Subscriber Commentary & Review (#12)
Mid-term elections and the ladies, Turbo America, Elephants on Stilts, HERESY
A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers, despite this thread having been pushed back into December. I am most thankful for the continuing support from all of you subscribers, old and new!
I’m particularly touched by the wonderful positive response to last month’s Tolkien-Lewis essay. A surprising number of you wrote me very nice notes to let me know how much it resonated with you. But maybe this shouldn’t have been too surprising – one great benefit of writing here has been learning how so many people share similar feelings about the direction of the world today and just find it difficult to express those feelings in words. So learning from so many of you that reading the essay had helped crystalize something you’d already intuited was especially great to hear.
Some important announcements:
First, many of you have told me that you would love to have audio voiceovers of the essays, as you’d prefer to listen to them. I don’t have the capability to voice those myself right now, so I have now partnered with audyo.ai, a new start-up offering what I think is already a significantly better than average AI text-to-speech experience (in terms of voice tone, pronunciation, pacing, etc.) Yes, I know the Substack app already has an integrated text-to-speech feature, but I don’t think it is as good. Now you’ll be able to choose between options. Moving forward you’ll be able to find red-colored play buttons for full audio versions either near the top of the essay (for free posts), or just below the paywall for subscriber-only essays (so scroll down if you don’t see one at the top). They look like this:
Playback will open in a new tab, as Substack unfortunately limits embed functions. Audio for the Tolkien-Lewis essay is already available for you to check out now, if you’re interested, and I’ll work on adding audio versions to the rest of the archive over time. Let me know what you think, and if you have any problems with it.
Second, you may wonder why I haven’t yet started one of those newfangled Substack Chats like everyone else. It’s because, as you know, I am a confirmed luddite and incorrigible reactionary who hates all forms of change… Or the feature just wasn’t available on the Android version of the Substack app until now. It’s one of the two. Regardless, as you may have already received an automated email about, I’ve just started up a chat for subscribers to give it a try (currently you need the phone app installed). Although I have no experience with it yet, I’m hopeful the chat channel can serve as something of a private forum for more casual discussion among the lovely community that’s gathered together here. We’ll see how it goes.
Now, on to the usual review and commentary of some of the more thought-provoking things I’ve read recently (as these threads have henceforth been retitled to reflect).
Much has happened since I last wrote one of these threads, including the mid-term elections in the USA. I might have to write my own analysis of what I think the results of those elections signaled another time.
In the meantime, the shepherd-sage of Croatia, Niccolo Soldo, whose “Fisted by Foucault” has won most hilarious Substack blog name for like two years running, has written one of the more interesting takes I’ve seen on the elections’ broader meaning for the world. His argument is that, with “the Trump presidency a mere speedbump that is now in the rear view mirror,” the ruling oligarchy of what’s been described elsewhere on The Upheaval as the “Extreme Center” has now firmly demonstrated its ability to leverage institutional power to break apart and fight off populist challenges from both right and left. Overall the big takeaway should thus be that:
The US regime is stable and has shook off internal threats to it with ease, while moving against the two big powers that it wants to cut down to size.
Populism of the left or the right does not serve the empire. This is why you, as a populist, right wing American, should view yourself as a citizen of Rome, living on the Italian peninsula some time in between the rule of Emperors Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, unhappy with all of these Levantines washing ashore, transforming the cities stretching from Syracuse on the island of Sicily up to Mediolanum. You are not at the tail end of US Empire, but rather somewhere in the middle (possibly even at its height).
He adds that:
The desire to see yourself at the centre of a tumultuous era, where the end of a regime takes place reflects the psychological condition that I described at the beginning of this essay. It’s no different than the apocalyptic cults surrounding extremist Climate Change activists, or the various “end of the world” sects throughout human history. This is perfectly natural behaviour.
I am sad to report to you that the end of the USA is nowhere in sight, the regime has reinforced itself, and it is now back to business as usual.*
*no regime is permanent, and an Act of God/Black Swan event could create the conditions for real change
I would of course strongly disagree with the idea that we’re not “at the centre of a tumultuous era” – I think the evidence that we’re living through an immense technological, cultural, and spiritual crisis are all around us and accelerating by the day. But I nonetheless agree with his assessment that, for the time being at least, the geopolitical situation has solidified, with the American regime and its global position now appearing to be not only relatively stable but potentially entering a period of unprecedented power.
This is exactly what I tried to get at in The World Order Reset back in April. Geopolitically, the fact that Russia, China, and Europe all seem intent on committing national suicide means that for the immediate future there are no longer any “great powers” that remain capable of effectively challenging American global hegemony. Darth Brandon has managed to stumble, Jar Jar Binks style, into almost complete imperial dominance.
Domestically I suspect this geopolitical supremacy will also have a subtle but powerful effect in helping to further prop up the Center, lending it the sheen of historical inevitability and a façade of moral legitimacy (since nothing seems to make right like might). Meanwhile the economic benefits that will increasingly flow disproportionately to the imperial metropole will make dissent appear even more alarmingly unprofitable to the elite.
We are more likely living through a great centralization of power than its collapse. So yes, we’re in something like a peak imperial (and post-republic) phase, not the crumbling end of empire, yet. And in this context perhaps the ideological upheaval now plaguing the West is simply a function of the ruling imperial elite sensing the time has come where they can finally abandon any restraint in using state power to force their favored cult religio-ideological beliefs on the rest of the world, including on their own wayward provincials.
So Niccolo’s Roman analogy would maybe better be adapted to say that we’re simultaneously at some post-Constantinian point, where the Imperial Center has already converted and all the old temples are being systematically strangled, emptied out, and torn down to make way for the new faith. (Niccolo has a great series of posts reviewing Edward Watts marvelous The Final Pagan Generation, so he knows what’s up).
Also give me a break Niccolo: surely we’re past Aurelius and at least well into Commodus?, “The West: An Elephant On Stilts?” ()
In contrast to the above take on stability, in this essay the anonymous (and suitably gloomy) British cultural commentator Morgoth uses the metaphor of Dali’s painting of elephants on stilts to meditate on the fragility of powerful but complex systems like our own (or peak Roman globalization), and how the end is more likely to come from material causes than from ideological-political contest.
Gazing into Dali’s painting it’s difficult not to look at those extraordinarily spindly, vulnerable legs propping up the elephants and not be once again reminded of those pipelines and internet cables which, let us be honest, they do resemble.
In our world elephants cannot walk on stilts, but, we are told, men can get pregnant. People form their entire identities and worldviews based upon algorithmic stimulation being carried through cables under the sea powered by electric power-grids controlled by people whom they want overthrown or killed.
Progress, the idea of progress as an end in and of itself, is here put into perspective. Dali’s elephants are a welcome and much needed antidote to the all pervasive mindset that progress, ideological and technological, is inevitable. To believe it is inevitable is to convince yourself that Dali’s painting is one of permanence and not a snapshot taken a second before the elephants crash into a heap on the ground.
Speaking of progress and imperium, I must now interrupt the thread of positive suggestions because I can’t help but point out one of the nuttiest takes I’ve read in quite some time – one I found so jaw-dropping that it was actually a bit mesmerizing, and I think quite revealing. Behold…