The State of the Art

Maimonides, Averroes, someone like that said that all religions are true, because they’re just different aspects of the one underlying Reality.  Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, pick your prophet — it’s all the same message, tailored to the specific historical / cultural traditions of his listeners.  I’m too tired this morning to go spelunking in my Big Book of Heresies, but I’m pretty sure most Gnostic sects believed something like this, too (except, of course, the Gnostics argued that the so-called prophets deliberately confused the Truth, which only they, the Gnostics, knew.  Like Vogelin said, the Gnostics were the SJWs of their day).

Speaking of Gnostics, it’s obvious that Marxists believe the same thing (which is why Vogelin accused them of trying to immanentize the eschaton).  For Marxists, “Capital” is the hypostasis on which all politics and culture are built…

…as fun as it is to throw silly Greek words around, I trust y’all see what I’m getting at.  Marx had this elaborate hierarchy of pre-capitalist forms of production.  The Middle Ages, for example, was a period of “primitive capital accumulation,” and the nerdier Marxists used to amuse themselves by writing massive Teutonic tomes about stuff like “hydraulic despotism.”  It all boils down to anthropomorphizing “Capital” — turning it into a real, thinking entity that bends men to its will.  Whether it’s the English feudal aristocracy enclosing the land, mighty Pharaoh controlling the water system, or the Scramble for Africa, it was just “Capital,” using the social, political, and cultural arrangements of the day to accomplish its mysterious ends.

Just because dorks like Karl Marx and Valentinus believed it dosen’t mean there’s not something to it, though.  There really is an underlying concept that drives all political behavior: Physical security.  It’s not a living, breathing entity, like the Gnostics’ pleroma or Marx’s “Capital,” but it’s omnipresent in political societies.

All men consent to be governed, in an absolute sense.  Yes, quite often the choice is between “obeying the chief” and “the chief’s goons pounding you to paste with sharp rocks,” but it is a choice.  In fact, when it comes right down to it, that’s the choice we all make every time we obey the government:

Is our current physical security worth the pain of obedience, or is it not?

The only differences between caveman days and the Current Year are scale and speed.  The NKVD can deprive you of a lot more liberties, a lot more efficiently, than Mighty Pharaoh could.  Mighty Pharaoh was a literal god on earth.  He didn’t leave the fellaheen alone in their daily lives because he respected their autonomy (the very notion of personal autonomy was a few thousand years in the future when Mighty Pharaoh ruled).  He didn’t monitor his subjects’ daily lives because he lacked the technology.  That’s it.  Put an Alexa in every mud hut along the Nile, and I promise you, Mighty Pharaoh would spend his days fucking with his slaves just on general principles.

But since he lacked this technology, Mighty Pharaoh had to confine himself to great matters of state.  Here, too, physical security was key.  You knew when Pharaoh blew it, because you’d be on the business end of a barbarian sword, spending your last few seconds of life watching your city burn and your wife and children being led off into slavery.  If you somehow survived the sack, you obey your new barbarian masters for the same reason you obeyed Mighty Pharaoh.

Unfortunately for us, speed and scale have considerably broadened our notion of physical security.  We know what kind of actions Mighty Pharaoh took in a plague.  Given the technological limitations of his time, he could do no other.  We modern folks, on the other hand….

… well, look around.  We’ve decided, as a culture, that “physical security” now extends to “never getting the sniffles.”  And we have, or soon will have, the technology to make that kind of monitoring a reality.  The mud huts along the Nile didn’t have two-way Alexas installed; the McMansions along the Mississippi soon will.  The state of the art of government really does allow for 24/7 individual surveillance.  If we don’t want the sniffles, this is the only way to do it.

Democracy, Mencken said, is the theory that The People know what they want, and they deserve to get it, good and hard.  Well… this, apparently, is what We the People want.  We’re so terrified of the possibility of getting the sniffles that we’re going into voluntary lockdown.  All I can say is: Y’all wanted this.  I’ll be in the reeducation camp soon enough, but don’t say nobody tried to warn you.



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19 thoughts on “The State of the Art

  1. contrariandutchman

    Really now, what aspiring totalitarian would want to fool around with some Chinese virus when a far better Eternal Enemy already exists.


    -structural racism is in the mind only, so not mere control of the body of the subjects but their very minds is required to combat it, this has of course great added appeal to the gnostic heretics that purport to rule us;
    -this being so, only qualified witch doctors, ehrm, social scientists, can suss it out, an amazing racket for the right people;
    -no interruption to business as usual, so the hirelings of the chamber of commerce wil not complain, and the sheeple will not get uppity when they think their brad and games might be threatened;
    -anybody can be found out to be the Eternal Whitey, so the ruler can always purge even those who believed themselves most pious;

    1. Severian Post author

      I have, through methods I don’t want to discuss, some privileged access to the social media posts of lots of Black folks (yes, I am Pierre Delecto). They’re already blaming Whitey for the virus. Not a surprise, since they blame Whitey for everything, but Kung Flu hasn’t really hit the ‘hood yet. When it does…

      See also: The previous post. What a wonderfully stupid time to be alive. If you’re a wannabe tinpot totalitarian, these are truly your glory days. Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. We’re just monkeys, and knuckling under to a tyrant is part of monkey firmware. It’s beyond retarded that it’s the sniffles that finally pounded the stake all the way through the heart of Zombie Western Civ, but History is not without its sense of humor.

      1. contrariandutchman

        The joys of having The Diversity well drilled to hate the Eternal Whitey. And hit the ‘hood it will.

        I am rather more optimistic this situation is likely to start the chain of events that, while not rescuing western civ, will eventuallyresult in a worthy successor.

  2. Pickle Rick

    I’m thinking the probability of civil war just spiked. We’re already in the mid 1850s using the first boogaloo as the yardstick, but the flu panic is exacerbating the lines drawn. If the homies across every single inner city decide whitey made them sick, and they can’t get the gibs, or their malt liquor and Newports, then we’re going to see people be done with civility, especially when the Democrats encourage the chimpout to hurt the Bad Orange Man, since everything else since 2016 has failed.

    1. Skedastic Racket

      I think it will be anarchy before we get to the civil war stage. With the cowardly way people are responding to this virus, and the fear of being in groups, I don’t think a civil war would happen. People may need to suffer before they overcome the fear of infection.

      1. Pickle Rick

        I’m not suggesting that it’s happening tomorrow. Again, by my reckoning we’re in the early 1850s of the dissolution. Before that happens we’ve yet to see Bleeding Kansas, a Preston Brooks moment and the John Brown moment. This flu panic could spark one or more of these.

        1. Skedastic Racket

          I didn’t think you were, I do think that this pushed civil war further into the future. There’s another, new stage we have to get through before boogaloo 2. I suppose Bleeding Kansas was anarchy to people on the inside though, so maybe it’s just a question of labels.
          From what I’ve seen, people are acting like they want a more totalitarian systems, and not a different system, just more and more of the same. More tracking, more enforcement, more government. I don’t think that pushes civil war closer. If you split off and form a smaller government, you lose a lot of the totalitarian power. Who is going to risk that in the face of the wuflu?
          I suppose this depends on if people learn that they were wrong to panic, or if they double down and find some excuse or some other reason to stay panicked. True believers, right? That may be the wrong book. The one that discusses cults and how they survive after experiencing failed predictions. That’s what I expect the majority to do now.

        2. Skedastic Racket

          And I left off my point about anarchy.
          If the economy tanks next, then even though people will ask the government to do more, it won’t be able to, and so we will have anarchy as people become more accustomed to looking out aggressively for No. 1.

  3. Major Hoople

    I can claim to be a dissident all I want. But, I haven’t declined my Amazon Prime, have I? It’s really easy, those chains aren’t heavy at all.

    Alexa does creep me out, so I don’t use it. (I think. Whether it’s actually turned on when I use my amazon firestick, I don’t know.) I’m thinking there will come a point where we don’t have a choice on using Alexa. It won’t be a dictat. It will simply be that it’s simply too hard to get by without it.

  4. WOPR

    What if this leads to a real war? Ignoring the loony conspiracy nuts, let’s say this either got loose by unhealthy sanitary practices or by accident from the lab. China, whose regime has been under some stress the last few years, first reacts to squash the disease. How well they have done is anyone’s guess. But, they did manage to hurt their economy and their world reputation. Their reputation has taken further hits as it comes out that they suppressed knowledge of the disease and allowed it to spread.

    What’s an authoritarian regime to do? They’ve tried to make lemonade with their propaganda campaign. However, shipping faulty medical supplies, making veiled threats, and the drips of more information that the Chinese were buying up medical supplies back in December and January are increasing people’s anger. I can just see the Chinese pulling the world into a war.

    1. cheekibreeki2020

      War probably won’t happen. I’ve become a conspiracy nut over the last few days. China just made big grain and natural gas purchase from the US recently, at about the same time Trump stopped naming this the Chinese virus. Makes you wonder what goes on behind the scenes.

      I’m more worried that Authoritarian Capitalism is becoming the world’s future. China has become less communist over the years while we have become more authoritarian. We’re converging toward a bleak middle.

      Get in your pod, eat the bugs, consume the product Chimericans.

      1. Pickle Rick

        Yeah, the Chinese economy is shackled to ours in such a way that neither their or our political idiots or their corporate paymasters could fight a real toe to toe war. The Chinese economy is predicated on selling cheap junk to the US market and the US market runs on unlimited supplies of cheap Chinese junk. Tampering with either end of the circle jerk messes up the big boys money flow, and that can’t happen. That is unless Trump pulls off a miracle and de clutches us from Chinese imports. Then a war could happen.
        After all, when Mustache Guy attempted to create an autarkic German economy that wasn’t dependent on US imports, war was easier to get into without disrupting the fragile economy that caused the financial crisis that brought Mustache Guy to power in the first place.

        1. Severian Post author

          The problem with China is that it’s run by Chinese, i.e. brutal, xenophobic chauvinists who have never gotten over the Opium War. I trust them to be more rational than our “leaders” — and oh god, such a low bar that is — until things get too Chinese-y. Then all bets are off. Do their actions make sense in the context of the early 21st century? Some do, some don’t. Do they make sense in the context of Ming Dynasty emperors “managing the barbarians”? Absolutely.

          1. Pickle Rick

            Oh, I’m quite sure the Party memories of US support of the KMT and Chiang Kai-shek, then the Korean War and our embrace of their inveterate enemy Japan after 1950 still pisses them off. Even before that, there has been a long tradition of Chinese dreamers in American politics, from starry eyed Yankee missionaries looking for a new crusade after the Civil War (and being just as smug, naive and ignorant as they were about American negroes) to the China Lobby in the 1930s.

          2. WOPR

            Their whole managing the barbarians never worked out in the end. Honest question, has China ever really been a significant military power without some third party ruling it?

            With regards to trade, it has never stopped a war before and has been the reason for many others. In my mostly ignorant opinion, nations that don’t trade are less likely to go to war than those that do. Once you create that relationship, it turns into a married couple where the slights are always remembered and divorces turn ugly.

  5. contrariandutchman

    The Qin and Han dynasties were great military powers at least at their beginning, and made large territorial conquests. The Song and Tang dynasties started as serious military powers as well, although conquered less iirc.

    Even the foreign dynasties (Yuan, Qing notably) lose military capability after a few generations it seems.

  6. Codex

    I’ve had influenza, have constant seasonal allergies , and get colds. I am not afraid of the sniffles.

    What I do fear is drowning in dry land as my lungs fill with fluid. Done it twice now, and thank God for the ICU.

    You should try it sometime, Mr. Severian. Maybe volunteer to be water-boarded by an amateur?

    I wouldn’t trade my country or my child’s future to be kept safe from either. I’m willing to accept the risk. I wish the damnable fools running this country would let us make these choices for ourselves and work out local solutions to local problems.

    But “sniffles” – Lord love a duck.

  7. Pingback: Please panic sensibly – Zoopraxiscope

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