On the Regime Information War’s Frontline
Among the outcomes of opposing the current year regime is an encounter with a specific online psychological and social type. Working at foundations, as journalists, or as students, or as artists, their activity consists in the pursuit of what the Stasi called Zersetzung, or the systematic degradation of a target’s reputation, image, and prestige by circulating true, verifiable, and discrediting information along with untrue, credible, irrefutable, and therefore also discrediting information.
Their institutions and employers are generally aware of this behavior and tacitly or vocally condone it. In academia and global culture, cancellation activists are rewarded and encouraged. Newspapers and broadcasters draw on them as sources and employ reporters who downplay or apologize for their agenda.
Because this activity focuses on individual cases, because its principal exponents and also targets are individually insignificant, and because the activists express themselves through incoherent but disturbing jargon, the importance of this phenomenon from a systematic point of view has been underemphasized. Irritating, unintelligent and boring it may be, but this network effectively administrates the online information environment. By policing social media expression, and threatening and isolating critics and opponents they collectively create a ‘safe space’ for the unchallenged circulation of current year propaganda. Anyone rejecting it is targeted, attacked, and ‘cancelled’ or deplatformed, and further questions are discouraged.
Is this an updated Operation Mockingbird-like placement of trained information assets on social media, in manipulated groups, and captured institutions? Perhaps. Recent years have witnessed intensified involvement by intelligence agencies in extremist groups across the ideological spectrum as organizers, propaganda conduits, and provocateurs. Ideological policing agencies pursuing flexible ideas of hatred and misinformation collaborate with social media companies, governments and financial institutions to repress and censor opposition. As in Operation Mockingbird, singers and celebrities have been deputized for ideological promotion, and a new kind of insider analyst or expert presenting the official Regime line is now ubiquitous on corporate media.
At the limits of this model is a vision of a secret network that uses propaganda and surveillance tactics to drive a definite agenda. Networks of this kind exist and, theoretically, it would be possible to plot them, as a conspiratorial geometry of crucial figures, links and sponsors. But there is another aspect to the question which consists in grasping the regime as system to understand its limits and capacities, if not its pressure points and weaknesses.
Regimes are systems of communication structured by priority and influence. Information moves across peripheries and important information is directed to the centre or directed outwards from it. There is an apex point of influence surrounded by a ruling inner group but this point is theoretical and mobile. The regime itself is everything that it controls, including national economies, strategic institutions, reserves of loyalty, individual psychologies, and pure repressive force.
In depending on the power of an omnipresent propaganda operation, now including psychological control techniques, to manufacture an illusion of consensual legitimacy, while incentivizing the deployment of clandestine ideological harassment and surveillance networks we are already in a certain kind of situation. Jacques Attali describes a “decentralized totalitarianism.” Now equipped with massively upgraded methods of coordination and coercion compared to twentieth century totalitarian states, the current year regime deploys an inverted metapolitics of vulnerability, sexual emancipation, and racial justice but preserves the central features of totalitarian government. Human rights are suspended. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are curtailed. Culture, art and education are politicized by imposing ideological criteria and irregular secret police enforcement. Racism (now under the Orwellian label anti-racism) is normalized. Political and social opposition is demonized and criminalized.
Totalitarianism doesn’t happen overnight but concludes the process of the breakdown of society. Class society, composed of recognizable political and social units, decomposes into atomized, deracinated, politically submissive masses, which are exploited and manipulated to support Regime priorities. Party offices proliferate. Informal syndicates now come to dominate over regular procedures. Institutions are coopted. Front groups are established. The bureaucracy is politicized and weaponized.
How this happens reveals a map of the regime as associated zones of occupation. Regimes are not eternal, but webs of more or less resilient alliances, techniques and mutual or overlapping interests. Nobody is loyal to regimes as such, but only to the power which supports their own objectives. At the zero level, this is the evasion of destruction at the hands of the regime. In order to avoid that fate, loyalty is extracted both behaviorally and ideologically. It becomes compulsory to participate in rituals, whether clapping, kneeling or saluting, and now distancing and masking, and the rite of vaccination.
A regime has no essential form, but operates through organs and devices whose effectiveness is moderated by a range of variables and pressures. These include morale, the general levels of prosperity and education, rapid changes in demography and advances in technology.
Regimes can survive the loss of secondary organs, but on losing vital organs will succumb. A power swells, or weakens, and destroys the base on which a regime depended. It collapses and a new regime emerges, in which this power is incorporated into a new agreement.
A totalitarian regime, in a certain sense, is a regime without key organs and therefore lacking higher functions. It has no capacity for memory, which it finds painful, speculative intelligence, which it subordinates to ideology, or empathy, which is rejected as an alien morality. It is the political power of the reptile brain.
A regime is the political and psychological expression of who exercises power through it; in this sense, a regime itself has personality as the sum of qualities which it suppresses and empowers. What is also true is that a personality is fundamentally a social construct which signals receptivity to different forms of domination and submission. From the point of view of propaganda the regime conditions man in its own image, as its norm, conditioned to behave ideally from the point of view of it. Within the ranks of the regime itself, commitment generally to criminality will eventually result in the suppression of all honest actors.
A criminal regime becomes increasingly more criminal. Depending on the situation opposition strategy aims to force adoption of a higher or a different standard, by drawing a line through the regime to compel elite defections and expulsions of its criminal, destructive elements, or drawing a line around it, as the enemy, to circumscribe its power. What can be salvaged from the current year regime represents a complex question. Totalitarian regimes in general, however, cannot be reformed, or easily destroyed, but must be pressured to implode.
Totalitarian communication is symbolic, rather than conceptual. What matters in a word is not the thought but the ideological associations that it yields, or can be made to yield through narrow optics. In an atmosphere of total paranoia, which is the atmosphere totalitarian regimes engender, the presence of this threat leads to the dissemination of a form of speech as mental choreography, mechanized through codes.
Arranged in certain combinations, these codes produce the signature or theme tune of the Regime, which is the monopoly on violence: the crowning point of sovereignty in all places and all times. But this monopoly on violence goes both ways. A regime is not only responsible for the violence it commits, but for the violence which it tolerates. The anarcho-tyranny which defines the current year regime, as it circles the drain of its legitimacy, is essential to the way it operates. It is not that the Regime wants chaos, but that the forces which control it must inevitably produce this outcome.
The signature of the regime authenticates for the people who produce it a commission in enacting and enforcing violence. In twentieth-century totalitarian societies, secret policemen showed a badge before they dragged you to Lubyanka. By contrast, our decentralized totalitarian societies create a secret police (online regime thug) market by defining and commodifying violent symbols. These now are fished out of the gutter by the coprophages who live naked by the sewer.
Justice in a totalitarian society transforms into symbolic justice for symbolic crimes. What is real is ideology and terror, and terror is the dream of ideology. The symbolic identity, or value of the victim and perpetuator are now what matters in the mirror of the dream of the regime. Insofar as the continuation of this dream becomes dependent on the total domination of symbolic space, the Regime becomes compelled to suppress all facts and narratives which undermine its credibility.
The post-cancellation landscape of where the current year regime has decided to apply this force reveals a scarred and cratered network indicating what appear to be key points of vulnerability, but this map is structurally deceptive. It shows symbolic magnitudes in a pattern of their tactical deployments, not the real beliefs of the regime. The regime believes in nothing. Its language is completely instrumental, and incidental to its content. The significance in contemporary discourse of racism and anti-racism (or anti-fascism) does not mean that the Regime is concerned with these phenomena as such, but only that it finds this discourse useful from the perspective of its aims.
The ultimate meaning of Regime-speak, in all times and all cases, is will to power. This drive is both channeled and concealed by the symbolic rings with which the Regime surrounds itself. Iteratively circulated through spectacles, sometimes purely for distraction, these symbols form the codes produced by the Regime to justify its actions which lends them an unearthly power, as a chorus sheet of lies.
The Regime replicates mimetically by propagating specific phrases, mantras, images, identities and symbols which entrench its zone of operations. Wherever two or more are gathered, sharing an approved perspective on a culturally acknowledged topic in the synthetic jargon of Current Standard Regimese the Regime is in their midst.
Grasped as a mobile power, the satanic majesty of the Regime can be invoked by anyone at anytime. This fact already introduces an anxiety in unguarded conversations, of speech reported later, and maliciously, of an atmosphere of threat.
In general social interactions, the Regime is nothing but this signature of threat, connected to a set of codes, which open into different possibilities, some alarming. What occurs in some discussions, and also thought, is the imposition of an obstacle, or mental block, connected to specific themes or symbols felt as dangerous. What specifically is felt as dangerous is their proximity to the jaws of the Regime. Everything they can be linked to, which is anything and anyone, will be instinctively avoided. The safe position is the repetition of the mantra.
The Regime supplies a form of rhetoric which it circulates through trusted sources for use by anyone at anytime. This rhetoric empowers the Regime, by focussing attention where it wants it focussed, and empowers those who speak it, as the voice of the Regime. By not deviating from the script one demonstrates allegiance towards and pleases the Regime. By actively policing the Regime position, one assumes the further power to prohibit speaking, and threaten those refusing to comply.
This opportunity attracts a cadre with a desire to exploit it. Not everyone wants to join the secret police: those who do embrace the doctrine which facilitates the motivation. What the position offers is a license to channel violence with impunity. This can be more or less dramatic or banal.
Among the individuals empowered in the seventeenth-century Europe witch trials was Matthew Hopkins, a sadistic murderer and psychopath whose ‘Witchfinder General’ title was his own invention. Hopkins was not an agent, but a symptom of the seventeenth-century regime who exploited his environment to gratify a deeper drive. Likewise, many of the most zealous contemporary cancellation actors are not affiliated with any institution, but broken individuals with personality disorders using activism as an outlet. They are parasitic on the devastation in which totalitarianism operates, they are its avatars, not its officials. Their link to the regime is not professional but psychological and existential: the deepest possible connection.
Regime degeneration to a point of criminal insanity and terrorism is a recurrent theme in history. Totalitarian regimes essentially are governments that have degenerated into a mafia-like structure occupying territories in which political and legal institutions and ethical and logical conceptions have collapsed, but the economy continues functioning.
Terror as a strategy is already essentially criminal in nature since it replaces rational deliberation with the threat (or use) of violent force and thus establishes the social contract as a hostage situation.
The sadistic mood of cynicism which defines totalitarian states generalizes and democratizes the atmosphere of the criminal underworld. A gangster nihilism alternating with a psychosexual fanaticism permeates its tendrils. The use of violence to consolidate authority replicates the politics of organized crime. Ideology, attached to terror, is useful for maintaining rackets, which it controls as an expression of Regime prestige, but simultaneously reveals its incompleteness. As the interests of the Regime subordinate all other interests and considerations, enforcing the virtual monopoly of an absolutely hollow ideology becomes a key priority, but this point arrives when the regime is losing grip.
The case of the Stasi is instructive. As Stephen Kotkin notes, by 1989 the organization numbered 91,000 agents, one for every 180 East Germans; Hitler’s Gestapo had peaked in size at 7,000 in 1937 for a population four times larger. The Stasi also had developed an informant network estimated at seven times larger than the equivalent in the Third Reich. Total archives numbered six million files, compiled on an opposition estimated in 1989 at 2,500 individuals including sixty ‘hard-core’ activists. This same year the Stasi compiled five hundred situation reports, each sixty pages long.
None of this was capable of preventing the DDR’s collapse, but testifies to its inevitability. The government was living in a dream world. The Stasi represented psychologically the repressive side of the equation. By 1989 East Germany’s foreign debt had reached $26.5 billion, with the annual cost of servicing this debt at $4.5 billion, or sixty percent of export earnings. The issue became so intractable that first leaders ceased to mention it, and then forbid its mention altogether.
Kotkin quotes a scholar of East German ruling circles. “One of the most interesting findings is how little most policymakers, including many members of the highest circles knew. At Politburo meetings leaders discussed very little of substance.” Instead they fantasized about the capitalists who were simultaneously supporting and destroying their regimes. “Imperialism stands right at the door of our house with its hate on three television channels,” one DDR official told his Soviet counterpart Nikolai Baibakov in 1981.
We may be in this situation now, faced with a schizoid web of political and corporate partnerships allied with the cynical, the cowardly, and the criminally insane. Their project to impose a digital control matrix on humanity through mass psychology and experimental vaccinations evidently takes things into territory only cult leaders and madmen could conceive. But all totalitarian societies have their utopias. What is the likelihood this one succeeds?