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there is no "good party" nor any principle. there is just power
an exploration of "shiny hat censorship" and why you never get "better/smarter/more honorable guys this time"
some cartoons are classics for a reason.
and this is surely destined to be one of them.
as i wrote in my very first substack:
“it is easy to become that which you purport to hate.
those who conquer kingdoms by “speaking the truth to power” are, once enthroned, often those least likely to allow truth to be spoken to (or even nearby to) them. after all, who better to understand the dangers posed to rulers by such truths than those who just used them to supplant the antecedent sovereign?
put a shiny hat upon a man’s head and watch as he becomes the very king he once condemned: from @jack to @jackboots in one business cycle. it’s just human nature. you cannot fix it. you cannot get smarter or more noble guys next time. there is nothing new under the sun.”
and this is trebly true of government.
shiny hat censorship is always the name of the game.
once you capture the crown, you want to keep it and suddenly the idea of people speaking against the king looks very different than it did while you were in opposition.
i would argue that this is the primary political driver in states whose government passes a certain event horizon of scale and reach.
matt taibbi writes here about the great transformation of AOC from liberal to loquacious limiter of speech and from feisty sandersnista activism barbie to the cosseted hitter of media softballs in interviews about “well, yes, shouldn’t we censor opposing views? why yes, of course we should!”
it’s a good piece and worth reading.
but we can take this a bit further and ask “what is really the key pivot here and why do so many one time liberals now find themselves disliking so many policies of the modern “liberal” parties?”
and it’s not what people mostly think.
to be sure, the policies have changed.
the same folks who once thundered:
now seek to stifle dissent and appear laser focused on disallowing even whispers of wrongthink from penetrating the public debate and bellow “hate speech!” and “safety!” “misinformation!” and “obey the experts!” as they cheer on their truth ministries in their implacable mission to penetrate all media (social and otherwise) to, in voices stentorian or surreptitious, stifle dissent, debate, and even the very idea that their “oh so liberal” ideas might be subject to challenge.
your silence is settled.
it’s an entirely dishonest and self-abnegating descent into hectoring hypocrisy and so it’s easy to see why people do not wish to support or be associated with it.
so far, so clear.
where i must diverge meaningfully here from seemingly common assessment is that i do not think it’s about the people. it’s not about the parties. it’s not about the elections.
it’s about the system.
it’s not a special thing about team donkey that’s making them go so wrong right now.
the elephants have done the same in the past and will do it again given the chance.
one may seem more trustworthy than the other at this moment in time and this seeming may even be in tactical terms true, but in the long run you cannot trust either team because you cannot trust the system they inhabit. it will inevitably converge on a sort of tyranny by uni-party.
and so if you keep trusting “the new folks to run the old system better” well, we know how that goes…
humans don’t change. they respond to incentives in predictable ways. we are what we are and the wonderous uptopian “smarter and more honorable and principled guys this time” are never coming.
there is one fundamental truth that drives the 2 party political process and it is this:
“where you stand depends upon where you sit.”
the party in power likes the status quo. the party that controls the cultural institutions does not want to see them change and will wield them like a broadsword to cut down their foes and deny them purchase or franchise.
it’s all about who has the end with the handle.
those in power will favor censorship and suppression and those seeking it will ape principle and attack delimitation right up until the moment control shifts at which point their positions will rapidly follow.
there is no principle.
there are only the rules of power.
getting it and keeping it.
perhaps you can trust people, but you cannot trust power.
that’s just how it is.
some of you may be too young, but i am old enough to remember “the moral majority” of bible bashing evangelicals that ruled the american roost in the 80’s and had so completely routed liberaldom (the big force of the 60’s and 70’s) that even liberal cartoonists lamented their own disappearance from the american landscape.
but these movements carry in them the seeds of their own undoing for the power they possess at the top of the wheel corrupts them absolutely and thereby consigns them to be cast down as unprincipled power mongers who simply become intolerable.
however they began (and once the MM was likely a sound group of centrists seeking to carve out peaceful lives apart from the aggressive collectivist diktat of the 60’s and 70’s) in the end the moral majority were mostly venal, corrupt people, the kinds of people who would excoriate your sin, tell you jesus wanted them to have a jet airplane (this really happened), and then get caught having sex with prostitutes and running faith healing scams to steal your money and then beg your forgiveness and ask for more money.
(please don’t take this as an attack on christianity or christian values. these people were “christians” the way the east german democratic republic was a “rights based democracy” or the way the wokester warlords are “all about inclusive empathy.”)
they were not “the government” per se, but they had huge influence over it and over cultural institutions. just like woke. they loved banning books, science, using freedom in ways they did not like, and the speech of those who disagreed through “blacklists” and other such “you’ll never work in this town again” style guild behavior. just like woke.
they got captured and corrupted by their fringe.
because that’s what the group in power always does.
and it alienated the middle and much of the base. bigly.
the pithy rejoiner of the time was “the moral majority is neither.”
and they were right.
and right thinking people walked away.
and so the wheel spun. the “vanished liberal” reappeared loaded with idealism, ideas, and street cred and took charge. the cultural institutions, media, and government agencies all flowed the other way and then became progressive provinces.
so guess whose turn it was to get corrupted?
and guess what’s about to happen to them now?
and so we come to the tale of taibbi and others leaving the left in droves because the left has become the establishment and the establishment does not wanna hear about “speaking truth to power.”
and so we come to the left’s incandescent anger at this perceived betrayal.
but it was not the center who betrayed, it was those in power.
because that’s what they always do.
and sure as eggs is eggs, the establishment wants to remain the establishment.
so the establishment is everywhere and always about “speaking power to truth.”
it does not change. it will not change. it cannot change.
the US middle gets ping-ponged back and forth every 20-30 years because it actually does not change much and values ideas like free speech and free people and being allowed to live your life without being constantly molested by some busybody or other.
but we’re never going to get it because even when we do, we cannot keep it.
whoever lands in charge of a government this powerful that is, of necessity, run by the “permanent state” of agencies, bureaucracies, will be all but instantly eaten by it. the elected officials, the elections, the profession of principle: it’s a puppetshow. it’s the coke vs pepsi selection of “who’s going to be doing the suppression and rapacious taking this time?”
you cannot stay healthy, only choose between paths to type 2 diabetes from funneling saccharine soda that mostly no one wants because the inevitable choice is one of the two parties each hijacked by their extreme wing and shaped and steered by the immortal bureau-technocracy whose primary agenda is increasing the size of its suzerainty by waging the war on everything.
keep this in mind as we gear up for another round of “selecting the lesser of presidential evils.”
they’ll tell you they’re swell folks and that your values are their values, but it’s almost never true and would not wind up mattering if it were.
even if they start as “good guys with good ideas” none can stay that way.
mostly, they don’t even try and seek to only make the case that “the other guy is so bad that you must pick me!”
and that is a serious trashcan of a political system.
there is no “win state” with a government this powerful and this entrenched. the new king will act just like the old one and the one-way ratchet of perm-gov dominion over them and us alike will click ever tighter.
it cannot be solved or steered, only dismantled or endured.
and i’m all for the first one.
but until we stand up to the reality that “it’s not the people, the personalities, or the principles, it’s the system” to quote the that which was known back in 1971 to the titans of rock:
the new boss is gonna be the same as the old boss.
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they all flown in the last war
There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are effaced, by-n-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
and we’re going to get fooled again.