Craven New World

notes on dystopia

Whether by plan, opportunism, or chaotic accident—the CCP has managed to achieve near moral equivalency with many of the world’s democratic republics, which have become increasingly autocratic, surveillance-oriented, and intolerant of debate.

The COVID panic—which began to spread partly through unsubstantiated videos of seemingly healthy people falling dead in the streets of Wuhan—has simply made the rest of the world more like China: governments have not only ended freedom of assembly, tech companies have not only curtailed free speech, but ordinary citizens, including children, have chosen to participate in collective policing and shaming efforts.

We now know that assigning Brave New World and 1984 in the classroom does not produce adults capable of resisting the lures of groupthink; if anything, our shallow, lazy variety of liberalism gives people the false insurance that they’ve been inoculated against the worst kinds of collective stupidity.

Liberalism, without serious intellectual and moral work, easily decays into ill-liberalism (bio/medical fascism).

The vaccine—though it clearly plays a profound role in reducing transmission in conjunction with naturally-acquired immunity—is just the kind of science-y talisman many need to return to (gradually) contact-oriented interactions. The vaccinated believe they have made the right sacrifices, performed the right spells; they feel the god Science has blessed them to embrace the New Normal, or post-normal. They feel they deserve the right to quietly pretend like they didn’t lose all sane and humanizing perspectives—like they didn’t just spend the last year doing a ritualistic dance of fear, shame, and primitive hatred of those who carry the evil essence. They’re like people who’ve had too much to drink at a party: you hear them throwing up in the bathroom, but they return to the conversation like nothing is amiss. It’s almost funny.

Perspective is key. Perspective is sanity. Perspective is grace. From any perspective, life this past year was a safer year for human beings than almost every other year on record. COVID meant a return to the excess death levels of 2010 or 2005 or so in most places (or, in the case of Sweden, to approximately the excess death level of the 2018, when the flu was particularly bad).

Iraq was the last in the ignoble line of TV wars. COVID is the first in the ignoble line of apocalyptic Netflix dramas.

Just as the first wave of industrialism was predicated on the enclosure of the forests and fields, today’s cognitive industrialism is predicated on the enclosure of the free spaces of the mind. The ‘hive’ mind is the herd mind, a product of the digital sheepfold.

Obama was an anti-depressant for an unhappy new century—the century announced by 9/11 and Bush imperialism. Trump meant going off the anti-depressants (difficult, but not a bad thing). Biden was like going back on and increasing the dosage (usually a point of no return).

Asymptomatic spread was the coup d'etat for medical fascists. Asymptomatic spread—a phenomena which appears almost exclusively in expert models and rarely in reality—is the ghost which drives the whole machine of hysteria and suspicion. The asymptomatic spreader—often wholly conflated with the dreaded ‘anti-masker’—became a bogeyman, a horror-movie character who perforates the bubble of safety created by good, NPR-listening liberals armed with Clorox, K95’s, and hand sanitizer.

A year after the pandemic was declared, we have become spiritually and morally sick in ways that far outstrip the biological impacts of COVID itself.

The fear of COVID has led to a loss of affect, a winnowing of meaning and spontaneous vitality; COVID has led to the emergence of a new caste, which believes its purity and nobility is derived exclusively from the extreme pitch of its general fear and paranoia—as well as its contempt for the naturally healthy.

Thus, COVID-19, that moderately infectious virus, has produced a second order and entirely metaphysical disease: the inversion of sickness and health.

Information is not inert; most information has causal powers—transforming, shaping, arousing minds. Information tells us that Trump is the Orange Bad Man, that COVID-19 is The Virus. Information tells us that Russia is constantly working to destroy our democracy—might do so at any minute—while simultaneously encouraging us to all participate in collective censorship and stigmatization. Information is a truth-derived flavor, truth without the pulp or rind—pure sugar.

Formerly democratic states have become what I can only call Covid Republics: surveillance states modeled after Plato’s ideal republic, equipped with expert guardians and a terrifying idealistic citizenry.

A parable. Imagine you live in a castle. You are the lord, but there are other active agents inside the castle. You have a wall, obviously, and turrets from which to watch over the surrounding fields. Peasants come in from the fields in times of threat. Outriders bring news of the wider world. You track the seasons by changes in the weather. And you make decisions based on the information that flows in to you, the lord, in your central keep. You store food, spend your gold, add to your walls, and so on. You are really part of an enclosed system, the castle, with a sensory relationship to the outside world, which tries to maintain homeostasis (survive). But of course, you can get bad information, or even good information, and make bad decisions with it. You can eat all your food, spend all your resources on security in times of peace, or fail to maintain your walls in times of war. You might be so afraid of invasion, for instance, that you put your peasants to work day and night on the walls, even at the cost of starvation and economic ruin…

The hive mind, the Internet brain, produces imperatives and values which exclude or ignore individual autonomy. Essentially, the hive mind is a new kind of mind without consciousness. Formerly individual agents, connected through the screen, produce a new kind of autonomous thinking agent with its own higher-order goals and behaviors. Insofar as we obey this agent, and not our ourselves, we ensure our own spiritual, if not biological annihilation.