New Notes From The Underground of Power
America was built on freedom. A freedom that descends from painstakingly crafted documents that defined an objective: to protect the individual from systems that could encroach their natural rights. These ideas were put forward by minds lost to the myths of history. The Federalist Papers were written by pseudonymous polymaths who strived to ensure preciseness and completeness of argument, all while meeting press deadlines in the campaign for the ratification of the Constitution. This wasn’t The New York Times in the 2020s, this was real writing. They weren’t LARP-ing like modern intellectuals.
As we read these texts, if people even do anymore, one can’t help but dream of a time when newspapers would publish such essays, once so timely and profound. I doubt that as a society we have the attention span to appreciate real work anymore. Our elites now openly (and proudly!) disdain any symbol of greatness, past or present. Worse, societal ignorance has bred contempt and it’s seen as the worst kind of boomer conservatism to glorify the education of the past. I concede, I do.
Sometimes I find myself lying awake at night, perplexed over how humans continuously manage to mess up the fruits of civilization. This perplexity recurs as a generational event, naiveté mixed with arrogance. We ignore our history and the resurgence of narratives and systems tried and tested. Every modern generation believes that they are the ones fighting for true freedom, that this time — and this time only — is make or break. Our generational hubris contrasts with how much Benjamin Franklin managed to avoid it, humbly listing in letters all the scientific breakthroughs he knew he would never live to see.
The icky nature of the current moment comes from it falling under the disgracefully false pretense of democracy. Hysteria for more justice conveniently ignores what powers an oligarchy has amassed against any kind of accountability. As our ancestors paid off the Church to repent for their sins, we elect flagrant sinners who strike geopolitical deals with foes, the dollars acting as moral reparations for the bombing of civilians who live too close to an oil supply. Charisma, like Obama had, allows them to publicly get away with it. The famines rage on, the pseudo-wars continue, and yet still the people of the world give up their hard-earned money to an entrenched and entitled elite that role-plays as smiling philanthropists.
Most voters state that we still live in a democracy, either naively unaware of the shift of power to unelected bureaucrats serving the oligarchy, or deliberately profiting from an oligarchic rule that they believe continues to serve them. This ruling class knows just how to play us, constantly adjusting the frequency of the media’s siren songs so that we never have the bandwidth to think for ourselves. We can’t relinquish the belief that we are all collectively in control, even though reflecting momentarily on that concept should show us how ridiculous it is. Did we see the pandemic coming? Why are the markets booming? Do we have any idea what this year will bring? In those moments, when our lack of agency is flaunted, we do anything to collectively believe it not to be true. We join in the constant applause and laughter, never quite sure who or what it’s directed at.
Those who benefit from being ruling class adjacent choose not to see it. The millions of people who have been indoctrinated to conflate success with ruling-class acceptance, the Ivy League schools, the mainstream press, the awards and the ceremonies, they can’t see it. It’s hard to give up an entrenched reward system with no obvious alternative. Their attention is firmly and deliberately fixed on identity politics, the flames of which are fanned by those who gain from diverting attention away from their own actions. There’s a reason the ruling class screams ‘unity!’ but keeps dividing us over and over: It detracts from their own misgivings and from the many crises they mismanage. There’s a reason those in power rage against real meritocracy: It threatens the money and power that they once acquired and no longer necessarily deserve.
If we let bureaucrats achieve their dreams of a universal homogenous state, we won’t find the people reflecting on the arguments of Hegel and Kojève, they’ll be watching reruns of the Kardashians whilst doped up on heavily-taxed Benzos. Wait, is that now? But in the near future, thanks to the genius of the technology industry, those Benzos will be bought with Yang-approved UBI crypto tokens and delivered by a Silicon Valley-funded blockchain start-up made of former Obama interns. If this all sounds bleak then take comfort in knowing that reality won’t matter much because by then, everyone will aspire to be a Non-Player Character. Maybe they already do. The end goal of our digitally-flavored progressivism is not democratic socialism, it’s nihilism. A nihilism that permeates naturally when all normative order and objective reality has been denied. Perhaps the philosophically-minded should sympathize more with this denial. After all, reality is inherently tiresome. It brings with it the need for accountability and responsibility. It is far easier to build a world where activism is posting to social media an appropriately-colored square.
In twelve years, when Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decide who enters their Girlboss-branded ark to cross the floods of climate change, I will stand in front of their clipboards and say, “Look Ladies, I’m a nice person, honest. I mostly recycle and only went to that one Trump fundraiser, a weak-willed person who saw life as performance art.” But I won’t be able to hide the flare in my eyes, the desire to defend my future cubs, the vengeance of an animal that only ever wanted reason to defend natural rights. Maybe there are others who are also watching extreme cultural ‘progressivism’ smother everything they value with its false moral compass. Classical music is oppressive now, due to its ‘elitism’. A ‘gender reveal’ party caused a substantial part of California, ironically a state that strives to discredit gender, to burn down. The Onion, not David Attenborough, is narrating the elite screenplay.
Instead of responding with the only appropriate action — laughing at it all, we take to Twitter to cry out in dismay, our lack of impact negated by the carefully designed dopamine reward of retweets and likes. The digital public square controls the narratives of our collective activist fantasia, that a 280 character sentence or consumer purchase could be an act of moral virtue. One night last year I found myself buying six pairs of Biden-Harris campaign socks online. Alexa, how does one assimilate oneself into the Cathedral?
The next time people talk about politics around you, pay attention to their faces and to the involuntary micro-movements that reveal their real emotions. The lick of their lips as they drool over the supposed misgivings of their political opponents, the dilation of their pupils as they fantasize about ‘cancelling’ the other side. Everyone believes that they, unlike the others, are informed voters — that they know just the right formula to make municipal bond calculations on ballots. They pass their hubris and blind spots onto the next generation, a never-ending stack of nightmares, tied up by corruption and perpetuated by the suffocating slime of bureaucratic creep. At least the Greeks had Euripides! The shared catharsis was explicit. They never felt the need to lie to themselves that any of the offerings for cathartic release were real.
Occasionally people write to me, in the little microcosm of reality I exist in on the internet, to ask what to do. Unfortunately, it’s the same question I wanted to ask them. The scary part comes when we both later realize that no-one is here to give us an answer. This is my Benjamin Franklin letter, a plea from the past into the void of the future. We have an enemy, but it doesn’t have deliberate or ill-intentioned goals. Any extremely complex centralized institution will eventually have perverse emergent behavior. Meeting the needs of the power structure ensures an institution’s existence. As John Taylor Gatto stated in his 1990 acceptance speech of the New York Teacher Award: “The abstract logic of the institution overwhelms individual contributions.” Fuck the system, literally. But the answer isn’t socialism, it starts with decentralization and weakening control.
The ruling class wants you to be mediocre so you depend on the state, which itself props back up the ruling class. They want you to disregard your potential so you can never build better than their propped up industries. They’ll repeatedly tell you success is being employed or having your vision acquired as those narratives keep you from actually trying to win. It’s this constant propping of failed ventures that creates a culture of resenting talent, because it’s a threat to the millions of people who are paid to apply lipstick daily to the pig. One day, maybe, we could all be management consultants. Once upon a time, we used to fear our enemies. Then we feared our government. Now we’re afraid of ourselves. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? It’s asking that question that causes the volume on the news megaphone to increase daily; in case that finally we might realize how easy it is to walk away and leave their reality theater production behind.