Reposted from Medium
The Final Stage of Collapse and the Institutionalization of Mass Violence
Consider three events from the last two weeks in America. Fascists beat people on the streets of Manhattan. An organized campaign of mass political bombing, by an ardent member of an authoritarian movement, was thwarted just in time. And yet that very same authoritarian movement, expressing no remorse, let alone culpability, began to demonize refugees approaching the border as a caravan packed with mafias and terrorists — precisely the kind of delusion that had probably inspired the bomber.
American collapse is becoming American implosion, my friends. How so? As always, you are to judge, and I will simply state my case.
A decade or so ago, I used to point out — or at least try to — that America was a failing state. Now the pundits, cosseted in their bubbles, neatly swaddled in the safety blankets of ideology — a little more cruelty, it’s good for everyone — laughed and cried: “failing! LOL — how!? Get a grip, dude!” Yet even then, if you cared enough to look, you could see, very clearly even then, the problems that would lead directly to American collapse. Skyrocketing inequality, a struggling middle, shrinking real incomes, failing public institutions of every kind, a long history of tribalism, seemingly no escape from all the preceding — hence, a growing sense of despair, rage, and frustration, a catastrophic loss of trust in institutions, faith in the future, and optimism for society. Bang! A perfect, classic, setup for social collapse. It’s not that I’m some kind of oracle by any means — it’s that I was one of a handful of people who bothered to look up at the gathering dust. I wondered, in fact, why more didn’t. But I digress.
And then America did collapse. Funnily enough, ironically enough, when no one thought it would or even could. In three precise ways, which is what I’d always meant by American collapse. Society collapsed structurally, into a place where the middle was a minority, and mobility and opportunity were things of the past. The economy collapsed from one that offered something like a dream, to one in which 80% of people live paycheck to paycheck, will never retire, exploited mercilessly, and just as cleverly, by the very capitalism they go on believing in faithfully and cheering for. Hence, as a result, the polity collapsed, too — from something like a barely-democracy, to one which didn’t function at all, as extremists took it over, and began the project of regress, stonewalling, paralyzing, and jamming up the gears of an already sputtering machine. System failure — wham!! — crash.
In such a society, there is only one route left — each stratum, each caste, must prey on the one below it, punching it down further, for the illusion of prosperity to appear. Bang! Already, perhaps you see the problem: now, such a society is descending into the abyss. There is nowhere to go but lower when everyone is pulling the next now down a little further. Where is the bottom, exactly?
This is the demagogue’s moment. “It’s their fault! Those dirty Jews, Mexicans, Muslims, those women, those gays!” That much is the story of the last decade, and its culmination, which was the election of a demagogue — social collapse becoming a grim reality, without often fully or consciously understanding, really, that it is collapsing, or why, or even how. Only desperately trying to survive it. I’ll come back to that.
All this was the story of the last few years in America. But now collapse is becoming something different. It is approaching its final and terminal phase, which is implosion. Let me be precise in what I mean by that. A society collapses socially, politically, and economically — from an open society into a caste society, from democracy’s fundamental goods of equality, justice, freedom, and truth, into authoritarianism’s bads, of hate, spite, paranoia, lies, rage, vice, and from prosperity into predation.
But what comes next?
What comes next, my friends, is the institutionalization — the formalization, if you like, of all those things. And that is the final stage of collapse. When a society has built institutions which pervert democracy, and enshrine and formalize authoritarianism, fascism, and so on, then the work of collapse is done. Society is reborn now — from light into darkness — as a blind, keening thing, screaming for blood. It is just a knife, a gun, a fist now — a system of violence. But I will come to all that.
Democracy offers us the great primary goods above — which are the most valuable ones of all. Authoritarianism offers us, in their place, corresponding bads. It tells us to prey on our neighbours and peers and colleagues and friends — and in that way, to define ourselves as members of the tribe, who are the protected ones, or the true volk, or the party members. It tells us to give up on freedom, justice, equality, and truth, and instead seek spite, rage, hate, fear, and lies — often, so much so that collapsing societies come to call the latter the former — as the primary aims of society, of culture, of an economy, and, of course, the lives within them.
Now instead of institutions which enshrine and promote democracy’s great goods of equality, freedom, truth, equality and justice, a society begins to build new institutions, which produce authoritarian bads — spite, hate, rage, fear, paranoia, lies — instead. How do they produce them? The same way institutions always do. By incentivizing them economically, socially, and culturally. By creating rules, codes, and laws, which punish their nonproduction. By creating values which normalize — spread, promote, and glamorize them — culturally. By creating role models of fine young Nazis, for example, who are profiled in august newspapers. By impressing upon people’s minds that this is who we are now, and this is what we have become.
Let me give you a specific example of what I mean by “institutions of implosion.” Today, courts try little infants from certain ethnic groups as if they were vicious criminals. It violates every principles of reason and civilization, doesn’t it? But why — what is it an example of? Such a court is an implosive institutions, which enshrines — codifies, legalizes — the bads of hate, spite, delusion, paranoia, and fear.
Now, it’s true that there are always dissidents and resistances and even freedom fighters. Alas, my friends, one of the most misunderstood components of social implosion is that it rarely takes an active, loud, participant majority. It only takes a minority of fanatics — and a majority who is too weary, too apathetic, too resigned, or too foolish, perhaps — to act before it is too late.
When is “too late”? When the new institutions of implosion have arisen. So what “too late” means is that by the time such institutions have come to replace enough of a democracy’s institutions, then the game is over. When the courts, the government, the libraries, the polices, and the armies, as an incomplete list, have all been infiltrated, changed, transformed — from agents of democracy, to agents of authoritarianism — then what is there left not just to fight for, but more crucially, to fight with? This, my friends, is why it has never really taken a majority to implode a society — just a minority of committed enough fools.
The problem is that America has had those in spades, and still does. The Newts and Jeff Flakes and Ben Sasses. Men who abjure but do not reject, who are alarmed, but will not act. They do not seem to understand that complicity is not the just the action of bad people, but the inaction of good people, too — and much more so, where and when it matters most. America’s minority of fools led it to the cliffs of collapse, and now it is pushing it off the cliffs of implosion.
Remember my three examples? Let’s go through them to understand how badly institutions in America have already been perverted and corroded from democratic to authoritarianism.
When the fascist gang beat people on the Manhattan streets, the police were right there. In Manhattan, they are never more than a block away, really and in this instance, apparently, they stood there…watching. When the would-be mass bomber began to issue threats on Twitter, users reported him — but no action was taken. Then he was suspended — after he was arrested. LOL. And a “caravan” of refugees — which is to say a few hundred souls seeking refuge — is demonized as a criminal gang full of terrorists daily by some large component of the media, the intelligentsia, and the polity.
How many institutions is that, in just those three examples? You can judge for yourself. The point is that all this is the institutionalization of violence. And while it’s true in a sophomoric grad-school way to say — “but a society always institutionalizes violence, dude!” (yes, we all know that) — wisdom is understanding there is a world of difference between a system that minimizes some necessary level of violence, so that the the public good is safeguarded, and one that maximizes violence, which trickles down in great waves, from caste to caste, from tribe to tribe, so that there is no longer any public good. One is democratic, and the other, fascist, to speak plainly.
The point is that many, perhaps the majority, of America’s institutions are now beginning the process of institutionalizing authoritarianism’s bads — hate, spite, rage, delusion, lies, paranoia, fear. They are institutionalizing violence — rewarding people for it, whether economically, socially, culturally, professionally, and punishing those, of course, who receive it. So by implosion, I mean the institutionalization of violence.
And when that process begins, it is often both unstoppable, and far swifter and more deadly than people realize. Soon enough, the brownshirts and death squads and morality police stroll down the streets, caning and beating those who look them in the eye. Soon enough people cheer publicly — even if they are disgusted on the inside — when the knives cut and the guns fire on the helpless, powerless, and weak.
Soon enough, a society is just a gun, just a knife, just a fist. Just violence, conducted over and over again, daily, by the mindless against the powerless, at the behest of the powerful. Violence which is ecstatically ritualized, celebrated, and applauded, whose rituals serve the purpose, of checking for and enforcing every last bit of absolute conformity in habit and in thought. Conformity, submission, obedience. To hate, to delusion, to the lie. The lie that is always violence. For the moment we see the truth of another, their grief, their sorrow, their mortality, we do not wish to harm them, do we? We take them in our arms, like a brother, like a mother, like a father. We only harm them when all we see is a monster, an infection, a stain, something to be rubbed away and cleansed, before it infects us, too. Should we think that — then we have become what the fascist wanted all along to reduce us to: the gun, the knife, the fist.
Ah — you see? You just thought it didn’t you? “Don’t be ridiculous!! It can’t happen here!” Ah, my friend. You poor soul. But hasn’t it been, all long? Vote, then, vote, as if your life depends on it. It does — only maybe you don’t know it yet.