The present age, part 2
DARPA, radical freedom, Yogi-Commissars & 24/7 hyper-reality in the time of Covid
“This freedom which we take for granted in all political theory and which even those who praise tyranny must still take into account is the very opposite of inner freedom, the inward space into which men may escape from external coercion and ‘feel’ free.” – Hannah Arendt
THE PRESENT AGE, PART 2
Part 1 of The Present Age published Monday, April 19, 2021, exploring historical perspectives on the possibility of political revolt against the new globalized financial, social and political regime that has been imposed under the banner of public health over the past year in response to Covid-19.
The Present Age articles are companion pieces to my COVIDNOMICS series tracing tens of trillions of dollars in Covid “stimulus” pumped into the global financial and corporate sectors, an estimated $20 trillion in just the first five months after the WHO’s declaration of a pandemic, almost certainly over $30-$35 trillion now.
Before the pandemic, twin financial and political crises were destabilizing and threatening the survival of the post-Cold War neoliberal order in real time in unprecedented ways.
In 2019, the year before the pandemic, global debt, most of it in the corporate and financial sectors, reached a historic high 320% of global GDP. The IMF warned of possible “GDP shock” caused by elevated “corporate sector vulnerabilities across countries” if the crisis in liquidity was not addressed urgently.
In January 2020, Verisk Maplecroft, the world’s leading risk consultancy, characterized 2019 as a “nadir for political stability worldwide” and warned that “the 2020s appear set to become the decade of rage, unrest and shifting geopolitical sands.”
With the declaration of a global pandemic in March 2020, authentic political life was essentially shutdown worldwide as tens of trillions of dollars in stimulus-fueled liquidity flooded, and continues flooding, the speculative economy. There is almost no news today about either political instability or a looming financial crisis.
The news is about variants, virus surges, masks, possible school openings, etc.
Most people remain patient, but in the face of devastating and still unfolding pandemic-driven economic, social and secondary health impacts, questions about the rationale of the global lock down agenda are frequently manifesting as overt resistance. The political unrest that had been shaking the world for a decade before Covid (Brexit, Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, et al.) has not disappeared. It is latent.
Hannah Arendt observed that revolutions are possible but not necessary answers to a devolution of legitimacy within a particular regime; they are not the cause but rather a possible consequence of the downfall of political authority.
At minimum, I think the sweeping scope and devastating impact of the new Covid regime being implemented by fiat worldwide requires more robust and open democratic debate. Absent such a course correction, it is instructive to explore what forms popular revolt might take.
HURRYING HOME FOR THE REVOLUTION
What kind of person is a revolutionary? Is he or she an armed romantic such as Che Guevara tramping through the jungles of Cuba and South America in search of the capitalist beast? Or is the revolutionary an erudite political theoretician with a novel theory of the state in the mold of lawyerly Lenin? Reaching further back, is George Washington the model revolutionary, leading his starving, smallpox ravaged band of volunteer militiamen through brutal New England winters to vanquish the Imperial British army?
In On Revolution Hannah Arendt writes.
“The role the professional revolutionists played in all modern revolutions…did not consist in the preparation of revolutions. They watched and analysed the progressing disintegration in state and society; they hardly did, or were in a position to do, much to advance and direct it. Not even Lenin’s party of professional revolutionists would ever have been able to ‘make’ a revolution; the best they could do was to be around, or to hurry home, at the right moment, that is, at the moment of collapse.”
Per Arendt, a “revolutionary situation” is not made, but emerges, and is inherently difficult to anticipate. The historical moment is “…not the result of conspiracies or the propaganda of revolutionary parties but the almost automatic outcome of processes of disintegration in the powers-that-be, of their loss of authority.”
Once such a “situation” has emerged, Arendt argues that organized leadership is necessary to recognize it and to seize the opportunity to lay the new foundations of legal or constitutional authority.
Traditional activism, protest, organizing and theorizing are still essential. Although they are rarely decisive by themselves, meaningful change cannot emerge in their absence. Further, the nature of this activism remains vitally important because it is the ground in which future leaders take root. It both shapes and reflects their character and that of the new government.
Consider, for example, how different the ideologically doctrinaire revolutionary leadership looked in Russia at the turn of the 20th century versus the working class leadership of revolt in Eastern bloc nations a generation later, or the improbable sight more than 240 years ago of the landed gentry rising up in New England to issue a Declaration of Independence from the British crown.
Without the slow erosion and eventual collapse of credibility and authority by the regimes they displaced, augmented by citizen engagement and activism, none of these revolutions would have been conceivable.
THE YOGI & THE COMMISSAR
Although Arthur Koestler is most famous for his 1941 novel Darkness at Noon, he was perhaps the only journalist-intellectual in the post-War western world to have twice survived Nazi imprisonment in France as well as incarceration on death row in Seville during the Spanish Civil War, all while working as a British foreign correspondent and a communist double agent.
In 1942, Koestler published a collection of essays titled “The Yogi and the Commissar.” In the title essay, he defined a spectrum of attitudes to life and politics using the analogy of a river for human history, with politics described as pendular swings back and forth between the left (Yogi) and right (Commissar) banks while the deeper currents in the center of the river continue to flow steadily, undisturbed, towards the ocean of humanity’s common destiny.
Koestler saw the Yogi end of the spectrum “melting away in the ultra-violet,” its adherents believing that all change is created by individual effort from within.
The Commissar side of the spectrum was infra-red, its adherents seeing all change as coming from without, requiring the forced reorganization of the material conditions of life.
Koestler’s metaphor is imperfect but nonetheless useful in the time of Covid. The world has entered a kind of wired hyper-reality in which Commissar and Yogi have merged. The technology being used is new, but the operative attitudes of the would be Commissars, now dressed in Yogi garb as caring overlords, are as old as human history itself.
THE NEW YOGI-COMMISSARS
The emergence of modern Yogi-Commissars has been fueled by many factors, not least being the rise of ubiquitous 24/7 media in which human subjectivity is the principle product.
In The Violence of Financial Capitalism, Italian economist Christian Marazzi describes a new form of “cognitive bio-capitalism” that has been spawned by financialization’s invasion of daily life. In this new financialized capitalist milieu, living beings are transformed into fixed capital, while social relations are “put to work” to generate profit.
Marazzi sees this as a fundamental societal shift that represents “the financialization of the reproductive sphere of life itself.“ In Marazzi’s view, financial crises are an inherent feature of wired bio-capitalism and are marked by “a destruction that strikes the totality of human beings, their emotions, feelings, affects, all the ‘resources’ put to work by capital.” (pp. 75-76)
In “24/7 and the Ends of Sleep,” art critic Jonathan Crary takes this analysis a step further by examining the work of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on sleep deprivation with the goal of creating a “sleepless soldier.”
These experiments have now morphed into a focus on creating a “sleepless consumer,” humans who are always wired, always on call, always available as both digital consumers and unpaid producers. This requires the creation of a world in which the divisions between night and day, rest and work, virtual and in-person interaction are being relentlessly obliterated. Even bus and park benches are being redesigned to prevent sleep.
In the new sleepless environment, the weapon of choice is wired “entertainment,” perpetual virtual intrusions (psychological, emotional, spiritual, sexual, financial, artistic) that have become a form of micro-targeted domestic terrorism aimed at creating a malleable, self-degrading performative subject.
DARPA’s central role in the construction of this invasive new virtual world, and of the internet itself, is all the more striking because since 2012, the agency has been funding research into the kinds of mRNA Coronavirus vaccines now being used to ostensibly vaccinate the entire world population against COVID.
DYSTOPIA & DISEASE
The Freedom House annual report hailed 2019, the year before the Coronavirus pandemic, as a period of “courageous mass nonviolent mobilization in defense of democracy and freedom throughout the world.”
By contrast, their annual report for 2020, published March 2021 under the title “Democracy Under Siege,” is described as “…a very sober if not terrifying document, documenting patterns of democratic retrenchment and authoritarian advance worldwide.” Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population are living in a country that faced deterioration of democratic freedom in 2020, including successful efforts to crush peaceful demonstrations while abandoning human rights and the rule of law. This includes the United States, which remains plagued by gun violence, civil volatility and political dysfunction.
The paternalist authoritarianism imposed over the past year reflects a confluence of crises of democracy now bundled under the umbrella of a public health emergency during the Covid pandemic. This new globalized and dangerously medicalized politics highlights the reality not so much of an epidemiological crisis, as a civilizational decline.
As nearly always seems to be the case, the form of this decline was anticipated by Alexis de Tocqueville nearly two hundred years ago.
“After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
Re-civilizing ourselves will not happen according to the electoral calendar. Neither democracy nor civilization itself are episodic events that come around every few years in the form of elections for plutocratic donors. Both are predicated instead on the daily practice and attitude of engaged civil life by regular citizens far outside the suffocating polarization of corporate sponsored parties and virtual election spectacles.
Today’s Yogi-Commissars are inebriated by their new found power, literally drunk on a kind of excited paternalistic hubris. The global $100 trillion climate change agenda predicated on an imminent crisis has been relentlessly pitched to a distracted public for the past 30+ years. Except for a great deal of moral posturing and exquisite hand wringing, and in spite of the shameless use of a confused teenage girl as a harbinger of apocalypse, the sacrifices being demanded by the WEF, World Bank, IMF and UN in order to implement the lucrative climate agenda never gained popular traction. The great majority of humanity continued their carbon belching activities – flying, eating meat, driving SUVs, etc.
With the arrival of the Covid pandemic, the fun is over.
The Yogi-Commissars, armed with decades of mil-spec Psy-Ops research, have anointed themselves the guardians of nature itself through a network of lavishly funded global organizations – Global Green New Deal, Natural Capital Coalition, Great Reset, Fourth Industrial Revolution, C40 Cities, Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunizations, UN Climate Change Conference. They seek not only political and economic power of unprecedented scope and scale, but to dam the river of human destiny.
Such efforts are intrinsically doomed by the nature of history and humanity itself. The river cannot be dammed nor its ultimate destination changed. Our busy Yogi-Commissars can temporarily stir up destructive surface turbulence with their grandiose machinations, but the deeper currents of history are not on their side.
The same interconnected reality that has been exploited to begin reconfiguring all social, political and financial life on earth in one year makes the rapid unraveling of this new order highly likely. Without questioning the need for robust public health responses to the Coronavirus, there has been an overt reliance on dishonest fear mongering that often “feels like an orchestra of corona panic” along with a blizzard of associated official propaganda. These gross distortions are unlikely to survive the acid drip of wired pop culture for any extended period of time.
Completely mainstream comedians and purportedly august journals of political opinion are already beginning to question official narratives. This kind of popular critique is too little and too tepid, but it is also a harbinger that opens the door to popular consensus building against the most oppressive elements of the new pandemic regime.
Each of us is called upon to keep our wits in order to navigate these choppy waters with vision, intelligence, persistence, vigilance and engagement. Both the thrill and danger of the most intense rapids lie ahead.
César Chávez and the Embodiment of Hope