Why do Rebels Help the System?
How to make Unwitting Imperial Shocktroopers
This is part of my effective populism series. Read the introduction here.
The question has many answers, some which have been given very in-depth answers by a huge number of writers before me. But there are others that I do not believe have been given an adequate response. I began working on the explanation of these factors in the last piece and wish to expand here on why so many “rebels” end up becoming unwitting shocktroopers of the Empire they supposedly despise.
The 2 Reasons Everyone Knows About
I’m not going to discuss the virtue signaling and other inauthentic variants of rebellion here. Yes, there are plenty of cynical grifters but there are also many, many True Believers. They’re delusional, yes. But they exist.
1. Rebellion as “Release Valve”
Protests, online whining, etc. all as a way to get out your anger at “The System”/“The Man” in such a way that you don’t ever actually threaten the elite or currently existing power centers.
No one wants to admit that their deeply held values might have led them to supporting an ideology that sounds nice but ends up undermining those values in the first place.
From my last piece:
And so each side conjures up a phantom: fascism for the Left and communism for the Right.
Acknowledging that we live under neoliberal capitalism would demand conservatives realize their values of tradition, family, etc. is undermined by the economic system they support and would demand progressives to realize their value of autonomy is in support of an economic system they oppose. Hence why both prefer self delusion.
Call it “false consciousness” or whatever. There are those who upon being faced with the reality that their values are undercut by the ideology they support will cover their ears, close their eyes, and pretend the contradiction doesn’t exist so they don’t have to deal with the cognitive dissonance. Instead, they will pretend that ACKSHUALLY these are compatible and good, etc. This is a cope.
How much “freedom” does your average American conservative actually have? How much choice does our society truly offer you? What has “diversity” and “representation” actually brought you? Have racial wealth gaps closed at all in the last half century?
These people are throwing temper tantrums and stomping their feet, affirming their ideology because to lose that is to lose one’s bearings in the world. And no one wants to be lost.
But these kinds of people represent potential. I am sure every single one of you reading this have gone through major changes in your political beliefs and moral values. Self-Delusion is the step(s) after pure naivety (when one is unaware of the conflict between one’s ideology and values). Do not write these people off. You were one of them once.
The Reason(s) We Don’t Talk About
I use the “(s)” because the following are all connected, and it isn’t clear they are distinct reasons but rather different facets of the same phenomenon. So, rather than listing them, I will begin with a question:
Why is it that so many people seem to, in two back-to-back moments, affirm two values that contradict each other?
Sure, Friend/Enemy politics and other not-actually-hypocrisies are partly to blame, but there are times when the affirmed values have nothing to do with these factors. An example of this is, as I focused on in my last piece, leftoid anarkiddies having panic attacks after seeing some Boomers waddling through the Capitol Building. Wouldn’t one cheer the destruction of a temple of Imperial and Capitalist power considering the number of guillotine memes they post? Sure, one might fear its replacement by something worse, but that didn’t seem to be the driving factor of so many of these people.
At the time, I seethed; the Capitol had just been desecrated.
The reason people seem to lurch from affirming one value to another, even if value A and value B are opposed/contradict, is because it is easier to forget about everything but this moment’s affirmation instead of having to deal with cognitive dissonance. It’s as if the affirmations are temporally isolated.
Inside of our heads, we assimilate (or reject) information into our mental model of the world. Each one of us does this. We construct a mental map of how the World truly is, and we then judge further experiences based on that mental map.
If I fail to properly curate my experience to fit my preexisting map, I will fall into existential crisis.
To have your map proven demonstrably wrong is to lose one’s bearings in the world. Where do you go? What do you do? Who do you trust? Your map is useless. You are Lost.
It is painful to lose one’s bearings. We don’t call these crises for no reason. They are profoundly decentering and uncomfortable. It is as if someone has spun you around in one of those machines they test astronauts in and when you come to rest, you can’t tell up from down; hell, you can’t even tell you stopped spinning yet.
Some of the most difficult moments of our lives is when we have to determine which values are more important. This ranking can be far harder than determining whether something is good/bad in the first place. And so it is far easier to simply deny the incoherency, to deny the dissonance. Instead, we affirm and affirm and affirm our values until our voices are hoarse. Because that way we don’t have to deal with pain.
So now we have a base to build off of: understanding contradicting values.
A similar situation, and one I believe is connected to the ranking and possible contradiction in values I just discussed, occurs when two groups with distinct values end up supporting the same policy for different reasons. Of course, this can happen because one of the groups has been tricked; however, it can also happen when two groups have different values or different rankings of values and these end up overlapping in particular situations.
I used the example of immigration on twitter when discussing this.
The Capitalist Class who sees LatAm as a reserve army of labor to depress wages
The Progressives who see physical mobility as the ethical response to an unequal distribution of economic opportunity across countries
The capitalists care not for economic opportunity, and many of the progressives stand opposed to the evils of capital. And yet, they both support the same policy (loosening immigration restrictions), each for very different reasons.
Now, this is an oversimplified view of the debate because neither of these groups are monolithic, but it is a good illustration of my point: two distinct groups with distinct values supporting the same policy for different reasons.
I also had this to say on Twitter:
Of course, what this means, is that the impacts of policy X going into effect likely depends on two things:
Whether Group A or B have a better understanding of what X actually entails
Which group has more power in society (and can shape the implementation of X)
I believe this is connected to the dissonance discussed before. The progressives have effectively ranked “physical mobility as remedy for unequal economic opportunity” as higher than being anti-corporation. The New Left and Old Left (if those groups ever existed in anything other than myth) are defined by their distinct rankings of values as much as they are defined by having different values overall. (And all Leftoids are just Liberals at the end of the day so…meh).
And here we begin to see the core way that this dissonance/ranking ends up supporting the regime:
Imagine you support value A and oppose some value B but the policies that support A end up also supporting B. So…what do you do? This comes down to whether supporting A or opposing B is more important.
And what happens if you decide A is more important than B…but B helps perpetuate the current elite/Power centers more than A threatens it? Well……I don’t think I need to spell this out for you.
This is, of course, what happened with the histrionic leftoids whining about J6 AND the conservatives making frood claims:
One of the more interesting takes on the frood narrative was that the narrative actually bolstered the legitimacy of the system. Put simply, the narrative of frood implied that beneath the “fortifying” of the election, there was a pure system of democracy that was Good.
There are underlying goods/ranked goods at play:
even if the current regime is a perversion/degeneration of the proper system, it is still connected to that proper system, and so overthrowing it would mean overthrowing the underlying ‘good’ and that is bad!
For the leftoid, the Capitol represented a symbol of their idea of America, however detached from reality it may be. For the rightoid, democracy and freedom remain values worth dying for, and they must be rescued from the evil swamp that has perverted them!
To state that the Capitol is a hall that has been devoid of functional power/sovereignty and simply functions as a monument to the degeneration of America broadcast on C-SPAN every day is not acceptable to the leftoid.
To state that democracy is simply laundered oligarchy and freedom is completely misunderstood in the American consciousness is enough to give a Boomer conservative an aneurysm.
Slaughtering Sacred Cows is both harder, and more necessary, than you can imagine. Because “freedom”, “democracy”, and “diversity” are basically the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of America.
Ultimately, most self-described “rebels” are delusional to some extent, but they also end up supporting the system due to the ranking of their goods leading them to support policies that entrench the current regime even if they supposedly oppose it.
Opposing corporations above all else would demand one cut off excess labor supplies. It would demand opposing immigration (perhaps entirely…at least until the capitalist system is “overthrown” or something).
It is deeply important to understand that the vast majority of people are not cynical signalers just because they appear aligned with Power right now. Grand conspiracies are alluring, but not necessarily true. Just incentive structures, semi-autonomous agents with different values (and rankings of said values), and power dynamics within the networks that those agents are contained in. Have empathy. Don’t be a dick. You were an idiot once too. We’re probably all still idiots now.
"Why do Rebels Help the System?"
You make some interesting points from what might be termed the "micro" perspective. But this issue can be examined from the macro perspective as well.
Sometimes it can be useful from the narrative standpoint to portray oppression as "rebellion;" to characterize the agents of the existing power structure as brave underdogs fighting to overthrow an imaginary enemy. An simple (and effective) form of what the commies would call "mystification" is simple inversion.
Just as the content of a narrative does not have to be identical to (or even overlap with) the instrumental purpose of that narrative, the ideology that appears to motivate a group (even if sincerely held by many of its lower level adherents) does not have to reflect the actual role of that group within the political system.
It's common to see the enforcers of the current system falsely portrayed as "rebels" against it. This is hardly a propaganda technique that's specific to this particular time and place; it's often easier to perceive it in action in a distant/ foreign setting than it is close to home. After all, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was called a "revolution," and one its most common slogans was "to rebel is justified" -- so clearly this program was a spontaneous, grassroots rebellion against the oppressive rule of bourgeois elements, revisionists, and landlords, rather than a purge of Mao's opponents designed to consolidate his power, right?
Closer to home, just look at antifa -- their "official" ideology is anarcho-communism, but their role within the system is clearly to serve as the plausibly-deniable secret police of the neoliberal establishment that they ostensibly oppose. They "rebel" by physically attacking any actual political dissidents who assemble in public, working closely with the corporate "news" oligopoly to target others for retaliation, etc.
BLM: ostensibly fighting against omnipresent, oppressive "systemic White supreemism" or whatever -- yet their "rebellion" was sponsored by just about every Fortune 500 corporation, heavily promoted by the corporate "news" media... and any heretics who deviated from the party line were quickly silenced: