I must say I had hearty chuckle at a couple of news items from the last few days in relation to “AI” chatbots. Actually, the whole subject of AI has been cause for mirth for a number of years now. Who can forget when Microsoft released a chatbot only to have it turned into a Hitler-lover within twenty four hours by mischievous Twitter users . Google had a similar chatbot debacle a few days ago, albeit with a very different set of political biases, ones that exactly mirror the current ideological groupthink of corporate America. Coincidence? I think not.
There was another interesting piece of “AI” news from the last few days which was the story that Google have apparently agreed to pay Reddit $60 million dollars for data to train Google’s chatbot. I don’t know about you, but Reddit is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of intelligent inputs to train AI with. As Microsoft learned with its Twitter experiment, a chatbot is only as smart, dumb, or racist as the data it is exposed to.
This raises the question: if you wanted to make artificial intelligence, well, intelligent, wouldn’t you want to feed it with smart stuff. Why isn’t Google shoveling the collected wisdom of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Newton and Einstein into its bot’s brain? If you’re going to make a machine intelligent, then surely you have to give it intelligent inputs?
Actually, the whole idea that intelligence is based on such “training” presupposes the philosophical position that sits at the heart not just of AI as a technology but also of its political uses. The “AI” used in chatbots is technically called machine learning. Machine learning involves feeding “correct” data into the computer and then having it pattern match new data based on the models it forms. It’s the digital equivalent of the philosophical idea of tabula rasa, or the blank slate concept.
The way computers are trained using machine learning is practically identical to the educational revolution inspired by blank slate philosophers like Locke and Rousseau a few hundred years ago. These days we assume that the hysterical overemphasis of our society on educational attainment is simply a way for parents to ensure that their children get onto the conveyor belt that connects the modern education system to the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder. That’s certainly true. But the original motivator for education was the new idea that the way a child would turn out was very largely dependent on how they were raised. There’s a whole story behind that which would need its own post but its closely related to the rise of Protestantism and the loss of authority which guaranteed the truths of old.
With the loss of the old form of authority came a new style of education. Rousseau called it the invisible hand. Rather than have an authority figure dictate the truth, the child must be allowed to believe that it was finding its own way to the truth. The teacher would act “invisibly” by controlling what information the child was exposed to in such a way that they would get to the outcome themselves.
Microsoft’s failed chatbot experiment is exactly the fear that many parents who implicitly believe some version of the blank slate theory have. They believe that all it will take is for their child to be exposed to the wrong “data” (the wrong group of people) and they will become corrupted. That’s the negative side of the theory. The positive side is that the child can theoretically become anything if only they get the right education. In any case, it’s all up to the parents. Modern helicopter parenting is the blank slate philosophy taken to its logical (and hysterical) conclusion.
As seems to always be the case, the parental philosophy of a society maps to the way in which the elites of society govern the general public. Back in ancient Rome, the father of the household had complete legal control over his wife and children. It’s no surprise, then, that the Caesars became the parens patriae of the whole society. As above, so below.
Thus, in our time, our elites govern us the same way our parents raise us; according to the blank slate philosophy. We are allowed to think we found our own way to the conclusion when in fact there is a Rousseauean invisible hand guiding us to a predefined outcome. The Google chatbot episode revealed the political agenda behind the rise of chatbots.
Why do we even need these chatbots in the first place and why would they need to be trained on Reddit data? The answer to the second question is because they need to be able to “speak the language” of the average Reddit user, which is a pretty good subset of the average internet user.
Why they need to sound like a real internet user is because it’s clear that the plan for these chatbots is to become “educators” of the general public in the Locke and Rousseau sense of the word. They will be used to generate content that is in accordance with the ideology that the elites want to promulgate. Rather than dictate to the public what to believe, the blank slate approach works by controlling the information that the public is exposed to and then letting themdraw “their own” conclusions. This is not a new idea. The method has been going on for at least a century, and certainly longer if you include newspapers in the equation.
I mentioned in last week’s post Woodrow Wilson’s Committee for Public Information. That was a bureaucracy designed to gain the public’s compliance for America’s entry into WW1. One of its main methods was to hire volunteers to publicly advocate for the war. Cinemas were becoming very popular in those days. The volunteers would get up before the movie and give a short speech advocating for the war. That volunteer was just an “average person” who spoke and looked like an average person but who happened to believe the exact message the government wanted to have broadcast. Robert Cialdini called this tactic social proof and it’s been widely used in advertising and public relations since the beginning of the 20th century.
That’s clearly the reason behind Google’s need to purchase Reddit data. It wants its chatbot to sound like an average internet user so that any content generated seems natural. Once that’s achieved, the bot can be tweaked to provide enough bias to skew the agenda towards the approved message but not so much that we’ll see a repeat of the disaster from a few days ago.
Thus, a technology that’s predicated on the blank slate hypothesis is going to be used for purposes defined by the blank slate hypothesis i.e. to tip the balance of public opinion by biasing what information the public is exposed to. Alongside the new “disinformation” bills, it will give the powers-that-be the narrative control they require to ensure another Brexit or Trump can’t happen. At least, that’s what they think.
Like many people, I watched the Tucker Carlson interview with Putin a week or so ago. Perhaps it was just because the build-up to it was intense that I found the interview itself a bit of a let-down. The most interesting thing that happened was right at the start. Carlson started with a very simple question to Putin: why did you start the war in Ukraine? Putin then went into a 30 minute overview of Russian history starting literally from the beginning (sometime in the 800s) and, eventually ending up in our time.
Now, as long term readers would know, I am something of a history buff. In fact, almost all of my posts contain some element of history in them. Some of them, like this one, are entirely about history. But Putin’s little history lesson reminded me of an excruciatingly boring high school history class on a Friday afternoon in late summer with the teacher up at the front of the room blathering on about names and dates.
“Can anybody tell me in which year so-and-so won the battle of such-and-such in some kingdom that hasn’t existed for five hundred years?” Pretty sure the look on my face back then was the look on Tucker Carlson’s face listening to Putin.
There were, however, a couple of interesting things in Putin’s history lesson. Firstly, he referenced the fact that the current borders of Ukraine were created by Lenin. This is actually a very important point because it shows that the Bolsheviks did to eastern Europe what the British and other Europeans had been doing for a long time; namely, drawing relatively arbitrary borders on maps. The problems that caused are ongoing in many places but it’s not well remembered how much trouble it brought to Europe itself.
For example, when Napoleon shattered the hollow shell that was the Holy Roman Empire, he set in chain the long and painful sequence of events by which Germany and Italy became nation states. We all know how that ended up. Then, when the same thing happened to the Austro-Hungarian empire in the aftermath of WW1, there was a similar period where eastern European borders needed to be redrawn. Ukraine’s border was drawn by Lenin in 1922 and then again by Stalin after WW2.
One of the effects of the shattering of the two great empires was that identity became predicated on national boundaries that were often brand new and arbitrarily drawn. Many national identities were stitched together by little more than common language. There was now a nation for people who spoke German and a nation for people who spoke Italian etc. This might have worked in some cases but was particularly problematic in central and eastern Europe where all kinds of languages were mixed together. None of this had mattered under the various empires since they were multi-lingual and multi-national by definition, but it very much did matter to the governments of the new nation states which, apart from anything else, were eager to prove their legitimacy.
By the way, the origin of concentration camps is bound up with these developments. When WW1 broke out, anybody who happened to have a different national identity became untrustworthy. Pretty much all combatant nations in the war took to locking up “foreigners” in concentration camps. The same thing happened after the war. With all these new borders, there were countless people who suddenly became stateless. Many were placed in concentration camps until governments figured out what to do with them.
This is also why, when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, his official justification that he was bringing German speaking peoples under the protection of their rightful motherland was not considered unusual. As Putin touched on in his interview with Tucker Carlson, Poland and other nations in that area also took that opportunity to claim land that “their people” were on.
We can see, therefore, that the Ukraine conflict is a continuation of the problems left over from the 20th century. A more or less arbitrary border was drawn up by Lenin which included predominantly Russian-speaking people in the east. Russia now claims to be coming to their rescue. The parallels with Hitler and the Sudetenland are obvious as is the suspicion of ulterior motives which are certainly not helped by the fact that Russia is running a huge trade surplus while investing heavily in munitions, something the Nazis also did.
Why is America involved? Well, why did America get involved in WW1 and WW2? In those days, there was a strong isolationist sentiment in the US. In fact, presidents Wilson and then Roosevelt got the US into both wars against the wishes of the majority of Americans and the US has been in Europe ever since. What Putin has done in Ukraine is to force the US government to do in public what it has been doing in private for decades; namely, guaranteeing the “peace” in Europe. The fact that most Americans don’t understand that is a big part of the domestic political problem in the US.
But there is another historical parallel that is arguably more important in relation to the Ukraine War. Why does the American public have such a strong non-interventionist ethic? This goes right back to the founding fathers and George Washington in particular. In his farewell address, Washington urged his fellow citizens to make use of America’s geographically isolated position to stay out of foreign engagements. America should trade freely with the world but be neither excessively friendly nor excessively belligerent to others since both options would create relationships of dependence. The whole point of America was that it was independent, especially of the problems of old Europe.
When Wilson and Roosevelt got themselves involved in the two world wars, they had violated the foundational principles of the US, at least as far as a large section of the US public believed those principles to be. This was especially a problem for Wilson who won election in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war” and then, as basically his first action as re-elected president, promptly announced the US was getting into the war.
In order to win the support of a sceptical public, Wilson formed the very dry-sounding “Committee on Public Information” which produced films, wrote books and pamphlets, took out newspaper advertising, recruited celebrities and otherwise did all the things that have become part and parcel of the brainwashing that US and other western governments have relied on ever since when they need to get the public to support something they wouldn’t otherwise agree with. The methods of state-sponsored propaganda have become increasingly sophisticated since then.
Whether the US actually needed to get involved in the wars is the big question and this comes back to a paradox that was built-in to the very foundations of the US. The political independence of the US was supposed to be guaranteed by a policy of “free trade”. The problem is that relationships of trade also create dependence. It’s just a different, less obvious, form of dependence.
If your economy relies on trade, then you are dependent on those who buy your goods which means they can harm you by refusing to buy. That doesn’t include other threats to trade like piracy or withdrawal of access for transportation. Once you’ve gone to war once or twice to protect your trade interests, where do you draw the line from going to war all the time to protect your trade interests? It is this paradox which sits at the heart of America’s current psycho-political battle and it’s been there from the start. “Free trade” is not some magic wand that keeps you out of politics.
But there’s another paradox built-in to the foundation of the United States and this one correlates directly with the Ukraine War. Back when the founding fathers were debating about war against the British, they knew that they could not win the war without external support. They had to ask for help. Most of that help ended up coming from the French with a decent amount also from the Spanish. How did the French support their American friends? In exactly the same way that America is now supporting Ukraine: by sending materiel to support the war effort.
But the parallels do not end there. The French and Spanish had been covertly sending materiel to the Americans for two years before they joined the war officially. As Putin noted in his interview with Carlson, that is exactly what the current US government was doing in Ukraine for many years prior to the current war. The US had attempted to keep the dealings in Ukraine covert just as the French had in the US War of Independence.
Here’s yet another parallel. Benjamin Franklin was sent to France to win French diplomatic support and extra military aid in 1776. At the time, the French aristocracy had a soft spot for the “children of nature” which they believed the American colonists to be.
Franklin, who had worked in printing and knew a thing or two about propaganda, played up to the public image and became something of a celebrity by refusing to wear the usual clothing and hairpieces when visiting the French court. Zelensky has been pulling much the same trick by foregoing the customary suit and tie for quasi-military clothing.
The American colonists were fully well aware that, in pursuing the support of the French king, they were in danger of substituting one “tyranny” with another. They were aware that the French help came with strings attached. They managed to stay free of excessive French influence after the war by negotiating a secret peace treaty with the British. That very much soured diplomatic relations with the French and might have caused significant blowback except for one little fact: France was bankrupt.
Let’s flip the perspective around. Why were the French interested in supporting the Americans? Well, there was an ideological element involved. There was a revolutionary movement that had been growing in France that was inspired by much the same set of ideas that the Americans were pursuing. America was setting an example that at least a subset of the French wanted to copy.
For the French king and other aristocrats, the main driver was resentment against the British for defeat in the Seven Years War which had ended French hegemony. The French were already planning their retaliation but were not yet prepared to have another all-out war with the British. Their covert support for the Americans was predicated on the belief that it would weaken Britain. They also hoped to secure a predominant position as America’s main trading partner in the aftermath of the war, another move which would weaken their main rival.
And here, of course, is yet another parallel with our time. Why is the US in the Ukraine? At least partly, it’s because of trade. As Putin mentioned, Ukraine has had very close trading relations with Russia. America wanted a slice of the action but the trade deal they wanted with Ukraine could not be accepted by the Russians since there was a free trade zone between Russia and Ukraine. Was America simply oblivious to Russian concerns or are they doing exactly what France was doing in 1776: trying to strengthen their trading position at the expense of a rival.
The trouble for France in relation to the Americans was that it was in no financial position to provide either covert or overt support. The fiscal disaster that resulted from their involvement in the US War of Independence led directly to the French Revolution. The main reason why the Americans were later able to get away with screwing over Louis XVI was because he had other problems; problems like not having a head.
If the historical parallels are accurate, does this mean the US is getting itself into a similar financial meltdown? Possibly. The strength that the US has is that it can export the cost of the Ukraine War onto the rest of the world since it controls the financial system that underpins the global trading system. That’s why inflation is running rampant pretty much everywhere. Whether the Ukraine War will collapse the system is anybody’s guess.
It’s worth remembering that the reason the French couldn’t really afford to support the American colonists back in the day was because of their shaky financial position held over from the Seven Years War. The Ukraine War comes directly after the corona debacle during which time the system had already racked up war-like debt and inflation.
The real history lesson that Putin needed to give Tucker Carlson if he really wanted to mess with American heads was not a boring 9th grade history lesson about Russia but a real-time history lesson on America. The US is now displaying the exact kind of tyranny it had fought against at its inception. The US government is a combination of Louis XVI and George III.
The reason this is still not understood is because, unlike the old imperialism that was based on a tyrannical leader, US imperialism is almost entirely of the covert sort that the French were only experimenting with a couple of hundred years ago. It is that form of covert imperialism that became the main game in the 20th century. It’s the same covert imperialism that Wilson and Roosevelt engaged in when they dragged the American people into war using industrial quantities of propaganda. Much like the drug addict needs to increase the dosage of the drug in order to get the same high over time, the strength of the propaganda fed to the US public has now turned into outright psychological warfare.
Therein lies the answer to Tucker Carlson’s question to Putin of whether there is a demonic force at play in the world. In medieval Christian terms, yes, there is. That’s how Luther saw the corruption of the Church. The corruption of the United States government is almost identical to that of the Catholic Church in Luther’s time. It professes one thing while doing something completely different behind the scenes. It betrays the ideals that many of its own citizens believe it is supposed to stand for.
In modern psychological terms, what is going on is that US imperialism is all done covertly which means it is pushed down into the Unconscious mind. The reason why the US currently resembles a deranged mental patient is because, as Freud and Jung both discovered, when you push things down into the Unconscious, they re-emerge as completely unrelated psychoses. The psychoanalyst’s job is to unpack the psychoses and try to get to the root source of the problem.
The root source of America’s problem is that it is a nation founded on a rejection on tyranny and imperialism and yet it has become an imperialist itself. It was surreptitiously led into that position by its own elites who now add fuel to the psychological fire by engaging in 24/7 gaslighting of their own population. Until that root problem is solved, the US can expect all kinds of goblins to continue bubbling up from the collective Unconscious.
For the next post in this series we’re going to tackle a film that is perhaps better known for what it inspired. George Lucas cited The Hidden Fortress as a major influence on Star Wars. The lightsabres are, of course, samurai swords and so that influence is clear. Darth Vader’s helmet and the helmets of the imperial soldiers look an awful lot like the helmets the samurai used to wear, so that’s a second inspiration. The third, and perhaps most important, is the character of the noble princess battling for what is right. She is Princess Leia in Star Wars. In Kurosawa’s movie, she is Princess Yuki.
From an archetypal point of view, there is another major correspondence between the two films. Both Star Wars (the first three movies) and The Hidden Fortress are what I call Orphan Stories. They are stories featuring a hero who goes through the archetypal progression from the Orphan to the Adult. In the broadest terms, we cease to be Orphans and become Adults when we find a place in society and establish ourselves in four main areas. There is our economic identity, our political identity, our religious identity and our sexual identity. All four of these are brought together in marriage and so marriage is a useful shorthand for the transition to adulthood.
There is, however, another form of Orphan journey involving membership of the “elite” of society. In these cases, the individual will attain the highest roles available. For economic and political identity, this is the archetype of Ruler (King and Queen). The highest religious identity is the Sage (Pope, other religious elites). Is there a sexual elite? Well, many societies have had something like that. The ancient world had what is called sacred prostitution. The geishas of Japan might be another example. Arguably, the Hollywood actors of our time fulfil a similar function.
Stories about elites are usually more dramatic since they involve not just a personal but a societal element. That’s why there’s so many movies about kings, queens, wizards and warriors. Both Star Wars and The Hidden Fortress are Orphan Stories featuring characters who are destined to become the elite of their society. But here we see an important difference. George Lucas made Princess Leia not the main character of his movie. Rather, Star Wars is the Orphan Story of Luke Skywalker. The Hidden Fortress, on the other hand, is the Orphan Story of Princess Yuki. I’ve been writing a lot about Orphan Stories over the last couple of years and I think The Hidden Fortress is the first one I’ve written about which features a female protagonist.
The Hidden Fortress is sometimes considered one of Kurosawa’s more lightweight movies. I find that very strange because it is both an Orphan Story and a political treatise masquerading as an action/adventure movie. The political aspects of the story are worth a post in themselves and we’ll be looking at those next week. In this post, we’ll analyse the film as the Orphan Story of princess Yuki.
There’s a technical aspect of storytelling that we need to introduce at this point. Almost all blockbuster films and best-selling novels have what is called a B-story. As the name suggests, the B-story is a second, relatively independent story within the main story. Usually, it will feature a character who is not the hero.
The B-story is introduced about a quarter of the way into the story after the main themes of the hero’s story are made clear. The B-Story is technically a Hero’s Journey that runs in parallel with the main Hero’s Journey but is related to it in some way. The B-story almost always provide a twist at the end of the main story when its plotline intersects with the main. In the first Star Wars film, Hans Solo’s debt obligations to Jabba the Hutt form the B-Story to the main story.
In The Hidden Fortress, it is Princess Yuki’s need to become a queen which technically forms the B-story of the film. That B-story is an Orphan Story because it is about the journey princess Yuki must take to attain adulthood both in the societal sense but, more importantly, in the personal, psychological sense.
Kurosawa actually pulls a brilliant trick here because he makes the B-story the psychological counterpart to the main story. The main story is about the great general, Makabe Rokurota. Rokurota and Princess Yuki are members of the Akizuki clan which finds itself in dire straits about to be wiped off the map by the Yamana clan. Rokurota must transport the princess across enemy territory to reach a third country which is an ally from where the princess can rebuild the Akizuki to its former glory. The hidden fortress is where the princess has been kept in hiding waiting for the best time to make the dangerous journey.
Much of the comedy of the story comes in the form of the two greedy peasants we meet at the beginning of the movie. They have tried and failed to join the Yamana clan who are the ones trying to kill the princess. Instead, they get mistakenly identified as peasants of the Akizuki clan itself.
They are sentenced to hard labour as punishment but manage to escape whereupon they accidentally stumble across the area where general Rokurota is storing the gold bars which will need to be transported with the princess to rebuild the Akizuki clan later on. Initially planning to kill the two fools so they don’t steal the gold, Rokurota instead enlists their help with the journey.
With this, we have the three main building blocks of society as traditionally conceived. The princess is the Ruler, Rokurota is the Warrior and the two fools are the peasantry. Later, a third female peasant will be added to the group on their journey. She is a member of the Akizuki clan that has fallen on hard times due to the war. It‘s for this reason that the main story can be analysed for its implied political meaning, which we’ll do in next week’s post.
If we focus now on the Orphan Story of Princess Yuki, what do we find? We find a pretty girl of marriageable age stuck up in a mountain hideaway. Sound familiar? It’s a combination of Rapunzel up in her tower, Snow White in her coffin in the forest and sleeping beauty and Cinderella being locked away from society. Princess Yuki lives with her parents up in a mountain being protected from the Yamana invaders. The Yamana invaders are symbolically the challenge from the Unconscious. They are the Adult archetype coming to take the Orphan away for her date with destiny (adulthood).
We know from practically every fairy tale princess that we can expect a Jungian animus figure to come to her rescue. Since the Orphan Story of princess Yuki is not about marriage but about her initiation into the role of queen, the animus figure is not filled by a suitor but by the aforementioned general, Rokurota. It is he who will safely guide the princess from her mountain hideaway and induct her into “the real world”. More symbolically, he represents the successful archetypal transition to Adult with an implied animus transcendence that comes with a female hero.
One of the key themes of the Orphan Story is that the Orphan must leave its parents and venture into the world. Since the family home is a place of love and safety and the wider world is a place of danger and risk, the natural temptation is for the child to stay at home and avoid the risk. In the case of young women, the risk from the wider world is even higher, especially away from big cities where running across a stranger in the forest can lead to big trouble (this scenario lies at the heart of one of Kurosawa’s other classic movies we’ll be looking at in a later post, Rashomon).
There are two wrong ways for the parents to behave in your typical Orphan Story. One of those is to keep protecting the girl to shield her from the danger of the wider world. The second is to kick her out of the house unprepared. Both of these lead to bad outcomes. The overprotective parents stifle the girl and force her into introversion. This is represented by the very common trope of the girl who falls into a seemingly endless sleep. Sleeping beauty is the classic example. Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin have an almost identical theme of the damage done to the girl who is locked away at home.
On the other hand, we have the parents who throw the girl into the world willy-nilly without any protection at all. These parents are overly-cruel and this cruelty is almost always represented not by the real parents but by the step-parents. Thus, Snow White, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel all have evil step-mothers.
What we see in The Hidden Fortress is the virtuous mid-point between these two extremes and therefore the healthy response that most parents manage to get right. Princess Yuki is not thrown out into the world willy-nilly, she has the great general Rokurota to guide her. Nevertheless, the break with the parents is traumatic and it is a core feature of the Orphan Story that the hero must learn to process the grief that comes from that break. In less dramatic fashion, it’s a process we all go through in our own lives.
Because the story of princess Yuki is an Orphan Story featuring a female hero, Rokurota symbolically represents her Jungian animus or Soul. Among other things, he is her sense of right and wrong, her self-confidence and her willpower. It is noteworthy in this respect that Rokurota does not win by violence or military strength throughout the course of the movie. He can’t do this even if he wanted to because he is unarmed and massively out-gunned by the numerous forces of the enemy. Instead, he wins by cleverness and artful deceit. One way to watch the movie is to put princess Yuki in Rokurota’s place. Since victory does not rely on physical strength, it’s something princess Yuki could have done herself. That is part of her initiation. She is the Orphan learning from Rokurota how to do it.
What Rokurota models throughout the movie is the manner in which princess Yuki needs to rule once she becomes queen i.e. using strength and violence only as a last resort. In this way, we can also think of Rokurota as the Elder to the princess since it is an almost universal trope of Orphan Stories that the Elder will lead the Orphan to maturity. It is noteworthy in this respect that the Elder is masculine even for Orphan heroes who are male. In gnostic terms, this is because the masculine principle is the outgoing, extroverted force while the feminine is receptive. These are just two sides of the same coin and both men and women need to come to terms with each. But it is the masculine which is the “guide” and therefore forms the natural representation of the Elder.
Most fairy tales princess stories portray the risks of the wider world and the danger they pose to the young woman. Little Red Riding Hood is the classic example of the girl who fails to follow the guidelines of her mother and gets tricked by the wolf. Like many of the Brothers Grimm stories, there was no Hollywood happy ending in the original version and the Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten by the wolf along with her grandmother.
What The Hidden Fortress shows, however, is that facing and overcoming danger is exactly what the Orphan needs since the only alternative is to remain dissociated from reality in your mountain hideaway. Princess Yuki already has most of the qualities she needs to be a queen at the beginning of the film. She is smart, she has conviction, she understands the motives of others and she understands what she needs to do to fulfil her mission. She has all of the “higher” qualities. What she doesn’t have is experience of the “lower” aspects of the world. Her journey is therefore to come down from her ivory tower to experience the real world.
This is symbolised in the movie by the fact that she must wear the disguise of a mute peasant girl to hide her identity in the journey through enemy territory. Rokurota also takes on the costume of a peasant and, of course, they are travelling with two actual peasants in the form of the two village idiots who have become their travelling companions. The princess must learn how the real world works. She sees the greed and betrayal of the two idiots, the mistreatment of the Akizuki peasant woman who has been sold into prostitution and the incompetence of the enemy soldiers.
The apotheosis of this comes in a dramatic scene towards the end of the film featuring a peasant wood-burning festival. This captures, albeit in highly symbolic form, another main theme from the Orphan Story which is the confrontation with death. Especially in Hollywood, this is almost always represented as a direct threat. For example, Luke Skywalker faces death in the battle with Vader and Palpatine at the end of Return of the Jedi while Neo faces death in the battle with Agent Smith at the end of The Matrix.
In the context of The Hidden Fortress, the confrontation with death has a political dimension since princess Yuki must learn that her mission is not primarily about herself but about the continuation of the Akizuki clan in general. But that is also the fulfilment of the Orphan Story. To graduate to the Adult archetype requires the transcendence of the narcissism of adolescence. To step into adulthood is to fulfil obligations to society. The confrontation with death is perhaps a necessary prelude to that since we learn that we are only passing through this world and our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to try and leave things better than we found them. To do that, we must do what princess Yuki does, come down from our hidden fortress (the Intellect) and be prepared to get our hands dirty in the muck and messiness of the real world.
The historian, Arnold Toynbee, noted that the Universal State, the empire which politically unifies all the contending nations in the final phase of a civilisation, may bring peace and stability but it also produces monstrosities. We are familiar with some of the monstrosities the Roman Empire produced in the form of the mad Caesars Nero, Caligula, Commodus and Maximinus Thrax. Other monstrosities from Rome included the incredibly cruel and brutal punishments handed out to political opponents. Falling on your own sword was certainly a wise move if you happened to be a nobleman watching a contingent of soldiers coming to steal the gold from your estate.
We all live under the Universal State of the Faustian civilisation which is being run out of Washington D.C. and so it’s not that much of a surprise to see the arrival of various monstrosities in our time. The GFC and the corona debacle have to rate right up there with the best of the bunch. The current enormous influx of illegal immigrants into the US is perhaps the latest example in terms of the sheer scale of the operation and also the baffling politics of the matter. The polls that I’ve seen indicate that there is large majority support from the voters of both major parties to put an end to it and you would think that a democracy could at least pretend to care about the wishes of the voters. Instead, the two main parties are apparently stitching up a bill that would essentially legalise the whole business.
In order to understand what’s going on you have to first understand that the US is running an empire but it’s a very unusual kind of empire. Some historians have called it an Informal Empire. Other phrases that work would be an Occult Empire, an Esoteric Empire or an Unconscious Empire. I’ve preferred to use the latter term since another baffling aspect of the whole business is that a majority of Americans are not even aware that their government is running an empire even while the government blatantly pursues the interests of the empire over the will of the people. That is, of course, exactly what is behind the border shenanigans. It’s about the interests of the empire.
None of what is happening now is an accident. In fact, the economist, John Maynard Keynes, pretty much predicted the current situation back in the years immediately after WW2 when the terms of US empire were being worked out. The US empire is built on the back of the US dollar’s reserve currency status. What many people don’t realise is that the nature of the system is very unusual, even unprecedented. That’s why even the technocrats at the Federal Reserve admit that we are currently in a big experiment.
Prior to the current fiat currency experiment, trade was conducted in either gold or silver or paper that was tied back to gold or silver. Most people will have heard of the Opium Wars. The Opium Wars were partly triggered by the fact that the British East India Company was struggling to gets its hands on enough bullion to buy tea from China. Since the Company had access to the enormous poppy fields of the subcontinent and surrounding area, opium was one way to facilitate trade with China. The underlying problem, however, was lack of gold with which to transact.
The advent of paper currencies tied to gold did much to alleviate this problem. In the 19th century, the British Pound was probably the main currency for trade but there were plenty of other currencies in circulation and most countries would have traded in many different currencies. For the most part, trade continued to grow and it did benefit the nations who engaged in it. The reason is because the currency earned from trade could be used domestically for investment and consumption. Australia is a good example. We were “built on the sheep’s back”. We traded wool and used the money to invest domestically.
The other nice thing about that system was that it was self-correcting. If the convertibility of a currency into gold was called into question, for example if there were too many Pounds circulating relative gold holdings, traders moved away from that currency and drove down demand. Moreover, the Bank of England and other banks had to ensure confidence in the currency was maintained which they did by adjusting interest rates to bring things back to balance.
It was the absence of this balancing that Keynes saw as the problem with the agreements made at Bretton Woods and which would become even more pronounced with the closing of the gold window in 1971.
Let’s take an example. Australia sells wool to Britain in the 19th century. Somebody makes a profit. What are they going to do with it? Chances are, they will either spend or invest it locally since foreign investment is difficult and comes with its own costs. The profits from trade benefitted the nation.
Let’s take a similar situation today but in a developing country. You sell something to the international market and you make a profit. What are you going to do with the money? You could invest it in your own country. But, now, there are a variety of financial instruments available to you in the US and other western nations that will give you a guaranteed return. So, you’ll take those guaranteed returns over the more risky investment in your own country. What this means is that the profits from trade are no longer invested locally but go off overseas looking for a better and lower risk return.
This leads to the situation that Keynes predicted where there are now permanent imbalances in the system. The US deficit of $34 trillion dollars is the surest evidence for that. In addition, there are nations who have based their economy on permanent trade surpluses. Japan and Germany are two prime examples. Brazil and China have jumped on board in the last couple of decades.
There are a number of side effects of this imbalanced system. Firstly, domestic demand in the nations that run surpluses is permanently curtailed. I have some personal experience of this since about five years ago I was offered a job in Germany. They asked me for my salary expectations and I told them what I was currently earning here in Australia. It was about 1/3rd more than the equivalent job in Germany. Now, the absolute cost of living in Germany is lower and so it may be that my standard of living in Germany would have been similar to what I have in Australia. But, in absolute terms, I would have taken a pay cut. That’s the problem for Germans, Japanese and especially for Chinese.
The problem for Americans and other western countries is that by allowing other nations to run trade surpluses they put their own manufacturers out of business and that means the loss of working class jobs, something which has now become a major political issue. Perhaps more important is the fact that the system massively increases the power of bankers and billionaires vis a vis the rest of society. Those bankers and billionaires then buy off the political class thereby permanently tilting the table in their favour. This also explains all the various nonsensical and fake “social movements” of the past decade or more. They are all funded by monied interests to distract the attention of the public. (In fairness, some of it is just the fever dreams of billionaires with too much time and money on their hands).
There’s another side effect, though, and this brings us back to the border crisis. Why are there so many people from all around the world clamouring to get into the United States and Europe? The answer is yet again related to the systemic imbalances that the post-war system creates. We are told that developing nations have corruption problems and that is certainly true. But a big part of that corruption stems from the fact that the elites in those nations are incentivised to take their capital and invest it not in their own country but in the financial instruments provided by the United States and other western nations.
Thus, developing nations not only suffer the demand suppression, they also no longer invest in productive enterprises at home. The money gets sucked out of the local economy creating the exact conditions in which corruption takes over as locals are left to try and screw whatever they can get out of the system. Then, the investment money which does flow comes not from locals but from overseas banks serving their own interests and not those of the local population.
Meanwhile, the elites from those countries jet off on overseas holidays, keep permanent apartments in the fashionable districts of western cities, send their kids to Harvard and Yale and generally live it up at the expense of their countrymen.
This is all related to a larger problem in the post war years where the West actively supported various dictators in the Middle East and other countries. The reason? It’s easier to do business with a dictator who will do all the dirty work to keep his own population in line. China has taken that dynamic to a whole new level with the social credit scores and other dystopian measures that are designed to keep Chinese citizens from getting any ideas about wielding economic or political power.
The result of all of this is to create an enormous number of people who see no hope living in their country and will take any chance to flee it. Apparently, there are quite a large number of Chinese among the illegal immigrants crossing the US border these days. Perhaps they are spies for the CCP. Perhaps they just want to get the hell out of China.
In the meantime, the US has also created cultural conditions internally where to do any job other than a professional office job is somehow to be seen as a failure. Alongside the gutting of the manufacturing sector, this leads to huge numbers of people dissociating from society in drug addiction, porn, computer games and all the rest. These are the people who could be doing important manual labour jobs like harvesting vegetables, working in abattoirs and all the other things that actually put food on the table. Instead, those workers need to be imported which is exactly what is behind the push to give all these illegal immigrants work visas.
There is one final side effect worth pointing out. The whole system relies on western financial markets being completely open, transparent and reliable. Foreigners are actually buying real assets in western nations, thing like real estate, agriculture, stocks, bonds etc. That is why we are now seeing massive asset bubbles. Even the US is now catching up to Canada and Australia for what is another monstrosity in the making; probably history’s greatest real estate bubble.
The reason why all this has been getting so much worse in recent decades is because the neoliberal agenda of the 80s and 90s pushed the whole dynamic into overdrive. In fairness, it seems the US discovered how far it could push things more by accident than design (although it is possible there were some smart cookies behind the scenes who knew exactly what they were doing). Thus, China has entered the system on a very similar footing to Germany and Japan. The allowance of China into the international system has been like pouring fuel on the fire. To make it work, western nations dismantled their manufacturing sectors and privatised everything that wasn’t nailed down to increase the amount of assets available to soak up foreign capital.
As for real estate, well, see for yourself.
Keynes was right. We now have permanent, asymmetric growth and permanent asymmetric growth is almost the literal definition of the word monstrosity.
But, of course, all of this is a feature and not a bug. Even if the methods have been discovered by accident, all the decisions made have been in the same direction and with the same goal in mind: to maximise the power that the United States and its proxies wield through control of the financial system.
Increasingly, that power is now being turned against the citizens of western nations. I’m sure there must be some iron rule of politics that how you run your foreign policy eventually becomes how you run your domestic politics. The elites of the western nations have become just like the elites of the foreign countries who they have championed: happy to throw their own citizens under the bus to perpetuate their own power.
How much longer any of this can go on for is anybody’s guess. The monstrosities seem to be multiplying exponentially and they are lining up one after the other like an old-fashioned freakshow. Which is why our society increasingly resembles a circus.