Saturday, 12 November 2016

Thoughts on the US election

I

Did anyone else notice the sheer number of Trump supporters demanding to work? I understand the difference between jobs and work but these people wanted work. They didn't want to just earn money, they want to work. They don’t want to tear down the system, they want the system to operate as promised – but with them in charge.

Instead of taking the opportunity to reject the establishment (word of the year), they fell in behind a message of becoming more servile, more under control and less free. And they used this demand to feel powerful but only became more impotent. If there is a stronger example of the complete and utter simulation of a free society, I am yet to see it.

French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus could see this, and the more I follow the culture wars, the more relevant these writers become:

"That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: 'why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?' How can people possibly reach the point of shouting ‘more taxes, less bread’? 
“As Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others go on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves. 
“Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desires into account, an explanation formulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for."

The reality is no one wants to rip down the establishment, not because it’s dangerous to do this (it isn’t really), not because they don’t want to go to jail (some would actually invite this), but because while the people in the street might hate the corrupt system, the majority of voters don’t. Not really. They know the system is corrupt, of course but up until a few years ago, most of the people complaining about their lack of work were hoping to be on the other side of the corruption.

How do I know this? Because setting aside the people with health problems, no one spoke those messages in 2005 when the future looked up and everyone dreamed of one day being at the top. No one made a YouTube video saying “All I've got is a $95,000 a year salary” or “I’m a graphic designer at a start-up with zero revenue and $20 million in seed capital.” As long as there was home equity (“real estate always goes up!”) or another VC ready to throw millions at ill-conceived websites with insane logos, then everyone was happy. When people accept the preposterous notion that something cannot fall in price, they have already stopped examining reality.

Let’s be blunt: Before 2007 we all knew the economy was a carny hustle but we were fine with it because we all thought we were the carnies doing the hustling. Do I need to remind everyone that in the dot-com era, Yahoo traded for $US246 a share before registering any profit? Do I need to remind everyone that in 2005, 40% of US homes sold were second homes? You knew the system was a sham but you thought you could win. Only later you learned you were the rube all along, and now you want the socio-economic equivalent of a refund.

What those yelling about economic woe want is not systemic change, but to be the ones on the other side of the divide. Most of the complaints, especially among the young, amount to “I lost my job and now things suck.” The message is that they want another job. They would love a Wall Street or Madison Avenue job. They would love to work for Facebook, Google, CNN or Fox News. Those jobs pay well. People would love to be at the right of the bell curve, but they don’t want the curve flattened out.

And that’s how it’s always been. Do you really think the hippies wanted communism or socialism? No, they wanted access to the old boy network. They wanted to be part of the establishment. They wanted control and ownership. When a system gives the top 1% ownership of 42% of the nation's financial assets, the 99% don’t want to tear that system down. They want to squeeze into that 1%.

Everybody on the outside wants in, and everybody already inside wants to go higher. And once they get to the top, they want to pull up the ladder and close the door. And both the Trump and Clinton supporters banging on that door, all they want is to get in so they can close it again behind them. Don’t kid yourself that all of a sudden millions of people are egalitarians and socialists.

What this mass protest really represents is a new twist on Gandhi's famous advice: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

And then you become them.

II

Let's assume you, dear reader, appreciate democracy and thought last week's circus was a great example of the Greek invention.

All the rhetoric and fearmongering that Mr Trump will "undermine climate science" should concern you. The implication is the science must be defended. But who should keep up the good fight? Who should do the job of defending policy? Why, the very people who drafted and enacted the policies in the first place: the permanent civil service.

If you believe in democracy, then you must guard against the narrative that the world is so complex that computers and armies of faceless people are needed to organise sound policy. This prepares the public to trust the civil service in all matters of importance for the state. How will one know whether something is important or not? If elected officials are telling you about it, then it isn’t. The political opposition is only the opposition in exile. The civil service is the opposition in residence.

III

Both Trump's opponents and supporters made him into a partial object. A caricature of a person, not a whole person. His image as a human is irrevocably stolen from millions of American's minds. There was no attempt to humanise him on either side.

Even his sexual remarks about women - (notice how he said women "let" him touch them when he is famous, indicating the women have the agency to choose. This is not sexual assault, it is the standard dynamic of sexual relations in his world, and everyone in that world was absolutely fine with it for thirty years) - were not countered by his supporters as being the private discussions of a normal, healthy male who is interested in sex. That was an opportunity for men all over the country to say there is nothing wrong with achieving fame and fortune and winning the attraction of females. Not only is that the historical story of humanity, that's what the women say they want as well.

IV

Many of my friends are sharing Jonathan Pie's fiery explanation of why Trump won. In short (and you can watch it here), he says it was the progressives' fault for making life too difficult and people elected Trump in response. A lot of Trump supporters seem to appreciate Mr Pie's description but I want to tell you to resist this because it is poison.

It sounds comfortable and it's easy to gloat that the other side is filled with idiots. And it looks like liberals are about to eat each other. But that's not what's going on. Mr Pie’s words are a trick. And if you are wondering who would be convinced by such a scam, well, did you share the video? Have you nodded quietly along with anyone saying the same lines? If you're seeing it, it's for you...

Saying that people voted as a reaction to something implicitly suggests they lack the agency to act while neatly denying them the initiative. It is insidious because it assumes a political force is still in control even when it "loses." The trick is you will argue his conclusions but it will be impossible for it to occur to you to argue the form of the question. So "why did Trump defeat the progressives" is literally understood as: "since it is a fact that the progressives are in control, why did Trump win?"

It is much more powerful to outline why nothing the other side does can impact the conversation. You must seize the initiative in any way possible. Saying you are a "conservative" is precisely not the way to do this. A conservative is someone who is acted upon and is only given power. And, if power is given, then the receiver is not in control – actual power can only be taken. Conservatives have never been able to understand this fundamental power dynamic. They are always acting in response to something, rather than with the initiative. There is no clearer signal of weakness.

V

Some say if more young people voted the result would have been different. This is probably true but not for the reasons those people suspect.

Did you see the demonstrators? This is young people complaining about living in a democracy. They have been conditioned in universities to expect and desire a stable one-party government, confusing freedom of action with acting in the desired direction. If you want to know how Hitler got to power through the compliance of the German people, this is how.

We are witnessing the flow of power from one form of government to another. Perhaps the last serious election in the old form was Bush 43's in 2000. To really deal with the problems/goals of the new century, the civil service needed a long-term strategy far away from molestation by elected officials. The narrative to these kids became that politics is bad but government is good.

They are told to listen to the Department of Whatever in any conversation. So the president doesn't want to act on climate change? Well, the civil service has the facts and the process will continue anyway. He doesn't want to get involved in Syria? Then the president is trying to “politicise” the issue – which is equivalent to fascism, apparently. Rather than deferring to the extended civil service (media, universities, multinationals, think tanks, NGOs, etc), the civil service proper is positioning itself as the arbiter of truth and good government.

Those marching young people are told at university and school the narrative is still about democracy but that word doesn't mean anything near what it used to. They are being trained to dislike the old form, and defer to a civil service entirely captured by the progressive movement. The person of the president of the United States is nowhere near the revered position it was two decades ago. It is a position not quite as ceremonial as the Queen of England but give it 100 years.

Barack Obama's election was seen as a post-racial America allowing a black man into the "most powerful position in the world." Hillary Clinton's potential nomination was going to represent a post-sexist America. But no one stopped to ask why so many black people and women were allowed in. It might be regressive to ask that but it is instructive.

If power for thousands of years has been in the hands of serious white men, then why all of a sudden in 2008 and 2016 was that power given to a black man and nearly to a woman? Actual power has been withdrawn, one step ahead. And at this rate I fully expect 2016’s excited social justice warriors to nudge their five-year-old daughters towards political studies so they can be part of the Women in Government conference of 2033. Don't bother, it'll be in Springfield.

People will always prefer the system they are taught in school. The young demonstrators might tell their children stories about the seriousness and the wall-to-wall coverage of the electoral process back in the early 21st century. We are living through a transitional period in which the fragments of the old system are still in use because the new system’s quilt hasn't yet been knitted.

VI

Why is "the world" surprised by the result? Did anyone ask why so many New Zealanders were talking about it? We had greater detailed knowledge about another country's politics than perhaps our own. This is a serious level of psychological capture. But to what end? For what purpose is this capture?

The narrative that must be defended against here is that the US president is the most powerful job in the world, and that the world is watching. That way lies madness. Under this narrative, we must eventually come to see the New York Times as the world’s newspaper and that the US represents the only model of good government. Down all other avenues lie only pain and suffering until every government sees the light. If you are not watching America, you are not part of the story.

Stop letting America tell you who you are. People in New Zealand say the US just voted a person into power who doesn't set a good example. This is madness. When did we agree to give America the specific power to telling us what a good example looks like? This is the equivalent of complaining about Photoshop in advertising portraying a harmful expectation of beauty.

This idea is predicated on the assumption that the US – or more precisely the US media – has all the power to decide what's desirable. And therefore, of course, it does. But the important point is not that you believe this to be true, the point is that you want this to be true. You want it to be true the US sets the standard because in the insane calculus of your psychology you have a better chance of changing Washington than you have of changing your own government.

Turns out that's true as well.

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