Plague and the City: of Rats and Men

Yersinia pestis is a Gram-negative, non-motile, stick-shaped bacterium. It enjoys vacationing in damp places, riding fleas, and unleashing God’s Wrath on Humanity. The disease it causes, plague, still holds a remarkable grip on culture as the archetypal deadly epidemic. This is partly due to its severity and spectacular symptoms, but also because during the course of History, it has been the cause of various pandemics, all of them originating in Central Asia and spreading fast to Africa and Europe. It is, thus, the quintessential disease of the Old World: a dark barbarian demon, unleashing periodic destruction over civilization like an inscrutable and violent god.

There have been, at least, three high-impact plague pandemics. The first was the Plague of Justinian, which hit the Byzantine Empire in 541 BC. The disease killed off a good 25% percent of the continent’s population, according to some estimates. It spread quickly through Europe, perhaps thanks to Justinian’s globalization efforts, the Renovatio imperii which sought to recover lost Western Roman territories for a unified Empire. Procopius of Caesarea offers in his Secret History some fascinating anecdotes indicating that epidemics, despotic rule, and a venal public life are nothing new under the sun. Rulers do not rise to the occasion, but sink to their natural state.

As a result of the plague ravaging the countryside, agricultural workforce diminished and the price of grain rose astronomically. When confronted with the low tax revenue caused by the massive death toll, Justinian simply made the survivors liable for the part owed by their deceased neighbors. He also made himself inherit a lot of the victims’ property, a measure we commend Procopius for criticizing.

As plague spread around the Mediterranean basin, geopolitical balances were overturned; the Byzantines, who had been close to reuniting the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, were crippled in their restoration efforts. Although the Mediterranean’s Western shores were finally conquered in AD 554, the reunification did not last long. The Goths, who had been pushed back, regrouped and recovered forces. The New Normality of Germanic rule had been firmly established. The transition from Ancient to Medieval Europe was well underway, a Dark Ages version of the Great Reset.

However historically relevant, Justinian’s plague was superseded by a deadlier pandemic 800 hundred years later. This one is probably the most iconic, and was given a name with enormous memetic potential: the Black Death. It started in 1347 and killed off, according to some estimates, between 30 and 40% of Europe’s population.

It is generally agreed upon that the Black Death’s horrible impact was due, in part, to the urbanization process which characterizes this time period. Political, social and economic stability, coupled with improvements in agricultural technology, had led over the centuries to a rising population, and a blooming urban class that lived of trade and manufacture: the bourgeois. Epidemiologically, large interconnected nodes with many people living in them are a recipe for disaster, and this is exactly what happened. Obviously, crowded towns trading with each other caused the disease to spread faster than it would have in a low-density, poorly communicated wasteland.

According to the Progressive mythology, which apparently bases its knowledge of the Middle Ages on Game of Thrones and Monty Python sketches, the Medieval Period was indeed the Dark Ages™: an era of filth, poverty and religious obscurantism. People died of plague because they slept with rats, didn’t bathe, tried to pray away disease, et cetera. This belief neglects the fact that Medieval Europe inherited and developed Roman bathing culture, with soap being a burgeoning industry. Although truly effective sanitary practices were still far down the road, people were not exactly rolling in faeces either.

In fact, arrogant medical establishments are not a recent phenomenon. Rulers have always been corrupt, and academics have always tended to (wrongly) dismiss common-sense. It was the first generations of University-educated physicians who, in Early Modern times, advised against bathing. According to the scientific reasoning of the time, water opened up pores and allowed foul miasmas to enter the body and bring disease. A delicious irony; but we digress.

The thing is, the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages, of which the pandemic was a critical factor, signalled de implosion of a certain Medieval statu quo. It led to all kinds of strife: social, religious and economic. It changed production relations and political forms, and modified the demographic texture of Europe. People -and power- were transferred from a distributed network based on lord-vassal relations to centralized absolutist courts, located in a handful cities which remain power centers even today.

Although urban centers were hit the hardest by the pandemic in terms of mortality, it was the countryside where changes were felt the most. Lacking manpower, the feudal system entered an unstoppable downward spiral. Many belonging to this old agro-military elite, those who were clinging at the edge of the leisure class, simply disappeared, victims to war, famine, and poverty. The survivors reaped the leftovers, accumulating wealth. Titles of nobility became accessible to the bourgeois, who bought them and became rentiers. The City had finally become the center of power. Great Reset II: Renaissance edition was underway.

As a side note, it is a sobering fact to consider that more time passed between Justinian’s Plague and the Black Death, than between the latter and the Current Year™. History has its patterns: the Black Death most likely originated in China and spread to Europe through Italian ports. For a while, it was hypothesized that it might have been caused not by a bacteria but by a hemorrhagic fever-inducing virus, like Ebola. The theory seems to have been abandoned as of late, and there’s even some evidence suggesting that it may not have come from the Far East, after all.

In any case, the third great plague pandemic did originate in China in 1855, also spreading globally due to improved transoceanic communications. This time it caused more than 12 million deaths, a comparatively low number probably reflecting improved hygienic practices in Western cities. Better than those of the 1340s, that is; 19th century European cities were the nightmarish hellscapes that inspired the likes of Dickens or Dostoevsky, after all. How do they compare to the sanitary conditions of a modern slum in a Third World Mega-City? For now, we leave that as an exercise for the reader to ponder.

Due to the many unpleasantries of the 20th century, many of the effects of the social and political consequences of the Third Great Plague went unnoticed or have been mostly forgotten. The Great Reset (episode 3!) was subtle. It came by indirectly catalyzing the most important historical process of the past 100 years: decolonization. Due to widespread availability of Western medicine, governments worldwide, from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires and from Cape Town to Glasgow, had access to the same measures to combat the disease. The key was found to be not the isolation of infected human carriers, but the elimination of the rodent and flea vectors.

Despite similar approaches, the results accross the world were wildly different. Metropolitan administrations in Europe and the US succeeded. Most colonial enclaves, however, failed to convince indigenous populations to accept lockdowns and other Western practices. In many places, after early backlash, authorities quickly resigned to sit back and watch the epidemic burn itself out. This led to dismal loss of life in places like India or South Africa: the early cracks of the British Empire. The Crown could not protect its subjects, and another nail was hammered in the coffin of the White Man’s Burden.

The lopsided impact of the plague made evident, and perpetuated, the inequalities between the metropolis and its overseas territories. The World Health Organization declared the pandemic over by 1960. By then, new cases were only being declared in what soon would be called the Third World, a fact which has remained true until nowadays.

Plague has always spread to other continents by traveling in its preferred animal reserve: the rat. Actually, any rodent that lives in close proximity to humans will do, but the rat is so linked to Humanity’s vicissitudes, that it has become a symbol of disease, filth, and immorality. Its fast rate of reproduction and tendency to cannibalism and aggression made it a synonym of promiscuity and sin to medieval eyes, and this reputation has not changed much since then.

As ultimate urban survivors, rats have the connotations of a certain ethos attributed to crowded urban life: grey, dirty, anonymous, and corrupt. The connection between them, cities, and a degenerate existence is an ancient, perpetually evolving meme. Interesting iterations range from German folk tales about the Rattenkönig to 1984‘s iconic torture scene or neoreactionary musings on “IQ shredders” and the “rat race”.

Interestingly, this contempt is not made extensive to all rodent house pests. There’s plenty of heroic mice in fiction; rats, though, are almost universally bad news. Mice help trapped lions, rescue orphans, and generally save the day. They are adventurous, cute little creatures, willing to take risks despite their lowly status in the Animal Kingdom. Rats, in contrast, are dirty, brutal, often vicious gangsters. More powerful than their mousely brethren, they appear as a sort of jungian shadow on steroids: tough, cunning, and willing to survive by any means necessary.

Thus, while the Country Mouse is a trope as old as Aesop, rats exist in culture as cosmopolitan, rootless vermin. The Country Mouse highlights the simple virtues of rural life, whereas the Rat lacks any wholesome connections to the land. “City Rat” is not a clearly identifiable meme, but it doesn’t spark any particularly positive feelings. The closest term, Hood Rat, is mostly pejorative according to the Urban Dictionary, with racist connotations added as a bonus.

At the root of this divide, one can find echoes of a reactionary narratives of the Industrial Revolution: that of Ancien Règime farmers who left the countryside to become proletarian factory workers in the Industrial Revolution. The healthy, swarthy complexion of the peasant replaced with the black and the red of coal and tuberculosis. The transformation from farmer to worker was thus portrayed as a degradation, directly leading to the totalitarian devastations of the 20th century. The natural answer is, of course, to “Reject Modernity, Retvrn to Tradition”; Tradition being an ideal past decade somewhere between the 1490s (for hardcore radicals) and the 1980s (for normie redpillers).

These superposed counterpoints of Urban vs. Rural and Rat vs. Mouse, when approached as a dichotomy, remain a solid populist memeplex in societies where this division is stark, such as most Western ones. In 2016, Based Flyover Deplorables against Satanic Coastal Elites is the obvious American example, but there are undertones of this in other contexts, the French gilets jaunes uprising being a particularly notorious one.

More or less explicitly, populist sentiment in economic peripheries all accross the West exemplifies this phenomenon. The definition of “Periphery” being expanded to accomodate not only the heavily subsidized countryside, but (post)industrial wastelands aswell. Forming a newborn Center, supra-state Bureaucracies and multinational corporations have been sharing interests for a very long time. Woke Capitalism is just one of many current iterations, like Big Tech or the Military Industrial Complex.

The looming conflict was obvious to anyone paying attention even before the 2008 financial crisis. In this very prescient article we can see how European “Cosmopolitans” have been worrying for a while about “Nationals”. It was first published in 2000, which makes it older than the Iraq War (2003) and Facebook (2004).

Here at The Outpost, we have already explored some of the characteristics of this Capitalist – Communist vector. Reactionary Socialism and all its ressurrected forms have never been more than a temporary hindrance to this Revolution: a stabilizing force. From this standpoint, the Mouse vs. Rat dichotomy starts to feel a bit outdated. The current state of affairs lends itself better to dialectic models than to such a static comparison.

What would be the model rodent for the next phase in this paradigm? It certainly does not dwell in country cottages nor filthy city sewers. Perhaps it’s something like the Lewis Rat. Docile, crowd-tolerating, disease-prone and sterile. Far removed from its badass ancestors, it lives its life (happily?) in a controlled environment, looking for dopamine hits and unvoluntarily participating in occasional, sometimes deadly drug experiments. The mouse’s bold merit and the rat’s gritty struggle for survival are equally alien to it. Its existence is a simulation, and its fate is always a quickly forgotten death.

It makes sense, then, that in this age of deep fakes and simulacra, we should rely on ersatz-plague as motors for change. The real thing is just too much. SARS-CoV-2 is a relatively mild pathogen, when compared to the Yersinia pestis. The world, however, is now more labile than ever to such disturbances; Covid is an opponent worthy enough.

The Third Plague already had a globalized response when information was still running through telegraph lines. Today’s communications have made planet Earth ridiculously small. The effects of any released bioweapon lab leak wet market outbreak are felt accross the globe in real time. Thus, coronavirus has become the final ingredient for the engine of Revolution to reach positive acceleration again. It has become a line of flight for the assemblage of Western realities. Soon shifting to the next gear will be inescapable: a new Great Reset, this time named explicitly as such.

What is to be expected? Perhaps Bruce Sterling said it best when he summarized cyberpunk as this: “Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats.” Luckily, runaway rats do exist. After all, lab leaks seem to be all the rage this days.

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Based Poland: a new set of rules

Poland, like Hungary, has been cultivating for some time a reputation as one of the EU’s baddest, meanest reactionary regimes. Liberals the world over accuse it of being an “illiberal democracy” since the ruling party, Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), rose to power in 2015. Since then, it has enacted a series of policies and attitudes heavily criticized in Brussels: attacks on the press, on LGBT culture, on diversity. Most famously, a new set of rules which allegedly threatened the independence of the judiciary. The ruling was meant to erase the foothold its rival party, Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), had tried to build in the Constitutional Court, prior to losing its 2007-2015 mandate. The ripples raised by the polemic have lasted until recently, and the presidential election of Summer 2020 was won again by Law and Justice’s Andrzej Duda, but by a much smaller margin and in a far more polarized society.

Interestingly, both the PiS and PO share a common origin: they are the factions that emerged after the split of a right wing democratic movement born out the Solidarity trade union, famous for its distinguished role in the fall of Communism. The story of Solidarity is deserving of its own article: for now, suffice it to say that, after a decade together, PiS and PO broke up in 2001. Since then they’ve been taking turns in power as the two most successful brands of Conservatism in a Parliament heavily tilted to the right. Although they even shared a coalition in 2005-2007, they have been bitter enemies since then.

The fact is, despite their shared origin and their meaningless characterization as “right wing”, both parties have not much in common anymore. PO is a purely liberal Open Society-type project, which strongly aligns it with the European Union. After all, Donald Tusk, former Polish PM and PO leader, was President of the European Council (2014-19) and is now the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest transnational party of the European Parliament. The EPP also includes other right-wing liberal forces, such as Angela Merkel’s CDU, the Spanish People’s Party, the French Republicans of Jacques Chirac, and curiously, Fidesz (the party of Viktor Orbán himself).

This suggests that PO represents in Poland the interests of the European establishment, which usually means representing the interests of Germany, specifically. The media landscape supporting PO reflects this fact: mostly foreign-owned groups, either German or American. And those who are American, such as Discovery Inc, are mostly lobbyists for the Democratic Congressional Campaign and Joe Biden’s presidential run. All of this is unsurprising, given the fact that the Polish economy is extremely dependent on Germany. About a third of its exports go there: notably, vehicle parts to be assembled in the latter’s famous factories.

Contrary to PO, the PiS boasts the approval of the Trump administration. Historically, and since its 17th century Deluge, Poland has always sought the protection of far-away foreign powers: France, Britain, the US. It has needed them against most of its neighbors, all of them seeking to correct past grievances committed during the zenith of Polish power. The nationalist, populist ethos of the PiS resonated with Trump’s rhetoric, giving place to a natural alliance. It is not a coincidence that, since around 2015, fringe right online circles began to be filled with different variants of the “Based Poland” meme. From low-brow PUA dating guides to brainy neorreactionary essays, the Polish nation’s capacity to resist Woke imperialism was praised all over the Internet.

It’s difficult to tell what will become of this Based Poland without Trump sitting in the Oval Office. The cultural and political environment that led to populist governments all over Europe was not eternal. It depended heavily on the refugee crisis, the frequent terrorist attacks in European capitals, the War in the Donbass, and the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. All of these worries have been replaced by a different breed of threat, with a completely different memetic background: Covid-19, racial conflict, Chinese spycraft, cyberpunk surveillance dystopias. It’s a brand new set of tropes for a brand new season, coming soon to a screen near you.

This article is part of a series. You can find the next installment here.

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Mediatic facts and controlled demolitions from across the Rubicon

Conflict is deeply ingrained in the human mind. Like a cloud of electrically charged particles, it remains potential and shapeless, in an ideal resting state. When it is given ideological meaning, however, it’s as if the particles were suddenly exposed to an electromagnetic field. The latent conflict acquires a memetic nature, and animosity becomes orderly, vectorial. Ideological meaning works as a framework which allows hostility to be interpreted rationally by those who partake in it. It provides a cultural scaffold, a channel for violent impulse to develop and become political. It is through this process that the primal, schmittian distinction between Friend and Enemy is born.

In other words, political conflict cannot be deducted from ideological contradictions and divergences. On the contrary: ideology is induced from conflict, which is ontologically previous to it and which arises from real events, which are physical phenomena. We can observe how the parts in a conflict perform their confrontation, and after identifying the ideological differences found among the parts, we place said differences at the root of the conflict.

This notwithstanding, once a conflict is memetically well defined, the inverted phenomenon can also happen. An occurrence, which by its physical nature is non-disputable, can acquire a memetic load and become a mediatic fact, which is something entirely different. A mediatic fact can be completely counterfactual: in the age of deep fakes and counterfeit news, any story is suspect of having been distorted, misrepresented or plainly invented from scratch. Whatever the case, the mediatic fact becomes such by virtue of its ability to fit into an existing narrative, the previously established memetic framework of the conflict.

The recent blast in Beirut can serve to illustrate the difference between this closely related concepts. On August 4th, a huge explosion devastated the port of the city and the surrounding areas. The death count is by now past 200. Initial reports immediately pointed to a container where ammonium nitrate had been unsafely stored, after it was seized by port authorities six years ago. So far so good. But then, when it’s time to lay blame on someone, interpretations start to diverge according to one’s political stances.  Was it a terrorist attack by Shia group Hezbollah? An intelligence/military operation by Israel, or by somebody else? Perhaps just a horrible accident?

It is important for those involved in a conflict to establish a mediatic fact immediately after an event, so that it’s successfully propagated among potential friends. Violence is a creative force. Integrating every violent occurrence into a wider narrative strengthens intra-group links, fosters cohesion, and breeds identity. The mediatic fact is born from highlighting certain aspects of what happened, downplaying others and, if necessary, bending the factual truth. This is all a fancy way of describing propaganda, as should be obvious: nothing new about fake news, despite the pedantry of network theorists.

So what is going to happen now in Lebanon? Nobody knows for sure. As always in matters of geopolitics, we are dealing with incomplete information. We can’t even be sure the tragedy was intentional, let alone try to guess the motives of any potential culprit. The mediatic fact each actor is constructing, though, can be analyzed to shed some light on what the future could bring.

The explosion comes at a delicate moment in Lebanon. The country is being heavily affected by COVID-19 and deep in a financial crisis which will require a bailout of more than $93 billion. This is a gigantic sum, and the problem is aggravated by the fact that nobody wants to pay it. An important sector of the Lebanese economy is controlled by Hezbollah, which has a formal political representation in the country but is considered a terrorist organization by most of the American Empire. It is estimated that Hezbollah extracts at least $0.5-1 billion every year from Lebanon, while enjoying important clout in the legislative and executive branches; its military wing owns an impressive arsenal of 150,000 precision-guided missiles and is arguably more powerful and experienced than the government’s Lebanese Armed Forces. A lot of Hezbollah’s military effort is spent in supporting Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, backed by Iran and Russia. Any help delivered to the Lebanese regime would be fueling this system, something the West is reluctant to do.

Interestingly, Hezbollah has not rushed to accuse Israel directly in its formal statements, and has taken a more defensive stance, calling for an investigation of the blast to find out the truth, even going as far as initially ruling out Israeli involvement in the catastrophe. The Lebanese Cabinet, which was under the stranglehold of Hezbollah, resigned en masse in the aftermath of the blast. But instead of seizing the opportunity to exacerbate tensions with Israel and take over, the militants have called for a “national unity government” (preferably under their control, of course). In other words, the mediatic fact for Hezbollah is that the status quo has been altered by a fateful accident, and going back to it is the solution.

Israel has denied any involvement in the affair and offered humanitarian aid through UN channels, as it is still technically at war with Lebanon. While there have been accusations on social media of the Jewish State being behind the explosion, these are unlikely and in any case hard to prove. There is no interest either for Israel in escalating the situation more than it does already: the Israeli Defense Forces continue to clash with Hezbollah in Lebanon’s southern hills, with the last cross-border shelling happening only last month. In summary, the mediatic fact for Israel is that all of this has been a terrible tragedy, and an indicator that it’s time to move on from old policies; if somebody is to be blamed it’s Hezbollah, for storing explosives in populated areas.

This said, the truly remarkable event concerning Israel in these last few days is not the explosion, but the US-brokered agreement between the country and the United Arab Emirates to restore formal diplomatic relations. Again, this is a mediatic fact: the UAE and Israel have been in contact behind the scenes for years, and Israel’s supposed concession of suspending its West Bank occupation is just it acquiescing to postpone something which it can’t do anyway. Making all of it official after the blast is a way of building a united front just in time for possible regime change in Lebanon.

Mediatic reactions haven’t come far behind the mediatic fact of the agreement. Hezbollah condemns the act, calling it a “betrayal of Islam” and criticizing the other Arab regimes which arestanding already in turn awaiting the order” to make peace with the US before the November elections. Turkey’s Erdogan declared “the move against Palestine… can’t be stomached”. For Syria and Iran, the deal means the chasm with the Sunni world is widened. For Turkey, it is another reason to move away from the USA and towards new friends in Europe, Russia and China.

Israel, the US and its Arab allies have waited for this turbulent moment to tease Lebanon with the prospect of a relatively peaceful Levant, set to balance the Turkey-Syria-Iran axis. They don’t need to push for change in Beirut, as the tide is already going on that direction by itself. Once food shortages and disease start kicking in, the Lebanese system is bound to fall apart. If anything, the US, Israel and the Gulf States are interested in seducing Lebanon to fall on the right side if all hell breaks loose. If this process happens in the form of a controlled demolition instead of an explosion, all the better… But you can’t plan for what lies across the Rubicon. There are steppe wolves out the door, and many of them yearn to see the sunset over the Mediterranean’s wine-colored waters.

The worst thing to come out of 2020

If one thing can be said of George Friedman’s book “The Next 100 Years: a forecast for the 21st century”: it is that it’s provocative. It was published in 2009, and summarized the author’s views on what could be expected in the following century. One of the most interesting theses it asserted was the idea that, contrary to some people’s beliefs, the 21st century is to be the American Century, even more so than the 20th. The current big rivals of the US, that is, Russia and China, are expected to crumble in the following decades if Friedman is to be believed, being swiftly devoured by medium powers such as Turkey, Japan, and Poland.

Last July, Andrzej Duda was reelected as President of the Republic of Poland after a close election, “fraught with irregularities” according to scandalized progressives worldwide. Duda belongs to Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS), the right wing party which has been ruling the country since 2015. They represent the most “deplorable” faction in Polish politics: populist, rural, Catholic, hostile to Russia, and staunchly pro-American. Their bitterest rival is the liberal party Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – PO), which is more EU-aligned and holds ideas completely in tune with the Current Year™ and Open Society Foundation-like projects.

Duda’s victory, if it is followed by the likely Trump victory in November 2020, will mean that the European country stays firmly on the Americans’ side for another five years. According to Friedman, US interest in the region of Central and Eastern Europe is dependent on the circumstances of Eurasian power politics: if China were to collapse, to avoid an unbalanced Russia the US would have to make their influence felt again in Europe. This assumption so far has not been fulfilled. Even in spite of the pandemic, China is still nowhere near crumbling. The alleged Chinese freedom-loving opposition against Xi Jinping does not seem to be any closer to overthrowing the Capitalist-Communist People’s Republic. And accordingly, Poland’s pushes for more American military presence in its soil have so far been to no avail.

In his book, Friedman asserts that a US-backed Poland is bound to grow stronger, leading a coalition of former Soviet satellites in an Eastward push as Russia loses its grip on Eastern Europe. After all, in the 17th century Poland’s dominions reached as far as the Black Sea, and Polish nationalism has not forgotten this fact. The old idea of an Intermarium, a geopolitical project of building a federation stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and the Black Seas. Poland’s relative isolation from naval trade routes makes access to ports outside the Baltic a paramount priority, justifying their reaching out to countries such as Croatia, and clashing with Turkish protagonism in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Friedman points to this divergence as the origin of the next great European conflict: a US backed Poland confronting an assertive Turkey favored by a declining Germany.

While Friedman’s arguments seemed convincing in 2009, recent developments seem to be pointing towards a different state of affairs. Last June, the Visegrád Group countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) held another of their regular consultations with Turkey, listing energy, infrastructure, transport, and tourism as vital areas of cooperation. The project of Via Carpathia, a transnational highway network linking Lithuanian port of Klaipėda to Thessaloniki in Greece, is an example of this effort to build new geopolitical spaces.

Another topic was also discussed in the meeting: Polish support for Turkey’s European aspirations. The European Parliament (EP) is the EU’s first institution, and assigns the number of seats of member states according to their population. It is currently dominated by Germany and France, the two most populous European countries, with 96 and 79 seats respectively. Turkey has a population of 80 million people, just as Germany; it would have an enormous influence in European politics, even more concentrated after the UK’s exit. It is easy to understand, then, why the EP voted to suspend accession talks with its Muslim neighbor in February 2019.

Concerns for insufficient loyalty to the liberal-democratic religion are cited as one of the reasons Turkey does not belong in the EU. Interestingly, the same arguments are used against Eastern European enfants terribles Poland and Hungary, which are nowadays described as “illiberal democracies” by both American and European globalist progressives. The leaders of all three countries have made strong statements and cracked down on organizations linked to the Open Society Foundation, in actions similar to Russia’s suppression of foreign NGOs operating in its territory. They are not alone in this behavior: public figures from Romania, North Macedonia and even Pakistan have also been espousing anti-globalist talking points since Trump’s election in 2016, mimicking the President’s rhetoric against his domestic adversaries. And again, it’s no secret that Trump’s policy has led to friendlier relations with Putin than the ones expected from a Clinton presidency.

In an unrelated(?) chapter on shady occurrences in Eastern Europe, on July 29 thirty-three mercenaries with ties to Russian security firm Wagner were detained in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, accused of trying to destabilize the country for the elections set for August 9th. Belarus has been ruled by Soviet nostalgic Alexander Lukashenko, a.k.a. “Europe’s Last Dictator”, since 1994; the country’s relations to Russia, however, have been progressively deteriorating due to the latter’s push for deeper integration of Belarus in the Russian Federation. Moscow’s official excuse for the affair is that the detained operators were on their way to Istanbul, bound for deployment in Libya; a plausible explanation, as a replay of the 2014 Crimean crisis is risky and unlikely. Ukraine, who sees the mercenaries as criminals because of their role in Crimea, is demanding their extradition. If the event is portrayed as an attempt of disruption by Russia, the narrative could push Lukashenko towards the West’s arms, in spite of all his authoritarian sins. On the other hand, ethnic Poles are a significant minority in Belarus, and their close ties to Poland have been the cause of uneasy relations between both countries, as Warsaw mostly supports the Belarussian opposition.

If the economic crisis caused by the pandemic proves too much for Russia to handle, and conflict sparks up in Belarus, the situation is bound to become complicated quickly. Lukashenko’s antics could very well provoke a cornered Russia into starting a rushed hybrid campaign, in anticipation of Poland doing the same. Still, while it’s unlikely that Warsaw forgets past grievances from Moscow, shared international enemies and common interests might provide an opportunity for unexpected collaboration. Turkey is now arguably on better terms with Russia than with America, although the Nagorno-Karabakh question remains a sore point.

How will the American Empire handle this fragile situation? China isn’t any closer to collapse and internal chaos than it was in 2009, giving little reason for the US to enter new commitments in Eastern Europe. The Middle East and the South China Sea are more deserving of its interest, as long as Russia and China remain strong. The balance is so delicate, a small gust of wind in Belarus, Armenia or Libya could blow up the whole global system. Coronavirus might not be the worse thing to come out of 2020, after all. It’s going to be a Wild American Century. 

Don Quixote and the Spanish Foreign Legion: on Vox and choosing the right memes

Vox is a rightist party from Spain of which we have already talked about in the past. For many years, Spain has lacked a strong political parties occupying the fringe right space: the right was monolythic, and almost synonymous with the People’s Party (PP). The PP has long been accused by the left of being continuist to the Francoist establishment. Many of its founding politicians had grown up during the dictatorship, and held strong family and personal ties with its elite. Extreme right parties, like phalangists and traditionalists, were firmly outside the mainstream, so PP voters certainly comprised some of the their social base. As a political strawman, accusing the PP of being extreme right is of doubtless rhetorical utility; from a historical and memetic point of view, however, the assertion does not hold up.

Let’s examine the facts: after the Civil War (1936-39), Generalissimo Franco had consolidated himself as the victor and sole leader of the Nationalist faction of Spain, ridding the country of anything remotely smelling of liberalism, socialism or communism. A pure military man, he was not ideologically inclined. He had joined the army at 14, served with distinction in the African War, and wasn’t known to own a library or read anything other than military treaties. He had joined the Nationalist side relatively late, after careful calculations, and is almost universally described as a grey, unpoetic and somewhat bland character. After having eliminated any surviving resistance, he found a way to get rid of his most politicized followers too. He sent the most philo-fascistic of them to die with the Germans on the Eastern Front, stripped the traditionalists of political positions, and postponed the Bourbon Restoration until his death. The resulting regime was more similar to an anti-communist Military junta, than to a fascist totalitarian State or a reactionary Kingdom. It later befriended the US, who found it useful as an anti-communist bulwark. In its last years, Franco came to rely on liberal technocrats related to the Catholic movement Opus Dei, who kept the system running through until Franco’s death and later went on to create the PP.

So, back to Vox. When it finally got significant congressional representation, in april 2019, “anti-fascist” alerts had already been going on for a while. For people in the left, Vox was another revival of Francoism, making the supposedly fascistic PP pale in comparison. The main reasons for this belief were Vox’s unapologetic nationalism and centralism, both of which had been somewhat taboo in democratic Spain. Talking to Vox voters, it’s easy to realize that they’re mostly people disillusioned with the PP for its abandonment of cultural struggles: notably, its lukewarm position on inmigration (in the South), and its relaxed opposition to Catalan and Basque separatism (in the North). The characterization of Vox as Francoist, however, is also baseless, and the most definite proof for it is that many Francoist, anti-establishment, original right wing radicals distrust Vox for a number of reasons: among them its liberalism, its origins in the PP, its non-rejection of the EU and its ties to the US and Israel.

To summarize, so far we’ve established three somewhat controversial hypothesis: (1) Franco was not a Fascist; (2) the PP might come from Franco but it certainly is not Fascist either; and (3) Vox might come from the PP but it is also not Fascist.

Leaving aside the historical arguments briefly exposed, let’s approach the subject from a memetic standpoint. And it’s not hard to identify Vox’s references in this aspect: its aesthetic icons are the Spanish Tercio and the Conquistador, the red Cross of Burgundy and the morion. The dramatis personae of Vox’s narrative centers around a quixotic confrontation pitting everyman Spaniards against disloyal Flemish Calvinists at Brussels; Perfidious Albion; traitorous separatists; and the unpatriotic, Corrupt Court in Madrid. It tries to be evocative of the 16th and 17th centuries: the scandalous alliance Franco-Ottoman alliance against Spain, the Eighty Years War, and colonial competition in the Atlantic. All the critique of Macron, Merkel and Open Society globalists, and all of the headbutting with Belgian judges in regards to Catalan fugitives, stem from this narrative. Vox is hostile to the EU-imposed quotas of Muslim refugees, but warms up to immigrants coming from South America, seen as belonging in Spain. Its antagonism to Bolivarianism has to be understood as coming not so much from its socialism, but from the way it has cleaved the Spanish-speaking world, geopolitically diluting it.

Francoist memes do not embody this Atlantic spirit. Their aesthetic references are to be found in North Africa. Francoist myth was born in the military outposts of Ceuta and Melilla, in savage desert wars for oil and minerals. It thus lacks Vox’s defensive and heroic tone. The Francoist ethos is that of southward Reconquista, of the warrior spirit, religious and moral reckoning. Franco saw the future of Spain not in Europe nor in South America, but in Africa. As a condition to join the Axis, he tried to negotiate with Hitler a protectorate including most of French possessions in the Maghreb. The Generalissimo relied on African troops to take over Spain, enticing them with the project of saving the world from godless Communism. His elite Muslim warriors became his personal guard. The key to Spain’s spiritual redemption was in Morocco. The model Spaniard was not the idealistic, noble-but-flawed Quixote, but the patriotic Legionario übermensch, forged in sun and steel. To stand shoulder to shoulder with Berlin, Paris and Rome, Spain had to reconnect with its African side.

Voxs success so far has been based on its well-chosen memetic framework. It fitted with the zeitgeist, and with the narratives of neighboring countries. Its response to the political crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, however, has been less spot-on. The party has focused too much on hampering the State of Alarm declared by the leftist government, accusing it of totalitarianism, and trying to provoke some sort of Red Scare reaction. This strategy is doomed to fail. Instead of using the ghost of communism, Vox should focus on destroying the bipartisan establishment of democratic Spain, which threatens the country’s identity in Europe, its territorial security, and its leadership potential in the Atlantic Ocean. The government’s management of the crisis has provided with plenty of opportunities for this. With the geopolitical changes at hand, they either learn to choose their battleground or are fated to irrelevance.

CUSC: wokeness, technoutopia, and outdated futures

Today’s the last chapter of this series on the Communist Manifesto. Staying true to the form of the past weeks, this finale will analyze the memetic history of the third and last type of socialism antagonized by Marx and Engels: Critical-Utopian Socialism-Communism. We will call it by its initials CUSC for short, as the movement seems to have initiated the cherished Marxist tradition of giving things exhaustive, long names like USSR, DPRK, or LPDR (you get extra credit if you recognized the last one).

CUSC is a bit different from the schools of thought that we have described so far. It can be described as the product of a “primitive” era, right after the French Revolution, when the end of absolutist feudalism was already predictable but not immediately evident. At the time, the Proletariat as a class lacked any strength or ability to organize and thus was completely incapable of any political action. The proponents of this movement identified the acceleration vectors of a society increasingly stratified not only by traditional criteria, but also new economic ones. Thus, CUSC is a school previous to Reactionary Socialism in the evolutionary – not necessarily chronological – sense. It predates the industrial environment which gave life to revolutionary communism. Paraphrasing Marx and Engels: it is in sum a product of class struggle being in an undeveloped state.

Seeing the trends of the 19th century, proponents of this movement such as Fourier or Count Henri de Saint-Simon aimed to change the world’s course for the better, bringing about a completely new society. Deeply seeped in the anthropological optimism of Rousseau and the Enlightenment, they speculated that a society which disposed of most of its traditional structures would be characterized by more justice and social equality. As the engineers of a New Jerusalem, they looked for ways to mitigate class distinctions and were interested in proletarians only in the sense that they were identifiable as the most suffering class”, according to Marx. Interestingly, these two most important exponents of CUSC came from very different social backgrounds: Fourier was the son of an urban merchant and spent his life traveling and writing, thanks to a modest inheritance; Saint-Simon was an idealistic aristocrat who had joined Lafayette’s army at 17 to fight in the American Revolution, and who experienced many different economic conditions throughout his life.

CUSC is called utopian because it advocated for peace, reconciliation and the mitigation of class struggle. In this sort of naiveté, it has some similarities with Bourgeois Socialism. Its good-willed opposition to revolution hampered the progressive historical development of the Proletariat, which made it counter-revolutionary under Communist eyes. It conflicted with Marxist economic theory and deviated from the materialist dialectical axis of Bourgeois Capitalism => Proletarian Communism => Capitalist Communism. Some examples of this utopianism can be seen in the development of voluntary association into communal living quarters, such as Fourier’s phalanstères (from phalanx and monastery), of which some were established in the USA by his followers. Funnily, Fourier tried to convince Capitalists to finance these subversive communes, and his failure to do so led to none of them being successful in Europe.

CUSC’s critical component is a function of its intent to level all social structures, such as family or religion, which compromised the full and natural development of personality and allowed the existence of a parasytical class. A tribute to their Rousseaunism, theirs is a critique of civilization and an exaltation of the noble savage. Their criticism was notoriously centered in the promotion of sexual liberation: both in Fourier’s and Saint-Simon’s thought monogamy and the nuclear family endured heavy attacks, and some of the memetic roots of liberal-individualist feminism and LGBT discourse can be traced to their ideas. Another feature is their industrialism, most notable in Saint-Simon’s thought. Instead of the proletarian-bourgeois dichotomy, he saw the division as between the productive vs. the unproductive. The Industrial Revolution was not conceived by Saint-Simon as an oppressive tool conducive to proletarian uprising, but as a positive end in itself, capable of making redundant the useless, unproductive public servants, judges, feudal lords, and clergy. He advocated a scientific rule by industrialists and engineers: what would later be called a technocracy.

According to the diagnosis made by the Communist Manifesto, the historical relevance of CUSC is in inverse relation to historical development, as the more class consciousness is advanced, the more meaningless projects of a new, classless society become. Although it is true that they did not survive as political movements, many memes which can be traced to CUSC have survived well into our times, and in a remarkably unmodified form.

The most obvious comparison is with Woke Left ideas about personal identity and sexual conduct, particularly, are clearly a modern iteration of CUSC thought. Historically, these memes were seized for accelerationist and revolutionary purposes by the likes of Antonio Gramsci and the folks at the Frankfurt School. They however, have proved challenging to fit in the revolutionary narrative. The breach between classical Marxism and this Neo-Marxism, which rejects the former’s economical determinism, descends directly from the foundational Socialism vs Communism divergence we’ve been discussing these past weeks. The debate is still alive and kicking in the Modern Left, as Bernie Sanders can attest.

The same happens with other aspects of CUSC ideology. Fourier’s phalanstères, for instance, led to the development of similar communal living projects in other movements, from anarchist autonomous communes to, notably, israeli kibbutzim. This fact perhaps makes it less surprising that Israel, hardly a woke country in many aspects, portrays itself as a Near East’s queer paradise. At this point, it should be made explicit that these Fourierist, associative, voluntary communes are absolutely not to be confused with their distant cousin, the soviet, which is State-established, mandatory and more accelerationist in the sense that it processes social organization even more thoroughly. 

A final significant connection also emerges from the waters with this analysis. The relation between hippie culture, techno-utopianism and “California ideology”, which on the surface can seem contradictory, makes complete sense from an evolutionary memetics point of view. After all, when the Count of Saint-Simon joined the fighting in the American Revolution, he stated he did so for “the industrial liberty of America”. The perception of technology as an emancipatory tool is intimately linked to the American Project. The modern, Zuckerbergian iteration of this project certainly makes the cut: a communal space, a personal identity expression platform, and a mega-corporation, all in one. Silicon Valley overlords, with their t-shirts and jeans, look certainly in-character as modern socialist aristocrats of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the end, CUSC shared a destiny with cyberpunk: it became less and less transgressive as the world transformed into precisely what it described. There’s no impact to it anymore: like the special effects from an old horror movie, which now look fake and unscary. Brave New World might have been deeply disturbing for its original 1932 audience; it has become so similar to reality that its dystopic tone actually flies over many people’s heads. The city-noir LA streets depicted in Blade Runner look like any current Western metropolis at night, minus the cyborgs and flying cars; its veiled, Yellow Peril implications are now a given with the coming Chinese economic sorpasso. With coronavirus raging outside, our dependence on virtual realities has become almost mandatory, too; we use our interconnectedness mostly for zoom calls, videogames and Uber Eats, though, so there’s less subversive hacking than anticipated. Past visions, utopic or dystopic, fail as they become just normal. The only thing nobody expected was our cyberpunk dystopia to be so lame.

This was the last chapter on a series about the Communist Manifesto. You can go to the first chapter here.

The Anti-Socialist Load

In the last article published here at The Outpost, we discussed a critical assertion implied by the Communist Manifesto’s: that capitalism and communism are two sides of the same coin. They are two forces of the same cult of Material Progress, taking part in the same process of Acceleration. Two phases of a two-stroke engine bringing History forward.

With the end of Cold War polarization, this has only become more apparent. The Race against the Machine was tentatively introduced into US public discourse by Andrew Yang, and suddenly UBI experiments seem to be popping up everywhere. The lights of our porn and glucose syrup-fueled welfare dystopia must not go dark, so America will now take care of her forgotten children. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Ocean seems to be getting wider these days. After all, NATO was meant to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” America’s foreign policy of decoupling from its many foreign engagements makes it every day more unpredictable and unreliable for its allies overseas, and there is no more Soviet Union to fear. The US always had a cultural soft-spot for those boorish Russians. They may not be that bad, after all. Look at them sort out our Middle East headaches, and how admirably they comply with WHO Covid-19 recommendations! Let Europe deal with them. The Big American Game has already been on the Pacific for a while, anyway. The trade war pushes China to outsource its production to poor countries, and with it comes a way of life. After all, everybody enjoys some of that good consumerist alienation. It’s the Future.

This whole situation leaves the EU sitting on the fence: once again pushed to the edge by an existential security crisis, it looks into the abyss of full political consolidation. A Brussels’ bureaucrat wet dream of technologically-enhanced European solidarity with green, deculturalized, borderless markets, and a high-speed railroad from Lisbon to Beijing. The freight trains finally making the trip back to China fully loaded, for a change. Or, on the contrary, perhaps coronavirus will succeed where Jihadist terrorism did not, as the Schengen space collapses and disintegrates. The result is the same: either sell to the Chinese, or let the Chinese buy what’s left of your remains. The barbarians must pay tribute to the Middle Kingdom once more. And this is also the Future.

So, the landscape is evidently changing, one way or another. The World as we know it is being digested by the powerful revolutionary enzymes of technoeconomic Progress. Some kind of Brave New World, Fully Automated Luxury Communism looms over the horizon. The technology is coming nonetheless, so we might as well adapt. But what are those clouds gathering in the horizon? What dark forces dare to oppose this New Dawn?

Obviously, Socialism has always been an adversary of Capitalism. An often overlooked aspect of the Communist Manifesto, however, is how many of its few pages are dedicated to attacking Socialism. Communist animosity against socialists has its origin in the fact that socialists, as a force, opposes the forces of historical development, of Progress. The Progress which, as we were saying, can only be brought forth by Capitalism. Socialism means deceleration. Engels made it clear in the 1890 German edition of the Manifesto, when justifying its title: at the time of its first publication in 1848, the word “socialism” referred to a bourgeois movement, and “communism” to a workers’ movement. Socialism was quite respectable in the bourgeois milieu; communism was the complete opposite, an ideology for the great unwashed. And the great unwashed are the Future, too. Thus there was no choice but to describe the ultimate revolutionary ideology as Communist, in explicit rejection of Socialism.

Due to this rivalry, Chapter III of the Manifesto is basically a treatise on socialist taxonomy, comprising about 3,200 words, and distinguishing three main schools of thought: (1) Reactionary Socialism; (2) Bourgeois or conservative Socialism; and (3) Critical-Utopian Communism. All of them can be collectively described as aberrant variants of the proletarian movement, unfit for the responsibility of carrying forth the Revolution, which is a historical necessity.

The next few chapters of this series will focus on the different brands of Socialism, as understood by Marx and Engels, along with commentary on their memetic history, their associations, and their current versions.

This article is part of a series centered around the Communist Manifesto. The following installment is available here. You can read the previous article here.

Coronavirus of the mind

A few days ago Meta-Nomad posted an excellent article, accompanied by interesting predictions regarding the cultural changes which will be brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. The halt in normal economic activity will make people question the conditions of our existence. There will be a common realization of the nature of our political establishment, and of the existential space occupied by various appetites in our lives. Of the profound decadence of the commodified capitalist existence.

Liberal, democratic, secular governments never expected they would be enforcing Lent on their populations. Because forced isolation is Lent, and Lent means a trip to the Desert. Desert, elemental earth in its purest form, dry and land-locked, away from the sound of the sea or the song of birds. A trip to the Desert is always a voyage inwards: anabasis in Greek. It means confrontation with one’s own nature, the discovery of a person’s substance. The only shadow to be found in the Desert is the one produced by those who wander in it. As C. G. Jung’s Red Book notes:

Everything to come was already in images: to find their soul, the ancients went into the desert. (…) the place of the soul is a lonely desert. There they found the abundance of visions, the fruits of the desert, the wondrous flowers of the soul. Think diligently about the images that the ancients have left behind. They show the way of what is to come. Look back at the collapse of empires, of growth and death, of the desert and monasteries, they are the images of what is to come.”

The Desert is also the backdrop for Temptation, and the place where demons gather. Hic sunt dracones. In the cold, silent desert nights, one becomes the sound. The voices within become distinguishable, and not all of them whisper placid thoughts. To hear them for a prolonged period of time is unbearable. Astronauts undergoing anechoic training can attest the unsettling effect of hearing one’s own heart, lungs and guts.

As the days go by, the unchanging quarantined room becomes a featureless landscape. The contraction of the self imposed by external pressure ceases and, liberated from all outside quotidian influence, we begin to recognize in ourselves a certain shapelessness. A lack of spine: the mark of the invertebrate life of the consumerist bugman.

The mental viruses infected the host years ago. They are memes of clarity and despair. Images of collapse. Of governments being dysfunctional corporations led by madmen CEOs and soulless bureaucrats. Of a perpetually accelerating economy running on unfulfillable and cannibalistic appetites. Of Death being real and irreversible. They had been laying dormant in the batcaves of the mind, waiting for a temporary vulnerability in the host’s passive mental immune system. Now they strike in full force.

It is unclear when the syndrome will become apparent, and which will be its clinical manifestations. It could be days, weeks, or years. It could be lethal, or it could be just like the flu.

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