“Invincibility lies in the defense.”
– Sun Tzu
Does there exist a political force, partisan or populist, organized or decentralized, that can liberate the U.S. citizenry from the clutches of the neoliberal order? As I wrote in Feb. of last year, the neoliberal order seemed impervious to partisan defeat because its roots lie in a powerful evolutionary strategy called senescence. Now that the Sanders insurgency has been crushed and the faux populism of Donald Trump seems to be on a downward electoral trajectory due to his tone deaf response to the death of George Floyd and his bungled domestic response to covid-19, the Malevolent Evolutionary Stable Strategy (MESS) seems to have fully repelled the party populisms of both Right and Left, confirming my prediction. However, the murder of George Floyd has sparked an organic, grassroots, multiracial uprising that seems to present a new, novel threat to the neoliberal order and the MESS. Will this protest movement outcompete the MESS? The outlook is not good.
Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, protests over this horrific event have happened across the U.S. and the planet. However, we are almost a month into this movement (as of June 27th) and no leadership or formal list of demands have materialized. One common demand from protestors, “defund the poIice”, is so nebulous and vague that a sort of Rorschach inkblot interpretation is occurring across the political spectrum, resulting in interpretations ranging from complete abolition (which could lead to privatized police forces) to conversion into a social worker type role to demilitarization. Another demand that does manage to make it into the national discussion is that of reparations for slavery. This idea is extremely unpopular nationally, as a recent poll discovered that almost three-quarters of Americans (73%) think the federal government should not ‘pay money to black Americans whose ancestors were slaves as compensations for that slavery’. As political scientist and organized labor advocate Adolph Reed Jr. said of reparations almost 20 years ago, “How can we imagine building a political force that would enable us to prevail on this issue?”
Some elements of the movement have taken to toppling statues of anyone associated with slaveholding, an increasingly anarchistic and incoherent ploy, as the toppling has shifted to include statues of men such as Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. general who led the United States to victory over the Southern confederacy! Other elements of the protest, albeit from their twitter armchairs, have advocated for taking down all depictions of white versions of Jesus Christ. A Seattle enclave of anarchists have taken advantage of the political moment and created a cop-free zone called the CHAZ. This social experiment has apparently resulted in, according to the words of the Seattle chief of police, “shootings, a rape, assaults, burglary, arson, and property destruction”, and CHAZ will soon be reclaimed by the Seattle police . Some predict the movement, due to its unstructured nature as demonstrated by the above examples, seems to have a trajectory like that of the impotent Occupy movement of 2012. I argue that, far from suffering Occupy’s flash in the pan fate, the movement and its energy, rooted in the very real concerns over police brutality, racism, and economic inequality are in danger of being repurposed by the forces of the MESS and converted into a formidable defense against any future political threats to the MESS.
A telling sign that the neoliberal order is fully capable of withstanding and conquering the protest movement’s energy is in the astonishing frenzy of corporate and media discussion about systematic racism. From corporate ads in support of Black Lives Matter to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pledging to “develop and advance data-driven business and policy solutions to bridge opportunity gaps and ensure that Black Americans and people of color and have greater opportunities to succeed”, corporations are tripping over themselves to signal that they care. Why would corporations and the media spend so much discussing such a topic? Out of moral concern? As Professor Cedric Johnson stated in his recent essay, The Triumph of Black Lives Matter and Neoliberal Redemption, “Black lives matter to the front office, as long as they don’t demand a living wage, personal protective equipment and quality health care”. If corporations really cared about black lives or worker lives in general, they would drop all opposition to unions and give labor a place at the bargaining table. No, the reason is that corporations wish to the shape the national discussion, redirecting attention away from broader issues of class and corporate greed, issues that have impacted the black working class and black poor the most but have also crushed the non-black working class and poor. Corporations and the rulers of this country have been on a looting spree and have had decades cowing citizens, especially the black poor and working classes, through outsourcing, deindustrialization, the crushing of unions, low wages, and governmental austerity. They are terrified that a broad multi-racial movement will coalesce and will not focus merely on meaningless symbolic gestures such as toppling statues of long dead people, changing names of schools and streets, pledging to change depictions of evil “races” in fantasy roleplaying games, or be distracted by kneeling politicians, but will demand fundamental relief from the MESS. However, in order to prevent this, the corporations and the oligarchs know that merely playing lip service to the concerns of the black poor and working class with symbolic gestures are not enough to block this threat.
The key to true “invincibility”, so the oligarchs/corporations think, is to capture the energy of the justice for Floyd moment to erect an intersectional filtration system atop the managerial systems of governmental and corporate structures of U.S. society with the help of corporate/government electronic surveillance systems. I have written previously about the peculiar political phenomenon called intersectionality in 2018. It is a divisive way of viewing the world rooted in Gregory Bateson’s double bind theory of schizophrenia and is a powerful way to inhibit clear communication between people, thus inhibiting the formation of a multi-racial working-class political coalition. This concept has thoroughly permeated the lexicon of the American “Left” and is marching its way through corporate and government HR departments, the media, and the academy. From the viewpoint of the ruling elite, this disruptive ideology, coupled with diversifying the managerial elite of American institutions, should be enough to placate the black community (critic Cornel West’s comment about “black faces in high places” comes to mind) and help repel all future disruptors of the MESS. The electronic surveillance systems would be the capstone of this MESS defense system. These systems could incorporate a social credit system model, like that of China, that punish those that are not appropriately ‘woke’ ( a 21st century neoliberal replacement for “class consciousness”) or could manifest in a more overtly authoritarian form. As former NSA analyst and whistleblower William Binney, who is well aware of the governmental capacity for cyber surveillance, said in 2012, “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state”. The threats of Trump and Sanders rattled the nerves of the oligarchs and one can only imagine the vows of ‘never again’ in the corridors of power. What could block this neoliberal capture of the righteous protest movement? Perhaps leaders like Professor Cornel West, an outspoken critic of neoliberalism, or Reverend William Barber, leader of the new Poor People’s Campaign, can steer the energy of protest movement away from neoliberal clutches. Otherwise, the movement will end up fortifying the very system it is trying to defeat.