A post really wasn’t coming together on all this stuff on the anti-lockdown ‘movement’ among the US right. However, I wanted a bunch of links in one place to come back to later. The whys and the hows and whos and how it all connects to money, oil and denial is sort of there. I intended just a list of links but you get a rambling post instead. Somehow Jonestown and the Last Jedi get connected in here. More after the fold.
Sarah Hoyt’s latest imagines scenarios she sees as possible positive outcomes from the pandemic. One person’s utopia is another’s dystopia I guess. https://accordingtohoyt.com/2020/04/17/the-paths-ahead-pie-in-the-sky It starts with mass protests soon targetting governors (which have already occurred) and then Trump saves the day somehow and because she imagines most Americans think like her a grateful nation elects him again in a landslide.
“In ten years, from a happy, prosperous America starting to colonize space, we look back at this moment of utter insanity and say “yeah, but without it, the breakage of the old institutions would have been slower, more painful, and we’d have ended up in a more centralized and less free society.””
Revolution fantasies are a hell of a drug.
If Hoyt’s piece seem more than a tad panicky, remember that she absolutely convinced that the current measure in the US will lead to a famine. I didn’t link to this PJ Media piece earlier because it is behind the paywall and it largely says the same stuff as her other pieces but it has the clearest quote about this specific fear. https://pjmedia.com/blog/we-risk-killing-civilization-in-our-panicked-fear-of-individual-death/
‘If the phony lockup but real destruction of the economy goes on for another month (And Colorado just extended ours to the 26th of April) there will be if not outright famine – and I’d bet on outright famine, given that, among other things, we’re losing all imported food and already crops are being plowed under – a severe food shortage with rationing. The number of businesses destroyed, lives blighted, and industries that will never come back will be too numerous to count. Our unemployment rate is going to give us real homeless, i.e. those who can’t afford homes, not those who choose to live outside society, which is mostly the homeless we’ve had. ‘
What is fascinating there is the essay is mainly a criticism of everybody else having a panicked fear of death (that is literally in the title) but her overwhelming tone is a panicked fear of death but from an imagined famine.
The key thing to remember is that this dual fear and expectation of both disaster and revolution was already there prior to the pandemic. Sections of the US right from the pseudo-libertarians to the more overt far right, have been talking about civil war, civil unrest and quasi-revolutions for a long time. The idea took stronger hold during the Obama administration and has only increased during the Trump years. It is a free-floating anxiety, if Trump had lost in 2016 it would have mutated into a state-rights version with threats of secession.
One manifestation of that toxic fear-anticipation on the right is the prepper subculture [eta this podcast has an interesting analysis of preppers in these times https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/why-preppers-werent-really-prepared-pandemic ] . Preparing from civil-war, natural disaster, totalitarian dystopia, zombie-apocalypse scenarios is born both out of fear but also, having invested time, attention, money and effort into preparing, it encourages an anticipation of disaster. Lo and behold, here is a worldwide pandemic and…it’s not following the movie script. A key premise of the mentality is that disaster=social-collapse=dog-eat-dog world. The notion of individuals essentially in conflict with each other is one of those ideas that acts as a kind of ideological conduit between different right-wing movements in the US.
- Prepper outlook: if society collapses then, regretably, it will be every man for themselves.
- Libertarian outlook: human nature is every man for themselves and free market capitalism is rational way to harness that into a civilisation.
- Fascist outlook: the strongest and most ruthless should rule and that is what will happen when it is every man for themselves.
The hope-fear of social collapse runs through not just specifically right wing politics but also within less ideologically moored groups. Charles Manson’s murderous micro-cult Family killed motivated by the borrowed ‘Helter Skelter’ theory of a coming race war. Jim Jones’s People’s Temple spiralled into a murder-suicide ideation fuelled by Jones’s quasi-communistic ideals fuelled by certainty of a coming nuclear war. The sense that things can’t last and that change can only mean destruction is a recurring thread within American fringe beliefs. That 2020 has brought an apocalypse that has a slow, laid-back script where people stay at home and watch Netflix is almost seen as an offence to the classics in the way that Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi offended* much the same people.
No, I’m not saying that if you dislike the Last Jedi then you are Charles Manson. I’m saying that there is a undercurrent of belief on the right especially that demands adherence to narrative forms that they apply not just to Gen-X film directors or She-Ra reboots but to REALITY itself.
Speaking of which, here is a link to a heady mix of prepper and gun-rights mentality in light of the covid-19 pandemic. https://medium.com/handwaving-freakoutery/the-covid-19-boogaloo-opus-51b1c1b860cd
‘And that’s the last element we need to start shooting each other.
Although I’m a prepper, and I’ve got plenty of food in my garage, you may not be. And if I was you, and my children were starving, I might try to shoot someone and take their food. And if you are you, and you try to do that to me, you might get shot. Expand to the national case.
If that happens, we will have the Tools for the Boogaloo, which are guns. We will have the Dehumanization for the Boogaloo, which is our political and cultural tribalism. And we will finally have the Motivation for the Boogaloo, which is our kids need to eat.’
‘Boogaloo’ is a kind of great-grandchild to ‘Helter-Skelter’: a seemingly innocuous term lifted from popular culture, that seems almost ironic but which refers to an imagined (perhaps anticipated) violent conflict in the USA. See here https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Alt-right_glossary
‘Boogaloo, boogalo, boog, and big igloo are code words for race war and the second American Civil War. The term boogaloo is derived from the 1984 movie Breakin ‘2: Electric Boogaloo and is commonly used phrase online to indicate any sort of sequel.’
This nexus between political anticipation, far-right politics and speculative fiction is a thread that weaves many of the topics and characters we’ve met before on this blog. Vox Day’s Castalia House has repeatedly spuriked fiction and non-fiction around the concept of “4th Generation Warfare”. Described in this Salon piece as:
“Fourth Generation Warfare is a conflict between a state actor and a non-state 4GW actor. The 4GW actor can be driven by ideas, religion, or the defense of the “purity of its race.” The central objective is to undermine and destroy the legitimacy of the state actor, to deny the state actor a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and to use manipulations of moving images and other psychological warfare techniques to remove affective support from the state actor. Psychological warfare would be more important than military operations.”
Conceived by paleo-conservative William S Lind (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Lind ) the concept is often presented on the right as a kind of analysis of warfare rather than as an aspirational goal. Lind himself pushed the concept via the medium of speculative fiction in the novel “Victoria: A Novel of 4th generation warfare” (currently published as an ebook by…you guessed it…Castalia House aka Vox Day). The novel is part of what is the most horrific sub-genre of speculative fiction: far-right civil warfare fantasies. Less overtly neo-fascist than the infamous ‘Turner Diaries’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Turner_Diaries ) the underlying idea is the same. It is fiction as dress rehearsal for violent extremism. In the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election, Baen made Tom Kratman’s Texan secession/civil-war fantasy “A State of Disobedience” available for free. Pitched ideologically further away from Paleo-conservatism and more to constitutional-pseudo-libertarianism, it shares the common idea that the only way the perceived cultural conflict in America will be resolved will be via a war. Kratman himself (in a comment at Vox Day’s blog) overtly connected the move to the election.
“Talked to Toni, just today. Though it is not, IMNSHO, a great book, A State of Disobedience is a prescient one, and great, if nothing else, for sending the left apoplectic. So we’re just going to give it away, for free, to screw that rancid twat Hillary while the screwing is good.”
Of course, we don’t need an extended theory about the chain of socio-political narrative eschatology running through American culture (right and left but always with a gravitational pull rightwards) to explain why individuals might find lockdowns and social-distancing measures upsetting or threatening. They are a significant exercise by governments to restrict what ordinary people can do and the various rules do create opportunities for those who like to abuse power to abuse power. Of course, where nations have stronger democracies and stronger systems of accountability for those in power (e.g. holding police to account for abuses), the less problematic lockdown measures are. In the USA, however, the same right-wing that is chafing under the reduced freedom of movement is exactly the same right-wing that has sharply eroded both democracy and accountability as well as faith and trust in institutions.
Protests like this one https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/15/michigan-coronavirus-protest-stay-home-order-gretchen-whitmer are therefore both instigated by the right and a side-effect of the right’s past actions. The economic impact of Covid-19 is exacerbated by the lack of a social safety net and by decades of villification of the idea of government spending.
Similar side-effects can be seen in the UK, which lacks the degree of influence of some of the cultural narratives above but which has had a sharply eroded social-safety net due to Conservative Party austerity measures over the past decade and a similarly weakened health system. These factors combine to make lockdown measures both more necessary (because health systems have less capacity to cope) and more painful both to individuals and the economy. Where centre-right governments have NOT ideologically rejected the need for social-democratic policies as a kind of insurance policy against the worst aspects of capitalism, their nations have fared much better in all three dimensions of economic impact, social cooperation with social distancing (not that everybody is happy with it obviously) and actual health outcomes.
Which takes me to the third pillar of right-wing ideology that is working for the virus: the war on expertise. I’ve written far too much (also not enough) on global warming denial here. It’s a signature aspect of the cognitive decline of 21st century conservatism but it has twin roots in the 20th century. Corporate propaganda by multiple industries against legislation on pollution, pesticides, smoking, car-safety built its own network of lobby groups and astro-turf campaigns designed to spread doubt about scientific evidence. Symbiotically, this assault on reason from corporate conservatism was a twin to the resurgent fundamentalist Christian wing of American conservatism. Those parallel skills where further employed in the ongoing hotspots of political debate in the US of guns and abortion. The net impact was a section of the US population who had been repeatedly propagandised into a deep distrust of expertise.
That is obviously a bad situation to be in during a pandemic.
This article at Science looks at the issues as it is playing out among Republican lawmakers: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/us-conservatives-who-detest-climate-models-add-new-target-coronavirus-models#
“A vocal set of conservative critics in the United States have upped their attacks recently on the data modeling behind the novel coronavirus response, and they claim—despite scientific evidence to the contrary—that the flaws also prove the limits of climate change forecasts.”
There is not a way to disentangle what is honest belief and what is bad faith here. Somehow, the modern Republican party is in a double-think status of both things simultaneously. Bad-faith self-deception is perhaps the best description. After decades of anti-expertise propaganda, yes, they probably do believe the nonsense they come out with but also, yes, the denial about covid-19 is motivated by a need to discredit scientific experts and models to protect fossil fuel business owners from anti-global warming legislation. Trading off people’s natural confusion when confronted with models (model’s themselves, as I’ve discussed before, being a kind of honest fiction https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-models-arent-supposed-be-right/609271/ ) to generate distrust and stoke fear.
I’ve discussed before that when it comes to motives, Ockham’s razor doesn’t really apply. A person having MORE (and more complex) motives for a given action makes them more likely to act, so the most parsimonious explanation (i.e. focusing on a single motive as predominant) is not always the best explanation. With the covid-19 pandemic we have a veritable car-crash of 21st century US conservatism.
So there should be no surprise in what we find when the current spat of protests in the US against governors is examined more closely. The framing is in terms of constitutional rights and liberty but underneath the cyrpto-fascist alt-right groups are involved also.
“While protesters in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and other states claim to speak for ordinary citizens, many are also supported by street-fighting rightwing groups like the Proud Boys, conservative armed militia groups, religious fundamentalists, anti-vaccination groups and other elements of the radical right.”
I don’t doubt for a second that there really are some ‘ordinary citizens’ involved in those protests as well. Spend decades building mistrust in government by propaganda, enforced incompetence through spending cuts to vital services and active misuse of power and people will have cause to believe Ronald Reagan’s toxic epigram:
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. “https://www.reaganfoundation.org/ronald-reagan/reagan-quotes-speeches/news-conference-1/
It’s a clever sound bite and let’s be frank, people all over the world have just cause to fear the government of the United States of America. However, in exactly the kind of crisis where you really need the government to actually help, it is a mindset that could be fatal.
The more disturbing corollary is the attitude among the right that takes a step from “the government can only cause harm” to “the government should cause harm”. The idea of a punitive government, Orwell’s vision of the future as a “boot stamping on a human face – forever” is why I refer to ‘pseudo-libertarians’ because when the notion of what minimal functions they believe the government should have they are almost always the punitive functions. This is yet another reason why the step from internet-libertarian to internet-fascist has never be difficult or inexpiicable or requiring complex re-writings of political spectrums. Slipping from the proposition that government is bad to government should be bad is like rolling down hill.
For the federal government the phenomenon of broad-spectrum bad government is on full display. Not unlike motives, it is another space where Ockham’s Razor is no longer in force. It is not an open question as to what is malice, what is ignorance and what is incompetence, it is all of those things. To risk cliche and quote Orwell again, Trump’s presidency epitomises the IngSoc slogan “Ignorance is Strength”. Undermine the quality of data (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/04/us-coronavirus-outbreak-out-control-test-positivity-rate/610132/ ) build distrust and attack those who are acting in good faith.
So there should be no surprise that Trump is backing protestors attacking governors who are enacting policies that Trump’s government officially endorses.
President Donald Trump has appeared to endorse protests against stringent lockdown measures in several states.
‘In a series of tweets, he said: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and then “LIBERATE VIRGINIA”.’https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52330531
Of course, the target states have governors from the opposition party. However, even people within Trump’s administration are targetted by his supporters. Returning to Sarah Hoyt:
‘Speaking of feeding on itself: we’re not only suffering rule by experts, but we’re suffering rule by geeks with no perspective of anything else. I DO yield to just about anyone in my admiration for Dr. Fauci. He is a “political expert.” I.e. a scientific expert with a talent for politics. I’m always wary of those. His history is patchy. But dear lord, he has the limelight and he loves it, and he’ll NEVER relinquish it willingly. So never expect him to give the all-clear. He’s now saying that “hey, we will let you out when there are no more cases.” and asking us to bear the “inconvenience” which tells you he has no clue what the shutdown is doing to the economy and people’s lives.’https://accordingtohoyt.com/2020/04/06/a-plague-of-madness/
Or as she calls him in a PJ Media essay discussed earlier “the totalitarian doctor Fauci”.
Fiction is powerful. It has the power to self-referentially reshape our own minds. It is true that science fiction can help us imagine crisis scenarios but it has no innate positive power. It can help us think but like anything with genuine power it can be used to systemically confuse ourselves and others. Perhaps we should be surprised that people who picture themselves as the tough rugged colonial frontier spirit who could go without luxuries and live cooped up in the silver-age rockets are freaking out about a journey of a few months (with some genuine hardship – I don’t want to minimise that this year WILL be hard and possibly deadly for many). However, they are at a nexus of both hope and fear and I don’t know how that will resolve itself.