January 14, 2022

The Post-Collapse Scenario (Maybe)

Pankaj Mishra has a very insightful discussion of that famous book by Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), in the 6 December 2021 issue of the New Yorker. The book is the classic statement of anti-colonialism, and has been an inspiration to millions of the “Global South.” Fanon argued that the (European) bourgeois ideology of “equality and dignity was merely a cover for capitalist-imperialist rapacity” (quoting Mishra). I take this to be obviously true, and in Why America Failed I argue that our so-called democracy has largely been a cover for hustling, for consumerism, and for economic and technological expansion. The theme comes up again in my forthcoming book, Eminent Post-Victorians, which includes a chapter on Sir Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was the poster boy for liberalism, or “negative liberty,” by which he meant the freedom to do as you wished so long as it didn’t interfere with others (which he admitted it would). But what really emerges from a study of Berlin is that he always came down on the side of the status quo, in particular the British capitalist, and hierarchical, way of life. During the 1960s, he was extremely skeptical of decolonial liberation movements, and I’m guessing he detested Fanon’s essay. Still, his doubts were not completely off-base, and can be found in Fanon’s book as well.

Pankaj refers briefly to experiments conducted by elites in Asia and Africa, who “saw it as their duty to devise non-exploitative economic and social systems for their people.” My own version of this is what I have called “Dual Process,” discussed in the final essay of Are We There Yet?. Fanon was concerned that the dispossessed might adopt a “psychology dominated by an exaggerated sensibility, sensitivity, and susceptibility” (quoting Fanon). He coined the phrase “curse of independence”: the possibility that the newly liberated states might become a “receptacle for ethnic and tribal antagonisms, ultranationalism, chauvinism, and racism…[that the] new ruling classes in post-colonial nations would fail to devise a viable system of their own” (quoting Mishra). And so Fanon’s conclusion regarding decolonialization was ambiguous, even bleak; open-ended at best.

I have often said that I don’t have a crystal ball, and cannot predict how the future is going to play out. But one thing I am sure of is that the United States is finished, and that its collapse will come as a relief to much, if not most, of the planet. But “finished” can take many forms, and one possible scenario, discussed often on this blog, is secession: the breakup of America into various different sociopolitical entities. The hope I have is that some of these new regions will earnestly engage in Dual Process, the devising of non-exploitative economic and social systems. Who can say? But Fanon’s warnings about the “curse of independence” are quite relevant here. If these new regions and new experiments are infected by wokism, they are sure to fail. What if they are, in fact, dominated by the ethnic and tribal antagonisms (etc.) referred to by Mishra, or the psychology of exaggerated sensibility and sensitivity referred to by Fanon? For this is precisely what wokism is all about.

“Don’t fall in love with yourselves,” Zlavoj Zizek warned the excited youth of the Occupy Wall Street movement in its heyday. Which is exactly what they proceeded to do. Why? Because it is very hard for human beings to resist the temptation of proclaiming, “Look how wonderful I am.” Wokism, virtue-signaling, is a religion, and thus acts as psychological glue, providing the mind with (pseudo-)integrity. Dialogue with a woke is about as fruitful as dialogue with a bubba: once you’ve got The Truth, you are no longer capable of dialogue. Doris Lessing pegged this syndrome for communists in the 1930s, in The Golden Notebook, where she wrote that communism literally served to create a psychological existence for its adherents. If new secessionist sections of America are going to avoid the pitfalls referred to by Fanon and Mishra, they need to divest themselves of wokism from Day One. Don’t fall in love with yourselves, for fuck’s sake; just do what’s needed to be done, and be grateful for the opportunities offered you in the wake of the American collapse. If you are unable to, all you will wind up with is old wine in new bottles.

What are the chances? We are a nation of extreme individualists, all trying to show we are better than the next person. To Americans, other people are rivals, not potential friends or comrades. To put it bluntly, we are jerks, and the process of de-jerkifying ourselves, even if undertaken, will not be a smooth ride. Do you want to find yourself? Then—Buddhism 101 here—forget yourself. Hey, it’s worth a shot.