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Back in October of 2016, I wrote a somewhat divisive essay in which I suggested that political dissent is being systematically pathologized. In fact, this process has been ongoing for decades, but it has been significantly accelerated since the Brexit referendum and the Rise of Trump (or, rather, the Fall of Hillary Clinton, as it was Americans’ lack of enthusiasm for eight more years of corporatocracy with a sugar coating of identity politics, and not their enthusiasm for Trump, that mostly put the clown in office.)
In the twelve months since I wrote that piece, we have been subjected to a concerted campaign of corporate media propaganda for which there is no historical precedent. Virtually every major organ of the Western media apparatus (the most powerful propaganda machine in the annals of powerful propaganda machines) has been relentlessly churning out variations on a new official ideological narrative designed to generate and enforce conformity. The gist of this propaganda campaign is that “Western democracy” is under attack by a confederacy of Russians and white supremacists, as well as “the terrorists” and other “extremists” it’s been under attack by for the last sixteen years.
I’ve been writing about this campaign for a year now, so I’m not going to rehash all the details. Suffice to say we’ve gone from Russian operatives hacking the American elections to “Russia-linked” persons “apparently” setting up “illegitimate” Facebook accounts, “likely operated out of Russia,” and publishing ads that are “indistinguishable from legitimate political speech” on the Internet. This is what the corporate media is presenting as evidence of “an unprecedented foreign invasion of American democracy,” a handful of political ads on Facebook. In addition to the Russian hacker propaganda, since August, we have also been treated to relentless white supremacist hysteria and daily reminders from the corporate media that “white nationalism is destroying the West.” The negligible American neo-Nazi subculture has been blown up into a biblical Behemoth inexorably slouching its way towards the White House to officially launch the Trumpian Reich.
At the same time, government and corporate entities have been aggressively restricting (and in many cases eliminating) fundamental civil liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of assembly, the right to privacy, and the right to due process under the law. The justification for this curtailment of rights (which started in earnest in 2001, following the September 11 attacks) is protecting the public from the threat of “terrorism,” which apparently shows no signs of abating. As of now, the United States has been in a State of Emergency for over sixteen years. The UK is in a virtual State of Emergency. France is now in the process of enshrining its permanent State of Emergency into law. Draconian counter-terrorism measures have been implemented throughout the EU. Not just the notorious American police but police throughout the West have been militarized. Every other day we learn of some new emergency security measure designed to keep us safe from “the terrorists,” the “lone wolf shooters,” and other “extremists.”
Conveniently, since the Brexit referendum and unexpected election of Trump (which is when the capitalist ruling classes first recognized that they had a widespread nationalist backlash on their hands), the definition of “terrorism” (or, more broadly, “extremism”) has been expanded to include not just Al Qaeda, or ISIS, or whoever we’re calling “the terrorists” these days, but anyone else the ruling classes decide they need to label “extremists.” The FBI has designated Black Lives Matter “Black Identity Extremists.” The FBI and the DHS have designated Antifa “domestic terrorists.” Hosting corporations have shut down several white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites, along with their access to online fundraising. Google is algorithmically burying leftist news and opinion sources such as Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News, and Truthout, among others. Twitter, Facebook, and Google have teamed up to cleanse the Internet of “extremist content,” “hate speech,” and whatever else they arbitrarily decide is inappropriate. YouTube, with assistance from the ADL (which deems pro-Palestinian activists and other critics of Israel “extremists”) is censoring “extremist” and “controversial” videos, in an effort to “fight terrorist content online.” Facebook is also collaborating with Israel to thwart “extremism,” “incitement of violence,” and whatever else Israel decides is “inflammatory.” In the UK, simply reading “terrorist content” is punishable by fifteen years in prison. Over three thousand people were arrested last year for publishing “offensive” and “menacing” material.
Whatever your opinion of these organizations and “extremist” persons is beside the point. I’m not a big fan of neo-Nazis, personally, but neither am I a fan of Antifa. I don’t have much use for conspiracy theories, or a lot of the nonsense one finds on the Internet, but I consume a fair amount of alternative media, and I publish in CounterPunch, The Unz Review, ColdType, and other non-corporate journals. I consider myself a leftist, basically, but my political essays are often reposted by right-wing and, yes, even pro-Russia blogs. I get mail from former Sanders supporters, Trump supporters, anarchists, socialists, former 1960s radicals, anti-Semites, and other human beings, some of whom I passionately agree with, others of whom I passionately disagree with. As far as I can tell from the emails, none of these readers voted for Clinton, or Macron, or supported the TPP, or the debt-enslavement and looting of Greece, or the ongoing restructuring of the Greater Middle East (and all the lovely knock-on effects that has brought us), or believe that Trump is a Russian operative, or that Obama is Martin Luther Jesus-on-a-stick. What they share, despite their opposing views, is a general awareness that the locus of power in our post-Cold War age is primarily corporate, or global capitalist, and neoliberal in nature. They also recognize that they are being subjected to a massive propaganda campaign designed to lump them all together (again, despite their opposing views) into an intentionally vague and undefinable category comprising anyone and everyone, everywhere, opposing the hegemony of global capitalism, and its non-ideological ideology (the nature of which I’ll get into in a moment).
As I wrote in that essay a year ago, “a line is being drawn in the ideological sand.” This line cuts across both Left and Right, dividing what the capitalist ruling classes designate “normal” from what they label “extremist.” The traditional ideological paradigm, Left versus Right, is disappearing (except as a kind of minstrel show), and is being replaced, or overwritten, by a pathological paradigm based upon the concept of “extremism.”
* * *
Although the term has been around since the Fifth Century BC, the concept of “extremism” as we know it today developed in the late Twentieth Century and has come into vogue in the last three decades. During the Cold War, the preferred exonymics were “subversive,” “radical,” or just plain old “communist,” all of which terms referred to an actual ideological adversary. In the early 1990s, as the U.S.S.R. disintegrated, and globalized Western capitalism became the unrivaled global-hegemonic ideological system that it is today, a new concept was needed to represent the official enemy and its ideology. The concept of “extremism” does that perfectly, as it connotes, not an external enemy with a definable ideological goal, but rather, a deviation from the norm. The nature of the deviation (e.g., right-wing, left-wing, faith-based, and so on) is secondary, almost incidental. The deviation itself is the point. The “terrorist,” the “extremist,” the “white supremacist,” the “religious fanatic,” the “violent anarchist” … these figures are not rational actors whose ideas we need to intellectually engage with in order to debate or debunk. They are pathological deviations, mutant cells within the body of “normality,” which we need to identify and eliminate, not for ideological reasons, but purely in order to maintain “security.”
A truly global-hegemonic system like contemporary global capitalism (the first of this kind in human history), technically, has no ideology. “Normality” is its ideology … an ideology which erases itself and substitutes the concept of what’s “normal,” or, in other words, “just the way it is.” The specific characteristics of “normality,” although not quite arbitrary, are ever-changing. In the West, for example, thirty years ago, smoking was normal. Now, it’s abnormal. Being gay was abnormal. Now, it’s normal. Being transgender is becoming normal, although we’re still in the early stages of the process. Racism has become abnormal. Body hair is currently abnormal. Walking down the street in a semi-fugue state robotically thumbing the screen of a smartphone that you just finished thumbing a minute ago is “normal.” Capitalism has no qualms with these constant revisions to what is considered normal, because none of them are threats to capitalism. On the contrary, as far as values are concerned, the more flexible and commodifiable the better.
See, despite what intersectionalists will tell you, capitalism has no interest in racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, or any other despotic values (though it has no problem working with these values when they serve its broader strategic purposes). Capitalism is an economic system, which we have elevated to a social system. It only has one fundamental value, exchange value, which isn’t much of a value, at least not in terms of organizing society or maintaining any sort of human culture or reverence for the natural world it exists in. In capitalist society, everything, everyone, every object and sentient being, every concept and human emotion, is worth exactly what the market will bear … no more, no less, than its market price. There is no other measure of value.
Yes, we all want there to be other values, and we pretend there are, but there aren’t, not really. Although we’re free to enjoy parochial subcultures based on alternative values (i.e., religious bodies, the arts, and so on), these subcultures operate within capitalist society, and ultimately conform to its rules. In the arts, for example, works are either commercial products, like any other commodity, or they are subsidized by what could be called “the simulated aristocracy,” the ivy league-educated leisure classes (and lower class artists aspiring thereto) who need to pretend that they still have “culture” in order to feel superior to the masses. In the latter case, this feeling of superiority is the upscale product being sold. In the former, it is entertainment, distraction from the depressing realities of living, not in a society at all, but in a marketplace with no real human values. (In the absence of any real cultural values, there is no qualitative difference between Gerhard Richter and Adam Sandler, for example. They’re both successful capitalist artists. They’re just selling their products in different markets.)
The fact that it has no human values is the evil genius of global capitalist society. Unlike the despotic societies it replaced, it has no allegiance to any cultural identities, or traditions, or anything other than money. It can accommodate any form of government, as long as it plays ball with global capitalism. Thus, the window dressing of “normality” is markedly different from country to country, but the essence of “normality” remains the same. Even in countries with state religions (like Iran) or state ideologies (like China), the governments play by the rules of global capitalism like everyone else. If they don’t, they can expect to receive a visit from global capitalism’s Regime Change Department (i.e., the US military and its assorted partners).
Which is why, despite the “Russiagate” hysteria the media have been barraging us with, the West is not going to war with Russia. Nor are we going to war with China. Russia and China are developed countries, whose economies are entirely dependent on global capitalism, as are Western economies. The economies of every developed nation on the planet are inextricably linked. This is the nature of the global hegemony I’ve been referring to throughout this essay. Not American hegemony, but global capitalist hegemony. Systemic, supranational hegemony (which I like to prefer “the Corporatocracy,” as it sounds more poetic and less post-structural).
* * *
We haven’t really got our minds around it yet, because we’re still in the early stages of it, but we have entered an epoch in which historical events are primarily being driven, and societies reshaped, not by sovereign nation states acting in their national interests but by supranational corporations acting in their corporate interests. Paramount among these corporate interests is the maintenance and expansion of global capitalism, and the elimination of any impediments thereto. Forget about the United States (i.e., the actual nation state) for a moment, and look at what’s been happening since the early 1990s. The US military’s “disastrous misadventures” in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and the former Yugoslavia, among other exotic places (which have obviously had nothing to do with the welfare or security of any actual Americans), begin to make a lot more sense. Global capitalism, since the end of the Cold War (i.e, immediately after the end of the Cold War), has been conducting a global clean-up operation, eliminating actual and potential insurgencies, mostly in the Middle East, but also in its Western markets. Having won the last ideological war, like any other victorious force, it has been “clear-and-holding” the conquered territory, which in this case happens to be the whole planet. Just for fun, get out a map, and look at the history of invasions, bombings, and other “interventions” conducted by the West and its assorted client states since 1990. Also, once you’re done with that, consider how, over the last fifteen years, most Western societies have been militarized, their citizens placed under constant surveillance, and an overall atmosphere of “emergency” fostered, and paranoia about “the threat of extremism” propagated by the corporate media.
I’m not suggesting there’s a bunch of capitalists sitting around in a room somewhere in their shiny black top hats planning all of this. I’m talking about systemic development, which is a little more complex than that, and much more difficult to intelligently discuss because we’re used to perceiving historico-political events in the context of competing nation states, rather than competing ideological systems … or non-competing ideological systems, for capitalism has no competition. What it has, instead, is a variety of insurgencies, the faith-based Islamic fundamentalist insurgency and the neo-nationalist insurgency chief among them. There will certainly be others throughout the near future as global capitalism consolidates control and restructures societies according to its values. None of these insurgencies will be successful.
Short some sort of cataclysm, like an asteroid strike or the zombie apocalypse, or, you know, violent revolution, global capitalism will continue to restructure the planet to conform to its ruthless interests. The world will become increasingly “normal.” The scourge of “extremism” and “terrorism” will persist, as will the general atmosphere of “emergency.” There will be no more Trumps, Brexit referendums, revolts against the banks, and so on. Identity politics will continue to flourish, providing a forum for leftist activist types (and others with an unhealthy interest in politics), who otherwise might become a nuisance, but any and all forms of actual dissent from global capitalist ideology will be systematically marginalized and pathologized.
This won’t happen right away, of course. Things are liable to get ugly first (as if they weren’t ugly enough already), but probably not in the way we’re expecting, or being trained to expect by the corporate media. Look, I’ll give you a dollar if it turns out I’m wrong, and the Russians, terrorists, white supremacists, and other “extremists” do bring down “democracy” and launch their Islamic, white supremacist, Russo-Nazi Reich, or whatever, but from where I sit it looks pretty clear … tomorrow belongs to the Corporatocracy.