Note: The regular Monday post is up at Taki. This week it is a language lesson in how to communicate in your new country. There is the Sunday Thoughts podcast up behind the green door, for those who enjoy the sound of my voice. This week I spent a lot of time making sport of General Milley.
It has been observed that people who claim to be free thinkers are always people trapped in the narrowest lanes of dogma. They somehow confuse their love of conformity for rebelliousness. On the other hand, people who do question the prevailing orthodoxies tend not to think about it very much. Instead, they follow their nose on the alternative path, even if it violates a taboo. This is why genuine free thinkers tend to be victims of the revolutions they initially support.
In the current age, this contrast is especially stark. The people claiming to be the wild and crazy guys of politics are not only conventional, but they also tend to be wedded to the oldest ideas. They also enjoy full support from an increasingly authoritarian regime, while claiming to oppose authoritarianism. A good example is someone like Tim Pool, who is a perfect example of how the regime creates its own opposition. He thinks he is a rebel while broadcasting from regime platforms.
The Right is festooned with housebroken rebels. This is a legacy of Bill Buckley, who defined the opposition to the Left within the bounds of the acceptable. It was the Left, of course, that decided what was acceptable. Over the last 70 years, every great purge was led by the Buckley crowd. The Birchers, paleocons, populists, immigration patriots and so on were denounced and purged by Conservatives, after the Left decided they were no longer allowed in polite company.
In the current age, the contrast between the swelling hordes of people outside the bounds of the acceptable and the so-called conservatives is glaring. It was not always so, which would explain why so-called conservatives carried on as if they were rebels trying to topple the system. In the 1990’s, for example, Conservative Inc. could plausibly argue that the paleo remnant turning up at Ross Perot rallies or Ron Paul events were just a noisy minority, not the real alternative to the Left.
A similar dynamic seems to be at play on the Left. The internet is full of people claiming to be the real Left. They tend to rally around people like Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez as the rebels against the system. Unlike those conventional thinkers in the mainstream media, the democratic socialist are the real rebels. They are the ones challenging the established order. The fact that democratic socialism is the plaything of a billionaire currency speculator never seems to matter.
This false consciousness is understandable among the street gangs and rioters recruited to cause mayhem. Most of the people were see smashing windows and bellowing about Nazis are just day labor hired for the task. The typical “black bloc” is populated with drug addicts, homeless people, and random losers. They are organized by the children of managerial class types, building their resume. Nothing opens doors in the managerial class like a turn as a street radical.
The real puzzle comes with the branded radicals. In this case, “branded” should be read as corporate branded. The Young Turks, for example, imagine themselves to be rebels fighting corporate media and corporate politics. They take their name from the Young Turk Revolution that toppled the Ottoman Empire’s monarchy. Cenk Uygur, one of the creators, describes himself as a young insurgent. He and the others are leading a revolution from the Left against the system.
The fact that his channel is the creation of the system, operates on the platforms of the system and is funded by the people who benefit the most from the system seems to be lost on him and his audience. What makes the whole thing even more amusing is that Cenk Uygur is a middle-aged man. The only thing that would make their enterprise more ridiculous is if the “Young Turks” were a collection of octogenarians working from the human resource department of Goldman Sachs.
If you want to see just how much American politics has been corporatized and homogenized since the end of the Cold War, look at the Left. The typical left-wing person in America will defend to the death the right of Apple or Amazon to exploit their workers in order to make a profit. The far-left of American political discourse now arrives at the debate dressed like race car drivers. They are the house slaves of the American political plantation, but think they are John Brown.
One reason for the political discourse being dominated by deluded corporate flunkies is it pays extremely well. Cenk Uygur would be spending his days in traffic court if not for his willingness to play this role in corporates politics. Instead of struggling to pay the mortgage, he gets to live in a mansion. This is where Bill Buckley was a pioneer back in the before times. He made selling out into a highly lucrative career by making it look like a principled stand against his paymasters.
That explains the cynical, but what about the truly deluded? The internet is full of people volunteering to carry the torch for corporate conservatism or corporate progressivism, while thinking themselves as free thinking rebels. These people volunteer to be sheep while thinking they are wolves. The people showing up at this summer’s Trump rallies are not doing it for money. The losers calling them fascists on Twitter are convinced they are fighting the racist system.
The simple answer is that the supply of people who are not terribly bright, but sure they are on top of things is quite large. Even if 20% of the population falls into this category, the system has an army of noisy simpletons it can control. That is more than enough to drown out the real opposition. It also creates social proof. People unhappy with the system can find a corporately controlled mob to join. The fact that it is safe inside the Cenk Uygur and Tim Pool tents adds to the appeal.
There is another reason. This quote from John Derbyshire’s We Are Doomed is useful in this context. “The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list.”
That is what these sorts of politics satisfy. The fans of Cenk Uygur or Tim Pool get to feel like they are on the winning team. They are also told that the tides of history or the immutable facts of the universe are on their side. The exaggerated size of the audience offers the social proof and the pseudo fellowship of on-line communities. Most important, they get to hate on the bad guys. That is the real draw of this sort of corporate sponsored politics. You get to safely hate your enemies.
What never intrudes is reality. When Tim Pool says “I am not afraid of being challenged or wrong” he means that in the context of corporate sponsored politics. He is perfectly willing to sit down with the folks sponsored by Amazon or Apple to talk about the latest pronouncements from Team Walmart. What will never happen is any of these people sitting down with someone who genuinely questions the premise of corporate sponsored politics or the system that makes it possible.
In a way, the corporate sponsored rebel is the commercialization of the old tactics used by state security agencies. The FBI does not have to run COINTELPRO, because YouTube and Twitter do it for them. Instead of agents from the state secretly supporting the accommodationist wing of the opposition, corporate America hires them, gives them a big platform and the freedom to operate on-line. The rest fall in line because they just assume the marketplace has spoken.
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