Twilight of The Narrative

Recently, I was visiting a friend’s house when a Michael Jackson song came on the radio and my friend said something interesting that I hadn’t really thought about before. He noted that, at the peak of Jackson’s fame, the releasing of one of his albums was a global event with a coordinated marketing campaign which meant that pretty much everybody in the western world and many parts of the non-western world would have known when a Michael Jackson album was released whether they liked his music or not. This is something the young people these days wouldn’t comprehend as they each have their own social media influencer or Youtube celebrity or whatever that they follow in much smaller sub-cultures than before. Even the most popular pop stars of today are only known to a subset of the population never the whole population like Jackson was. This observation got me thinking about a subject that I have been pondering for a while which is the impact of the internet on our culture. It seems to me this impact is not really discussed much anymore even though it is directly contributing to our current woes. One of the main changes wrought by the internet is the shattering of “grand narratives”. A Michael Jackson album release is one. But the pattern extends into other areas of the public discourse where its effects are far more important such as the narratives that hold countries together. As the corona event drags on interminably, there are those in the dissenter camp who still think the “narrative is about to crack” any day now and the “truth” will be revealed. This mindset from the old, pre-internet world is no longer valid in the world we live. There is no unifying narrative any more that is going to crack and be replaced by a better, more truthful narrative. Rather, there are now just a seemingly infinite number of sub-narratives with a dominant narrative imposed on top of the them. The dominant narrative is not necessarily truthful, just dominant. The emergence of the “conspiracy theory” label alongside the daily censorship that now happens on social media platforms are among a number of tactics that are now used to try and subdue alternative narratives in the hope of allowing a centralised narrative to form. But it never does for the simple reason that you cannot coerce people into believing a narrative. Narratives must evolve organically with a feedback loop between top-down and bottom-up. The increasing use of censorious tactics in the last couple of years reveals the underlying weakness of the dominant narrative. The powers that be have gone all out in attempting to hold together a narrative that itself doesn’t make sense as it is changed willy-nilly according to purely political considerations. It’s tempting to think the politicians are doing it on purpose with some larger objective in mind. But what if there is no larger objective? What if these tactics are simply what is required now to create any type of dominant narrative at all? What if these tactics are now the price you pay to create a narrative? If so, that price has gone through the roof. We can usefully call this narrative inflation. If you increase the supply of money, you get monetary inflation. If you increase the supply of narratives, you get narrative inflation. The price to create a dominant narrative has gone up for a number of reasons but one is that the internet opened the floodgates on the flow of information and allowed multiple alternative narratives to be created. This has created its own dynamic independent of the political and economic considerations that are also driving the trend. It may turn out that one of the consequences of allowing free and instant information is to destroy centralised narratives. There are good sociological and psychological reasons why this would be the case.

Eyewitness testimony has long been problematic for police trying to investigate an incident or crime. Even for something relatively straightforward like a car accident, where the eyewitnesses themselves have no personal stake in the story, accounts can diverge radically. Ten people witnessing a car accident can give you ten different stories of the crash. These problems are greatly exacerbated when the individuals involved have a vested interest in the case as often happens in criminal investigations. This eternal problem has been dealt with in numerous fiction and non-fiction works. The best non-fiction work I have seen about the subject is the documentary “Capturing the Friedmans” in which a school teacher is found to have child pornography in his home which leads to a series of events including him pleading guilty to sexually abusing some of his students. The documentary follows the motivations of those involved as rumour of the crime spreads in the local community creating its own dynamic as gossip and innuendo put enormous pressure of the family at the centre of the case. By the end of the documentary, we don’t know whether any of the official story is true as the lies and deceits create second and third order effects that distort the whole picture. This real-life account mirrors one of the best fictional representation of the problem, Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Rashomon”, in which a murder occurs in the forest but we hear radically different versions of the event told by the people involved (including, dramatically, the deceased). The philosophical question raised by both films is whether or not there can be found an objective standard of truth. This is a problem philosophers have wrestled with for millennia but it becomes a practical problem in cases involving crime where we want to see justice served and yet we have multiple, irreconcilable accounts about reality and seemingly no way to choose between them. At the end of the process, the system gives a verdict of guilty-not guilty and this is taken as the “truth” but is it really the truth?

With the internet, we have seen the same psychology applied to the public discourse and this has created practical problems for politics. Politicians love to divide the public where it suits their interest but it’s also true that they need to appeal to a foundation which unites the public. The process is similar to the justice system. Although there is disagreement and competition within the system, everybody must agree to play by the rules. The system itself is the thing people believe in. The public discourse which existed prior to the internet was facilitated through a system in which the media was known as the “fourth estate”. Its job was to hold government to account. Of course, this was not a perfect system but, as the saying goes, it seems it was better than all the others. It was certainly better than the system we have now where the media does not hold government to account at all and is little more than a public relations branch of the government. Recently in the New Zealand parliament, Jacinda Ardern was questioned about $55 million her government gave to media with certain conditions attached about what could be reported on. In Australia, the government waived the usual licence fee for the mainstream media channels back in March 2020. This amounted to around $44 million in subsidies. The theory was that this was needed because covid was expected to reduce advertising revenue, a strange claim given that the whole population was about to be locked at home with every incentive to watch the news. That measure came after the Australian government famously held Facebook and other big tech players to ransom and forced them to pay money to Australian media companies for content. Whatever the ethical dimensions of these issues, what lies beneath is the fact that the media companies are no longer viable businesses capable of existing without government support. Because they are now reliant on government money, their function as the fourth estate that holds government to account has also all but disappeared. That’s a problem for them but it’s also a problem for the government. The “official narrative” is transmitted through the legacy media. If the legacy media goes away, so does the narrative. Governments know that if the media disappeared, so would a large chunk of their power. The government needs the media as much as the media needs the government.

I would argue that the public also needs the media. It needs the media to act as its representative. That was the whole point of the Fourth Estate arrangement. The public paid for the media and that meant the media had an incentive to represents the readership’s interests. But that is all gone now. Some people think the public doesn’t really need the media. For almost any event, we are able to watch live video online now. Once upon a time we needed the newspaper to tell us the facts, but we simply don’t need that anymore. You might think that’s a good thing. We remove the middle man and allow the public to see events for themselves. But that introduces the same problem you have with eyewitness accounts which is that you get as many versions of the “truth” as there are people. The discourse becomes fragmented and the checks and balances that once held disappear. It’s a bit like having a crime investigation without a detective. “The system” can no longer control the discourse the way it previously could. This is not a trivial matter. It leads us back to one of Plato’s most dangerous ideas which is the Noble Lie. The idea goes that society cannot exist and justice cannot be served unless there are a number of lies which bind society together. Lie is, of course, a very strong word. We could soften it by calling them myths or ideals but the effect is the same. The myths and ideals are the glue that holds things together and, according to Plato, without them society will disintegrate.

Our post-internet public discourse provides some evidence for this assertion. It has become completely detached from reality or, to put it another way, it represents only one version of reality: the one that comes from the top-down. This process is especially advanced in the US. It hit a fever pitch with the Trump presidency and has not relaxed since. There are now at least two mutually incompatible narratives going on in the US meaning that agreement about the fundamentals which hold society together is called into question on an almost daily basis. It’s quite common to hear somebody on either side of the debate label somebody on the other side as “crazy” or “insane” and that is one manifestation of the problem. Within this new world, the idea that the “narrative is about to crack” doesn’t make sense. The dominant narrative is held in place by power, not by truth. By definition, the only thing that can “crack” it is another source of power. This was Trump’s genius. He hijacked the entire machinery that generates the narrative and turned it to his own purposes. But I think Trump was the end of the road. They got rid of him but in doing so they removed any last pretence that the narrative was “fair” or “truthful”. You can’t just delete the sitting President and then go back to normal as if nothing happened. As a result, a large proportion of the population no longer has any faith whatsoever in the system. That holds true no matter who is in power. The dominant narrative is now nothing more than the story told by those in power.

In Australia and much of Europe and Canada, we are just now catching up with the US. Here in Melbourne, more than a hundred thousand people marched against the government last weekend. The Premier’s response was to write them off as “thugs” and “extremists”. It reminded me an awful lot of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” moment. When politicians no longer feel like they need to accommodate the interests and opinions of a substantial proportion of the population you know the narrative is already fractured. Andrews may or may not get away with that politically for now but the protestors represent a new group in Australian public life; the ones excluded from the narrative. The same goes for the demonstrators in Europe who are simply ignored by the mainstream media. Because the public discourse no longer pretends to reflect reality, nobody really believes in it including the people who nominally go along with it. Deep down they also must know that it is fake. We are entering a time when even the idea of a centralised narrative is no longer believed in. If Plato was right, this fact alone is an existential threat to the state and it is understandable that the state would strive to fix the problem. But it’s almost certainly too late. All of the censorship and victimisation in the world won’t put humpty dumpty together again. Going forward I expect we’ll still have an “official narrative” but nobody will really believe it. That’s what is implied by the falling revenue numbers of the mainstream media channels. Will that lead to the disintegration of the state? Plato would have said yes. We may be about to test that theory.

Beyond the Fear of Death

Stephen Jenkinson is an author that’s been on my to-read list for a while. Until last week, I didn’t know anything about him other than he wrote extensively on the subject of the death phobia of modern western culture. As my reading list is long and getting longer and as the subject came up last week, I decided to check out this interview with Jenkinson where he speaks at length on the problem of death in the west. I had touched on this problem myself back at the start of the coronapocalypse series of posts and so it was fascinating to hear those themes talked about in more detail from somebody with real world experience (Jenkinson’s take on the subject comes from years of work as a grief counsellor). But Jenkinson also touched many of the other themes I explored in my two books on corona. After watching the video I decided to check out his website. Its title? Orphan Wisdom. But The Orphan is one element of the Devouring Mother – Orphan archetype that I stumbled across earlier this year. Synchronicity much? Clearly I’m going to have to spend a lot more time exploring Jenksinson’s ideas. From quick reading of his site, it seems that his approach is that we need to accept our orphanhood and find a way to build something on it. This seems like a promising idea. In a Jungian sense, we are currently manifesting the shadow side of The Orphan. We need to find the positive side. That idea warrants some future posts. For now, I just wanted to post my main notes from watching the Jenkinson video.

The denial of death as heroism

Jenkinson tells a story from his experience about a woman dying of a terminal illness who had only months to live but said she “didn’t let it be a big part of her life”. This was a pattern he had seen time and again when somebody was facing imminent death. Our culture views this attitude as a kind of heroism. That is, it is seen to be heroic to deny death; to not let it get you down even when you are staring it in the face. That same faux-heroism drives our desire to eliminate death (through medicine, vaccines, lockdowns) and, when all else is lost, to allow ourselves the easy way out that is euthanasia. We must die on our own terms even if that means simply ignoring our death as it approaches. To do otherwise is to “fail” and failure is not heroic.

I mentioned in one of my coronapocalypse posts the weird use of the heroism concept as a propaganda tool during corona. I can now see from Jenkinson’s story why this resonates with the public. It is heroic to do whatever you can to avoid death. But this follows from our phobia of death and our fear of not being in control. For those of us who do not share these phobias, the behaviour looks psychotic and dissociative. Of course, needless death should be avoided where we have the means to do so. But the ultimate judge of those means are whether they work and it is clear by now that lockdowns, masks and corona vaccines do not work. However, the true believers are not looking for something that works. They are acting a part required by our culture; the part of “heroism”. It is for this reason that leaders during corona have needed to be seen to do everything to “fight death” even when it means trashing all the other institutions of society. Of course, those institutions are all subject to the same cultural expectation and acquiesced in the same way. That’s why every single institution now has a “covid safe” plan. All this is demanded by the general culture and it’s for this reason that the corona measures still enjoy general public support. The couching of the whole issue in terms of “heroism” e.g. clapping for the NHS at a certain time of the day, is part of the hero-culture that is really just a denial of death.

Elders, parents and culture

It’s not just that we don’t respect our elders anymore, it’s that we don’t have any elders. It’s not hard to see why. Elders acquire their position through the vague and ambiguous machinations of culture. There is a process to go through to become an elder. I touched on this when explaining the rise of Jordan Peterson, who became an elder in an organic fashion. Our modern faith in “experts” is in some sense the opposite of elderhood. Wisdom is not required for expertise, only knowledge. Elders must be wise but there is no way to attain wisdom through education.

Although not synonymous, grandparents were once well placed to become elders, at least to their grandchildren. However, in the post-WW2 period, we have progressively loaded parents with the whole responsibility of raising children (although, I would argue that parents also desired that responsibility). The relationship of the child with its grandparents is now mediated through the parents and the grandparents have very little say on the raising of the children. In fact, it is a very common source of family argument when grandparents try to intervene and are put in their place by the parents. Having removed grandparents from the “elder” role, there was nobody else to fill the gap. The breakdown of this familial arrangement went side by side with the breakdown of the traditional neighbourhood structure where elders from outside the family might have arisen. The result: we are without elders.

What role have elders played traditionally in society? According to Jenkinson it’s “to ensure cultural sanity”. Given the current state of our culture, this diagnosis seems spot on. We got rid of elders and cultural insanity followed. This ties back to Jung’s point about the destruction of tradition. Elders are there to pass on tradition but we explicitly scorn tradition nowadays. Having foregrounded the parent role at the expense of the grandparent/elder role, it’s no surprise that The Devouring Mother archetype has ascended. She is a parent archetype who represents, among other things, the complete control parents now have over the development of their children independent of elders and any wider cultural network. In practice, this means we have loaded up the parent role with all kinds of expectations and obligations that the average parent cannot fulfil and it’s quite likely that the increasing divorce rates in western countries are at least partly a result of this. In any case, the child’s development is now entirely at the parents’ instigation and management. Will to power. The Devouring Mother’s desire to control everything.

In the meantime, what do we do with grandparents? Having removed their traditional role in family life, they have no economic or social place left when they hit retirement. We send them away to nursing homes. Out of sight, out of mind. The desire to “save them” during corona is part guilt at our complicity in this state of affairs and part control trip.

The Tyranny of Hope

Around this time last year I remember seeing the then Health Minister in Britain, Matt Hancock, give a speech to parliament announcing the government was looking forward to “injecting hope” into the arms of Britons. He was referring, of course, to the vaccine. I involuntarily interpreted his metaphor as one of drug addiction. Who is this drug pusher wanting to inject people? And who are the people who wanted to be injected with hope? Are we addicted to hopium in modern society?

Jenkinson calls hope “tyrannical”. Hope is dissociative. It requires you to ignore the present circumstances which are, by definition, bad, and look forward to an improvement later. Sometimes hope is warranted. If you are trapped in the mountains with a broken leg and have reason to believe a search party is looking for you, you can hope that they find you. But hope in general is debilitating and often comes out of a failure to face facts. We see this deception everywhere in modern society. “They’ll think of something,” we say about how to get out of our energy and pollution predicaments. “Just listen to the experts” is just another way of having hope that the experts will make everything right.

What has led to this state of affairs is not just political and economic trends but our death phobia. If we can deceive ourselves into ignoring even our own imminent death, we can deceive ourselves about anything. The addiction to hope means also the constant dissociation from reality and we have no shortage of that in the modern world through endless entertainment, 24/7 news broadcasts, Netflix, computer games, alcohol, drugs, porn. The list goes on. What if all of this is not the cause but the effect? What if the real cause is cultural: our fear of death. If we can’t face the most fundamental fact of life, how can we face the less fundamental ones?

Grieving as the flipside of Loving

It is often said of modern society that it has no heart. Nevertheless, a great deal of our public discourse is supposedly about caring about the feelings of others. Jenkinson notes that this falls out from our control junkie culture. Death couldn’t give a damn about our feelings. Thus, its presence is an insult to our ethic of control. It also challenges our feelings. We don’t want to hurt the feelings of others because we don’t want our feelings hurt. What is implied is that we do not know how to control our feelings and any unleashing of those feelings threatens our psychic equilibrium. This also implies a psyche that is out of balance and weak. The emotions are a great servant but a terrible master. One should not bottle up the emotions but one also should never let the emotions dictate one’s state of being. But that is where we are as a culture. Everything must be “personal” and few things are more personal than your feelings. This also explains our need to dissociate from death because the torrent of feelings that might be unleashed threatens to overwhelm not just ourselves but our family and friends. We grit through it to protect them too. If nobody can process emotions properly, it’s safer to dissociate altogether and “not let it dominate you”.

Grief is not a feeling. Grief should not be mistaken for despair or depression and, unlike feelings, grief is not transitory in nature. Grief is an exercise. One becomes a practitioner of grief or, in our society, one does not become a practitioner of grief because we have forgotten how to grieve. There is a flipside to this problem according to Jenkinson: “If you’re in love, grief will be part of the deal”. Grief and love are two sides of the same coin. “Grief is a way of loving that which has slipped from view” and “love is a way of grieving that which has not yet slipped from view.” It follows that if one cannot grieve, one cannot love in the fullest sense of the word where that love includes the recognition that the thing that is loved is temporary. And that brings us back to death because death is the ultimate recognition of the temporal nature of things. Death, love and grief are all related. A death-phobic culture cannot grieve but it also cannot love in the truest sense and this is why modern society has no heart.

In one of Neil Oliver’s best editorials on corona he noted that he realised that he was grieving for a way of life that has now gone. That implies that he loved that way of life and so did some of the rest of us. But it’s equally true that many did not. The ease with which we tossed into the bin all of those principles we thought were fundamental to our society implies a lack of love towards that society. That it was done in the name of desperately avoiding death is not a coincidence. We avoid death so that we don’t have to grieve so that we don’t have to acknowledge that we don’t love. There is a giant void at the centre of it all.

This brings me to a point I have been pondering recently and which is touched upon in Jenkinson’s idea of Orphan Wisdom. If many people have no love for the current state of the world, perhaps corona can usher in a new era where there is something to love. I admit this seems extraordinarily unlikely. The Great Reset and the totalitarian direction that we are now lurching towards is the opposite of anything that could be loved. But if corona can have any positive effect it would be this: that a society or a way of life could emerge that is worth loving. This need not involve throwing away everything and starting again. It may be that we must rediscover what was worth loving about our society in the first place. Such a love would only be one part of the story, however. It would have to come alongside learning how to grieve and it seems to me that this is where Jenkinson’s ideas could have found their time. We need to become practitioners of grieving and in doing so we would have to face our death phobia. All that would need to be achieved in the face of powerful forces who are using our fear of death for their own purposes (hello, Devouring Mother). If that fear of death was confronted, it would lose its power. What sort of leader, people or movements that could make that happen is something to watch out for. Aren’t we due for the second coming of a guy who taught about love?

The Spectre of Globalism

Recently I was watching this interesting speech by Ernst Wolff titled The Fourth Industrial Revolution. (Thanks to Roland for the link). The video is in German and is well worth watching for those who speak the language. Wolff outlines the political dimensions of our current woes with a focus on how our would-be globalist overlords see the world. Several things occurred to me while watching the video and I’ll be unpacking those in the next few posts. I think the concept is the fourth industrial revolution is flawed and it’s flawed in exactly the same way the modern Plague Story is flawed in that it takes a historical reality that is foundational to modern life and then tacks on a fairy tale ending which has no basis in reality. This kind of thing has been a hallmark of academic elites since time immemorial and seems to have a particular attraction to left-leaning elites hence the ongoing power of Marxism which followed the pattern to a tee. But there is a dynamic going on with the globalist elites that I think is new, at least in modern history. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is related to the concept of the Great Reset about which there is a book in print and regular forums where those ideas are discussed. And yet, in public discourse when somebody raises ideas about the Great Reset, it’s very common to hear the idea written off as a “conspiracy”. How can that be? How can a concept which is right out there in the open be thought of as a conspiracy theory by the average person on the street?

To answer this question, we must acknowledge a couple of things. Firstly, there is the fact that most people most of the time think in literal terms or what I called left brain thinking or L-mode in a previous post. That is, people think in terms of the dictionary meaning of a word rather than the concept that the word represents. To take a current example, most people think the corona “vaccine” will stop the spread of covid because that’s what vaccines do. The fact that this vaccine does not do that simply doesn’t register even though it is now an acknowledged fact by the most mainstream corona “experts” and politicians that the vaccine doesn’t prevent infection or transmission of the virus. The average person thinks it does because that’s what the word “vaccine” implies. Thus, there was a case recently where a gym owner in Sydney was astonished that fifteen clients in his facility tested positive to covid even though only vaccinated people were allowed into the gym. According to his understanding of the word “vaccine”, that shouldn’t have been possible.

The second thing to bear in mind is that the word “conspiracy theorist” has been weaponised in recent times by the propaganda machine. With dreary regularity you can bet that anybody who questions the narrative will be labelled a conspiracy theorist or a “far right agitator” or what have you. But it’s here that the modern “conspiracy” gets interesting. Let’s say you question the narrative and point out that the things that are happening are exactly what the global elites have been saying in their books and at their conferences. You get labelled a conspiracy theorist often by an average person who is not in any way linked to the propaganda machine. The reason for this is that the meaning of the word conspiracy is that there is a secret agreement and the label conspiracy theorist in the modern world means that you are attributing the course of events to actors pursuing their own interests through such a secret agreement. The Great Reset, however, is not a secret. It is right out there in the open. By definition, it cannot be a conspiracy and because the average person thinks in definitional terms they believe it is not a conspiracy. It’s also true that the average person never hears their national politicians and media talk about The Great Reset or any of the other ideas that get discussed in the globalist forums. Therefore, they don’t believe that those ideas are being pursued in their country. That is factually incorrect in the same way that it’s factually incorrect to say that the corona vaccines prevent infection.

Why the average person has it so wrong is due to a dynamic that has arisen in the last few decades as we transitioned into the modern version of globalism. I’m just old enough to remember the time before that change. It was a time when politicians in Australia actually had a vision for the country that they were able to articulate to the public. Even as a young teenager, I knew more or less which direction the Hawke-Keating government was trying to steer the nation. These days, I have no idea what the vision of our government is for the country. As far as I can tell, there is no vision and there hasn’t been one since the Hawke-Keating years. If I’m reading other countries’ politics correctly, the same seems to be true in most western countries. That lack of vision coincides with the onset of modern globalisation. The globalists, of course, do have a vision for the future and The Great Reset is part of that. Thus, in the last few decades, the ideas and visions for the future in the west no longer occur at the nation state level but at the globalist level. Those ideas, however, are never communicated back to the public directly. The nation state politicians have become the conduit for those ideas; nothing more than second-hand car salesmen whose job it is to dress up notions that would be radically unpopular if presented to the voting public in their original form. I think of this dynamic as follows:-

At the top are the various globalists institutions which include both government and non-government organisations and the various forums they run. In the middle is the national government apparatus whose interaction with the globalist institutions has greatly increased in the recent decades. This apparatus no longer interacts with its own public like it used to and no longer presents a vision for the nation. Rather, it has become a conduit for the ideas that circulate in the globalist forums. Whichever of those ideas that might be palatable to the general public flow through but most don’t because they are not palatable. Try winning an election on “you will own nothing and you will be happy” or telling people they must swap their steaks and sausages for bug salad. It’s for that reason that the average person on the street in Australia or Canada or Europe has never heard of the Great Reset. The whole book reads like a dystopian sci-fi novel and no politician in their right mind would present it to the public. Nevertheless, some of those globalist ideas do flow through. When they do, they tend to be stunningly unpopular. In Australia, one recent government was toppled largely due to legislation ostensibly aimed at tackling climate change. For those who believe in such summits and the global institutions that host them, this has been incredibly frustrating and the propaganda machine has gone into overdrive trying, through fear, to convince the general public of various nation states to acquiesce to the globalist agenda.

This leads us into 2020 when something finally got done. What got done, of course, had already been discussed at the globalist meetings. There was one in 2019, in fact, which even simulated a coronavirus outbreak. Just like the other globalist meetings, the general public had no idea what was being discussed at that meeting but we found out in March 2020. A big part of the shellshock that we are still in is because of the unprecedented and unthinkable nature of what has happened. Most of the ideas that are discussed at the globalist shindigs are never presented to the national publics because politicians know that they would have almost no support. If the government had come out in 2019 and declared a pandemic policy that consisted of what Australia did in the last year and a half there would have been mass protests against the idea. Yet, it did happen. It took the threat of a global pandemic for the globalists to finally achieve their goal of getting national governments to take action and they have not hidden their delight at this fact. We have heard how corona has opened a “window of opportunity” to make other things happen. Having finally got national governments to override the will of the public, the globalists now want to continue the trend and ram a bunch of other unpopular measures through. You will own nothing and you’ll eat bug salads instead of steaks. Sound good? That’s what they have in mind.

This dynamic has been in play now for a couple of decades and the fear and hysteria has been ramping up in recent years. Partly this is because of the lack of results and partly because globalisation is falling apart of its own momentum and the people involved are getting desperate. At the national level, the effect of all this has been dire. Our national political leaders have no vision for our countries because they are serving two masters. Their unenviable position is as mediator between the globalists and the national public. As a result, the public discourse has become dissociated from everyday reality. The world that the globalists envisage is anathema to the average citizen of western society. Without any way to sell those ideas to the pubic in a form that would win support, they have fallen back to the only tool that gets any traction: fear. In 2020, the fear levels were turned up to 11. It worked. Sort of. But I doubt it will work again. Organic systems tend to recalibrate to protect themselves from outward attack. It’s also the case that the political field in any western nation is wide open to any politician who can articulate a meaningful vision for the country. That’s what Trump did and that’s what Brexit also represented. Logically, such politicians should win easily in the years ahead. But it’s also true that the globalists aren’t going away in the short term, unless the whole system collapses. They will continue to function like an evil spirit spreading doom and fear. It’s for that reason that there is a new spectre haunting Europe (and the rest of the West). The spectre of failing globalism.

The Rise of the Machines

Recently I’ve had a Kafka story stuck in my head. Not the one that everybody knows – the Metamorphosis – even though that it is, in a sense, highly relevant to our current predicament.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an unvaccinated, right-wing conspiracy theorist.

No, the Kafka story that I’ve had in mind is the one that I’ve always found the most memorable of his works: In the Penal Colony (spoiler alert: I’m going to give away the end of the story here so stop reading now if you don’t want to know).

Published in 1919, In the Penal Colony is located on a subtropical island in the colonial period. There is a garrison on the island and the protagonist of the story, a traveller from the mother country, gets roped into witnessing the punishment of a native which is to take place on a giant mechanical contraption that is maintained by the army officer who is the antagonist of the story. The machine is designed to kill its subject in a lengthy and highly technical manner. The officer is extremely proud of the complex and intricate technology of which he is the expert but the traveller finds the whole thing horrendous. There’s a lot of different themes going on in the story but the one which the one which has been on my mind lately is the technological angle. Here is a machine transported from the European culture to a place where it doesn’t belong. The officer believes in the machine as an end in itself. He has lost sight of the fact that the machine should just be the means to the end of justice. At the end to the story, the officer is killed by the machine in a semi-voluntary fashion. He would rather die than admit fault with his contraption. Technically, the story is a tragedy although, in the way that is usual for Kafka, it feels more like a horror.

Western society has been obsessed with machines for a number of centuries. Our modern world runs on machines. The machines are not just the obvious ones made out of nuts and bolts. A bureaucracy is a machine. It runs on rules. Kafka was one of the first to see that a purely “rational” organisation that runs on rules can produce horrific outcomes. The Terminator movies are about a robot becoming more like a human. But Kafka’s stories are about humans behaving like robots and the consequences that follow. That’s a far more horrific proposition.

Back in early April of 2020, I received a pamphlet from my local council in the letterbox. It had information about “covid-19”. It was stated on the pamphlet that the information was from the WHO. Somebody, probably the administrative assistant at the council, had been given the job of taking the information from the WHO and putting it on council stationery. Was the council responsible for the veracity of that information, I wondered? Do they have trained virologists or medical experts checking its accuracy? The answer, of course, is no. The information would have been passed verbatim down through the bureaucratic machine that ran through the state government, back through the federal government and all the way back to the WHO. The system, the machine, had already been set up to run in just such a scenario. All the WHO had to do was kick it into gear. There are legal agreements between governments and the WHO.  Bureaucrats are given jobs to liaise with the WHO and other bureaucrats ensure that the communication was passed along the line until eventually it reached my local council and then my letterbox; a big bureaucratic machine that spans the western nations and much of the rest of the world too.

I know how big bureaucratic machines work first hand and I have experienced the Kafkaesque nightmare that can happen when people just follow rules. I’ve seen the gentle and then not-so-gentle pressure exerted on those who question the rules. It’s especially a problem for newcomers who haven’t yet been conditioned not to use that part of the mind that is so active in young children; the part that likes to ask “why?” Fortunately for bureaucracies, the education system has normally weeded out those who like to ask why by the time they begin work. Young children go in one end of the system asking why? all the time and come out the other end never asking why? That’s a shame for them but not for the bureaucracies who need people to be efficient cogs in the machine.

Modern society is built on science and science is all about asking questions. Yet we have a society that actively discourages people from asking questions.

You’re not a doctor. Trust the experts.

People seem to think of science itself like some machine; a machine which spits out “truth” the same way another machine might pour a coffee or vacuum the carpet. In the horrific corona quarantine hotels here in Australia there were robots patrolling the corridors with little cameras attached to them in case any of the inmates got it into their head to break the rules. Meanwhile, the Premier of Victoria at one point said he had a supercomputer running the numbers and used that to justify his lockdown measures. All of this is laughable to those of us who work in science and technology but clearly a majority of the population believes it. We love our machines the way the officer in the Kafka story loved his machine. But with any machine the question has to be asked: are you controlling the machine or is the machine in controlling you? In Kafka’s story the answer was the latter and I fear that’s true of us too.