Cybernetics of migration in the Covidian Age

Last year marked record numbers of illegal immigrant arrivals to the Canary Islands, Spain’s Atlantic exclave off the Moroccan coast. More than twenty thousand irregular entries occurred, completely overwhelming the system. The last time this happened in such a scale was in 2006, when similar numbers reached the Canarian shores, in an episode known as the Cayuco Crisis, cayucos being the kind of ill-equipped canoe used by immigrants.

In many senses, Spain was a more influential country then than it is now. Prime Minister José María Aznar had joined George W. Bush’s global neocon axis, becoming an enthusiastic ally in the latter’s Middle Eastern campaigns. Post-financial crisis disillusionment and perpetual emergency states were not a thing yet. Global pandemics were only a hypothetical risk, usually ranked beneath terrorism and drug trafficking in the annual security concepts published by Western governments. SARS-CoV1 had been overcome a couple years before: the world was optimistic.

Coronavirus has been one of the main reasons for the current surge on immigration, something not entirely unexpected. After all, many industries have been shattered by lock-downs, and men who once earned a living as fishermen, laborers or menial workers have gone out of work. In the regions of upstream in the migratory process -Senegal, Mauritania, Mali-, often lacking the security nets Western welfare States provide, this has an enormous economic impact. The dismal economic data from Europe doesn’t sound as bad in comparison, triggering the migration wave.

Increased security in the EU’s external borders due to the enforcement of quarantines, however, has completely altered the flow dynamics of immigration. For starters, “hot expulsions” –returning irregulars at the moment they attempt to cross the border– have become nigh-impossible: countries of origin do not take them in anymore. The bureaucratic nightmare of processing the newcomers who could theoretically stay has become much worse, too, due to the administration slowing down. Complying with the dilated time schedules imposed by epidemiological knowledge has clogged the already overflowing Immigrant Detention Centers.

The result: thousands of Moroccan and Sub-Saharan young men now crowd the docks of Canarian small-town harbors, with nothing to do until they figure out a way to enter the Iberian Peninsula and from there scatter around Europe. This is especially relevant, as many of the recently-arrived wish to go on in their journey to countries wealthier than Spain, with more permissive policies and, perhaps, some family members already waiting for them. For many, keeping the borders with France or Germany open is just as important as leaving Africa.

As if the migration-related spike in crime wasn’t enough, in a time were gatherings of more than six people are tightly restricted for health reasons, the uncontrolled mass gatherings of young men does not sit well with the locals. Covid has been added to the list of alleged health risks posed by the arrivals: HIV, tuberculosis, and a variety of exotic infections. Police and other public servants, who have to deal physically with immigrants, often lack means to do so safely, and feel abandoned by the government, which does not provide enough protection equipment and resources.

Nothing new under the sun: unwelcome foreigners and invaders have always been accused of bringing various infectious curses; that’s why syphilis was known as the “French disease” (everywhere but in France). It is interesting to notice, however, that most of the dangerous diseases carried by irregulars living in Spain have been acquired during immigration, or even more likely, after it. The dire conditions in which illegal aliens live –squatted, overcrowded apartments, lack of access to health services– and the marginal activities they often engage in, such as junk scavenging, prostitution and drug use, make them risk populations for HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and the like.

As a curious anecdote, it should be stated that Spain’s HIV prevalence is three times as high as Morocco’s or Algeria’s, and roughly equal to that in Senegal or Mauritania. It’s hard to imagine Islamic values and more restrictive sexual mores do not play a role in this fact. Non-STDs, on the other hand, offer a different picture. The comeback of tuberculosis in Spanish cities is mostly attributable to foreigners, for example, and diseases such as African trypanosomiasis and malaria obviously do not come from France.

In any case, establishment voices trying to dissipate fears about illegal immigration usually highlight the fact that, in Spain, the most likely profile of irregular is that of a 40ish year old Colombian woman working as a household aid. This media interpretation of the facts serves to portray those who criticize immigration policy as bigoted paranoids: middle-aged Latinas and their children are unlikely bringers of diseases or, God forbid, Jihad. And after all, it is true that citizens from African countries comprise less than 10% of irregulars. Compared to South Americans, they are a tiny minority.

African immigration presents nonetheless such distinct challenges that its management deserves special policies. This is due to two connected security issues: the already mentioned risk of infiltration by jihadists, and geopolitical competition in North Africa, which not only involves Spain and Morocco, but also Algeria, France, and of course the American Empire and its runner-ups: Russia and China. Covid and the other diseases, nonetheless, have their own particular role in this game, as atavic bywords of the perils of foreign invasion.

Jihadism is a disruptive force in the Sahel, the strip of semi-arid steppe South of the Sahara that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. There, Holy War is intertwined with local turf disputes and ethnic conflict. Illegal trafficking of goods and people is significant, mostly directed towards the North, and even across the Mediterranean. The Arab Spring didn’t help in stabilizing the region. Libya, formerly a story of relative success, is in shreds and has become the biggest slave market in the continent. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda franchises have been successful in exploiting State weaknesses all over: Mali, for example, has only about 10,000 poorly-armed men to defend an area roughly twice the size of Texas.

The presence of rich resources has made all major players in global politics interested in the Sahel. Oil, gas, gold and even uranium can be extracted from the ground with relative ease. The US officially considers the region as outside its main strategic focus, which is more and more directed towards the Pacific and the South China Sea. The military base it holds in Niger, however, is not going anywhere. It is not minor either, being described by some officials as the largest Air Force construction project in history.

The American stance actually makes a lot of sense in the context of global competition with China: the Middle Kingdom is a strategic trade partner to every country in the neighborhood. It’s also been investing heavily in infrastructure through its famous One Belt One Road initiative. Being far less recalcitrant than its Western counterparts with regards to imposing its own cultural values, China is often preferred as a partner. This involvement requires larger security commitments Beijing is now willing to make.

Russia has also found its way to intervene. Its motives are similar to those of China or the US: accessing the region’s natural resources, selling arms, enlisting UN allies to support its foreign policy, and keeping a finger on the pulse of global Jihad. After all, millions of Russian Federation citizens are Muslims, and Putin is the only major world leader to have fought (and won) a war on his own territory against Islamic Separatism.

Interestingly, Islamic Separatism is the term en vogue to describe homegrown radical Islamism in another country, one with fascinating historical ties to Russia: France. Paris is heavily involved in the region since a war broke out in Mali in 2013, sparking Operations Serval, Éparvier, Barkhane and now Takuba. French activities have been supported by the European Union Training Mission deployed there. Perhaps Macron, with his vision of strategic autonomy, hoped that such collaboration would generate enough inertia to catalyze further integration of EU militaries. This has not been the case so far.

To this day, the idea of a “European Army” seems still quite far-fetched. The interests of the different nations involved are way too different, and their capabilities are too. The French are known as “the Americans of Europe”, being now the only nuclear power in the neighborhood and one of the few to engage in real combat operations, such as the aforementioned. Their adventures South of the Sahara, however, are of meager interest to voters in countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, more concerned about what’s happening in the Ukraine. Their eyes are in a Biden administration promising higher-voltage tensions in NATO’s (and the EU’s) Eastern flank.

As can be seen, the Empire’s gaze still has time for the Southern Flank, Central European voters be damned. In fact, both fronts are more closely related than it seems. Turkey, the main Black Sea counter to Russia, favors the opposite side in the Libyan theater while defying the US in other fronts. As gatekeeper of the Middle-East, it holds the key to security in the Balkans and even Central Europe, and its relevance to Intermarium politics cannot be overstated.

Meanwhile, American LNG exports have transformed the USA into a direct competitor of Algeria, which supplies hydrocarbons to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Turkey among others. The Algerian oil and gas industry has been heavily hit by the pandemic, spelling political trouble for one of the most socially-burdened countries in the Arab world. a

America has also demonstrated its willingness to apply pressure on the former French colony in other ways. Its recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara has been interpreted as a direct attack by Algiers, which saw in it evidence of Zionist collusionunderstandably, since the deal included Morocco’s normalization of relations with Israel. Coincidence? Algeria and Morocco were at war in 1963 and are in the middle of an impressive arms race. Spain has its reasons to be worried by all of this, especially after rumors surfaced that Rota Naval Base in Cádiz was being considered for relocation to Morocco.

What does all of this have to do with illegal immigration to the Canaries and Covid? Well, for starters, the Canarian route, from Morocco to Tenerife, is a (cheaper) alternative to three others: one across the Strait of Gibraltar, a land-based other through Ceuta and Melilla, and a third one across the Mediterranean from Algeria to the Balearic Islands. The surge in arrivals to the Canaries is partly explained by tighter control at these three traditional routes. Broke immigrants and adventurers chose the path of least resistance. The harder a path becomes, the more the migratory flux is diverted to its alternatives.

From this perspective, a different model of immigration starts to emerge. One in the shape of a complex network, a dynamic collection of nodes (harbors) and links (routes) that can be played with. In other words, a cybernetic system which can be regulated and controlled just like any other. In this reality lies an opportunity: by lifting pressure on one route or the other, border authorities can manage the flows of immigrants who have to choose between setting sail from Algeria, from Morocco, or from anywhere else.

Whether anybody is taking advantage of this or not is difficult to say. One thing is certain: throwing money wildly at the problem seems to do nothing to solve it. Machiavellian as it sounds, now that we don’t even blink at lone wolf terrorism, threats of disease can and will be used to amplify the political and media impact of migration waves. As an excuse, they provide the added bonus of facilitating the opening and closing of borders with little backlash. Thus, countries can be quickly flooded with newcomers from upstream in the migration routes, then drained at will by allowing entry through specific ports. Tensions are built and relieved in a localized and precise manner.

κυβερνητική (kybernētikḗ) means “governance” in Greek. While the world’s hoi polloi accumulate at the gates of sinking empires, the great powers (the US, China, Russia) scramble for influence over the vast territories left behind. Meanwhile, second-tier petty kings in Europe and Africa navigate the stormy waters to gain an edge or advance their agendas. Perhaps governments should go back to the roots of the art of governance, and pay more attention to nodes, links, hubs and switches . After all, as the Dutch proverb says: “It is in the roots, not the branches, where a tree’s greatest strength lies.

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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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Smooth and striated space in the decline of Spain: a quasi-theory of Revolution

In 1520, Charles Habsburg inherited from his grandfather Maximilian the Holy Roman Empire, which his successors would in turn inherit until the 1700. During their rule as both Holy Roman Emperors and Kings of Spain, the Habsburgs were generally reluctant to integrate all of their possessions into a single, monolithic political entity. This means that all of their estates preserved their structures, institutions 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, who ruled on behalf of His Catholic Majesty. This was true especially for the overseas territories that were incorporated into the crown after 1492, and which contrary to common knowledge, were of legal status equal to their European counterparts. The name of “Spanish Empire” is, after all, a modern anachronism: the status distinction between metropolis and colony was not officially sanctioned in any way, and the massive political entity was simply known as Hispanic Monarchy to its contemporaries.

In the somewhat en vogue Deleuzo-Guattarian parlance, the Hispanic Monarchy’s vast lands in Europe were composed of mostly striated space. As explained in Chapter 14 of “A Thousand Plateaus”, striated space is made up of formed and perceived elements, hierarchical and measurable. It’s the organized space of the State, which contrasts with the smooth space of the nomad and the war machine: the realm of possibility, in contrast with striated actuality. Smooth space is occupied freely, as if by water on a surface, without regard for previous barriers and codes. Its archetypal landscapes are the desert, the steppe and the open seas: uncharted land, equally a source of potentialities and a prize ripe for conquest, like the New World discovered in 1492.

Immediately after Christopher Columbus’ finding, a single fief was created in America: the Viceroyalty of the Indies, given to him and his descendants with the adjunct title of Admiralty of the Ocean Sea. It gave the holder authority over the soon-to-be-discovered territories, which were of unproven existence and unknown extension at that point. Talk about potential. The enormity of the continent being discovered led to the addition of two more domains: the Viceroyalty of New Spain (1521), including much of North America, the Philippines and Guam; and the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542), containing most of the South American landmass.

Of course, this space was in fact occupied by indigenous civilizations, which imposed on the land their own codes and rules. The Conquistadores’ ambition, though, saw only a smooth America, and exploratory efforts flowed freely from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, and then beyond, overriding Inca, Maya and Aztec concretions (deterritorialization). The smoothening process prepared the continent for a new striation: one that made it homogenous with the rest of the Hispanic Monarchy (reterritorialization).

The limes between striated Hispanic territories and smooth frontier would only disappear when the continent’s contour was fully mapped, well into the 18th century, with the Bourbons. It was replaced by a different thing altogether: a set of borders between striated structures, in a similar vein to Europe’s intricate system of feudal allegiances, inherited from the Middle Ages. The New World, loaded with possibilities, became another part of the Old World, increasingly becoming subject to its rules and forms. The disappearance of material smooth space would pave the way for a new frontier: the cultural and ideological. This was the Era of Revolution, and the mind became the new home of the Nomad.

The Pacific Northwest was one of the last regions to experience this change. The Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, a shorter sea route to Asia, became the holy grail of European sailors and explorers. A handful of Russian fur traders had crossed the Bering Strait and reached the Aleutians by the 1740s, making up the only non-indigenous population in the barren Alaskan lands. Spain had a de jure claim over the region since 1493, thanks to Pope Alexander VI’s bull Inter caetera. The claim was unenforceable due to the lack of a real presence, either civilian or military. When news came of the Russian, American and British lucrative fur trade in the area, however, Spain decided to act, quickly building a garrison and launching ships from California to assert its rights.

This action led to the Nootka crisis of 1789, an incident in which Spanish mariner José Esteban Martínez arrested the crews of three British ships trading furs with Canton. The ships had sailed under a false Portuguese flag, and were a private enterprise commanded by James Colnett, of the Royal Navy. Martínez sent Colnett to Mexico to be judged, and forced the Chinese laborers he had brought with him to build a fort in Nootka Sound. Since Colnett was, after all, a British officer, his arrest quickly ruined diplomatic relations between the two powers.

It was all a matter of optics. Britain demanded “satisfaction” for the affront to its flag, while Spain struggled to be seen still as a world power. Threats of war were exchanged, and Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger’s saw his prestige increase as he probed for weaknesses in the Bourbon Family Compact, the alliance between the French and Spanish dynasties. France was at the time in full revolutionary turmoil. Louis XVI still reigned, but wasn’t ready to materialize his vocal support for the Spanish, despite the rampant Anglophobia of the Assemblée nationale.

The affair would eventually become a significant loss of face for Spain, which was forced to concede the British trading and fishing rights, never again trying to assert its sovereignty north of San Francisco. The recently founded United States, which had benefited from Bourbon help during its Revolution, also played a small role in the crisis by not supporting their former allies so as to not get entangled into an European war: a policy that would be maintained until 1918, when the meme of an isolationist America died of old age.

The crisis set a precedent for established settlement as the main source of sovereignty, in contrast to historical legal claims and rights of discovery. It also was a further proof that intra-European territorial competition had gone global in a shrinking world. The smoothness of uncharted territory progressively mutated into the striated actuality of international borders: manageable, countable and tradeable. The State slowly overtook the space of the Nomad. By 1793, the patchwork logic of Europe had been transferred overseas, and Britain and Spain were jointly declaring an ideological war against the French Republic, now completely in the hands of the radicals.

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Post-election ripples: Trump’s friends and foes accross the Atlantic

The world is holding its breath. The aftermath of the US presidential election has left many questions unanswered. One thing that made it notable was the polarization involved, which was even greater than in the last presidential race. In 2016, very few Americans declared in a poll that political violence could be justified. Four years later, this number has risen to about 30%: a worrying proportion, especially when taking into account the fact that the results have been much more contested this time, and are now clouded in a mist of rumors and explicit accusations of fraud.

This polarization is not exclusive to the mainland American Empire: exclaves from the Mediterranean all the way to the South Pacific are setting up the pieces, ready to move them according to the result. Spain, which started the 21st century as America’s best friend in the Old Continent, has changed a lot, and is immersed in a deep political crisis (or reform, depending on where you sit). The “extreme” right-wing party Vox, of which we have talked in the past here and here, initiated a no confidence vote against the Social Democrat government led by PM Pedro Sánchez. The main issue was its management of the pandemic, although deep political divisions and a lot of Kulturkampf came into play too. If the objective was to remove the Socialists from power, the motion was a resounding failure. Only congressmen of Vox voted in favor, while everybody else, both from Leftist and Rightist factions, voiced their support for the government’s measures, most making a point of distancing themselves from Vox.

It should go without saying that Vox is the American party in Spain, or more precisely, the Trumpist party. The initial contacts between both sides were done through and Steve Bannon and Rafael Bardají. Bardají is, like Bannon, a publicist. He used to belong to the People’s Party (PP), and had strong ties to ex-PM José María Aznar, whose hawkish loyalties to George W. Bush ran uncontested and got Spain deeply entangled in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both Aznar and Bardají were founding members of the Friends of Israel initiative. He also belongs since 2019 to the executive board of Expal, one of Spain’s most important weapons manufacturers, and a key provider to Israel’s (and Turkey’s) armed forces.

This means that Vox is also the most pro-Zionist party of Spain, by the way; a fact which explains why it’s not really popular amongst old-school, blue-blooded Fascists. In fact, Vox has good relations with Netanyahu’s Likud party, and has received financing from Iranian opposition forces with alleged ties to Israeli secret services. This is of course in line with Trump’s biggest successes in foreign policy: getting the Arabs and Israel to forget their mutual grievances against Iran, to Obama’s and the EU’s chagrin.

In any case: the no confidence vote promoted by Vox had only one function: to force supposed rightist allies to take a stand. The People’s Party, still the biggest Rightist party in Spain, and which since the 2008 financial crisis has been playing Merkel’s game, viciously repudiated Vox. Ciudadanos (Citizens), which would be the French, center-liberal, jacobin-jupiterien alternative, also sided with the government, next to all its former black beasts: Bolivarian Communists and even Separatists allies. This effectively makes Vox the only opposition party, not only against the Social Democrats, but also to what they represent: the Franco-German, Open Society axis, of which the EU is the most important project.

It should be said that the EU might be Western and Liberal, but it’s not necessarily a pro-US organization. From a trade and geopolitical perspective, it’s one of the main rivals of America, and both powers have shown some antagonism during Trump’s administration. This is one of the key issues of Trump’s support for euroskeptic elements such as Italy’s Salvini, Hungary’s Orbán and Poland’s Kaczynski. It also explains why most European leaders are happy with the prospects of a Biden victory.

The People’s Party and Citizens have shown their true colors. They’ve also stated their allegiance to their masters in Brussels, and their opposition to Trump’s geopolitical projects. If Biden becomes President, they may continue enjoying their survival in Spain’s rightist circles under Pax Americana; if not, they’re done for. Vox put all its eggs in one basket, and now its only option is to follow through on its bet. The next questions are if the basket was the correct one, and who in Europe will do the same.

“Christianity is gay”: a short note on evolutionary memetics

Today’s memetic environment is steeped in questions of sex and gender; specifically, the female ones. The protagonism of biopolitics already is a key feature of 21st century culture. It will be even more so as soon as the demographic crisis looming hits, especially if we keep focusing in technical solutions for it. Science and technology have a tendency for creating at least as many new problems as they solve: this is what makes them an accelerationist force. Advances in assisted (artificial?) reproduction will only make sex, and biology in general, increasingly more relevant in the coming years, both in public and in private life (as William Gibson says, “the street finds its own uses for things“.

Christianity has often been condemned by feminism as a force inimical to women. Specifically, Roman Catholicism is seen as a particularly oppressive religion, a fact evidenced by its doctrinal opposition to abortion, the pill, and gender ideology. It is interesting to note, however, that Christianity has also suffered strong criticism for its feminine nature, a point made both from the so-called “Left” and the “Right”.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, various proposals to allow women’s suffrage were introduced in Spanish politics. First, a Conservative Party motion in 1877 (restricted to widows and heads of the household); later in 1907 and 1918, both times by Conservative Party congressmen and with the propagandistic support of the Church. Conservative dictator General Primo de Rivera finally made women’s entrance into political and public life a reality in 1924. All of this was of course not unmotivated: women were notoriously more religious and prone to Conservative tendencies, or so was believed. The Leftist and most Progressive factions, consequently, were opposed to women voting because of the perceived clout the Church had over the female mind.

According to American author Leon J. Podles, the Church does indeed belong to an anti-masculine bloc. In his book The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity, he presents the anti-Catholic violence present in successive Spanish revolutions as a rebellion of males against a matriarchal force. The often abject brutality of these revolutions, in which nuns and priests were raped, lynched, or both, was not based on religious or political issues. On the contrary, they were manifestations of masculine rage, a display of macho fury against effeminate clergymen and their castrating influence over women, cast through words whispered accross the confessional’s grid.

The derisive term “cuckservative”, which was so prevalent in alt-right circles a few years ago, seems to respond to this same perception of a link between Conservatism and anti-masculinity. The related and far less prevalent term “Cucktianity” specifically pointed in the Church’s direction, criticizing Christianity as an enemy of males in general and white men in particular. Christianity is interpreted as a vehicle for matriarchal social impulses, of which multiculturalism is only a particularly pernicious one.

The prefix “cuck” is a reference to the word “cuckold”, the husband of an adulterous wife who invests his resources in raising somebody else’s offspring. In different contexts, males are seen as being cuckolded figuratively (and sometimes literally) by the Church, the Welfare State, immigrant minorities… Adding insult to injury, porn streaming platforms, through opaque algorithms, seem to be pushing cuckoldry into the mainstream as a socially acceptable fetish, a fact interpreted as just another humiliation campaign by the Globalist propaganda machine.

In any case, the “Church impotent” meme seems to be a rapidly-replicating isolate of Evolian ideas, themselves a bastardized variety of Nietzsche’s. It is a memetic strain optimized for insertion in the mind of young males thirsting for rites of passage, adventure and rebellion; in other words, normal young males. That this meme is shared by 2010s American alt-righters and 1930s Spanish Reds suggests the evolutionary link between both cultural memeplexes.

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

Memetic Crystal Ball: a peek into the future of Pablo Iglesias

Narrative is made of tropes, storytelling devices that are recognizable within a specific culture. Thus, a trope is a type of meme; specifically a meme put in the service of a story. Archetypal characters, locations, and situations, such as the Big Bad Wolf , Arcadia, or the Mexican Standoff are all examples of tropes. By the tropes used, one can usually tell when a story is going to end well and when it isn’t, although surprises do happen. A tale is well told when its tropes flow gracefully; this leaves room for creativity and memetic mutation, making the tale interersting.

Narrative lies at the soul of politics, but political narratives (especially democratic ones) are different from literature in that they work best when they are predictable. People feel understandably safer when they think they know where they are going. Lack of meaning is death, so often societies will follow a disastrous course to the bitter end, just to enact the role they think History has given them. The moment a civilization loses confidence in its mission to continue existing, it is doomed: a narrative of decline will take over and people will instinctively fulfill it.

Being able to build and sell a narrative of future success, putting the audience under a memetic spell, is normally conducive to electoral victory. Conversely, if a story has a predictably bad ending –it has cursed memes– nobody is going to bet on it: no investors, no followers, no voters, no anything. For example: when somebody internalizes the role of the Tragic Hero, Noble Defender of Causes Past, that’s exactly what he becomes; everything he touches will be marked for destruction. Ask any 2000’s conservative culture warrior.

Memetic magic of this type is what makes martyrdom a successful propaganda tactic. A martyr embraces death, but a death which has been previously codified as a victory. Through memetic transmutation, the factual defeat of the martyr becomes a victory, since it is coherent with the overarching narrative of martyrdom. It is all a matter of framing: if the martyr recants before his death, the martyrdom narrative does not hold water, and the memetic spell fails. Psychotherapy works like this too: reframing traumatic events, turning them into the milestones of a memetic journey to triumph.

In memetic magic warfare, fake it till you make it is a basic operational procedure. People can smell future success in others. Like pheromones, the scent of the spell is imperceptible but immediately effective. The way an aspiring leader portrays himself is usually formulaic; there is a trope underneath, an archetypal pattern for the framing of his behavior. In liberal democracies, this is well known, and politicians usually act through carefully designed personas. They try to show themselves as the Old Wise Man (Sanders), the Idealistic Reformer (Obama), the Everyman (George W. Bush), the No-nonsense Outsider (Trump)… Different, more colorful characters populate other memetic environments, such as the Messianic Visionary (Hitler), the Fiery Revolutionary (Fidel Castro) or the Boisterous War-time Leader (Churchill).

Cue Pablo Iglesias (b. 1978), Secretary General of the Spanish Leftist party Podemos (“We can”), Vicepresident and Minister of Social Affairs in the current Government. Like many Progressives, Iglesias’ story begins in academia. He graduated with honors in Law and Political Science at Complutense University of Madrid, a campus notorious for its leftist pedigree. After getting his PhD, he studied the connections between cinema, psychoanalysis and political science at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, where luminaries such as Lyotard, Derrida and Baudrillard taught at the turn of the century.

Iglesias’ ideological horizons, though, are not to be found in the verbosity of French post-Modern philosophers, but on the slogans of Latin-Americanist, bolivarian revolutionaries of the chavist variety. A symbol of the post-2008, Occupy Wall Street political landscape, he quickly became the scourge of the Spanish bipartisan (at the time) establishment. He started showing up in different Leftist media, even hosting his own show, Fort Apache, broadcast in the Iranian Spanish language channel Hispan TV. With his signature ponytail and somewhat unkempt appearance, he was an icon of the “new politics” that were supposed to lead the country to a new era of real democracy and social justice. Iglesias’ concept of the political seemed more Schmittian than Marxist, and the friend-enemy division of society between gente (people) and casta (caste) was a key element of his early discourse. Abrasive and self-righteous, he led Podemos’s pioneering of the escrache and the language of progressive puritanism in the Spanish mainstream.

Ruthlessly taking control of Podemos since its inception, Iglesias alienated most of its founding members, many of whom were former colleagues and friends from campus. People like Carolina Bescansa, Luis Alegre, Juan Carlos Monedero or Íñigo Errejón have all fallen from the party’s ranks, either purged, disillusioned or at odds with its leader. It is said that, since his early years as a university activist, Iglesias was famous for oozing ambition and having a grandiose sense of his own destiny. His media presence made him bigger than the Party from the start, so his leadership was always out of discussion.

As is to be expected from an aspiring Caudillo, and despite all his previous claims to blue-collarness, Iglesias’ political career has recently allowed him to enter the bourgeoisie. To the dismay of his working-class followers, he’s bought a mansion in Galapagar, a luxurious suburb of Madrid. The property is complete with a swimming pool and a security detachment of the Civil Guard (Spanish gendarmerie), now tasked with suppressing the escraches he used to love. He shares his roof with Irene Montero, a party loyal 9 years his junior. Montero is not the first woman in Podemos to succumb to Iglesias’ charm, but she’s the mother of his three children and now a fellow member of government (funnily enough, she is “Minister of Equality”, spearheading the government’s SJW offensive).

When a lukewarm conservative-technocratic government led by Mariano Rajoy ended up succumbing to a non-confidence vote in 2018, Iglesias leveraged his position at the edge of the Spanish Overton Window to secure a place into an even more fragile government led by Socialist Pedro Sánchez, Secretary General of the PSOE (acronym for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). The new government, which has been in power since then, only attained majority after enlisting not only Podemos, but several Separatist parties from both Catalonia and the Basque Country. This uneasy coalition has proven very difficult to handle, a fact which may or may not explain part of Spain’s terrible management of the pandemic. A deep skeptic of the concept of Spain as a national entity, the climate of constant identity crisis is a most natural habitat for Iglesias.

His presence in the Government has allowed Iglesias to access State secrets and the Intelligence Community. Certainly, the role of spymaster fits his views on power and politics much more than his official title of Minister of Social Affairs. Iglesias talks a lot about the wealth redistribution, but seems to enjoy more conspiracies and spycraft. He is not one to be troubled by the “contradictions of power” that more idealistic revolutionaries seem to lose their sleep over. He is referred to as the Alpha male of Podemos; a canine metaphor he appears to cultivate. An outspoken fan of Game of Thrones, Iglesias revels in the sordid cynicism and shamelessness modern audiences mistake for realism and honesty.

Unrelenting persecution from right-wing opposition parties has exposed all kinds of mischief, real or alleged, on Podemos’ part: supposed dirty dealings with South American narco-regimes, possible ties with the Iranian State, financial irregularitiesTo the accusations, Iglesias responds the Right is trying to stage a coup against the government. Lacking popular support, “the Fascists” do it covertly with the help of the Deep State.

College professor, revolutionary, TV show host, bourgeois power broker, conspirator. What’s the next step in Iglesias’ character development? His opponents accuse him of being a totalitarian; a wannabe Mao or Stalin. But if this were one of the TV series he so loves, something doesn’t fit with the characterization. Pablo Iglesias is no Great Steerman, no Man of Steel. He seeks a place in History for himself, but he is no Dear Leader material. Is he, then, a Visionary Martyr? He lacks the poetic fanatism and artistic vision for it: he is neither a Hitler, nor a Mishima, nor Osama Bin Laden. His apparent lack of interest in ruling and in managing the grey gears of a bureaucratic state also situate him even farther from being a Richelieu nor a Lee Kwan Yew.

We have to look for a different archetype when trying to guess who Pablo Iglesias is becoming. It has to be a figure capable of historical significance, but unconcerned with the mundane affairs of ruling, and more invested in cultivating a dedicated fan base than in winning over his country’s love. When Iglesias speaks, he does to a loyal audience, and does not try to appeal to those who instinctively hate him. He is a professional agitator, and has grown restless as soon as he has reached some measure of power.

No, Pablo Iglesias is a different kind of beast: the Intellectual Ex-Stateman, best exemplified by Trotsky. A brainy, exiled figure writing diatribes about why the revolution failed, to be read by the excited eyes of his college-aged fans. This is the subconscious impulse behind his efforts to lure the opposition into a coup: guaranteeing his defenestration, so that he can write about it. He has always been intent on securing a place in History books, and this would be a very fitting way for him to do it. The character development device of choice for the Screenwriters of Reality.

Of course, this is just a Wild Mass Guess. Reality is much more chaotic, and only seldomly follows the logic of a script, making this essay fall into the territory of wild speculation (the kind we love so much here at The Outpost). But still, you’ve got to be careful with memes. A man can fall prisoner to his own legend. The comparison of with mind viruses is not casual. We will never know if Frogtwitter and 4chan did indeed “meme Trump into the White House”, back in 2016. Let us see the plot follow its natural course, and pay heed to the lesson hidden in this fable. Mind worms are everywhere, and their blind eyes have seen the Future.

Experiments in fiction and reality: Catalan Separatists and Reckless Meme Necromancers

The working definition of “meme” is somewhat dry, and less innovative than it might seem. Although the term was coined by Richard Dawkins, the notion that ideas are subject to evolutionary pressures is much older, dating back to the origins of evolutionary theory itself. As zoologist and philosopher Thomas Henry Huxley (nicknamed “Darwin’s bulldog”) asserted in 1880: “The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals”. 

Huxley correctly identified that the mechanisms responsible for evolution (variation, reproduction and selection) operated also on ideas and other cultural artifacts. Although accepting of this hypothetical mechanism, he was agnostic on its capacity to generate new species. Speciation through natural selection could not be proven without empirical demonstration. In zoology, this would mean exposing two lines of animals to different conditions, letting them evolve their separate ways until they’re unable to generate infertile progeny when mixed.

In his famous futuristic novel Brave New World, Thomas Henry’s grandson Aldous Huxley presented a Humanity divided into different bio-socio-cultural classes. These classes range from smart and handsome Alphas, destined to be managers of a global society; to semi-moronic, hideous Epsilon menial workers. In the novel, all human reproduction happens as State-sponsored in vitro cloning, so there’s no real evolutionary process going on: fetuses are subject to different processes which lead to their differentiation. Can Alphas and Epsilons have children? We can assume they do, given they all come from the same ovary. In any case, Genetics is given a clearly utilitarian approach in Brave New World. The biochemical, material processes the fetuses endure are the root cause of their conformity and a key to the Humanity’s global culture.

The interest Memetics has ignited in the Intelligence Community is similarly utilitarian. This interest stems from the notion that memetic evolution heavily influences human behavior. But is it really the cause of it, or a symptom? Marx and Engels argue that productive relations are the real base over which super-structures such as culture can be built. In the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, they even go as afar as to argue that “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life”. Are memes a cultural construction that emanates from the physical? This would form the basis for a materialist analysis of memes, a possibility pointed at in a fascinating article published recently at Fragmentos Maquínicos.

Without claiming that the material forms the base for everything, it is obvious that there is some deep relation between the evolutionary success of a meme and its material origin. Memes, even online ones, require physical support. Directly, through the Internet’s backbone, the miles and miles of underwater cable that still carry forth most communication between computers. Secondly, because the host of the meme inhabits the physical world and is conditioned by his material circumstances. Memes native to industrialized societies have better chances for reproduction, because they run on the their society’s cultural industry’s distribution network. This is one of the reasons Western and Japanese folklore are better known world-wide than, say, their Bedouin or Mongolian equivalents. Similarly, a meme requiring a specific cultural milieu will be mostly restricted to a population primed for it through education and media; lacking this priming, the meme will adapt to better suit its host, or disappear. An illustrative example of this process are the mutations experienced by socialist memes when they entered post-Enlightenment Germany, a matter which was already discussed elsewhere in this blog.

Lemurian Time War is a theory-fiction analysis written by the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru). A shining example of accelerationist literature, it questions the notion of a linear, sequential timeline, introducing the concept of hyperstition. Hyperstitions are fictions that make themselves real: memes which are able to trascend into the material. Hyperstitions bring forth the possibility of time being recursive, because they imply a fracture in the categorical separation of fiction and reality. Fiction and reality become extremes of a continuum, a spectrum of the degrees of realization of an entity. Like in a metabolic chain reaction, fiction determines perception, and perception determines behavioral and affective responses, which lead to the actualization of the meme into reality. Consequently, if fictions are capable of weaving reality, then their invocation is an act of magic: the circulation of specific signs designed to alter the material world. Hyperstitional memes are not passive repositories of cultural code, but agents of transformation.

A mass experiment in hyperstitional meme magic was recently performed on the population of the Spanish North-Eastern region of Catalonia. Although its historical roots can be traced much further, the modern Catalan nationalist movement was born in the 1970s, after the death of Generalissimo Franco and the restoration of Constitutional Monarchy. Much of its success can be traced to a single man, Jordi Pujol, an anti-Francoist and Catalanist activist who founded the party Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (Democratic Convergence of Catalonia, CDC). Pujol had studied Medicine in the prestigious University of Barcelona and worked for a pharmaceutical company. A charismatic man of deep Catholic and Catalanist convictions, he quickly became a key figure of right-wing regionalism. Following some successful political manoeuvering in the early years of Spanish democracy, in 1980 he rose to President of the Catalan regional government, the Generalitat, and stayed in power until 2003.

Pujol’s role as power broker and kingmaker for the successive central Spanish Governments in Madrid enabled him to push his own agenda, centered around building the “Catalan national conscience”. For decades, a narrative of “democratic” Catalonia’s victimization by “regressive” Spain was pushed from the media and from schools, unchallenged. Wide competencies were transferred from the Spanish Government to the Generalitat in the departments of Education, Health and Justice. Well-connected Catalan nationalists were set on the fast track for careers in education and culture. Spanish military and police presence was replaced by a regional police force with loyal higher cadres. Commercial offices working as faux-embassies were opened all over the world with public resources.

Language, the code for conceptual memes, was key to the Nationalist project. The promotion of the local Catalan tongue was thus a cornerstone Catalanism, and successive laws were passed to enforce its usage. It became mandatory in schools, and fines for businesses which labeled only in Spanish were introduced. Interestingly, immigration from Morocco was promoted to stifle the effect of the Spanish-fluent one arriving from Latin America; Arab-speaking Moroccans were supposedly easier to integrate de novo into the Catalan new nation. The deals with Morocco included the Generalitat hiring a Moroccan agent, Noureddine Ziani, for the promotion of Catalanism. Ziani operated in the Catalan high spheres for 14 years, until his expulsion by the Spanish Secret services, accused of fostering Muslim radicalism. Whether the charges were true or not, Catalonia remains not only a hub of Muslim immigration to Spain, but also the capital of European jihadism.

The Catalan nation-building projects were possible because Pujol was owed favors by everyone in the Spanish political establishment. Seen as a sort of Pater patriae, he was beloved by Catalans and made pacts with virtually everybody in Madrid, using the increasing centrifugal tendencies of Catalonia as leverage. His massive corruption schemes involved actors of all political colors; rumor has it, they splashed everyone up to King Juan Carlos I. As it usually happens with corruption, no one complained while there was something to gain from it. After the financial crisis of 2008, however, things started going South for Catalanists. Impopular economic policies had to be enacted. The rampant corruption of Pujol’s CDC party was coming to light. Power struggles with other nationalist factions had become ruthless. On a bid for regaining popularity and diverting attention away from corruption, CDC started tightening the pressure on the Spanish Government, demanding more sovereignty. An explicitly Separatist movement, supposedly grassroots, took over the streets, engulfing the Generalitat in a purity spiral of Catalanism.

The Separatist propaganda machine had been set in full motion to spread the message of Spanish oppression of Catalonia, ironically one of the richest and most influential regions of the country. Mass produced memes were flowing out of schools, radios and televisions. A radical activist, Carles Puigdemont, was elected President of the Generalitat. After some years of massive rallies and the complete polarization and degradation of Catalan political life, the Independence process culminated in an illegal referendum on October 1st, 2017. Only Separatists believed the referendum to be legitimate, and since there was no official register of voters, the result was overwhelmingly favorable to Independence. Obviously, this referendum was understood as a direct attack to the State, so Spanish Police were deployed to stop it. Confronting huge walls of voters, the Police resorted to beating their way towards the ballot boxes to confiscate them. The resulting images were exactly what Separatist politicians had hoped for: a symbol of Spanish “fascist” tendencies. They had memed Spanish repression into reality.

The memetic sphere was ripe for independence. There was an Oppressive Regime™, a beaten down People™ thirsting for freedom, and a Historic Moment™. Two days after the referendum, Separatists gathered to witness their President Carles Puigdemont declaring Independence. He did, and then awkwardly backed off a few seconds later, ruling over the shortest Republic in History. Nobody recognized the new country, and the movement was completely demoralized. Catalan Separatism is still recovering from the disappointment, not fully awaken from the spell.

Two non-exclusive theories can explain what happened on 2017: (1) the Separatists were abandoned by their international backers, and (2) Separatists were simply victims of a backfiring memetic spell. Perhaps the Separatists secretly expected the Spanish government to send in armored divisions instead of police, filling the streets with corpses and inspiring international sympathy and action. Since none of that happened, after their botched attempt, leaders of the coup either fled Spain like criminals, or faced prison sentences. The following court hearings revealed that, despite their lush spending in propaganda both at home and abroad, the Generalitat hadn’t really prepared for the possibility of success: all culprits claimed the Declaration had been “a symbolic act”. Maybe they were tricked by their foreign partners, or maybe they didn’t really believe they would get so far with their bluffing, and were pushed into a headlong flight. Or maybe they thought that, if the invocations were sufficiently powerful, a Hyperstitional Catalan Republic would simply materialize by way of Historic Necessity. Meme magic is a tempting, but dangerous practice, and the practitioner has to be very careful, lest he risk falling prey to the demons he has conjured.

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.

Vox, the alt right and the American Empire: a case report on evolutionary memetics

On November 2019, the Spanish rightist party Vox achieved its best electoral results so far, becoming the 3rd largest political force in the country. Not bad for a political entity almost non-existent 11 months prior in terms of numbers. Founded in 2013 as an offshoot of the most extreme faction of the People’s Party (PP), Vox has experienced a strong surge in recent years, thanks both to a smart communication strategy and to the voters’ disappointment with establishment parties. Taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis, which is wreaking havoc in Spanish political and social life, Vox has become the current socialist-populist coalition government’s number one enemy in both social networks and mass media. By now, it should be fair to ask ourselves who exactly are these people and where do they come from ideologically.

The key feature of Vox’s discourse is the explicit defense of a sovereign Spanish Nation-State. Among its favorite bêtes noires are regional separatist movements, gender ideology, and unregulated inmigration. These elements make it in some ways similar to other European parties of the populist sphere. As could be expected, anti-Vox propaganda claims the party intends to set back the country half a century and revive the Francoist dictatorship. The common accusations are those of fascism, racism, sexism, classism, militarism, and religious fanaticism. In spite of its roughly 3.7 million voters, the party still has an aura of contrarianism, political incorrectness, which it actively cultivates.

Some of the Vox’s success in overcoming this public anathema and plugging into the contemporary zeitgeist has been partly attributed to inspiration from former ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Certainly, there are have been personal and institutional contacts, which can be discussed on another occasion. This post, however, explores the influence of alt-right culture on the Vox phenomenon from a purely memetic point of view. Cultural and political trends happening in the US tend to manifest themselves in Spain with a lag of about 2-4 years, giving enough time for political tropes to evolve and appear in forms adapted to different political environments. Comparing American political memes with their Spanish descendants may spark some thought-provoking insight on cultural and geopolitical relations between the two countries. The following paragraphs dissect a sample of memes propagated by Vox and to some extent traceable to the American far-right scene of roughly 2016-2018.

Los chiringuitos de la izquierda (something like “the Left’s kiosks”) refers to all media and political organizations and positions with governmental backing, created by leftists to keep cash flowing towards their allies and to enable successful lobbying campaigns. They are one of the primary targets of Vox. Commonly used when describing LGBT or feminist observatories, the phrase can be applied in general to any institution funded or supported by the State and considered to be an unjustified expense, a mechanism for paying back favors, or a platform for woke ideology. Its function is to portray the progressive system as inherently vain, fatuous, immoral and corrupt, and also to create a relation between social justice causes and establishment politics. When Donald Trump referred to Washington DC as “the swamp”, he suggested something in a similar vein: the draining of swamps helps to cull mosquito populations responsible for malaria. Interestingly, this is a very old meme, its first iterations being used by American socialists like Victor L. Berger (1860-1929) to conjure images of blood-sucking capitalists. The metaphor, however, left the door open for other interpretations. If the desert is a place of spirituality, temptation and introspection, the swamp is the home of decaying matter, of will-o’-wisps, and of witchcraft. The elemental qualities of swamps –humidity, darkness, tepidity, festering organicity– contrast with the desert’s dry wind, extreme hot and cold, and clear, open horizons. The Pizzagate story was the quintessential portrayal of Washington DC as an archetypal Swamp of conspiracies, intrigue and satanism.

La derechita cobarde (lit. “the cowardly little right-wing”) is the other target of
Vox’s political action. The moniker is a
pplied to the two other, more firmly-established right wing parties: Ciudadanos (Citizens – C’s), and the PP. It frames establishment conservatives as a bunch of suck-ups desperate for Leftist approval, and thus it’s related to the admittedly coarser American term “cuckservative”. Losing the sexual connotation is an interesting adaptation, which allows it to be used in a parliamentary, formal setting. It also strikes a different emotional key: while references to cuckoldry fetishism are intended to provoke feelings of disgust and of visceral rejection, the accusation of cowardice is meant to elicit contempt, which is a more elevated, virtuous response. It makes the Right complicit in the Left’s immorality, accusing them of timidity, of lack of spine, and of being willing to trade their souls for positions of power and personal wealth.

If the last two memes defined the villains, La España que madruga (lit. “the Spain that wakes-up early”) provides the audience with the heroes. The meme is made as a reference to people who wake up early to go to work, which of course comprises the majority of the working population. It implies the existence of a parasitical, disconnected ruling class which supposedly does not have to wake up early. While fitting nicely into a narrative of proles vs. elites, the meme is vague enough to include almost any kind of professional, making it extremely relatable. Trump’s backers never had such a positive tag to define themselves, except for the dull and overused “hardworking Americans”. In fact, they were not a truly memetically-defined block until Hilary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” remarks. Trump answered by calling his followers “hardworking American patriots who love [their] country”. However, the real response of the campaign was turning the insult into a badge of honor and immediately starting the production of merchandising with the word “deplorable”. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Vox did the same thing with the “extreme right” descriptor, denying the fact and using it to re-brand itself as a party of “extreme necessity” instead. Trump’s campaign was successful, but it relied very heavily on the specific demographic of working and middle class whites. Vox, on the other hand, may be attractive to low-education, low-rent, backgrounds, but can also appeal to wealthier groups.

This leads us to a very interesting mutation of La España que madruga, that being La España vaciada (lit. “the emptied Spain”). The phrase predates Vox, and alludes to the vast, rural, depopulated areas in most of central Spain, thus excluding economic hubs such as Madrid and the coastal regions. An aging population, lack of investment and declining political influence contribute to a feeling of being left behind, and reinforces the idea of a globalist political establishment hostile to “the real Spain” and its way of life. Significantly, this economical periphery roughly corresponds to most of what used to be the Kingdom of Castile, home of the dominant language in the country and starting point of all the expeditions to conquer the New World. It is the soul and epicenter of Imperial Spain, in the same way that Kiev is Russia’s. When Vox makes rhetorical defenses of hunting, bullfights and religious traditions, he feeds from this abandonment and nostalgia for a bygone era, the same way Trump’s campaign fed on the discontent of flyover “heritage Americans” or “Amerikaners”, which would be close relatives of this meme.

Morality, Work, Tradition; there is a remarkably telluric theme to all these memes, in the duginist senseThe 2020 American election is closing in and the specter of an enormous political crisis looms large in Spain. Support for both Vox and Trump still survives, significantly stronger in interior, land-locked areas: a Sign of the Times, perhaps. Seeing how American memes adapt to Spain hints at a change of the elements present in the cultural substrate. A new voice incorporated by the American Empire, inspired by a different ghost, and felt on both sides of the ocean. The soul of America may have been slowly moving away from the Atlantic for a while now. As it returns to the continent, Western European countries will start looking inward as well.

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