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The Coming State of Fear

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Well, it seems that any lingering question on whether or not the happenings on social media platforms are truly politically relevant can finally be put to rest. While most of us prefer the edge of communication media that cuts away from the dynamics of power, president-elect Trump has managed to do quite the opposite by giving a new twist on that classic favorite of despots everywhere: instead of rule by decree, we have rule by tweet.

Despite not even being installed in office yet, the soon-to-be-leader of the United States brazenly deployed the platform to carry out government contracting cronyism, call for the imprisonment of flag-burners, and get death-threats rained down upon a unionist who contradicted one of the incoming administration’s best narratives.

Trump, somehow, has managed to now top all these by using Twitter to announce the advent of a new nuclear arms race – a Cold War 2.0 against, oddly enough, Vladimir Putin.

Every step Trump has taken since election day has confirmed many of the worst fears of anarchists and libertarians. This latest maneuver is a continuation, for nuclear arms build-up is one of the gravest threats to the possibility of a stateless society. It not only casts long-term doubts on the survivability of the human civilization (or even the species, for that matter); in the short-term it reinforces all the worst and repressive elements of the state. This stems from the undeniable fact that the mere presence of the nuclear weapon is little more than an act of state-sponsored terrorism. It exists solely to provoke fear, anxiety, existential dread. The crude and atrocious actions committed by the United States at the end of the Second World War hang like a pall over any arms build-up. To create a single nuclear weapon is to spell out a warning to the world: we will flatten your cities and incinerate your countryside. We will turn your citizens into dust.

This abject horror is the catalyzing agent for the arms race, which quickly locks into a positive feedback process as nuclear arms production beget more nuclear arms production, on and on and on. As anyone familiar with the notion of positive feedback knows, each mounting iteration raises the levels of instability in the system. We can see this by looking backwards at the Cold War, where arms build-up generated a totalizing environment of paranoia in the corridors of power. Under this fog, the imperatives of the military-industrial complex ran headlong into the internal politics of planners, tacticians and scientists tasked with making world-shifting decisions with fragmented, incomplete knowledge of their opponents moves.

Simply put: the system generated by the positive feedback is one that teeters dangerously close to catastrophe, and is often only one or two accidental moves away from that edge.

The combination of expansionist militarization under the rubric of “command and control” with the rapid spread of paranoia through government and society alike has the effect of transforming states into bunker states – or, as Paul Edwards has described it, a “closed world”. This is a state that turns inward and constructs sharp walls between itself and the world (save for a few handfuls of close allies, relationships with which that are still marked by distrust). Inside the closed world, hierarchy reigns supreme, striving as it does to regiment, coordinate, plan, and control all the elements at play within itself. There is no shortage of academic literature that details in sharp relief the way that a boomerang effect occurred, one that imprinted military imperatives and techniques onto the relationships between government and society. Such an effect had always been the classic hallmark of the state/population relationship (for Michel Foucault, this was the very logic of governmentality at work), but it is a mapping that tends to follow in the form of military technique at a given time. During the Cold War, the fear of atomic weaponry drove technocratic visions of cities made disciplined and efficient through urban design carried out hand-in-hand with military planners, while counter-insurgency doctrines were drawn up to deal with social crises generated from below. Between both, surveillance systems expanded and contingency plans were developed to preserve what C. Wright Mills called the “power elite” – the highest circles drawn from the worlds of the political, economic, and military stratas. Above all else, the goal of the bunker state was/is to preserve the very core of the state at the expense of all the rest.

In ‘cold’ conflicts, nations across the globe become bunker states, even in the cases of formal alliance. To enter into weapons development means to increase the power of the military – and along with it an increase in the powers of the state. Financing the build-up usually entails a greater management over the flows of capital in the country through taxation and borrowing, while carrying out the production of these weapons means the integration of national industries into the very infrastructure of the state itself. This not only helps exacerbate the inevitable incentivizing of war; industry-state integration puts the firms adjacent to the state on a fast-track for the cutting-edge of research and development – a free-pass for monopoly status. Such molding and shaping of domestic economic orders reverberates across the world stage, as states lock into economic competition for market share and scarce resources. The specter of economic sabotage raises its heads, yet the way this grim specter articulated itself during the Cold War surely pales to our current era of cyber-war.

What I’m attempting to sketch out in these brief paragraphs is the ways in which one positive feedback process – in this case, nuclear arms build-up – sets off series of other positive feedback processes, a complex array of dominoes all falling simultaneously in an interrelated sea. What this ferment produces is, on one hand, the rigid and domineering integral state, and on the other hand, runaway tensions and paranoia that spread not only within this state, but between all the other states. Such realities run in the opposite direction from any sort of globality, be it in true liberalization of trade, the unshackling of intrinsically racist border policies, or the movement away from the traditionalist notions of identity and community that restrain us. Indeed, the opposite of each of these stands reinforced under this most extreme edge of militarized industry and geopolitical abandon.

It must be pointed out that the overture towards renewed nuclear proliferation is not new under Trump. Almost exactly a year ago it became known that the Obama administration had done a 180-degree pivot from its earlier stance on non-proliferation (a position that had led to an important arms-reduction treaty with Russia in 2010) by unveiling a costly $348 billion upgrade to the US’s nuclear arms capabilities, slated to take place between 2015 and 2024. Such as the biggest upgrade to the arsenal since President Reagan. Trump, who routinely models himself on Reagan at his most hardline through the invocation of the phase “peace through strength”, would only have to continue what Obama set in place.

In the face of all this, hopefully the large part of the grassroots left will get out from under the saber-rattling at Russia and the “pragmatic” militarized perspective they adopted under Obama. We may very well need a renewed, robust, and exceedingly militant anti-nuke movement (which was one of the key – if not the key – factor in gaining victories in non-proliferation, and an innovator of networked forms of resistance to boot!). We need radicalization and resistance, not capitulation and acceptance, to the coming bunker state.

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Edmund Berger is a Kentucky-based activist and writer. He blogs very infrequently at Deterritorial Investigations Unit and Synthetic Zero on topics related to the historical development of capitalism, the intersection of technology and culture, and critical ecologies.

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