Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Islamic State and the Long Con

According to the government, New Zealand needs protecting from a threat so dire, so insidious and destructive, that the best option – nay, the only option – is for this country to send its elite troops to the Middle East and help crush it back into the sand from whence it came.

If we don’t do this, the threat will emerge on our shores (how?) if we don’t stop it, says our government. Therefore guns and killing and law changes are necessary so that the danger can be mitigated. Thanks goodness for the government.

But I know a long con when I see one.

Let’s start with a thought experiment. Before you first heard about the Islamic State (IS) sometime earlier this year, did your way of life feel in any way threatened by terrorism? That’s an important question because the whole premise of the government’s argument rests on you saying yes.

Because by the way the Western world is talking about the group, the minimally prudent thing to do right now would be for each of us to buy a gun. A big one. And hide out on the rooftops with plenty of PowerAde and sunscreen (bring a hat). The Islamic State are coming - in fact…is that clouds of dust I see on the horizon? Nope, just a Fonterra tanker.

If you answer yes to the above question, where did you hear that New Zealand absolutely, positively needs to send its troops to Iraq and fight the Islamic State? You probably heard it from the media, right?

I don’t blame you, the past few months of international news has been dominated by pictures and stories of the “rampaging” horde militants. The world’s a big place, but apparently it only stretches from Basra to Aleppo. Feeding us which threat to worry about isn’t even close to the long con, it’s just advertising for a product. The conman’s mark is still you, but the con isn’t about war.

Advertising has this theory that if you see an ad, then it’s probably for you. Ads are the most pure form of medium to glimpse how the system truly sees us, that’s why they’re so fascinating to analyse. But a billboard or 30 second TV spot aren’t the only kinds of ads. The ones on the front pages of newspapers are just as strong.

We all have busy lives and can’t watch all the trouble spots around the world, but does anyone know what’s happening in the Central African Republic? I’m not diluting the horror in that country just to make a cheap point, but does our government give speeches about how we need to uphold international security in that African state?

What about going into Syria where all those meddlesome terrorists are being spawned in the first place? No, of course it isn’t. And there’s a reason for that. The problems in CAR and Syria are largely impossible to fix by outside powers and besides, they don’t fit the requirements of the long con.

Think about where you keep hearing about IS and all the bad things it does. Are they really worse than other bad people around the world? How would you know they’re worse, you’re not even paying attention to other conflicts, I just introduced you to the CAR. But all you hear about is the Islamic State and how we’re doomed if we don’t fight it. Isn’t that a bit suspicious?

The long con isn’t to keep the Western world fighting endless wars so the greedy corporations and corrupt government can stay in power. It’s not even about perpetuating a threat to society and encouraging an “us vs them” mentality just so that the government can step in and save us from time to time.

No matter how much the National government acts nonchalantly ambivalent about the low voter turnout in this year’s election, they’re desperate to remain relevant in people’s lives. So they tell us we’re facing an existential threat and all of a sudden they’re re-legitimised as society’s relevant power structure. But they’re not relevant anymore and it scares the faecal matter out of them.

The government is warning us of the coming collapse of society from terrorism because they’ve lost the power. And I mean the true power. It’s slipping through their fingers and they’ve no idea what to do about it because all they have are a defunct set of old answers to the new problems. Hence why “we should totally kill them” ends up being this government’s first resort.

Attacking the Islamic State is the easy way out because that’s all the people in power know how to implement. We’ve become superbly good at fighting conventional warfare with bombs and fighter aircraft and SAS troops, especially against conventional targets like artillery and concentrated Islamic State positions. They’ve got no chance, that’s why they died in the hundreds last week.

So when an option appears to actually open that military garage and drive these solutions around, most Western governments clamber to grab the keys and take the military for a spin.

Bombs are “really cool” and intensely visual, and for a visual culture such as ours, they offer an indelibly strong imagery portraying exactly what the powerful people need to portray: “See, we are doing something to keep you safe!” But it’s an illusion. Even worse, if violence is the main solution then it’s not actually going to keep us safe either.

It’s not truly about our safety. That’s the long con. Fighting Islamic terrorism is about desperately building up the eroding legitimacy of a failing political power structure that’s in the midst of a deep democratic existential crisis of relevancy.

The government has only ever drawn a semblance of power from the citizens who thought that it was, actually, powerful. In many ways, government is a human-acted version of fiat money: we give it the arbitrary value but it exists only in our heads. Without that mental support, all we’re dealing with is colourful paper and people in shiny suits.

Our kids are going to wonder how the hell we managed to spend trillions of dollars fighting a threat that’s only killed perhaps twenty thousand Western citizens in 25 years. Each of those deaths should be mourned, there’s no question about that. But 1.5 million people died last year from curable diseases alone. Where’s the outrage? Oh, that’s right, curable disease deaths don’t fit the requirements of the long con.

We’re being told the sky is falling due to a largely defunct and increasingly unpopular ideology of Islamic terrorism. That ideology has never been weaker, despite what the headlines preach. So what’s really going on with this fear? Because if neither the government nor its citizens can stand the thought that we might just live in the best era humans have ever experienced, it might be something pathological.

Thankfully we’re not alone in the desire for problems. By the way the whole Western world has acted since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the problem seems to be everywhere. As Christopher Leach pointed out all the way back in 1979, our true problem is narcissism.

How often do you hear: “They're angry at us! We are their problem! If it wasn’t for meddling Westerners, there wouldn’t be unrest in the Middle East!" Which quickly turns into: "we need to use guns to fix this!” Madness.

Guaranteed, if we continue to fight the symptom rather than the cause of Islamic terrorism there will always be another IS-type group waiting to fill the vacuum.

Narcissism desires constant attention, so if it’s not the Soviet Union or Nazism anymore, then painting Islamic terrorism as the overarching existential threat to our society maintains the delusion that it is us who are at the centre of our life stories. The Western world is the main character and everyone else is just antagonists and extras. If that doesn’t make sense, try to recall how you think about the booming Chinese economy. That’s a threat too, right? Exactly.

Neither the government nor Islamic terrorism is the true problem. The problem is us. And the first step to figuring out how to create a permanent solution in everybody’s interests is to understand this.

A never-ending war is the easy move, but that’s not good enough. Constant war will be the default, not because corporations are making too much money, but because the alternative is peace and the realisation that they’re not just angry at us.

For a narcissist, the worst circle of hell is their forced removal from the centre of attention. And if you know anything about insulting narcissists in this way, you’ll also know that you should expect the consequence to always be violence.

Remember, if you’re seeing the advertisement, it’s for you. But fighting IS will only reinforce our narcissism that it’s all about us in the end. Violence and terror law changes are used because the system knows us too well and, lo and behold, we agree with them because it all fits the requirements of the long con. The government isn’t the problem, the problem is you.

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