…or Your Own Personal Rubicon
Take any garden variety film of the mafia or western genre. The villains either run the town or make their occasional runs into town for tribute. Though outnumbering the villains sometimes a hundred to one or more, the townspeople capitulate, some even collaborate. There might be insipid and aborted attempts to speak truth to the bad guys. Attempts hardly even seem convincing to those who hesitantly squeak out effort, let alone onlookers whose interest is more in morbid entertainment than justice. The results are as brutal as they are inevitable and the onlookers scurry away. Into the vacuum of the first act strides the lone hero. Obviously he too is outnumbered, what we today pretentiously jargon a “scenario of asymmetrical warfare”. Obviously he needs some degree of cunning to make it through the first day, get the lay of the land and see who hands who the money under the table. From this comes something resembling a strategy. Yet strategy pays second fiddle to action and foxes are hideously over rated (usually by other foxes). Sooner or later, we see a fox suit on the floor and a lion emerging with a counter projection of brutality. From this moment and only this moment do we arrive at the point when change becomes possible, where change includes activating the same potentiality in the townsfolk themselves as organized resistance. Our hero has crossed the Rubicon, risked great harm and delivered great harm upon others. The plot arc completes itself with a critical mass of the minor protagonists identifying with the hero, crossing their own personal Rubicon, and carrying us all together to the finale. To be sure, the ending is far from certain. In reality and even in American iterations of the genres the good guys don’t always win. What is certain is that nice guys always lose, for the potentiality of victory lay back in the moment of brutal counter projection. There is no other way around it.
The reason why such a perennial drama resonates with an audience is not the longing to escape into the fantasy of the impossible. Even superheroes battle super villains, the power differential attenuates, and the drama not diminished one iota. No, the reason why it resonates with audiences is because they locate real world psychological and political truths within the drama. Only in satirical comedy does the coward accidentally win come end of the day. Everyone stands before their own personal Rubicon, and nice guys never win.
I open with this reflection not as a provocation to violence. Take it or leave it as you wish. Mine is a provocation to confronting something potentially much more violent, i.e. insight into the bitter truths of the real world. And if film is not convincing enough a window into the human condition of the behavioral dynamics of conflictual reality (though on this occasion it certainly is), film is a window into human longings which drive conflictual realities between opposing ideologies. This longing finds in itself a reflection back in the real world of behavioral realities whether we like it or not.
Still not convinced? Let us test it against the historical record. The French revolution, the Russian revolution/s, the American bid for independence and its revolution, abolitionist movements finding their feet in violent Haiti (or if you like the story of the book of exodus, it was Pharaoh vs ten plagues). Civil rights battles and anti-apartheid change in South Africa down us down to the end of the last century. Even the supposed pacifist darlings of liberal revisionist history were not as liberal they seem. Gandhi’s followers stepped up and took hits. Many gave as good as they got, arguably against a semi open door. Mandela ran the domestic terrorist adjunct to the ANC and only realized his own change by paying for it with decades in prison. Christians bridged a three century gap to Constantine’s protection by first making people wonder just why they were so stoically willing to face death. The list goes on and on today to the jungles of Myanmar and the streets of Peru. Great political struggle in asymmetrical conditions against an incumbent force demands a willingness to harm and be harmed, often simultaneously, often brutally. Even in today’s victim culture you need be willing to take a hit to win, and the bigger the hit the better. It makes no difference whether left or right, black or white or on the side of the angels or whatever you take to be demons. Marx was exiled and so is the Dalai Lama. Hitler and Gramsci spent time in prison. So did Stalin. So did Mandela. So did so many of them actually. So does Assange and so might (God forbid) McBride. Many lose all their capital, friends, reputation and worse as a toll that must be paid to see the possible made real. Willingness to harm and be harmed! Willingness to take great personal risks! All this cast into the concreteness of human action. There’s an economy somewhere in the mess, a universal pattern of micro and macro crucifying and crucifixions before the paradise, or even a more tolerable hell. It has always been thus and always will be. If you don’t apprehend this simple fact your opponent will impose it into you, and so there is no avoiding it. Either you pay the price or they will. And nice guys never win.
But something peculiar happened in the twenty first century. Suddenly we have masses of Americans honestly believing their secularly divine democracy was high-jacked and the election stolen. It’s irrelevant whether the election was, ipso facto, stolen. How should I know? In one corner in the blue trunks a demented scalp sniffing puppet and in the other a member of the species homo aurantiacus sapiens who literally played the heel in wrestle-mania. Maybe it does not even matter who won. What does matter is that many tens of millions believe their election was stolen. And what did they do against a palace coup? Nothing! They swallowed it, complained a little and now the castrated sleepwalk through another election cycle with no more reason for confidence than they had in last. Just why did they go out with a whimper? None can claim they did it to preserve the fabric of the country. Torn fabric was their complaint in the first instance. Or perhaps they think concrete action might result in rioting in the streets. It’s not as if before and since the rioting wasn’t already playing out on other themes outside the castle walls of the local Walmart. No, the tragic answer is that they were demoralized and internalized too much propaganda and double think. Their democracy was dead but they would preserve its life anyway. Because democracy is democracy even in absentia don’t you know, and only domestic terrorists and right-wing lunatics murder ghosts and seek to vivify corpses through the violence on the dead. Or so these poor souls are lead to believe when they confuse the nominal for the essential. Such is the absurdity of the times when the film is more real than the real we allow ourselves to see, that what is dead is dead, and saying it is alive does not make it so.
Or maybe we could say they had become a little too civilized, unlike those rowdy Brazilians. But down south of the south we saw an identical drama open in the political theatre, and probably more civilized. Millions resolute in the belief the election was stolen. Millions moved to contemplate action. Yet who was willing to cross the Rubicon that in crossing might have altered the fate of a country, brought their truth to their world and seen what they believe to be democracy to be realized. Now the BRIC is RIC. And let’s face it the Northern continental empires are one country stronger. So much for leftist decolonization!
Now that brings us to covid and my challenge to those on my own side, the anti-lockdowners, anti-maskers and dissidents against a therapeutic state whose culture and ambition they do not understand.
Part of the problem for the intellectual class is misplaced faith in the power of data and the words on the page of the law, as if resolving a puzzle of legal positivism and the question of scientific fact has automatic agency in the world and somewhere in the midst is a shared nonbiased adjudicator. It’s a safe boomer-esque idea that serious conflict is all an overgrown high school debating competition where the better argument wins, and change arrives like a trophy in your hand. Contra such naïveté, back early 2020 I issued a hypothesis stating neither the powers that be nor the people under them were ever going to care about the dissident doctor’s superior interpretation of the science or the dissident lawyer’s superior legal exegesis. The whole affair was never about who is correct any more than it was ever about a virus. Time and time again my hypothesis has been proven true. This is not to say I suggested lying or avoiding the science or law entirely. No, I was simply suggesting that the opponent is not motivated to the truth, and the public are charmed more to the melody accompanying what truths are sung. American faux conservatives and neo con mouth pieces might say that facts don’t care about your feelings. Well guess what dear reader. Feelings don’t care about your facts, and facts (or science or law) alone do not move people to cross their own personal Rubicon. They never have and they never will. People’s sociometers and sentiments will first follow the immediate imperatives of self-interest, of carrots and sticks to reputation, social inclusion/exclusion and preservation of livelihood within the constraints placed upon them by the titans above. Beyond this they will follow a vision given them about which they did not design nor choose. What matters is that it comes from a place projecting willingness to make it real in the world and to punish those who oppose it. They need be afraid of what you are demonstrably willing to do to the rival power as much as what the power in place is doing to them. All of these criteria having been met they will choose the more beautiful melody of the truth offered to them.
That is precisely what happened. The powers that be told the people their lives were in grave danger thanks to a virus and any dissident acts made them granny killing selfish individualists or, worst crime of all, “right wing” or “conspiracy theorists”. For good measure their jobs were threatened, their businesses ordered to shut, their movements effectively imprisoned, and their homes ontologically transformed into privatized for profit prisons paid by the prisoners themselves (hard to tell where the mortgage goes, the state, the bank and Pfizer might as well have joint custody over the deed). The authorities and their nudge units understand all too well what motivates people. They would viciously deploy ad hominem, character assassination, lawfare, social isolationism, financial resource stripping and frank physical violence against their opponents. They would do all this and worse without any of their number losing a wink of sleep. Though they and I have completely opposing political and moral sentiments, they and I share the morbid insight that the establishment could ship dissident intellectuals off to the camps if it came to it. And all these dissident scientists, doctors and lawyers would do as they were marched off is say “but take a look at this graph or this clause of the law. It’s not fair. Be a good chap now just like me. We can all forgive each other and move on into our liberal utopia”. Quite pathetic really! I really don’t know where they got this bizarre notion that the polite over-obliging semi autistic gentleman scientist wins the day in ideological warfare. They certainly did not receive the lesson from history at large or their own experiences of the preceding three years. I can only conclude that they internalized a frame their opponents want them to occupy without the opponent occupying it themselves. Or perhaps they secretly want their opponents to win for fear of the risks involved in crossing their own personal Rubicon. Perhaps they hope the establishment will reward them getting their facts right when the establishment decides to get some mileage out of finally telling careful decided truths for reasons of managing the narrative and a smooth landing. Then the large rationalizations to even larger compromises begin. They won’t know where the establishment ends and they begin. But 2019 is a place to which we can never return.
Extending upon the theme of wasted efforts, part of the architecture of defeat is the assumed power of science and law. Another is the assumed power of the tweet, YouTube video or Substack article (indeed the irony). The insidious nature of social media is in granting just enough sense of reality and community to feel real, and just enough sense of struggle to reward the keyboard warrior with cathartic affective discharge. Still, in and of itself social media is just a role-playing game with real names. You could be the edgiest old left, new right trad cath, libertarian meme lord on twitter, “ratio-ing” Jordan Peterson and his neo pagan lobster nonsense to one hundred million followers. You could be a razor-sharp satirist cartoonist like Bob Moran drawing gallows under a dark sky and against a craggy rugged background of merciless nature, the caption reading “Thanks for making us a vaccine. We made you a ‘play swing” “. You can talk Nuremberg 2.0 one day and the next refusing even ad hominem against your opponents as too mean and unbecoming. You can circulate your deep dive political analysis of the revelations from Matt Hancock and Downing Street, of members of parliament and their proximal handlers “deploying the new variant” for the pure manipulative utility of fear and distraction while the semi skeptical amoral Boris Johnson goes along for the ride (any ride is a good ride for a faux conservative if it keeps you in power for one more day. Just ask the Australian Liberal Party). You can circulate your one hundredth video of empty corridors and dancing nurses in what was propagandized to be overrun hospitals. None of this will matter a damn because the powers that be know this ultimately boils down to flashing colours on a screen and ones and zeroes behind it. When you raise your eyes from the screen of your digital masturbation, high five yourself and alight to the street you could scour every corner and craggy crevice of the British Isles and never find Bob Morans gallows, much less anyone seriously possessing the grim resolution to organize and make it happen. So, what’s the cartoon all about? You can pretend Anthony Fauci retiring is a victory for the cause, as if no octogenarian retires to wealth and honours unless beaten and shamed. It’s the same for dozens of others. Our side scored a victory because the Scottish PM abruptly resigns? Or the New Zealand PM resigning is a victory? Or the New South Wales leadership machine calling it a day? Or perhaps the resignation of the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister is a victory? Even one day perhaps the sinister Schwab will retire hooray hooray only to be replaced by Anthony Blair in the next, maybe with a rebranded WEF. But each and every one of these resignations and dozens in between (if possessive of any youth and will to power) will take your supposed little victory and turn it into a six or seven figure job in big corporate or some NGO or think tank somewhere. They know that no one will stop them. You know it too. They know that justice is a dirty word in this liberal world and we all should give each other a nice healing hug and move on lest we become the monster ourselves. They would laugh if they were even aware some social media dissident superstar thought it any different because he/she raged war against them for a while with ones and zeroes. Get real. Any social media action is only as good as its connection to concrete organized activity by flesh and blood people in the physical world. The rest is just a gamers fantasy stuck in the post-modern condition where simulacra really is taken as real, and the movie characters tell us more about ourselves than the person behind our avatars.
The same is the case with the relaxation of the pandemic restrictions. A victory or back down you think. Not so fast. The jabs are in the arms and the wealth transfer complete. The largest globalist surveillance and social credit pilot study has run its full course with stellar results. The establishment could not have dreamed of better compliance and persuasion. The villains rode out of town their coffers full of tribute. Still there will always be some beaten up pathetic souls saying the enemies is a retreat. Give the villains a break. They did work long hours and need to take stock before returning to the business of seeing another grift through its life cycle and divesting you of some more liberty along the way.
Now we return to where we began; an invitation to reconcile with the notion we did lose and lose badly because the dissident side was orders of magnitude too genteel to ever stand a chance. Extolling and fetishizing the virtues of the nice guy approach was a un/intended act of masochism under the guise of civility, sophistication and lacking any statistical priors that would suggest such an approach likely to succeed, let alone mapping onto any authentic conservative models of virtue and leadership. You can tape a bunch of mice together and call it a clever fox whilst hobbling the attitude of the lion from ascending within the dissident movement. But it’s still just a collection of mice. They will scatter all the same when the pressures on. Most could not even say no to the mask when the mean looks came, let alone the most terrifying blow of all, i.e., being called mean names. So, what to do now the moment is lost?
I’ll leave you with a piece of secular scripture chosen from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Quite topical given this is its 75th anniversary year and I’ve been banging on about it and its Syracusa child since mid 2020.
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.
(To which I might add this means rule of law couched in natural rights and Earthly justice.)
Essential it is. Compelled we were. Protected we weren’t. Rebel we didn’t, though some tried in vain to gather the number and the will to at least fight mean rhetoric with mean rhetoric. So ask yourselves if there ever is a next time, what would it take for you to put to death the inner nice guy and cross your own personal Rubicon. You must understand the opposition doesn’t agonize over the issue. They crossed theirs long ago.
This article first appeared on Robert’s Substack, Robert Against the Machine, here.