Our Surreal Cultural Moment
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Much as the word 'Nazi' lost its bite when liberals began applying it to wedding bakers refusing to make gay cakes, 'the end of the world as we know it' has become watered-down. The REM song, one too many bombastic sports personalities, a boom in post-apocalyptic books and television and suddenly here we are, living through a real civilizational collapse and at a complete loss for words.
Of course, words and the loss of them (indeed, the fight over what certain ones even mean) are yet another symptom of our surreal cultural moment. Confusing the situation further are all the rhetorical tics of those who, whether from real or feigned ignorance, deny what we are seeing before our eyes. Just as we are expected to believe that 'Cancel Culture' is a chimera of right-wing journalism, so are we asked to doubt the reality of the riots, iconoclasm and anti-Christian violence sweeping Western cities today. We are told that "literally no one believes" in the existence of the shrieking mobs that have closed down speaking engagements, shuttered organizations and terminated careers. Likewise, we are told Antifa (presumably because it lacks a corporate address and business tax ID) doesn't exist (though we are expected to just accept it as the proper default setting for any who oppose fascism, which must be news to the Jehovah's Witnesses, Peshmerga and Kuomintang).
Such rhetorical games provide cover for the true upheaval of our times. The forces at play belong more properly to the Mandelbrot fractal than any coherent ideology. If people cannot agree on what is happening, or even the right words to describe it, we have reached a crisis of civilizational proportions - one beside which mere riots, mob violence and street executions pale in comparison.
Tactical modification of language and silencing of others are indispensable components in the radical's tool kit. Marxists have been using the same tired tactics for over a century. But now the resulting civilizational ripples, amplified by social media and infotainment, enable thought leaders to do in a few weeks what it took Mao an entire Long March to accomplish. One need look only to the nightly chaos in front of the Portland federal building for proof of social media's power to radicalize and mobilize anti-civilizational forces. That there is a corporate-funded radical youth insurgency underway in the West, riding on social momentum stolen from Black Lives Matter, is indisputable to any save those who willfully traffic in lies.
That Black Lives Matter - a movement founded to correct the specifically American inequities in race relations brought on by slavery - should go international is no surprise. America has long bequeathed its various neuroses (the Cold War, Hollywood,
Scientology, Political Correctness, etc.) to a bemused world. So when the chavs defaced Churchill's statue in London, they were not so much acknowledging suppressed historical truth as jumping on the bandwagon of the American political-infotainment complex. Basking in the reflected glory of legitimate American civil rights activists, they simply couldn't contain their destructive impulses. The media enjoins us to excuse such destruction. I reply that self-righteousness, wedded with youthful ignorance, is a heady intoxicant. Can the media also excuse American activism, irresponsibly spread? Or the collateral damage it inflicts upon those not even involved in the conversation?
And this is why we are in crisis. The forces necessary to destabilize civilization - challenges to foundational principles such as freedom of speech and religion, attacks on institutions, attacks on tangible manifestations of civic identity like statues and government buildings - have been unleashed. And they are spreading across the West, powered by the tools of social media. But they are tethered to no one leader, ideological movement or specific set of
objectives. They are, rather, an amorphous cultural phenomenon resulting from a perfect storm of activist academics, youth demographics and opportunistic corporate branding. We exist in a moment where money and carefully-branded mass movements, championed by a generation of digitally-deluded zombie-troopers, combine to foment genuine civil unrest.
One can hope that this movement may find its political footing as it goes. Certainly, others have. But each one's shape, character and objective were the result of a philosophical context for the relevant material conditions. Mao's communist party structure and goals derived from the Chairman's careful study of Chinese peasant life. In the case of the Bolsheviks, it was the driving will and political acumen of Vladimir Lenin that informed the character of the emerging Soviets. Castro's Cuba had the ideological coherence of Guevara's writings to midwife its unique socialism into being. What ideological threads do we detect in our surreal cultural moment?
One force informing the emerging mass youth movement is economic. The generally Millennial rioters belong to the most socially-disadvantaged demographic since, well, Generation X. But they are somehow savvy enough to set up a host of podcasts, web live-feeds and fundraising campaigns. Worth noting, too, is the booming business of retailers selling black hoodies, bandanas, backpacks, water bottles and hockey gear of the sort I've seen modified for use as primitive body-armor by demonstrators. In a time of economic slow-down, demonstrations are good for retail business.
And there has also been no lack of media grandstanding. Suivi the original Antifa, we now see Antifa Moms in their yellow t-shirts (which appeared with the magical swiftness characteristic of any spontaneous movement). Joining them also are vets lining up at parade rest, some in BLM shirts. There is a sense that this, however chaotic, is a historic moment. No doubt new groups, movements and t-shirts will continue to emerge as people seek to become immortalized within a fractal of the widening zeitgeist.
Aside from such gimmickry and retail activity, there seems to be little ideology to this movement beyond mere self-interest and commerce. While they may be the sole virtues recognizable to an American spirit hollowed-out by decades of soul-deadening capitalism, they do no real service as an ideology. Absent any unifying purpose beyond corporate branding, the present mass movement is a many-splendor'd beast with something for every causeless rebel. But it is ultimately directionless and increasingly violent. Carried to its logical conclusion, such momentum would leave very little in its wake but rubble.
Jamie Mason is the author of ECHO, KEZZIE OF BABYLON and THE BOOK OF ASHES. He lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more at jamiescribbles.com