Futurist rioting, conceptualism and sensuality

The Futurist Manifesto was first published in 1909. It was written by Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a celebration of speed, youth, violence and technology. It was also a declaration of the author’s hopes for his country in the 20th century: a country of industry, innovation and dynamism, fully engaged with the world. It decried Italy’s main identity as the seat of a long-dead culture, to be admired for its past achievements. Futurism explicitly rejected the “innumerable cemeteries” which plagued the Italian peninsula: museums, libraries, and antiquaries. Although politically associated with Italian Fascism, Marinetti’s ideas never managed to establish themselves as the official aesthetic of Mussolini’s regime. Fascist glorification of Roman grandeur and its strong ties to Roman Catholicism prevented this from happening

In love with Modernity, Futurists vowed in their Manifesto to sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons”. Eight years ago, Kanye West and Jay-Z released their music video for “No Church in the Wild”. An aesthetic primer for this week’s riots, it featured a mass of violent protesters confronting a disciplined, brutal and militarized police force. All the fighting in the video is set to a background of classical-looking buildings and statues. The lyrics are somewhat cryptic, with references to luxurious cocaine runs and nightly excess; the general message of the song seems to be revolve around existential meaning in a godless world, devoid of truth and morality. The whole thing is full of occult and masonic imagery, something not that unusual in Western mainstream cultural production. The protesters turn cars over; fireworks fall from above like fallen stars. They charge against the police under a pyramid of light, formed by green laser pointers shooting to the sky. All participants in the video seem to be possessed by a kind demonic energy. As twilight gives way to the night, illuminated by green and red light, the old pagan statues of the seem to participate in the upheaval. They alternatively cover their eyes in distress, rally the masses to battle or stare approvingly at the violence, hieratically contemplating the ordeal with dead eyes and a petrified smirk.

The real-life, ongoing disturbances in mainland cities of the American Empire have themselves generated a lot of less stylized images of fire and violence. Countless fights and beatings; a woman set aflame while mishandling a Molotov cocktail. A man ran over and dragged through the asphalt by a FedEx truck he was trying to loot. The motor of a stolen Mercedes-Benz roaring through the shattered windows of a store, amid shards of flying broken glass and cheering crowds. Heavily armed policemen on the run. Thanks to Twitter, images of the riots are broadcast almost in real time. Usually, we can hear the commentary of the person filming; mixed with the anxiety, there is almost always a tone of striking glee and excitement. Laughter, combustion engines and shattered windows: the sounds of ecstatic urban violence. Meanwhile, among the clouds, the SpaceX Dragon Crew rocketflies into (outto?) the dark, silent abyss of Outer Space. There is no contradiction: together, both contexts compose a coherent example of Futurist aesthetics: the same type of image that the now-defunct neoreactionary tumblr Post-Anathema tried to create.

And what is an aesthetic? Basically, it is a memeplex which is not conceptual, but sensual. The word shares the same Greek root as anesthesia: αισθητικος (aisthetikos), meaning “sensation” or “perception”. Because Futurism is an aesthetic and not an ideology, it has aged much better as a meme than its conceptual fellow travelers, Fascism and German Socialism. That’s why, in his Manifesto, Marinetti was able to praise in the same sentence both militaristic, First World War patriotism and “the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas that kill”. As anybody working on marketing knows, aesthetics are impervious to attacks based on ideas and arguments. They operate at a lower and deeper cognitive level, far out of the reach of the evolutionary pressures imposed by rational, sophisticated discussion. Rival ideologies can share an aesthetic space: that’s why Communists and Nazis look so similar. Like the protesters of Jay-Z and Kanye’s video, they are all under the spell of the same demons.

The Manifesto of Futurism claims: “Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed”. An accurate assessment, for there are few spatial boundaries on Twitter. Advanced communication technologies have brought immediacy and virality to a whole new level, saturating the world with visual perception. The Internet is a festering wound for visual memes. Any aesthetic, noble or abhorrent, smart or stupid, can thrive in such a rich environment. Obviously, viral Internet aesthetics manifest themselves in real life: just look at the riots. In contrast, conceptual memes find the Internet a harsh environment. Every idea can be ruthlessly put to the test, criticized, made bare and exposed to ridicule. Now, drug-resistant pathogens grow in hospitals, where they are constantly under the threat of lethal chemicals and antiseptic measures. What do you think happens to memes?

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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