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Earlier this year, I developed an idea about 21st century change which I call the 'Wild West Theory of Innovation.'
The theory is about the real dynamics of change. It states that radical change produces actual, hard change and expected stabilities will not remain; moreover, the ideas and people that initiated the change do not and cannot contain outcomes. Those outcomes take change agents to the fringes, to the 'wild west.' Change can suddenly become a negative threat, because old ideas stop working, produce bad results, or can be co-opted by one's opponents. To find the positive aspect of change again, one must adapt to the new environment.
I developed the idea in relation to Bitcoin, not politics, Brexit, or the American election. But it applies to 20th century political animals and 21st century technological innovators alike, who have aligned themselves morally and politically with what they regard as positive change. They should not be surprised when they innovate themselves into a frontier territory, dominated by marginalized characters and alien concepts.
This is a non-political blog, so the point here is not to criticize any groups or counter-groups, but to consider why socio-economic reform and technological innovation are double-edged swords; to depict how we arrived at the outer edges; and to find a positive path through the frontier.
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Progressives are devastated by Donald Trump's electoral victory in the United States. To the liberals and leftists who are so upset, expect to see more of the same in upcoming European elections. Progressives see themselves as agents of positive change. Conservatives believe the same about themselves. But change is not an easy beast to tame. I am not arguing that reforms are bad. But any innovation or reform, no matter how well-meant in its execution, cannot be fully rationally controlled. If one transforms society beyond recognition, one should expect to end up in strange surroundings and company, confronting chaos and randomness.
Are you a progressive who looks about you now, and the world seems to have changed into a hostile, crazy place? Does the darkness at the outer reaches give way to evil figures who are bizarrely traveling from the periphery to the centre? Is Donald Trump an 'orange Hitler'? Are we headed toward neo-Nazis burning citizens in apocalyptic deathpits? Some would say, yes.
If you are among that number, consider that the veil has been ripped from your eyes about the nature of change. You need to rethink your situation. The 20th century is gone, and its core political tool, the labeling of opponents to isolate them and inspire fear around them, will no longer serve you. The last thing you should do is use 20th century 'othering' tactics to attack your opponents, because under the dynamics of social media, that will only make them stronger. If the terrain seems unfamiliar to 20th century reformers, perhaps this landscape was their destination all along, the outer reaches of innovation, the frontier of reform.
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Jon Stewart: What makes America great? The country is still a great frontier of reform, based on anti-tribalism (17 November 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
Labels harbour tremendous power; they break down civic commonality. Abstract generalizations remove civil responsibility to treat one's neighbour as a real person, an individual with legitimate worries. One is no longer obliged to treat that person as one would oneself, because they have become a label. Labels are comforting, and give you the excuse to stop rationally considering the opposing point of view. You no longer have to bother to understand the full picture. It is well known that one of the features of war propaganda and pre-genocidal rhetoric is the dehumanization of one's political adversaries, and the projection of one's secret shadow upon them. Above, see Jon Stewart argue for the Democratic point of view that Trump ran for tribalism, while liberals defend multicultural inclusion and anti-tribalism.
In fact, tribalism is being indulged across the political spectrum. There is a liberal misconception that tribalism can only be expressed through racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Islamic sentiment. But any groupthink and counter-groupthink can constitute tribalism and hatred.
Below, see the recent press examples which have labeled Trump the new Hitler, and by extension, those who voted for him. Trump's supporters are demonized as ignorant, uneducated, untraveled, poor, backwoods hillbilly sexists and white trash racists - who by virtue of these qualities have no right to shape the democratic course of history. These are the ugly labels behind the memes. Among the Democrats, only Bernie Sanders and Michael Moore grasped that many 'deplorables' were not backward working class idiots who did not know what was good for them. They appealed to them as working people and former members of the middle classes, badly hit by the recession. The more these supporters were labeled as subhuman neo-Nazis for defending what they saw as their legitimate concerns, the angrier they became.
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Beneath the tribalism, there is the challenge posed by change. The 21st century has brought unprecedented upheaval; we are all changing in unexpected ways, as are our families, friends, jobs, and countries. In the 1960s and 1970s, youthful Boomer iconoclasts embraced change. Whether they turned liberal or conservative, they took over the establishment, decade by decade, and reshaped it according to the principles of change. But change is a fickle mistress. Once initiated, it does not stop where you would like it to stop. Nor does it always take the form you want. Nor can you control it.
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Image Source: We Hunted the Mammoth.
Those who ride the wave of change can do so in the name of progress or anti-progress, but again, the underlying reality is more cryptic, something akin to viral-virtual-entertainment by way of nightmare-techno-branding of the shadow self. At present, those who succeed are those who embody the visceral response and break all the rules, who aggressively defend themselves, no matter how illogically, irreverently, or inconsistently.
In April of this year, I wrote a post about a Yale undergraduate confronting her professor in fall 2015. The professor, evidently a Boomer progressive liberal, had once been at the vanguard of change. Now he confronted the end result of his platform - a student who attacked him for not being willing to keep changing. He defended the intellectual space as a place where negative values can still be debated and questioned, rather than a mental safe space, a home where certain values cannot be discussed, in order that his students' welfare be deeply validated. "Who the fuck hired you?" screamed the undergraduate protester ring-leader (she had sat on his hiring committee, as part of the progressive move to have students hire their own professors). She insisted that if he had not been willing to implement the needed changes, then he should not have taken the job. They were surrounded by a mob of students who demanded that he should resign for challenging them.
Similarly, Germaine Greer, once one of the loudest voices for feminist change in the world, confronted transgendered social justice warriors who threatened her, demanded that she no longer speak at public events, and promised to pelt her with vegetables for daring to deny their campaign for third gender equality. In 2015, I covered this topic to explain that transgenderism was part of a Millennial resurgence of heretical techno-gnosticism, of which feminism was an earlier part. In that post, I discussed the invention of new pronouns for the third and other alt-genders. Third gender pronouns are being enforced into protected status through internal regulation in North American universities. Questioning transgendered status is now almost a hate crime under the law in Canada (see: Bill C-16) and elsewhere. This liberal trend has prompted some former progressives to become free speech libertarians. Once agents of change, they now argue against too much change. They join the alt-media on the Internet, aligned with former opponents - the alt-right campaigners. One such drama unfolded this fall at the University of Toronto, where Professor Jordan Peterson argued that to criminalize those who refuse to use the new pronouns smacked of fascism. Peterson has been plunged into controversy; you can see how it has unfolded, blow by blow, from August 2016, on his Youtube channel, here.
Liberal progressives, in their mission to liberate society, the economy, and global politics in positive ways, also marginalized large parts of their own societies. After successive disasters in the Middle East and a hideous recession, those marginalized elements were also alienated from establishment conservatives. Common populists were told to level up or get out of the way to enable new left and right establishment programmes.
The establishment view of such impoverished quarters was that they remained static and simply long to return to the past. That is not correct. Rather, these anti-liberals and anti-conservatives have come together and revitalized themselves in Internet communities to form a new movement: the alt-right. The alt-right is less conservative and more anti-mainstream and anti-establishment. These populist libertarians and techno-anarchists are the new radical reformists. They plan to impose radical change by crushing earlier radical change. We are now moving through their territory.
The last century's reformers have become this century's regressives as they seek to entrench earlier gains. The moment reformists and radicals constitute an establishment, those whom they supplanted or suppressed can turn the tables to become anarchic change agents, and lay claim to the political and moral momentum around continued transformation. Change has taken us into this landscape. I will explore the path through this environment in my next post.