Prisoners of Illusion
In the 1967 television series The Prisoner, the titular character retires from being a British super spy and soon after is drugged, kidnapped, and deposited in a prison camp. In this place called “The Village” he is subjected to a series of sociological and psychological experiments, ranging from purely sadistic to utterly bizarre.
One of the most insightful episodes in the series revolves around the main character being made a candidate in a simulated election to be the next overseer of the village. It is presented as real. At the end, he achieves victory and stands in the overseer’s office, trying to free his compatriots. He realizes that he is unable to operate the complex electronic systems that control the prison, and it is revealed that it was a ruse. I have not seen anywhere else a more apt metaphor for the politics of today. The viewer knows that the prisoner is powerless, even as he shouts to the others in the intercom that he is “in command” and they are ”free to go.” This feeling of powerlessness is experienced by everyone as they watch their favorite candidate sworn in. The left experienced it with Barack Obama, and the right experienced it with Donald Trump, even if they convinced themselves for a time that their man would really change things. Like the prisoner in the show, we have been provided a version of political action which is abstracted from the mechanisms of power, so that our participation in the processes of traditional politics is no longer real. We, in America especially, are participating in simulated politics.
Many people ask themselves when this current American political system will end. Surely it is not sustainable forever. I tend to fall into the camp that a breakdown of the political system as it stands will not happen in a recognizable way, or, to put it in other terms, that it has already mostly transpired incrementally and that we currently live, if not entirely, then almost entirely within a post political system. Much of this process was documented in Putnam’s Bowling Alone, although I’m not entirely sure he knew what he was documenting. There is a passage wherein he describes the changing form of American political involvement as moving from local groups that meet in physical space, to corporate entities that gauge their success on merely signatures and donation totals. He refers to this as politics without people. I refer to it as simulated politics.
The reason why the collapse of the political system is not recognized by those living through it, is because they have seamlessly moved into a post-political facsimile world. Everything looks the same, but political action has become set dressing. Fukuyama was not wrong when he declared the end of history, but he mis-identified that end as a political transformation as opposed to a total abstraction of the individual from the mechanisms of power. History ended, not because some kind of liberal-democratic equilibrium of free markets and liquid capital has been reached, but because we no longer experience political reality.
To put it another way: voting did not get us where we are, so voting will not get us out of it. The idea that voting can get us out of it is simulated politics, which is to say the process that the system desires us to use. Now before I come across as too crazy, I am not suggesting that simulated politics is some top-down managed illusion beamed into us by a central committee somewhere. Simulated politics is both planned and an emergent combination of factors implemented by various groups with common interest. Something as innocuous as mass marketing is part of simulated politics, and we can see this in the way that corporations have insinuated themselves in the political process, not just through lobbying, but presenting a form of political morality as desirable for both their employees and customers. Take for example the Pepsi ad from a few years ago where one of the monstrous Jenner creatures shared a soda pop with a police officer during a protest. Combine this with the marketing by not-for-profit organizations who chant “This is what democracy looks like” during events that have no clear connection whatever to the actual democratic process. The combined implication is that
“Democracy” ought to look like a lifestyle advertisement, and it does largely nowadays, as it has taken the form of a gamified alternate reality pursued primarily through simulated interactions on social media. We did not vote to be placed in this illusion, except maybe with our pocketbooks. The combined attack by technology giants, marketing companies, NGOs and leftist educational infiltration were never on a ballot, yet we live in the world they created, one where the traditional mechanisms of power are meaningless, and we have been abstracted from politics. In the end, perhaps we do not need to wonder whether we are in the late republic or the empire but whether we are even in reality, when reality is defined as the material world where the rules apply as they are presented, which is to say that they exist.
Simulated politics, in my estimation, is the result of consumerism, which was largely inevitable in the United States, since we started as a mercantile nation with a priority on business and property rights. This is not to say that these things are inherently undesirable, but that it should come as no surprise that consumerism dominates us and has imprisoned us. It has taught us to divorce what we consume from the reality of the consequences of that consuming. Technology obviously assisted in this, as our hyperreal economy further and further abstracts what we do from any kind of concrete value.
It is a fair comparison to point out the similarities in the too big to fail economic interventions to stabilize the system with the effort to “shore up” the integrity of the 2020 election. The system is too big to fail, and that includes politics. Economic systems tend to capture unpredictable processes in order to internalize them and make them predictable, and that applies no less to political processes. Every day we give money to people who hate us and want the historical American nation destroyed, yet conservatives would have us believe that the exchange of goods and services in the market is not a political act. They are wrong, and this sort of attitude has been instrumental in the creation of our simulated politics.
A Taste of Reality
In recent days, the Canadian trucker protests have given us a glimpse into the system of simulated politics and the real mechanisms which exist under the surface. Most significantly, the blockade of the Ambassador bridge connecting Detroit Michigan to Windsor Ontario, caused enough disruption to slow and even halt production at Toyota and Ford plants. The bridge carries about $360 million in trade value between the United states and Canada every day. This led to a more decisive reaction from Canadian officials than with other blockades, resulting in mobilization of militarized police and threats of mass arrest for those who remained. There are signs that Covid measures will be rolled back to varying degrees in at least some provinces.
This result tells us a number of things about the political reality we currently inhabit. While one should not default to a purely materialistic view of political action from our elites, the speed with which they moved to clear the Ambassador bridge shows that, despite the propaganda of the lunatic world order, it cannot exist comfortably without the material conditions provided by the supply chain. Threats to logistics will force them to act. If we think back to the BLM protests of 2020, it is even easier to see them as the mass marketing operation that they really were. At no point was there a threat to trade or the supply chain. Protesters in Portland spent days sieging the federal courthouse, an act that would accomplish nothing to actually disrupt the capitalist system that they claimed to hate. Property damage was rampant, but the police reaction was minor. This was in part due to the cause espoused by the rioters, but also due to the fact that they did not threaten the political-economic situation whatsoever.
In similar fashion, the January 6th protests were equally ineffective. Putting the fear of God into some members of congress had its amusing moments, of course, but the result led only to the harsh punishment of those involved, and an even more hostile political situation for their interests. Like the BLM riots, the January 6th event was an action within the framework of simulated politics. Like The Prisoner, the protesters were left wandering the empty halls of the capital, dumbfounded and slightly amused, unaware that the mechanisms of power were nowhere to be found in that building.
Real politics damages or threatens to fundamentally alter the foundation of the system, whether economic or demographic. The blockade of the Ambassador bridge was an equal and opposing reaction to lockdowns and mandates that bankrupted countless small businesses and threw masses of people into poverty. It threatened to inflict financial pain. Yet, if this is real politics, is there any hope for a future of real politics in North America? The signs do not look favorable. A culture awash in consumerism has no solidarity. If your trinket does not make it to the department store, or if your car’s production is delayed into the next year, the finger is pointed at those who caused the disruption. Homo Consumptus has been fashioned as a purely apolitical being, one unable to stomach the lack of convenient consumption which comes from inflicting pain on the elite. The vast majority of people only care about simulated politics, which keep consumption intact. With the trucker protests, we were given a glimpse into the possibility of real political action, but as things stand, a glimpse is probably all we will get.