The lens of power is the best lens through which to understand politics. Machiavelli, and Foucault, are correct. Why does Trump, King of the Islamaphobes, support Saudi Arabia? The answer is not any ideology for or against Islam, but naked will for geopolitical power – the alchemical form of the “arms sale”. Why, further, do the Democrats continue to behave as if the Mueller Report was a success, rather than a staggering failure to prove their three-year crusade that Trump is Vladimir Putin’s “puppet”? Because, of course, to back down from the precipice is to lose power. To admit fault, always, is to take a certain wound. Ordinary people can afford such wounds. But professional Twitter users, e-celebrities, politicians, and pundits cannot. Every move is so closely tracked – the slightest mea culpa means falling from the front line, and maybe having to gain a bit of wisdom instead of enjoying the lust of war.
Michel Foucault, and postmodern thought in general, has been criticized for its singular focus on power over all other human realities. But looking at contemporary American politics, only the will to power explains the obvious contradictions in the actions of Donald Trump and the Democrats. Abstracted one level backward, the will to power in politics is a death-struggle between the mythology of Judeo-Christian white America and the mythology of Woke Incorporated. Modern political thought is not so much “thinking”, accordingly, as it is threat detection. The aim is to sniff out the opposing side of history and execute it. The goal, in thought, is to associate ambiguous ideas with evil and to dismiss both ambiguity and evil through brute force. I’ve fallen victim to this as much as anyone – a diet of online media makes one wholly double-minded. Each side of Hegel’s dialectic screams at the fevered ego, shriveled, uncertain.
As a result, all thought is instantly stunted. All groundwork laid can only go one way. The only thoughts speakable are those that align with the patterns of the purported Good, which is always also the purported aim of corporate America. Thought is not needed at all, really, only the correct prejudices. Because left-wing ideology is so culturally powerful, the ways in which that power asserts itself through social dynamics are inherently more interesting to the postmodern mind than continued rehashings of critiques of a white supremacy that more than ever seems on the outskirts of American society, not in the mainstream, but beaten and exiled wherever it goes, with all the major corporations of the world publicly distancing themselves from it, and the new centers of corporate media aggressively rejecting right-wing opinion as valid. Centers of power, from Facebook to Wells Fargo, will embrace intersectionality, not white Western supremacy. This makes left-wing ideology key to understanding the dynamics of power in the future, especially as the most radical right-wingers are banned wholesale from online technologies or even from owning credit cards (this has actually happened).
Foucault is too radical for the left today. Remember that Foucault, in his debate with Noam Chomsky, dismissed Chomsky’s claim to justice as a veiled power grab. For Foucault, there is no justice, there is only power, and those who speak in the language of justice are only seeking power. Accordingly, it has become incredibly common to hear critique of “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” emerging from the most well-funded and well-supported sectors of corporate America. Left-wing thought leader Contrapoints is embraced by The Economist and given institutional support, while right-wing thought leader Sargon of Akkad is a media dumpster fire, hated even by the Conservative Party. Politically correct MSNBC hires CIA and intelligence officials like John Brennan while lecturing viewers about male privilege. Granted, this is all mainly elite culture – among the doldrums of the common nobody, these prejudices do not stand. But I am interested in elite culture, precisely because elites shape the world.
It is my prediction that democratic socialism, intersectionality and other left-wing ideologies, in failing to overcome capital, in failing to provide a new structure for human organization, will instead simply crash against the barricades, infiltrate the stations, and become woke corporatism. As this cultural hegemony of left-wing ideas continues in the corporate sector, the left will be more and more hard-pressed to claim its ideas are marginalized, when for the most part they are the most popular ideas in the society, at least in the corporate spaces that push them. Then, as the world is saturated in people who all think alike, but the fundamental structures of society have not changed, the natural result will be a resurgent right-wing purporting to demonstrate left-wing fraud. In a sense, this has already happened since 2016.
This is not good for the left, for it only has a moral claim insofar as it is on the margins. If corporate news giants like CNN, NBC and CBS slammed antifa and Black Lives Matter, for example, taking the side of Trump and Fox, then the left would have a stronger claim than ever that their ideas are utterly opposed to corporate power at the root, as was the case throughout most of the 20th century. But this is clearly not the case today. Noam Chomsky and the ACLU once advocated for the rights of even neo-Nazis to hold public demonstrations. Today, corporate fiat decides who the Nazis are in order to cut off their public speech, and the post-Vampire Castle left largely applauds it.
Censoring voices on the radical right, not the left, is accepted across corporate platforms. CNN host Ana Navarro has explicitly said: “I want them silenced”. The radical elements of the left are easily absorbed and re-appropriated by capitalist forces, with many left-wing pundits making the argument that the public sector has been privatized by Silicon Valley, and thus private information brokers can act as any other business, and throttle the flow of information however they choose. Here is a YouTube video I loved about the necessity of resisting the social pressures of modern ideology. It no longer exists. Prepare to see much, much more of this. The label of “hate speech” is insurmountable, as the United States has destroyed the lives of Muslims and African-Americans for so many decades that labelling any idea “hate speech” is sufficient to destroy it. But as the very same corporations who ban BDS and Louis Farrakhan also come after Alex Jones, it becomes obvious that the category of hate speech is ideological, designed merely to create a false new center in American politics, to control the information flow of the internet in true totalitarian style.
YouTube, and Mark Zuckerberg, when policing their platforms, more or less find themselves policing the radical right. Jeff Bezos, and his Washington Post, find it quite easy to oppose right-wing politics and reject Donald Trump while fundamentally serving their own wealth and privilege. Bezos even played ball with Bernie Sanders, raising his minimum wage to $15 an hour, likely as a gambit to avoid further scrutiny. It may work. Google, meanwhile, fires employees who question its stance on diversity quotas. Countless non-progressive ideas are outside the Overton window being built by corporations, the tech and news companies that serve as the gatekeepers of a rapidly reforming America in the wake of Trump.
As the left-wing Chapo Trap House audience finds its ideology absorbed more and more into the ruling corporate class, they will find the distance between themselves and the corporate centrists at Vox more or less closed. Host Will Menaker has already said he is still “figuring out” if democratic socialism means real socialism or just better capitalism. As the dictatorship of the proletariat dissolves into the social hierarchy of the high school cafeteria, the reality of woke capitalism will be all that is left for those who vaguely thought all existing hierarchies would be destroyed. Even in a revolution that equalizes all wealth, most unjust hierarchies will be preserved. Nepotism, social manipulation, narcissism, fixing algorithms and controlling information are all wholly possible and probable even in a hypothetical post-capitalist utopia.
Other than the single issue vote of universal healthcare versus a public option, there is not much distance between democratic socialism and just banal liberalism with more welfare. Nowhere is there a radical critique of capital, nor any ability to overthrow it. The Green New Deal, and all its adjacent ideas, will soon be the mainstream of the corporate Democratic Party, not fringe outsider plans rejected because of the threat they pose to power and privilege. Recall that in the 1930s the New Deal did not create socialism, rather, it saved capitalism. The function of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the same – to regulate and save corporate America, not to destroy it.
The main function of the ideological left, knowing they are mostly bluffing and only have quasi-neoliberal tinkering with the system in store for us, is to preserve its power within the capitalist system, that is, to preserve its claim of speaking for the little guy against capital. This space is now openly contested by the right, which is in the process of shedding Reagan-era dogmas about the free market and approaching a more paleoconservative attitude on rejecting free trade, rejecting the power of large technological corporations, and as Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski reminds us – 51% of Republicans themselves support Medicare for All. Only political figures with the guts of someone like Bernie Sanders will actually get it done, but the generational change is in the air. Vanishing are the Koch dogmas inside the right-wing base, gone is the alignment of a vanished manufacturing class with trade unions and labor, and gone is the left’s sole claim to speaking for the oppressed. This is why the left hates Tucker Carlson so much – he is an existential threat to their unique role of calling out U.S. military power and the power of Amazon and Google. But whether we like it or not, on cable television, one will find more left-wing ideas in an hour of Tucker Carlson than in all the sprawling hours of Mueller coverage on the other channels combined. This, again, is very bad for the left, which only retains its moral authority, and its power, by being the only voices capable of saying that Jeff Bezos is the problem and that military interventionism is folly. If a prominent right-winger on Fox News is saying these things, then clearly Rupert Murdoch allows them to be said, and these ideas, which will save capitalism, are not the Zion socialism promised. They are just capitalism updating itself to avoid strangulation by empire and monopoly.
Left-wing moral claims are deeply useful for the corporate world. They give virtue to otherwise indefensible powers wielded by Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube, a government by corporations. Left-wing moral appeals are the ideal clothing for brutal corporate rule, the same way “humanitarianism” became Bush’s defense for assaulting Iraq. All intelligent brands in 2019 should embrace the cultural attitude of antipathy against a mentally ill capitalist society in order to sell products to people made mentally ill by unbound capital. As an example of this, just yesterday, I saw an ad for Monster.com that nearly blew my mind. A father, tucking in his daughter, is asked what it’s like to be an adult. The father says that you nihilistically search for work, fail until you lose your self-worth, and die. The ad then recommends we use Monster.com even after admitting to us the nihilism of what it is offering. This is what is called “late capitalism”, but my deepest concern is this – is it even really late?
What if it continues indefinitely? Perhaps it’s naïve to even bring this up, but in the absolutely fantastic show Mr. Robot, a revolutionary plot to undermine capital through a financial crisis turns out to simply be the front for a Chinese plot to displace the CEO of a massive bank; the revolution is merely a game of chess between two power brokers with left-wing activists as the pawns. Even after the implosion of the world financial system, the titanic financial powerbroker called E-Corp remains functional, and powerful. The power in any complex post-industrial society is held by managerial classes, as Simone Weil knew. The international debt already shows these managers are playing with phantoms – collapse changes nothing in that equation. The revolutionary protagonist, accordingly, even works at E-Corp during Season Three, trying to undo his initial act of faux rebellion.
The great postmodernists are indispensable in comprehending all this. Perhaps the most important concept of the current era is Delueze and Guattari’s deterritorialization. Despite its lengthily name, it is basically exactly what it sounds like – the stripping away of all identity, locality, regionality and specificity into the whirlpool of multinational online capital.
The world is becoming less of a collection of unique places, and more the constant hum of one steady state – being everywhere and nowhere at once. This is enabled through digital technology, which is spread via capital. Deterritorialization means the local mall closing to funnel more profits into Amazon, leaving your city covered in barren spots. It means losing all connection to your cultural stories in favor of glib irony, or ironic nihilism. It means becoming a creature of the digital era, not of an embedded member of a community in the physical world, but instead taking barking orders from digital ghosts posted on electronic walls.
Capital and left-wing ideology are both deterritorializing forces. They both destroy, remove and dissolve fixed identities and structures. Sharing this common quality, it is little surprise that they work so well together. Their common goal is the erasure of the specific.
The resistance to deterritorialization is mostly on the right. There, the specific structures of religious ritual, parental authority and the fixed qualities of the town are presented as alternatives to multinational factories and nihilistic cyberspace. The right may be guilty of peddling a false image of the quaintness of The Shire, but as an alternative to deterritorialization, it has a certain appeal.
This appeal will compete directly with the appeal of liberation via deterritorialization throughout the 21st century. Capital and left-wing ideology will cooperate to radically change the body and mind of the human, while Luddites with quasi-religious motivation will offer instead the sacredness of humanity, with no need to dissolve the self in the acidic waters of mind-warping technology, such as the market inevitability of babies formed from petri cultures in sealed plastic sacs rather than childbirth from real women, the dystopia of Brave New World, which will be marketed successfully in left-wing terms – as a way to close the inequality between the sexes for good.
The late theorist Mark Fisher is right that our imagination has been killed, that back and forward are our only ideas. Back is not possible, and forward is sheer insanity. But Fisher, in one of his final talks, offered consciousness-raising and psychedelic thought, the fuel of the 60s and 70s, again as the way for us to challenge capital and envision a better world. But as with marijuana, psychedelics too will be bought, sold and marketed, and after the trip subsides, you will again find yourself at work and online, with no frontiers save for your own mind fundamentally anew.
My thinking in this essay is the result of engaging with the vibrant intellect of many historical and living individuals, to whom I am indebted: Slavoj Zizek, Mark Fisher, Cuck Philosophy, The Distributist, G.K. Chesterton, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Of course, as always, I must also thank Valentin Tomberg and Carl Jung. I recommend Catholic and Jungian ideas of the self as opposition to deterritorialization.