Tsunamis, pranks and uprisings

Sedition is an interesting concept, occupying in most legal systems where it exists a place somewhere beneath open treason and armed rebellion. It means an attempt at overthrowing the government, and in the US it’s punishable with up to 20 years in prison. The word sounds a little bit archaic in English, which is unsurprising since the legislation around it stems from the Civil War Era.

The seriousness of the offense contrasts starkly with the carefree, easy-going attitude of most of the participants on the last Capitol attack, who kept posting barefaced selfies during the whole event, made no attempt at disguising their identity, and, save a minority, seemed to not fully grasp the consequences of their actions. The whole thing seemed to have a performative, oniric quality: protestors were mostly content walking around the complex with confused looks, taking small souvenirs such as pieces of furniture or, infamously, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s shoes. There were no public demands, no symbolic gestures or speeches. After making it to the last level’s boss’ dungeon, the boss was nowhere to be found. No victory screen or end-game credits either.

This attitude is of course symptomatic of the pathologies engendered by abusive consumption of super-stimulant simulacra of reality. Videogames, TV and porn: Ersatz-achievement, Ersatz-drama and Ersatz-satisfaction. Aberrant decision-making molded by virtuality and mass psychology, coming to terms with the rock-solid, real, material power of the State.

After these last days’ digital crackdown on dissenters and deplorables of all kinds, there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of technologically-enhanced, decentralized insurgency, thanks to the advances in secure communications and growing security and privacy culture. The State too is coming to terms with virtuality and the elusive power of an anonymous, rhizomatic revolution. We already published some thoughts about crypto-insurrection here at The Outpost, about a week ago.

There was a very interesting precedent of this kind of uprising not too long ago: in Spain, of all places. An illegal referendum for the secession of Catalonia was celebrated on October 1st 2017. Spanish anti-riot police were rushed into the scene to confiscate the illegal ballots, with chaos, disorder and forceful dissolution of protests ensuing.

The referendum had been instigated by prolific tweeter, magic aficionado and regional President Carles Puigdemont, who had promised to lead Catalonia to Independence through it. Catalan society was divided exactly in half in Spanish loyalists and Separatists, but only the latter turned out to vote and face the police. The confrontation confirmed their bias against Spain’s alleged authoritarianism: Puigdemont called for civil disobedience, strikes across the country and the blocking of all land communications between Catalonia and the rest of the country, which lasted weeks. Loyalists were hostage to the regional administration, overwhelmingly pro-independence.

Success seemed so close. In a live broadcast statement, Puigdemont proclaimed the founding of an independent Catalan Republic on the night of October 27th. A few seconds later, however, he backtracked and declared it to be only symbolic. “Out of a sense of responsibility”, he said. There was simply no legal or material structure to build the new country on, and no foreign support. Believers were devasted; loyalists found it hilarious.

The comical reactions of this anticlimactic moment were recorded for posterity. Puigdemont proceeded to run away to Waterloo, Belgium, hiding from Spanish police. Some members of his cabinet also fled to places like Switzerland or Scotland; others stayed and were immediately apprehended by police for misappropriation of public funds and sedition against the Kingdom of Spain. Nobody acknowledged Catalonia’s independence, contrary to expectations.

The following months were of disillusionment. The plot had been beheaded, and most of those responsible for it were scrambling to avoid jail. Those who could tried to leave the sinking ship. Only the least capable politicians stayed: those whose entire career had been staked on the Cause. Puigdemont, aiming to regain some degree of prestige, talked about establishing a “Digital Republic”, ruled from Waterloo. Living on illegally deviated government funds and donations by activists, he went back to tweeting and conspiring. Rallies for independence became every day sadder and more histrionic, a hobby for fanatic boomers and disaffected weirdos.

The Catalan Republic had been conceived as a Progressive, Inclusive, Cosmopolitan Paradise against Fascist Spain. Carving a new State out of a millennia-old European nation is hard, though. Impossible, maybe, if you lack natural resources, an appetite for armed struggle, and/or powerful friends abroad. Separatist leaders knew this. Yearly rallies ending in family barbecues, are not the substrate from which States are built. It’s impossible to simply meme the Republic into existence.

The strategy had been to provoke hard repression. Separatist leaders had hoped to goad the Spanish government into sending the military to try and stop the coup. A couple corpses littering the streets would have been ideal, granting legitimacy to the struggle and maybe forcing the EU to intervene. The Spanish called the bluff, however, when anti-riot police failed to kill anybody on October 2017. Independence was in dire need of martyrs, and none could be found.

On September 2nd, 2019, seemingly out of nowhere, an anonymous platform with the name Tsunami Democràtic (“Democratic Tsunami” in Catalan) suddenly exploded in Separatist social media. The organization released a manifesto appealing to civil disobedience and non-violent struggle as a reaction against the imprisonment of Separatist leaders. Actions immediately started, consisting mostly on occupying government and financial buildings, hindering communications and transportation services, and hanging posters and signs. Public and private property was joyfully burnt and and destroyed.

The most interesting feature of Tsunami Democràtic, however, was its release of an Android app to coordinate protests. To activate it, users had to use a QR code provided directly by another member, screen to screen. This way, they avoided infiltration by security forces, which had cracked down on allied, grassroots organizations such as Antifa or local CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Republic). Each member could only invite a limited number of people, making it almost mole-proof.

The app tracked members’ GPS location and had access to their camera and microphone. It was not open source, making impossible to know if the data it collected stayed inside the mobile device, or if it was sent to an external server somewhere else. By sending users personalized prompts about protests in the vicinity, they could join actions in real time. Its spontaneity made it almost impossible for police to react against roadblocks, occupations and riots: actions started and ended everywhere, all the time.

The app was developed on Flutter, a Google UI framework, and built on the software Retroshare, which uses peer-to-peer mesh connections. Its architecture seemed designed specifically to protect its creators’ identity. Nobody knew who planned the events: as an organization, Tsunami remained anonymous. Users were asked to show up at a certain time and place, and there they went, blindly. Members confirmed their arrival to a protest on the app, and checked out after leaving. Options were installed to inform about police presence. When activated, the app transformed the user into a single node within a network of personal contacts that stretched all the way to the anonymous planners of the action.

A fully-fleshed human botnet, according to University of Barcelona professor Enric Luján. For a movement that took pride in defending democracy, the dark core that decided which actions to perform remained inaccessible and unknown to the majority of supporters. The organization’s protocols were extremely vertical, opaque and detached from the local reality. A deterritorialized leadership could issue orders from anywhere; even from outside the country.

The app was so successful that the only thing the Spanish government could do was to shut down the URLs were the app could be downloaded, and ask GitHub to remove it from its software repository. This forced Spain to join the likes of China and Russia, whose governments are among the few to have made this type of request for similar reasons. An indisputable propaganda victory.

The end of Tsunami Democràtic, however, was as anti-climactic as Catalonia’s Declaration of Independence. On December 18th, 2019, a momentous action was announced: “something” was about to happen at Football Club Barcelona’s stadium, and it involved drones. Another Declaration of Independence, this time for real? A call to arms? A bomb? Not at all. Some balloons were released, a few flags and signs here and there. No master plan. No 4D chess. Just a regular, conventional protest at the stadium.

The unimpressive show felt like pouring cold water on the fiery spirit of the separatists. Protests attended, personal risks taken and trash containers burnt for nothing. By January 2020, new actions were announced through Twitter, but were received with extreme disdain by former supporters, and so far have not materialized. Tsunami’s Telegram channel went down from its 400,000 subscribers then, to about 1700 last December.

Spanish agents eventually traced the app’s VPS to somewhere in Bucarest, Romania. An odd place, 3000 km away from the action. No suspects belonging to the technical elite behind Tsunami could be found. Were they from Puigdemont’s milieu? Did the “fool of Waterloo” have some powerful, secret connections after all? The strategy was obviously the work of professionals, and was packed full of doctrine for hi-tech 4th Generation Warfare. It would be fantastic if this had been a massive exercise in real conditions: an immense practical joke, played on millions of hopeful dupes. It is worth to remember in these times, however, that both sides have to laugh for the prank to be funny, and that dying for somebody else’s agenda is very rarely a funny thing.

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Trumpist Crypto-insurrections and pet Hydras

After the storming of the Capitol on January 6th, and the consequences that will inevitably befall on those who took part in them, it seems that Internet regulation and censorship will become more explicit than ever. Nothing new here: since the 90s, the story of cyberspace has been one of normalization and control. In other words, a process of civilization, characterized by the ubiquity of ID verification, fact-checking, and other mechanisms that try to turn the virtual wildlands into a well-managed city. Following up on last week’s post: stratification of the Nomadic smooth space of on-line mythology.

It is ironic that, after four years of Trump as President, the strongest push for decentralization will be catalyzed by the Biden presidency. Twitter accounts have been purged (including The Donald’s), and Regime opponents have been doxxed and deplatformed with Big Tech’s benevolent help. Every participant on the events at Washington DC has been included in the exquisitely curated files of the security apparatus. A lot of them with the redundant, but enthusiastic collaboration of acquaintances who did not approve of said participant’s MAGA temptations.

For the normie insurrectionist, this is not as grim as it sounds. After all, the political potential of the masses has always been a myth. Faced with the slightest threat of persecution, most protestors will go back to posting pictures of barbecues and dogs on Facebook, instead of memes and rallies. Back to caring for family and friends, vacation, the good and simple things in life. The threat of the mobilized mass is always magnified: political engagement can be sustained only for so long.

For a committed minority, though, being repressed is a strong incentive, bringing forth a whole new set of opportunities. Encrypted, usable, collaborative technologies could make for well-managed insurgencies, if wannabe rebels grow out of infiltrated chat apps. Parallel funding systems, potentially clandestine logistics, and enterprise resource planning for right wing coups are all a possibility for a tech-savvy, motivated opposition. The flourishing of an encrypted productivity stack has enormous potential for insurgency.

The problem with insurgencies is that they are rarely spontaneous phenomena, due to the average person’s sanity and risk aversion. The normie is, after all, the product of welfare societies and service economies, where there is a lot to lose and not that much to win. Revolutionary soldiers are bred in the heat factories and foundries, not in the air-conditioned comfort of the suburb. Even then, these soldiers require agitation: the development of class consciousness (and its cousins: race consciousness, religious consciousness, etc.). Educated elites excel at this function, and are sometimes used by State powers to subvert rivals. After all, Lenin’s 1917 train ticket from Zurich to Petrograd was paid by the Kaiser, with the explicit purpose of getting Russia out of the Great War. Smart empires foster foreign regime change all the time.

New technologies can favor decentralized rebellion, but this decentralization has its own downsides. Like the Lernaean Hydra, networks with no discernible center can be almost impossible to destroy or fully subvert. They lack a neuralgic node that can bring down the whole structure when neutralized. This is the problem posed, for instance, by lone-wolf Jihadist attacks in Europe: due to the terrorist’s autonomy, attacks are very difficult to predict and avert. Since Jihadis are usually willing to die for the cause, security forces often can identify and bring down the attacker only when the first casualties are already bleeding on the ground.

But the question is: after dozens of attacks, are Jihadis any closer to making Europe not haram? The answer is, of course, no. Decentralized networks are extremely resilient and difficult to erradicate, but because of their very nature, they also have a hard time focusing and achieving complex objectives, other than producing chaos and mayhem. From the perspective of the EU security apparatus, then, sporadic spurts of random, brutal violence are a reasonable price to pay for solving a political problem. Allowing moderate Islamism a safe and secure structure to prosper within Europe would generate a much bigger challenge for the European globalist modus vivendi. This is precisely the dilemma depicted in Michel Houellebecq’s novel Soumission, and one of the reasons Turkish Islamism is not welcome in the EU, in spite of it being a much more benign alternative to ISIS-style DIY Jihad.

Now, let’s speculate with this possibility: that decentralized dissidence, which is a direct consequence of repression, was actually beneficial to the system as a whole, even when violent. By driving alternative discourses to the fringe of the acceptable, a low-intensity confrontation ensues, protagonized by a relatively innocuous insurgency. The NSA has an estimated 30-40,000 employees. It’s only one of 16 US Intelligence agencies. They can manage an insurrectionist MAGA movement that is not directed by any outside force.

Promoting the decentralization of dissidence makes it a chronic, bothersome, but ultimately non-life-threatening disease to the polity. Sure, some loon might run amok from time to time, but what is to be done? Kick them out so they can organize and come back with a vengeance? Let the cops handle the rebels, says the contemporary mandarin. The thin blue line is not thin at all: domestic enemies, Jihadist or Boomerwaffen, are no match for it. And anyway, in the words of London Mayor Sadiq Khan: terror attacks are ‘part and parcel of living in a big city’.

As a final note, it should be taken into account that almost no other country has the security resources of the US. The software tools of other insurrectionists world wide are universally accessible to them. State capacity, though, varies from place to place, leading to very asymmetric situations for weaker governments. Those who are hoping for a populist insurrection should expect it in the battered fringes of the Empire, and not in the mellow heart of Middle America.

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Contemplation and Weapons of Meme Destruction

The War in Afghanistan is the longest conflict the United States has ever been engaged in. Despite what the diminishing media attention it gets might lead to believe, it is still ongoing. Following the successful invasion of the country in 2001, a coalition of 40 countries, including all NATO members, formed a security mission to fight the insurgency that was still controlling much of the country. This counterinsurgency has been largely unsuccessful, if we judge it by the degree to which its initial objective of bringing liberal democracy to the country has been accomplished.

In 2010, the Military Intelligence Bulletin, a US Army Intelligence publication, featured an article on memetic warfare, exploring “the emerging field of Memetics and [its] implications for memetic operations in military environments”. You can find it here. The article starts by highlighting the ineffectiveness of urban counterinsurgency operations which were being performed at the time, and presented the field of memetics as a way in which to attack the specific root causes of insurgency. The author of the article was B. J. Hancock, an Army lieutenant with a background on Psychology and Political Science. Lt. Hancock considered insurgencies as a product of “mind viruses”, that is, malignant or pathogenic memes. In his framework, the insurgency was the symptom of a disease of the mind, the solution of which had to be found in eradicating the etiologic agent. Thus, he intended to use Memetic Warfare to counter not only the insurgency, but also domestic social problems such as youth gang violence, the welfare cycle, or the degradation of public education.

This version of applied memetics has been known throughout history by another name: propaganda. The word is, of course, Latin. It comes from the name of a body of the Catholic Church: the Congregatio de propaganda fide. That is, the “Congregation for the propagation of the Faith”; an institution founded in 1622, in the thick of the Counter-Reformation. It was designed to perform missionary work and spread the Catholic religion around the newly discovered territories of the World, and even had its own College for training missionaries, the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide. The missionary work performed by the Church was frequently undermined by the subversive activity of Protestant countries such as England and Holland, engaged in geopolitical global competition against Catholic Spain and Portugal. Good examples of this dynamic can be found in the brief but intense Catholic presence in Japan during the late Sengoku Era. Dutch merchants fostered the idea of Christianity being a vector of colonialism to the Tokugawa Shogunate, a fact which directly led to the sakoku 鎖国“closed country” foreign policy and the complete elimination of Christianity from Japan. The only foreign presence allowed in Japanese soil for the following two centuries was a Dutch factory and trading post in Dejima, an artificial island in the Nagasaki Bay.

Both counterinsurgency psyops and missionary work fit the current, popular definition of Memetic Warfare. This concept is related to the field of Memetics in the same way Medicine relates to Human Biology. Following the Aristotelian classification of human activities, Memetic Warfare and Medicine are πρᾱξις (praxis), activities, something to be performed. Memetics and Biology, in contrast, are fields of knowledge, θεωρία (theoria), objects of contemplation and study. In a military context, Memetics is weaponized and turned into the practice of Memetic Warfare in the same way theoretical Chemistry, Biology and Physics are weaponized into Chemical, Biological and Radiological weapons of mass destruction.

One of the fundamental differences between praxis and theory is that the former demands an element of purpose, a τέλος (telos). Medicine, as a practice, only makes sense in the moment we consider disease as an evil to be avoided or rectified. For modern Biology, though, there is no such thing as a “disease”: everything is just a deterministic process which follows a precise set of rules. When deadly plague bacteria destroy a patient’s lungs, the only thing the biologist sees are microscopic organisms feeding on another beings cells. The patient is prey, an ephemeral entity whose physical body will eventually dissolve in the environment. There is no judgment in Science, only contemplation and description. Medicine can have scientific grounds, but it can never be Science because it substitutes description for prescription, and contemplation for action. We consider health as a good to be preserved, an integral part of the telos of Human Life. This is a remnant of the Medieval understanding of Science: there is a finality to everything, a Natural Law. Scholastic philosophers understood scientific contemplation as an effort to discover the purpose of things.

Weaponizing Memetics à la Hancock is a fundamentally flawed project, because it rushes into the fray and completely foregoes contemplation. It sees everything through the glass of a certain telos, inherent to war: the defeat of the enemy. It doesn’t understand memes as natural objects, but only as tools to combat other “malignant memes”, the mind viruses which affect the enemy. Hancock argues that insurgents are victims of memetic campaigns which turn them into memoids, brainwashed beings completely overtaken by a memeplex and devoted to its propagation. He suggests these malignant memes should be identified, tracked, isolated, and eliminated. The process involves engineering alternative, benign memes to compete with the mind viruses. In the Middle East Forever Wars context of 2010, this meant trying to supplant radical Islam with democratic ideals: a project which, so far, has failed spectacularly.

The doctrine of Memetic Warfare places too much emphasis on how to practice artificial memetic selection, and does not delve at all into the natural selection dynamics central to the field of Memetics. In other words, it is incapable of conceiving that someone can spontaneously become a jihadist without being subject to an intentional, artificial brainwashing process. It lacks the basic self-awareness to realize that memes do not only affect the enemy. Just as there are no causeless phenomena for the biologist, there are no causeless thoughts for the memeticist; no such thing as free thought. The Western aparatchik designing propaganda campaigns for Muslims is himself a victim of certain memeplexes: a memoid of democratic liberalism. The supposedly benign memes he may engineer to combat insurgency are a distilled version of the real memeplex which has taken over his mind: only the most obvious, explicit, conceptual parts which he can consciously articulate. Obviously, a lot of memetic nuances are lost in translation. His shortcomings are those of the biologist designing transgenic tomatoes: he makes them extra red and bright, so they look attractive in the store. Bland but beautiful transgenic tomatoes may sell well in globalized markets; everybody knows, though, that they can hardly compete with the local variety’s taste.

From based to cringe: Tabarnia and badly waged memetic guerrilla

The Spanish War of Succession was a pan-European conflict ignited by the death of Charles II in 1700. Charles II was the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, a product of several generations of endogamic marriage, and is thus popularly seen as the archetype of decadent inbred monarchy. He was called “the Bewitched”, and suffered of many physical illnesses, probably related to some hormone deficiency. The genetic causes of his ailments can only be speculated about, and if his mental capabilities were preserved or not is an object of discussion. What is definitely clear is that he was practically incapable to rule and that died childless, with Philip V of House Bourbon as his heir. Having claims to both the throne of France and the totality of Spanish possessions all over the world, the concentration of power on Philip’s hands was problematic to the European balance of power. The subsequent war, which lasted until 1714, involved almost all European powers and their respective colonial possessions, and changed the political landscape of the continent forever. The war also served as proof of concept for the Westphalian system established in 1648. The collective security of the different nation-states it had engendered was raised as the main concern and immediate cause of the conflict.

The victorious Philip V finally accepted the Spanish throne in exchange for renouncing the throne of France. The main beneficiary of the war, however, was the British Empire, which gained the Mediterranean ports of Gibraltar and Menorca and commercial access to the Spanish Americas, including its lucrative slave trade. During their rule from 1500 onwards, the Spanish Habsburgs had generally been reluctant to unite all of their possessions into a single, monolithic political entity. All of their estates preserved their structure, institutions, language and legal codes. They held all of their many titles separately: King of Castile, King of Aragon and Sicily, King of Naples, King of the Romans, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Brabant, Count of Barcelona, and so on. The practical government of every region often fell on the shoulders of specially appointed Viceroys. For instance: Columbus’ voyage to America was funded by the Crown of Castile, so all of the rewards derived from it were tied to said title in exclusivity. This means Habsburg subjects from Aragon or Naples, for example, could not settle the American territories; a fact which explains the special influence in the Americas of Castilian culture.

The Bourbons, however, imported the concept of centralization which had turned their native France into one of the main power players of Europe. Philip V of Bourbon issued the Nueva Planta Decrees from 1714 to 1716, ending the heterogeneous structure of his kingdoms. He established Castilian Spanish as the official language and eliminated local privileges, constitutions and laws. One side effect of these legal measures was the ascension of a new Bourgeois class, the general characteristics of which we have discussed before. Aragonese subjects, which had been precluded from trading with Americas, suddenly were able to seize the lucrative opportunities offered by trans-Atlantic trade. Bourbon centralization was a key condition for the Golden Age of cities in the Mediterranean coast, such as Barcelona, Valencia and Cartagena; all of them cities which had sided with the Habsburgs during the war. Textiles, rum, sugar and slaves flowed to and from the Caribbean. Industrialists got rich, while traditional aristocracy saw the privileges local law had granted them greatly diminished.

Ironically, and somewhat incongruously, 1714, the year the Catalan capital of Barcelona fell to the Bourbon army, is nowadays deplored in Catalan Separatist circles as the beginning of Castilian oppression and colonization of Catalonia. It signals the end of the privileges and laws established there in the Middle Ages, so it’s melodramatically described by Catalan Nationalists as a sort of ethnocide. In spite of this myth, Catalonia was never conceived as a colony by the Spanish throne. If something, Bourbon rule signaled the beginning of the special economic protection it received from then on by the successive regimes at the Kingdom’s capital, Madrid. Since the bourgeois revolutions of the 19th century, Catalan Nationalist movements of various shapes and colors have come and go, trying to find a fit within the wider political narratives of the moment: Traditionalism, Spring of Nations-Liberalism, Fascism, 1930s Anarcho-Communism, Social Democracy…

The last iteration of the Catalonia as Oppressed People meme reached its peak in the mid 2010s. The Bourgeois-conservative social base of Catalan Separatism had been brokering deals with the Spanish government for decades, helping them achieve majorities in exchange for relinquishing some of the State’s powers in the region. With the threat of pushing for independence always at hand, Catalan regional governments had wrestled many concessions from Madrid, and had control of the education, judiciary and health systems. After the 2008 economic crisis, however, they overplayed their hand by rallying the people for secession too seriously. Protests and initiatives coming from the Catalan institutions (still formally dependent on Madrid) were openly and routinely calling for revolt against the government. Every year, the crowds in Separatist rallies grew larger and larger.

The non-separatist fraction of the Catalan population, more than half of the population, had been playing dumb for a while. Terribly apathetic, they pretended the disappearance of the Spanish state from their region was not happening. Being too vocal about one’s Spanish loyalties was definitely uncool in polite society: Catalans were democratic, sophisticated, modern, “European”. The rest of Spain was considered authoritarian, primitive, backwards, “African”. There was a similar dynamic to the one established by the Italian Lega Nord regions and the South of that country. The obvious racist connotations in this were mostly not addressed in public discourse, for complicated reasons of Spanish politics which may be addressed in future posts.

The main meme the weak anti-separatist factions were brandishing was that of the oppressed, silent majority: people are afraid to speak up against Catalanist establishment for fear of social reprisals. Catalan Nationalists were portrayed as racist snobs, while those loyal to Spain where normal people having to put up with their prejudice. Unsurprisingly, playing the victim card didn’t work, and continuous appeals for the Spanish State to protect this silent majority did not advance in any way the loyalist cause.

Our top-notch memetic forensics lab analysis, here at the Outpost, has found out the silent majority meme suffered an interesting mutation sometime around 2013. The new meme was codified as the existence of a region within Catalonia: Tabarnia. This region, which roughly comprised the provinces of Tarragona and Barcelona, happened to concentrate most wealth and, at the same time, most of anti-Separatist sentiment. Tabarnian counties were urban, multicultural, cosmopolitan and with deep ties to the rest of Spain and Europe. The separatist counties, in contrast, were rural, identity-obsessed, xenophobic and narrow-minded. So the narrative was not anymore about a fearful, silent majority oppressed by Catalan supremacists. It was about a vibrant society trying to leave behind identitarian regionalism. The idea was played as a kind of satirization of Catalan Secessionism: if Catalonia separates from Spain, then Tabarnia will separate from Catalonia, leaving it impoverished and isolated.

The meme was highly successful. It was based to be Spanish. Calling oneself a Tabarninar even carried a certain element of rebellion. The most important adaptation of the idea, though, was its inoculation route. It seemed to be organic, spontaneous, rhizomic. Lacking any institutional support from the Catalanist establishment, the concept had started appearing semi-ironically in message boards, blogs and social networks. It was not a political initiative, tied to any particular party, but a cultural phenomenon. It was impervious to the Catalanist propaganda machine, which had been using schools and the media to promote its message for years. The Tabarnia meme swarmed Separatist talking points. The real life fiascos of late 2017, in which the Separatist leaders declared independence and then inmediately backed down, only reinforced the idea of Catalanism being the product of weak and retrograde minds.

This success did not last long. The Spanish State, which had lacked a coherent PR strategy during the whole affair, tried to latch into Tabarnia’s success. Anti-separatist institutions started organizing meetings and protests, naming journalist Jaume Vives as official spokesman to the media. Vives gave frequent interviews to the media, defining the concept of Tabarnia further. Spanish playwright and actor Albert Boadella was named president of Tabarnia, even giving a satirical inaugural speech; many famous personalities also joined the mock Tabarnian government. It was narrowed down, made explicit, solid. Tabarnia now had a structure, a face, defined activities, a certain corporeality. When you told people about it, they knew exactly what you were talking about. By giving it a platform in media, even if said media were favorable to it, the whole memetic operation was blown. Tabarnia had been a shadow, a cultural guerrilla; now, it was very easy to identify and counter. Having turned into a tree, it was easily plucked; the meme lost fuel and disappeared as a talking point. It is somewhat cringe to unironically invoke the concept now. When a joke has been explained, it suddenly becomes not funny.

Luckily (?) for the Kingdom of Spain, the fleeing or imprisonment of Separatist leaders, the metastatization of political malaise all over the country and the Coronavirus pandemic have all contributed to putting Catalan Separatism decidedly on the background. The beast, however is neither dead nor alone. And, elsewhere in the world, in different places, a feeling of changing winds and uncertainty has risen. Storms are brewing. Aspiring provocateurs, activists and statesmen would do well to learn a little about how to appropriately wage a meme war.

The deconstruction of conventional warfare and cultural banditry

The word guerrilla means “small war” in Spanish. It was first used with its current connotations in the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1814). The conflict is called the Peninsular War in English language historiography, as it started when Spain and France attacked Portugal and its British allies in 1807. With the Spanish crown’s unknowing collaboration, Napoleon surreptitiously invaded Spain while advancing towards Portugal. He took over all the major cities, imprisoned king Ferdinand VII, and sat his brother Joseph in the Spanish throne. The French Army’s excesses inspired an uprising in Madrid, with the local population attacking the world’s most powerful army. Mass shootings were performed the following day as retaliation: a scene famously depicted by Goya. The Spanish population proceeded to ally themselves with their former English allies, assaulting and killing French troops, assets and allies (the progressive afrancesados”) wherever they could find them. As the French lacked any control of the territory outside of the main strongholds, the campaign turned into a logistical and strategic nightmare for Napoleon, who tasted defeat for the first time. The Spanish freedom fighters employed tactics which crossed the line into banditry constantly. Indeed, cutthroat highwaymen (“bandoleros”) hiding in the woods and trying to make a buck out of French couriers were turned into national heroes, all in the benefit of the war effort.

Guerrilla tactics are obviously much older than the Spanish Independence War. They have been employed for millenia by various tribes, notably nomads from the Central Asian steppes and the deserts of the Arab Peninsula and the Sahel. In modern history, Lawrence of Arabia became the icon of the romantic guerrilla fighter, leading the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Lawrence would be asked in 1929 to write the entry for “Guerrilla” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, a milestone in the formalization of such a doctrine in Western military thought.

The same concepts employed by Lawrence and countless other leaders in the past saw a mechanical iteration in what foreign observers deemed the “Toyota wars” of the 1980s, which occurred in the context of the Chad War (no pun intended) and featured mobile units covering hundreds of kilometers in a few hours to raid Libyan territory, only to later disappear into the sand. In the same decade Guattari and Deleuze were publishing A Thousand Plateaus and establishing a new school of Post-Modern thought. One prediction made by the French authors was that Post-Industrial Societies would see an increase of the competition posed by new, rhizomic social systems against “arboreal” organizations and institutions. Rhizomic systems, working as distributed networks, would lack centralized leadership and tigh-knit hierarchies, relying instead on interconnected nodes.

Practical military applications of these ideas started to appear after the Gulf War. Strategists like John Arquille and David Ronfeldt, analyzing the lessons learned from the conflict, concluded that a mobile and connected force, using smart equipment and procedures, would be able to swarm and destroy a bigger and less technologically enhanced enemy. This justified an increased focus in the integrated capacity known as ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance), as the competitors the US Armed Forces were preparing against were already utilizing, instinctively, these very principles. The term Netwar was coined to describe this type of conflict, which basically amounted to a technologically enhanced guerrilla benefiting of constant, precise and multi-directional communication. The concept proved to be strategically successful in the Afghanistan offensive a decade later, pushing the bulk of Al-Qaeda militants into the mountains and towards Pakistan.

Roughly at the same time, a group of Israeli military thinkers were developing their own ideas based on Deleuze and Guattari’s work. Organized around the Operational Theory Research Institute and figures such as generals Shimon Naveh and Aviv Kochavi, these unorthodox thinkers aimed to “deconstruct” urban warfare. They got a chance to do it in the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-2005). When charged with taking over the West Bank city of Nablus in 2002, instead of a slow advance through the city streets, Israeli forces came up with a different plan. They knew that Palestinian militants had meticulously prepared for the assault, fortifying every crossing and booby-trapping every door and window. The assailants decided to develop a “negative geometry” and to ignore the “urban syntax” of Nablus. They saw streets, blocks and walls as a mental construct, and thus came from all directions, drilling holes into houses and other obstacles, as if “digging” a straight, over-the-surface tunnel. Despite the obvious material damage done to the city, they managed to capture it with minimal casualties among civilians and their own soldiers.

With America’s strategic focus shifting of theatre, there has been a lot of talk in military and defense circles about applying netwar concepts to confront conventional enemies aswell. The new doctrine might include drone swarms and small teams capable of coordinating flash amphibious assaults from small vessels; a very different image from the one provided by the materiel warfare conducted in the South Pacific during the 1940s. There has been less discussion, however, on the cultural-ideological netwar being waged within the West. The presumption of veracity of formal, establishment institutions, such as the mainstream media and the universities, has been diluted. What Moldbug referred to as the Cathedral is now garrisoned in their well protected sanctuaries, hiding from the outlaws lurking in the roads. Whether the rovers are only in it for the money, or whether they will help expel the invaders remains to be seen. Free spirits as we are, here at the Outpost we declare ourselves loyal to only one cause: the liberation of the intellectual Motherland.

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