Well, it’s shaping up to be a long, hot Summer, or year, or possibly decade or two, what with all the global political chaos, racial tensions, social unrest, and the blood-dimmed tide of Neo-nationalism rising inexorably out of Spiritus Mundi like the contents of a backed-up toilet. Whatever is actually going on — which is probably not as apocalyptic, but more insidious and dystopian than it seems — the worst are certainly full of passionate intensity. Based on the miasma of mindless hysteria being pumped out at us by the corporate media, and then endlessly echoed on Facebook and Twitter, you would think the end of days was nigh. Or at least the end of Western civilization, or democracy, or America, or Capitalism … or something. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is, for the global capitalist ruling classes, the transnational corporate and deep state elites — the folks who are actually running the show, to the extent that anyone is actually running it — things couldn’t be going much better at the moment. Sure, for the vast majority of us, the future is looking increasingly miserable, but try to see things from their perspective. Here we are, barely twenty-five years since the dissolution of the last real impediment to their domination of … well, pretty much everything, and just look at all they’ve managed to accomplish.
The Greater Middle East has been successfully destabilized. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, any country not playing ball with transnational Capitalism has been brought to its knees by a series of invasions, bombings, sanctions, support for insurgencies, corruption, et cetera. Iran is currently negotiating in the hope of avoiding a similar fate. Russia, following its transformation into an autocratic capitalist free-for-all for ex-KGB men and their oligarch cronies — a transformation designed by folks like Jeffrey Sachs, Lawrence Summers, the Harvard Institute for International Development, the IMF, and other shock therapists — has been more or less surrounded by the EU and NATO, and is being pressured to get with the program. China, in spite of its playing grab-ass with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, is deep into the global Capitalism thing. Vietnam and Laos have joined the club. Cuba is even opening for business again. South America is a work-in-progress, as ever, what with the recent neoliberal “soft” coup in Brazil, the re-neoliberalization of Argentina, the destabilization of Venezuela, and so on.
This is just a quick summary of the highlights. The point is, apart from some isolated pockets of resistance — which the corporatists will get to eventually — and the various nightmarish terrorist theme parks operating out in the imperial hinterlands, it’s one big global capitalist world … one Market under Mammon, indivisible, with privatization and austerity for most, and distractionary paranoia for all.
The Simulation of National Sovereignty
One of the most effective ways the global capitalist ruling classes distract us from the fact that they are transforming the entire planet into a combination shopping mall/labor camp is the simulation of national sovereignty. Most of us, since the late-18th Century, have been conditioned to perceive the world as a competition between sovereign nations, each pursuing its own national interests. Which, of course, it is to some extent. However, as we have all been experiencing, sovereignty isn’t what it used to be. JPMorgan Chase, ICBC, HSBC, Berkshire Hathaway, Royal Dutch Shell, AXA Group, Toyota, Exxon, Pfizer, Novartis … does anyone believe these transnational banks and corporations have any real allegiance to the “sovereign nations” they nominally reside in, or to the citizens of those “sovereign” nations? No, and yet we go on perceiving and discussing things as if they did.
We talk about the foreign and domestic policies of the government of the United States as if they had been intended to somehow benefit the “American people,” as if the offshoring of “American” jobs, the debt-enslavement of “American” college students, the real estate bubble Ponzi schemes, the commodification of healthcare, culture, and more or less every other aspect of society, not to mention the invasions and bombings of other countries, as if all this wasn’t designed to serve the long-term interests of global Capitalism, and was simply the result of series of “mistakes” on the part of incompetent and misguided politicians.
The “failure” of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a perfect example of this way of perceiving things. Yes, of course, for the “American people,” it was, indeed, a colossal failure, a total waste of lives and money which accelerated the spread of Terrorism both within the Middle East and around the world. However, for the transnational capitalist ruling classes, who couldn’t care less about the American people, or the Iraqi people, or any other people, this “failure” was actually an enormous success, in terms of removing a major impediment to their eventual domination of the region, and upending the regional balance of power that had been established during the Cold War.
The invasion of Iraq, as you might remember, was planned well prior to September 2001. It was part of the agenda of the neoconservative “Project for the New American Century,” and deep state players like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Robert Kagan, and other corporatist think tank-types. And of course it was … this was perfectly logical. After the USSR disintegrated, the Greater Middle East was ripe for restructuring — there was nothing to stop the military arm of global Capitalism (i.e. the US military) from moving in and beginning the process we’ve all been experiencing ever since.
Now, I’m not suggesting there’s a bunch of capitalists sitting around in a room somewhere — at the annual Bilderberg Conference, for example — consciously planning this kind of stuff. Conspiracy theories are fun and all that, but worldwide sociopolitical transformations — like the one we are in the middle of — are a bit more complex than an Oliver Stone movie, and probably have less to do with the intentions of individuals than we would like to think, even extremely creepy individuals, like the ones whose names I just ran off above.
What I am suggesting is that what we’re experiencing — and have been since the end of the Cold War — is not a series of policy “blunders,” but, rather, the emergence of a global power structure none of us really understands yet, not an empire in the classical sense, but an omnipresent power structure governed by the interests of global corporations … and not by the interests of sovereign nations. (Bona fide scholars — which I am not — have been attempting to articulate this structure, which is more complex than I’m making it sound here, given how the corporate and government spheres overlap and feed each other, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Noam Chomsky, Sam Gidin and Leo Panitch, among them, each of whose books is probably worth reading … but you don’t exactly need a PhD to perceive that corporations are running the show.)
It is the interest of these corporations, and the global capitalist ruling classes (including government and deep state elites), that we do not perceive the world this way, and that we continue to believe in the sovereignty of nations, and that we think of ourselves as citizens of these nations, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Neo-Nationalism vs. Neoliberalism
The simulation of national sovereignty, in addition to acting as an ontological decoy, drawing our attention away from the fact that power is now primarily corporate, plays another essential role in the ongoing spread of neoliberal Capitalism. As the global capitalist ruling classes seize control of more and more of the planet, absorbing what little is left of society into their global simulation of society — a heterogeneously homogenous worldwide marketplace of products and services that no one really needs, the growth-obsessed production of which is destroying the entire biosphere — a considerable number of human beings are beginning to express their discontent.
In the US, UK and Western Europe, the heartlands of the global capitalist empire, after nearly four decades of globalization, deregulation, privatization, austerity measures and debt-enslavement, the working classes have finally had enough of getting pissed on and being told it’s raining, or at least, according to mainstream media, the “less well-educated” members of them have. This demeaning characterization is extremely important. The global capitalist ruling classes need to ensure that any resistance to globalization, privatization, and neoliberal Capitalism, generally, is perceived by the public as neo-nationalist, xenophobic, racist, or just plain ignorant. Not that a lot of it isn’t. It is. A lot of it is, but not all of it is. The global capitalist ruling classes need us to believe that all of it is, and that the only two options available to us are Neoliberalism and Neo-nationalism.
The corporate media is working hard to convince us that these are our only two alternatives. Their “coverage” of the Brexit referendum and its aftermath is a perfect example. Somehow, despite the doomsday campaign waged by the British liberal press, the UK voted to leave the EU, that bastion of European democracy, the one that is currently privatizing Greece in order to pay back the banks and speculators who made a killing lending billions to a country that everyone knew from day one was totally unfit for the single market, the one that is going to approve the TTIP, in some iteration, once they’ve cleaned it up. According to the bipartisan Oxbridge establishment, and their American counterparts across the pond, the only plausible explanation for the public’s failure to follow orders, and respond to a series of last-minute threats issued by Obama, Soros and Junker, is a combination of Neo-nationalism, xenophobia, and elderly dementia. The Guardian is reporting that an epidemic of British xenophobia has appeared out of thin air. Neo-nationalists, white supremacists, and other assorted racist twits, emboldened by their Brexit victory, are roving the streets in search of anyone “foreign-looking” to hurl abuse at.
Not that this isn’t actually happening. It is, and not just in Britain either. The tide of neo-nationalist sentiment is also on the rise throughout the Continent. Neo-nationalist parties haven been making gains in Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Switzerland, and elsewhere (not to mention the unabashed neo-Nazis Hillary Clinton’s State Department helped to install in the new Ukrainian government; that is, after they regime-changed the old one). Here in Germany, the AfD (the Alternatives for Germany party), a prettied-up neo-nationalist front for uglier neo-Nazi types, while still fairly marginal, has been growing steadily. In France, it’s Le Pen and the Front National. In the Netherlands, it’s Geert Wilders — who, rumor has it, has kidnapped David Lynch’s hairstylist — and the PVV (the Party for Freedom).
Meanwhile, back in the USA, from what I’ve been able to gather from the pundits, Trump and his legions of down-market racists are still threatening the very fabric of democracy, never mind that, according to very same pundits, he has absolutely no chance of winning. Worse yet, it appears a troubling number of fanatical Bernie Sanders followers are refusing to get behind Hillary Clinton, who doesn’t really need them anyway, as at this point she has the endorsement of every neoliberal and neoconservative pontificating talking head in existence, and is being sold by the liberal media as the thin blue line between “love” and “stability” and the thousand-year fascist Trumpian Reich.
But I don’t want to make light of the threat. Neo-nationalist sentiment is definitely spreading, and white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Alt-Right creeps, like the one I quoted at the top of this piece, are making the most of it. The liberal press has been churning out a non-stop series of “What-the-Fuck-Is-Happening-to-Democracy?” features, as if they didn’t have the slightest clue. The entire intelligentsia, such as it is, appears to be completely baffled. Inexplicably, having been offered the chance to embrace a utopian capitalist future in which each and every one of us will be a thriving micro-entrepreneur marketing our asses to some global corporation, derivatives trader, or techno-oligarch, and all our outdated cultural values, religious beliefs, and personal prejudices, will either be eradicated or rendered meaningless interchangeable “lifestyle” choices and marketed back to us, a lot of people are retreating into the safety and familiarity of tribalism … as humans have done for millions of years. Yes, it’s certainly quite a conundrum, all this neo-nationalist sentiment.
None of it, of course, if you believe the punditocracy, has anything to do with global Capitalism, or the globalization of the labor market, or with the end of an historical era in which sovereign nations were actually sovereign … or with people’s desire, however clouded by ignorance, to cling to some semblance of actual democracy, as opposed to being ruled by corporations, investment banks, and their governmental proxies.
No, according to the corporate media, and to over-educated, half-bright, liberal authoritarians like Jonathan Rauch — for whom democracy is now an official disease worthy of inclusion in the next DSM — the problem isn’t global Capitalism; the problem is people, and their “neurotic hatred” of politicians, and the whole “political class,” who are simply trying to do the bidding of the global corporations that bought them. It isn’t that the entire world is undergoing a radical restructuring — the transfer of sociopolitical power from sovereign nations to corporations, and the transformation of what remains of society into one big global capitalist marketplace — and that some of us aren’t entirely thrilled. No, according to neoliberal sages like Rauch, Thomas Friedman, and numerous others, this “populist anger” is either some kind of mass behavioral syndrome or conduct disorder (e.g. “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” — think about that one for just a moment) or is symptomatic of pathological racism, xenophobia, “thought disorder,” or some other psychological condition.
The Pathologization of Political Dissent
We can expect this type of pathologization of any and all resistance to Capitalism to continue and accelerate throughout the future, as it functions as a perfect double bind. In a globally hegemonic system like ours, the system’s ideology, no longer challenged by any credible competing ideology, transcends ideology and becomes normality. The enemy of the dominant class — and thus the one projected throughout the entire system as “everyone’s enemy” — is no longer an external “foreign” enemy, but, rather, an internal, or “systemic” enemy … a deviation, an abnormality. The extremist, the terrorist, the neo-nationalist, the racist, the sociopathic child, cancer, depression, inappropriate anger, the malicious hacker, the government leaker … such are the threats to the new global order.
None of them poses a serious challenge to the reign of global Capitalism (unless you believe that the corporate elites and the US military are going to permit some Hitler-alike to undo everything they’ve been building for going on seventy years, in which case I’ve got a bridge to sell you). No, Neo-nationalism and religious fundamentalism — short some sort of global catastrophe that wipes out modern civilization — are just vain attempts to turn back the clock to 17th Century despotism. (And as trendy as the Anonymous and Snowden stuff is, hacktivism and whistle-blowing pose no significant threat to power, no more than protesters masking up and throwing bottles at riot cops).
Neo-nationalism is a simulacrum … a living, breathing representation of something that has never “really” existed, other than as a simulacrum. Islamic Fundamentalism, Christian Fundamentalism, Stalinist Communism, and every other attempt to reverse the spread of Capitalism throughout the world since the 17th Century, also fall into this category.
Simulacra serve a purpose, namely, to conceal the absence of something. Religious icons and other representations of monotheistic deities do not conceal the existence of those deities — they conceal the non-existence of those deities. (Apologies for getting all Baudrillardian, but there isn’t a better way to say this. Perhaps a more concrete example would be the “psychiatric disorder” I referred to above, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which was first “discovered” in 1980. This “disorder” is, of course, a simulacrum, an invention of the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries, but an actual disorder nonetheless, with categorizable symptoms, which respond to “treatment.” All these new psychiatric “abnormalities,” being simulacra, conceal the fact that it is “normality” that does not exist … and thus keep everyone obsessed with normality.)
The blood-dimmed tide of Neo-nationalism currently sweeping the Western world is a simulacrum in the classical sense. It isn’t a deceptive (i.e. “fake”) alternative concealing an authentic (i.e. “real”) alternative to globalized neoliberal Capitalism, but, rather, an all-too-real phenomenon concealing the fact that there is no alternative, and that, at present, an alternative is unimaginable … literally unimaginable, in the sense that we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system, or a way to get there.
The global capitalist ruling classes are extremely fond of this simulacrum, as it distracts us from facing where we actually are, and from working together to conceive that alternative, or even just asking the kind of questions that might help us actually get there, someday. It also keeps everyone afraid of Terrorism, Islamic Fundamentalism, Neo-Fascism, Populism, Trumpism, and pretty much any other variety of “Extremism” they can possibly think of … as if there were the slightest chance of any of these “movements” actually succeeding, and toppling global Capitalism.
All right, that’s enough reality for now. It’s time to get back to the Internet. On behalf of the global capitalist ruling classes, and their friends in politics and the mainstream media, I apologize for this lengthy interruption, and return you to their regularly-programmed hysteria …
(originally published in CounterPunch, July 12, 2016)
DISCLAIMER: The preceding essay is entirely the work of our self-appointed political pundit and in-house satirist, CJ Hopkins, and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Consent Factory, Inc., its management, staff, or any of its agents, subsidiaries, or assigns.