All posts by William Hawes

History Returns Again in Ukraine

After the 2014 coup and eight years of fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists, history has once again exploded and returned to the stage in Ukraine. As Westerners with governments who act blatantly hostile and belligerent to Russia, we should ask: was Russia provoked, and if so, how?

It is important to question how and why this conflict started. There is a saying about Russia many are familiar with: “Don’t poke the bear.” Well, the US and NATO have been poking the bear for 30 odd years since the downfall of the USSR. The West has adopted an absurd, ahistorical stance towards Russia, continuing to expand NATO, all the while knowing this would enflame tensions and demand a response.

The first Russian response in Ukraine was in 2014, after the US-backed right-wing coup which kicked Viktor Yanukovych out of power. I covered it extensively here. Many in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea obviously are ethnic Russians, speak Russian, have family in Russia, and do business with Russia. While some of these same people still may favor a strong and independent Ukraine, clearly many are sympathetic to the formation of an independent Donetsk and Luhansk; and the vast majority in the Donbas has no interest in fighting their eastern neighbor. Many in Ukraine are rightly worried about schools no longer teaching the Russian language, about the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, and about the Right Sector and Svoboda parties infiltrating Ukrainian politics.  The past eight years have seen thousands killed in the Donbas region. Compared to how the US or another mid-level world power would react, Russia had shown immense restraint.

Let’s not pretend like they weren’t legitimate concerns when looking from Russia’s national security perspective, which the US is well aware of. The US and NATO have been expanding its military and security apparatus eastward for thirty years, threatening Russia’s security, trade and economic relations, and its sphere of influence. By breaking its promise not to expand, NATO encroached right up to Russia’s borders in the Baltic nations. By invading Iraq and Afghanistan, orchestrating the 2014 coup in Ukraine, along with overthrowing governments and meddling in many other nations, the US blatantly and repeatedly broke international law and any semblance of world order. This undoubtedly led the entire world security architecture to disincentivize international cooperation and gave stronger nations the convenient excuse to take matters into their own hands.

The US and Western Europe continued to “poke the bear” even after Russia countered Western hegemony in Georgia in 2008 and by retaking Crimea in 2014. The US, knowing full well that Russia’s economic and geostrategic vulnerabilities could be exploited to enhance the power of NATO and the EU, has long had its eyes on Ukraine becoming integrated into the West. In short, while US pundits today claim Putin sees the conflict as a “zero-sum game”, it is blatant projection, as the US and NATO have been playing the same realpolitik chessboard to enhance their geopolitical control over Eastern Europe.

Even mainstream political scientists understand this: John Mearsheimer, otherwise a respected, establishment liberal professor, has repeatedly blamed the US and NATO as being primarily responsible for the war in Ukraine, taking heat from both sides of the warmongering Washington consensus.

One has to consider a hypothetical converse situation. If Russia or any other great power was financially and militarily supporting Canada to quell pro-US separatists in Alberta, and the Canadian government sided with the Russians, with thousands of innocent US and Canadian citizens killed in the process, would the US hesitate to invade and install a pro-US government? Not for a second. The US would consider this a threat to national security. This is the basis for the Monroe Doctrine, in which the US considers all of North, Central, and South America its own backyard; any other perceived threat will be ruthlessly invaded, destabilized, or destroyed, just as has occurred in Nicaragua, Chile, and Guatemala, just to name a few instances.

Even warmongering, imperial architects like George Keenan and Henry Kissinger understood that there was no way Russia would allow for Ukraine to be allied with the West. Even though both figures were ruthless, cynical war criminals, they at least understood that other great powers have interests which differ from ours and their economic and geostrategic imperatives which must be taken into account. That basic level of understanding of realpolitik and analysis of material conditions as well as competition between world powers does not seem to exist in US foreign policy anymore.

It should be obvious that we’ve entered the imperial overreach stage. The US meddled to try and cajole Ukraine into the EU and NATO, and got its shit wrecked. We fucked around and now we’re finding out.

Before 2014 Russia would probably have accepted a neutral Ukraine, but no longer. The past eight years have shown that Ukraine would rather kill its own people than negotiate. Ukraine used neo-Nazi forces for eight years and still is in the current conflict, allied to their official National Guard. Ukraine was assisted by the CIA in Eastern Ukraine to help kill separatists. British and US special forces are currently in Ukraine assisting its military. Before the war started, Ukraine was verging on becoming a failed state, Zelensky was widely despised, and the standard of living was falling precipitously for the average Ukrainian.

This does not justify Russia’s response. It does, however, reveal that great powers will react to continuing pressure and low-level war on their borders when it suits them. It is basic common sense; stronger authoritarian nations (the US being exhibit A) pursue their interests at the expense of weaker ones when they can get away with it, and also overreact or become irrational when threatened. If Russia and Putin has become increasingly paranoid and isolated, what were the conditions that led to this new state of affairs?

We have to return to the ahistorical framework US power projects. These were exemplified best in the 1990s in two works: Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Cresting the wave of the fall of the Soviet Union and unipolar US hegemony, these authors codified imperial hubris of late 20th century America, claiming that only liberal representative democracies guided only by capitalist economic structures would expand worldwide and a new era of peace, globalization and cooperation would begin; a “New World Order”, as it were. All this would be implicitly supported by a globe-spanning military colossus, an imperial pax Americana. Autocracies and other authoritarian regimes would not be able to maintain influence as the “free market” expanded to every corner of the planet; and democratic, capitalistic nations would not go to war with each other, this was referred to by Friedman as the “Golden Arches” theory of foreign policy: no two countries with a McDonald’s, and hence, a global capitalist political structure, would ever fight each other again.

Looking back today, it’s obvious how facile and myopic this view was. Great powers fight over more than ideology: natural resources, security assurances, and the material needs determine how nations compete and jostle for status and hegemony. In hindsight, and without the hegemonic distorting lens of pro-Western propaganda, it’s easy to see that Russia has felt threatened by Western Europe and the USA for generations.

Ultimately, the US will be content in the near future to “fight to the last Ukrainian.” The domestic US and Western European populations need a new distraction from an economy with skyrocketing inflation and a looming recession. A proxy war against Russia suits Western elites just fine, even though it is clear that Biden, Johnson, Macron, and Scholz have no idea how to proceed. Western nations have little leverage or ability to maneuver in this war; US diplomats especially have no interest in navigating the foreign policy repercussions precisely because they are so insulated from the consequences.

The establishment needs a scapegoat for the worsening economic situation in Europe and the USA, and the coming recession will be blamed on Russian destabilization of global markets. The monpoly media has conveniently ignored the eight previous years of civil war in Ukraine, a situation that would not be tolerated by any other global power. The narrative shift to Russia as the next boogeyman was very swift, precisely because Washington has no one else to blame for the disastrous collapse of the world economy led by a failing capitalist model. The West was desperate to find a scapegoat and now it has one. The faltering of international norms and relations due to exploitative and reactionary foreign policy decisions of the West likewise exposed cracks in the foundation of the system with no fix in sight. Only a diplomatic solution can bring an end to this war, and at present, US leadership can at best be described as being out to lunch. With no clear plan or desire to minimize the human suffering in Ukraine, the imperial order continues to stumble along due to its own hubris and overreach, blind to the lessons of history.

The post History Returns Again in Ukraine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Capitalism is Not Your Friend

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.

— Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, (1932)

If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t pulled the knife out, much less healed the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.

— Malcolm X, in a March 1964 interview

How does our capitalist economic system work? Upon what structural elements does it depend, and how does money function in a modern economy? These are some questions nearly everyone has pondered at some point in their lives. As pretty much everyone knows, the system we call capitalism has built the modern world and is the basis for mainstream economic theory. According to most establishment pro-capitalist economists, capitalism can provide for a decent life for all of humanity, conserve wildlife and ecosystems, and maintain prosperity for nearly everyone if we only listen and apply their theories.

According to capitalists and their political, academic, and corporate advocates, all the failures, assumptions, loopholes, and lack of pricing in externalities can be fixed if we reform politics to properly account for a pristine capitalistic theory shorn of all the “ideological” laws and measures which get in its way. Is this really true, or are capitalists and pro-capitalist ideologues merely attempting to justify a system which benefits themselves at the expense of the world’s poor and working classes, as well as other species and the web of life which sustains us?

According to Merriam Webster, capitalism can be defined as: “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision; and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

The obvious question to ask, then, is: does capitalism “deliver the goods?” Does our system properly price, produce, and distribute goods in a rational manner to account for human, non-human, and ecosystem needs? Is capitalism responsible for the technological and social progress we see around us? The answers, I believe, are most definitely no. Assembled below are a few of the main reasons why not.

1) Capitalism Is Unsustainable

Our economy runs on infinite growth and an assumption that the Earth’s resources are bottomless. Our pricing system cannot account for the “externalities” of capitalism, that is to say, it cannot properly price in all the waste, non-renewable fossil fuels, and resource extraction from the planet’s ecosystems. Capitalists sell products on the market without a thought as to how the planet can regenerate habitats, grow more trees, produce clean water, and properly regulate the climate.

Since capitalism relies on ever-increasing consumption, its logic dictates that it will destroy the entire world to make more money, since destruction and ecocide cannot be priced into its calculations. Further, since the capitalist “engine” of wanton consumption is internalized in each of us in Western society for it to function, we all are coerced into becoming idle consumers where greedy and narcissistic impulses are rewarded. Selflessness and sharing must be relegated to the ever-shrinking public or civic sphere, while private businesses and property relations dominate more and more of human existence, regardless of human needs.

While there are many more “middle class” people than ever before on our planet, the costs based on a capitalist-based growth model are too much to bear for the rest of the populace and the Earth’s ecosystems. Climate catastrophe threatens all of us, and the twin threat of habitat destruction and degradation likewise will lead to cascading waves of suffering for generations.

Environmental health impacts do not bode well for humanity either. For instance, by 2050 one third of all women and ½ of all men are predicted to have cancer at some point in their lives, and this is directly connected to industrial practices and resource extraction which pollutes the Earth with carcinogens. If the climate breaches a 1.5 Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels, we many reach a tipping point towards a “hothouse Earth” scenario where positive feedback loops push the increase to 4-6 degrees above the norm, which would wreak global devastation and an apocalyptic, dystopian future.

2) Capitalism Creates Unjustifiable Hierarchies

Today, it is obvious to the poor and the majority of the working classes that capitalism has spun out of control and is responsible for mass immiseration, imperialist wars, and ecological destruction. Yet to even tacitly acknowledge that this is happening in middle class and bourgeois society marks one as a “radical leftist”, a heretic, basically.

The religious fervor becomes obvious at this point- and arguments become emotional and infantile- when pro-capitalists insist that every positive of our current system is due to capitalism (and not labor re-producing life, products and services) while every negative gets rationalized away as due to the minor flaws of a system that just needs a little tinkering and reform around the edges. Within this mindset, conservatives frame the problem as too much regulation, or “crony capitalism”, while liberals insist that simply more regulation will solve all the ailments our system produces. From a leftist anti-capitalist perspective, however, we acknowledge that while more regulation would in fact alleviate many problems, they will not be enough to solve the conundrum of capital accumulation, overproduction and waste generation, and resource hoarding that lies at the heart of our economic engine.

Besides, the capitalist sycophants say and write, you’re writing this from your iPhone, so aren’t you being a hypocrite? Yet it is the labor of the working classes, not capitalism, which actually physically produces goods and services. The underlying subtext of their statement is obvious: you’re benefiting from the system too, so don’t rock the boat and screw up our gravy train of sweet treats, gadgets, entertainment, and the “comfort and security” that living in a globe-spanning military and economic empire provides. It’s quite sad, really, because there is simply no justification for the slave labor and habitat destruction that goes into making our technology, clothing, and various consumer items that we’ve been imprinted into believing that we “need”.

It is our capitalist-based jobs which compel us under the force of a gun to earn money to live, the implication being of course that if you don’t like it here, you’re welcome to leave and toil away in the mines and factories of developing nations. No serious thought is given to structurally revolutionize the system, because our capitalist masters would become angry, and we know what their wrath can be like, with centuries of massacres and oppression to show for it. In such a system, there is no such thing as a free contract between employees and employers. Corporations and employers have all the leverage and can effectively force employees to work or starve.

Capital today remains just as it always has, a rentier economy where the ownership class squeezes those who work with every conceivable form of rent, for housing, health care, transportation, various insurances, food, internet access, etc., until one’s earnings are whittled down to nil.

There are over one billion people in extreme poverty and by any reasonable metric more than half the globe lives in impoverished conditions of one form or another. The economic system that we know as capitalism has had over 200 years in control, and I’ve yet to hear any serious pronouncement from a capitalist economist on when poverty can be eliminated, and although some may even admit that other forms of social organization are superior in eliminating poverty, such as in indigenous cultures, the refrain is there is no going back, because of all the “progress” we’ve made. In other words, capitalists and their sycophants wholeheartedly believe “there is no alternative”, and what’s more, pro-capitalist ideologues generally have a cynical, dismal, social Darwinist, Hobbesian view of humanity and the masses.

3) Capitalism Is Inherently Exploitative and Alienating

Our system has managed to accumulate so much concentrated wealth because capitalism separates the worker from the means of production. In doing so, employees do not reap the full benefits at their jobs, as wages and salaries are determined by the contract signed with their employers. Rather than free and fair contracts between equals, workers do not have the leverage, or bargaining position, to ask for their proper payment because our system keeps people desperate and living from paycheck to paycheck, and even with solid unions, profit sharing, stock options, and collective bargaining agreements, workers are still stiffed and do not accrue the surplus value from what they have created.

Business owners thus extract the surplus value that is produced from workers. Employers give employees the bare minimum to keep on at their jobs. Profit sharing, unionizing, pensions, and other benefits have been on a steady decline for decades now as capital consolidates wealth. As prices for resources rise, corporations have found that the strategy to keep late capitalism going is to cut labor costs.

When the majority of the population is forced to choose between always working a job that barely allows one to make ends meet, or not even make ends meet; and homelessness, lack of health care, and/or starvation, to even call this situation “a job market” or “society” is a stretch. What we have is a system of severe coercion – an abusive relationship with capitalists that we rationalize as necessary- that we may deem necessary for “Western civilization” or “the economy” to function; but what we are facing is wage slavery, and systems of propaganda that, from birth, inure us to exploitative conditions and program us to accept jobs that do not allow for full economic freedom (due to exploitation) and do not allow us to reach our potentials for intellectual spiritual enjoyment and growth (due to alienation, as we shall see).

Capitalism alienates the worker because not only are we not valued economically, by not taking part in the ownership of the goods and/or services that a corporation produces, employees realize that the products they make/distribute/sell/etc are not actually useful to society, in fact much of what capital creates is in fact useless and harmful if not downright toxic and deadly to people and wildlife. Workers become disillusioned, and carry that resentment and frustration into all aspects of their lives. These dark clouds of energy created by the “satanic mills” in which we toil provide the tragic backdrop to our lives, sapping energy and robbing us of free will similar to how vampires and zombies are depicted in science fiction.

In this fraught environment, nearly everyone is competing, consciously or not, for a slice of that “American dream”, even if it means your friends across town will be evicted by rising real estate prices in your neighborhood, or if the town next to you is despoiled by coal mining while your town is protected by affluence or regulations against such industry. This can create resentment for those who do not realize, or cannot come to terms with the fact that, at least for now in the Western world, it is set up as a “dog eat dog”, “kill or be killed” economy.

However many people have been lifted out of poverty by capitalism, the surplus population of what are euphemistically called “unskilled workers” multiplies because there are simply not enough jobs available. Capital relies on the reserve army of labor to put downward pressure on wages. Also, inflation due to fiat currencies, financial and real estate speculation, the monopolization of industries, and price-gouging practices create the conditions whereby the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

4) Capitalism Is Extremely Volatile

Historically, nearly every seven to eight years Western economies experience recessions or depressions due to inherent flaws in their makeup, and what these crashes share in common are financial speculation. When profit seems inevitable for investors in specific sectors of the economy, bubbles are formed where vast influxes of capital flow towards sectors that seem “too good to be true” in terms of returns on investment. As the old saying goes, when something seems too good to be true it usually is.

Whether in 2020 with the response to Covid-19 creating a lockdown-induced crash, in 2008 with the real estate crash, in the 2001 dot-com bubble, during the 1990-1991 recession caused by the Gulf War and restrictive monetary policy, the Savings and loan crisis of the 1980s as well as the 1987 stock crash, nearly the entire 1970s dealing with stagflation, to the Great Depression, and all the way back to the panics of 1873 and 1893, capitalism has shown it is fundamentally unstable.

When speculation, whether in real estate, stocks, corporations, cryptocurrencies, or any other investment becomes the primary driver of the economy, you’re cooked. It’s only a matter of time before the financial system resembles a house of cards, and just like a Ponzi scheme or a bank run, when the majority of banking customers, investors, or shareholders wants to pull out, the crash ensues.

This is simply because monetary systems around the globe are run by a scheme of incurring ever-greater debts, which means that the physical money supply is only a fraction of what “the economy” supposedly consists of. This is how all fiat currencies function today, as fractional reserve banking allows commercial and local banks to loan out far more than their actual assets. This means, in effect, that money is debt: only by printing, or today digitally creating new money through computing, banks loan out more than they have and increase their holdings through interest payments which borrowers pay back over time. Therefore, the entire economy relies on the money supply constantly expanding to repay what lenders are “owed”. Money, just like production of consumer goods, is a trap in which the entire economy and thus human life and labor becoming devoted to producing more and more, not for usefulness or human necessity, but simply to feed the bottomless pit of an ever-expanding appetite.

In Conclusion: Capitalism Can’t Deliver the Goods

As we’ve seen, capitalism produces many paradoxes and contradictions. To escape from feudalism, humanity developed “free markets” which have ended up enslaving most of the planet in some form or another. In order to start the engine of capitalism, genocide, slavery, imperialism, enclosure acts, and primitive accumulation were the fuels by which capital could be consolidated by the bourgeoisie and power centralized in the nation-state.

While the modern West has ensconced many of its citizens in affluence and privilege, much of the world has only known strife and poverty for the last 200 years as capitalist domination has accelerated. While the old model rested on territorial exploitation via imperial oversight, today’s empire is run from global metropoles of finance backed by threats of violence, via economic subordination, debt peonage via the World Bank and IMF, exploiting cheap labor, using WTO and intellectual property law which prevent developing nations from self-producing needed technology, infrastructure, and medicine. Having so brazenly exploited the periphery of empire for so long, with little pushback from a complaint citizenry, now the chickens are coming home to roost, as capitalism squeezes the middle class out of existence in the core of empire.

Today we find ourselves in a situation where capitalism has not just colonized most of the planet, but through ruling class control of the media also the minds of billions in the developed and developing worlds. The ruling class has put many into a false double-bind whereby the only solutions seem to be between a liberal order which promises more regulations, a more humane and less racist and sexist world, promises of a slightly more equitable social democratic framework, all the while failing on nearly all fronts due to the adherence to capitalist neoliberal economics and austerity politics; and a reactionary conservatism which promises to restore national greatness, yet stokes imperialist, racist, xenophobic, and atavistic impulses. Within this constrained and artificial binary choice, for most urbane people the liberal choice appears better, while for most rural citizens and those disconnected from the cultures of large cities, the conservative side seems more appealing.

Little to no thought is given to a post-capitalist, leftist politics which could emancipate the working classes of the world. Capitalism can no longer produce, allocate, and distribute resources effectively. While the media superstructure will continue to place blame on the pandemic for all of its woes, capitalist overproduction, systemic inflation, wage suppression, and the falling rate of profit are leading to another large economic crisis. Despite what mainstream news says, the supply chain problems we see today are not simply due to worker shortages or production bottlenecks; capital has misallocated labor towards jobs that produce little to no value to society, as well as systemically underpaying key labor sectors leading to massive job losses, while being unable to plan for key agricultural, logistical, and technological needs.

Progress which seems tied to capital in reality is due to the innate ingenuity and inventiveness of workers, i.e., the material and mental labor which produces essential commodities. Capital influxes which once seemed necessary to marshal large-scale organization and production are now superfluous in a post-scarcity world, where the seemingly rational invisible hand of the market and control of production through supply and demand gives way to ruthless monopolies and a planet-threatening military industrial complex. This was always the direction and logic capitalism would take, and while legal reforms could make impactful differences, the structural revolution which is necessary for human flourishing will inevitably need economic democracy in the workplace as a cornerstone of a sustainable, post-capitalist world.

Finally, climate change and habitat loss promise to erase the “gains” of capitalism, as global warming, scarcity of clean water, desertification, and degradation of farmlands threatens apocalyptic devastation for large swaths of the planet. Using non-renewable fossil fuels to guide expansion of the economy seemed great in the 19th century, but has proven to be a Faustian bargain. Conversion to renewable resources should be made according to popular will, not held back by the dictates of multinational corporations which sacrifice the environment, social (re)production, dignified lives for the masses, and future generations for short-term profit. New democratic structures will need to be built to rationally allocate resources and redistribute private property into communal holdings, as we can no longer rely on the capricious whims of capitalists or on the conspicuous consumption of the affluent nations to drive production and finance. In order for this to be achieved, many affluent Westerners will have to be reminded that the siren calls and pandering from capitalists who  have molded a self-satisfied and compliant citizenry are a poison to us all, and that regardless of one’s level of comforts, capitalism, in fact, is not our friend.

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Boycott Vaccine Mandates and Covid Passports

Just as many predicted over a year ago, the rollout of the vaccine for Covid-19 and its implementation has introduced intense polarization and social segregation through the implementation of mandatory vaccination for employees and vaccine passports. Medical authoritarianism and the burgeoning biosecurity state are here, expanding in real time. In New York City, San Francisco, France, and Italy, vaccine passports are mandatory for entrance to nearly any indoor public venue: restaurants, bars, museums, cinemas, and more. Also, hundreds of corporations, colleges, federal and state agencies are mandating rushed emergency experimental injections with no long-term knowledge of side effects.

Yes, we’re all well aware that the Pfizer vaccine just got full FDA approval. Did anyone think that it wouldn’t? Did anyone in the media bother to ask if the forces of power, money, and technocratic medical tyrants would back down and not give full approval, considering how these forces have managed to shape reality and scare to death half of the population over a disease with a very low mortality rate? Regardless of your opinion of how severe the disease is, mandates and passports are incontrovertibly coercive, tyrannical measures. If the vaccines do not stop transmission, which the medical authorities have already admitted to varying degrees, then what is the point of these mandates and passports?

Furthermore, the vaccine passport will effectively be discriminatory since minorities are less likely to get the vaccines. African Americans especially have lower vaccination rates, for good reasons, the US medical establishment experimented on black populations throughout the Cold War and even beyond. It’s not difficult to see the ramifications of bio-digital segregations. One does not need a PhD or medical degree; in fact, these “credentials” seem to blinker one’s view in support of this new form of discrimination.

In the view of what we might term the technocracy, or perhaps the emerging biosecurity establishment, it is virtuous to separate the “clean” vaxxed from the supposedly disease-carrying, uneducated, lower-classes who won’t take these experimental shots.

All of the power and money, all the “Science ™” snowballed into an unstoppable corporate/government momentum which shows no signs of letting up. All that propaganda, the deliberate lies about mask efficiency (they don’t work) and vaccine holiness (they don’t prevent transmission) they’ve been shoving down the public’s throats for over a year and a half? Yeah, the nanny-state politico-medical tyrants are not going to give up this narrative without a fight. They are doubling down on the fear and quest for total obedience and control. It suits late-stage capitalism just fine if small and medium sized businesses go under and the excess labor supply of the unemployed are evicted and go hungry. They are extraneous to the monopoly cartels which run the “economy”, which is run by giant tech corporations, the stock market, the military-industrial complex, and the FIRE sector, multinational conglomerates who operate with almost no competition in nearly every industry.

There is no way to fight back against these abuses of power through the court system. In my opinion, the most rational approach would be to boycott, in any way possible, the corporations and public institutions that are going along with vaccine mandates and passports. Part of this involves the vote with your dollars approach. Hurting the corporate lemmings and technocrat sociopaths in their wallets and lack of tax revenues are the only things they will understand.

If you were thinking of traveling to Europe, skip France and Italy. Guess what?  If globally millions of tourists suddenly gave the middle finger to these two countries and vacationed elsewhere, the dent in lost revenue and GDP might actually have some effect on the political establishment. In France and Italy citizens are rightly fed up with protests every day against the passports, and many vaccinated people have burned their vaccine papers in solidarity.

Similarly, if people in the US abstained from traveling to and spending money in NYC and SF, every restaurant owner, museum board, theater, and small business would then put immediate pressure on city, state, and federal politicians to ban vaccine passports, hopefully for good. If millions of people refuse to shop and do business with companies that have mandatory vaccination requirements for their employees, it would also put immense pressure to relent.

Investors should also divest from corporations that insist on mandating vaccines for employees. It may, in fact, be legal for companies to do so, but it is frankly coercive and is a sort of crossing of the Rubicon, blurring one’s private life and medical choices with public duties, to create a new type of “good citizen”, a biopolitical subject serving capitalism with zero critical thinking skills.

For those in the workforce facing mandates, such as federal/state public employees and health care workers, if possible it is definitely worth considering if another career/job can be found. If enough teachers, nurses, etc., quit or go on strike against their employee mandates, pressure can be applied and the mandates could potentially be lifted.

It’s worth pointing out that the goalposts continue to be changed from slowing the pace of transmission to eradicating the virus- from two weeks to flatten the curve (tacitly acknowledging that coronaviruses cannot really be stopped) to mandates for wide swaths of public and private work, as well as military and police presence on the streets of Australia, to name one of the most obvious police state measures. The goalposts are changing to determine our “good citizen” status. Before, one simply had to go along to get along, obey the laws, pay taxes, and keep one’s head down; now, not only are we expected to do and say the right things, but to inject the right experimental drugs into our bodies.

My humble prediction is the goalposts are going to continue to move. The game is akin to the frogs boiling slowly in the pot; by consenting to our own freedom being curtailed and our own imprisonment, the establishment gets what it wants without having to crack down using excessive force and coercion. The innate desire to have access to public spaces, to go on vacation, will lead many people ignorant of the wider implications to accept these new dystopian measures.  The horizon of getting “back to normal” will recede faster as new variants naturally emerge, as viruses tend to do, and this will continue to be used as a new scare tactic, even as death rates effectively returned to normal four months ago (May of 2021) in the US, and many other countries show no more excess deaths, or none outside normal yearly variations, as well in 2021.

The virus is now endemic, but the powers that be are going to insist upon using it as a weapon for total control over the population. We’re through the looking-glass, we now have a form of “scientism” which is irrefutable no matter how unsettled the truth really is. Statistics such as death counts from Covid are unreliable, with doctors confessing to listing Covid-19 as the primary cause of death when it’s not- dying “from Covid” is conflated as dying “with Covid”. Deaths from the lockdowns are not seriously considered, even though many scientists are on record stating that the lockdowns led to a large chunk of the excess deaths.

Frankly, the near future looks pretty bleak for the US and the chances to have an open, honest dialogue about the seriousness of the pandemic, the capitalist world-system which stands to gain by using a 21st century tech-driven shock doctrine, and the police-state that will be built on the back of the panic caused by incessant propaganda. The fault lines are deepening and Democrats yammer to “trust the science” without any understanding themselves, and are willing to demonize anyone who doesn’t get an experimental jab or wear two masks while alone in their car; while Republicans continue to frame the “reopen the economy” debate in terms of those supposedly wonderful job-creating corporations, all the while being willing to sell the average worker out for an extra buck or two. Both parties are more than willing to screw over the poor, minorities, and working classes; if either cared about their citizens’ lives they wouldn’t throw people out into the streets via the mass evictions that are already underway.

As imperial decline and rot deepen, and the domestic surveillance apparatus pulls its noose tighter against our necks, our best bet to resist these freedom-crushing decrees is to deploy citizen power, mass protests, and coordinated direct action against inhumane vaccine mandates and police-state vaccine passports.

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The Rise of the Terminally Online

Americans, rich or poor, now live in a culture entirely perceived through simulacra-media images and illusions. We live inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation that has not existed for quite some time now. Our national reality is held together by images, the originals of which have been lost or never existed. The well-off with their upscale consumer aesthetic, live inside gated Disneyesque communities with gleaming uninhabited front porches representing some bucolic notion of the Great American home and family. The working class, true to its sports culture aesthetic, is a spectator to politics … politics which are so entirely imagistic as to be holograms of a process that has not existed for decades in America, if ever. Social realism is a television commercial for America, a simulacrum republic of eagles, church spires… and ‘freedom of choice’ between holograms. America’s citizens have been reduced to balkanized consumer units by the corporate state’s culture producing machinery. We are all transfixed on and within the hologram and cannot see one another in the living breathing flesh.

— Joe Bageant, from a 2005 interview with my late friend, Richard Oxman

We need to understand that technology is not simply a relation between humans and their natural environment, but more fundamentally a way of organizing global human society.

— Alf Hornborg, “Technology as Fetish: Marx, Latour, and the Cultural Foundations of Capitalism”, Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 31, no. 4

Note to readers: This is an impromptu, long overdue, unsolicited, and frankly incomplete second attempt at describing aspects of digital media and “extremely online” culture and ideology. You can read my first essay “Questioning the Extremely Online” by clicking the link. There are conservative, liberal, and leftist variants of the extremely online crowd; what unites them are social media as well as internet and screen addictions, a lack of class analysis, and technological fetishism.

The Psychology of the Terminally Online

It is not enough to change the world. That is all we have ever done. That happens even without us. We also have to interpret this change. And precisely in order to change it. So that the world will not go on changing without us. And so that it is not changed in the end into a world without us.

– Günther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man, Volume II

There are a few very inconvenient truths about the internet, digital media, and technological “progress” that Western societies have largely failed to account for. They are as follows: the technology and mediums are addictive, alienating, manipulative, exploitative, and violate privacy. Also, the glut of information that the internet and online media stores no longer seems to be able to advance any coherent cultural education or socio-economic framework for change that corresponds to what is necessary to avoid the devastating effects of climate change and various forms of collapse that are on the horizon.

One of the obvious and pernicious aspects of social media is its addictive and manipulative nature. As we have known for awhile now, social media amplifies negatives news and posts that anger and/or irritate us through algorithms designed to capture and hold our attention. As Silicon Valley guru Jaron Lanier explains in a British TV interview, our social media feeds are designed using behavioral modification techniques to serve an attention economy; where data is sold off to third parties to hook the user on products and/or digital services. This represents a new era for humankind, based on full-scale data accumulation and manipulation of our digital selves, one that Shoshana Zuboff details in her work The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. As Lanier and Zuboff aptly point out, the addictive and manipulative elements inherent to social media leads to degradation of the self and society.

The nature of time spent on computers and smartphones necessarily involves the lack of use of one’s material body. By atrophying our senses, we no longer question what it “feels like” to be online, allowing the alienating “manipulation engine”, as Lanier puts it, that is social media and web advertising to distort one’s neurobiology: the corporeal biochemical and physiological makeup of each person, and part of what makes an individual unique. Then comes addiction: as Lanier points out in the same interview, the addict is hooked to both the positive and negative aspects of the addiction: in this case the social media addict experiences positive emotions from validation, exposure and pseudo-solidarity and in the best cases deep connections, but also a perverse enjoyment from diving into the swamp of “rancor and abuse” that posting inevitably stirs up. Furthermore, fighting (in this case posting) for a cause becomes an end-in-itself and rationalized as worthy of the time spent: one cannot just give up, as the “sunk costs” of obtaining an outlet, platforms and followers self-justifies the “need” to always be broadcasting one’s unique or even brilliant ideas as well as inane and banal trivia and gossip.

One main and obvious critique regarding digitally-based sociopolitical manipulation is that people increasingly confuse, if only on subconscious levels, digitally-based “virtual” and “cyber” interaction, friendship, and activism with in-person connections and organizing. Certainly, a great many people fall into this category, as the substitution of virtual life for face-to-face offers a palliative to the endemic depression, anxiety, and host of psychosocial issues caused by the reactionary nature of capitalism and the hollowing out of communal life and civil society. Social media has become the new center of spectacle for post-modern society. As Guy Debord wrote in 1967, “the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”

Capitalism has managed to thrive in our screen-driven world, even with the forces of production being shifted to the developing world, by profiteering off humanities’ sharing/cooperative communal ties: through harvesting personal data, then using targeted advertising to get users to buy and thus hook them on the platform and its products, and also selling one’s digital profile to third parties. Not only that, but mainstream capitalist ideology has managed to insinuate itself into every corner of the internet, and drive public narratives of events, through a process of regimenting the public on every issue, instantaneously, all the time.

Still, not many are going to readily admit that they believe most mainstream news sources verbatim, or even that advertising is particularly useful or accurate online. In terms of activism, most people still understand that signing online petitions has very little impact compared to in the street protest movements. Many people can see through the “bad faith” inherent to social media. Even taking into account the addictive nature of the medium and the resulting physiological manipulation that social media use causes, on both the conscious and subconscious levels, this still does not explain the immense forces behind internet and social media addiction and its hegemonic position within the cultural landscape.

What is taking place is quite broader in scope than a “substitution” of communal face-to-face activism and social connection with virtual, internet-based networks. While quite a lot of people fall into the first category above, as somehow ignorant and oblivious to the alienating and exclusionary nature of social media, there is another large group that needs analysis: the ruling class “winners” of social media, those with large platforms and significant followings, as well as those among the “extremely online” who engage in non-stop socio-economic and political commentary.

The Disintegration of the Digital Commons

On the floors of Tokyo
down in London town’s a go go,
with the record selection,
And the mirror’s reflection,
I’m dancin’ with myself

— Billy Idol, “Dancing with Myself”

This second group — one that explicitly acknowledges the inequalities and injustices baked into digital media — may indeed have more education and wealth, and some of whom even readily understand what has been lost; yet still view the new world of social media and digital engagement as the only game in town, and therefore the only way to gain new adherents/followers, or in the case of the extremely online left and right, political power.

Sadly, many on the left appear to be resigned to LARPing: playing an online game where they do not make the rules, do not have any leverage, power, or any money for that matter, and cannot possibly win. There is not any significant need for liberal/left journalists providing day-to-day “hot take” commentary, using platforms and influencer methods to gain followers and viewership, if the goal in mind is revolutionary change and/or attaining political power. If the goal in mind is likes, shares, streams of revenue, and even new forms of social capital, then the actions of these users makes more sense. What is needed is organizing skills and the ability to bridge gaps between classes and cultures in order to activate a working class base, and that is sorely lacking.

The terminally online in this second category can perceive that notions like the community, a social contract, and democratic consensus based on a shared culture of trust and reciprocity have been demolished in the Western world. They mostly fall into liberal-left/progressive camps but there are certainly conservative and even isolationist/anti-war libertarian variants. The common thread is that even with the implicit acknowledgment that “local community” and even face-to-face interaction is waning (especially in light of the technocratic and authoritarian reaction to the pandemic) the urge remains to put internet technology to work for the good of their own brands and content promotion.

So a new digital hierarchy of opinion and commentary is becoming entrenched, and has been for over a decade now, controlled by the ruling class and its mainstream media mouthpieces with the ability to censor and shadow-ban dissenting voices. The significant followings of online political commentators have created its own monopoly on user engagement and viewership — whether through a Google search, Youtube stream, or social media account, the masses are herded to the opinions of the same tiny group of influencers by the invisible algorithm. It was always easy to discredit a cable news commentator as biased and untrustworthy, but now the personalized feeds of social media give a new sheen of legitimacy and respectability — even if digital commentators with large viewerships are simply parroting mainstream lies and distortions (which they mostly do).

A related issue that has come to the fore is that the virtual nature of online “work” and digital influencing models simply mimic the wider mainstream capitalist model of capturing attention; through clicks, “likes”, advertising, and hawking merchandise. This certainly doesn’t take away from the valuable educational and activist networks that are coerced into adopting these models, but simply to point out that the most facile, vapid, compromised, lowest-common-denominator political analysis and trends will float to the surface, and become the most popular, in this environment. It’s no surprise, then, that the serious alternative media on the left has been taking a beating from Google’s adjustment of search algorithms, social media censorship, “shadow-banning” and “throttling” on platforms, as well as being ignored as usual by the mainstream.

Of course, just taking a wider lens of how most of the non plugged-in world and the poor (in the West and worldwide) views the often bitter, internecine factionalism and sometimes irrelevant controversies within social media would be helpful. When the usual posturing, identity politic culture wars, and cos-playing in online turf squabbles are put ahead of the material needs of the people, open-minded individuals who could be potential allies and comrades check out of the milieu and view socialism as an arcane subculture. Within the maelstrom of fighting for more reach, subscribers, and content promotion, nothing becomes more relatable in a narcissistic culture than endlessly talking about oneself.

This debased charade of public discourse has been allowed to fester, with basically no resistance, precisely because it suits late-stage capitalism — not only is the profit motive of targeted advertisement too lucrative, but the mechanisms of social control and surveillance too tantalizing, as it enters an era of semi-controlled collapse and corporate consolidation of the entire planet. There are alternate “post-truth” realities (Q-Anon, Russiagate), bubbles of echo-chamber subcultures preaching to the choir, the labeling of any ideas contrary to mainstream media as conspiracy theory (a term invented by the CIA to discredit anyone questioning the official story of the JFK assassination), ego-trippers taking pot-shots and “dunking” on those less knowledgeable, and sections of an overzealous cancel culture which all contribute to dividing, disempowering, and disincentivizing a populace from understanding how the dominant mode of production on the planet, capitalism, is holding the world hostage for the sake of short-term monetary profit.

The privileges of the extremely online (coming from mainly middle class backgrounds) create insular echo-chambers which keeps them sheltered from the realities of daily labor; it also alienates working class people who might otherwise be attracted to anti-capitalist thinking. The lack of blue-collar life experience and organizing skills from the self-proclaimed “leaders” in online discourse face problems relating to the cultural and aesthetic styles of the working classes, in terms of social capital, personal affect, to how theories and obscure references are flaunted, as well as artistic taste.

Connected with this notion are a perceived lack of authenticity and dedication; in this context, it is understandable how it is hard to take successful bloggers, podcasters, journalists, and even academics seriously because many do come from more privileged backgrounds, with all of the blind spots of class that this usually entails. This would not be as much of problem if the nexus of the extremely online was not nearly always targeting content towards their own white-collar milieu and focusing on fringe aesthetic pretensions and/or nice forms of cultural capital: instead, if the animus was focused against the ruling classes consistently, the snarky and cringe-worthy cultural signaling, non-stop commentary careerism, and thin gruel of cosmopolitan affects could be dropped.

Since much of the terminally/extremely online is middle class, they invariably come off as out-of-touch at best; dilettante, effete, or “soft” to put it politely: some re-create bubbles of professional class affluence and gate-keeping hierarchy online; others mimic the non-profit bureaucracy and the pseudo-organizing principles of white-collar NGOs; and more ape serious civic groups, community organizations, subversive ideology, serious strategies of resistance and protest, all the while staying within the confines of their self-imposed defanged and declawed liberal “progressivism”.

The Memeification of Society

The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world.

— Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

It would be remiss if we did not mention one of the dominant forms of expression on social media: the meme. The function of the meme: a pictogram, is telling insofar as it reminds us that people not only do not want to read anymore, but also often don’t have time to invest in watching a short video, essay or novel, or even examine worthy works of art, either. Memes have become a form of postmodern hieroglyphs for screen-addicted Westerners. The meme acts as a floating signifier par excellence; when there is very little common ground or shared reality inherent in the online world, users (netizens is one cute name scholars like to use) pass along memes and interpret them to fit into prefabricated narratives and beliefs.

Not only that, certain extremely online media “poison the well” of nuanced online discourse by using the same generic tropes and stereotypical styles borrowed from memes and mass culture, and endlessly regurgitating one-dimensional thinking. Posters then inevitably adopt the same styles of humor from memes, and appear in the form of pre-packaged personalities: there’s the preening virtue signaler; the petit bourgeois influencers hawking a channel, brand, or merchandise; the bipartisan shrieking about the perils of socialism; the self-deprecating very earnest posters with endless commentary; the low-key spiritualist humble-bragger; the perpetual oversharer; the haranguing trolls and snarky “edgelords” who get off on other’s misery; the cantankerous self-appointed ideology police who admonish everyone who deviates from their purity politics; and many other prefabricated templates of virtual personality types to follow and waste one’s time “engaging” with.

“Posting wars” have taken the mantle from the culture wars that began heating up in the early 2000s: everyone can engage in their own lame version of liberal, conservative, or radical punditry; everyone can be their own asinine Jon Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Bob Avakian — whatever skin one wants to try on for the day; parroting the same tired tropes, shuffling through the never-ending news cycle, applying embarrassingly childish levels of critique, and usually stoking nationalistic fervor on all sides. Through algorithms that amplify the most simplistic, most milquetoast, most authoritarian, and frankly the most enraging and ignorant voices, social media performs a key element of social engineering and low-level psychological warfare: it keeps the population in perpetual angst, disorientation, and even fear; just off-kilter enough to be swayed by authoritarian demagogues, and just desperate and delusional enough to be assuaged by the liberal “resistance” that “democracy” will be restored soon.

This is just more Hollywood: we can find the same types of styles of media personalities, the same shows and movies promoting US foreign policy, the same jokes and narratives online as in mass consumer culture. Even if the “content” is likeable, or wholesome, or whatever, we often find the same tedious set-ups, the same formulaic variations to get to the punchline, the exact same references online that one might see in a lame superhero movie.

Again, there certainly is worthwhile work and even political education being done within online culture, but some of the problems with posting are the inexorable rise of the hyperreal blurring of truth and illusion, the layers of shellacking with ironic distance to make things “funny” or acceptable to an audience. Much like the sadistic overseer at one’s job who confuses “being the boss” with having a personality, the new cadres of the extremely online misunderstand that simply having an online presence, significant following in terms of numbers, or a media platform does not confer experience, brilliance, uniqueness, the ability to lead or be a role model about, well, anything. Much like politicians and modern celebrities (who are increasingly becoming the same thing), the extremely online are simply popular for being popular.

Through the Cyborg Looking Glass

It’s not an experience if they can’t bring someone along
They hang on emotions they bottle inside
They peck at the ground
And strut out of stride

— Phish, “Birds of a Feather”

Another issue that establishment commentators cannot seem to wrap their heads around is the liberal-dominated kitsch and camp social media behavior, attitudes, and posts that appeal to specific subcultures and make things go “viral” within small communities, but face the same echo-chamber issue when confronted with going beyond the “target audience”. By pandering towards in-groups, many internet-savvy influencers (even socialist and radical-minded ones) unconsciously adopt the same tactics as PR and marketing firms relying on focus groups to target audiences. Developing a following now consists of who can shout the loudest, report the fastest, and spurt out the most ridiculous and sensationalist click-bait. In other words, socio-economic control no longer simply functions with capitalist monopolization of the means of production — as many astute observers have pointed out, non-waged labor, leisure time, biopower, and cultural reproduction now are absorbed into the nascent “new world order” of global capitalism; which is in turn reshaping human consciousness in totally unforeseen ways.

Apparently variations of the above happens among leftists quite often on social media: the retweet/sharing of another’s post followed/captioned by a snappy or poignant comment to provide context, an added emphasis,  an angry denunciation and disavowal of the concept, or a gentle nudge to offer clarity. Certainly this is necessary in some cases, but the idea of becoming each other’s constant 24/7 news aggregators, soundboards, and amplifiers…in order to accomplish what exactly? Is there an unconscious desire to carry on with this quasi-forced show, which is obviously coercive due to social pressures, in order to meet the perceived need to regularly signal one’s beliefs and develop monetization models?

Another way of framing the question is to what extent are the flurry of posts about daily “news” and critiques of current events required, and to what extent do individuals yearn for and crave the never-ending spectacle of discourse to feed egos, get a dopamine rush, and/or gain popularity? To what extent is the drive to secure social capital an excuse to develop a liberal-left version of having “credentials”, and to what extent are those involved softening the edges of critiques, compromising values, and slowly becoming assimilated into a virtual world where technological power is worshipped and fetishized? Is there an engaged and dedicated minority of revolutionaries ready, willing, and able to storm the barricades physically, or do our online connections consist of a simulacra of ally-ship, and represent the dying embers of a burnt-out husk of a public sphere masquerading as serious discourse?

Putting aside the ignorance and vitriol all over the web for a minute, and there’s plenty of that, what comes to the fore is the quite boring and tedious background to online discourse. Not only is it incredibly lonely, nearly everyone is in some important sense going through the motions, performing in service of whatever fad or niche subculture, instantly sucked into commentary on any media narrative and scratching the itch; in this environment, political commentary in the West resembles sports news, or movie reviews, or fashion advertising; a running conversation on trendy, stupefying, salacious current events where no serious response to the power structure or the money system is offered. Not only are we faced with online/digital ennui, but internet commentary has become downright predictable- running the gamut from “influencers” who are demagogic authoritarians, to establishment types pandering to centrist neoliberal notions of “bipartisanship”, to libertarian pseudo-spiritual grifters, to tech moguls and celebrities incessantly reminding us “we’re all in this together”.  Pretty soon we will have algorithms and AI writing TV and movie dialogue as well as political news, if it’s not already happening, in order to gauge and profiteer off of what machine learning tells us is “fun” and “likeable” to the public.

The common thread is that high technology will somehow save us and make the world a more interesting and enjoyable place, which is a technophilic worldview: only the vast arrays of screens, robots, AI, internet of things, smart-grids, ever-watching and listening surveillance, and multinational corporations can solve the problems they themselves have created. No one stops to think — and this is another part of the equation, the lack of free time in the always-online world — maybe, just maybe, modern technology is diverting us from coming together, forming community-level mutual aid groups, organizing the working class, protecting the environment, and many other deadly serious issues.

As for the reasons why we keep diving head-first into the toxic stew of social media, here’s a quote from one Jay Hathaway at the Daily Dot to ponder over:

Why do we continue to lap at this useless, mean trickle of garbage juice? Even worse, why do we seek out more of it? Is it because we hate ourselves? Quite possibly, yes. Is it because we’re lonely, and we’re hooked on this simulacrum of human connection even as it makes us less relatable to the real people around us? There’s definitely some of that… At some point, you have to admit that you’re Extremely Online because you want to be. Or because you once wanted to be, and now it’s part of your identity. Who would you be if you weren’t Extremely Online?

We’re all liable to badger on about whatever pet issue we stand up for, and sometimes rightfully so; but the majority don’t really want to take action or even think through the implications of what would be needed to change our cultural momentum or our personal inertias. This is because, through the money system and the vagaries of an extreme social hierarchy, mainstream liberals and conservatives have become so beaten down that they adopt fatalistic and nihilistic mentality. Part of the reason they despise each other so much is that they recognize so much of themselves in each other. On varying levels of cognition they despise themselves. Being told their entire lives that more money and technology will bring more happiness and progress, and yet not being able to partake in any tangible culturally enriching activities or soul-expanding journeys, many become schizoid.

Social media and the denizens of the extremely online compound this problem. The loudest, meanest, crudest of the bunch are amplified in our social media feeds by algorithms designed to capture our attention, most obviously for ad revenue. Of course this is how the game got started in Silicon Valley, so we are ostensibly told that this whole racket is all about the money, no other nefarious “agendas”. Unfortunately the extremely online liberal and soft-left has swallowed this hook, line, and sinker that the only motive driving these companies is profit.

Yet, Facebook and Google are known to have taken start-up money from In-Q-Tel, a CIA created venture capital firm, and intelligence agencies are known to use backdoors through every browser, operating system, social media app, etc. Further, just thinking through what an “attention economy” and Shoshana Zuboff’s notion of “surveillance capitalism” really entails brings up rather unpleasant truths. One of which is that the national security state is monitoring the web at large not to play “defense” but to actively plant and stir up counterrevolutionary ideology not only in the mainstream but in the furthest recesses of online discourse. In short, there are now intelligence operators whose job is to act as an online COINTELPRO.

Beyond that, the full-scale push for more time spent in online communities as well as the wide availability of broadband internet connected to nascent “digital identity” technologies in the developing world will only allow for the wider use of cyber-based, psychological warfare, propaganda, and counterinsurgency techniques. Even pushing further, establishment narratives and media stories can be amplified through algorithms that favor “trusted sources”. The fact is that the public is not aware of the full capabilities of the national security state, and that social media can operate to create the same sorts of conditions that the CIA program “Operation Mockingbird” used to bribe journalists and editors into printing mainstream-favored news over dissident opinions.

We’ve already seen Facebook manipulate individuals media feeds as a social experiment to see if it would provoke more positive and negative emotions, and it worked as they readily admit. If, in previous generations mass propaganda worked through the model of “manufacturing consent”, today we are faced with perhaps an even more intractable situation: the normalization of consent and the amnestic erasure of the social, erosion of community, and destruction of a slower type of deliberative discourse, and of history. The regiments of mainstream liberalism and co-opted progressives are stirred into action to promote the interests of the status quo. Take two glaring recent examples from the US and the UK: Bernie Sanders’ supposed misogyny and Jeremy Corbyn’s so-called anti-Semitism.

Driven by an absurd, relentless media narrative, both messages were amplified and both candidates tarred and feathered in public because of an inane social media discourse. 2016 may have been the year that Twitter became relevant for national politics because of Trump; four years later, things have gotten even more absurd. To cite just one example in the 2020 election race, Elizabeth Warren became incensed about Bernie Sanders’ supporters being mean to her online- this become somehow debate-worthy and relevant enough to provoke national discussion. So not only has mass media become fixated on reactions to bad jokes or distasteful references on Twitter, but it now parrots the same maudlin sentimentality and priggishness as the denizens of the extremely online world.

Similarly, across the pond Corbyn was smeared over little more than insinuations and hyperbole; again amplified by ridiculous anti-socialist social media influencers, liberal and conservative alike. Then there was the mother of all the liberal delusions and overreactions the past four years: Russiagate. While the mainstream media played the dominant role, social media trolls, bots, and liberal officialdom continued to hammer away at collusion, becoming the mirror image of the nascent conservative post-truth fake news era. Narratives are now almost entirely driven by the profit-motive, money values and celebrity click-bait begin to exclusively dominate discourse, gossip becomes the main focus in a doomed capitalist economy where its leaders can no longer alter its course.

The fact is that this intentional manipulation of human nature serves the ultra-rich classes through more than their bank accounts. It’s not just about advertising money and profit, and not just about surveillance, or a new form of attention economy. It’s all of that and much more, much darker and dystopian. Social media, the web, and streaming services are the new fuels that run the alienation and atomization engine of our culture. They have become the dominant form of online expression, and through ads, codes, and algorithms have found their way into our collective unconscious. Not only do these pervasive media elements divide those with obvious ideological differences; the intricacies of the algorithms stir up unconscious impulses and polarize those with largely overlapping interests.

Of course we all know this phenomenon well (the narcissism of small differences) and it predates the internet age, but what is novel here is not its reappearance on a bigger “stage” but its targeted, precise, insidious deployment into our social newsfeeds. Individuals are made to feel the need to keep up with internet flame wars, memes, and obscure references or else the feeling of being “left out” and/or uninformed begins to creep up out the recesses of one’s consciousness. Social isolation and stigmatization for not being able to “keep up with the facts” (Fear of Missing Out-FOMO) and events in our modern world is a very real thing, just as ruthless on social media as the various hierarchies in the corporate world, civic life, and academia, just to name a few instances.

Further, the lack of being able to have one’s opinion heard or validated online in the maelstrom of discontent it has sown often gives young people, especially those with low self-esteem, the idea that their thoughts and opinions don’t matter and are somehow unworthy of attention. This is compounded for those that, due to propaganda uncritically filtered from others or simply naiveté, believe that the best art, theory, and culture rise virtuously to the top in the great “democratic” marketplace of ideas that the internet and social media has come to represent.

Unfortunately the trend of the extremely online is to uphold the hegemony of the insulated, college-educated, the mostly liberal but also conservative petit bourgeoisie. Working class leftists and anti-capitalists, and even the very minor celebrities in the international left, will continue to be marginalized, censored, and their work ignored because they do not bear the stamps of officialdom: the Twitter blue check-mark or “verified” Google news.

All of these trends and addictive technologies converge into a dystopic framework: one that will attempt to enslave humanity in some form of digital prison; one where real-time sensors, AI driven and smart-grid internet hyperconnectivity will be able to drive human behavior on an unprecedented scale. Our “docile bodies” are being reprogrammed and conditioned to accept this, one ad, TV show, one scroll through the feed, one dopamine hit at a time. In order to accomplish this nightmare, the ruling elites need to “data-fy” us by hooking us up — by merging man and machine. Hence, this is why wearable technologies have been marketed so hard: it is not enough for a smartphone or external biosensors to do the job of extracting surplus value from our bodies. The falling rate of profit will eventually force the “data is the new oil” tech oligarchs to police our thoughts, modulate our pleasures and pains, and keep up the façade of a world of obedient workers, even if it means resorting to dystopian totalitarian tactics such as implants, virtual reality gaming systems, cheap or even free housing for those who live where they work, and a host of unforeseen emerging concepts as global civilization continues down the glide path towards oblivion.

Techno-Feudal Oligarchy

Bill Gates’ and Paul Allen’s BASIC-MS operating system, which they sold to IBM and ended up dominating the global market for many years, was written in BASIC computer language. This language was developed by professors at Dartmouth in 1964 with funding from the National Science Foundation…The PARC research facility, from which Steve Jobs obtained the basics of the graphic user interface that became the Mac and later all computer interfaces, had several former ARPA researchers working on these display concepts…Facebook’s deferential corporate biographer David Kirkpatrick admits, ‘Something like Facebook was envisioned by engineers who laid the groundwork for the internet. In a 1968 essay by J.C.R. Licklider and Robert W. Taylor, ‘The Computer as Communication Device,’ the two essentially envisioned Facebook’s basic social network. They worked for ARPA… Google itself, considered the most academically inspired of the megacaps, was originally, where it was developed through the state and federal tax funding of California and the United States…Page’s first research paper included the note, ‘funded by DARPA’.

— Rob Larson, Bit Tyrants

One thing to remember is that Western governments are never going to willingly reign in the monopoly transnational corporations that dominate the internet. The five biggest (Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon) form an internet oligopoly, as Nikos Smyrnaios explains. Through a process of the convergence of IT, web, media, intellectual property rights domination, deregulation of the digital sector, tax avoidance, and a never-ending slush fund from the biggest banks, as well as the “network effect” that herd consumers to a very few web conglomerates, the big five have managed to create basically a private internet cartel, based on inventions and achievements made with public funding, which have been effectively stolen and privatized using intellectual property and patent laws.

As Rob Larson explains in his book Bit Tyrants, the network effect occurs because the very few big social media networks offer increased connections and usefulness for people as more people flock to the platform. This makes the Big Five and a few other platforms virtual monopolies that can exert leverage; whether through algorithms, censorship, banning, and other opaque measures to destroy competition.

Naomi Klein pointed out in The Intercept in her piece “Screen New Deal” that the tech oligarchs are prepared to use the pandemic as an excuse to push their business model onto the world. As she writes:

It’s a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration ‘in the community’ was already booming. But in the future under hasty construction, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration.

Another glimpse into a high-tech dystopia revealed itself in Toronto, where citizens smartly made an uproar about turning part of the waterfront area known as Quayside into a “smart city” constructed by an innocuous sounding company, Sidewalk Labs. Of course, it turns out that Sidewalk is affiliated with Google, and concerned citizens and privacy advocates shot it down for obvious reasons, such as privacy and surveillance violations which would undoubtedly occur.

A similar idea has been introduced recently in Nevada, which goes by the innocuous name of the “Innovation Zone”. The Governor has been preparing to allow private corporations to buy land, develop cities, and form private governments, courts, police, and essential services to residents, who would live under private law which would have the same weight as county laws in the state. A company called Blockchains LLC, part of a holding company with very little transparency, has bought a ton of land outside of Reno and is all in on forming a new “smart city” there. This sort of techno-libertarian dystopia is ostensibly being introduced to raise tax revenue and boost economic growth. Yet for a governor to hand over sovereignty to an unaccountable corporation, it begs a number of questions, no? Especially since the company has donated to the Nevada governor, one would think the obvious conflict of interest would be enough to kill the project. Something much larger than the petty corruption of a US governor and the greed and opportunism of a technology company are at play here. As we shall see below, these private-public partnerships and deceitful collaborations are signs from a possible future of total social control and surveillance.

Online Labor and Value

If a free market economy plus intellectual property leads to the “underutilization of information”, then an economy based on the full utilization of information cannot tolerate the free market or absolute intellectual property rights. The business models of all our modern digital giants are designed to prevent [access to] the abundance of information.

– Cryppix, “The End of Capitalism Has Begun”, Blog Post from, 2019

People understand that essential jobs are the only ones who really matter in our economy: food production, construction and housing, keeping store shelves stocked and life-sustaining services running, nurses and surgeons, those kinds of jobs. The rest of the economy falls into the category of what the late David Graeber rightly called “bullshit jobs”. These are jobs that exist solely for the sake of making corporations more profit, and provide no tangible material benefits in terms of food, housing, clothing, making domestic and communal life easier, and even art and culture for humanity.

White collar jobs (the extremely online included, at least those who benefit considerable or have a career closely related) in the US mainly exist to sell tangential perks and benefits for rich elites and the affluent; whether it’s fancy gadgetry and high technology, or either to reduce their own labor within their households, or to manufacture false consumer needs in the wider populace, or to exploit labor forces domestically and abroad. The modern West increasingly does not physically make or manufacture anything of value. The tech-heavy jobs of the future, as well as the new high technology and extremely online jobs of today, whether it is mainstream jobs in media, journalism, graphic designers, computer coders and software developers, engineering and science in service to the military industrial complex, Ad and PR firms, political consultants, armies of middle managers and think tanks wonks all reinforce and re-circulate narrow-minded and ignorant neoliberal economics and conservative cant about how the US is a shining beacon of freedom and democracy, and not a capitalist-imperialist authoritarian oligarchy bent on world domination and driving the world towards ecological annihilation. This is connected to too much time spent on digital devices. Upper-middle class white collars are “making bank” and have gotten intellectually lazy and morally corrupted by their ill-gotten wealth and they have effectively substituted online life for local community. They decry gentrification and white privilege even as they are the ones pushing minority and working class communities out of desirable inner city areas.

One of the reasons this happens, whether its liberals or libertarian Silicon Valley acolytes on the coasts or conservative tech-savvy suburbanites in the Midwest and breadbasket of the US, is because the upper-middle class thinks of itself as a meritocracy. What they’ve created of course, is a bougie neo-Victorian aristocracy of wealth, social status, and cultural capital, a “New American Aristocracy” as one Matthew Stewart explained in The Atlantic. What is interesting about Stewart’s piece is that he is at least cognizant of his own position in what he calls the “upper 9.9%”, and how the people and families in this class all slavishly service, idolize, strive towards, and navel-gaze at the top 0.1%. Reading his essay one can feel his consternation, as he acknowledges his complicity:

But that is not to let the 9.9 percent off the hook. We may not be the ones funding the race-baiting, but we are the ones hoarding the opportunities of daily life. We are the staff that runs the machine that funnels resources from the 90 percent to the 0.1 percent. We’ve been happy to take our cut of the spoils. We’ve looked on with smug disdain as our labors have brought forth a population prone to resentment and ripe for manipulation. We should be prepared to embrace the consequences.

Of course, as Stewart states, “running the machine” is a euphemism for improving the bottom line, and the only way that’s done today is to make blue-collar people work harder for less money, to deregulate industry, to smash labor rights, and to transfer production offshore to countries using essentially slave labor and indentured servitude. We do not live in a Taylorist-Fordist manufacturing economy anymore and even the ruling elites acknowledge that producing more for the sake of more is insane, as most affluent and upper-middle class people just binge on a steady diet of useless mass-culture goods, cycles through endless perks that the service economy provides, and consumes digitally-based mainstream lowbrow entertainment. Anyone who tells you different is mostly likely either a snake-oil salesperson or a sycophantic brown-noser for the ruling class.

The white collar professional milieu now functions mainly to create make-work jobs to sop up the millions of university educated indoctrinated into the capitalist world order, who otherwise would find  their fields outsourced just as the working class jobs have been for the past forty-odd years. Elite overproduction does present a problem, insofar as late-stage neoliberalism no longer affords the opportunities for obedient, conforming middle-class workers who feel entitled to a slice of the American pie that in the postwar period was more equitable divided — at least towards white, educated citizens. These educated, professional class individuals ostensibly would prefer a modicum of social democracy, but today instead are bribed with aforementioned bullshit jobs in the corporate world, who are eventually psychically broken down and assimilated into “normal” capitalist relations, become inured to human suffering, and begin to accept the self-fulfilling prophecy of capitalist realism.

The Normalization of Technocratic Language

The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit — and take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with bullshit of the second order. The majority of administrative activity, whether in private business or the public sphere, seems to be little more than a sophisticated exercise in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit.

– Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West,

Paeans to productivity and a smarter, more efficient economy while doing nothing to alleviate poverty, homelessness, environmental problems, etc. also reinforces the striving, overachieving, smarmy, centrist white-collar dweebs in the professional classes and political wonks of the world whose smugness and arrogance only increases as they delude themselves into believing they are the winners in a fair meritocracy.

The milieu of the extremely online crowd are the ones occupying these “bullshit jobs” and whose role it is to filter and mediate who, what, when, where, why, and how issues are framed and discussed in the media. This explains some of the sneering dismissal and resentment from the right about the “coastal liberal elites”: the conservatives understand that media liberals have no real expertise and are not serious thinkers, and they doubly resent them because they see in liberals the same moral relativism and nihilism they see in themselves. This can be made clear when one considers who the modern far-right respects and fears among world leaders more: effete neoliberal elitists who peddle bullshit, such as Obama, Clinton, Macron, and Trudeau; or staunch socialists of the recent past and present like Morales (and now Arce), Lula, Chavez, Castro, etc.

As for what increases in productivity in material terms even means anymore at work for white-collar jobs in 2020, it’s laughable on its face, as our economy has become so divorced from reality. I’m not even referring to small businesses offering tangible, physical products here, but rather professional class jobs which exist solely to make money for giant corporations, aka more bullshit jobs, without any actual corporeal objects to sell.

What we do know is that, besides tech and computer workers, the only people who talk about increasing productivity and GDP in glowing terms are sadist executives and managers in soulless corporate America, delusional mainstream economists, Wall Street sociopaths, real estate speculators displacing the poor and gentrifying inner cities, CEOs who rely on slave labor overseas, people who work for pyramid schemes, tech moguls destroying middle class jobs and transmuting them into a precarious gig economy, hedge fund managers who instigate hostile takeovers of companies and lay off loyal employees, military contractors who build more drones and bombs, etc.

Simply put, only the most craven and bougified people used to talk like this about economic issues, but with the emergence of online culture and the double expansion of the financial and computer-centric sectors of the economy, this sort of Orwellian PR-speak has expanded to the “attention economy” and is becoming normalized, internalized, and disseminated by tech entrepreneurs, the culture industry and Hollywood/web influencers, “lean-in” liberals, and social media-addicted journalists, who then feign responsibility for the type of hyper-fast, work all the time environments and disposable culture and entertainment that they help to cultivate and profit off of.

Essentially, the denizens of the extremely online normalize liberal, bourgeois ideology by couching their ideas in the “woke”, “hip”, rhetoric of identity politics and neoliberal economics, which they interpret as somehow being “progressive”. They normalize an ever-shrinking political discourse which excludes radical thinkers and promotes an updated, social media-savvy version of Orwellian corporate-speak, which Pierre Bourdieu dubbed as “NewLiberalSpeak” in 2001.

Screen-Captured Subjectivity: Digital Interpellation and Algorithmic Control

Hence the exclamation ‘another world is possible’ today seems to be confronted with the riddle, ‘would another digitality be possible?’

– Jan de Vos, “Fake subjectivities: Interpassivity from (neuro)psychologization to digitalization”, Continental Thought and Theory, Vol 2. Issue 1

Regardless of the many brilliant complex analysis of social ills, either on social platforms or digital media more broadly, it appears that the web and social media provides a very strong new avenue for what we might term digital interpellation. Users of the web and social media are constantly hailed, as in Althusser’s famous example, and continually modulated and nudged by algorithms to conform to bourgeois ideology, and endlessly diverted by the mass culture industry. Again, this constant feedback loop of being online only gives the ruling classes more power — simply logging into social media and posting does this. Academics have even attempted to calculate the monetary values of posts, retweets, and photos shared online: we are literally making money for tech corporations when we post on social media. The only real option is to stop feeding the beast and boycott these monopolies altogether; finding ways to bring people off these platforms onto non-monetized, secure, non-surveilled services, or at the very least use them sparingly — to instigate revolutions, for example.

Whereas in Althusser’s example it was the policeman doing the “hailing” in the physical environment, today we have moved to the digital plane: and it’s the thought-police and propagandists peddling mainstream narratives that define the new enemy. Jan de Vos describes this evolution from the Althusserian “discourse of the master”, to the modernist “discourse of the university”, and now we are faced with what I’d call a “discourse of the algorithm.” Power is being displaced onto the micrological level, where absent causes have real life devastating effects. In the internet panopticon, which stretches beyond the confines of spatio-temporal planes into the digital ether, not only do we self-censor what we post and share but also annihilate the processes by which we are able to think critically.

Not only do we take for granted what we know, but how we know what we know ceases to be a domain of contestation: the economic and power relations of how knowledge is constructed and wielded by the ruling class isn’t questioned, and the ways in which invisible actors and algorithms decide what is “popular” and newsworthy are assumed to be neutral and balanced. Whereas Althusser’s concept stemmed from interpellation as the discourse of the master, clearly now this archetypal ruling class figure has dissolved and seeped into the social body with no central character — we now enter the age of the discourse of the serpent, where algorithms and thus viewpoints on subjects as disparate as “science” or “international relations” which guide “professional” mainstream journalism and polite, acceptable thought which conforms with the demands of capitalism.

Why are these new forms of control so important and relevant in today’s times? Simply put, the national security state and corporations care very much about what we think, and how we feel. As late capitalism lurches towards semi-controlled collapse and contraction due to its internal contradictions, the old model of the corporate state’s indifference to the masses, the “f*** your feelings” approach, is no longer realistic for the goals of social control, especially after the mass outcries against the travesties of Vietnam and the second Gulf War in Iraq. Modern institutions care very much about our feelings nowadays, and are heavily invested in our collective emotional reactions; not only for monetary reasons, but to gauge policy decisions, for psychosocial mass monitoring of dissent, for biopolitical control of birth and death rates, and to market the imperial national security state to the public, among just a few examples. For instance, we know the CIA and intelligence community has been seeding itself into Silicon Valley and Hollywood for decades now, with shadowy agents literally rewriting movie scripts and tech executives making regular trips to Langley and DC to discuss integration and public-private partnerships.

The new tools of social control involve not only the hard aspects of indoctrination into nationalism and imperialism, but also the “soft” underbelly of manipulating our emotional states, and programming our tastes to like or at least accept aspects of our society that are crass, barbaric, camp, kitsch, trendy and faddish. The culture industry has evolved over the past fifty years to anticipate and channel public discontent into consumption patterns and “acceptable” resistance. The next stage invariably involves the immaterial realm of molding minds: of pacifying the unrest of the gig economy precariat, service economy workers, and unpaid household domestic laborers; of offering endless streaming services and apps to modulate and condition the populace to accept whatever technological mediated and biosecurity-centered “new normal” is coming, and of substituting “cyberspace” for local, grounded, in-person relations.

“Cruel Optimism” and “Ugly Feelings”: Affect Theory and Interpassivity in Relation to Digital Media

As a judgement, however, the gimmick contains an extra layer of intersubjectivity: it is what we say when we, unlike others implicitly evoked or imagined in the same moment, are not buying into what a capitalist device is promising. Robert Pfaller refers to this structure of displacement as a ‘suspended illusion’: beliefs like the superstitious ritual of the sports fan that ‘always belong to others, that are never anyone’s own [beliefs].’

– Sianne Ngai, Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form

It would be a disservice to understanding the extremely/terminally online without applying the lens of two heavyweights of cultural criticism, Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai. Berlant became prominent after her book, Cruel Optimism, managed to thread the needle of accessibility and scholarly erudition: her notion of cruel optimism can be succinctly defined as follows: “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your own flourishing”. There is hardly a better way to explain the effect of social media today on individual psyches and the body politic. As Berlant aptly points out, her idea is connected to the notion of the “American Dream”: a delusional belief system fraught with contradictions; and one increasingly predicated on insecurity and ever-looming economic precarity. In the context of the digital age, social media use is mostly just another escape and addiction for the growing precariat — we know too much web use is bad for us, a way to pass the time with pop-media pablum and ignore the reality that our lives are being wasted on performing pointless rote work — as internet users learn experientially as the addiction takes hold and spirals.

The figure of the internet/computer addict and the ambivalence the subject has towards the object; the computer or social media account- simultaneously attracted and repulsed by it- provides a good segue towards understanding the work of Sianne Ngai. As Ngai and Berlant point out, these contradictory reactions towards commodities and media at large in some sense determine what the late Raymond Williams called the “structure of feeling” in late capitalist society.

Ngai builds on this model through a brilliant examination of cultural affect and “aesthetic categories”. Spanning decades now, her work analyses categories of emotion endemic to late capitalism: the “cute” consumer creature-comforts and the dark side of how cuteness is used to manipulate; the “zany” which can represent, among other things, the precarious hyper-active work environment, emotional labor and super-productive demands of the service economy; and the “interesting”, which can stand in for withholding judgment: here the interesting is an invitation towards a discourse with another; how aesthetic judgment comes from shared understandings and mimesis. Ngai’s varied and textured analysis leaves room to show how political subjects today can enact many categories simultaneously — the “cute” always smiling, ever-happy disposition of the service worker and the emotional labor expended performs alongside the zany ever-increasing demands of a super-fast paced retail store.

There can be no doubt that alongside social media’s hacking of our neurobiology, the systematic playing off on citizen’s mental states and emotionality represents the new “dark arts” in politics. This is why Berlant and Ngai are so prescient, because they foresaw this decades ago, just as, for example, the novelist Octavia Butler was able to foresee the slogan “Make America Great Again” in 1998.

Ngai’s most fascinating concept is her notion of “stuplimity” — a combination of shock and boredom — of the sublime with the stupid. Really, there is hardly a more apt word to describe being online today, or on social media. The incessant chatter and news headlines may at the same time excite, titillate, awe, bore, and depress us- again, the blended attractive and repulsive nature of which, like capitalism itself, is ingrained into the structure of our everyday lives.

In her most recent work, Ngai analyses the nature of the “gimmick”, and strikingly reveals the economic undercurrents of how and why we critique commodities as such. Not only do gimmicks simultaneously entertain and annoy us, they show labor and value are at the core of how we judge and develop tastes for consumer goods as well as art (here is a good interview with Ngai to explain).

To tie back to modern technology — media outlets, social media, and many overproduced devices (computers, cars) as well as superfluous ones (smartphones, tablets, private jets) well, these are all modern gimmicks of an extractivist capitalist economy. They are not capable of being produced sustainably in the long-term. Not only are these objects not built to last, trendy and faddish in a cultural sense, they are built by supply chains and manufacturing techniques which require mass exploitation, coercion, and environmental degradation. The laptop one uses for create surplus value for one’s employer is still just a softer version of accepting a blood diamond — the “cost of doing business”. Laptops with which rare earth elements are mined by child labor and victims of human trafficking in Africa, manufactured into circuit boards under unsafe and extreme conditions in East Asia, and shipped and sold by precarious laborers in transport, big-box stores and online retailers worldwide. If society is in fact unaffected, indifferent, and ignorant of such things, it does in fact reveal that our aesthetic judgments — our interior worlds of emotions as well as discernment of what constitutes truth, beauty, and various affective states has been hijacked by a culture that is hell-bent on advancing technological progress at all costs — even if it means the collapse of our web of life and the enslavement of humankind.

As the epigraph for this section points out, Ngai reminds us that the gimmick has a fungible quality — one person’s gimmick is another’s useful, or even adored good — and vice versa. The gimmick can also slip between pretentious and useless to utilitarian and labor-saving: Ngai likes to point out how the Google Glass morphed from a fad that was (appropriately) derided by consumers into a workplace device for hands-free smart-device used in industrial work.

Ngai’s work on the gimmick can be compared to Robert Pfaller’s (with an assist from the inimitable Slavoj Zizek) notion of interpassivity: the delegation of enjoyment. With social media we delegate positive experiences to the “anonymous other” — when we post, we trick ourselves into believing another is viewing and enjoying our content — even if, in fact, there is no one observing. This faces us with prospects of staging “illusions without a subject”; no one may be watching but we take pleasure in the illusion someone is doing so, in Pfaller’s examples of the TV fanatic who records shows without watching them, or of the academic who photocopies books at a library where no one else is watching. Whereas the gimmick relies on the subject who believes someone is being “duped” into buying a trivial kitsch consumer item with no “value” to most people, while they can see through the gimmick; the interpassive subject may be staging an illusion, but either no one is there to question the motive, or there is a perceived “naïve observer” in the mind of the stager.

Yet with the delegation of enjoyment, and more broadly, life experiences, are transposed in our age from material consumer goods to the immaterial realm of the internet, what passes as a gimmick becomes even trickier to define. Also, just as endless signifying chains can mutate, fold, or implode upon themselves, interpassive subjects can infinitely delegate, one to the other, feeding memes, art (which now has been degraded into “content”), videos, and journalistic forays through endless cycles. Thus the progression of an economy based on production to one based on reproduction and circulation that we find today in the West, solipsistic and self-generating, with varying degrees of simulation and hyperreality.

Technological Salvation: The Religion of the Ruling Class

Left ‘accelerationist’ ideas of a post-work society based on state-supported ‘4th industrial revolution’ development, with a UBI to pacify surplus populations, could well be enabler of, rather than alternative to, large scale capitalist AI development. Ecosocialists might also suggest that the idea that human emancipation is identical with the advance of a high-production, high-technological networked society is precisely what is thrown into question by global heating and other environmental-crises…

– Nick Dyer-Witheford, “Left Populism and Platform Capitalism”, tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, Vol. 18 No. 1

As we have seen above, the profit motive is not the only thing being served by social media. Driven by individualized “feeds”, web and screen-based news/commentary are being unleashed with additional benefits — one of which being that it is an updated model for social cohesion and mass obedience, based on elements of what Gilles Deleuze described as a “Society of Control.”

As the epigraph to this section suggests, many within progressive and even socialist spaces favor the expansion of modern technology into nearly every aspect of our lives, in order to supposedly make labor easier and alleviate undue suffering. These “left-accelerationist” and “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” (FALC) promoters have a lot of overlap with green capitalist and eco-modernist thought.

To use clumsy and obscure analogy, just as twenty years ago it was written that “Empire can be read as the Lexus and the Olive Tree of the Far Left”, today we can confidently say that FALC and its promotional grifters can be viewed as the Al Gores, Steward Brands or Alvin Tofflers of the far left. Indeed, in a sense the FALCists continue in the starry-eyed idealist vein, in the sense that the technological salvation the former believe in can be juxtaposed with the supposedly inevitable deterritorializing process of “Empire” for the latter: both presuppose and give preeminence to very Western notions of social change and the role of technology.

Why is FALC delusional, exactly? In part because the technology required to create these notions of automated communism (never mind full or luxurious) would have huge carbon and environmental footprints. Also, an AI driven 5G and eventually 6G smart grid would make even today’s omnidirectional surveillance states look like child’s play. Compounding these delusions of grandeur is the uneven development between the advanced industrial economies and the exploited postcolonial states. Where do the Western FALC advocates believe the physical infrastructure and manufacturing power will come from? From poorer developing nations of course, as there is no real desire of organizational understanding of how to revolutionize an international working class among those hoping for technological salvation. This sort of pseudo-leftism desires the comfort and security of an advanced industrial system without taking into full consideration the levels of sacrifice necessary to create an eco-socialist economic model.

These are just a few examples of how semi-radical thought reproduces and reinforces capitalist hegemony, but the wider trend has been visible for decades now. As Baudrillard wrote in Simulacra and Simulation:

It is the justice of the left that reinjects an idea of justice, the necessity of logic and morals into a rotten apparatus that is coming undone…the system puts an end one by one to all its axioms…all the objectives of the historical and revolutionary Left that sees itself constrained to revive the wheels of capital in order to lay siege to them one day…everything that is disappearing, that the system itself, in its atrocity, certainly, but also in its irreversible impulse, has liquidated, must be conserved.

The Ouroboros Economy

All corporations become increasingly organized around the worship and control of information. Control over the value chain through ownership of the information vector extends even into life itself…through monitoring its states, through modifying its functions with drugs that alter chemical signals, through patenting aspects of life as design. What is at stake is neither a bios nor a polis but a regime of property in information extending into the organism. The novel forces of production as they have emerged in our time are also forces of reproduction and forces of circulation.

– Mckenzie Wark, Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse?

When Debord noted, and rightly so, that the spectacle is a “social relation among people, mediated by images”, it was understood that we all participate in and collectively make up the spectacular worldview. Yet that is not how many people today think, and when it is casually mentioned, spectacle is situated outside the self, not a set of social relations. Unfortunately, being able to detect vacuously transparent and craven corporate advertising as well as political rhetoric mostly is not sufficient for the second-level effects on the unconscious. As “desiring machines” integrated into late stage capitalism, the prison is not longer only physically constructed around us- and not only have we become both inmate and warden, oftentimes we take it on ourselves to perform the labor, both at work and in leisure time, that entrenches the powers of corporations and the national security state.

Here, it helps to have a grasp of a few key basic concepts from thinkers such as Debord, Foucault, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, and also Bourdieu, and even Latour. As many have noted, the pandemic has conveniently set the stage for capital and computer technology to fully absorb nearly all facets of everyday life, which reinforces the arguments of the terminally online and their worship of technology, and thus, American empire.

For Baudrillard a metaphor of simulation could be visualized as the Mobius strip, and for Deleuze describing the society of control it was the serpent. Today we can conjoin the concepts into the archetype of the ouroboros — a self-contained system of simulation and hyperreality, embedded to an immanent, infinite process of death and rebirth, one that contains within it seeds of destruction and the potential for renewal and societal transformation. The ouroboros encapsulates our era: from cybernetics, to algorithmic feedback loops of code, to cosmology, and even evolutionary anthropology, to the financialization and cannabilization of economies, the circuital globe-spanning nature of capital, the ineffable mimetic nature of cultural transmission and (re)production.

The consolidation of media narratives into social media outlets performs one unique function insofar as it renders the “official” establishment narrative into the only possible reasonable, logical way of seeing the world. Analogically, one can see this as a digital version of what Deleuze and Guattari called “state philosophy”, the incorporation and transmutation of “proper” stories and events into those which uphold state hegemony and corporate control. Of course, there can never be a totalization of these views online, just as there could not before in the age of print, or before in oral traditions. Reality cannot be consolidated into a tweet, just as it could not before in a newspaper editorial. What comes out of the void are “post-truths”, “alternative facts”, and other unruly features foreseen decades ago by Bruno Latour, when he undertook that could be called an anthropological study of modern science. Thus, what used to be called misinformation or half-truths have been reified by mainstream media, as objects with viral properties that must be censored before they can “infect” the populace.

What seems to be happening over and over again on the media satured/technophilic left is the refusal, the blind spot which keeps repeating the mantra that media monopolization and social media misuse by tech elites is somehow only driven by money and profit motives. The elites already have all the money. Certainly, their greed is a huge driving force, but what’s another billion to someone with a net worth of 50 or 100 billion. At a certain point one has to concede that there are deeper, more sinister agendas, which involve shaping reality and perception, and total social control. As one can easily see with a healthy degree of skepticism towards technological progress, lockdowns and restrictions due to Covid-19 are a perfect excuse for the nascent authoritarian biosecurity state, just as the legitimate protests against police brutality will be used by the state to implement more curfews and police state measures.

Social media and digital media are in the midst of a totalizing process in which all dissent will be censored, shadow-banned, or posts that differ from official narratives “throttled” by tech algorithms. The age of book-burning may be over but a new age of technological authoritarianism is emerging. To assuage the worst aspects of this emerging techno-feudal society, where “the economy” has fully replaced society and monetization of content and followings has replaced spontaneous and anarchic/communistic web interaction are the extremely online celebrities, influencers, and the corporate cut-outs and shills who fund them: and they strive towards and imitate tech owners and executives, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and various professional class snake-oil salespeople who offer escapist fantasies, slavish devotion to modern technology and overconsumption.

Since the upper and upper-middle classes are surrounded by corporate and state propaganda like fish in an ocean, which conforms to varying degrees to Bordieu’s notion of habitus; they are the most likely to “buy in” to the new prison system mediated by new repressive technology apparatuses, which is in line with Herman and Chomsky’s findings in Manufacturing Consent.

Like the sirens of Greek mythology, the job of the influencer, backed and financed by the ruling class, is to hypnotize the masses, and lull us back to sleep — “be like us” they intonate, we’re rich, successful, famous, powerful. While the vast majority toil away working for technological advancement and capital, the tech tyrants and web celebrities succeed by making internet technology and monopolized media work for them. Since the ruling class and new media elite earn passive income from conglomerate platforms, algorithms, and computing power, they have no interest in discovering how they have become the new architects of inequality and mass immiseration. It’s up to us to show them.

The post The Rise of the Terminally Online first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Democratic Party Fascism: 2020 Edition

Now that Joe Biden will be America’s next president, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at some of the choices for his cabinet, White House staff, and national security positions. There are some real crazies here, as we shall see. As we dig deeper and deeper, what emerges is a network of people whose views can quite literally be defined as fascist. This is not to deny that in many ways Trump and his administration were worse than many of these officials profiled below. What is noteworthy is that Biden’s team of imperialists is potentially more competent at wielding power and using the machinery of empire; or the national security state as it’s sometimes called, to further the genocidal and ecocidal agendas of US foreign policy, by advocating for more disastrous “interventions” abroad.

Again, to reiterate, I am in no way arguing that Republicans are the better choice. In fact, the Democrat foreign policy agenda is slightly better, but that is not saying much. The point is that both parties are two sides of the same coin in support of capitalism and empire, and that Democrats harbor many of the same fascist ideas as their Republican colleagues; they are simply better at hiding it and are more subtle about their intentions. The point of this essay is to expose that Democrats are also culpable in advancing neo-fascist ideology and there are many more similarities than differences between the parties. It’s slightly painful to have to point this all out, but the abysmal political discourse and low level of critical thinking, the polarization of politics, and the reactivity of those who think about politics as binary choices between good and evil leads to the inevitable “you’re criticizing x; you must be a supporter of y”. Just because this essay focuses on Democrats does not mean the same problems don’t also apply to Republicans.

Starting with the president-elect, Biden claims to have learned from his past “mistakes”. The mistakes are many — being against school integration in the seventies, sponsoring the 1994 crime bill, leading Democrats to favor going to war in Iraq in 2003, and the continuation of the global war on terror (even if the name was changed) during the Obama presidency. Biden is a war criminal and a depraved person — so if it were possible for him to change, he would not allow for the appointment of the nefarious individuals profiled below. But he’s not going to change, and his underlings in power aren’t either.

Spinning through the revolving door of public bureaucracy and corporate executive and board member positions in the private sphere, the individuals profiled below define one of the core features of fascism: the fusion of public and private life in the service of nationalist and imperialist conquest. In no particular order, here are some of the most fascistic and egregiously awful ideas and life choices from a few of Biden’s appointments.

Anthony Blinken

Anthony Blinken is Biden’s pick for Secretary of State. He has worked in various foreign policy positions in the Obama administration. From the beginning, he supported the war in Libya and the genocidal US-backed Saudi Arabian war against Yemen. So he is a very typical bureaucratic, hawkish, liberal interventionist apparatchik. He’s just another boring psycho who probably sleeps like a baby while people are sold into slavery in Libya and kids die of starvation and cholera in Yemen every day due to policies he devised and continues to advocate for.

What makes him interesting are his connections, and many are documented in an article in The Prospect titled “How Biden’s Foreign Policy Team Got Rich”, as well as a Politico piece entitled “The secretive consulting firm that’s become Biden’s Cabinet in waiting”, both of which I rely heavily on here. Along with Michele Flournoy (who was floated as Biden’s Defense Department pick before Lloyd Austin was chosen, both of whom we’ll get to) Blinken worked for a consultancy firm called WestExec Advisors. One of Blinken and Flournoy’s paymasters was one John Thain, a former Merrill Lynch executive, who like Trump, once had a golden toilet and conned his company out of millions.

Like most consulting firms getting fat and rich off helping military contractors, their “work” involves helping large corporations secure contracts by flashing their credentials and contacts, navigating tricky international trade laws and using legal loopholes to secure contracts for clients, leveraging diplomatic intricacies to work with unsavory/unstable/dictatorial foreign powers, as well as using cloak and dagger skills honed as US diplomats to secure backroom deals for multinationals and foreign governments. Sitting at the intersection of banking, military defense, advanced technology, and international relations, these consultants exercise a whole lot of power and influence that the ruling classes cannot do overtly — so they use lowly, greedy, corrupt diplomats like Blinken and Flournoy who function basically as lobbyists and middle-men for the military industrial complex; doing the dirty work of greasing trading partners and dealing with corrupt foreign leaders and the comprador class abroad.

Now, as The Prospect points out, Flournoy’s private sector consulting firm was tied almost exclusively towards defense contracts. Another WestExec employee, one Robert Work, is a former Marine officer who sits on the board of Raytheon. Yet another employee of WestExec is Avril Haines (profiled below), who worked in the CIA under Gina Haspel and approves of CIA torture and assassination programs. Flournoy also worked on the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, who, by the way, consults directly for the Saudi government in military, engineering, and logistics as it massacres civilians in Yemen. As business partners, Blinken and Flournoy are joined at the hip: they both approve and preside over the most pernicious and destructive aspects of the imperial directives within the national security state.

Neera Tanden

Neera Tanden is Biden’s pick for director of Office of Management and Budget. In 2011, following the US and NATO bombing of Libya, an internal email from Tanden to her think tank Center for American Progress was leaked to The Intercept. Here is what Tanden wrote:

We have a giant deficit, they have a lot of oil. Most Americans would choose not to engage in the world because of that deficit. If we want to continue to engage in the world, gestures like having oil rich countries partially pay us back doesn’t seem crazy to me.

This is exactly how fascists talk. This is exactly what Donald Trump said about seizing Syrian oil fields for US control and profiteering. Just like Trump, Tanden is infamous for being a notorious Twitter addict and a toxic online personality. She’s also been accused of punching a journalist.

Of course, what she’s advocated for, the stealing of another nation’s natural resources, is a gross violation of international law, and it’s not exactly a secret that she wrote this. So why is there no outrage from Democrats? Are they that narrow-minded that they’re unaware, or simply don’t care, or believe that Tanden can learn from her “mistakes”, or what? Probably a combination of all of the above, yet it doesn’t matter, as the Democrats just like Republicans, cannot be bothered to be held responsible for the horrible things they say and do. The leadership of both parties believes that they are the elect; great beings that while fallible ultimately are destined to rule regardless of the stupidity or destructiveness of their whims. Apparently nothing disqualifies them.

Ezekiel Emanuel

Mr. Emanuel has been picked to be a part of Biden’s Covid-19 task force. He is the brother of the one and only Rahm Emanuel, a real piece of work in his own right (who was Obama’s chief of staff, and Chicago’s former mayor). Ezekiel is a medical doctor, and chair of Medical Ethics (this is relevant) at University of Pennsylvania.

He managed to write a piece in The Atlantic in 2014: “Why I Hope to Die at 75“. He lists quite a few reasons, such as the declining quality of life for seniors. Then, he shows his true colors, because he explains that one of the major factors in his view is how seniors are no longer contributing to society, and therefore create strains on health care, the economy, etc. He writes that “but the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us”. Oh, really now? He continues: “The deadline [of dying at 75] also forces each of us to ask whether our consumption is worth our contribution.”

Hang on, there’s more. In a 2019 interview with MIT Technology Review, Emmanuel doubles down and says that:

When I look at what [the elderly] do, almost all of it is what I classify as play. It’s not meaningful work. They’re riding motorcycles; they’re hiking. Which can all have value—don’t get me wrong. But if it’s the main thing in your life? Ummm, that’s not probably a meaningful life.

Yes, you are reading this right. Our elders who’ve worked their asses off their entire lives for corporations and a government that does not give one single fuck about them should not be entitled to enjoy their retirement because they “play” too much. They are no longer contributing in a manner considered productive or meaningful to this super-genius doctor and bioethicist, therefore, he questions their right to exist, because they are useless consumers in his view.

So, just to be clear here, this is straight up fascist and eugenicist rhetoric. The elderly (and by extension the disabled) are not worthy of life because they no longer work. As he repeatedly implies in both articles, the elderly are a drain on societies’ precious resources. The best he can muster not to sound like a complete ass is he acknowledges the communal ties and “mentorship” the elderly provide, yet even when he tries to seem empathetic it comes off as phony and cold. Elder’s aren’t just mentors teaching us how to contribute more and be more “productive”, they are role models who impart wisdom on how to live a decent life. How about instead we honor, cherish, and look up to our elders not only because they have lessons to teach us, but because they are human beings and worthy of dignity and respect regardless of how “productive” they are. How about we acknowledge that seniors have much more to teach us than can be quantified in a research paper, Dr. Emanuel? How about we realize that seniors are one of the only groups left in our narcissistic society that truly embody the humility, gratitude, and reverence for life that we all claim to want to emulate?

Lloyd Austin

Lloyd Austin is a retired 4-star general who once headed Central Command (CENTCOM) in the US military. Now, he serves on the board of Raytheon, one of the largest defense companies in the world which self-reinforces the belief that our modern war machine is necessary to “create jobs” and “stimulate the economy”, and which sells billions in weapons to various dictatorial regimes around the globe.

Once again, notice the revolving door phenomenon. You acquisition a crap-ton of weapons as a general, use them to kill and maim a whole lot of innocent people on the other side of the world, and you are rewarded after leaving “public service” with a “job” where you show up to a meeting every six months for a hefty salary and a golden parachute of stock options.

This is modern day fascism. There are no more gas chambers, but there are slave-labor private prisons, concentration camps for undocumented immigrants, multiple wars raging abroad, and trillions of dollars flowing into defense, intelligence, and security agencies which only make things more dangerous and insecure for the vast majority of the world’s population, even in the West. The only difference is the media is much better at propaganda today, with much greater capabilities to convince people to rationalize and compartmentalize the immense devastation of today’s lone imperial and colonial superpower, the USA.

Avril Haines

Haines has been nominated for the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI). In this role she would oversee the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies, most notably, of course, the CIA and NSA. She previously worked her way up through the State Department before becoming the Deputy Director of the CIA in the Obama administration. Obviously only a very dangerous and deluded person would take on such a role anyways, and what’s notable is she supported Gina Haspel as CIA director, who was an architect of the CIA’s torture program. She also worked directly with Obama and John Brennan in the extra-judicial assassination drone bombing program.

As noted above, Haines worked for WestExec Advisors as a consultant. It’s also been reported that one of her clients was Palantir. Palantir, for those who don’t know, is owned by libertarian billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, and most of their work is tied in with military and intelligence contracts. Palantir was started with CIA money, as the New York Times and others have reported. It’s been reported widely that one of Palantir’s clients is, in fact, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, which has used its secretive computer surveillance programs to hunt down, arrest, and deport undocumented immigrants. Thiel is also connected to AI facial recognition software start-ups, and Palantir software can also be used by domestic police forces to spy on potential suspects and “criminals”.

So, yet again the Democratic “good guy/gal” spooks like Haines have been caught red-handed working for the same fascistic authoritarians that fund Trump, that lock up innocent Latinos who come to the US in search of a better life, and that brutally murder civilians on the other side of the globe while they get rich off military contracts, in which they set the policies for in the public sector, and then consult for in the private sphere. Is this not as depraved as anything we’ve heard in the past four years about Trump and his administration? Again, where is the outrage? This is such a blatant double-standard, and the lack of any real serious reporting on these issues once again blows out of the water any notion of a “fair and balanced” political stance in the media.

Jake Sullivan

Sullivan has been tapped as Biden’s National Security Advisor. Much like Blinken, he is a liberal-interventionist-imperialist, boring law-nerd psycho who worked in the State Department under Clinton and shifted to Biden’s advisor under Obama after Clinton left State.

There is not much to go on with Sullivan. He is a model liberal elitist national security state technocrat, a faceless drone, a cipher. In case one thought that, since he worked under Obama, he would have some sense of restraint or at least “respectable” liberal decorum, his wife, as it turns out, used to advise John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two of the most bellicose US senators of the past few decades. According to liberal and conservative logic, you’d think that would make for some awkward dinner conversations. But these are not people with any real convictions or beliefs. They are hollow, empty vessels, nihilists in a sense. This guy is an archetypal centrist bureaucrat.

Biden referred to Sullivan as having a “once in a generation intellect”. Coming from such a mediocre mind, that’s really not saying much, but what it means in empire-speak is that this dude actually possesses levers of power and influence to play multiple sides of government in order to smooth over differences in service of America’s imperial ambitions.

In Conclusion

For the love of all that is holy, don’t get it twisted and think that these people were somehow chosen for their positions in spite of these “mistakes”. The paper trail shows a blood-drenched path where they are willing to plan and commit whatever war crimes it takes for their self-aggrandizement, personal enrichment, and to better serve their oligarchic masters. Further, they are actually competent at what they do, which is piloting the death machine that we call the US Empire. These are not good people on the sidelines or the fringes of developing US domestic and foreign policy. These are the architects of a modern-day neo-fascism cloaked in the guise of “liberal democracy”.

Rather, each of these individuals have been selected precisely because they espouse such dangerous and deadly views, are willing to advocate for them without any ability to critically examine their actions or what the consequences will be. They are all well trained at leveraging their connections within the military industrial complex to serve the ruling classes and their capitalist, colonialist, and fascist agendas.

The post Democratic Party Fascism: 2020 Edition first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Nathan J. Robinson’s Why You Should Be a Socialist: Useful and Misleading

There are only a few introductory texts on socialism that manage to be accessible, witty, and broad enough to survey its history as well as contemporary thought on the subject. Nathan J. Robinson’s new book, Why You Should Be a Socialist is able to do just that by weaving together a compelling narrative and excellent arguments that cover the rich practical and theoretical implications of socialism in a down to earth, entertaining way. There are serious holes in the book’s content with regards to theory, however, as well as a reluctance to demonstrate if contemporary “democratic socialism” is up to the task of revolution. On the whole, the text provides many convincing arguments to win over skeptical progressives, centrists, and even conservative readers who perhaps have never deeply considered the case for socialism.

Robinson begins the book by addressing the fundamental impulses that socialists share: revulsion at gross inequalities and inhumane conditions that are the direct consequences of our dominant socio-economic system, capitalism. This is where Robinson’s work truly shines. He is able to clearly show how socialist or least anti-capitalist thought is permeated by the notion that mainstream politics and finance are anything but normal in regards to human decency and meeting basic needs. What socialism contends, and what Robinson easily and deftly spells out, is that our economic system is not simply unfair or “the way things have to be”. Rather, capitalist institutions are set up to perpetuate systemic injustices including mass poverty, institutional racism, and imperial wars and foreign conflicts.

Part One of the book (Chapters one through three) dives into the failures of capitalism in detail, and the author cites many common studies and figures which bolster the arguments for socialism. What Robinson hits on over and over, to his credit, is to explain how completely arbitrary and cruel contemporary capitalism is. It is important to note that socialist thinking does not have to come from theoretical teachings or ideology. Instead, innate curiosity and what Robinson calls a “moral instinct” provides the natural tendency which grounds socialist thought. Here we can see clear articulations as to how and why capital relies on human immiseration for continual self-expansion, and how it chooses profits over people time and time again. This section does have convincing arguments to persuade open-minded liberals and skeptics.

Part Two dives into defining principles and terms associated with the left tradition, as well as expanding on modern utopian ideals and pragmatic agendas that socialists of today advocate for. At its core, socialism is about expanding democratic values and empowering workers, and Robinson’s analysis reflects this. Yet he seems to continually pepper his own belief system with the common qualifiers such as “libertarian socialist” and “democratic socialist.” Robinson also errs by unduly misrepresenting Marx and Lenin, even throwing in a baseless quote from Murray Bookchin about Marx as if to prove his point. A few pages later, Robinson is quick to cite Hellen Keller’s importance to American socialism, and rightly so; yet this reviewer is left to wonder if he is aware that Keller repeatedly praised Lenin throughout her life.

Part Three demolishes the usual conservative and liberal arguments and opposition to socialism. It’s quite an entertaining read and Robinson deftly dismisses both the intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism and the inadequate wishy-washiness of liberal thought. The section “Response to Criticisms” also does a good job explaining the bad faith mainstream critics use in lame attempts to discredit socialist thought. There is one notable exception, however, in which the author seriously errs in his attempt to bolster his argument by relying on discredited propaganda.

Robinson tries to explain how the capitalists’ talking point: “if you want socialism you’ll end up with Venezuela” is an absolute canard. Capitalists love to point to economic hardships in the developing world as being caused by socialism no matter what, obviously.

What’s bewildering, however, is the author’s insistence that Venezuela cannot be an example of socialist failure because, in fact, Venezuela does not have socialist policies. Amazingly, Robinson repeats mainstream lies and distortions, and attributes the crisis almost solely to internal “poor economic policies,” “authoritarian government,” and a “corrupt kleptocracy.” This is an uneducated viewpoint, one that does not take into account the worldwide drop in oil prices which hurt the spending power of the government; the sanctions, covert action, and economic sabotage from the US; and purposeful withholding of household goods and supplies by Venezuelan corporations and oligarchs who support the US-backed opposition. This is a prime example of what some humorously refer to as “State Department Socialism,” and was cringe-inducing to read. There are only three types of people who cite the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post as credible sources on Venezuela: the educated fool, the sycophantic quisling, or the total sociopath; and Robinson appears to fall into the first category in this instance.

As founder and editor of Current Affairs, the leftist/progressive website and magazine, Robinson’s ideas are passed around the admittedly tiny socialist community and this book cannot be disentangled from his wider media footprint. Current Affairs does have some good content for socialists and younger “baby leftists,” and poses itself as more down-to-earth and irreverent compared to venues like Dissent or Jacobin.

Robinson is even maligned online, perhaps a bit unfairly, for his (possibly?) affected accent and his fashion sense; in his book he correctly identifies these sorts of criticisms as liberal tendencies. In his section on the inadequacy of liberals, he describes the way a “politics of attributes” is invoked, which is a good way of summing up the superficiality of liberal identity politics and woke political correctness. The ranks of lefties and socialists have a long, proud tradition of being filled with eccentrics, after all.

More to the point, valid critiques of this work as well as the wider milieu of Current Affairs and the above mentioned outlets focus around immature and indecisive ideology and policy proposals. Robinson’s own brand of libertarian socialism in the book is never really developed or expanded upon, and he does not bother to delve in and explain how he reconciles his own beliefs with democratic socialism. His passing references to Marx are, frankly, embarrassing, as even Jacobin’s review noted. The paucity of references to leftist movements internationally and in developing nations is a problem. The criticisms of Venezuela are unfounded; he attempts to attack from the left but uses mainstream arguments and sources from the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud.

This book reflects a lot of tendencies of younger democratic socialists and millennial left politics. It’s immature, brilliant, clumsy, utopian, sentimental, geeky in an endearing way, out of touch, starry-eyed, short on history. It’s at turns sprawling and ambitious; it’s also characteristically insular and, again, mostly bereft of historical materialism and internationalist influences. Like the wider projects of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Robinson’s own work elides the issue of his own privilege and how it is being leveraged to network and strengthen the “pragmatic” opportunism of socialists and social democrats trying to work within the inherently corrupt Democratic Party.

The text does exhibit some elements of salesmanship that can be at different points irritable or likeable, with a witty joke here, a silly pop culture reference there. In spite of the laid back prose, there is a sort of striving, overachieving tone. It does appear that the author wants to be seen as a very serious person: see Current Affairs’ interviews with very important people, rock stars of US “progressivism” such as Noam Chomsky, Ilhan Omar, Naomi Klein, but no one, well, too subversive. The bio in the book jacket (“Robinson is a leading voice of millennial left politics”) even mimics Jacobin’s byline: “Jacobin is a leading voice of the American left.” For those being introduced to leftist thinking, the book does a good job explaining some of the moral and practical reasons in favor of socialism. Those already steeped in theory and practice will find much familiar ground covered, as well as having to deal with the frustration of imprecise and immature reasoning from a self-proclaimed “leading voice.”

“You Can’t Fix Stupid”

Robert Reich’s new work, The System: Who Rigged it, How We Fix it offers a wide-ranging critique of our nation’s contemporary political and economic ills. Reich does a brilliant job succinctly reminding us of the scale and scope of corporate corruption, economic inequality, and political spinelessness in America.

Reich’s diagnosis is on point and there is not much to quibble with. He focuses the first half of the book on the finance sector and the arrogant, misguided, debauched behavior of one of its leaders, Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase Bank. Reich relentlessly demolishes the arguments of neoliberal capitalists such as Dimon and their insane drive to privatize, deregulate, and put profits and stock prices over the needs of the people.

He reveals how banking institutions, unethical lobbying, and the revolving door phenomenon of politicians and regulators entering the private sector to profiteer has eroded democracy and left us with a tiny oligarchy of super-rich who buy off our political system. Reich rightly points out that most Americans understand this, especially as corporate profits and CEO pay skyrockets as wages stagnate for the majority of citizens.

Let’s give the man credit where it’s due: Reich does a great job in this book documenting the demented history of finance capital of the last decade or so. Reich should stick to history, because while he may be popular due to his work in government and journalistic forays, his economic and social policies are little more than your standard boiler-plate liberal/progressive proposals.

My problem lies with his prognosis. Reich is a proud progressive type, but his dyed-in-the-wool liberal economic background exposes him as a relic of a bygone era. For instance, one of Reich’s previous books is titled Saving Capitalism. The majority of young people (Gen Z and Millennials) increasingly favor socialism over capitalism, because they are in the thick of the post-2008 perma-recession economy which shows no hope of getting better since the Covid-19 pandemic has started, not to mention systemic racist policies which have exploded into a national uprising. (Reich’s book was published in March 2020, and so was probably finished in mid-late 2019, which explains the lack of mentions.)

Capitalism ultimately cannot exist with democracy; they are mutually exclusive. Rather it must evolve into something better either through revolution or non-violent mass protests and worker strikes, with working class movements at the base of any such paradigm shift. It’s a very common delusion among republicans, centrists and liberal democrats that capitalism can be saved, which is what Reich leans back on towards the conclusion of this book, unfortunately, and it’s not an original or compelling argument.

Reading Reich is a bit unsettling because it sounds like listening to Elizabeth Warren speak: “If we just have the right policies, a wealth tax, and regulate those banks!” If only it were that simple, Robert.

Time has passed Reich by. Being a Clinton official (ahem, lackey) is no longer seen as a positive thing in progressive circles, never mind leftist ones. The country has moved on from the elitist liberal perspective and there are basically three popular political archetypes today: the nationalist conservative faux-populist (Trump being the current avatar), the neoliberal centrists (Biden, but also Clinton, Jeb Bush, Kasich, Klobuchar, Buttigieg), and the populist democratic socialists (Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

“The System” Reich has spent so much time trying to save is hopeless. Let’s just take his subtitle, “Who Rigged It, How We Fix It”, as an example. This type of thinking is the liberal version of Make America Great Again: things were going well in the post-WWII Keynesian economy, then somehow it fell apart due to a few bad actors that brought us neoliberal policies and not the nature of capitalist political economy, and all we have to do is repair it through technocratic economic policy adjustments Well, yes, the more distributive policies and higher taxation from FDR through the mid-seventies were better, certainly, but capital has moved on from this “stakeholder” model as Reich calls it; and it is fundamentally against returning to empowering unions and instituting social-democratic governance in the US.

This type of wishy-washy have your cake and it eat too thinking, again, is basically what Elizabeth Warren was saying in her 2020 presidential campaign. Most American progressives are on board with Sanders’ more radical vision of democratic socialism and that’s simply not going to change; if anything, progressives will advocate for even more radical policies in the face of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and economic depression. What’s confusing, and frankly disappointing, is that Reich endorsed Sanders for president, yet many of the quite good policy proposals are barely mentioned in the text.

Reich certainly does mimic and emulate the professional-managerial class policies and affect of Warren, but another figure is even more apt. About halfway through the book, a different comparison became clear to me: Reich is much like a modern-day John Kenneth Galbraith, a liberal establishment economist who became famous in the 1950s and 60s. Old heads know that Galbraith’s The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State were essential reading, as they were for yours truly in my late-teen/early twenties political bildungsroman as a wannabe social theorist/political philosopher, as well as for many more theory nerds and leftists. I imagine trying to wrap one’s head around Galbraith back then is similar to reading Reich now: a frustrating endeavor when it is readily apparent Galbraith/Reich are clearly, in some respects, smart enough to know better regarding how hard “the system” will fight back to preserve its privileges (like Obama), but simply blinded by capitalist ideology and possibly personal issues (lust for status/social capital/power) which hold them back. As I finished the book, I chuckled: Warren and Galbraith are both included in the acknowledgements!

Let’s return to the subtitle again. Consider an example of something we can all agree is “rigged”: a casino. Can one “fix” a casino? Not really, because it’s a perfectly legal business even if it is shady and unethical, makes a ton of profit and therefore has immense power behind it, and is backed by all sorts of financial and lobbying interests. Sound familiar? That’s capitalism in a nutshell. The solution to the casino question, and thus capitalism, is to stop playing the game.

Reich has benefitted from immense privilege and it is no surprise that his rosy optimistic view on capitalism is what allows him to retain a professorship, remained ensconced in a liberal bubble, and maintain a national audience for his literary and journalistic forays. In essence, he makes a living telling people exactly like him (urbane, liberal, upper-middle class professionals) what they want to hear: that the system can be saved.

Like many other political commentators, however, popularity is no evidence of profundity or wisdom. Reich fails to consider what “The System” really is. The system we call the USA is really an empire, in our case a modern empire not sustained through territorial conquests, but driven by cheap fossil fuels, by controlling the global money supply, by exploiting cheap foreign labor and supply chains; and empires do not get fixed. They rise, they plateau, they decline, and they eventually collapse.

What’s just plain sad is that for someone who endorsed Bernie Sanders for President in 2020, Reich does not give much more than a passing nod to the passionate base and social movements which underlie and bolstered the Sanders campaign. As an eminent public intellectual, Reich is simply shirking in his duty to educate and foster class consciousness among his many avid liberal readership; some of whom are on the cusp of radicalization.

Serious progressives want the American empire dismantled, and that task is simply not compatible with attempting to fix a capitalist system that is broken well beyond the point of repair. Capitalism relies on alienation and exploitation of workers to produce surplus value-profits- for corporations, and there is no work-around, amount of magical thinking, or deus ex machina that will save it and make it ethical and equitable. Propping up capitalism, or repairing it as Reich implies, would necessarily involve maintaining the empire and all the advantages it brings in, which is ecological and financially unsustainable in the long run, but more importantly is immoral and unjust to the majority of the world’s population. If Reich were to step out of his self-imposed bubble, he could see this.

Moderately Liberal, Extremely Dystopian: Establishment Democrats and Big Brained Centrism

As we approach the middle of March 2020 with Super Tuesday behind us, the moderate candidacy of Joe Biden has gained momentum, notching ten victories. The recent spat of moderate candidates dropping out (Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, Steyer) alongside Elizabeth Warren’s decision to stay in for Super Tuesday (and dropping out right after) boosted Biden into the lead in delegate count, but it is unclear going forward whether he will be able to gain ground or maintain his advantage.

His campaign is essentially a redux of Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, a dystopian offering of neoliberal establishment ideas: essentially the most harmful, bland, out-of-touch, uninspiring, and ignorant set of centrist policies. Biden offers nothing new, substantial, or exciting; and he himself stated to donors last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency. By continuing to go with “moderate”, centrist agendas, the Democratic Party establishment, corporate America, and mainstream media reveal they would rather lose to Trump than get behind the progressive choice, Bernie Sanders.

Support for Bernie Sanders is strong across all national polling, yet in past debates, his moderate rivals continued to shoot themselves in the foot by offering up the most ridiculous arguments against progressive causes. Regardless of his success, Biden has learned nothing and absorbed no lessons from his fellow moderates’ failures or the excitement and promise offered by the progressive wing of his party. He is a living fossil. Like his corporate-backed counterpart moderates, his whole shtick is based on presenting himself as the lesser of two evils, offering the most milquetoast set of policies, and attempting to make voters fearful of Sanders’ incremental reforms by casting them as socialist and authoritarian.

By representing Sanders’ social democratic policies as “dangerous” as well as his supporters as being rude on social media because they actually care and are passionate about changing the direction of this country, the centrist hydra of campaign rhetoric and establishment media devolved into offering an infantile, McCarthyite debating style.

Much like the centrist triad of Biden, Buttigieg (who suspended his campaign March 1st), and Klobuchar (also suspended March 2nd), who are equal parts sell-outs, windbags, and sycophantic brown-nosers to the ruling class, the professional class choice, technocrat, pseudo-progressive Elizabeth Warren as well as what I’d call the “Silicon Valley candidate” Andrew Yang also represent the epitome of “big-brained centrist” thought.

Basically, this term represents the attitude of mainstream liberal as well as conservative candidates, commentators, and their supporters who believe they truly understand the world better than anyone else due to what they consider their meritocratic success, and use all sorts of neoliberal fallacies, deliver paeans to pragmatism and bipartisanship, mock social democratic reforms with calls to be “reasonable”, and generally act as puppets of corporate and imperial power. Of course, it should be obvious that those who harp on achieving “realistic goals” are those that view anything involving a transformation of society involving redistribution of wealth from the rich to the working classes as prima facie unrealistic.

As for Steyer and Bloomberg, they too fall prey to neoliberal notions of rugged individualism; i.e., that their economic success is due to their own “hard work”, and were so completely out of touch that they cannot realize the electorate is not prepared to substitute one billionaire for another, no matter what party they represent, or what good they claim they’ve been able to accomplish in their philanthropic endeavors.

All of the candidates, except for Bernie Sanders, completely debased themselves when asked if the candidate with the most delegates should get the Democratic nomination. That’s how democracy is supposed to work, right? The person with the most votes should win, no? Not if you want to suck up to the ruling class, who are deathly afraid of Sanders’ redistributive agenda.

Climbing corporate and political hierarchies as well as the fake meritocracy in this country inflates politicians’ egos and warped the ability to self-reflect on their own abilities and intelligence. In psychology, this is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, defined as: “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their skills.”

Terrifyingly, one of the consequences of this effect is that many of the afflicted exude rare confidence due to their overestimation of their skills that can be mistaken for dedication, passion, expertise, and conviction. While truly intelligent people constantly question and doubt their own ideas and preconceived notions, lesser intellects rigidly cling to dogmas in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This was summed up best by Yeats, when he wrote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

In politics and social relations, this effect is compounded because the awareness of the suffering of others is blunted the higher you go on the socio-economic scale. The effect of ascending political hierarchies is not much different in a capitalist economy, because the higher you go the more beholden you are to elite interests. As studies have shown, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) declines significantly the higher you look on the corporate ladder. CEOs and business owners tend to have more sociopathic, narcissistic, and psychopathic traits.

This is why it is so hard to change the minds of the privileged and affluent: it is not simply a matter of intellect and rational argumentation to help bring change to another’s belief system. If only logical persuasion worked that effectively! One must also help cultivate awareness, a sense of interconnectedness with the less fortunate, the environment and the universe, and a way to empathize with poor, vulnerable, and minority communities. One can prove empirically over and over how a socialist economy, universal healthcare, and a society of free association of producers would significantly improve the lives of people around the world. Those in denial still won’t believe you, because their self-awareness and sense of empathy for the poor, dispossessed, and vulnerable has atrophied.

It is at this stage in history that the nihilism of rich liberals and conservatives as well as the professional-managerial class reaches truly epic proportions, threatening the survival of humanity and most species on the planet. The real material conditions and problems of working people are abstracted as inequality rises. The obvious cause of the immiseration of the population and the devastation of the environment, capitalism, is obscured. Conservatives and republicans are even more delusional due to their slavish devotion to the status quo and political and economic hierarchies, as well as their mythical belief that the capitalist “free market” can solve all manner of problems. Further, conservatives view any government intervention to regulate corporate monopoly power and lessen environmental degradation as an infringement on their rights, or inane arguments that sensible environmental regulation will hurt the economy are used.

The only option left for moderate liberals is to succumb to the dystopian vision of neoliberal thought which dominates center-left and center-right thinking, because it is all-pervasive. Even mild progressives who stray even a bit to the left (such as Warren) are instantly and predictably vilified by the press, by billionaires who literally cry in public in protestation of her wealth tax. This leads the opportunistic and ambitious (Warren, just like Obama before her) to tack to the center in order to secure donors to stay in politics and keep their jobs.

The moderate candidates know their ideas are viewed as trash by a significant amount of voters, so identity politics, as well as rhetoric and euphemisms about “structural change” are predictably trotted out. Neoliberal is now a dirty word, so liberal politicians deflect as much as possible and claim their policies are “pragmatic” and are willing to work across the aisle and compromise, in contrast to the “uncompromising” style of Sanders. These are the big-brained centrists, who let their ruling class donors do all their thinking for them as to what constitutes an acceptable and “realistic” policy.

Big-brain centrism is also a term to describe a type of neoliberal wonkery which emphasizes that only technocratic policy, which echoes the Third Way of Blair and Clinton, a centrism in which the patina of “progressivism”, economic “pragmatism”, and the appearance of caring for marginalized groups dominates. Increased political representation of minorities is a wonderful thing, but the moderate democrats will never grow a spine and ask for economic redistribution from billionaires to poor people of color. Only “moderates” can deliver the best model for liberal democracy, and everyone to their left, even the mild-mannered reformism of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is an “extremist” or a “populist”. Of course, this hodge-podge of power-hungry politicians, clueless think-tank sycophants, and conniving corporate vampires are totally beholden to elite interests, as they represent a class of smug affluent liberals and republicans who pray to the Almighty Dollar.

The big-brained liberals are hypnotized by the concept of bipartisanship, which is what Obama tried and failed to do for eight years. For the centrists, the idea that the two-party system is become more polarized is an unmitigated disaster, leaving only “far-left” politics in fashion (we wish!) alongside far-right politics (accurate). True progress can only be made “in the middle”, what some like to call “radical centrism” and politicians should not pander to their constituents with “empty promises” and “populist rhetoric.” What this radical centrism misses is the rightward shift in economics and federal policy which has been underway for 40+ years, and the consequent shift in the Overton Window: the range of ideas that are considered acceptable in US politics. In the 1960s, for instance, Sanders’ reformism would have been seen as standard, middle-of-the-road liberal set of policies, rather than today, where social democratic agendas induce shrieking from rich know-nothings and talking heads who insist that Bernie is an authoritarian communist.

In this Beltway bubble-world, Sanders is simply the converse of Trump, a dangerous left-wing populist, who, in words of Buttigieg, “wants to burn this party down.” What Sanders simply wants is to bring the US into the 21st century by adopting the social democratic policies of Scandinavia and most European nations. Yet, this is unacceptable to the “realistic” and “electability” thought-police. Big brain centrism is what it would look like to put Thomas Friedman and David Brooks in a room together and let them try to come up with federal policies. Their policies and worldview probably would not look very different from some of the ideas and concepts of each of the recent candidates, presented below.

The main thing to recognize is that all the moderate candidates, Warren included, are careerists. It’s not about helping others, it’s about them. If and when politics no longer is a viable career path for them, they will be happy to sell themselves as consultants, lobbyists, mainstream media propagandists, sit on corporate boards, and rack up speaking fees to parrot back to the ruling classes what acceptable discourse and policy is, within a capitalist and imperialist framework.

To see more examples of what I mean by Big-Brained Centrism, we will look at a statement, tweet, or policy idea from many of the moderate candidates, even the ones who have dropped out. We’ll start with a statement from Andrew Yang, because it might be one of the best examples of big-brained idiocy.

Yangonomics: “Beware the Technocracy”, The Accelerationist Candidate

Andrew Yang’s entire campaign and many of his tech/start-up supporters represent exquisite examples of the big-brain mindset. In his final debate, he stated:

The entire capitalism/socialism dichotomy is completely out of date. The fact is when people were talking about these economic models they did not foresee the technology getting stronger, more powerful, and capable of doing the work of thousands of humans…what we have to do is get the markets working to improve our way of life…instead of following GDP and corporate profits off a cliff, we should be measuring our own health and wellness…the way forward is a new human-centered version of capitalism that actually uses the markets to improve our families lives.

This is absolute garbage, cloaked within the progressive notion of redefining national well-being and taking easy shots at corporate greed. Capitalism is utterly and inexorably based on over-consumption and chasing profits over everything else; there is no way to make it “human-centered”

If we were to take him at his word of meeting in the middle, a fair response would be that the closest version of a compromise solution for the “outdated dichotomy” is the social democratic and redistributive agenda of Bernie Sanders. More importantly, Yang is attempting to erase two hundred years of public debate as to the distinctions between two radically different economic models and the invaluable contributions of generations of activists, scholars, and citizens. Perhaps he believes that by virtue of being a “successful entrepreneur” and business owner, he can see things the rest of us can’t.

As for the “no one could have foreseen technology getting stronger…” give me a fucking break. You have to be drop-dead naïve or just plain ignorant to think this. You don’t think people who built the first trains, light bulbs, cars, worked in the first mills and factories, etc., couldn’t see how these inventions and new methods of production would reshape the world? Indigenous peoples, radical artists, environmentalists, communists, and anarchists have been warning about the negative impacts of industrial-scale technology for generations. In Western literature, towering figures like William Blake and Henry David Thoreau as well as many others prophetically warned of the dangers posed by the Industrial Revolution.

What happened, of course, is that the monopoly power of capital never allowed for the more efficient distribution of resources to make lives better for the working classes, because there is little money to be made by helping and caring for people and the environment. Capitalism relies on parasitical master-servant relationships, exploiting nature and the working classes for as many resources and as much labor as possible in order to produce the most profit in the shortest amount of time.

Contrary to Yang’s ahistorical word salad and his implicit assumption that people in the past were stupid, those who lived hundreds of years ago were just as intelligent as today (if not more so) and realized exactly where this was leading. In a very good piece for The Guardian, Yanis Varoufakis explains how Marx and Engels predicted our crisis over 150 years ago:

Anyone reading the [Communist] manifesto today will be surprised to discover a picture of a world much like our own, teetering fearfully on the edge of technological innovation. In the manifesto’s time, it was the steam engine that posed the greatest challenge to the rhythms and routines of feudal life. The peasantry was swept into the cogs and wheels of this machinery and a new class of masters, the factory owners and the merchants usurped the landed gentry’s control over society. Now, it is artificial intelligence and automation that loom as disruptive threats, promising to sweep away ‘all fixed, fast-frozen relations’. ‘Constantly revolutionising … instruments of production,’ the manifesto proclaims, transform ‘the whole relations of society’, bringing about ‘constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation’.

Like the rest of the moderate candidates, Yang is a product of his insular milieu, his ideology molded by anti-communist/Cold War/red scare propaganda and the fevered dreams of Tech-mogul capitalists. Being an entrepreneur apparently means one does not have to read or understand political economy, or basic history; one is a political expert simply based on the ability to “create jobs.” He is the Silicon Valley candidate, those true believers in unrestrained automation who believe they understand the economy better than everyone else because they’ve spent the most time sitting through meetings about “corporate synergy.”

“Sensible” policy must be in the center, as one of his slogans suggests: “Not Left, Not Right, Forward.”  Yang, Warren, and Mayor Pete were considered “the smart candidates” by the media and many liberals. Primarily because they mirror back upper-middle class narcissism and promise not to disturb the security and comfort of the affluent.  This just goes to show how simpleminded and anti-intellectual mainstream political commentary has become. Capitalism has had over 200 years to develop the chance to become “human centered.” It cannot because it is fundamentally set up to serve the profit motive over basic needs of people. Capitalist markets have always skewed the vast majority of benefits to the upper classes, with pipe dreams of wealth “trickling down” to the masses.

Yang could have made much more progress had he tacked harder to the left, but instead he falls prey to his belief in “human-centered capitalism.” His UBI proposal was popular; yet as an affluent business owner and stand-in for the entrepreneur class, he could not manage to go against his donors as well as his own interests by creating a framework for price controls to fight against inflation and parasitical price-gouging. Despite his concern over AI and automation leading to massive job loss, he does not fundamentally address the exploitative relationship between employer and employees, or understand how increased digital and robot-led production will lead to new levels of coercive labor monopolization of the means of production.

One Mike Weinstein explains Yang’s worldview quite well here, in a piece titled “Beware the Technocracy”:

Yang speaks the language of the ruling class, one of inscrutable economics to uphold the narrative of technology as savior. His aim is cloak this in popular socialist ideas such as universal healthcare and income. Yang promotes this package as a self-proclaimed ‘human-centered economy’. It’s worth noting that the robot antagonists in The Matrix had a human-centered economy, too.

Andrew Yang is a privileged tech-bro, but he had one thing going for him, he was earnest, somewhat open-minded, and willing to listen to others. In this piece, his interviewer sketches out the basics of accelerationism to Yang, implying that this is the first time Yang has heard of the idea, and Yang responds with interest, wanting to know more. Yang, unlike the rest of the moderates, might be a know-nothing; but at least he can have a human conversation, and is at least open to learning about new ideas.

His refusal to include a social safety net for the needy, disabled, and elderly that could stand to lose under his UBI, as well as his refusal to endorse Medicare for All, is further proof of his myopia, however. See this summary of his thought, published in Big Think, or this one, at, both of which specialize in big-brain centrism. Yang also proposed to raise revenue for the UBI via a value-added tax, which is a tax on consumption and disproportionately hurts low-income workers, rather than a more sensible wealth tax.

Warren: Feel-good candidate for the Professional-Managerial Class

Elizabeth Warren also tacked to the center, repeatedly describing herself as “capitalist to her bones”. While the act of adopting progressive liberal values and rhetoric mixed with pro-capitalist corporate-speak worked in the past, for instance, for Obama and even for Jimmy Carter before him, there is no popular “middle ground” to occupy now in the Democratic Party. The 2008 economic crisis advanced political consciousness in such a way that mainstream liberals now see the ground shifting underneath them. Either you are a firm Democratic establishment centrist, or you’re in the progressive/social democratic/democratic socialist camp.

Warren, straddling both sides of this fault line, could not seem to pick a lane. Her attacks on the banks and her wealth tax proposal would seem to mark her as a progressive, but her professional-managerial class (PMC) background pulls her to support the Clinton/Obama technocratic way of governing. Politics is about having big ideas and pointing out the systemic problems in society (which Bernie Sanders has, and does) and finding ways to implement them; not about having a series of band-aid solutions and incoherent plans for “structural change” without examining the root cause of our maladies: capitalism. No one wants to hear flip-flopping about a “transition plan” to shift to Medicare for All in three years. People want to know that you will fight for them on day one, because every day that you hesitate poor and homeless people literally die in the streets because of lack of access to health care; also men, women, and children are killed each day due to our imperial and frankly genocidal foreign policy, which she demonstrated hardly any basic knowledge of, or real interest towards.

Both Warren’s wealth tax and her climate plan were considerable tamer than Sanders’ plans. If you’re going to challenge corporate power, even within the confines of US electoral politics, you can’t excite the “populist” liberal-left with halfway measures. Voters were canny enough to see through her fence-sitting, hence her relative lack of support, even within her home state of Massachusetts.

One of Warren’s most glaringly dystopian plans was for “fighting digital disinformation”. There is a glimmer of a good idea hidden in the concept, in that she proposed penalties for those who engage in voter suppression. The real doozy is that she plans to criminalize “disinformation” and wants the corporate social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter to censor and moderate political speech, as well as leaving the door open for government censorship of news. In this she parrots the desires of the Democratic establishment who, of course, are deeply entwined with the Military-Industrial-Intelligence complex. Liberal establishment figures have become emboldened since 2016: for instance Hillary Clinton views anyone who disturbs her as being aided by Russia; such as Trump, but also Jill Stein and Tulsi Gabbard, absurdly. Liberals such as Warren aim to increase paranoia in the populace, consciously or not, surrounding the idea of “foreign meddling” and seek to weaponize the election interference narrative against any politicians who do not support the ruling class. This is why Bernie Sanders was told his campaign was being aided by Russia, in effect to smear his entire campaign. The real targets in the “interference” narrative are leftists who want to redistribute wealth.

Agent Pete

Pete Buttigieg represents a special type of stupid. First, Buttigieg’s policies (or lack thereof) show just how worthless a Rhodes scholar-level education truly is, just like it showed for Cory Booker. Just like Kamala Harris, Buttigieg is the offspring of a worldly and erudite Marxist professor who didn’t learn a thing; in Mayor Pete’s case, he decided to rebel against his father and work for the machine in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the corrupt scandal-ridden firm McKinsey.

There is much more to the Mayor Pete back-story regarding his intelligence and national security connections. He worked in Naval Intelligence in Afghanistan alongside the CIA. He penned an op-ed in The New York Times with a friend about visiting Somaliland and meeting with “local leaders.” He keeps a map of Afghanistan displaying its mineral resources in his study (the alarm bells should be going off). He wrote in his book about visiting a “safehouse” in Iraq. Many foreign policy and national security figures backed his candidacy. And yes, thanks to Left Twitter, #CIAPete was blowing up on social media.

Whether or not Mayor Pete is a spy asset or not does not really matter. What matters is he thinks like them, and shares their worldview of supporting US imperial and economic domination at all costs.

How do we know this is true? Buttigieg had a line in a recent debate about “being inclusive” by taking donations from billionaires. Who honestly thinks taking money from billionaires is to make society more inclusive? Only a little slug willing to completely debase himself to his ruling-class overlords would admit this publicly; even Biden at his most incoherent would never blurt this out.

Listening to Pete talk in general was just bewildering. He imitates Obama’s style at every turn, yet cannot match his soaring oratory and simply does not answer questions or deliver any tangible idea of what he will offer. He is the platitude candidate; every time he speaks it’s like opening a fortune cookie, as he’s full of vague truisms.

One of the most dystopian plans of Pete was a “National Service Program”.  Predictably, it is framed with patriotic, nationalistic rhetoric. The goal would be to increase the service program with the end goal being a “universal, national expectation of service” (from his website) while also claiming it will be “strictly optional”. High school and college students are already exploited enough in the classroom and at their jobs, and funding a plan so that young people can put a gold star on their resume pretty much sums up Pete in a nutshell. Here’s his justification:

In the great unwinding of American civic society underway, and at a time when Americans are experiencing record-low trust in fellow citizens and American institutions, few — if any — single policy solutions carry the promise of democratic renewal more than national service.

A simple rebuttal would be to ask what is causing the “unwinding” and “record-low trust”. It’s obviously inequality, corruption in government, corporations which are legally bound to choose profits over people, little to no regulation of technology and fossil fuel corporations, monopolization in virtually every sector of the economy, lack of health care and a living wage. There is no indication that this plan would solve any of these issues, because the Oxford-educated Mayor cannot be bothered to think critically. Or, rather, an Oxford education blinds one to the fact that capitalism is the root cause of our systemic crises. Typical of elites, he confuses class conflict with national frailty and disunity, much like Trump. He is a true believer in the system, and projects his privileged fake-meritocratic upbringing onto everyone around him with a call to service. Any national service plan with Pete at the helm feels like a plan for assimilating youth into our Death Star corporate-driven empire; for creating a “McKinsey Youth” for America.

Steyer and Bloomberg: Upholding a Nation Run for Plutocrats, by Plutocrats

Today one must be for the poor and working classes to gain mass political popularity, like Sanders; or conversely offer a proto-fascist program of a return to national greatness, like the racist, money-worshipping, chauvinist Twitter troll, like Trump. That is why the elites are even more afraid of Sanders, because he and more crucially his base offer a clean break and a qualitatively better and more egalitarian organization of society.

The super-rich must be excluded from the political process because they will always put the interests of capital above the common good, and refuse to see how their actions directly contribute to the impoverishment of workers and the degradation of the environment. Any intervention by them, in the name of philanthropy or donations to politicians, proves that their money buys political power, social control, and makes a mockery of any notion of “democracy” in this nation. This is called an oligarchy. Which reminds me, Mike Bloomberg should no longer be addressed as “Mayor Bloomberg”; “Plutocrat Bloomberg” or “Oligarch Bloomberg” would be more appropriate.

Amy’s Rage

Amy Klobuchar is a lot of things. She is undoubtedly driven, hard-working, and passionate about her work. The problem is the work she does is inherently bad for most people and she did not have any good policy ideas that differentiated her from the other centrists. Her other problem is that she has extreme anger issues.

Klobuchar is an abusive boss and her employees described her offices in Minnesota and D.C. as a “hostile work environment.” The most she’s addressed this is by stating she’s “tough” and has “high expectations” for her staff. The clues to her barely-bottled rage are under the surface, as this article in The Atlantic opines: her childhood spent with a neglectful, alcoholic father severely messed her up.

This is not an uncommon situation, with a subset of leaders put into positions of power that were traumatized in childhood. Many become highly-driven over-achievers in the corporate and political worlds: it’s easier to run from the ghosts when you’re showered with accolades and money. Many also burn with rage, are vengeful and prone to irrational outbursts, consider any slight or unavoidable accident a personal affront, and crave domination and control over others. Much like management in large corporations, her former staff describes a brutal hierarchical and tyrannical environment where the smallest mistake could set her off into tantrums or the throwing of office supplies, forcing staff to do demeaning work involving her personal effects, and would regularly condescend and shame her employees openly in person and through email. We already have an authoritarian in the White House who needs psychological counseling. Klobuchar should not be attempting to seek power: like the rest of the corporate and political ruling classes, she should be seeking professional help.

Biden: Senior Moments

Let’s just get it out of the way: Joe Biden is seriously slipping upstairs. I suppose that’s not an anomaly anymore for presidential politics, as we have dealt with cognitive decline before with Reagan in his second term. We’ve dealt with not-so-bright presidents too: the entire George W. Bush presidency, and now Trump. If Biden becomes the nominee and president it will be a national, collective senior moment. I don’t really have the words to describe a head-to-head Biden-Trump debate, other than it being extremely depressing, and that I would predict an increase in sales of alcohol. It would break the country on some visceral level. Nominating Biden could end the Democratic Party for good, so maybe there would be a silver lining.

Interestingly, Biden spoke to donors in 2019 and stated that “no one’s standard of living would change” and “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became elected. It would make for an honest slogan, at least. Vote Biden in 2020: Nothing will change.

When moderate democrats say “be realistic”, say it back to them: be realistic, Biden would surely lose to Trump. Only Sanders has a shot at defeating him, as Trump would absolutely eviscerate Biden and run circles around him. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Trump is as broken a person as they come; but he is smart enough to harp on Biden’s mental decline and his son’s shady job as a board member of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, a position he had absolutely no expertise in.

Oh Canada!?: Trudeau Marches for Climate

The most ridiculous and absurd example of big-brain centrism comes from our neighbor to the North, however. In September of 2019, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in a climate protest in Montreal. He tweeted: “Today we marched for our planet, our kids, and for their future.” It did not seem to dawn on him that his fellow citizens were marching to protest the lack of action his government was taking to battle global warming. You’re their leader, Justin. If you want to take action, use every available mechanism in your own government to make a change. The people put you in power to do exactly that. Was he protesting himself? Was he admitting that even as PM he is as powerless as the average citizen to fight the fossil fuel industries? Under his administration, Albertan oil sands continue to be extracted, and new pipeline expansion is in place against the will of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations tribe who are currently protesting.

The Moderates Serve the Ruling Class

Just to stick with Trudeau’s nastiness for a moment, everyone should read this article on the First Nation protestors in Canada fighting the Coastal GasLink Pipeline expansion. If you feel called, watch the embedded video. The RMCP point their rifles at nonviolent protestors- police who operate under the orders of Justin Trudeau. Make no mistake, Biden would be no different in the US. He serves at the behest of the ruling classes. It doesn’t matter if it’s Obama with Occupy Wall Street and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trump, Trudeau, or a possible Biden regime: they all will intimidate and if necessary kill their own citizens who use direct action to resist fossil fuel expansion and corporate rule. It’s all a sick twisted game to protect the property of the rich for the “sensible”, “highly-esteemed”, blue-check mark politicians and media flunkies.

Even if the moderate liberals gave one single solitary fuck about average working people, the environment, future generations, and the citizenry they pander to, they are too weak-minded because they insist everything be done at the glacial pace (as glaciers are now in rapid retreat in many parts of the world this metaphor may no longer be useful, thanks to them) of bipartisan electoral politics, and will compromise with conservatives at every turn to water-down absolutely any and every possible progressive or radical legislative reforms.

Like Trudeau, they all want to have it both ways: to be seen as a progressive, “woke” politician; a radical climate protestor in his case, while at the same time being central figures of the establishment, upholding an inhumane system, walking corpses who prop up the status quo, absolute tools of corporate and imperial rule. Which in the end means that they really only care about themselves: their fame, power, glory, and their money.

Bernie Sanders has his own serious flaws, most especially in regards to foreign policy. Yet he is the only candidate who speaks to the need to create a better, kinder, more reasonable and egalitarian nation; and the best chance to popularize socialism right now, however ill-suited he may be to the task.

Even Hillary Clinton weighed in on Sanders recently and said “nobody likes him, no one wants to work with him.” It might be worthwhile for citizens and neoliberal imperialists like Clinton, Biden, Trudeau, and the rest to question what it means to be “popular” and what positive “work” has actually been accomplished in a Congress which hasn’t cracked a 30% approval rating in over 10 years.

There are a couple of references from pop culture which sum up the sad but true nature of the centrist liberal and conservative politicians. Their commitment to strengthening capitalism at all costs leads to a hollow shell of a life. The first quote is from the movie Casino Jack, a fictionalized version of the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s life. When the walls are closing in on him, his wife reminds him there will be no one to help: “We have no friends, Jack, none. All we have are people we do business with.”

The second set of quotes, which I’ll end with, are from rap legend Tupac Shakur. In the song “Holler If You Hear Me”, 2pac warns of the perils of compromising one’s beliefs for material gain:

To the sellouts livin’ it up/

One way or another you’ll be givin’ it up.

In the last verse, 2pac has a prophetic line, alluding to black militancy, manufacturing consent and the return of the repressed in American society. His words remain eerily prescient, and remind me of the way moderate liberals and conservatives view the rise of Bernie Sanders and socialism in the US today as dangerous:

And now I’m like a major threat/

‘Cause I remind you of the things you were made to forget

What “That’s Not Realistic” Really Means: Bernie Sanders, Social Democracy, and Capitalist Apologetics

When discussing politics, or listening to pundits in the mainstream media in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, you’ve probably heard a common refrain: certain policies are “not realistic.” It’s similar to the close-minded remark that certain politicians, such as Bernie Sanders, have issues regarding their “electability”. What are these elites and people who continually parrot these media narratives actually saying?

The most obvious translation of “that’s not realistic” is this: we the people are powerless to change things. Of course, most of those who use the “unrealistic” fallacy conveniently have power and money, which has disillusioned them from imagining any possibilities for transformative changes, and blunted their ability to feel empathy for those less fortunate. It makes zero sense to call Sanders’ policies unrealistic when nearly all of Europe maintains core social democratic institutions with mass public approval.

The question of “how can we pay” for programs like Medicare for All, free college, debt relief, and a Green New Deal always comes up. This is hilarious, of course, because no one asks the elites to justify the annual $750 billion US military budget. Drastically cutting the military budget and redistributing the surplus is how you pay for these social programs.

Another accurate and blunter rendering of what the unrealistic/unelectable memes mean would be: “Don’t ask for too much. Know your place, peasants.” Notice how you don’t see poor people claiming that socialism or “democratic socialist” policies are unrealistic. I’m fairly certain slaves were told their freedom was unrealistic, the suffragettes were told their right to vote was unrealistic, JFK was told by many of the “smartest” people that a moon landing before 1970 was unrealistic. We can go on and on.

Then there are others who are somewhat “progressive”, sympathetic but disillusioned and cynical, and many will say that socialism or even social democracy sounds nice, but we all know the powers that be will never go down without a fight and allow for a systematic reconfiguration of society. In other words, it’s not so much that socialism is unrealistic; but rather, the threat of the elites turning up the authoritarian dial to full-blown neo-fascism is real; therefore, we still cannot afford to nominate a reformist social democrat. Egalitarian, humane, and fair policies are too much to ask for: the best we can do is tinker around the edges and reform capitalism incrementally and very slowly.

This is a blatant falsehood. It’s nothing more than a media-blasted form of collective hive-mind Stockholm syndrome, your basic case of false consciousness. There is a kernel of truth here, and that is the elites will never voluntarily allow for a transfer of power to the masses. The point of electing Sanders (despite his severe foreign policy limitations and reformist inclinations) is the potential of elevating working class consciousness and activating a mass base that will fight, protest, and strike when the ruling classes attempt to drop the hammer on him, his allies, the citizenry, and his policy and legislative agenda.

Just like with any other massive whopper, if enough people in the media parrot that Sanders is “unelectable”, it takes on a life of its own. The “unrealistic” narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and perception becomes paramount over reality. Material facts count for nothing, what matters are the feelings and ideological fables of pro-capitalist apologists. Only gradual change can occur, don’t ask for too much or you risk collapsing the whole system, because a Sanders presidency upholding democratic socialist principles would somehow turn the US into another Venezuela. Which, by the way, Venezuela is a democracy, and was a rapidly developing and improving nation before the combination of the drop in oil prices, sanctions, and US imperial meddling took its toll. A tragic example of how perception “trumps” reality in our new game show upside-down world.

Somehow changing things too fast will “rock the boat” and gulags and purges will come back into fashion. Promoting democracy will somehow work against citizens’ interests and do the opposite. It’s quite telling how the elites and the media view the prospect of the masses actually having power, no?

Isn’t it obvious how screwed up things are, and that the primary culprits are capitalists? Just consider global warming for a moment. Only one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. If just those one hundred companies invested their profits in renewable energy technology, they could potentially mitigate the worst effects of future warming on their own starting right now. Not to mention that even the smallest green tech breakthroughs in the sector could generate massive federal subsidies to help with the high cost of research and development. Rather than that, however, these one hundred companies continually choose short-term profits over the health of the planet; hire some of the best and brightest scientists and engineers from all over the globe, all in order to divert their brainpower into constructing the most destructive industry the world has ever seen.

What kind of nation is so cowed and beaten down that the moderate reforms offered by Sanders are viewed as impossible to achieve? What about the millions of others who view his economic and social priorities with such fear, hatred, and derision?

Policies such as a Green New Deal, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, universal healthcare, a universal jobs program, and student debt relief are extremely popular. These are simply the next logical steps to blunt the worst effects of capitalism on a path towards social democratic governance. The ideas promoted by Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar have a democratic mandate with many policies that have over 70% support. If centrist liberals and conservatives want to fight the will of the people, not only are they showing their true colors (as promoters of oligarchy), they are going to lose in the long run. If the Democratic Party had any intelligence and backbone, which of course they don’t, they would put Sanders and “the Squad” at the center of a new progressive agenda.

The undercurrent that is worth returning to in the “it’s not realistic” argument is that most of those who trot out this sort of thing are comfortable, well-off, if not just filthy rich. It’s the elites, but also crucially the conservative and liberal middle to upper-middle classes, the professional-managerial classes (PMCs), as well as small to medium size business owners, those who have climbed our fake “meritocracy” who don’t want to rock the boat.

Many have achieved some sort of professional “success” and secure middle class economic status, and to see a portion of that wealth given back to the poor and working classes makes the PMC class extremely uncomfortable. Of course it’s no surprise that most of these voters are white, unable to see how the structural and generational racism helped their families secure wealth and privilege, and catapulted them into their cushy jobs, while minorities, the poor, and younger voters overwhelmingly support Sanders.

Let’s just take one example: doctors. Doctors are not your typical PMCs, as they frankly do not have to climb a corporate hierarchy which gives them a bit more “freedom” to think and live without completely debasing themselves. One would think they’d be more progressive than your average bank executive or middle manager, and most probably are. Yet, as this survey shows, only 49% of MDs support Medicare for All (M4A below). Medical professionals are supposed to be the “best and brightest” in our society, so this a pitiful figure, really. It turns out they are just another specialist class which cannot see beyond their own narrow material interests, and refuse to make the connections as to how poverty and lack of health care leads to worse health outcomes for the whole of society.

A healthier population would mean less work for doctors, who are constantly putting in long hours. You’d think they’d be all for M4A. Yet the same study confirms the obvious suspicion that it’s all about the money, with 59% being concerned that M4A would reduce physician compensation. Doctors are very highly paid anyways, so the idea that they’d be making a little less should not be a deal breaker. But, yet again, there class interests dictate to them to want to work more, and want to hold a less healthy population captive to our horrible and inhumane health system.

Economic repercussions of a potential President Sanders are in the back of the upper-middle classes’ minds. These folks are worried about their 401k, the stock market dipping, or a that recession could begin. The upper quintile (top 20% of wage earners) or so would probably pay marginally more taxes to fund social programs, and somehow giving back to those less fortunate (as well as accruing the civic benefits of living in a happier and healthier nation) is seen as dangerous. However, the PMCs are so myopic that they can’t see the blinding truth that the vast majority of any tax increase would be paid by the top 1-5%, and that the marginal tax increases they might face would drastically improve the whole of society.

The key thing to remember is that these professional class lackeys of the elite view their wealth as paramount, which they never refer to as such; instead using euphemisms like having “security”, “freedom from worrying about money”, and a “comfortable lifestyle”. Don’t rock the boat or their lifestyles might be impacted, and they might have to share the best doctors in town, rub elbows with the rabble at their favorite café or upscale gym or yoga studio, and generally interact with what they see as the wretched of the Earth. The PMCs also all vote, and though they may lean slightly Democratic, there is a large contingent of Trump supporters as well. Yet the PMCs who vote Democrat are mostly older (40+) and will lean towards those who reflect their beliefs in climbing the “meritocracy,” such as the technocratic doofuses Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete in the primaries.

It’s true that imploding the economy via capital flight might be the first thing elites would try to do to undermine a Sanders presidency. Yet that would not be his fault. In this hypothetical situation, the cynical moderate liberal and conservative PMCs would rather pin the blame on the wrong person (Sanders) than try to understand the structural failures of capitalism, and how malevolent and vindictive the elites are.

Another undercurrent of the PMCs and petit bourgeois class is related to the uniquely harsh sado-masochistic traits in US society. I sometimes refer to this phenomenon as “cultural Puritanism.” It was best summed up by H.L. Mencken, when he stated: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”1

In other words, many in the middle classes and petit bourgeois get off on the suffering of their lower income neighbors and work colleagues, as well as finding perverse enjoyment in being exploited by their ruling class bosses and administrators. Brutal hierarchies in work and public life somehow validates and reinforces this cruel behavior in the bourgeois and PMC mind, rather than being viscerally repulsed by the crushing alienation and domination of social and economic life by elite one-percenters. So, universal healthcare, free college, and debt relief aren’t fair, as the poor aren’t “working for it” and “paying their fair share.”

The redistributive policies fundamentally clashes with the PMC worldview, because democratic socialist policies make clear that the poor and working classes built the modern world and deserve better treatment in a vastly unequal capitalist system. The implicit ideology of the “moderate” liberals is ultimately a conservative worldview: the poor are stupid, lazy, and crucially, they didn’t suffer in the right sort of ways; for instance by getting an MBA, by going to law school, by wasting their lives in boardrooms and management meetings, flying around the globe to sell useless products and giving PowerPoint presentations, and whatever else the corporate drones of the world do to convince themselves that they’ve “earned” their riches solely through their own “hard work.”

It’s quite visible when conversing with pro-capitalists, and you can see it on TV all the time when mainstream talking heads discuss Sanders’ policies, whether it’s on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. I call it the Tucker Carlson look, although his facial expressions are just the most ridiculous of the bunch. He’ll invite a guest on, say a morally decent person like Cornel West, who’ll spell out their ideas to make the world a better place, or at least a slightly less shitty one; and the brow becomes slightly furrowed, mouth goes a bit agape, a look of a mix of befuddlement and incredulity appears, following by either a snide, condescending, dismissive attitude and/or apoplectic rage. These people instantly become either confused, angry, or both at the thought of structurally changing society to help people in need.

What they seem to be thinking, but find it impossible to come to terms with, is this:

“Wait, you’re saying that my actions and lifestyle are implicated in hurting people? You’re making me self-reflect on my empty, hollow concepts of how to care for people and how my bankrupt worldview has made society demonstrably worse? And even though you’re not necessarily blaming me personally, you’re claiming my ideas are not my own, but rather the result of capitalist cultural hegemony which shapes, distorts, and filters my own ideological beliefs to suit capitalism? In the freest and greatest country ever to exist? I refuse to believe this! This is an outrage!”

The whole idea of trying to talk with people who are that far gone is absurd. The good news is conservatives, centrists, and progressive liberals do not always resemble the caricatures that leftists often stereotype them as. Most people are far too normal, boring, and trying to cope with their own problems to rigidly accept capitalist dogmas. Many more are fundamentally uninterested with politics beyond what serves their immediate needs and those of their family and friends, and that’s ok. What’s important is to keep trying to show that the publics’ needs can be better met under a socialist system. There is no nice way to tell someone that their views are ignorant, and it’s extremely difficult to do so without encountering the type of reaction shown above. It’s very difficult, but not impossible. This is the task we are faced with.

It can get depressing when confronting mass ignorance. It’s important to remember that the ultra-rich and their PMC lackeys are in the minority, however. I believe part of what’s been overlooked is that while the elites would be reigned in economically in a social democracy, the PMCs would not lose out much at all, as alluded to above. Rather, they would be hit with a loss in social capital. This is because many, but not all, will be exposed as the selfish burghers they are, for these are the little piggies that helped construct the system for their corporate overlords. It’s very much like in the military, where the officer classes attempt to justify their war crimes by stating they were just following orders.

Like little Eichmanns, they probably know this excuse will not work when the working classes become fully cognizant of their betrayals. Just like US military officers today, who are war criminals for their actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other nations, many of the PMCs are white-collar criminals, upholding a rotten system and implementing neoliberal austerity, structural racism, medical malfeasance, intellectual property theft, and gentrification. Even if their jobs or actions are technically legal, many of them at least can intuit to varying degrees that their work is just plain wrong. They are traitors to their fellow citizens and they know it. They serve the oligarchy and they know it. Therefore, their only hope is to cling to capitalist politicians as their saviors. These people believe that electing the technocrat Warren or the empty sloganeer Buttigieg can clear their conscience, and stop those dark voices in the back of their mind telling them that they are sell-outs, because they voted for a “progressive.”

Perhaps mostly unconsciously, some upper-middle class and elite liberals and conservatives want income inequality, economic stratification, and gentrification to increase, so as not to have to deal with, talk to, or even be forced to interact and look upon the poor and downtrodden, as they are to varying degrees responsible for their plight.

Most people, however, are not getting a fat paycheck from corporate oligarchs, and therefore the unstated and explicit narratives to support this god-forsaken system don’t work. Most citizen are at least willing to listen with an open mind, and the only people who really try to vouch for capitalism are economists, mainstream politicians, or affluent PMC sycophants and business owners who directly benefit from upholding the status quo. This has always been about 20-25% of the populace, a pitiful minority, really. Dismantling the horrible, inhumane system of capitalism will require tact and a sustained effort to repeat the fact that the onus is on those who construct the system to defend and prove its worth. Clearly, capitalism has outlived its usefulness, and the only ones who are unrealistic are those who want to uphold the status quo and insist that everything can stay the same. The only realistic solution is to go beyond capitalism and evolve into a democratic system that works for everyone.

  1. In “A Few Pages of Notes,” The Smart Set (January 1915).

We Work, They Scam: The Art of the Con in Terminal-Stage Capitalism

Recently, the ridiculous real estate company WeWork has faced intense scrutiny after their business model was absurdly overvalued and their CEO, one Adam Neumann, was exposed as an abusive boss as well as an overall crazy person. Investors from the Saudi royal family, companies like SoftBank and J.P. Morgan, and numerous venture capitalists poured vast sums of money into the company, fueling its overvaluation, which ran as high as 47 billion dollars. Unfortunately, mainstream media continues to trot out this story, as well as other famous instances of corporate fraud, corruption, and malfeasance as anomalies, aberrations. Somehow, absurd corporate business models, outright fraudulent behavior, and speculative overvaluations are seen as exceptions to the rule.

The bare truth of the matter is that various forms of fraud and cons are the rule for the vast majority of large corporations.  WeWork is basically a tiny fish in the ocean when we step back and consider the scale of cons from various transnational corporations. For more recent and humorous examples, check out Current Affairs 2019 “Griftie” Awards.

All the signs of brazen criminality are in front of us. We have to do no more than look at the public figurehead of the con economy, our own president. His personality is the distillation of the elite grifter, a hollow shell of a human, heir to a fortune which has created a uniquely toxic mix of entitlement, hubris, ignorance, and malignant narcissism; a truly pathetic man molded by late capitalism, celebrity and TV culture. His wealth bequeathed by inheritance, profits acquired through real estate scandals and “university” scams; his brain is addled by a diet of fast food; and his worldview warped by utterly deluded conservative media.

For instance, the spurious idea that 1.5 trillion in tax cuts will help grow our economy through job creation, or new business ventures, is a fraud on its face, but represents an exquisite example of capitalist propaganda. This is a lie that millions of US citizens either sincerely believe or acquiesce to due to generations of mainstream media indoctrination. As for the corporate scams cited below, there are similar factors involving coercion and propaganda, and they are similarly undemocratic: the ownership class and upper management dictate narratives in the media, how the labor is done, how the con will play out, and workers carry out immoral orders against their better judgment.

For instance, take Boeing and the two tragic crashes involving its 737 Max 8 jet. The market valuation of the company fluctuates today at around 200 billion dollars, even as it knowingly and deliberately sold its newest model without the needed software updates (MCAS), as well as without the needed sensor reading and indicator light to multiple foreign airlines, and in many cases without training pilots on the new system. Now, you might think that the software needed to keep a plane from nose-diving might come standard with the purchase of a multimillion dollar passenger jet, but you’d be wrong. In its infinite wisdom, Boeing decided to not to include the computer programmed safety features, selling them for extra and deeming them “optional.” Internal Boeing emails make clear there was systemic negligence and incompetence with the implementation of the MCAS program.

Let’s take another somewhat dated example, the behemoth Volkswagen, which had a huge emissions scandal in regard to its diesel vehicles produced from 2009-2015. Volkswagen installed “cheat software” to fool emissions tests in 11 million of its diesel cars, which, when driven for real world road tests, pumped out up to 40 times the permissible amount of nitrogen oxides. Further studies with other car manufacturers showed that many other brands were also well above the allowable limit for diesel emissions. One air pollution expert confided that the added pollution in European cities would result in “thousands of deaths.”  Volkswagen was forced to fork out 2.8 billion dollars to the US for their troubles. That might seem like a lot, but with 11 million cars sold in the process, and taking a guess and using a round number of $20,000 for each new car sold, it adds up to 220 billion in car sales just for these diesel automobiles.

Let’s shift to finance, a sector just filled with the most outlandish, craven, and fraudulent criminal activity. We could go on and on down the line from Bank of America to Wells Fargo to Deutsche Bank. By the way, media devoted to following the practices of these hallowed institutions have “scandal timelines” and lists of the “biggest scandals” just to help us make sense of the dizzying and insane levels of depravity these corporations have reached. One might think that encyclopedic chronologies and compendiums documenting these bank scams would shame and humble these corporations into adopting a semblance of corporate responsibility, but no.

Recently, Goldman Sachs has been in the news for their involvement in the 1MBD scandal. Haven’t heard of it? This was a massive scheme involving the Malaysian government and Goldman Sachs executives to sell billions of dollars worth of bonds to a giant Malaysian shell company functioning effectively as a Ponzi scheme, a “massive, international conspiracy to embezzle billions of dollars,” in the words of a wealth fund which was bilked in the process. Seventeen Goldman Sachs employees face charges in Malaysia, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein met with the disgraced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the mastermind of the scam, one Jho Low, who is now believed to be on the run in China (check the Chinese wine caves?).

In all likelihood, these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if someone like Blankfein did time for his involvement in 1MBD, it might be analogous to Al Capone doing time for tax evasion. The amount of immoral criminality is staggering when one attempts to tally how many countries have been ripped off and commons privatized, how much land and assets seized, how many poor and vulnerable people have had benefits cut and prices of necessities jacked up to benefit a tiny elite, how many desperate people have died to serve neoliberal business models. These untold atrocities are barely hidden, and all one has to do is scratch the surface of our system to reveal the sordid deeds which must stay hidden for the economy to stay afloat and for public morale not to wane and stir folks to revolution. No one is ever held responsible for financial crimes under capitalism, just like our war criminals, even though the culprits roam free in broad daylight, and even though these crimes have devastating real world consequences.

No corporate media will ever acknowledge that these are just the cases we know about. What else lies under the surface? Who among us has the means and the guts to find out if the mainstream media won’t? If these companies are willing to go to these lengths to defraud their customers, there is really nothing they won’t do. If we knew the full scope of the Mafioso-like corruption and barbaric behavior of these multinationals, people might actually revolt and overthrow our inhumane capitalist system. Mainstream media thus has a distinct role, and performs excellently for the transnational corporations (TNCs), by not investigating and not pushing for prosecution of guilty parties. This “balanced” approach to news is justified in the name of being “objective,” and trying to show “both sides of the issues.”

It’s not just corporate leaders, politicians, and the media who are shirking their duties. The judicial system is just as complicit. On January 17th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a case (Juliana vs. United States) brought by twenty one young plaintiffs who argued that “the US government acts as a barrier to climate action” and quite rightly pointed out that “the US government [is] violating their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by enacting policies that contribute to the climate crisis.” The majority 2-1 ruling “reluctantly concluded that the plaintiff’s case must be made to the political branches or the electorate at large.” Isn’t it revealing that these judges view the judicial system as somehow above politics?

The dissenting judge called her fellow colleagues out for their cowardice:

It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation…my colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary.

Here we can clearly see the Kafkaesque institutional evasion of responsibility. Everyone in these elite institutions is to blame, so no one can be blamed, for it risks exposing the system as the root cause. In the West, we are stuck in a time where no one accepts a public duty to do anything regarding climate change, corporate criminality, etc. As Mark Fisher succinctly explained in Capitalist Realism:

The supreme genius of Kafka was to have explored the negative atheology proper to Capital: the center is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there – it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility.

As Fisher and others have shown, the lack of responsibility taken and lack of corporate and governmental transparency, and lack of differentiation between the corporate, judicial, legislative, and media bodies is a defining feature of late capitalism. We can view the contours and delineate between the modern and postmodern periods, in terms of the sea change from a Foucauldian disciplinary society to a Deleuzian society of control. In the modern period, there were bounded, separate domains of work, home life, recreation, public and private, etc. In our late-stage dystopia, it becomes exceedingly obvious that “all that is holy is profaned,” for instance, judges (supposed impartial arbiters of fairness and democratic values) who are supposedly duty-bound to uphold basic issues of social, environmental, and economic justice, yet do not have the temerity to overturn the death-grip fossil fuel multinationals have over our country.

Whereas before disciplinary action – punishment and jail time – could act as a bit of leverage to limit outright corporate crimes, now we have interconnected, networked, embedded elite coteries who can no longer be distinguished as serving private or public functions: the “revolving door” phenomenon. Today, our elites also cannot distinguish or internalize their own actions and take responsibility for them. Internal checks could at least possibly prevent catastrophes, or lead to feelings of shame and regret for past actions in the old-fashioned, modern way. For this reason, we can view someone like Robert McNamara as perhaps the last modernist public servant in the old-school disciplinary age. His actions were unconscionable, but it is well known he at least regretted his part in the Vietnam War afterwards. The bizarre but true story of McNamara almost getting thrown off a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard in deep ocean in 1972 by an enraged anti-war citizen with family who had served in Vietnam confirms this. Afterwards, McNamara refused to press charges, making clear he knew on some level he deserved punishment.

On the contrary, take the figures of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld today. They are insulated by layers of ideology (and bodyguards), inebriated by luxurious lifestyles and sycophantic think tanks who parrot their every word, and interwoven within the framework and institutions of imperialist and conservative power who no longer have the capacity for self-reflection. Their perceptions and self-image, in other words, are managed by a network of power, control, and domination, in this example the interests of the national security state. Figures such as Bush, Obama, and Trump operate under the aegis of the capitalist/imperial postmodern society of control, which has continually formulated, modulated, subdued and attenuated any tension, any tendency to self-doubt, or any capacity to think critically and examine the atrocities committed by their orders.

It is a world where instantaneous feedback can assuage and soothe the troubled nerves of the elites, by providing media and/or classified reports that justify their grotesque barbarism in real time. We can observe this on a smaller scale when examining how social media algorithms create echo chambers and polarize those with opposing belief systems. The type of worldview our war-criminal presidents are subject to is a “higher immorality” as C. Wright Mills put it. It was best summed up by an unnamed senior Bush regime official, supposedly Karl Rove, speaking to journalist Ron Suskind:

People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

The commonality between all these absolutely absurd scams is that, unlike the relatively small size and bumbling ineptitude of a WeWork, the fetishization of and overvaluation of hare-brained tech with a company like Theranos, the pyramid scheme of a Bernie Madoff, or the cooking-the-books accounting of an Enron, companies such as Boeing, Volkswagen, and Goldman Sachs form the commanding heights of the world economy. These are supposedly the bona fide, respectable “blue-chip companies” which many middle class investors look to for stable, steady growth of their wealth. These companies and their corporate owners cannot clearly view “reality,” (who can? but still) and the public is simply “left to just study what they do.”

Another aspect is the proliferation of marketing and advertising, which hypnotizes the middle classes, which in the West are approaching comatose status in regards to the scale of these interlocking crises of corporate greed and climate disruption. Abject submission and conformity are the key features of the professional-managerial class, who hype new trends and fads, and even business models (such as WeWork). Pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than research and development, which lead the most sycophantic employees to top positions with deadly repercussions (for example, in the Vioxx scandal) and leads to modern pharmacological advances being in many cases guided by snake-oil peddling quack researchers and their corporate overlords.

Individuals, as well as our artistic preferences, and urban spaces, increasingly are modulated by these corporate structures, leading to a flattened consumerist aesthetic. In a brilliant essay, Andru Okun explains using quotes from author Oli Mould:

As Mould argues, ‘Neoliberalism is about the marketization of everything, the imprinting of economic rationalities into the deepest recesses of everyday life’ … [Mould] posits that 21st-century capitalism, ‘turbocharged by neoliberalism,’ has co-opted the conceptual framework of creativity in the interest of endless growth. Even movements interested in destabilizing capitalism can be ‘viewed as a potential market to exploit,’ subsumed by the very world they seek to transform. ‘Creativity under capitalism is not creative at all… it merely replicates existing capitalist registers into ever-deeper recesses of socioeconomic life,’ writes Mould.

This form of “imprinting” becomes clear when examining the professional-managerial classes and the petit-bourgeois class. Class locations, as Erik Olin Wright pointed out, invariably determine the psychological states of the middle classes, who exert exploitative pressure upon their subordinates as well as pressure from above. When advances and promotions are made within the confines of the professional class structure, one can view the accommodation to capital with near-empirical precision: “Individual consciousness is related to position within the class structure.  That is, the attitudes and behaviour of individuals has a connection to the location they occupy within the division of labour and the contradictory locations that exist in capitalism.” Thus, Mark Fisher explains how the individual actions of managers to change corporate culture are futile:

The delusion that many who enter into management with high hopes is precisely that they, the individual, can change things, that they will not repeat what their managers had done, that things will be different this time; but watch someone step up to management and it’s usually not long before the grey petrification of power starts to subsume them. It is here that the structure is palpable – you can practically see it taking people over, hear its deadened/deadening judgments speaking through them.

Again, the activities of these huge conglomerates which dictate the global economy, public discourse, and private and individual aesthetic preferences are not exceptions; they represent the rule when it comes to the behavior of TNCs and international finance. Scamming is what they do best, whether by illegal software or the TV commercial, and the scam-ees quite often turn out to be other elite venture capital and banking firms hoodwinked by the allure of profit no matter the unseemly source or the ridiculousness of the business model. Climate denialism is also a very profitable scam for its elite adherents in the fossil fuel industries and the media, one that plays a key role by influencing public opinion just enough to convince judges, politicians, and CEOs that nothing can be done within their hallowed institutions.

The assertion I’ll lay out here, and it’s admittedly not a particularly original or insightful one, is simply that the falling rate of profit as we approach what we might call terminal-stage capitalism has convinced these TNCs to slightly adjust their calculus. The adjustment is to supplement the neoliberal grip on power with the brazenness of the scam.

The neoliberal era, stretching from approximately the mid-1970s until now, can be defined quite rightly by David Harvey as being driven by a process of “accumulation by dispossession.” In his brilliant 2004 essay “The New Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession”, Harvey explains the four main policies which drive this process as privatization (selling out the commons to private interests), financialization (the penetration of all parts of the economy by banks, loans, institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the WTO, excessive debt, etc), management and manipulation of crises (for instance, see Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine), and state redistributions (huge subsidies and contracts for the fossil fuel and military-industrial corporations, “socialism for the rich”, as it were).

Perhaps today we can add a fifth category: accumulation by the scam. If a Volkswagen or Boeing or Goldman Sachs stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars by swindling their customers, and can somewhat accurately guess that the level of future fines will be small or negligible; that lobbyists can protect future interests; that their teams of corporate lawyers can derail federal investigations; that federal regulators will be hamstrung due to lack of expertise, power, and/or resources; and that their customer base and supply chains will remain relatively stable, there is more of an incentive to cheat than ever before.

If the gravediggers of capital ultimately end up being a united working class, and/or the ecological crises combined with global warming-induced climactic Armageddon, perhaps it’d be helpful to think of these corporate grifters as the grave robbers, exhuming and reanimating whatever scam du jour they deem necessary to circulate capital. Not only does this reliance on fraud betray the moral failings of the people and institutions implicated, but it reinforces that Marx was right: the falling rate of profit over time and over-accumulation continues to force new methods of creative destruction to enter our midst to necessitate continuous expansion. Neoliberal economics officially saw its death-knell during the 2008 recession, but twelve years later this undead ideology maintains hegemony in a world teetering on the brink of disaster. Zombie Economics, if you will.

Profit and GDP growth at all costs to line elites’ pockets and increase national tax bases is killing the planet and working classes. Put another way, from a humorous statement by @Anarchopac on twitter: “The problem with capitalism is eventually you run out of planet to destroy to maximize short-term profit.” Put yet another way, John Maynard Keynes pointed out: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

In our late capitalist reality, there are barely any new frontiers to shift capital and production to, and the possibility of opening new markets in underdeveloped nations is also limited. The colonialist frontiers have been tapped and the system begins to cannibalize itself. A rentier economy coalesces and the contours of a neo-feudal regime based on debt and precarity are readily apparent now. Speculation and passive income from the FIRE sectors (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) are near all-time highs, but their assets are so overvalued that sooner or later it will spur on an economic downturn that at this point is unavoidable. Consider, for instance, that the Dow Jones at its low point in March 2009 stood at around 6,600. Here in 2020, we find the average hovering over 29,000. No one can legitimately say that our markets or average families are four times as well off or any more resilient and economically secure than ten years ago. The next crash could very well make terms like “housing bubble” and “tech bubble” seem quaint. The entire US economy is a bubble, a rigged casino designed to implode.

Since financial, real estate, and stock speculation has in some sense reached a tipping point of limited returns on investment, our hypothesized 5th category, accumulation via fraud, is implemented. It fits into our upside-down world nicely: since what is productive for one class is often unproductive for another, one-percenters elide reality to maintain their own class interests at all costs, and block any real public discussion in the media of what constitutes productive versus unproductive labor. The masters know what is good for us. Capitalist elites see no moral qualms in the most debased forms of wealth acquisition. It’s all relative to them, and where previous Taylorist models focused on planned obsolescence of products, now we construct products that do not even work initially; i.e., jets that literally fall out of the sky without the necessary software updates.

In all likelihood these examples are just harbingers of things to come, as the structural instability of capital demands new avenues for expansion even as it teeters before the inevitable collapse. The brazen criminality and fraudulence of the system bubbles to the surface and can no longer be rationalized away as an “aberration.” As real material conditions deteriorate for the multitudes, resistance to capitalism must intensify as it enters its final death throes.