black swan

The phenomenology of crisis in America

Monday, 6 April 2020

We are at war. There is an enemy, soldiers, heroes, and victims. And because we are at war, we will be subject to an unceasing propaganda effort to shape our thinking about what is happening, or should happen, and what we can do about it. During times of war and catastrophe, we must as the story goes, sacrifice some liberty for security. Power coalesces in the face of catastrophe, where large scale coordination is required to address unforeseen events, and we are told that this was an unforeseen event. This is part of what it means to live in a representative democracy, where the rule of law prevails above all else. The rule of law in America is a self-licking ice cream. Whenever new laws brought about by states of emergency are enacted, a “new normal” begins to congeal in the minds of Americans, and these new laws become part of the landscape of American life, part of a rules-based society – the rule of law ultimately prevails, regardless of the scope of its power. This means that in America, provided we are able to maintain the appearance of legitimacy in our plebiscites, the outcome of voting has the imprimatur of the people and the patina of political authority. We all have a role to play in this “live exercise”.

The most significant changes in society happen in short convulsions, where a dangerous enemy is clearly defined. This fact was well understood long ago, and was articulated with great clarity in the minutes of the Carnegie Foundation’s first meetings in the early 1900s, which were uncovered by the United States House Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations (aka, the Reece Committee), when they were engaged in a grand effort to shape the future of America. Norman Dodd, the head researcher of the Reece Committee recalls:

We are now at the year nineteen hundred and eight, which was the year that the Carnegie Foundation began operations. And, in that year, the trustees meeting, for the first time, raised a specific question, which they discussed throughout the balance of the year, in a very learned fashion. And the question is this: Is there any means known more effective than war, assuming you wish to alter the life of an entire people? And they conclude that, no more effective means to that end is known to humanity, than war. So then, in 1909, they raise the second question, and discuss it, namely, how do we involve the United States in a war?

Well, I doubt, at that time, if there was any subject more removed from the thinking of most of the People of this country, than its involvement in a war. There were intermittent shows in the Balkans, but I doubt very much if many people even knew where the Balkans were. And finally, they answer that question as follows: we must control the State Department….

And so history is shaped, at least from the perspective of the general public, by a series of black swan events, spontaneous occurrences that rise up from an anarchic world where many interests vie for supremacy, only to look back at them later, proclaiming, “How could X not have happened?” But these events are not black swans at all, for history has repeatedly demonstrated, that either what was unforeseen by most was planned for by some; or in fact was carefully manufactured by a select few. And in this way, contrived crisis has done more to shape the political, economic, and social character of America than anything else ever has. Indeed, it is crisis that gives birth to all new modes of social organization, be it cultural or political. These contractions of radical social and political change have been utilized by those who have the means to curate and frame the experiences of the public mind in order to shape the future to their own ends.

War planners are best understood in the same vein. They are the shapers of history, and do so by fomenting catastrophe. The planners are in fact those that foment war; and wars, viewed through the other side of the lens, by their very nature are simply war games that have gone live. This phenomenon has been discussed in great detail in previous writings. Every significant event in the past century has been carefully thought about and rehearsed in advanced. This is not to say that chance and chaos do not play a role in history; but it is undeniable that those in power have always attempted to shape the future, and most of the time with great success, and at the very least, they spend long hours preparing for every possible contingency that could pose a threat to their existence. And crucially, at every turn, the people rise up in a clamor of support for the social engineering that ensues after such events.

For example, in 1778 the Articles of Confederation were demonstrated as inadequate to defend the colonies against an outside aggressor, which gave rise to the US Constitution. But the Constitution as well became an anachronism with the passage of the National Security Act in 1947, which created the Central Intelligence Agency, which later gave rise to what is today called the Intelligence Community and the National Security State, who routinely acts outside of the legal confines of the Constitution. And most recently, the Patriot Act of 2001 was needed to strengthen the powers granted to the Intelligence Community and the National Security State to defend the country from ever more gruesome and terrifying enemies. Each of the governing documents listed above stripped the legal power away from what came before it, so that today, US citizens are not living under the legal protections afforded by the US Constitution; they are living under the state of war outlined by the Patriot Act. At each stage of the evolution of this country the founding principles have been changed in such a way as to weaken the original intent in favor of more autocratic and authoritarian principles. We are at a point in America’s history where the Constitution should rightfully be taught as a history course, as it has become more and more divorced from the de facto functioning of modern government. At every turn a new enemy requires a new paradigm, a new identity, a new way of life. But how does this happen?

If the State is successful at framing crises in Manichean terms, where a battle is ensuing between Us and Them (or It), then We The People are engaged in a war against an enemy. This is a necessary constituent of the existence of the State itself. And without an enemy, the State loses its reason for being; and without purpose its identity vanishes along with those whose identity is intertwined with the identity of the State. When we project our own identity into that of the State, this concept comes into stark relief, as war is a force that gives us meaning. Struggle against the Other defines the concept of the nation-state, even monotheistic traditions, as well every other social structure created by man, all of which carry with them a story of triumph over a grand enemy… a triumph of good over evil. We are in the midst of a new war against an unseen enemy that can move across the globe at dizzying speeds, taking life quickly and effortlessly. This enemy exists in our minds as much as in the bodies of an unknown number of people. What weapons will we employ to defeat such a formidable foe? Surely the response to such an enemy must match its perceived threat. The global convulsion and radical change awaiting us must match the moment, as we all fight to flatten the curve. And when victory is declared, we will have been successful at attaching meaning to what has transpired, secure in the knowledge that the enemy has been vanquished, until the next time, because the American tradition is one of war, as we have been at war over 90% of our existence as a nation. It defines us… what we are… who we are.

“The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent.” ~ Chris Hedges, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning


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