Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Weirdness of Now

This morning I listened to a Naomi Klein interview from this week about her very different type of book, while reading a prescient Geroge Monbiot article that he reposted from last March. There's a striking amount of overlap.

Both are about the new right-wing alliances being formed, and the furthest right political parties we've seen in some time creeping up worldwide. 

George Monbiot:

Monbiot blames the influencers who are feeding the young conspiratorial messages, including Russell Brand (hence the recent repost). 

"He appears to have switched from challenging injustice to conjuring phantoms. If, as I suspect it might, politics takes a very dark turn in the next few years, it will be partly as a result of people like Brand. . . . He wastes his talent on tired and discredited tales. . . . Such claims are not just wrong. They are wearyingly, boringly wrong. But, to judge by the figures (he has more than 6 million subscribers on YouTube), the audience loves them. . . . 
Some of his theories, such as his recent obsession with UFOs, are innocuous enough. Others have potential to do great harm. There's the risk to the people scapegoated, such as Fauci, Schwab and Pelosi: subjects of conspiracy theories often become targets of violence. There are the risks misleading claims present to public health. And bizarre stories about shadowy 'elites' protect real elites from scrutiny and challenge. . . . It's a tactic used deliberately by powerful people to disarm those who might otherwise hold them to account. Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, had a term for it: 'flood the zone with shit.' . . . Worse still, conspiracism is fascism's fuel." 

Monbiot guesses at the reason for Brand's dramatic shift from left to right:

"I have seen other people drift into absurdity by telling their followers what they want to hear. . . . Until recently, I thought younger people, demanding a fairer, kinder world, would transform our politics. Now I'm not so sure. I believe Brand and others are helping to confuse and distract them in their millions, shutting down meaningful engagement."

Naomi Klein Interview:

In Ryan Grim's interview with Naomi Klein, he echos Monbiot's concern about YouTube's effect on content creators in particular:

"It will pull them into conspiracy land further and further by funneling more and more traffic to them. And then they'll cross an arbitrary line, and they'll nuke their channel. It's a bizarre thing where they're feeding the very thing that they then nuke." 

Brand is a notorious addict, first with drugs, then that was replaced with sex, so it would not at all be surprising if he's completely addicted to "likes," if not the cash they represent, doing absolutely anything to get more like a trained monkey.

Klein has a similar take in her new book, on the surface about being confused with the very far-right Naomi Wolf. She explained in the interview the overriding importance of looking at how we relate to the mirror-world. She immersed herself in Steve Bannon's live streams and other right-wing podcasts because, 

"The confusion they sow and the oxygen they absorb increasingly stand in the way of pretty much anything helpful or healthful that we humans might at some point decide to do together. . . . This book is not about my doppelganger; it's really about this vertiginous moment, and it is very unsettling to lose control over oneself in the ether. That became a metaphor for this collective unsettling, where so many of us have had this feeling of, What IS this world?. How people are behaving so strangely. I thought I knew who this person was; they're now acting really, really differently. I can't talk to my grandma anymore, my uncle..."

Her concern is with the right and left. The far right is talking about the things the left used to, Big Pharma, the military industrial complex, corporate greed, etc., and the left has stopped talking about that and stopped speaking to people's fears. 

"I call it conspiracy culture, not conspiracy theories, because it really is conspiracy without a theory. It's throwing a lot of stuff at the wall, seeing what sticks -- it gets the facts wrong a lot of the time, but gets teh feelings right a lot of the time. . . . It's a bait and switch. It's not like there's an actual plan to do anything. . . . The project is--he says it very plainly--it's to gain power for a hundred years."

She quotes from James Baldwin's debate in 1965:

"What we are not facing is the results of what we've done. What one begs the American people to do, for all our sakes, is simply to accept our history."

Klein agrees, 

"We're not willing to look at our history. And I think this is such a moment of wild distraction, and it makes sense. This is a hard moment to hold. Covid was this reckoning, this unveiling of so many preexisting injustices and inequalities that became unignorable, because the people who were in the shadows holding the world up, highly racialized, were the Covid hotspots. . . . It is an absolute frontal confrontation with the logic at the heart of capitalism that tells you you're on your own. . . . And, suddenly, no. We are enmeshed. And that was a very hard reckoning to hold when you've been told your whole life that you make yourself, and your only duty is to yourself and your family and, if you are successful, then you've won the prize, right? And now, suddenly, you have to think about vulnerable people? You have to think about workers? You have to think about racialized workers? That was not the bargain that a lot of people signed up for, and I don't think it should be a surprise that a lot of people rebelled against that. . . . 
I think we're in this moment where you've got a reckoning with our present incredibly unjust economic order, which you can no longer unsee on some level. . . . There are all kinds of distractions being thrown up right now, and that's what this book is trying to do, is map the weirdness of now. Arundhati Roy said to us early on in this pandemic that it was going to be a portal, that we were going to go somewhere new, and it could have been better, and it could be worse, but it was not going to be the same. This was too cataclysmic to not bring us somewhere, and I don't think we know where that somewhere is yet."

On Shock Doctrine Tactics:

"The U.K. government has used the fact that hospitals were over capacity to attack the NHS, to attack their much-loved National Health Service. Different right-wing-run Canadian provinces have done the same thing. I think a lot of the attacks on schools around Covid policies were actually just attacks on public schools, and part of that preexisting pattern of, whatever the disaster, let's use it to have vouchers and charters. . . . Then, all of a sudden, there was this kind of doppelganger version of The Shock Doctrine, which was this Great Reset conspiracy theory."

She wrote about that in The Conspiracy Smoothie back in December 2020. Brand read it on his show and agreed with the idea that this new direction could actually be a very good thing and that it isn't an evil plan to harm us all. But because he tagged it with "Great Reset", he got way more followers looking for conspiratorial content, and that seemed to reinforce his trip down this darker path. 

Can we fix any of this?

Klein discusses recapturing the atmosphere of 2020:

"There were a lot of groups here that were collaborating across different kinds of issue silos to envision what rebuilding from teh pandemic could be, learning from teh lessons of who had been most impacted, taking in the lessons of the racial justice uprisings of 2020. And there was the Red, Black & Green New Deal. There were all these sort of platform experiments happening. And I think, then, for a variety of reasons, a lot of them got derailed. . . . It was like the opposite of every zombie movie plot where there's an apocalypse and people come out to eat each other's brains, except there's an apocalypse, and people come out and they just are expressing solidarity. That was an amazing turn of events. . . . 

I do think Zoom organizing around this was very hard. I think it was hard to sustain solidarity virtually. I think it was one of the issues, losing those sort of interstitial moments that nourish folks in movements. Just having the hard meetings is really, really difficult. . . . We were on teh right track. . . . We need more stamina, frankly, to see things through, and I think we need that horizon of where we're moving towards, precisely because these kinds of unveilings and reckonings are really difficult. And if thre isn't a vision of a world where nobody is sacrificial, where everyone has a place, which is somewhere we all might want to go, I think that the hard work of actually seeing where we are becomes almost impossible. . . . 

We are not alone, at least not as alone as it can feel. Connections and solidarities and kinships are available to all of us should we choose to guard the boundaries of ourselves less jealously. . . . Some aren't even human. Some are coral, some are whales, and they are there to connect with, if we can get out o our own way for long enough. . . . No one makes themselves; we all make and unmake one another. Self-involvement, however it manifests, is a story in which the self takes up too much space, just as the story of Judeo Christian Western civilization puts the human (read: white male powerful human) at the center of the story of life on this planet, with all of it created for our species. None of it true."

ETA: Klein was on Mehdi Hasan explaining that much of the recent noise it to drown out all the impeachment talk. 


MoS said...

I bought Klein's "This Changes Everything" only to discover she and her book changed absolutely nothing. She's a grandstander. Her true skill is jumping aboard someone else's bandwagon and exuding proposals that never seem to go anywhere.

Marie Snyder said...

I really didn't like "This Change Everything" -- she was clearly a novice in the area and it certainly felt presumptuous to write a book about a topic completely unfamiliar to herself -- kind of like watching Leo DiCaprio newly discover climate change during "After the Flood," although for him it felt like more of a gimmick. However, I did really like "Shock Doctrine" - that's where she seemed more at home with the material and was able to clarify it. I might see where this one fits when it comes out (but my book pile is getting a little overwhelming these days).