Sometimes reality is just so overwhelmingly there that no amount of PR, no amount of tactical mendacity, no retcon “Well that was clearly what we had planned all along,” is going to fool even the dimmest of hive-minds intellects.
SARS-CoV-2 is just such a one. And really, it’s not all that big of a deal — more of a Small Disaster than a Great Big Catastrophe. Consider it the training wheels for the White Swan disaster that’s been right in front of our noses for the past fifty years or so. (Some would say longer, some shorter. Doesn’t matter. As of NOW it’s downright fucking obvious.)
Global Climate Change. Now there’s a real existence-threat.
And yet the political leaders of the world, being well and truly bought off by the big-money fossil-fuel entrenched interests, have, up to now, remained in a state of heady denial, convinced that we plebs can all be talked around by the glib drivel from their silver tongues, aided always by the bot-armies of the well-greased PR machinery lubricated by all that sweet, sweet Big Oil to keep the masses just confused enough by cherry-picked “academic studies”, statistics that use/abuse some wildly anomalous baseline, and the cynical obfuscations of “maintaining a balanced view”. Oh. And some outright fibbing.
Needless to say, they — the political classes and their paymasters — have been trying the same tactics with the Covid-19 pandemic. And who can blame them? It’s worked so well for so long one might almost come to believe that spin-doctoring can change the laws of nature. Only it’s not working now. Uh oh.
Clearly it’s time for a change. Time for tactics and strategies that actually acknowledge, address and adapt to the actual, hard, physical realities. Time for the veils of smoke and bullshit to get torn aside. And for once — just for actual once — the nonsense, the deceit, the power-fed delusion, has become all too apparent to everybody.
But the political classes and their puppet-masters don’t seem able to pivot. Perhaps they need some help!
Time for some Choppie-Choppie?
Only when faced with a real, immediate and tangible possibility of gibbets, French Revolution style, will the ruling classes grudgingly entertain some small adjustments to the political status quo. Whether that works probably depends (at least a bit) on how long and how deep the history of discontent runs,… on the inertia built up behind the peasants’ urge for change.
Another thing that seems to be a necessary ingredient for comprehensive overthrow of a status quo is some notion, some vision, of How Things Ought To Be. A vision of a New Order is needed, whether it’s Uncle Karl’s Manifesto, the ideals of Chartism, a call for Home-Spun, or a cry that The People Shall Govern, people need something that seems, from their vantage, to be a Better Way The World Works. People are not stupid. Nobody wants to merely replace the old faces with new under an otherwise stagnant and repugnant dispensation; a system unaltered.
Where does this all go? What does it lead to?
I don’t know.
I claim that there’s a growing gulf between the governed and the governors. Maybe that’s just a myopia.
Maybe the Nation-State has had its day
Nominally we elect those people (in most parts of the world, for some value/process of ‘elect’) but they then hare off and do precisely whatever the fuck they please, stuff we really don’t like and didn’t think we were giving them a mandate to do. They essentially act as law unto only themselves and their class-equivalents in other countries, and it’s seldom to the good of the civil society of which the rest of us are party. So there’s a large disjunct between the way that ‘democracy’ seems to be working and our expectations/wishes regarding how it ought to work. We have to ask: Maybe its time has passed? Maybe that system of elections every few years, where one vote expresses very little and utterly lacks any meaningful degree of expression or nuance,.. maybe it was all we could cobble together in an era when the best communication and conversational tool we had was the horse-drawn coach,.. But maybe we’ve reached a time, place and state of informedness/education (not to mention communication technology) where something much more subtle, flexible, expressive and sophisticated would serve us better as communities.
Similar to ‘democracy’, old-style ‘capitalism’ emerges from a fairly simplistic information system — the conventional-money economy — and we lately find that some of the environmental and societal consequences of that way of transmitting and organising information has rendered it obsolete — an existential danger to humanity, even.
The trouble is that there are powerful and well-organised bodies whose interests are entrenched in and dependent upon these old ways of doing governance and economy, and part of the discontent arises from their alignment and collusion against the interests of the broader masses of us. My personal belief is that one of the most terrible errors, a fundamentally disastrous mistake, was in granting personhood to corporate bodies — allowing for-profit companies to acquire a legal existence as quasi-people. All sorts of horrible consequences flow from that awful decision. This is not the place or time I want to delve into that rabbit-warren. The one relevant thing that flows from this legalistic crapulation is that the Old-Slow AIs (companies) — originally intended only for economic enablements — have coopted and subverted the political system to their own ends, and we find those ends inimical to conditions better suited to humane society. Our politicians are bought and sold, and consequently our political systems
no longer work in against the interests of ordinary people.
So here we are. There’s a power-base rooted in the Old Tech Stack, the old way of doing things, where impression, sensation and weird fiction shapes the social world. And it’s come up against some implacable, immovable physics that, if we don’t face facts and adjust the way we live in the world, may threaten our very continuance as a species.
Something has to give.