Even if the artists don't realise it.
This essay is very applicable to post-Soviet Russian history and current Russian politics. The 90’s were a time of a useless (or mostly useless) state dominated by the oligarchs who were actually just organized crime. Most western liberals seem to be incapable of believing that Russians would actually vote for Putin. But they do, many Russians who don’t even particularly like Putin’s politics vote for him.
The reason is that he’s proven to be capable. He put the state back together. Not single-handedly of course but the capability of his power was the driving force. And the majority of Russian people have benefited from the state being rebuilt as a relatively capable institution. That’s where the trust in Putin comes from. Everyone over 30 and especially over 40 knows first hand what’s coming for the west as described in the essays of the last two weeks. And they know that they escaped it. They give a lot of credit for that to Putin, rightfully so. They deeply understand the necessity of capability. (As an aside, the performative nature of Russian liberals modeled on that of the west doesn’t find much purchase for the same reason Russians generally trust Putin.)
Excellent essay . Two comments
1. “ Since it is now clear that most western governments have difficulty distinguishing fact from fantasy, there is no particular reason why we should believe them. Heaven alone knows what the public reaction will be as the full extent of the Ukraine shambles begins to unfold.” So true . We await the chaos (see recent essay by James Carden).
2. Also on Ukraine . A perfect real life example of your point that in Western societies adrift in aimless liberalism , when state systems break down, criminals and fanatics are the most likely to emerge as leaders . After the months of Maidan Square protests had bogged down in meaningless performance art, a dedicated group of murderous Banderist fanatics used extreme violence ( mass murders of both police and protesters by trained hidden snipers ) successfully to precipitate the power change they sought in Ukraine . One of their leaders boasted about it afterwards on mass media . “it was just a gay parade until we made things happen”.
"But the greatest weakness at all levels in modern political culture is one that I’ve touched on several times in these essays: the modern preference for performative acts and speech in place of actual practical activity, and the tendency to confuse the one with the other. Of course, this approach only succeeds as long as really critical problems don’t come along: Covid is perhaps a foretaste of the performative way in which our political elites fool themselves they are managing problems, when they are really just trying to use words to make them go away."
Something I wrote a while back:
These people don't live in The Real World.
The US in general and its elites in particular, in and out of MSM, government and the military, live in a world increasingly consumed by symbol, spectacle and abstraction. Not only that, but they confuse wish-fulfillment with reality. Decide that you're going to identify as a different gender, race, ethnicity, hell, decide that you're a member of a different species and woe betide anyone who doesn't go along with the charade. They might even get themselves "cancelled".
Hell, even the consequences of their (symbolic) actions are themselves largely symbolic. Melvin didn't get to put on a TED talk because someone dug up an old Tweet of his and now he's "literal Hitler" for a while.
For that matter, the truly Great and Good rarely even face those kinds of consequences. They can cause institutions to fail everywhere they go - but as long as they parrot today's approved platitudes, they glide from internship to government sinecure to think tank to academia to to financial services to corporate board to to consulting gig to MSM Talking Head, sometimes more than one simultaneously. Most probably never having had a 9-5 job, much less done farm or factory work, in their lives. These days, they may never even physically show up to work, ever, but their bank accounts rarely seem to reflect this.
They can even engage in outright fraud, but a big enough fish will only pay a fine, a portion of his ill-gotten gains. Meanwhile, he remains as free as a bird, and probably doesn't even face social ostracism. Last I checked, Jon Corzine is not on the naughty list of the people who matter.
Since results don't matter and there are few consequences for losing, even for catastrophe, everything becomes a matter of spin. All problems can be solved with better P.R., and there is no greater triumph than when some newscaster recites that glib talking point you just coined or when your FB post went viral, your instagram noticed by the right kind of influencer. In other words, winning is a matter of successful symbol manipulation. Speaking of spin, virtue signaling is an obsession, even unto rank hypocrisy, and the Davos Set think nothing of flying a private jet to a conference where they can congratulate themselves on their commitment to stopping climate change. Again, if there are to be any consequences, then those are for the little people to deal with.
Even in their dwindling contact with the physical world, the elites live in a world of wish-fulfillment.
Push a button and whatever food or whatever else you want is brought to your door by some peon, paid for seamlessly by some electrons exchanged between banks that may not even have a physical location within a thousand miles of your location, if they have locations at all. Hell, you can even get laid via internet, just swipe right on the lucky profile. Everything is taken care of in the background, your credit card billed and airline miles accumulated automatically and the food or the girl just show up. Somehow. By Uber, I guess. Mundane questions like "How do I feed the human kittens this week and pay for school supplies and make the rent?" never come into the equation.
These are people who confuse their fantasies with reality to the point where they actually believe their own press releases. They give an order and it happens. They proclaim their puppets in Kabul to be wise and stable technocrats, their well-trained military striding from triumph to triumph and So Let It Be Done, So Let It Be Written. "So let it be written" - that's the word, that's all that need be done and the little people just somehow make it happen. For sheer lack of contact with the real world, these people make Louis XVI look like a medieval gong farmer or a pygmy tribesman by comparison.
Contrast the Taliban. Symbol, spectacle and abstraction mean very little to them. Doordash doesn't operate in their area and if a Talib wants a vegan option, he'll have to provide for it himself. It has probably never occurred to a Talib that he could cancel his enemies simply by digging up their old tweets, sent under a long discarded Twitter ID, and he doesn't have time for that, anyway. He lives in the world of concrete and material things, he thinks nothing of killing and in his world, there are bullets waiting to kill him quite literally dead and transport him to a very earthly and very earthy sort of paradise.
You can't wish those things away, your credit cards are no good and probably <i>rifa</i>, anyway, and the bullet flying towards him isn't concerned with word games, his upcoming struggle session to root out unconscious racism and cannot be reasoned with or convinced to bother someone less important.
The world of American elites collided with the world of the Taliban and got its ass kicked. Biden and his crew cannot deal with this, because that kind of reality does not select for success in symbol manipulation, any more than skill at football selects for an ability to do math problems.
The clownish Western response to the COVID is similar. The virus can't be negotiated with, can't be bought off, can't be distracted, and is unimpressed with you and how highly you may think of yourself.
This essay reminds me of gourmet French cuisine. Each course opens to another delicious gustatory vista but taken altogether in combination, at the end even a much welcome digestif cannot ease the sense of being simply too full! You touch on many topics, many of which need more clarification or depth and linger even as the next intriguing course is served up. I cannot now recall them having just finished and do not wish to go through again. Too rich! (This is a friendly, appreciative criticism, not a complaint!)
A few points I can still extract, despite the bloat!
Leadership and followership. This one is worth further exploration. Maybe the Power book you recommend has it, but I think of them as symbiots like yin and yang. One cannot exist without the other, each creates the other. A leader without followers is not a leader. Etc. Early on you said that followers follow because that way the world works well. True on some levels but on other levels its more instinctive having to do with herd mentality impulses, some of which are innate some ingrained by whatever culture/society one is in. There is an art and a science to this leader-followership business.
Power dynamic: the masses (aka 'we the people') give power to the leadership class, usually personified by a single President or Monarch. And in smaller groups the majority empower the one or more who are in charge. We then surrender a huge amount of agency but will only revolt when pushed into an extremely dysfunctional situation, so although the power has a fundamentally balanced yin-yang dynamic as per above, it is extremely imbalanced once a group or individual has been granted power by followers, they have the upper hand in terms of initiative and momentum. If they are corrupt, as most leadership classes or systems tend to get over time, it's very difficult to dislodge them. I suspect the tendency to conform, to go along with the group, is at the heart of this. And we keep conforming even when things don't go well. Sometimes this is good - endurance, fortitude, loyalty despite pressure etc. - but sometimes not. Like nowadays. The times are out of joint and We The People must rebalance our societies and yet we are failing to do so, to the possible ruin of us all, possibly even upcoming bloodbaths like the upheavals earlier last century.
Your point about performance arising out of not seeing reality clearly, or rather fantasy. Great topic. I believe this is a natural result of the Enlightenment which leaned into a reductionist materialist view whose main daily manifestation is the erroneous belief - for that is all it is - in 'objective reality', a fictive construct that makes a lot of sense but is never more than a cognitive construct. The problem is not so much that it is scientifically unverifiable or even fallacious, but that it inevitably results in a view that regards life and life forms as fundamentally mechanical. Regarding life as mechanical results in many unintended consequences in that by allowing this view to dominate political, social, educational, artistic theories and practices, our overall view as human beings essentially, we begin to narrow our field of what we regard as important, or 'real', or essential to pay attention to and in so doing we fail to pay attention to considerably larger spectrum of experience outside this materialistic dead end wherein lies most of what is so precious and marvellous about human existence and the possible cultures we can create and enjoy together and which we are now losing. But with materialism: why is unrealism/fantasy the result? Again, because the objective reality so fervently believed in is a fantasy in itself, made of internal storylines we culturally share. A construct. An abstraction. We worship at the shrine of abstraction which of course is a type of fantasy.
So it is hardly surprising that we are becoming increasingly untethered as a society because we have been collectively paying attention to the wrong things, essentially captured by a contemporary Modern Age form of primitive beliefs and superstitions. And those things we have been paying attention to are soulless, mechanical, system theory, financial, 'progress', technology and so forth. And not fully human, imaginative, kind, playful, creative, artistic, elegant, deep, wise, compassionate and so forth.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!
Keep up the great work!!!
I agree with your observation that the Ukraine fiasco reflects the limits of narrative control. Within the US, the power structure (consisting of wealthy interests acting through a single acceptable party with the assistance of corporate owned media, the censorship industrial complex and the fervent acquiescence of most of the ‘educated’ class) can construct whatever reality they choose (COVID is over and never existed, Russiagate never happened, Hunter is just a wayward son, no one knows who blew up that pipeline, etc etc) but narrative control can’t overcome the reality of Russian weapons. Our leadership class became so entranced by their power to control the narrative at home that they convinced themselves the same tricks would work on the ROW but found only the European audience ready to go along. Is it possible they will decide to surrender their dream of global hegemony in order to preserve (or at least temporarily perpetuate) the magic of narrative control at home? Examples such as North Korea and Albania suggest that can be an effective medium term strategy.
"There are parts of the outskirts of French cities where the State might as well not exist. Such power as there is, is held by gangs, who fight among themselves to control the drugs trade. The Police don’t go there, because they are conceived, as is every other part of the state apparatus including schools, doctors and even postmen, as “the enemy”: just another rival gang to be fought if they enter your territory and even more if they dispute your “power.” And such gangs do have “power” in a practical sense: they can control entry and exit to areas by demanding to see identity papers, for example."
Perhaps I don't understand the situation, but would it be accurate to say that the French state has de facto ceded authority over such areas?
The state could reclaim such authority if it wanted to pay the price, but since such estates are basically a human warehouse anyway, the state is happy to let the gangs run the place, as long as whatever the gangs do doesn't spill over and interfere with the lives of solid citizens.
Ive been aware of this...trend...for some time. But nobody wanted to even contemplate it...too big, and all.
from my POV, we're simply allowing Hobbes' State of Nature to be recreated, all around us...and for at least 50 years. I mean what is Neoliberalism if not that?
"There's no such thing as society"...hyperindividualism and every person an Enterprise....a Brand...set against all the other hyperindividualised motes.
out here in the wilderness, i've long expected warlordism to be the go-to organisational form, as the State, etc recedes. not enough profit, etc to continue to exert control way out here.
in my tiny, isolated community, one can even get a lil high and think real hard and identify just who among the local gentry is likely to attempt to fulfill that role.
Ive tried to prepare for this for 30 years, by building on mutual aide and neighborliness...immediate neighbors(at least 3/4 mile away) get veggies and canned peaches and me looking out for their cattle when they're on my side of their place, etc.
if Orlov, et alia have taught us anything, its that "no man is an island", and that it really does "take a village". even the Mountain Men came down to the flats for whiskey and sugar.
so, begin at your doorstep in building your village, and move outwards from there.
good luck to you all.
There is one other type of organization that can and, in my opinion, will try grabbing the reins of the collapsing society. In fact it has been doing so more and more these post-soviet years.
That is the transnational business. The monopolization and the influence of private business on the societies all over the world is huge, arguably, much bigger than ever. They employ and feed millions of people, they control governments not only through money but through coercion - their economic interests are spread out enough for them to be able to close with one hand a factory or two in an especially uncooperative place, create thousands of unemployed that the government can not and will not be able to support and with another hand to blame it all on that government. They can and do manipulate the media being the owners of it, they can and do manipulate the policies, the research, everything, because everything is now outsourced. They have private security, some even private military. Perhaps not enough to hold vast territories but why would they want a bunch of useless land and people if they can secure just enough space to continue profitable operations and expansion?
In this context, I found Dmitry Orlov's "Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects" to be a very worthwhile read. It describes the actual playing out of many if not most of the possibilities Aurelien is presenting, during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ironic that the very type of collapse the west imagined it was inflicting on Russia, was, for them, a case of been there, done that, learned the lessons, moving forward. But it's hastened the west's own appointment in Samarra. I've no idea how we'll cope. Thank you for this - clarity is enormously satisfying, even when it's dismal.
Excellent essay, I agree with everything you say. Except your conclusion is incorrect.
You omit three salient points. First, the degrading of Western civilization as it goes past its peak and starts its long descent is not an entirely natural process. Its also been exaggerated and manipulated by hidden forces. Such as Soros and those that have pushed Cultural Marxism's march thru the institutions. They have exploited the 'pandemic', started a war and created an energy crisis in Europe. Their organizations include the WEF, Woke, BLM and they now control Biden. They have an agenda. As a result of which America, France, Holland, Germany and even England betray signs of impending chaos and the loss of civil society.
Second, it is no accident that our societies are in danger of degenerating into chaos and anarchy. Marx made it quite clear that his suggested pathway to political power is to create a social breakdown whilst reducing the State's powers to control society. Then a small, dedicated band of true believers are able to offer certainty and safety. An alternative power nexus to Muslim extremists and organized crime.
Third, this alternative organization exists. Its known as Common Purpose and thus has the same initials as its original name - its the Communist Party rebranded. Mostly staffed by university graduates who joined the International Socialists. They intend to offer the organizational structure needed in a time of chaos and social breakdown. That you're not aware of them only shows how well organized they are. They reach from the UK cabinet office, into the elite levels of the police, military and government bureaucracies. They went international some time ago. They have been researched and exposed. But almost no one is aware of their role in our (soon to be) collapsing society.
"Although it has 80,000 trainees in 36 cities, 18,000 graduate members and enormous power, Common Purpose is largely unknown to the general public."
UK Column News also has some excellent analysis of their organization.
Your content is above average, and concise, relevant. Do not fall into the trap of writing on a schedule. Not every day is a news day, not all issues are pertinent.
Thinking it over some more, the charade will go on, unless and until the police and the army refuse to obey orders, specifically, the order to shoot.
As long as the police and army will continue to follow orders, then the people running France, Europe, and the West will continue to sleep safely in their beds, no matter how badly they screw up, no matter how many catastrophes could have been avoided, no matter how much the lives of their citizens decline.
And rest assured, if it comes to that, they will give the order to shoot without hesitation. If a Blinken, a Baerbock, a Stoltenberg, a Macron, were given the choice, push The Button and 99% of life on Earth will be wiped out, but you and your fellow elites will have unfettered dominion over whatever is left, they would push The Button without a second thought if that were the price of power.
In this, the leaders of the West are no different from most leaders in most places throughout history. Just that these leaders have more available means of coercion at their disposal.
A thought provoking article, I think its concept needs to be taken a step further: The main problem is not even the incapability to address real problems, it's the incapability to recognize real problems.
Take the corona crisis as an example. I'll argue the real problem was not the virus itself, but our aging societies. Allow me to explain:
The risk of complications due to COVID-19 and the corresponding mortality rate increased significantly with age. Using Dutch data for both the number of deaths per age group (in 5 year cohorts) and the country's demographic data, I calculated the mortality rate per age group.
These mortality rates per age group can be used to calculate the theoretical number of COVID-19 deaths for situations with different demographics. I did this for the Dutch population in 1969, when it was both smaller and - more importantly - much younger. As a result, the calculated number of COVID-19 deaths was approximately the same as the number of excessive deaths caused by the infamous Asian flu.
Which is interesting, because back then, when according to Aurelien, societies were much more capable to address real problems, barely any measures were taken to deal with the Asian flue. It simply wasn't recognized as a crisis worth significantly addressing.
This actually matches with the example from the article about the harassed Mayor or Prefect: The described response is not only an inability to deal with a real problem, but an inability to recognize said problem as being real.
Moving forward, this suggests more self-imposed 'crises' that 50 years ago would not have been considered worth responding to, while real problems are not being addressed.
There is a possibly apocryphal anecdote from the Russian Revolution which aptly illustrates your main point about performative, as opposed to real, power, ability to get things done. At one of the mass meetings between the February Revolution and the October seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, a speaker was at the podium, addressing the meeting about the future course of events.
"One thing we can all agree on," he said. "No one here is going to seize power."
Lenin, in the audience, stood up. "You're wrong," he said to the speaker. "We are willing to seize power."
What did Lenin say? Power was laying in the ditch...?
In my little backwater, fortunately things are really looking peachy in comparison. Including within governments.
One quibble though. There was in fact little visible repression in Romania. Mostly the rumor of it. I gI grew up into young adulthood during Ceausescu's rule and wouldn't chage an iota. Some , that didn't like the absence of consumer products tried to run away. And many of them succeded.
From what a former supervisor, graduate of Stanford and well travelled said from first eye experience, the situation in NK did't appear to be that glum either. People are people... and power is working pretty much the same way regardless of polity...
People across the Western world are grasping for solutions for why the world has become so s**t and have found a diverse range of ideologies, solutions and people to blame. Resource and energy depletion, diminishing returns on research and innovation and even environmental damage are massively downplayed. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when a system has become so obviously inept and is hated by so many, but there are such diverse views of how to deal with it and what to replace it with.
I suspect that much of the mass immigration into the west engineered by the Western elites and the associated promotion of (neo)liberal critical theory (hardly a better ideology to divide people) has been done specifically to create divided populations of plebs fighting each other and blaming each other for their respective hardships rather than one united population capable of seriously threatening the system (look at how the establishment started pushing critical theory in its various ghastly iterations after enough people protested in movements like leftist/disident Occupy following the 2008 debacle). If you get people fighting on race lines or over nonsense theories about gender then the establishment can take the side of one group that could challenge them and pit them against another.