After the storming of the Capitol on January 6th, and the consequences that will inevitably befall on those who took part in them, it seems that Internet regulation and censorship will become more explicit than ever. Nothing new here: since the 90s, the story of cyberspace has been one of normalization and control. In other words, a process of civilization, characterized by the ubiquity of ID verification, fact-checking, and other mechanisms that try to turn the virtual wildlands into a well-managed city. Following up on last week’s post: stratification of the Nomadic smooth space of on-line mythology.
It is ironic that, after four years of Trump as President, the strongest push for decentralization will be catalyzed by the Biden presidency. Twitter accounts have been purged (including The Donald’s), and Regime opponents have been doxxed and deplatformed with Big Tech’s benevolent help. Every participant on the events at Washington DC has been included in the exquisitely curated files of the security apparatus. A lot of them with the redundant, but enthusiastic collaboration of acquaintances who did not approve of said participant’s MAGA temptations.
For the normie insurrectionist, this is not as grim as it sounds. After all, the political potential of the masses has always been a myth. Faced with the slightest threat of persecution, most protestors will go back to posting pictures of barbecues and dogs on Facebook, instead of memes and rallies. Back to caring for family and friends, vacation, the good and simple things in life. The threat of the mobilized mass is always magnified: political engagement can be sustained only for so long.
For a committed minority, though, being repressed is a strong incentive, bringing forth a whole new set of opportunities. Encrypted, usable, collaborative technologies could make for well-managed insurgencies, if wannabe rebels grow out of infiltrated chat apps. Parallel funding systems, potentially clandestine logistics, and enterprise resource planning for right wing coups are all a possibility for a tech-savvy, motivated opposition. The flourishing of an encrypted productivity stack has enormous potential for insurgency.
The problem with insurgencies is that they are rarely spontaneous phenomena, due to the average person’s sanity and risk aversion. The normie is, after all, the product of welfare societies and service economies, where there is a lot to lose and not that much to win. Revolutionary soldiers are bred in the heat factories and foundries, not in the air-conditioned comfort of the suburb. Even then, these soldiers require agitation: the development of class consciousness (and its cousins: race consciousness, religious consciousness, etc.). Educated elites excel at this function, and are sometimes used by State powers to subvert rivals. After all, Lenin’s 1917 train ticket from Zurich to Petrograd was paid by the Kaiser, with the explicit purpose of getting Russia out of the Great War. Smart empires foster foreign regime change all the time.
New technologies can favor decentralized rebellion, but this decentralization has its own downsides. Like the Lernaean Hydra, networks with no discernible center can be almost impossible to destroy or fully subvert. They lack a neuralgic node that can bring down the whole structure when neutralized. This is the problem posed, for instance, by lone-wolf Jihadist attacks in Europe: due to the terrorist’s autonomy, attacks are very difficult to predict and avert. Since Jihadis are usually willing to die for the cause, security forces often can identify and bring down the attacker only when the first casualties are already bleeding on the ground.
But the question is: after dozens of attacks, are Jihadis any closer to making Europe not haram? The answer is, of course, no. Decentralized networks are extremely resilient and difficult to erradicate, but because of their very nature, they also have a hard time focusing and achieving complex objectives, other than producing chaos and mayhem. From the perspective of the EU security apparatus, then, sporadic spurts of random, brutal violence are a reasonable price to pay for solving a political problem. Allowing moderate Islamism a safe and secure structure to prosper within Europe would generate a much bigger challenge for the European globalist modus vivendi. This is precisely the dilemma depicted in Michel Houellebecq’s novel Soumission, and one of the reasons Turkish Islamism is not welcome in the EU, in spite of it being a much more benign alternative to ISIS-style DIY Jihad.
Now, let’s speculate with this possibility: that decentralized dissidence, which is a direct consequence of repression, was actually beneficial to the system as a whole, even when violent. By driving alternative discourses to the fringe of the acceptable, a low-intensity confrontation ensues, protagonized by a relatively innocuous insurgency. The NSA has an estimated 30-40,000 employees. It’s only one of 16 US Intelligence agencies. They can manage an insurrectionist MAGA movement that is not directed by any outside force.
Promoting the decentralization of dissidence makes it a chronic, bothersome, but ultimately non-life-threatening disease to the polity. Sure, some loon might run amok from time to time, but what is to be done? Kick them out so they can organize and come back with a vengeance? Let the cops handle the rebels, says the contemporary mandarin. The thin blue line is not thin at all: domestic enemies, Jihadist or Boomerwaffen, are no match for it. And anyway, in the words of London Mayor Sadiq Khan: terror attacks are ‘part and parcel of living in a big city’.
As a final note, it should be taken into account that almost no other country has the security resources of the US. The software tools of other insurrectionists world wide are universally accessible to them. State capacity, though, varies from place to place, leading to very asymmetric situations for weaker governments. Those who are hoping for a populist insurrection should expect it in the battered fringes of the Empire, and not in the mellow heart of Middle America.