a letter from The Present Age
The first thing that must be generated is a narrative, then pride in the narrative, and eventually, fervor or faith; when the faith is eventually lost, then a new narrative must be generated right away. This is the loop the Well Informed Person of Today constructs for themselves to get tangled up in. There must always be a why, which explains their anxiety and numbness; there must always be a symbol, which temporarily relieves the anxiety and numbness.
Modern liberalism has just enough information and cleverness to lie to itself, but not nearly enough courage or deep intelligence to deconstruct its own deceptions. Covid, climate change, racism, transphobia, Trumpism are all essentially the same thing—opportunities to tell frightening stories about the world and virtuous or consoling stories about ourselves. There is always a crisis and there is always a (very) easy way to sidestep it; all the crisis requires is that we identify with its opposite.
This is why, almost uniformly, individuals and corporations and institutions move in lockstep now; they—we—are all taking the path of least resistance. Once the crisis narrative exists, then there is almost no choice but to overreact to it (your job and your relationships—your status—very well may demand on your overreaction). Power has found that, in an age of protean information flow, it can manufacture its own, much-needed enemies. Why do you need layer upon layer of institution piled on top of your soul? Well—because—the thing… the Big Justification.
This is how you end up with boring, smug, sometimes angry people in charge of every aspect of your life—your teachers, your boss, your state officials, your social media censor, your significant other; this is how you end up with a completely institutionalized existence. The System teaches identification and diefication of The System; The System teaches you that you are a dependent, a child, a good boy or girl (or they). The System teaches, enforces, the dictum that The Individual is going to fuck up everything—that they want to ruin The System for everyone who likes it. And this, not incidentally, is why masks were such a stroke of genius: now we have magic way to detect those nasty Individuals—there’s no hiding anymore!
Covid was the moment in which ill-liberalism (the valorization and codification of modern sickness, depression, resentment) completely consumed the remnants of traditional liberalism, the post-enlightenment liberalism, which, in its many iterations, protected plurality of opinion and belief. Among ill-liberals, belief in freedom has given way to belief in determinism; legal gradualism has been thrown out in favor of extra legal ‘social justice’. Essentially, ill-liberalism advocates for a new kind of ethical and medical Calvinism in place secular constitutionalism. The law is utterly worthless, in this new paradigm, if it does not create a perfect society. Experts and woke professors have been elected to decide which rules we need; everyone else needs to shut up or they will prove that they are not among the elect—that they are a racist or transphobe or Covid-truther or… libertarian!