The best we can do right now with respect to Syria and various other world-historical phenomena is predict likely outcomes, since we have no ability to meaningfully alter the course of events. Except, of course, if we’re prepared to figure out what it would take to assert and exercise real agency in history, something which is much harder than just shouting antiwar or humanitarian interventionist platitudes. It involves identifying the forces within society that could bend the blind happenstance of the market and the clumsy intrigues of state powers to its will. Position-taking and sloganeering are meaningless and vain in the absence of effective revolutionary practice.
For the time being, however, it has very been entertaining to see Richard Spencer and his “Alt-Right” allies lose their collective shit over Trump’s sudden 180° with respect to Syria. Almost on cue and all at once, 4chan’s /pol/ seemed to suffer an aneurysm. Some of its members complained that this would mean more Muslim immigrants the West. Others called upon the anonymous hordes to form a bloc with Putin and wage holy war against the Jews. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon has fallen out of favor in the White House, cucked by the “globalist” New Jersey Democrat Jared Kushner. With this development, liberals might have finally gotten their wish. Because if Ivanka is now the one really pulling the strings, to stick with the puppet-master metaphor, then it’s as if Hillary Clinton got elected after all.
Liberals’ main objection to Trump has always been aesthetic, rather than principled or substantive. They miss the smooth, well-spoken, at times inspirational rhetoric of someone like Obama to the bizarre toilet bowl of free association that comes out of Trump’s mouth. At the level of policy the two could be completely identical, but no one would care so long as everything was delivered with the right presidential packaging. Comrade Emmet Penney conveys this grim truth rather well:
So after running a candidate downloaded from the uncanny valley — who didn’t believe in or stand for anything, really — and moneyballing their way to defeat against a gold-plated, syphilitic sociopath, I’m seeing all these members of the Democratic “#Resistance” come out in full support of the Syria strikes like the battalion of overpaid cowards they’ve always been.
It’ll be tite af when they reinstitute conscription and make you use an app structured like Obamacare where you pick from competing providers to get body armor and bullets before shipping out to go die alone screaming for your family while their lobbyist military contractor buddies stuff their pockets by the fistful. The future the Democrats want is just a gamified version of with the Republicans want, with maybe Beyoncé playing in the background and a subscription to The New Yorker.
Nevertheless, it could well be that Trump’s sheer unpredictability actually reduces the chances of WW3. Putin was willing to play chicken over Syria with Obama, because he knew Obama is a rational guy who knows when to hit the brakes. He’s not going to play that game with someone who would just as soon set himself on fire or drive the car off a bridge for ratings.
All the same, with mobilization against US military intervention into Syria ramping up, it’s more important than ever that communists be able to stake out a position that opposes interventionist wars while also refusing any support for bourgeois nationalists and tin-pot dictators like Assad. Over the past fifty years, anti-imperialists have opportunistically made common cause with anyone and everyone who declare themselves to be “anti-American.” This has discredited legitimate efforts to oppose foreign wars. Marxists should reject such coalitions and organize on an independent and internationalist basis, excluding nationalists of all stripes. But I’m not holding my breath.
It is in this dispiriting mood that I’m sharing a reflection submitted by Comrade Hegel Damascene, remembering the quiet dignity of libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson remains a beacon of bygone normie-dom in a batshit age.
Normie prophet in an apocalyptic age
April 8, 2017
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
Sitting on an overpass over I-95, watching cars come onto and off of the George Washington Bridge, I was overcome with the feeling of being trapped in the belly of a horrible machine. And the machine is bleeding to death. I always used to stare at the overpasses near the Garden State Mall, the artificial marketplace where highways meet, and think about what a Great Civilization (both words capitalized) America was. But I saw the cracks back then, too, I just didn’t think they would open up so quickly.
Sitting on that underpass, I half expected the offices of Kim & Bae, PC to grow legs and start lobbing missiles at Bashar Assad’s palace. Maybe the Port Authority Police building was a factory producing mechanical cops, who would march out to restore order in the new Salafist principality — and detain any big beautiful babies who wanted to leave their young utopia for America, where they could be a security risk.
Syria is both a source and microcosm of the slow collapse.
The international incidents and refugees it produces are slowly gunking up the gears, but also each faction symbolizes a larger flaw in the world system. The unraveling of the Syrian state is a fast-forwards version of the recent history of the “West,” with its rural-urban political divide, and a lizard caste willing to kill its own host society in order to preserve its power over the rubble. The difference is that every myth is closer to the source. The re-organization of society along sectarian lines is at least a retreat into identities with real historical and theological backing, not a carbon-copy flag-and-anthem mythology that’s 100 years young.
Right now I’m in a library, where I came from a party to write this, because it feels like my head is exploding. Beneath the layers of sweat and undergrad misery — especially pathetic on a Friday night — it’s a temple to the myths the WASP civilization has built for itself. Hidden behind the piles of Chinese and Indian new money, there are murals of early modern transatlantic explorers and Greek gods performing deeds out of the fever dreams of some inbred aristocrat from the late 19th century. All the while, the actual descendants of Greeks are sitting in departments for the subalterns the WASPs feel guilty stamping out.
Anyone who reads between the lines of an old Greek text, rather than using it as a status symbol, sees much more Kandahar than Columbia, more Hassakah than Harvard. After all, the former is named for Alexander.
To be fair, every mythology and identity is made-up when you go far back enough.
It doesn’t matter how artificial myths are, though, with a material basis. After all, al-Ma’mun got away with seeing Aristotle in a dream. The surface level unraveling is the consequence of systemic shocks: climate change, diminishing rate of profit, energy instability, modern hordes of Sea People jumping from conflict to conflict because Saudi Arabia couldn’t think of a better method of getting rid of its hotheaded youth than sending them as foreign fighters. Capitalism and the market are genius systems of organization, softening the blows by turning these into chronic rather than acute problems, but sometimes it leaks through in sudden breakdowns.
The confrontation between Russia and the United States in Homs, a result of longstanding lizard caste policies magnified by Trump’s man-baby ego, is one such breakdown. It was a long time in the making, but it was supposed to be gradual and controlled.
Another break happened last summer, when the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by a rogue special forces cop in a minimalist art gallery. Despite the comparisons to Sarajevo 1914, the international incident was not allowed to fester, because it didn’t serve the goals of any power. But it make for a good spectacle, because of how cinematic the whole thing went down. (Morbidly, it was almost instant turned into an Internet meme.) And so the fascist who shot the lizard was successful in his stated goal: ”do not forget Aleppo!”
Gary Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Really, though, Johnson’s infamous “Aleppo moment” was a discursive slip. No one in America outside the lizard caste knew where Aleppo was, either. Hell, a large section of the lizards probably didn’t know themselves. But no politician is allowed to admit the limits of their knowledge and power. The lizard caste is supposed to maintain the fiction of omnipotence, even at the cost of self-destruction. Johnson’s lambasting by the media was a moment for the lizards to distract themselves from the gangrenous limb called Trump by furiously rubbing disinfectant on a paper-cut.
Let me save you some time by summarizing libertarian Austrian economics: none of the other lizards know as much as they claim to — it’s actually impossible — let’s take our chances with the mechanistic systems of the market rather than a ruler who might decide to genocide you because she’s having a toothache, or a lizard who would do the same to pad his resume.
At his next campaign rally, which I was at, Johnson demonstrated that he understood Syria as a whole even if he got the details wrong. The rally was a shitshow in many other ways, but he was right about that. Many “normal” people don’t know the specifics, but they can see the general trends. Probably better then the lizard-caste experts, in most cases. A vast majority are too blinkered by various parts of their daily lives, however. But they can still see the cracks widening, the seams ripping, the empire eating itself alive.
And so people react to this impending #doom in different ways. Some join apocalyptic cults, like ISIS or violent primitivist cells. Others put their faith in snake-oil salesmen, from Trump to Bob Avakian. The smarter ones try to #hustle enough to crawl to the highest point on the sinking ship, in hopes of jumping onto a lifeboat. Of course, the ones in a position to see the patterns most clearly are too damn busy trying to survive to do anything else.
I’m a bit more fortunate, because my family accumulated enough through hard work and luck that I don’t have to support anyone else yet as a young adult. Of course, plenty of smart young people with the chance to get an education end up climbing into the lizard caste. That’s where I’m really lucky; I inherited enough of my my grandparents’ immigrant anxiety to see that the lizard caste is doomed. You need a skill that’ll keep you on the lifeboat, not physical capital you’ll have to jettison anyways.
We need a fucking ark.