There are many acts of destruction for which the Bush years are rightly reviled – the illegal invasions, the defiant defences of torture, the tanking of the global economy. But the administration’s most lasting legacy may well be the way it systematically did to the US government what branding-mad CEOs did to their companies a decade earlier: it hollowed it out, handing over to the private sector many of the most essential functions of government, from protecting borders to responding to disasters to collecting intelligence. This hollowing out was not a side project of the Bush years, it was a central mission, reaching into every field of governance. And though the Bush clan was often ridiculed for its incompetence, the process of auctioning off the state, leaving behind only a shell – or a brand – was approached with tremendous focus and precision.
People are conquered with ideas long before they’re conquered with force. Force isn’t needed for most. It’s reserved for the truly mentally-tough; the people who are able to see the flaws in ideas before everybody else. Maybe people want to be conquered. Or, at least, they want to belong so badly that they’re vulnerable to it. Maybe they’ve belonged all their lives and they don’t know how to not go along with the crowd. They could never fathom standing in a field with a flag and a lighter in their hands surrounded by an angry mob pelting them with eggs. That would be death to them.
When I talk about conquest, I mean what conservative forces do. All conservative resurgences are neatly-assembled packages of lies; cheap tricks; the same product just repackaged and rebranded. Political conquest is largely about spurring action before intellectuals can completely figure out the errors in such thinking. Conservatism is so-called magic. The magician is a perfect metaphor for conservatism. He makes people believe, because they want to believe, but it’s all just well-choreographed bullshit. It’s all just sleight of hand; smoke and mirrors. And he gets what he wants out of it. Ticket sales or a crumpled up dollar dropped into his hat. We reward conservatism for fooling us, again and again. “Congratulations on making it seem relevant again. Maybe if I keep getting fooled into thinking it’s relevant, it really is relevant in some way.”
But it’s just violence. Conservatism is always an appeal to violence. Intellectuals are going to have to think faster if we’re going to avoid conservative political conquest in the future. We’ve got to catch them off guard with our readiness. Counter-punch. We’ve got to reverse engineer their tricks as fast as possible; figure out how they work and expose them on the spot. Make the magician look like a phony. There are periods in history when we lost all tolerance for them. The violence became too much so we shut them out of power for decades. We had had enough. We simply didn’t have it in us to let our guards down. We couldn’t bear to watch that happen. Every time they tried to get up, we kicked them, hard. The emotion never subsided. The grudge always remained.
But then times changed. The vigilant died and the naive reigned. And we were caught off guard, again. It can always happen if we’re not scarred enough; if we’re not tortured by our memories enough.
It’s always demagoguery; appeal to the basest of emotions. There’s always an illogic to conservative thought-models. They try to cast reality in a certain light. “How about we look at it this way instead?” And people, always desiring to see things differently, acquiesce. Somebody new becomes the scapegoat; somebody powerless and different. And if society is united in discrimination, at least it’s united, people think. But it shouldn’t be. People who have the audacity to be different and/or intellectual are demonized. Conservatives turn society against its guardians. “They’re not your guardians, they mean you harm!” they say to the people. But you know your heart.
And you know theirs if you’ve done like Sun Tzu instructed. But I’m afraid we’re not disgusted enough. Intellectuals must make the case lucidly and fervently. Not everyone’s going to figure out their bullshit. Their tricks will work on the people. It takes a very solid group of intellectual guardians to keep conservatism down and people free, in peace.
Not enough artists out there are fueled by a benevolent rage. I hope it will not take what I think it will take.