Opus 12: The Subversion of Society

How tonight ended up happening.

Introduction

In 1984, the defected Soviet KGB agent, Yuri Bezmenov, gave the following interview. I believe It is the most clairvoyant 7 minutes ever recorded:

As an American, the interview (transcript found here) is an eerie exchange to listen to tonight as we witness an attempted coup d’etat on the nation’s capitol building. As of 6:30 pm EST, the California, Kansa, Ohio, and several other state capitol buildings are witnessing seemingly coordinated riots. The physical attack on our institutions and the intangible siege against our systems paints a dark picture.

I am about as far away from qualified as one can be to opine on this situation; I am too young to have historical context and too inexperienced to draw on wisdom. But, I feel obliged to at least say something. This is my something.

American Exceptionalism

The only paper I got a perfect score on was my 10th-grade essay on American Exceptionalism. While saying I am nostalgic about that paper tonight would be the incorrect wording, it is an idea that we are constantly referencing as of recent.

A common quote I hear tonight across the news coverage is, “how can this happen in America? and “Aren’t we better than this?” This question, a product of the well-intentioned but ill-informed American Exceptionalism ideology, is one of ignorance. We are no different than any other people. Democracies are the most fragile systems in the world. On the other hand, dictatorships are anti-fragile; their citizens will immediately look to the powerful for clarity in times of distress, further strengthening the ruler. There is no going concern assumption within democratic systems. They are not Lindy - the longer they are around, the more attack vectors they gain.

Democracies fail because of the lack of involvement by their constituents. We used to have reverent respect for our politicians; now we have a deep hatred. The failure of political involvement due to workplaces banning political discussion, the fear of political affiliation, and the death of discourse have all weakened the walls of our democracy. When the lack of participation and trust weakens democracy, it leaves gaps for the worst among us to seize power. In the original Federalist Papers, James Madison warned us all:

Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm of the government

Tonight, we are not exceptional; we are an exception from the other great democracies of our age.

One cannot be surprised tonight as they begin to understand the last 50 years of our nation. His plea is now over 35 years old, but Bezmenov’s warnings seemingly have come true.

Subversion Stage 1: Demoralization, Period of 10 - 30 Years

“As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him, even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents and pictures. ...he will refuse to believe it.... That's the tragedy of the situation of demoralization.” - Yuri Bezmenov

Since the Cold War, a student of American culture and history is less surprised by the events tonight than most. At the risk of sounding like many of our grandparents, the America of today is much different than her former self. Inequality has run rampant, and opportunity is disappearing for both those that stand on the steps of the capital of tonight and those that stood there in the name of BLM and racial equality. Pessimism has taken over optimism as the default attitude towards the future. As Leo Strauss reminded us, “The modern West has lost faith in itself.” We switched from building the future to assuming the future would come.

Daniel Rodgers outlines this era as an “Age of Fracture” within America. Written in 2011 after the greatest failure of unfettered capitalism ever, Rodgers’ pages not only raise the alarm but provide a clear breadcrumb trail to follow back to the origins of this fracturing.

While the 20th-century technology, namely the democratized computer and internet, spawned more opportunity than anyone could have predicted, it created a flat world. Labor exchange became frictionless, and America tried to hold onto her old self while others sped by. The era of Reagan with unfettered free markets backfired and distanced America from the world. In the blink of an eye, life as they knew it disappeared. Jobs moved across the Pacific and to the coasts, higher education became required by the powers above, and these communities were ripped apart.

Those who have read The Hillbilly Elegy have at least one perspective on many of the people currently breaking into the nation’s capital. Putting emotions behind us makes it hard to blame this constituency for their frustration when one considers their situation. Clearly, Trump turned out to be the leader they could not rely on, but choices were few and far between at the time.

The Hillbilly Elegy highlighted a key shift in the conservative ideology. Once the party of the individual, it departed from individual responsibility in exchange for blanket blame on institutions and other powers as the reason for failure:

I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

Tonight we witness the complete distrust and dismissal of the American institutions that the traditional conservatives worshipped.

In addition to the failure of open markets, a common foe's disappearance created space for arguments amongst our own. In 1991, the Western World lost the last sovereign, common enemy: the Soviets. We started to implode as history came to an end. As the era’s existential crisis came to an end, we hunted for a new enemy, and we found it within our own. Groupism, or “little societal platoons,” as Rodgers puts it, proliferated throughout society. As primal as it may sound, humans must find a negative force to counteract, and they find fulfillment in doing so.

On top of all of this, the “redefinition of the truth” was kerosene for this fire. Postmodernism ran rampant on both sides of the aisle. The Left elected to leverage postmodernism’s dismissal of discourse and the Right constructed their own reality and a “disaggregation of the history into histories.” We see this very stance tonight as Trump has decided to dismiss all realities but his own. The idea of “alternative facts” rocked the American narrative over the last four years and showed the world that there are no truths.

Stage 2: Destabilization, Period of 2 Years To 5 Months)

“Most of the American politicians, media, and educational system train another generation of people who think they are living at the peacetime. False. United States is in a state of war; undeclared, total war against the basic principles and foundations of this system.” - Yuri Bezmenov

My girlfriend, a Lithuanian whose parents were part of the Soviet independence in their early adult years, is often confused by the focus on relative nonissues that America has lasered in on as of late. Her country was the first to break off from the USSR and paved the way for the other Soviet Republics.

Racial tensions, financialization, widening inequality, and other non-sovereign issues have filled up America’s available headspace in the 21st century. My girlfriend grew up hearing about the world her parents lived in that had to deal with basic Lockean rights. Now she watches Western news worry about if the correct identity pronouns are being used in universities.

Bezmenov’s warnings on this departure are the most prescient:

Encouragement and provoking of labor unrest by infiltrating. The "ideologization" of the unions; provoking unnecessary strikes, creating inflation, lowering productivity with simultaneous propaganda of increased demands; propaganda of "strong government" and necessity of "controls" -- militarisation of the "grass roots" movements and minority groups and sidetracking of the public attention to the non-issues (dogs dropping on the sidewalks etc). The propaganda of gun control for the law-abiding population with simultaneous relaxation of attitude towards recidivist criminals. Thus, rendering a nation helpless and defenseless in the future event of political terrorism; breaking down of democratic institutions

The above is prophetic in its predictive accuracy. While many argue the recent “core” issues of politics are of utmost importance, they are a world away from the existential risks - war, independence, etc. - that our grandparents and others worldwide had to operate under. As our newsreels have focused on technology regulation and identity politics, the political substrates have shifted dramatically without anyone noticing.

Putin’s dismissal of liberalism from 2019 is an echo of these exact warnings that Bezmenov provided in his 1984 plea:

The Russian leader also praised the rise of populism in Europe and America, saying ideas like multiculturalism were "no longer tenable”

Stage 3: Collapse, Explosion, Period 2 Weeks To 1 Month

We seem to be on the brink of Stage 3. No sober prediction can be made in light of this evening's chaos, but I would like to default to the positive. The number of people who showed up at the capitol building is nowhere near a country's meaningful representation. There was no institutional support of the actions taken tonight from any source. No military involvement, no corporate backing, and a coordinated pushback against Trump provided by legislators. I do not think America will see a completion of Stage 3.

But, the paradox is that this was inevitable for either side. In my mind, it is easy to imagine a similar set of events if Trump were to have won, and many Americans would have rioted in a similar fashion as is being seen tonight.

Like everything, history is cyclical. The sine waves of chaos and order will dance with one another into perpetuity. Before this great age of fracture, “history seemed less relentless in its course,” and it is reversing its peaceful period. Tonight may be the grand opening of a new period of continued destabilization, or it may be the closing curtains on an already all too dark of a period. I generally like to bet on human decency and I will not be changing that bet now.

Is it possible that we could become citizens again and together seek the common good in the post-industrial, post-modern age? - Robert Bellah

Today’s Music

I thought Dvorak’s New World Symphony was the only appropriate option for this evening: