Dispatches From Mindfuckland #1: Buy Now, Pay Later

“Boxer Santaros: There is no stopping what can’t be stopped. Only GOD can stop it
Krysta Now: But the New York Times…says that God…is DEAD.”

Southland Tales (2006) dir. Richard Kelly

Peter Thiel: Not So Contrarian
A specter is haunting mainstream political commentary…the specter of Peter Thiel:

“Bill Ackman, Peter Thiel back investment firm taking on ‘woke’ capitalism”

“INSIDE THE NEW RIGHT, WHERE PETER THIEL IS PLACING HIS BIGGEST BETS”

“The Real Winner of the Ohio Republican Primary Is Peter Thiel”

While reading Joseph Bernstein’s recent article about the “anti-woke” film festival tied to Thiel and stage managed by the late Harmony Korine wannabe Trevor Bazile, I was struck by this passage:

“It’s hard to explain what Bazile did on Instagram starting in mid-2020. First of all, he kept getting banned, so only one of his accounts, @all_triggers _no _warnings, is still accessible. Second, he posted things that are so offensive they are tricky to describe. He posted at such a blistering pace and in such contradictory ways that to fasten it down with adjectives feels beside the point. Bazile posted pro-Trump memes and anti-Trump memes, images of Jeffrey Epstein and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in blackface, memes mocking anti-fat discourse, a photograph of a Hegel T-shirt, hundreds of bizarre and abject clips he found on TikTok, a drawing of a Black man performing fellatio on a white penis at the summit of a milk crate challenge. He took so many political stances that he seemed to be mocking the idea of having a political stance at all. He gained access to a massively ironic Instagram collective called the Incellectuals, then got booted for being too offensive.” 

This depiction of Bazile’s “work” brought to mind Operation Mindfuck, a project wherein Robert Anton Wilson, Kerry Thornley, and other hippies and yippies associated with the Discordian parody religion planted stories in various media outlets attributing every then-current national scandal or calamity to a fictional global secret society named after the Bavarian Illuminati. This was part of the larger Discordian project to cheekily “expose” every ideology-whether it be a philosophical, political, or religious concept of social organization-as fundamentally futile and ultimately prone to chaos, which is itself the only true form of organization there is in the universe. If this reminds you of the Joe Rogan cult, that’s because it is. 

In the 1970s, the military-funded Stanford Research Institute looked at different models for managing the Western middle class as its quality of life declined in the later years of imperialism. This research was later compiled into the book Changing Images of Man. One passage from this book is particularly useful to understanding not just Mindfuck in its original form, but its current domination of daily social reality in the US:

We are not simplistically advocating that society needs a great man to lead us to a new image of the nature of man. It may be that because of the new approaches for self-exploration, the communication flow which makes esoteric ideas and processes more available, and the

exchange of shared and vicarious experience, many persons may find themselves on the path of the adventurer, reflecting first the stress and problems of the society, then opening themselves to new insights and direct perceptions of reality which are less strongly filtered by the current paradigms and myths, and finally emerging to see the world in new ways.”

The Alternate Reality Game seems be the format that this focus on using “communication flow” (IE the Internet) to expose people to “esoteric ideas and processes” ultimately found to be most efficient. In 2013, Wired reported that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (related to DARPA) had launched a study of ARG’s on behalf of the Pentagon. This effort was called “Using Alternate Reality Environments to Help Enrich Research Efforts” (UAREHERE). One idea IARPA put forward was a game that combined, “controlled data collection as well as periods of ‘free play’ and interactions.” The IARPA research used an ARG tie-in for the TV show heroes as a reference. Titled “Conspiracy for Good” the Heroes ARG, “fused puzzle solving with live events, and counted more than 4,000 members assigned to take down a fictional conspiracy.” 

This basic setup bears a clear resemblance to the evolution of PizzaGate and, later, QAnon. Furthermore, as I noted here, as QAnon developed into a more explicitly cult-like phenomena, we saw major figures within Trumpworld and the larger GOP sphere pick it up and run with it. One reading of this phenomena is that they saw something useful in a phenomena that had arisen spontaneously among the Trump base and manipulated it. But I have to believe Q is itself a bit of this new Mindfuck psywar (what one of my twitters followers suggested I call “ARGitprop”). To understand this, we must look at Michael Flynn’s ascent within the “movement’s” ranks and his own history of advancing data-collection software and literally spewing the same rhetoric as Millenarian cult leaders in mega-churches across this rotting empire. 

Flynn, Thiel and the Real “Q”

In 2012, Michael Flynn promoted a whitepaper, written by Stephen Cambone, a former assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, declaring the importance of “social intelligence” to the national security community of the 21st Century. Cambone’s paper describes social intelligence as, “open sources of info that contain or reflect the sentiments, intents, & actions of non-governmental actors.” According to Cambone, “the lack of government control over the development of crises highlights one of the critical ‘lessons learned’ over the last decade and can be applied in the post-pivot environment.” 

This “pivot” refers to an announcement Obama made to the Pentagon describing an imperialist move away from Arab nations to countries further East and Southeast. For Cambone, this “call for a pivot, is not an occasion to substitute one highly specific and geographically constrained theater [Middle East/Southwest Asia] for another [East Asia].” Instead, the pivot represented, “an opportunity for the national security community to step back from its intense focus on combatting terrorism and conducting combat operations in Southwest Asia and the Middle East to broaden its perspectives and approaches regarding US national security in the coming decades.” 

Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at the time, hailed Cambone’s assessment, calling it “spot-on.” He even incorporated elements of it into the DIA’s “Vision 2020” (I couldn’t find a copy of this document online). For Flynn, the 5,000 combat veterans the DIA employs in Washington and in 140 countries are the world as “global scouts” have become “the new normal.” Flynn’s vision for the DIA was to “decentralize decision making to the closest edge” of those who “get a fingertip feel of the environment.” According to Flynn, in the new, network-driven warfare “Everything is under attack. Everything is challenged.” 

As Cambone’s white paper says: 

“Given the ubiquity, speed, and penetration of communications and the velocity at which events can escalate to crises, one of the great challenges to the broader security and defense strategy of the United States is surprise…Managing national security affairs in a way that avoids the worst of surprises requires a broad knowledge of evolving circumstances, an acute situational awareness of those developments that bear the hallmarks of risk and strategic warning, and an understanding of the potential effects of possible events.” 

To do this, the intelligence community would have to “monitor, observe, overhear & measure what is taking place within the vast & evolving social networks…Social media analysts call it ‘trending’ & ‘sentiment analysis’.” Sentiment analysis “identifies what a population of interest is focused on at a particular moment…whose attitudes are being promulgated to whom and how are those in receipt of messages reacting.” This info has many uses, including “to call potential interest groups to action.”

After Flynn left the DIA in 2014, he created his lobbying and consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group. Flynn staffed this organization with some real winners, such as James Woolsey, a former head of the CIA who held cabinet positions in the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and Bill Clinton. Woolsey was also a founding member of the Project for the New American Century and sits on the board of the shadowy Genie Energy alongside Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, and Lord Jacob Rothschild. Woolsey is also descended from an American settler-colonial dynasty that also spawned the ancestors of Bill Gates, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and, bizarrely, Lizzie Borden. Just hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11, Woolsey appeared on television suggesting it was all Iraq’s fault. As late as 2002, Woolsey also promoted the idea that Saddam Hussein’s government was connected to the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Woolsey is also a Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, a position he held at the same time Edward Snowden was on their payroll and supposedly stealing State secrets from right under their nose. 

Just a year and a half after joining the “private sector”, Flynn urged the Army to drop their plan to rebuild its data analysis system. This was because Palantir, company founded by Peter Thiel with which Flynn is personally connected, was waging a war in court to design the Army’s system itself. A study at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer center found that, “”Since 9/11, the Intelligence Community has relied heavily on private contractors for many different types of support…According to some press reports, 51% of Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) staff currently are contractors.” In 2007, “the DIA was preparing to pay private firms up to $1 billion to conduct ‘core intelligence tasks of analysis and collection’ over the next several years, according to a press report.” One report suggested that private firms make up 70% of the intel community’s budget. 

To understand why Flynn was so drawn to Palantir, it is necessary to get a few things straight about Thiel himself.

After leaving Stanford, Thiel joined Sullivan and Cromwell, an ancient Wall Street law firm which is responsible for the careers of the Dulles brothers. After somehow raising millions to start his first hedge fund from unnamed “friends and family”, Thiel proceeded to invest in a slew of early dotcom bubble start ups, including what would ultimately become PayPal. The rhetoric Thiel used to describe PayPal back in the 1990s is identical to how cryptocurrency, which Thiel is a major player in, has been advertised since the 2010s.

As Max Chafkin points out in his semi-critical biography of Thiel, The Contrarian:

“…from its earliest days Thiel understood that it could be a lot more than just a clever way to split checks. During the Asian, Russian, and Latin American financial crises, citizens worried about hyperinflation hadn’t been able to move their money into dollars and put it into foreign bank accounts; with PayPal, all they needed to do was be paid on PalmPilots, which could be turned into a pocket-sized Swiss bank accounts. If it took off, it would make it impossible for governments to regulate their economies, leading to, he boasted to a reporter, ‘the erosion of the nation-state.’…

…Anonymous bank accounts, which Thiel wanted to make available to all, were used by tax cheats, money launderers, weapons dealers, and other international criminals. If you followed his logic, all manner of gray and black market transactions would be impossible for governments to stop, and the fees for those transactions would be revenue to PayPal…Two decades later, Bitcoin enthusiasts would use a similar logic to pursue the same goal…

‘Paper money is an ancient technology,’ [Thiel] explained in a meeting later that year. He suggested that PayPal could be the, ‘Microsoft of payments.’ But that was just the beginning, because paper money was also a means of government control…Governments ‘use inflation and sometimes wholesale currency devaluation…to take wealth away from their citizens.’ PayPal would make that impossible…”

Another interesting impact of Thiel’s investment into PayPal is that, “Neal Stephenson’s new cyberpunk thriller Cryptonomicon became something close to required reading, alongside Atlas Shrugged.’” Stephenson’s book, “focuses on a group of entrepreneurs, descendants of World War II codebreakers, who build a secret offshore ‘data haven’ to protect an encrypted online banking system from the reach of authoritarian governments.” This plot mirrors, almost to a T, the actual history of crypto and what its true purpose is today. 

In 1920, Swedish engineer Arvid Gerhard Damm founded a company named AB Cryptoteknik, which manufactured a radical new cryptograph machine invented by Boris Hagelin. During World War 2, Hagelin grabbed increasing control over the company and after Damm’s death he became its new owner, changing the name to Crypto AG. In 1952, Hagelin’s old friend William F. Friedman became the chief cryptographer for the National Security Agency (NSA). That same year, Hagelin’s lawyer, Stuart Hedden, became deputy commander for the CIA. “Flush with cash,” from building code-breaking machines for US troops during the war, Crypto AG became, “a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.” 

Crypto AG, “made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.” By this time, the firm was “secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence” who “rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.” A classified CIA history described this arrangement as “The intelligence coup of the century.” According to the report, “Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”

The CIA and NSA used their control of Crypto AG to monitor Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, “fed intelligence about Argentina’s military to Britain during the Falklands War, tracked the assassination campaigns of South American dictators and caught Libyan officials congratulating themselves on the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco.” In the early 1990s, Germany’s BND started to feel the risk of exposure had become too great and chose to leave the program. “But the CIA bought the Germans’ stake and simply kept going, wringing Crypto for all its espionage worth until 2018, when the agency sold off the company’s assets.”

In 1996, the same year Thiel returned to California from Sullivan and Cromwell and two years before PayPal was established , a document was published by NSA infosecurity researchers titled “How to Make a Mint: The Cryptography of Anonymous Electronic Cash.” The introduction to this study reads:

“With the onset of the Information Age, our nation is becoming increasingly dependent upon network communications. Computer-based technology is significantly impacting our ability to access, store, and distribute information. Among the most important uses of this technology is electronic commerce: performing financial transactions via electronic information exchanged over telecommunications lines. A key requirement for electronic commerce is the development of secure and efficient electronic payment systems. The need for security is highlighted by the rise of the Internet, which promises to be a leading medium for future electronic commerce...

The type of electronic payment system focused on in this paper is electronic cash. As the name implies, electronic cash is an attempt to construct an electronic payment system modelled after our paper cash system. Paper cash has such features as being: portable (easily carried), recognizable (as legal tender) hence readily acceptable, transferable (without involvement of the financial network), untraceable (no record of where money is spent), anonymous (no record of who spent the money) and has the ability to make “change.” The designers of electronic cash focused on preserving the features of untraceability and anonymity.hus, electronic cash is defined to be an electronic payment system that provides, in addition to the above security features, the properties of user anonymity and payment untraceability.

This paper builds on the work of David Chaum, specifically his 1982 dissertation, “Computer Systems Established, Maintained, and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups” which is the first known proposal for the type of blockchain protocol that cryptocurrencies now use. The same Chaum ideas that influenced government policy research also played a role in the emergence of a quasi-anarchist ideology known as “Cypherpunk” first theorized by a trio of Burning Man ideologues consisting of Erich Hughes, Timothy C. May, and John Gilmore. Their vision is best summarized by May’s essay Libertaria in Cyberspace:

…There is more “space” in cyberspace, thus allowing more security and more colonizable space. And this space is coterminous with our physical space, accessible with proper terminals from any place in the world (though there may be attempts in physical space to block access, to restrict access to necessary cryptographic methods, etc.)…

an arbitrarily large number of separate “nations” can simultaneously exist. This allows for rapid experimentation, self-selection, and evolution. If folks get tired of some virtual community, they can leave. The cryptographic aspects mean their membership in some community is unknown to others (vis-a-vis the physical or outside world, i.e., their “true names”) and physical coercion is reduced.” 

May’s associate, John Gilmore, would go on to found the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which would become part of Pierre Omidyar’s Network along with First Look Media, the company that owns The Intercept. Considering Omidyar’s own weird history, the fact that he founded ebay, ebay’s popularization of PayPal, and Glenn Greenwald’s recent gassing up of Thiel Capital, this is pretty significant. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

According to Chafkin, criminals started to notice that PayPal “growth hacks—one of which was its decision not to verify users’ identities when they opened an account—had made it an ideal place to launder money stolen from victims of identity theft.” The company could have “drastically cracked down—forcing all users to send pictures of their driver’s licenses, for instance” but Thiel intentionally chose not to do this. Instead, Thiel and his co-founder, Max Levchin, turned to their head of security, a former military intelligence officer named John Kothanek, who “ had gotten the idea to try to create a visual representation of the suspected fraud, drawing spiderweb e diagrams on a whiteboard to map out connections between accounts…Levchin and a team of engineers began writing software to automate this.” 

Kothanek was hired by PayPal in early 2000 and started working on this project, eventually dubbed Igor, later that year. By 2001, Igor was “novel enough that the FBI began using it…A small team of agents was given its own conference room at the company’s headquarters to access it.” As the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2001 “…FBI agents trade information with PayPal antifraud investigators and use the software to comb through the activity of PayPal’s more than eight millions users…”  By March of that year, Thiel was one of roughly 200 tech executives invited to the White House to meet George W. Bush. “Thiel had been happy to be invited to the Bush event,” Chafkin writes, “and in the year that followed he became consumed by the prospect of a preemptive war in Iraq.”

Thiel’s rise obviously didn’t occur in a vacuum. While his Stanford education and Sullivan and Cromwell background more than likely had a lot to do with his early political economic clout, the larger dotcom craze of the 1990s played an equally large role. Indeed, much more was going on with the dotcoms and the telecom industry than their mere transformation into market bubbles.

On January, 1994, UCLA hosted the Superhighway Summit, the first public conference which brought together all major government, business and academic leaders in the field of Web 1.0 to start “the national dialogue about the Information Superhighway and its implications.” As Shawn M. Powers and Michael Jablonski explain in The Political Economy of Internet Freedom, the Summit intended to, “help further private-public partnerships on a large scale” and included Vice President Al Gore and Chairman of the FCC Reed Hundt, executives from media conglomerates such as Disney, Time Warner, Sony, and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, “content providers” such as MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, and ABC, telecom companies like Bell Atlantic, Pacific Bell, and AT&T, advertising agencies such as William Morris, Ted Bates Advertising, and Quincy Jones/David Salzman Productions, the financial titan Bear Sterns, and, of course, computer technology cutouts such as Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Silicon Graphics, and Hewlett-Packard. Brain Lowry, writing for the trade paper Daily Variety, noted that the joint assets of Superhighway Summit attendees could, “roughly finance an attempted acquisition of most of the Midwest.” 

According to Powers and Jablonski, the Clinton administration, “viewed the summit as an opportunity to reach out to media and entertainment industry leaders and encourage their support for regulatory reform…” This reform, as Gore outlined in his keynote address to the Summit, amounted to dismantling the “old, adversarial approach to regulation” and rapidly collapsing the space between the “current information industries-cable, local telephone, long distance telephone, television, film, computers, and others.” Gore speculated that, after said “reform” there, “may not be cable companies or phone companies or phone companies, as such. Everyone will be in the bit business…Just as communications industries are moving to the unified information marketplace of the future, so must we move from the traditional adversarial relationship between business and government to a more productive relationship based on consensus.” Hundt concurred with the Vice President’s predictions. “Our job,” Hundt told the Summit, “As the networks spread like kudzu down the channels of commerce, is to make sure that unfair anti-competitive bottlenecks don’t choke off the natural growth driven by market forces.” 

Five years later, the US government announced that the CIA would be getting its very own tech-based venture capital firm. This company, In-Q-Tel, was set up to “ensure that the CIA remains at the cutting edge of information technology advances and capabilities.” (The “Q” in the company’s name is a reference to James Bond character Agent Q). A key figure in the creation of In-Q-Tel was George Tenet, who is the 2nd longest Director of the Central Intelligence (DCI) in the Agency’s history, serving under Clinton and Bush Jr. In 2005, an Inspector General’s report declared that Tenet bore “ultimate responsibility” for the “failure” of the intelligence community to stop 9/11. 

To form In-Q-Tel, Tenet organized a team of CIA analysts with “entrepreneurial spirit” and dispatched them to Silicon Valley at the peak of the dotcom bubble and appointed former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine to run the company. “The CIA had to offer Silicon Valley something of value,” said Rick E. Yanuzzi, In-Q-Tel’s first director of business operations. “A model that provides those who joined hands with In-Q-Tel the opportunity to commercialize their innovations. In addition, In-Q-Tel’s partner companies would also gain access to another valuable asset, access to a set of very difficult CIA problems that could become market drivers.” Richard Shaw, CEO of early In-Q-Tel investment ArcSight, described them as, “by far, the most proactive, helpful investor we have.” 

Starting in April, 2001, In-Q-Tel began funding Intelliseek, a company which developed software to, “automate knowledge discovery and aggregation from hundreds of disparate information sources.” Intelliseek’s clientele “included Canon, Comcast, Ford, General Motors, HBO, Kraft, Microsoft, Nokia, P&G, Showtime, Sony, Target, Toyota, fourteen of the top fifteen pharmaceutical companies and eight television networks.” 

Between its founding in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, In-Q-Tel built up and then sold to the private sector eighteen companies. Soflinx was sold to Lockheed Martin, Tacit Knowledge to Oracle, Systems Research Development to IBM, Inktomi to Yahoo, MetaCarta to Nokia, ArcSight to Hewlett-Packard, and so on. Perhaps the most famous of these post-dotcom Silicon Valley flippings by the is Keyhole, which later became Google Maps and Google Earth.

In 2006, In-Q-Tel sold, “6,425 shares of Google Inc., worth $2.6 million after Google’s initial public offering. In-Q-Tel came to own the stock as a result of Google’s acquisition of Keyhole.” Much like the initial PayPal team, Keyhole’s founder and CEO, John Hanke, was inspired by the work of Neal Stephenson, specifically his 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. The book describes a program called Planet Earth, devised by the “Central Intelligence Corporation.” Planet Earth’s purpose is to, “keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns – all the maps, weather data, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff.” 

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1989, Hanke spent four years with the United States Foreign Service as a “foreign policy” consultant, “a State Department job that posted him to Myanmar.” It’s beyond the scope of this post to explain with any nuace, but Myanmar in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s went through a period of great unrest, to say the least. What type of “foreign policy” was some Austinite hippie who later invented the global surveillance software used by one of the world’s biggest tech monopolies cooking up on behalf of the State Department in Burma during the uprising of the 1990s? I couldn’t find enough information to answer that question. But what I do know is that Hanke, after splitting the “foreign policy” scene for the Haas Business School at Berkeley, co-founded Archetype Interactive with Steve Sellers. In turn, Archetype developed Meridian 59, the first ever 3-D massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). 

Keyhole’s partnership with In-Q-Tel in 2003 was part of a joint agreement with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, “a major intelligence organisation with 14,500 employees and a $5bn budget, whose job was to deliver satellite-based intelligence to the CIA and the Pentagon.” However,the CIA and NGA weren’t just investors:

“…they were also clients, and they involved themselves in customising Keyhole’s virtual map product to meet their own needs. Months after In-Q-Tel’s investment, Keyhole software was already integrated into operational service and deployed to support US troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the shock-and-awe campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Intelligence officials were impressed with the “videogame-like” simplicity of its virtual maps. They also appreciated the ability to layer visual information over other intelligence. The possibilities were limited only by what contextual data could be fed and grafted on to a map: troop movements, weapons caches, real-time weather and ocean conditions, intercepted emails and phone call intel, and mobile phone locations…

…Military commanders weren’t the only ones who liked Keyhole. So did Sergey BrinIn 2004, the same year Google went public, Brin and Page bought the company outright, CIA investors and all. They then absorbed the company into Google’s growing internet applications platform. Keyhole was reborn as Google Earth.”

It shouldn’t be too surprising then that Thiel, a Stanford graduate from a petit-bourgeois family who made it into the historically spooky and powerful bourgeoisie legal firm Sullivan and Cromwell, not only invited the FBI into PayPal, a company which just so happened to have ambitions that overlapped to a T with longstanding intelligence community agendas re: digital cryptography, was happy to court the Bush administration and saw opportunity in the Iraq War. But beyond that, doesn’t contextualizing Thiel in this way change the narrative that he’s some ideologically committed “libertarian” (no such thing btw) who uses his money the way he does as a mixture of Machiavellian political maneuvering and savvy tech-billionaire eccentricity? Doesn’t it look more likely that Thiel was noticed by the same Iran-Contra national security gangbangers who have micromanaged Amerikan Empire since at least January 20, 1981 and became a businessman for them?

For now this is, at best, speculation and, at worst, convenient historical fiction. But while my particular theory about Thiel may not be completely accurate, the more general contours of what I’m talking about here definitely are. For instance, the aforementioned outsourcing of intelligence community work to the private sector isn’t something new. It also isn’t just the result of Amerikan political laziness or neoliberal cynicism re: the State. It is, in fact, a form of governance which streamlines bourgeois State bureaucracy. As Johnathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter observed back in 1987:

“President Reagan’s secret weapon is ‘contracting out’ such normal government functions as funding and executing policy to the ‘private’ sector while keeping policy making itself in the hands of the state. But unlike typical commercial examples of the practice, the administration has contracted to agents who are themselves total creatures of government—in particular, of government intelligence agencies. In their ‘private’ capacities, however, these agents nonetheless fall largely outside congressional purview…

…Reagan’s…administration found foreign governments and rich individuals to contribute the money; CIA and military special operations veterans to contribute the manpower; and private firms to contribute the logistics for its operations. In effect, White House operatives set up a parallel Treasury, Army, Air Force and State Department to negotiate with terrorists, fight covert wars and subvert the law wherever they deemed appropriate. Farming such covert operations outside even the CIA served to insulate the president and his advisors from scrutiny and responsibility….

…This parallel private network functioned outside normal lines of oversight and accountability, and once set in motion, could operate effectively with minimal presidential guidance. But as distinguished from ‘privatization,’ a term often misapplied to the Iran and Contra affairs, the contracting method always left essential policy direction in the White House.”

Gnostic Psywar 
Which brings us back to Operation Mindfuck. According to Robert Anton Willson: “We accused everybody of being in the Illuminati. Nixon, Johnson, William Buckley Jr., ourselves, Martian invaders, all the conspiracy buffs, everybody.”

But Wilson and the Discordians, “did not regard this as a hoax or a prank in the ordinary sense.” Instead they “considered it guerilla ontology.” As Crypto Cuttlefish pointed out, this means that, “Wilson was instrumental in casting research into political suppression as mere ‘paranoia’ during the very time that COINTELPRO was forming to disrupt the Civil Rights + Anti-War movements in the USA and Nazi gangs under the Gladio program were attacking European Communists.” In other words, “Wilson’s ‘Guerilla Ontology’ would only appeal to those privileged enough to never be the targets of suppression.” As Wilson himself explained:

“My personal attitude was that if the New Left wanted to live in the particular tunnel-reality of the hard-core paranoid, they had an absolute right to that neurological choice. I saw Discordianism as the Cosmic Giggle Factor, introducing so many alternative paranoias that everybody could pick a favorite, if they were inclined that way. I also hoped some less gullible souls, overwhelmed by this embarrassment of riches, might see through the whole paranoia game and decide to mutate to a wider, funnier, more hopeful reality map.” 

Two things immediately jump out at me while reading this statement:

1) The concept of “introducing so many alternative paranoias that everybody could pick a favorite” sounds like something straight out of the aforementioned Changing Images of Man, particularly when the book excerpts a passage from Joseph Campbell’s 1968 volume The Masks of God, which reads:

“…Individualism and spontaneous pluralism-the free association of men and women of like spirit, under the protection of a secular, rational state with no pretensions to divinity-are in the modern world the only honest possibilities: each the creative center of authority for himself, in Cusanus’s circle without circumference whose center is everywhere, and where each is the focus of God’s gaze. We would thus hope not for a handful, but for a thousand heroes, ten thousand heroes-who will create a future image of what humankind can be.”

2) The idea that Wilson immediately follows up with, which is the by-now cliche radical centrist trope of diminishing the influence of “ideology” through active Reason and perpetual reference to empirically demonstrable Facts. This tracks with Wilson’s idea of taking the “metaprogramming” technique found in computing and using it to develop the human mind. You end up embracing an indefinite number of “points of view” while simultaneously critiquing them so that you can become closer to the Truth. What’s interesting to me is that this is a principle very similar to that of Gnosticism.

Gnostic tropes began to spring up everywhere in Western culture, counterculture, and pop culture (there is no real difference between the three) toward the start of the 1970s. Authors like Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Philip K. Dick incorporate Gnostic themes more or less openly throughout their work. In terms of literal religion, the various wings of the New Age movement, which grew exponentially between the 1970s and 1990s, tend toward an essentially Gnostic theology, expounding, with various degrees of literalness, the idea that our world is a Corruption of something Pure that can be returned to by breaking down the codes that have ensnared us in the physical realm. In true “metaprogramming” form and anticipating the impact on culture that the World Wide Web later had, the New Agers would often pick and choose various ideas and theological expositions from a wide spectrum of different religious or occult beliefs and combine them, reverse engineer them, vulgarize them etc. 

Another trend in the West around this time was the rise of postmodern and poststructural approaches to critical theory and philosophy in academia. I would argue that both concepts have undeniable similarities to the sort of New Age Gnosticism we’re looking at here, despite only occasionally referencing the same ideas overtly. One such reference cropped up early in Pynchon’s 2013 novel Bleeding Edge. While it is a book from the 21st Century about said century, Pynchon is certainly a creature of the 1960s and 70s, and he is a darling of both postmodern ideologues and neo-Gnostics alike. Said passage reads: 

“Alarmingly, what Maxine noticed for the first time was the Association seal, which showed a torch burning violently in front of and slightly above an opened book. What’s this? any minute the pages of this book, maybe allegorically The Law, are about to be set on fire by this burning torch, possibly the Light of Truth? Is somebody trying to say something, the Law in flames here, the terrible inflexible price of Truth . . . That’s it! Secret anarchist code messages!” 

This is a trope that appears all over authors popularly associated with both postmodern and poststructural schools of thought; that there is a pure Zero Point of essence that is “coded” into different forms and at first this is a natural process of empirical evolutionary processes but it eventually becomes a passtime of self-aware human individuals who feel the need to structure society around an indefinite and “unjustified” series of “power relations.” Thus, there isn’t a fundamental difference between stages of history, there’s just different renderings of “power struggle” and the best we can hope for as humans desiring something resembling “liberation” is an endless critique of “power relations” and the social constructions that undergird them that, through negation alone, produces gradually less corruption of the Essential. 

There is obviously some truth to these ideas. Every ruling class privileged by every Mode of Production thus far has had to fabricate “social constructions” that always function on an internal logic that is inconsistent and usually changes in real time to adjust to conditions of the system as such. Gender and “traditional” sexual orientation and family arrangements in particular can be seen being used as a weapon in the history of colonialism and even today in neocolonial contexts. And I should say that not every person associated with postmodernism and poststructuralism would fit neatly into the summation of these ideas I have just described.

But this obsession with transcending “ideology” or whatever other term can be used as a placeholder for “corruption of the Perfect/the Essential” or “the creation of a false reality by a False God who is an imperfect cutout of the True God” through a monk-like commitment to combatting not clearly defined economic relations and those managing the productive state of affairs that have consumed the majority of the globe, but vague concepts of “power” and “authority” and “coercion” which persist past their sell-by date through endless, immaterial social critique that only prescribes tactics of negation such as “decentralization” and “horizontalism” or whatever other cushy quasi-anarchist rhetoric spouted by Fully Automated Luxury Communism Wobblie cosplayers is, in fact, an act of psychological warfare. Furthermore, it provides ample space for “literal fascism” or, at the least, something that can definitively be labeled a mass reactionary movement, to redouble its actual leverage over the foundations of everyday life. What is Q Anon if not the ultimate embrace of semiotic analysis? 

Thielberg

“Dark MAGA”, a recent wave of posts on twitter featuring the same religio-fascist themes, exemplifies what I’m talking about. According to Newsweek, “Dark MAGA is a post-alt-right aesthetic that promotes an authoritarian version of Trump in dystopian, Terminator-like images. In some, the Trump Tower is painted entirely in black and the former president is seen piercing through the screen with blue laser eyes.” Hilariously, the “aesthetic” is also described as having the secondary goal of laundering, “more extreme narratives and aesthetics into the mainstream Trumpist movement.” 

What’s that? I thought the “Trump base” was already at a historically “extreme” fever pitch. I clearly remember a deluge of articles insisting that the GOP was “dead” because they had allowed “extremism” to penetrate the party in 2016! Even before the farce of “Jan. 6th” (One of those silly mantras Americans love to hypnotize themselves with, such as “9/11” “Support the Troops” “Kony 2012”  “Russian Hackers” “Let’s Go Brandon” etc ) liberals were already describing Trump as an insurrectionist. Even Madeleine Albright, who once said killing half a million children in Iraq was “worth it” and called critics of her role in the NATO bloodletting in Kosovo in 1999 “Disgusting Serbs”, thought it appropriate to warn America about how fascism is…bad actually? 

But with Dark MAGA, there have been thousands (probably a naively conservative estimate) of people willing to play the game and go “That’s right, the kid gloves are off Deep State.” And this is nothing new.  Its nearest predecessor is the “Meme Magick” phenomena in 2017-2018, wherein a bunch of terminally online men aged 14-40 convinced themselves an Egyptian God named Kek was working through time to bring about Armageddon via Trump’s presidency and their Internet addictions were actually a subconscious mass ritual they had used to bring this about. And as I stated earlier, QAnon itself is essentially a massive alternate reality game-turned- cult. Reed Berkowitz, a professional game designer who builds ARGs for corporations said as much:

“There are no scripted plots for Q followers. There is no actual solution to arrive at. There’s only a breadcrumb trail away from reality. As game designers would expect, it works very well — because when you “figure it out yourself,” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of finding the rabbit hole and tumbling down it. Because you were persuaded to “connect the dots yourself,” you can see the absolute logic of it, even if you made it up…

Considering Berkowitz’s client list, I’m going to go ahead and call this op-ed a limited hangout. But as far as a description of how the type of vulgar McGnosticism I’m describing has evolved ever since Operation Mindfuck, it’s pretty on-point. Furthermore, Jeff Giesea, a ghoul of both Thiel and Flynn who worked overtime to make “the Alt-Right” a brand agrees with Berkowitz. 

Giesea and Thiel first became acquainted back at Stanford University. Rebeka Mercer, who, with her father Robert Mercer, would play a center role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal around Trump’s campaign, graduated from Stanford a year before Giesea, though he claims they didn’t know each other. When Thiel started his first hedge fund, Giesea was appointed to its staff. In between collaborations with Thiel, Giesea worked for the public affairs office of Koch Industries. He also wrote an essay which went over so well in official State bureaucrat circles it was published in NATO’s Defense Strategic Communications Journal. 

The paper’s strategy is framed largely as a means to defeat ISIS (remember them? Don’t worry, nobody else did either until that whole “Taliban re-taking Kabul” thing). “Why aren’t we weaponizing trolling and memetics to fight ISIS and other enemies?” Giesea asks before proposing, “memetic warfare as a guerilla form of information operations that is needed in our rapidly evolving, social media-driven information environment.” According to Giesea, “Trolling… is the social media equivalent of guerrilla warfare, and memes are its currency of propaganda.

As I’ve already demonstrated, this isn’t a mentality that originated with Giesea. In the far away year of 2011, The Atlantic published an article detailing the CIA and Pentagon’s “meme trackers” online: 

“…the CIA maintains a social-media tracking center operated out of a nondescript building in a Virginia industrial park… tasked with sifting through millions of tweets, Facebook messages, online chat logs, and other public data on the World Wide Web to glean insights into the collective moods of regions or groups abroad…The CIA facility wasn’t built specifically to track the ebb and flow of social media: The program was established in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission with the initial mandate to focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation…the center shifted gears and started focusing on social media after watching thousands of Iranian protesters turn to Twitter during the Iranian election protests of 2009, challenging the results of the elections that put Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power.

In the past few years, sentiment and mood analysis have become mainstays in the defense and intelligence communities. Last October, an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit revealed how the Department of Homeland Security has carefully monitored a variety of public online sources, from social networks to highly popular blogs like Daily Kos for years, alleging that “leading up to President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration, DHS established a Social Networking Monitoring Center (SNMC) to monitor social-networking sites for ‘items of interest.’…In August, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), invited analysts to submit proposals on the research applications of social media to strategic communication. DARPA planned on shelling out $42 million in funding for “memetrackers” to develop ‘innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems.’”

Another article from 2011, this one from Wired, declared that, “DARPA Wants to Master the Science of Propaganda” and details the development of a project called Narrative Networks. “By understanding how stories have shaped your mind, the Pentagon hopes to sniff out who has fallen prey to dangerous ideas…With this knowledge, the military can also target groups vulnerable to terrorists’ recruiting tactics with its own counter-messaging.” (This cover story about “fighting terrorism” falls flat when you consider the long history of government agencies using Web 2.0 platforms to create terrorists.) This passage is particularly freakish in retrospect:

“Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to ‘detect narrative influence.’ These tools will enable ‘prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.’ In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.”

In 2015, Reddit mods revealed that the site’s biggest group of concentrated posters exists on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. As mkULTRAWOKE notes: 

“Eglin Air Force Base is not just any air force base. For one thing, many of the projects there are funded and managed by D.A.R.P.A, who we will remember were instrumental in the creation of the internet itself, and have a long history of disturbing activities. In recent years Eglin Air Force base has been used to develop hyper-sonic weapons, and more damningly, several research papers are accredited to the airforce base. Many of these papers appear under the name of Eduardo L Pasilio JR. One such paper, entitled ‘Containment Control for a Social network with State-dependent Connectivity’, talks explicitly about the manipulation of social media users. Another one of his papers produced at Eglin Airforce base is entitled, ‘Model Based Learning of Information Diffusion On Social Media Networks’. Many of his other papers relate to systems and network theories. Clearly then, intelligence agencies, in this case US intelligence agencies, are keenly interested in influencing these online spaces. Judging by their post history are very active in doing so.” 

Remember the PayPal security system developed immediately before 9/11 which the FBI had full access to? Well, it morphed into a company known as Palantir which George Tenet found compelling enough to invest in. Tenet helped Palantir secure funding from In-Q-Tel in 2005, one year after he’d already become a “former” Agency man. Two years earlier, John Poindexter, who was convicted of lying to congress during the Iran-Contra hearings and whose career was salvaged by none other than Dick Cheney himself, “got a call from Richard Perle, an old friend from their days serving together in the Reagan administration. Perle, one of the architects of the Iraq War, which started that year, wanted to introduce Poindexter to” Thiel and his Palantir co-founder Alan Karp. Poindexter’s interest in the company stemmed from his return to the Pentagon after 9/11, where he had, “begun researching ways to develop a data-mining program that was as spooky as its name: Total Information Awareness.” 

Palantir’s overlap with the Bush administration is only one link in the chain of early Internet and post-9/11 government partnerships. As 2youngbadazz detailed in an excellent twitter thread, it goes back even further than the dotcom bubble itself and was the prime beneficiary of that crisis. “While the dot-coms went away, while AOL — for one brief shining moment, the embodiment of the internet in American life — went away, the internet itself didn’t go away,” writes Brian McCullough. “All of the money poured into tech companies in the first half decade of the Internet Era built out the infrastructure and economic foundation that would allow the internet to mature in a tangible, physical way.” While trillions of dollars in wealth was wiped out almost overnight:

“…telecom companies raised $1.6 trillion on Wall Street and floated $600 billion in bonds to crisscross the country in digital infrastructure. These 80.2 million miles of fiber optic cable represented fully 76 percent of the total base digital wiring installed in the United States up to that point in history and would allow for the maturation of the internet. And because of a resulting glut of fiber in the years after the dot-com bubble burst, there was a severe overcapacity in bandwidth for internet usage that allowed the next wave of companies to deliver sophisticated new internet services on the cheap. By 2004, the cost of bandwidth had fallen by more than 90 percent, despite internet usage doubling every few years. As late as 2005, as much as 85 percent of broadband capacity in the United States was still going unused. That meant as soon as new “killer apps” were developed, there was plenty of cheap capacity allowing them to roll out to the masses. The tracks, as it were, had already been laid…

When the bubble burst in 2000, there were only around 400 million people online worldwide. Ten years later, there would be more than 2 billion (best estimates peg the current number of internet users at 3.4 billion). In the year 2000, there were approximately 17 million websites. By 2010, there were an estimated 200 million (today, that number is over a billion). Far from being a fad, the habits we acquired during the bubble era ingrained themselves into the rhythms of everyday life. The dot-coms from that time, the training wheels for the internet, taught us to live online.”

As 2young badazz writes, “in addition to a glut of cheap infrastructure, the bursting of the bubble meant that winners and losers could be picked and bought for cheap and indeed many former tele and dotcom companies were absorbed into military production.” This is reflected in a LA Times piece published in March 23, 2003, about five days after the United States officially started its second war against Iraq. As the times phrased it, the Iraq War “military buildup” gave “Many Tech Companies a New Lease on Life.” As the article reads:

Military spending has grown from $261 billion in fiscal 1999 to $361 billion in fiscal 2003, according to Defense Department figures. For generations, technology developed by or for the military has been adapted for widespread civilian use. The helicopter, the Internet and the Global Positioning System satellite network all spawned mass commercial applications.

Now — with the telecom and dot-com industries staggering and much of the rest of the economy just getting by — the military seems to be returning the favor.

U.S. defense and security officials are rapidly buying up commercial technology and modifying it to suit their needs. ‘Companies all over the country are reorienting their marketing people to look at the federal government — even small and mid-sized companies that never did business with the government before,’ said John Palafoutas, senior vice president of the American Electronics Assn. ‘The government is the only customer with money’

A recent shift in the Defense Department’s procurement philosophy has made it far easier to sell to the military, said Stephen Forte, chief executive of Ascendent Telecommunications Inc. The Pentagon is demanding fewer extensive product redesigns, instead settling for the best already available.”

On November 11, 2001, one month after the “Day that changed everything”, the Washington Post published an op-ed by David Ignatius which reads:

“Let us ponder a bizarre irony of history: It’s possible that one legacy of Osama bin Laden will be that he pushed the global economy toward a truly networked world — one where pervasive sensors could detect and disrupt terrorist attacks.

Here’s the logic chain that could make bin Laden, the bearded scourge of the West, into a global salesman for ‘pervasive computing.’

Someday the war in Afghanistan will end with a new government in Kabul. But even after the Taliban is gone, the war against terrorism will continue. The challenge is for people to continue ordinary life in the face of this threat. ‘That is the ultimate repudiation of terrorism,’ President Bush said Thursday night. But how will the world cope with a terrorism problem that may get worse rather than better over the next few years?

lasting security will come from defense, more than offense. And here is where America’s prowess in technology can help.

The essential technologies already exist, in projects for pervasive computing and wireless communications that were developed in the late 1990s by companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems. I’ve attended conferences where technologists described arrays of sensors that would be attached to every appliance in your house, and to every vending machine on every street corner. As you moved through the world, these wireless technologies would keep you constantly in touch with the environment around you — registering your presence to every restaurant and department store.

But these were visionary products in search of a real-world market. After all, would anyone actually pay money so his refrigerator could talk to the grocery store and order more milk? Did anyone really want an instant update on special discounts available at Wal-Mart the moment she happened to be passing in her automobile? Of course not.

That’s part of why the telecom bubble burst. Analysts realized that few people would actually pay money for many of the wireless services that would be available in a truly networked world.

But security is different. Like life itself, it is something for which people will pay almost any price. Security means knowing your family can travel for the holidays without worrying about being blown out of the sky. It means going to work without fearing that a hidden nuclear device might detonate in the midst of your city. It means opening the mail without worrying it could be contaminated.

Happily, these are the kinds of problems technology can solve. Sensors can be tuned to search for almost anything — from radioactive material to anthrax spores. If people decided they were willing to pay the price in loss of privacy, a pervasive network of sensors could detect every human being present in a defined environment, and instantly signal an intrusion by someone lacking appropriate identification.

The infrastructure for a networked world is half-built in the United States, and in earlier stages of construction elsewhere. The build-out has been stalled by the global technology recession, and it could use a jump-start. What better rationale for investment than that it can make us safer in a world of bin Ladens?” 

What Ignatius describes hearing about at tech conferences in the 1990s is today popularly referred to as “the Internet of Things” and largely taken for granted. The article directly references work done by the Rand Corporation, an ostensibly “private” darling of DARPA and the CIA itself, to drive its point home:

“The Rand analysts stress that bin Laden is not a traditional adversary who carries a flag, has a national base of operations and can be tracked and targeted by the technologies of the 20th century. Instead, al Qaeda’s cells are pervasive and decentralized. And although al Qaeda has a diffuse structure, it is robust — and hard to defeat with conventional strategies.

The right strategy in a netwar is ‘swarming’ the enemy, according to a book-length study called ‘Networks and Netwars’  just published by the Rand authors. ‘Swarming will work best,’ they explain, ‘if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units.’

Use networks to fight networks. That’s a strategy that, over time, can give the world a measure of security. It will also prod us to resume construction of the Internet highway — not just in the West but around the world — which could give the global economy a needed boost.”

Whether or not you believe the official story of 9/11, it is an undeniable fact that before the Event occurred, there was a massive interest within the public-private State apparatus for what we now call “the Web” not only for the specific purposes of command and control but for an entirely new social reality to supplement political economic activity and its extension into the geopolitical realm. It is similarly undeniable that after 9/11, the Event was “used” by the State to rapidly catalyze the processes already in place to make this happen. Consider Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, released in 2002 and feautring a world running on an “Internet-of-Things” infrastructure, a proof of concept for the creation of this social reality.

Almost exactly one year before Spielberg released Minority Report, Artificial Intelligence, his version of what was originally a Stanley Kubrick project, was released. As I have noted here, Kubrick was close to the types of pedophilic bourgeois circles that Jeffrey Epstein eventually catered to and Spielberg was, in turn, close to Kubrick. By the early 1990s, Spielberg had his own ties to Epstein’s circle by way of his membership in the Mega Group, which also included the likes of Leslie Wexner, Epstein’s business partner and mentor, and two members of the Bronfman family, including Edgar Bronfman, who was simultaneously working with Robert Maxwell in an attempted buyout of the Jerusalem Post. 

Spielberg’s father also made numerous contributions to early computing. Among these is his connection to Bank of America’s ERMA computer system (ERMA stands for “Electronic Recording Machine – Accounting”) in the 1950s. According to a website fact-checking Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can: 

“Back then bank accounts were kept alphabetically. To check the identity of an account holder, the clerks had to compare the signature on each check with the client’s signature on a card…It was ERMA that introduced the concept of bank account numbers. Processing checks and storing the account data electronically would change that dynamic drastically. Fair enough. Except that none of the technology existed…So, it all had to be built from scratch!…

…In 1950, the Bank of America asked the Stanford Research Institute (“SRI”) first to design such a banking system, then to build an actual prototype — the bank’s traditional equipment suppliers wouldn’t go there! The ERMA prototype was completed in 1955…By 1966, the bank’s ERMA systems processed 750 million checks per year! How’s that for kickstarting electronic banking? Another benefit is that processing checks rapidly reduces the duplicate money in the financial system — the ‘float’ — substantially!…

Once SRI had developed the prototype, General Electric received the $30 million order to build 32 operational ERMA machines…(To think that Thomas Watson, the president of IBM, is famously reported to have said in 1943: “I think there’s a world market for maybe 5 computers”)...To fulfill the order, General Electric, a company that was not yet active in computer projects, built a new manufacturing plant, the “Deer Valley Plant” in Phoenix, Arizona, having occupied rented facilities closeby on the Peoria Avenue first…

One of the key electronics engineers to work at the Phoenix plant was… Arnold Spielberg…He became head of the section “Process Control Engineering” in 1957.” 

Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence (remember, released in the Spring before 9/11) was also one of the first films to use an advertising technique that would, as we have already seen, later become fairly standard for mass media; an Alternate Reality Game tie-in.

Counter-Clock World
So what does it all mean?

Well, it definitely means Thiel, while a formidable and influential member of the current bourgeois State bureaucracy managing American imperialism, has also become something of a boogeyman. The ideology of American capitalism ever since World War 2 has constantly told its labor aristocracy and “robust middle class” that fascism and other forms of “totalitarianism” are something that happens when “liberal democracy”-which is the highest stage of human Reason and in turn, most efficiently rendered in the political economy of US Empire-is destroyed by barbaric, “uncivilized” forces of “evil” and “irrationality” that reside in each Individual and must be kept in check through the enforcement bourgeois civic and cultural moralism through the organs of State. This obscures the fact that the USA, along with much of the rest of the developed capitalist world, had already entered a stage of bureaucratic “State-capitalism” resembling something like “totalitarianism” (itself a useless word) that was the natural endpoint of imperialist centralization of capital into monopoly and the gradually expanding partnerships between monopoly capital in the “private sector” and the federal government/military. 

Once the Keynesian and social democratic approaches mostly became irrelevant to and even a hamper on the reproduction of capitalism as a world-system in the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s, the “neoliberals” stepped in to re-open and expand the circulation of capital. From here, the propaganda of American Exceptionalism evolved, now touting a “diminishing power of the federal government (or even “the State” as such)” in the name of “individual freedom”, defense of the “family”, and promotion f entrepreneurialism. But what is almost never pointed out is that the neoliberal period did not see a minimization of the federal government, merely a transformation of certain portions of the relationship between monopoly capital and the federal government (the two together are the base of what can be called the State) and the policies they embraced to reproduce the capitalist world system.

One massive ideological supplement to the State’s agenda during this time was the development of various forms of what I have called “vulgar gnosticism” and their popularization through mass media and thoroughly “depoliticized” academic institutions. This McGnosticism that has permeated American culture in various forms since the 1970s-whether the New Age movement, Christian Right theocracy, New Atheist scientism or, more recently, “accelerationism”-is predicated on the idea that an uncorrupted Zero State can be achieved by “dispelling illusions” and that once a sufficient number of humans (in some narratives specifically white humans) achieve this we’ll either live in a Heaven-on-Earth or those who are Chosen will ascend into Heaven (in the strictly atheistic versions we’ll enter some period of technocratic utopia resembling the vile epilogue of Houellebecq’s sniveling The Elementary Particles, where Reason negates anything that could ever possibly cause ‘conflict’). Indeed, I would argue that Americans, particularly of the petit-bourgeois variety, are so infatuated with the idea of an End Times that the social engineers of our capitalist bureaucracy have become increasingly successful at simulating one. 

This is going to be more or less pure conjecture and presumption (IE my “conspiracy theorist” side overtaking my rigorous Marxist side), but for a long time I have suspected that in the “Western world” of the 21st Century, particularly in the United States, more people than ever are experiencing some form of depersonalization, derealization, and/or dissociation-or at the very least intense anxiety that causes some level of “distance” from reality-than ever before in human history. In other words, on a daily basis, more people than ever have forgotten, or never knew, what it’s like to “feel real.” 

Over the last fifteen years or so, mental illness has risen to crisis levels among young people. Experts are hesitant to blame this psycho-pandemic-which mostly consists of increases in anxiety, ADD, and depression-solely on the Internet’s rise to ubiquity. One recent New York Times investigation into this phenomena reads: “The crisis is often attributed to the rise of social media, but solid data on the issue is limited, the findings are nuanced and often contradictory and some adolescents appear to be more vulnerable than others to the effects of screen time.”  And indeed, it is unscientific and actually underestimates the full scope of all the socioeconomic factors contributing to this problem to name the Internet or, even more abstractedly, “social media” as the sole culprit. 

For instance, when one considers the recent spate of state-level legislation specifically targeting transgender youth and, in the instance of Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, queerness in general, along with the ongoing fallout over the recent Supreme Court attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, we can see a clear anxiety from the middle class and even many workers over the millions of people who have decided in the last several years not to be shamed into submission to either traditional gender norms or patriarchical expectations regarding the role of people with a womb in American society. This is, I would argue, part of a larger crisis of the American nuclear family at the present moment, which is not, as many in the “patriotic socialist” sphere have argued, some conspiracy of “woke capitalism” but is fundamentally a matter of the “traditional” family being a construct of capitalist modernity predicated on the material interests and moral values of the bourgeoisie (and yes, that includes pedophilia). The contradictions inherent in this construct are reaching a boiling point in America and while the situation may be exploited among some members of the ruling class for cynical public relations campaigns or to boost recruitment numbers in certain ranks of the military, this does not refute the empirical reality that this family structure is dissolving as a result of the even larger contradictions present in the political economic system it was designed to support, and that “preserving” this form of oppressive familial relations is not a radical answer to “the family question.”

But on the other hand, remember all of those “nuanced and contradictory” studies on lung cancer from tobacco and the effects of torching trillions of gallons of fossil fuels a year on the planet’s atmosphere that ended up being funded by the industries profiting from those things? Yes, social media is certainly not the only thing that is making teenagers want to blow their brains out. But I believe that acting like it isn’t a significant force multiplier is either naive or intentionally dishonest and would argue that the evidence cited by the New York Times piece itself is a testament to this proposition. The remainder of the above-cited passage reads:

“Federal research shows that teenagers as a group are also getting less sleep and exercise and spending less in-person time with friends — all crucial for healthy development — at a period in life when it is typical to test boundaries and explore one’s identity. The combined result for some adolescents is a kind of cognitive implosion: anxiety, depression, compulsive behaviors, self-harm and even suicide.

This surge has raised vexing questions. Are these issues inherent to adolescence that merely went unrecognized before — or are they being overdiagnosed now? Historical comparisons are difficult, as some data around certain issues, like teen anxiety and depression, began to be collected relatively recently. But the rising rates of emergency-room visits for suicide and self-harm leave little doubt that the physical nature of the threat has changed significantly.”

Ever since the “Information Revolution” brought us fully into a digital age predicated on the massive infrastructural development of millions and millions of miles of fiber optic cable increasingly owned and controlled by companies deeply integrated into the “military-industrial complex” we spend, “huge chunks of our lives acting independently of our bodies.” As Eleanor Cummins writes:

“Aside from the occasional hand cramp or urgent need to pee, most of us can schuff off our sense of self and our surroundings to answer another email or interact with another tweet. Our avatars often seem more powerful than our offline selves, boasting thousands of followers instead of a few real friends. And every platform, especially image-conscious ones like Instagram, encourages a constant cosplay of the self — to project someone cooler, hotter, and happier than we really are. It’s perhaps not surprising that we’re losing track of who we are when we power down our screens…

Digital dissociation exists within an attention economy that makes every second of life seem optimizable, so it’s no surprise people notice — and obsess over — the moments they find themselves staring off into space. And out-of-body experiences are a feature, not a bug of web 2.0. Many powerful futurists are pursuing immortality, and their strategies include the most literal form of dissociation imaginable: Peter Thiel and Ray Kurzweil are investors in Alcor, a company that freezes human corpses (or their disembodied brains) so they can someday be restored to life, assuming the right technology arises. Our fantasies can be lovely, and our depersonalization/derealization lonely, but both exist in a larger matrix of power.” 

In my own previous work, I speculated heavily on the rise and weaponization of what I called “dissociative virtuosity” (taken from the work of Katherine Fitzpatrick) in the late 20th and early 21st Century. There I noted that:

“Between 1984 & 2000, the amount of children ages 3-17 with home computer access increased 55%. There was a 30% increase in kids of  this age group who had internet access. By 1999, 53% of American kids had a TV in their bedroom, including 32% of 2-7 yr olds & over 60% of 8-18 yr olds. By 2018, nearly 94% of American children and teens aged 3-18 years old had home internet access, a trend that was relatively stable across racial groups. By 2014, American children were watching on average four hours of TV a day and the Center for Parenting Education has estimated that people between the ages of 8-28 now spend 44 hours a week in front of digital screens in general. 

The National Institute of Health reports that, “Children in the United States spend an average of between three and four hours per day viewing television, & the best studies have shown that over 60% of programs contain some violence, and about 40% of those contain heavy violence…Children are also spending an increasingly large amount of time playing video games, most of which contain violence. Video game units are now present in 83% of homes with children. In 2004, children spent 49 minutes per day playing video games.” (A 2019 survey shows that this number has dropped slightly to an average of 34 minutes a day playing video games)…

…During this time, tabloid journalism, 24 hour news, and the rise of the World Wide Web enabled the creation of a highly sensationalized mass media landscape which totally envelopes nearly every facet of daily life, leading to phenomena such as reality television, talk shows, and, eventually, social media. It is in the nature of these forms of media to simplify reality into a series of easily digestible servings which maximize the emotional response of the consumer in much the same way as a fast food meal. 

A Science.org report reads, “The established link between trauma-related media exposure & distress may be cyclical: Distress can increase subsequent trauma-related media consumption that promotes increased distress to later events.” It notes that symptoms of PTSD and even physical health problems emerge in those subjected to repeated viewings of “mass violence” events, with the “24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of mobile technologies” ensuring even more “collective, community-based traumas” are made to “transmit distress by broadcasting an event to whole populations.” Furthermore, “an individual’s media use after a collective trauma may fuel a cycle of distress by exacerbating distress and worry about future events, which promotes even greater distress when these events ultimately occur.” The report suggests a “cycle of sensitization” which in turn fuels a “cycle of distress.” These cycles have arguably reached a new height in the post-9/11 atmosphere.

On the 17th anniversary of 9/11, psychologist and research scientist Dana Rose Garfin published the findings of a study her team performed analyzing the collective trauma effects of media reporting on the 2013 Boston Bombing. “Our study found that as media exposure increased,” Garfin says, “so did respondents’ acute stress symptoms.” Garfin’s team found that, ‘The impact on children growing up post-9/11 likely extends well beyond the physical & mental health effects of exposure be it direct or media-based. Each tragic incident that individuals witness, even if only through the media, likely has a cumulative effect.’”

When we consider the rise of “meme warfare” mentioned at the beginning of this post, it also becomes disconcerting that this spread of dissociation itself seems to have become a meme. As one Vice article detailed back in 2018:

“Disassociation-themed memes have bubbled up to the surface of the Internet’s consciousness in the past year. Across Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, dissociative symptoms have been described using orangutans, oil paintings, and dancing K-pop stars. Adventure Time character Lemongrab manipulates a puppet version of himself to communicate the feeling of being outside one’s body and controlling it from afar. A spaced-out Britney Spears appears to disassociate during a TV interview. You can even follow the adventures of depersonalizeddolphin on Tumblr, in which a cute dolphin documents everyday feelings of unreality and identity confusion.”

The vulgar gnosticism mentioned earlier, combined with the loss of a psycho-physiological sense of “self” experienced by a gradually increasing pool of the American populace, creates a shared environment where the passage of time is literally not felt. In this inverted zen, one begins to experience their particular state of subjectivity under capitalism as an empirical reality rather than a social condition contingent on the form of political-economy/mode of production they are forced to exist within. Insofar as liberation is even seen as a possibility, the starting point for said liberation tends towards a personal project rooted in the liberal principle of maximizing personal freedom while minimizing the damage done to the personal freedom of others in the process, rather than collective struggle against objective socioeconomic forces impacting those in one’s class position. 

I am not making an appeal to “class first Marxism” here, quite the contrary. The Web 2.0 explosion of “idpol” the last few years has nothing to do with “social/moral degeneration” or with “tricking” people who otherwise would have been good socialists into unfortunately caring too much about black people and gay folks. It’s about encouraging people to form into clusters and cliques around charismatic influencers they feel speak for their hyper-specific identity whether some “woke” college liberal or a 100 layer irony Nazi who has developed erectile dysfunction in their mid 20s. Just as the SRI theorized in the 1970s, we now have an endless stream of demagogues capable of capitalizing on the most niche (and immaterial) identities that people fall into as a result of their chronic depersonalization. And just as Trevor Bazile was before his untimely death, they are more often than not working on behalf of a bourgeois Mindfuck. 

And it isn’t like this isn’t having clear political-economic consequences. Remember Thiel’s right-hand man Giesea? Well not only has he worked with weev, whose relationship to the larger “populist influencer” network that has sprouted up ever since Occupy Wall Street I already covered (see the links to my series posted above), but the business that gave him this opportunity, Clearview AI, is pretty much the final nail in the coffin to the “Thiel is a government-hating libertarian and we have to stand with revisionists against him” narrative. 

In 2020, the Huffington Post reported on Clearview AI, which is possibly, “the most powerful form of facial recognition technology ever created.” The company has “contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York…and FBI agents, members of Customs and Border Protection, and hundreds of police officers at departments nationwide are among its users…Clearview has sought deeper inroads into government infrastructure and is now in discussions with state agencies to use its technology to track infected people, according to The Wall Street Journal.” Clearview’s founder and CEO, Cam-Hoan Ton-That, got his start as a hacker & moved to San Francisco in 2007. Given his later closeness to Thiel and Giesea, I feel that I must once again mention that an estimated one in four US hackers was an FBI informant (or worse) by 2011. 

An even more recent story highlights the “strictly economic” side of our current landscape. It details the rise of the hilariously named “buy now, pay later” platforms, such as Klarna, Sezzle, Zip (formerly Quadpay), Afterpay and Affirm, which “are heavily marketed by influencers and brands on TikTok and Instagram.” Thus, millions of young people are drawn to these services, which allow the user to order commodities “with a few clicks and a small down payment” that prevents one from “having to type out your credit card information again and again…all you need to do now is complete your four payments.” The appeal of these platforms, magnified exponentially by influencers on apps such as Tik Tok, has already had a staggering effect on spending behavior:

“In 2021, Americans spent more than $20 billion through buy now, pay later services, an ever-increasing chunk of the $870 billion-a-year online shopping pie. 

In California alone, 91% of all consumer loans issued in 2020 — defined by the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation as loans for “personal, family or household purposes” such as car, utility or medical loans — were buy now, pay later loans, also known as point-of-sale loans. 

Gen Z, in particular, has fallen in love with the short-term loans, spending 925% more now through point-of-sale services than in January 2020.”

The strategy of using influencers to drive up demand for new, Web 3.0-based goods and services is nothing new and is part of what I have called “The Actual Great Reset” (as opposed to the Red Herring of Klaus Schwab turning everyone into gay bug-eating freaks using UN troops or whatever). A 2018 study was one of the first to suggest empirically that “microtargeting” can lead to changes in the behavior of large groups of people through network effects:

“If data from companies like Facebook and Twitter can improve the identification of influentials, then microtargeting could affect behavior beyond those that receive persuasive messages to those that are persuaded by influencers to also change their behavior…Not only does the use of data improve influence maximization by up to 87%, reaching more people and thus changing more behavior, but the influencers identified through data are also qualitatively different. They are less well connected and less central in the network, and they have more cohesive, embedded ties with their contacts. In other words, they are not just celebrities, but ‘ordinary influencers’ like you and me.”

The effect of this data-focused “microtargeting” through influencers is compounded by “the Fear of Missing Out” which has become increasingly important for these large-scale pyramid schemes that make up more and more of the domestic US economy to function, including in the mainstream stock market. A particularly pronounced trend during the last two years has been the promotion of cryptocurrency by Influencers in a series of pump and dump schemes. Everyone who makes a living in the world of “Internet commentary”-from podcasters to YouTubers to Twitter shit-talkers-has pretty much picked that bone clean, along with the bones of “meme stocks” “OnlyFans” “NFTs” and “sports betting” (online gambling.) And so now the Influencers have moved on to “buy now, pay later” which is almost too perfect of a phrase to sum up the farce of the 2020s. As Joshua Bote writes:

“Few of the services do significant credit checks, which would help determine whether people will be able to repay the loans. And plenty of people are spending more than they can afford: 43% of Gen Z users have missed at least one payment, according to a survey by the polling site Piplsay. Of Gen Z consumers who used a point-of-sale loan for something they needed, 30% missed at least two payments, according to a survey by Credit Karma…The companies are fully aware that their services encourage people to spend more. In fact, several of them market it as a benefit to stores that want to partner with them.” 

Things are getting worse, it’s true. And compared to the victims of its ruthless imperialist extraction, Amerika has still never had it so good. But don’t worry guys, the Aliens are returning to save us soon. Even Congress thinks so.


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