These Overcertain Times: How Covid19 Killed Anti-Authoritarianism
“We have never sought power. We have sought to disperse power, to set men and women free. That really means: to help them to discover that they are free. Everybody’s free. The slave is free. The ultimate weapon isn’t this plague out in Vegas, or any new super H-bomb. The ultimate weapon has always existed. Every man, every woman, and every child owns it. It’s the ability to say No and take the consequences. ‘Fear is failure.’ ‘The fear of death is the beginning of slavery.’ “Thou hast no right but to do thy will.’ The goose can break the bottle at any second. Socrates took the hemlock to prove it. Jesus went to the cross to prove it. It’s in all history, all myth, all poetry. It’s right out in the open all the time.”
― Robert Anton Wilson, Leviathan
One of the most troubling aspects of the world during the last few months, for me, has been watching leftism and anti-authoritarianism slide towards gleeful acceptance of the burgeoning scientocracy. I believe that this has occurred for two reasons.
- People have become afraid, and in doing so sacrificed their own logic and ethics to satiate a misguided desire for safety and survival.
- The desire to disassociate with religion and its persona has led people to overly identify with scientific authorities, or at least what we are told of them and their work through corporate media. Many anarchists, left and right, are ideologically captivated by the realist/physicalist/positivist interpretations of reality that were born of Protestant philosophy, but now appear to belong to a secular worldview, chiefly because they provide an illusion of certainty that is easily weaponized rhetorically and ideologically. This makes them highly susceptible to coercion given a ‘scientific’ reasoning is involved.
Each of these issues has been exacerbated by a habit we have picked up, via the particular psychology evolved from online media interactions, of seeking first and foremost to capitulate towards things which most closely symbolize that which affirms our identity. This has always been somewhat true, but the specific characteristics of online media have inexorably shaped humanity in such a way that our image games of affirmation and negation now take inordinate priority over our principles. That is to say, principles now temporarily serve an image gesture, and are no longer the core basis for ideas, actions or identity.
It is difficult to explain this semiotic, psychological mess we are in, but it is simple to see its consequences, especially during the last several months of the coronavirus.
- The Great Flip Flop: Both mainstream and radical factions of the right and left have reversed their logical and ethical positions. For example, the left argued tirelessly for years that quality of life was to be a greater consideration than its mere quantity, particularly for justifying abortion, but also elsewhere. The very same people are now glibly applauding the authoritarian actions which will destroy our quality of life for many years to come in the name of quantity. There are numerous examples of similar ideological switcheroos on all points among the political spectrum.
- Performative Goodness: It has become impossible to have a discussion with anyone working from a fear-based perspective on Covid19 — since they will inevitably revert to the claim that they care more than you. No amount of evidence that our response has been naive and more harmful than the virus is able to reach them. They simply care more than you do. This performance of virtue symbolizes the ease with which our own self-image and desire to be viewed as compassionate can be exploited to make us obedient.
Nothing that I have mentioned is new. Human societies are built upon the sort of interpersonal games I have discussed, however they have also been balanced by a tendency to seek and create authenticity. The imbalance between conformity and authenticity, and not merely the existence of the former, is what has become an overwhelming new obstacle to our liberation. The rewards for conformity to social constructs have increased exponentially, while authenticity has become a severe liability.
That these terrible social-psychological trends have coincided with the Coronavirus has presented greater challenges to anti-authoritarianism than ever before. Not only have many of our ilk been compromised by fear and the vapidity of scientism, the general public is now further away than ever before from being persuaded to pursue freedom and liberty. They have doubled down on the belief that centralized hierarchies are an indispensable necessity of human civilization. The ruling class are exploiting the public’s ideology and fear, although they probably also share in it, in order to create an even more totalitarian structure in the name of safety and survival.
The only method by which we can reverse these trends is to address the fear of death itself. This can be done by questioning the nature of grief. It can be done by questioning the nature of reality. And it can be done by rethinking what we are, and what becomes of us when we appear to die.
Critiques of authority no longer pose a sufficient challenge to it. Human individuals must challenge the dogmas which pervade their perspective of their very own existence. Historically anarchists have employed philosophy to justify anarchism, but now we must employ it as a primary activity unto itself in order to recreate the social-psychological conditions which make self-ownership, personal agency and autonomy desirable in the first place. The oppressed now see their oppression as favorable, and their obedience as virtuous, in such fundamental ways that we must strike the roots of their ideology far beneath where questioning the state occurs.
Perhaps the most perverse Orwellian catchphrase to emerge during Covid1984, aside from “We’re all in this (quarantine and social distancing) together,” is the oft repeated: “In these uncertain times.” Never before have we been so certain. Never before has the collective chicken little voice been so absolutely positive that the sky is falling. Now, more than ever, what we need is an acceptance of uncertainty — which can only arise when we acknowledge that uncertainty is the primary nature of existence.