generating a sense of crisis so people will demand "solutions" is not a basis for government
navigating our way out of the age of "nudge" and "spin"
we live in a strange time informationally. never before has so much information been available for those wishing to seek it out, yet this has not resulted in the golden era of truth and science that many predicted. instead it has unleashed the age of the propogandist and the spin-meister. not since the 30’s (and possibly not ever) has such a barrage been unleashed upon an unsuspecting and uncomprehending populace.
governments have been studying it and the instant mass feedback of online informationscapes has provided unerring, always-on A/B testing to hone messaging and allow the most potent stressors and effectors to be identified with scientific certainty, at least for a little while.
no longer must the saavy manipulator cook up best guesses on how to engender societal urgency and compliance. now all one must do is wait to see which new atavistic terror pops out of the the vast pachinko machine of twitter and voila! you have your highly evolved hobgoblin, full grown and ready to menace the townsfolk.
it’s so easy that any fool can do it.
the problem with this, of course, is that every fool IS doing it.
governments have been jumping in with both feet. the UK notably hired a whole pile of behavioral economists to learn how to weaponize such tactics to push public health. if you think the US has not been doing this as well, let’s talk. i have some charming bridge real-estate in brooklyn for you.
the problem with this sort of governance and guidance by focus group tested meme-bite is that it rapidly runs out of control and becomes self-referential GIGO gibberish both devoid of sense and divorced from reality.
pretty soon, not even they can tell if they are making sense.
this golem rapidly escapes its master and takes on a life of its own, which, not unlike a virus, serves nothing but memetic replication. it’s not really seeking any sort of valid or chosen end state. rather it is elevating those who support whatever KPOP political craze has all the kiddies throwing their underwear on the stage this week.
it does not plan or want or seek lofty (or any) societal goals. it just erects circular emotional and logical framings to perpetuate faddish following.
this can codify into things that look like political movements, environmental philosophies, and social and moral crusades, but they aren’t. it’s just coat after coat of paint on the hull of a boat that has long since rusted to nothing: empty words signifying naught but the drive to pander and the drive to power.
they lack any sound underpinnings and are instead a sort of meme hurricane sweeping across the warm oceans of outrage and need the feel meaningful. the vast convections of these societal storm systems do not spread enlightenment or provide solutions but rather suck all available energy into a vortex of destroying that which works in order to replace it with that which got the most likes on twitter.
and that way, madness lies.
look around the world. have you not noticed how deeply unserious our alleged leaders have become and how like puppets they seem: devoid of character but always upon the stage waving arms around?
the simple fact is this:
90% of modern political philosophy is performance for the sake of performance.
it serves nothing beyond itself.
it’s not actually attached to anything real.
such practice bends the world to generate crisis because crisis is the brand of social media.
anger, fear, and self-satisfied smuggery are the holy trinity of clickbait and memetic replication and so angry people existing in a perpetual sense of crisis asked to equate their own value and sense of self with membership in the “correct” tribe that knows the “right” facts is the inevitable optimization state for modern media structures.
some are smart enough to manipulate this planfully but most are just useful idiots elevated to prominence for their penchants for histrionics.
but the results are the same:
serious problems and deeply unserious solutions.
here’s a wonderful exemplar:
the EU is in serious trouble on power grids. they chased a made up green dream where over-priced and under-reliable power sources like wind and solar were subsidized and mandated into adoption while longstanding and effective nuclear was shut down (though france did mostly keep theirs). and now, as they rapidly discover their newfound dependence on geopolitical rival russia and desperately need solutions, what is the grand plan of france?
to turn off the streetlights.
as a reducer of energy consumption, this is a joke. it’s a meaningless rounding error. but that’s not why they chose it. they chose it because it’s highly visible, inconvenient as hell, and has immediate, negative effect on everyone’s lives. it’s a signal that “this is a crisis!” because crisis is the brand and people need to see how “serious” this is by having this darkly unserious policy inflicted upon them.
this is not a solution, it’s theater in the round to heighten the sense of drama and crisis and open people up to the next round of policy imposition.
here are two UK weather maps, one from 2012, one from 2022. notice anything?
the temps are not really different, but what used to get presented as happy sunshine logos is now the inflamed looking warning red of death by global warming (and doubtless has a soundtrack to match).
and, of course, we’re going to blame the current inability to keep up with power demand upon this diabolical redness that you can only prevent by abandoning your current lives and eating bugs.
this is all a part of the game as well.
the cause of these “problems” must always be manufactured to suit narrative. it’s never “wow did we get this wrong. it turns out ESG really means “electricity shortage globally!” but rather “we need to triple down on the meme that brought us here because these leaders no know other.”
they do not posses discernment or an ability to weigh trade offs, they serve the meme. it is the tiger from whose back they may not climb down and they will ride it right off a cliff and take you with them to avoid being eaten.
many of them have no idea that they created this problem. how could they? they have no idea how to even examine such things much less draw valid conclusions about them. they are not managing to reality because they don’t know how (and because they don’t live there anyway). they manage to perception, to seeming, to talking point. that’s what brought them here and it’s all they know. i suspect many are deeply surprised at the absolute calamity they have created. they are not even playing one move lookahead. they’re the disciples of a mad social media oracle that has deranged them with visions of adequacy.
the abiding unseriousness is on display for all.
hand them anything more complex than a peanut butter sandwich with the crust cut off and they lack even the rudiments of the ability to analyze or assess it. they’re just following the popular zeitgeist until they become cartoon pastiches of leadership. governance and “messaging” have become one and the messaging has lost contact with content.
and none of these ersatz “visionaries” even realizes that they have become clothes that lack an emperor.
this is now breaking all over the world because it has broken the world.
reality is that which happens anyway no matter how fervently your try to deny it and habitual habitation of hallucination always eventually founders upon such rocks.
economies collapse. power grids fail. systems of debt driven bubble-baby market manipulation reach the point where they cannot be sustained. social security nets break. empires slide into the sinkholes of fiscal non-viability. corruption runs riot.
it’s all on display, and let’s face it, it sucks.
people are angry, confused, and are rapidly losing faith in the institutions and punch and judy patriarchs and populists that made this mess.
and that is what the start of healing looks like.
the problem with government by “what sounds good” is that is sounds good. these were the tippy-top weapons grade focus group tested outputs of the collective unconsciousness rarified and ratified by the infallible selector of social media.
of course they sounded amazing.
if you doubt the efficacy of this, consider: in 2019 pretty much every doctor in the US would have told you that wearing a mask to stop a respiratory disease was pointless and foolish and probably counter productive. you know how you can tell? because none of them ever wore masks during flu season. heck, many of the same docs that later screamed “lock down and mask up” were out in early 2020 telling everyone not to. and they all flipped. it was not because the science changed. the science become more clear and better proven. what changed was what people on facebook were clamoring for: visible proof of “doing something.”
that is the power of sounding good.
these were literally the most precisely perception optimized products in the history of the human species.
but they were also really, really bad ideas. they were not selected for being right or true or just or even sane: they were the most compelling fairytales the collective societal psyche could invent to tell itself.
but they were fables, not facts.
we’ve reached the point of decision: we can either stop telling ourselves these tales of unserious utopianianism and top down diktat or we can wind up like other post fall cultures living uncomprehending in the remnants of roman roads and aqueducts and wondering how people had ever managed to build such marvels as we cluster around candlelight and speak in hushed tones of the antediluvian days of eclectic light.
to have governments and aspiring inter and transnational institutions this powerful in a world with this level of messaging optimization and reality bending manipulation of fact and philosophy is untenable.
we’ll just play this cycle over and over.
the good news is that the same systems of connection that pose this threat also provide its solution. much of the power assumed by the state was to address issues of collaboration and informational dissemination. but who needs health boards when we have online reviews? who needs boards of ed when we can have choice and open reporting of results broadly broadcast? in the age of the internet, does the CDC play any useful role? (and would they choose to perform rather than abrogate it even if they did?)
disassembling the true permanent power of leviathan lies in dissolving the technocratic and regulatory state and a move to systems of voluntary accreditation, open signaling, and peer to peer systems of review and assessment and free choice and agency.
if people care about X, let those who provide it compete to signal their fitness in supplying it, not kowtow to made up governmental standard and stricture that has no incentive to get the right answer and every risk of capture by smooth sounding promise and pretext.
if ever such things were needed, they certainly are not needed any more and ripping them out root and stem is the path to a future free from crisis-driven faux leadership by self-generated talking points inhabiting and animating the mindless puppet show we keep mistaking for government as it aids and abets our own incomprehension by barking it back at us glossed in a patina of alleged authority.
necessity is said to be the mother of invention and it’s clear that our need to find a new way forward has become acute. “that which sounded good” has run the world into a ditch and it’s not going to stop until we stop letting it and remove its power to impose itself upon us.
it’s time to change some things.
the society you save may be your own.