Monday, 30 January 2017

Open letter to America

Dear America,

In your fantasy world, citizens will rise up. You want to oust Donald Trump but why? What will replace him? Why do you want to remove him? "Is it freedom of choice?" Here's a hint: That's never the answer.

You want to take to the streets because it’s what you see others doing. Even worse, the idea for revolution is not even your idea. The trick was to get you to think you figured it out on your own. Revolution is an old form of action, completely co-opted by those you wish to rise up against.

It’s how they got to their positions all those years ago, and you think it will be the mechanism for their removal? Did any protestor stop to wonder “hey, why did they let us all gather here?” None of this will make sense until you understand you are less of a threat because you are allowed to believe your anger makes you a good person and theirs does not.

Power doesn't care about your motivations, so long as you act in the required direction.

No matter how many Americans take to the streets, each one will defend their action as a right or freedom. But it is an illusion. Whenever you see the word ‘protest’ you should instead see "100% in the service of the existing social structure." The path is wide precisely because the system wants people to limit their social action to voting.

Angry America, you are wrong in the only way that matters: pro status quo. You think removing Mr Trump will cathartically usher in a paradise of … what, exactly? It is not Mr Trump who strangles you, it is the quiet, insidious democratic system that allowed him to get in.

II

Your political action is the oxygen keeping this system not just alive but brutally kicking and clawing. Attention is its food – love and hate are its currency.

The real threat to the system, the one which will eventually result in the abolition of anonymity, is the deepest fear of all Americans. It is so deep that it shaped the US Constitution: a tyranny of the majority.

Democracy isn’t a safety valve, it is the problem.

Perhaps the nastiest bit of democratic disinformation is the association of democracy with social harmony. The conflict between political factions is a form of ritualised warfare any way you slice it, and it doesn't take much to degenerate into actual combat. The American founders tried to design a factionless, semi-democratic republic and the real miracle of American democracy is that it has produced only one major civil war.

Keeping this ritual conflict within the boundary of democratic politics, and preventing any slip into actual combat has been a central concern of intellectuals for the last 200 years. Obviously, they haven't always succeeded, which makes the concern all the more intense today.

Democracy, like all conventions of limited warfare, is fragile. It's hard to establish and easy to destroy. In 2017, the principal check on actual violence – the 85-year-old informational dominance of "responsible" broadcast and newspaper journalism – is dying.

It is being replaced by Glenn Greenwald and Richard Spencer. And their followers, if not them personally, seem to have enough pure, 24-carat hate stored up for 10 or 15 really juicy civil wars.

III

Four years ago you hated someone else. The question is not how you all learned to get over the prejudice, rather what purpose did it serve in the first place, why was it the preferred expression of hate at that time? People are given an ideology without even knowing it.

In our broken brains, the primordial reflex is to complain about the contents of the system, not to assert the insignificance of its control over us. Like any critiques of advertising, the failure of government criticism is it assumes it has the authority to set the standards. We let it have power over us in exchange for the right to brag that we know it’s not legitimate.

It is far more incisive to ask: What is it about me that desires protest? What is the precise origin of the want? Your desires are illogical, they can't actually coexist. You want good government and democracy when the inevitable end point of democracy will be socialism of the crowd – an ochlocracy. A complete lack of order for anyone not cosily living in gated mansions.

Hating the president is all part of the plan because you dare not attack the system that promises everything, therefore something else must be blamed. Well, sometimes structural imbalances go your way, sometimes they don’t: Better figure out who makes the scales.

The oppression you feel is actually impotence. The source is not top down but bottom up. It is personal abdication. By blaming the hierarchy you discard the freedom to ignore this hierarchy.

You've given up existential power not because They oppress you but to avoid the realisation that every event, every tiny occurrence in your life, is the result of a decision you made alone. This responsibility, this freedom, is too terrifying to process, so it is repressed. And you let them tell you some Other is to blame.

Saying, "I had no choice" is itself a choice. Your choices may be stupid, yet they're still choices. This realisation is frightening. This is why you’ll do anything to hide from the insight – even if it means the destruction of everything.

IV

If you really want to be a moral agent in such a terrible environment, you have to convince everyone around you to agree not to fight each other, knowing full well the soldiers will come. This is the point of the manoeuvre, to expose the evil of the system. It’s the only anti-system choice available.

The great novel of the last century was, I think, Tolkien’s. His masterstroke was to never admit that what any fool can tell is an allegory was anything of the sort. The ring is not the hydrogen bomb or anything like it. It’s just what it says it is. It is power. Tolkien’s lesson is simply Lord Acton’s, and his genius was to wrap it in a book people will be reading for the next 500 years.

The right thing to do with power is not to use it but to destroy it. If one-thousandth of the talented and energetic people I see marching or “working for social change” realised this, the human race would have some tiny chance at an actual, lasting peace.

But no. Nobody wants to be Frodo. Everyone wants to be Boromir.

Original and perceptive thinkers seem unable to escape this trap. The really daring and public-spirited move for an intellectual is to embrace irresponsibility, to accept the lesson of Boromir, and to admit politics is actually the problem.

Every society in human history that has succumbed to government by intellectuals has lived to regret it. Yours will be no different. Ask yourself: Why should anyone who isn’t an intellectual care about “political participation?” What matters to people is only that a government’s law is simple, fair and fairly applied.

V

So forget your protests. You must refuse to interact with democracy’s power structures. The rule is absolute renunciation of official power. This is not black, unthinkable madness. Passivism (not pacifism) is the only free action available to anyone trapped inside an invisible cage.

The logic is simple: Political power is not a human right. You must refuse to participate in any activity in which the goal is to influence, coerce or resist the government, either directly or indirectly. All "sides" must do this. Your goal, America, is to starve the system of oxygen to allow a better, more suitable, order-based structure to bloom.

The entire ritualised combat of democracy exists to create a level playing field for factions of contending philosophers. The history of ideas since 1789 is an endless record of mass murder in the name of the people. The relative peace of the last 85 years has been achieved only at the price of creating a university system which is an established church in all but name and which suppresses any thought it finds even remotely disturbing.

Of course, this is only a hypothesis. It's just a thought, man. You can think it for a while, then say "Nah," and go back to accepting democracy as the best of all government models. It won't hurt you at all.

But the truth is Mr Trump's replacement will not be someone worse, it will be someone who tells you they are better and the democratic system avoids any significant limbs being carved off.

And if a street hustler challenges you to a game of three-card monte, don’t bother playing, just hand him the money. Not because you're going to lose but because you owe him for the insight: He selected you.

Whatever he saw in you everyone sees, from the blonde at the bar to your elderly father you've dismissed as out of touch. The only person who doesn't see it is you, which is why you fall for it all the time. Even mirrors fail you.

Dear America, the hustler of democracy selected you.

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