"Guard the Flanks"
How the Left and Right are Captured and Wielded as Weapons by Today's Power Center
Yet another damning indictment of both the Right and the Left over at least the past 30 years is their inability to make much of a dent in the consensus neoliberalism (technocracy, global integration, support of “democratic norms” and regulated capitalism) that govern the Anglosphere at the very least.
But beyond just not making a dent, the Right and Left have actually strengthened the consensus many times. Their movements subsumed into little more than guarding the flanks of the Overton Window.
This movement towards guarding the flanks is driven, largely, by a series of interacting mechanisms around language, ideology, and institutional control of information flows.
Much of Liberal language (“freedom”, “liberty”, “autonomy”, “dignity”, “equality”, etc.) is emotionally potent but (largely) substantively empty rhetoric. If I can redefine what “freedom” means, I can get a large number of people on my side. Hence why much of the Right has been reduced to corporate bootlickers even though properly interrogating their values of individual autonomy, etc. would demand greater restrictions on all institutions, especially corporations.
Related to the first point, aesthetics can be a powerful narcotic. Aesthetics are truly the core of motivation. Pure, disengaged reason will never move us to action (although the aesthetic ideal of “pure rationality” might) nor give meaning to life. Hence, movements with dissident aesthetics (images, slogans, etc.) may be able to harness lots of energy; however, aesthetics can be used to mask a policy or ideology that supports the consensus. Prime example: Trump governed as a largely ineffective Bush Republican minus the wars plus some anti-free trade stuff. His profound weakness as a president was overshadowed by his aesthetic appeal to his supporters (and, ironically, his detractors were also led to delusion/derangement by his aesthetic).
Expanding on the delusion/derangement point, possession of the institutions that control information flow and narrative propagation in society allows for Elites to decide what we see and how to frame that. Here, we see a continuous construction of the other side as the “highest evil”. I have described previously how “goods” guide us in life:
Charles Taylor’s argues that we each have “hypergoods”, a “highest good” that acts as our North Star, and orients us in moral space. According to Taylor, we judge all of our other values, all the other ‘goods’ that guide our lives, by the standard of this highest good:
“…not all goods are equal. A person almost always values many goods, and it is possible for that person to rank their higher goods. I will not go so far as to argue that individuals must have a single highest good, but we all encounter moral dilemmas: situations where we must pick between which goods to fulfill, as no option fulfills all of them. These dilemmas are critical to our development as people.”
Our institutions constantly construct the other side as being an existential threat to our way of life. “Communism”, “fascism”, “authoritarian”, “racist”, etc. Rarely do these claims have any link to reality. Donald Trump is not even close to being a fascist (hell, Mussolini would probably consider him pathetic). Whatever Nikki Haley says, socialism did not win in 2020.
If "goods" are things that guide us through moral space, "evils" are things which we cannot bear to be associated with. "Goods" attract, "Evils" repel. Hence, we see an entrenchment of currently existing Power. The DNC can count on the Left to “vote against Fascism” (lol) and the RNC can count on the Right to “vote against Communism” (lol). And so, the Right and Left become defenders of the flanks. Rebellion against the DNC/RNC cannot be tolerated, as it might let the enemy win.
The concepts of norms and rebellion can be weaponized as well. It should be noted that “Norms” are established by Power to keep you in line. Enough of “norm respecting”. Appeals to norms/civility/etc. are merely appeals to continue using the procedures and processes that support the current power structure. And yet, on the other hand, the narrative of rebellion can be used (similar to our discussions on language and aesthetics) as a way to turn anti-consensus sentiment into something that supports the consensus. How can one be a rebel when every corporation supports your viewpoint? How can one, with a straight face, argue that corporations have bought the government and yet believe that when those same corporations follow your viewpoint (and no, it is not all performative) that your viewpoint is somehow rebellious? Of course, this is because these people have been fed a narrative that supports their aesthetic rebellion. A combination of all 4 points I’ve listed (language, aesthetics, narrative control, and norms) contributes to this rather pernicious lie of “rebellion”.
These factors contribute to entrenching our current power structure. Our two-party system is supported by current power structures, yes, but such a system is contingent, not necessary. By understanding how Power guides us to guarding the flanks of the Overton Window, we can learn how to abandon this perverse duty, and break open political discussion and debate. We face many existential threats over the next few decades, so I will repeat what I said yesterday:
Our problems demand creativity. It is time to think in terms of possibility spaces. Adopt a “beginner’s mind” and think about all that can be possible.