Naturally, the single individual can be wrecked by old institutions just as much as he can be destroyed by the representatives of a new world. A class, however, that believes in its ultimate victory, will regard its sacrifices as the price of victory, whereas the other class, that feels the approach of its own inevitable ruin, sees in the tragic destiny of its heroes a sign of the coming end of the world and a twilight of the gods. […]The middle class will, at any rate, not produce a tragic drama in which fate is resignedly accepted until it feels threatened with the loss of its very life; then, for the first time, it will see, as happens in Ibsen’s play, fate knocking at the door in the menacing shape of triumphant youth.
-Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Volume 3
Out from many a mud walled cabin eyes were watching through the night
Many a manly heart was beating for the blessed morning’s light
Murmurs ran along the valley to the banshee’s lonely croon
And a thousand pikes were flashing by the rising of the moon
-Rising of the Moon, Irish folk song
In recent days, the controversy over the status and future of ”Critical Race Theory” has become acute. Whether left or right, conservative or progressive, one now must have an opinion on it, and most people do. Even the existence of this concept is hotly debated, often in openly disingenuous ways; CRT both does not exist and is a fantasy, and is also not a big deal if and where it is taught, but it is also public good that actually helps all of America. Like Schrödinger’s cat, both alive and dead inside the locked box, CRT is at the same time everything and nothing. It is the name of the beast, a rallying flag for opposition, and an enemy strongpoint to be attacked. It is the name of a conservative fever dream, a rallying flag for defenders of progressive America and a world without racism, and frankly just plain old common sense that nobody could find fault with.
On the right in particular, the issue of CRT is the source of a number of intellectual and political dilemmas. If the left has one thing going for it, it is that in some broad sense it wholly supports whatever thing it is we mean by this term. In their case, the problems to be discussed are tactical in nature and have to do with timing, how to present arguments, what areas to stress in order to get parents on board, and so on. For the right, the questions are not just tactical but strategic: what are we even doing, and why is it that we’re doing it?
Here one can at least briefly mention the debate surrounding thinkers such as Curtis Yarvin (previously known under his nom de guerre, Mencius Moldbug) on the one hand, and the political activism of Christopher F. Rufo, who has grown into becoming somewhat of a poster child for a new effort at intellectual and political ”counterrevolution”, on the other. Perhaps the use of ”counterrevolution” to frame what is taking place today is slightly hyperbolic, but it is at the very least fair to say that few activists organizing against CRT in schools see these efforts as anything but one smaller part in a much bigger conflict. ”Critical Race Theory”, like ”Verdun”, is not the name of a conflict, but just one specific and highly iconic bit of frontage that has come to symbolize the nature and spirit of the war being waged.
Yarvin’s specific and general criticisms of anti-CRT activism deserve to be read on their own and I shall not make an attempt to really replicate them here; instead I will give only the briefest of summaries and hope that, even though truncated, it is not unfair to the author himself. In Yarvin’s telling, the fight against CRT is both unlikely to produce the results that conservative thinkers and activists think they will produce (and the biggest reason for this is probably that the enforcers of any laws or rules that conservatives will produce will still belong to a social class that thinks CRT is a good idea), and that the frenetic activity and enthusiasm surrounding this issue belies a fairly complacent conservative nostalgia; a pretense that the America of today is still the same society (and thus still has the same social and political capacity for action) as the America of yesteryear.
Yarvin’s critics – and there is no pressing shortage of those – find various things with which to quibble with in his critique, up to and including what is probably the most serious charge of defeatism and counseling inaction. If not this, then what? If not now, then when? Here one is reminded of the person who, year in and year out, prays fervently to God to finally let him win the lottery, until God – apparently reaching the limits of even divine patience – bluntly tells the petitioner ”Look, just buy a damn ticket!”. To many people on the right, the question isn’t so much one of how to finally hit the jackpot, as it is one of actually mustering the courage to start buying tickets. At a point where conservatives conserve exactly nothing and seem to have no real power over the direction of the society they live in, inaction itself seems just as real of an enemy as any pink-haired college radical.
This is obviously a completely insufficient summary of the state of the debate, but what I shall argue below goes in some way beyond what Yarvin’s fiercer critiques have to say about the flaws of anti-CRT activism, while simultaneously holding to the position that this anti-CRT activity is not some sort of historical or political dead end. Rather it can (and in my view, probably should) be understood as a real, historically progressive (in the non-partisan, non-value judgement sense of moving things forward toward something new) political development, despite the many, many flaws of the conservative movement and the American right in general, flaws which Yarvin is certainly right to linger on at length.
Ironically, in order to understand exactly why anti-CRT activism has greater potential than to just end up as just another in a long line of quickly forgotten conservative ”grifts”, one first has to lay out all the ways this activism and the ideology behind it is deeply, fundamentally incoherent. In order to get to the truly ”good”, we must first start with ”the bad”, because it is the bad that tells us much that we need to know about how and why American society is so broken.
The first point we can make here is that significant parts of anti-CRT activism is incoherent because it is contradictory on the level of practical wants. The point here is not that being against CRT fails to live up to some abstract, metaphysical or theoretical standard, and that people should simply read more complicated books to see how and why what they’re doing fails to make sense. The point here is rather that even before you open your first book on postmodernism or or figure out how to spell ”Baudrillard ”, parts of this project simply fail to fit together at the level of elementary logic. To illustrate this practically, take the concerned parent who wrote an angry open letter to the people running a ”woke” private school in New York, a letter which was then read on Tucker Carlson’s show and made the rounds as far away as my native Sweden as an example of a brave person finally standing up to the ”nonsense” capturing our schools.
A few flies ruin this ointment, to say the least. A private school which charges 50.000 dollars a year is not just any kind of school; it is a preparatory school for the elite. Nobody who sends their children to these schools can possibly fail to understand this. Nor (one at least hopes) can these parents be ignorant of the fact that the major test a young person faces in order to enter into the American elite is getting into a small set of highly selective, highly prestigious colleges. Beyond any notions of idealism, these schools charge parents very steep fees because the product actually being sold is the maximization of every possible chance and advantage available to get their kids into Harvard.
To put things into perspective: getting into Harvard is hard, but not getting in is very easy. Even a rock, which lacks a brain and literally cannot think or act at all, still manages a 100% success rate when set to the task of not getting into Harvard. For humans, there are only a few possible choices and paths in life a person can take in order to have a hope of making it through the eye of the proverbial needle, but an infinite number of choices are available for those who desire to fail. Teaching kids ”wokeness”, or ”CRT”, or whatever we wish to call it is undeniably a case of these schools doing the job they are paid by the parents to do. If you get into Harvard by being woke – and today it seems that few even on the right would actually deny that you do – the schools that charge 50.000 dollars a year to help kids get into Harvard are going to make those kids woke, and if the parents didn’t care about their kids going to Harvard, there are many other uses for 50.000 dollars per annum at a time where the American median income is a mere 35.977 dollars for a working adult, according to the 2019 census.
This is the first fundamental incoherence here that one shouldn’t just breeze past. What is the school actually doing that is wrong, given what the parents want and are willing to pay fantastic amounts of money in order to obtain? It is somewhat akin to being mad at a mechanic for fixing your car, because your car being fixed means you now have to sit in a horrible commute all day. While that may be true, would you be happier if your mechanic took your money and then decided, on his own whim, to simply not fix your car? Moreover, a mechanic is just a mechanic; paying him to change the oil on your car does not necessarily imply he has some special sway over the department of transportation. These brave parents standing up to the new crazy ideology invariably seem to be a fairly small minority; the rest of the parents just shrug and accept that if wokeness is what it’s going to take for the kids to remain in the elite, then wokeness is what it’s going to take.
This particular incoherence is glaring, but it hides a more substantive complaint. This is the argument that CRT is a bad and harmful ideology that we, as a society, should seek to eliminate and that our kids should be spared from. But this idea in many ways hides a more serious problem of understanding than the mere fact that (some) rich people who spend their money on a service then seem to get very mad when they actually get what they pay for. The idea that CRT is bad and harmful initially seems fairly hard to dispute, but look closer and some very real conceptual problems become apparent.
In order to really grapple with this issue, with whether CRT is actually ”good” or ”bad”, we do need to lay some cards on the table. Specifically, we need to figure out who we are, and what we are looking for. A machine gun is ”bad” as a tool of gardening, but good as a tool for killing people. You having a loaded machine gun pointed at me is good, if the perspective of judgement is your ability to shoot me. It is bad, if the perspective is one of me trying to avoid getting shot. These sorts of subjective judgements are named such because they require a subject, without which they are quite meaningless. Without actually grounding these judgements in actual subjects and their wants and imperatives, we run the risk of seriously mystifying the stakes, ultimately lying not just to our interlocutors but also to ourselves.
This might seem like sophistry, but in reality it is anything but. As the private school example above hints at, ”wokeness” in today’s America is arguably the primary sorting mechanism for the elite. The purpose of a sorting mechanism is literally to exclude people, but that is far from its only requirement. Lotteries exclude losers as well, but this exclusion is at least supposed to be based purely on chance. Given that elite parents by and large want their own kids to remain inside the elite, a sorting mechanism has to have some accessible way of stacking the deck, where preparation and foreknowledge conspire to help some at the expense of the hoi polloi. On the other end of things, a sorting mechanism should not just be a passive yardstick of success or failure, but an active and malleable standard which can be used to actively cull the competition. Being able to ”cancel” people under various pretenses is not so much an anti-social bug in a system of elite selection; it is a necessary and vital feature; cancelling someone is the same as taking them out of the race.
In societies where the elite forms some sort of warrior caste, the solution to there being too many unlanded sons is to quite literally come up with some way to have those sons kill each other, or at least go somewhere else to get killed, such as by fighting saracens in the holy land. A less martial society may have fewer direct options for getting rid of surplus elites, but that does not mean the problem somehow goes away. The less that is done to deal with surplus elites, the more unruly they will become, and the more direct or indirect ways to alleviate the pressure will be introduced by parents hoping that their own children will make the cut. If there’s more chairs than people, a game of musical chairs tends to be a pretty sedate affair. If there’s suddenly twenty people and one chair, you can expect things to get pretty rowdy!
This is all to say that most, if not all, of the ”flaws” of wokeness and ”CRT” being lambasted by conservatives, aren’t really flaws at all. As an example, the notion that CRT is intended to be a form of ”blood libel” ”against white people” becomes somewhat less convincing once you realize that the high priestesses of this new faith is typically an affluent WASP woman, in many cases one who can trace their lineage back to earlier generations of elites. This is not a bug, nor is it even hypocrisy or confusion, but practical ideology. It is certainly not self-hatred. The US is currently in a crisis of elite overproduction, and there are far more contestants than there are seats at prestigious institutions. CRT or wokeness is not the name of some discrete set of ideas or a coherent ideology as much as it is a language or toolset one can use to compete against other people by means of a form of ritualized social combat. Unlike in the Aztec empire, the losers of this particular kind of ritual combat do not run the risk of being sacrificed at top of a bloodsoaked temple pyramid, but they do risk being marginalized and ultimately excluded from elite competition. The incredible flexibility inherent in this system – where a white elite woman can, without dropping a beat, lecture a black janitor for his internalized racism and lack of moral character – means that the people who win are the ones who are the most ruthless, the most cunning, and (more importantly) the ones that have the means to go to private schools or hire essay coaches and so on. Officially, skin color matters a great deal, but in real terms the people that win do so because they are masters of the insanely complicated set of rules, exceptions, and kinks inherent to the language.
The idea that CRT is an ideology fundamentally hostile to white people as such has other problems. Possibly the most meaningful systemic change in education taking place right now is a move away from standardized testing, like the Scholastic Aptitude Test, towards more free-form essay formats where mastery of wokeness is the name of the game. This change disproportionately hurts asian-american students, whose seats are then freed up for other contestants, many of which will be – yes, you guessed it – white! A tool like the SAT, for all of its many flaws, is socially more egalitarian than the essay format. It is easy to imagine a poor student going to the library in order to get good enough at math to get into a decent college. It is much, much harder to imagine a poor student going to the same library in order to learn how to write a story about being poor. These stories, much like the confucian poems popular in imperial China, are actually incredibly formalized and obtuse, replete with hidden meanings, cultural mores and taboos, as well as strict language and style norms. To write a good essay on the pain of being poor, the kind of essay that will suitably impress the gatekeepers of elite institutions, it is more or less necessary for you to be quite rich. Only the incredibly credulous can still believe in the fantasy that this is somehow a mistake or an oversight on the part of the woke.
Much like liberals when faced with the phenomenon of Donald Trump, people on the right today tend to interpret the tenets of CRT literally but not seriously. To be blunt, if people wanted to be honest about what was going on, they’d stop talking about ”a war on white people”, and start talking about ”a war on some white people, waged mostly by other white people”. While that would certainly be less snappy and make for far more confusing political slogans, it would at least account for the glaring fact that this is a ”war” where both sides are made up of some white people and some minorities, and where the real dividing logic follows class, cultural, geographical and political lines. It would also put front and center the very noticeable fact that the actual generals in command of the ”anti-white” side are, themselves, mostly white! Adding to this, the absolute worst kept ”secret” in the entire progressive universe (a ”secret” that many, including cultural critic Andrew Yang, have long pointed out) is that skin color doesn’t actually confer the sort of advantage in discussions that the ideology pretends it does. Minorities who do not conform to cultural and social mores they do not themselves get to decide on (think of the fact that ”latinx” is almost entirely a white progressive phenomenon being force-fed as a rite of passage to latino activists who want to get into the action) have no place in the movement and are dismissed as race traitors and evil spoilers out of hand. Even when minorities get into the movement, they usually do so as foot soldiers, not as generals. To sum things up, the actual effect of the woke takeover of America’s education system has among other things been the creation of an inegalitarian order where poor minorities from the ghetto are left with much reduced chances to climb the social ladder compared to the previous, slightly less inegalitarian order.
It is also here that Curtis Yarvin’s arguments against anti-CRT activism carries a good deal of weight that people should not attempt to flee from. Mr. Yarvin is completely correct in pointing out that even were you to pass a law against ”this wokeness nonsense”, the people who then would be tasked with enforcing the law will invariably come from institutions and social contexts where everyone still believes in this stuff anyway. But that’s only half of the problem. Given the sort of constraints and pressures faced by the kind of people who belong to the social class in America that actually become circuit court judges, it is a grave mistake to think that wokeness is anything but an efficient solution to real, intractable problems. People who belong to the American social caste that produces circuit court judges really do need some means of regulating elite competition. In other words, they need a way to cancel people, to unperson them, they need a set of tools and rules and methods for partaking in ”combat” by which the weak can be culled and the strong can triumph. The alternative to this regulated elite competition – and wokeness is not the only possible shape such a competition can take – is to simply have seats at the elite table given out by lottery.
Nobody who belongs to an elite that considers it normal to spend many more times the median wage of an average American just to make sure Junior has every possible advantage in the rat race wants a lottery to happen. A society that picks its elite based on wokeness, whatever else one may say about it, is still a society where rich people can do something that poor people can’t, which is to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to send their kids to preparatory schools and have it actually confer a real, meaningful advantage.
”Guns don’t kill people, people do”, an often-mocked saying goes. But this saying does get at something fundamentally correct, and it is equally correct when discussing things like CRT. It is not necessarily the existence of competition that destroys a society and turns people into soulless robots or woke apparatchiks desperate to parrot the party line, it is the stakes of the competition that matters. Gather twenty kids and have them play a game of musical chairs over half a bar of candy, and you might see some light shoving towards the end. Gather twenty increasingly precarious elite adolescents and their neurotic helicopter parents and have them play the same game of musical chairs where the price is a spot at Harvard, and you would – quite unironically – do well to expect the parents to pour rat poison into the drinks of the hapless teenagers before the contest, blatant acts of malicious sabotage, and serious incidents of physical violence during the game. Similarly, switch out CRT for something else and you will quickly find that thing – whether it be horse-racing, knitting, or dueling with pistols – swamped with all the symptoms of desperate, no holds barred elite competition, with all the social ills you’d care to name following in its wake.
None of this is meant as an attack on those who find anti CRT-activism worthwhile. It is merely to point out that the right suffers a serious problem of, to put it in quite old-fashioned terms, ”false consciousness”, a problem that it probably ought to deal with at some point. There is a real ideological blindness here that forces the right to constantly undervalue the social and cultural rationality and practical utility of the ideology it rails against. Ironically, the right constantly fails to take culture seriously, even as it purports to wage some sort of culture war. Rather than giving culture its proper due, it simply assumes that cultural mores do not have to be useful to human beings in some way and can thus be picked, swapped and chosen based on almost nothing at all. But the cultural mores it rages against have not been arrived at based on nothing or on some sort of meanness or irrational hatred for the Good; they serve various critical functions for the human beings that hold them. They are firmly embedded in societal institutions because those institutions would likely stop producing results without them; conservative or even radical dreams of ”retaking” those institutions will always remain laughably impractical as long as people refuse to understand why these institutions work the way they do.
The good news here is that at the end of the day, what it is people think they’re doing may not actually matter terribly much. Even if the reasoning is incoherent or contradictory, the actions that people end up taking can still do quite a lot of good in the world. Anti-CRT activism today, much like CRT itself, may stand to benefit from being taken somewhat more seriously and quite a bit less literally than many are wont to do. In order to take the anti-CRT crowd seriously but perhaps not literally – and sketching out the rough future of American political life in the process – we have to briefly introduce the ideas of an American anthropologist by the name of Joseph Anthony Tainter.
Tainter’s best known work is called The Collapse of Complex Societies, and it is a work that gives us a useful model for conceptualizing some of the practical problems surrounding modern CRT and its role as an elite selection mechanism. Tainter’s basic argument is that humans almost always tend towards a one way approach to solving problems they encounter in life: by adding complexity. To illustrate this, the most basic (but certainly not the easiest) way to hunt an animal requires no tools or weapons at all. Utilizing the fact that we as a species sweat and are incredible long distance runners, humans can actually hunt gazelles by simply chasing one particular animal doggedly over a period of days, until the animal eventually collapses from exhaustion. At that point all one has to do is find a nearby rock or heavy branch and club the tired animal to death. This method of hunting is obviously pretty demanding, so over the millenia we’ve come up with many tools to make hunting safer, easier and more painless. Every new tool tends to be more complex than the last – a neolithic bow is not very complex compared to a modern hunting rifle – in turn requiring more and more time and resources in order to function, but rewarding us with greater comfort and capability for the end user.
Almost without fail, when human societies encounter new problems, they try to solve them by means of some new invention or social process that adds to the total level of complexity of that society. This is not bad in and of itself – we wouldn’t be doing this if complexity didn’t genuinely solve real problems – but there are certain limits to this. The first limit is inescapable: complexity tends to allow for efficiency (indeed, that is one of the reasons we love it so much), and an efficient system is by definition not a robust system that tolerates shocks well. A just-in-time logistics system illustrates this principle perfectly; if everything is just in time, then any disruption to circulation means that the entire system seizes up. If you have a lot of spare parts lying around in case something goes wrong, you’re actually not even using a just-in-time system.
The second limit is somewhat more subtle but over time it becomes equally intractable: complexity has diminishing returns. Put another way, the costs of complexity can grow linearly or even exponentially all the way up into infinity, but the added benefit invariably decreases over time. To illustrate this, take the concept of ”the internet of things”. This once-popular Silicon Valley meme is increasingly hard to take seriously today, but even looking at it during its heyday, consider what it actually promised to deliver to humanity. Instead of an ordinary fridge you’d have a new, ”smart” fridge that could then send you notifications to buy milk next time you visited the grocery store (and, realistically, said fridge would then sell all your personal data to the highest bidder). It is very easy to imagine such a ”smart” fridge costing almost twice as much and being almost twice as complex as an ordinary fridge from the 90s. It is another thing entirely to imagine that you would be getting double the perceived usefulness out of it. For most people, keeping your food cold is more or less what a fridge is supposed to do, and here new fridges offer no benefit over old ones. Whatever added advantage one gets from slapping an AI, a bunch of sophisticated optical sensors, and an internet connection to a fridge is likely to fall very short of the added costs and very real drawbacks of doing so.
Where societies start running into real, regime level crises is when their preferred method of solving a problem (making things more complex and more centralized) end up actually making problems worse rather than better, through a combination of increased fragility and diminishing returns. Societies that run into this dilemma rarely decide to voluntarily go in the other direction and reduce complexity while they can still safely do so; the social reality inside any such society is that nobody wants to be the one that loses out. Complexity is therefore retained, even when it starts doing more harm than good, and even past the point where system itself starts breaking down, the go-to solution to new problems will still be to add new physical or social technologies in spite of the fact that they stopped being affordable a long time ago.
Sooner or later, this process will break down. Further attempts to add complexity run into such resistance that they fail outright, and complexity is then increasingly taken away from society by force. Civil strife begins in earnest, barbarians sweep in, or just-in-time grain shipments stop arriving. Each new crisis forces a rationalization and downsizing of complexity back to levels that are actually possible to maintain. At some point, this process of breakdown and simplification also slows and eventually halts, as society stabilizes at a more sustainable level.
The most central aspect of CRT (and, mutatis mutandis, the entire political moment we are living through) is deeply connected to this dynamic. If one accepts Turchin’s thesis of elite overproduction as pointing to something real, and elite competition as one of the driving causes of political and social instability in the United States, then one should also acknowledge that the elites’ preferred solution to this crisis of overproduction is a haphazard, desperate, and widely unpopular turn toward centralization and increased complexity at almost any cost.
The evidence for this claim is at times clear enough to be almost farcical. At the time of writing this, president Biden recently tweeted that, as a part of his ”Build Back Better” plan, all Americans should be given access to four more years of extra schooling at the state’s expense: two years of preschool, and two years of community college. The American educational system is already fundamentally broken in very deep, serious ways, and figuring that adding even more of it will somehow change things is truly grasping at straws.
This problem actually has real political weight, no matter how feckless or flighty conservative activists prove to be. Just as the ideological aspects of CRT and wokeness in general offer cultural solutions to practical problems and demands that elites really do have (the need to cancel rivals, the need to have a flexible language that can exclude outsiders more or less arbitrarily), the physical expansion of it into every federal office and state function itself offers at least a temporary form of financial relief to the pressures of elite competition and overproduction. Every new social justice commissar at the local municipal water treatment works is yet another member of America’s growing ”unlanded college gentry” that at least receives some sort of compensatory subsidy, even if it must happen at the expense of the taxpaying public.
Still, there are deep systemic implications to this that go beyond the mere wolf in sheep’s clothing of ideological jobs programs. The United States still operates on a fairly decentralized, bottom-up political model. For all the departures made from the original republic envisioned by the founding fathers, the American system retains its political federalism to an unique extent, especially when compared to the centralized, unitary state model that dominates Europe. But decentralized models are inherently inefficient when compared to centralized ones, meaning less surplus resources can be squeezed out of them to benefit those at the top. In order to really maximize the living standards of ”Blue America”, especially the struggling parts of that nation within the nation, any remaining traces of federalism, political localism, or mechanisms of self-determination have to be done away with. The angry parents now going to meetings to protest what their kids are being taught represents a barbaric, unwanted anachronism: the American idea that those living in rural Virginia should have any say in what is being taught in schools in rural Virginia is a political concession that the system can quite literally no longer afford to make.
Centralization – and therefore complexity – must increase. The benefits of that process will go to a smaller and smaller slice at the top end of American society – precisely the sort of people who happen to be in favor of things such as CRT, by the way – while the costs will be borne by everyone else. That is more or less the shape of the progressive project as such, looking at its broadest possible strokes. Along the way, many things will have to be sacrificed, including local political self-determination of any kind, not just limited to the realm of school textbooks. Having encountered a problem of elite overproduction, blue America is reaching for the only solution it knows how to deploy: increasing complexity, adding new layers of employment, regulation and control, and letting everyone else deal with the fallout.
One way to understand the angry parents crowding the school board meetings of today is that the silent majority is finally heeding the tocsin bell being rung by the conservative radicals, thronging to defend truth and justice from the scourge of the anti-American ideology that is CRT. This is a flattering view, but it is also likely to be proven incredibly wrong by the end of this decade. A more humble interpretation is that the American system is simply starting to buckle under the stress of useless, harmful complexity it can no longer afford to maintain, and that many of the people who reap none of the rewards but pay all of the costs are starting to reach a painful breaking point. That’s not at all to say that CRT is not a hateful and socially corrosive ideology that many parents find incredibly offensive and un-American. It is however to say that at this point, the camel cannot muster the strength to carry many more piles of useless straw, regardless of whether that straw is called Critical Race Theory or something else entirely. This is in fact good news for conservatism, because quite frankly it means that even if it marshals its incredible reservoirs of incompetence, delusion and institutional grifting to successfully ruin this particular moment, it will not be able to fuck things up for itself forever. The problem is simply too big for even the tender mercies of Conservatism, Inc to smother in the cradle. The anger that is being expressed today is organic and will not go away anytime soon, even if or when the issues of the day change. As such, while conservatives can certainly hope to ride this angry tiger, to harness its energy for constructive political ends, they will not be able to truly domesticate it, nor can they hope to kill or even abjure it for long.
We can end this essay with a more general question to the reader, if only to illustrate the scale of the problem that now lies ahead. What part of America, as it stands today, do you think you could inject more resources and more complexity into in order to drastically improve the living situation of ordinary Americans? Think about that question seriously, and you will probably discover that there isn’t exactly a long list of potential candidates. In point of fact, giving any pillar of American society a mandate to double its own complexity is increasingly starting to sound more like a recipe for dysfunction and dystopia, rather than a way forward to real improvement. Yet, this counterproductive recipe is the only thing the current crop of elites knows how to do follow. It is also, make no mistake, the only one they actually plan to follow in the days and years ahead.
Still, let us briefly go through the crop of possible candidates. If we’re being realistic, a massive diversion of even more of America’s resources into the wonder that is Silicon Valley would, at this point, at best result in something akin to the Internet of Things: a new way to do what we’ve already done, but more expensive and with tacit surveillance built into the object. All told, Silicon Valley can probably build your kids a playground that sells their medical info to the CCP, charging ten times the cost of a playground that doesn’t, but it is less and less clear whether they can revolutionize the act of playing itself, or any other act of human flourishing for that matter. Today, even the grandees of various social media empires and -technologies seem to harbor a desire to protect their own kids from the effect of their own creations. It is doubtful that Henry Ford saw any reason to shield his own kids from the idea or temptation of ever owning a car. One should probably not expect many miracles from a religion that even its own apostles seem to have lost faith in.
But what about the military? Didn’t the Romans explode onto the world scene through military means, discarding the outdated republican form of government to become one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen? And aren’t Americans just Romans with better food and worse highways, when all’s said and done?
Well, giving more money to the Pentagon and expecting this to solve anything in the year of our Lord 2021 probably qualifies as the single most foolish idea a person can have, as things stand today. With its current astronomical budget, it has already given the world and the (no doubt quite grateful) American taxpayer planes that can’t fly and warships without guns that struggle to even float. Another handful of trillions and you are perhaps likely to see some examples of handguns that can’t shoot and tanks that can’t move, but probably not much else. Nobody even knows where the current money is going; the Pentagon is so institutionally kafkaesque it puts the man himself and his imagination to shame. Even auditing the current budget has been deemed impossible. Whatever your feelings about the American military, there is clearly no great hidden potential here just waiting for an injection of more money and more complexity to finally bear some wonderful fruit that will improve the lot of all Americans.
The same holds true, in some sense, of the entire edifice of the federal government. Just recently, the US Capitol police signalled that it wants to open branch offices in other American states, supposedly as a part of its nebulous (but clearly expanding) mandate. Before that, the US Postal Service announced it is branching out into the world of covert operations programs and monitoring what Americans post on social media. The putative scourge of campus rape in America was supposed to have been solved by adding a byzantine and costly alternate justice system under title IX, but in reality it just presents another truly kafkaesque institutional labyrinth for students and faculty to get trapped in. Soaring costs, institutional paralysis, confused and ever-expanding mandates, exploding debt loads and a growing failure to carry out even basic institutional missions; these are increasingly the only fruits being brought to harvest by the people who promise you succor by adding yet another centralized department or federal commissariat to solve your problems.
Do not however mistake this for some romantic paean to some old, idyllic small-scale America where the picket fences were white and people never bowled alone. If a certain Curtis Yarvin comes across as snide in pointing out that this old America is rotting in the grave, he is still not wrong in doing so. That old America is dead, and anyone who denies this is a coward or a fool. But the salient point one should keep close to heart as we try to muddle through this already chaotic decade, is that the new America, the America of ever-increasing centralization and endless institutional bloat, the America of San Francisco coming for your kids in order to make them all gay, is also dying. The mandating of Critical Race Theory in all schools, properly understood, is more a sign of accelerating decay than a herald of some new radical dawn. Insofar as this mandate is increasingly facing concerted, popular resistance, that resistance is very likely less about abstract ideas than it is about chronic fatigue and growing disgust with an increasingly broken political, administrative and social order. The camel is angry not because it has been convinced by your eloquent political ideas, but because it is truly tired of having to carry all these burdens for so long.
If Oswald Spengler once proclaimed that optimism was cowardice, today one might add that pessimism can perhaps lead one astray as well. In all likelyhood, a ”Blue Ceasar”, to borrow a term from Michael Anton, won’t ever appear in today’s America. The original Caesar emerged at a point where the roman state as such still had a lot of gas left in the tank, and more specifically the romans had much room left to grow in both complexity and scale. By shedding its outdated social order, Rome could focus all of its ample energies into building a social and military machine whose efficiency had never been seen before, and which has only rarely been matched since then. Complexity for the Romans did not appear as a problem to be solved, but a force for good that only needed to be harnessed and put to use. Augustus found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble; he did not find Rome suffocating under the weight of multiplying potholes, collapsing bridges and crumbling infrastructure across the board. Only hundreds of years later did that truly change, but at that point even the plucky Romans finally succumbed under a new, depressing reality where every new law, every new tax, every new reform or expansion seemingly only inflamed the problem it was supposed to fix.
In truth, America likely arrived at that point in the cycle a long time ago. But it is now that the groaning of the gears, the patent ridiculousness of the social order, and the splintering of all political and moral sense of the common weal can no longer easily be ignored. Today one does not have to search long to find young American radicals of the right who repeatedly denounce the fact that the right’s only practical role is to launder, legitimize and mainstream whatever social mores that came out of the progressive left ten or five years ago. To those young radicals I would pose a simple question: what will the parasite decide to do, once the host is finally dead? What will the ”launderers” and ”mainstreamers” of America do, once their progressives enemies finally succumb to the growing mountain of contradictions and diminishing returns? What will any of you do, when the increasingly trembling and arthritic hands of your enemies finally lose their grip on that hated sword?
The bitter truth that these young radicals will have to face is not that the period they live in is a twilight of the gods. That much should have been obvious long ago. The real horror they must grapple with is that their own gods died a long time ago; this time, the twilight has come for the gods of their enemies, and they will be the ones left to deal with the fallout. Rather than pointedly ask how we plan to keep living life in the case this patently decrepit, rainbow-colored Soviet Union lasts forever in all of its repressive, totalitarian, transgender glory, perhaps today’s dissidents ought to think somewhat seriously about what the fuck it is they plan on doing when it actually doesn’t.