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Cargo-Cult Politics

[1]1,995 words

One of the most fascinating phenomena in the world are cargo cults: new religions that emerged on the islands dotting the Pacific Ocean after the departure of Japanese and American forces which had occupied them during the Second World War. In these cults, the adherents would emulate the actions of airstrip ground crews in order to conjure cargo airplanes and attain precious cargo. Perfectly replicated airstrips, complete with runways and control towers made out of wood, seaweed, mud, and bamboo staffed by natives playing ground control staff popped up all across the Pacific Ocean, hoping to replicate the magic of the white man who could summon great birds from the sky to lay great square eggs full of food, medicine, clothes, and weapons.

It’s easy to feel smugly superior to those savages and their silly superstitions regarding the nature of cargo planes, but lest we become too arrogant, it’s good to remember that a disturbing number of white people, especially on the political Right and both mainstream and dissident, have a habit of engaging in cargo cultism – or more precisely, in activities whose nature we do not, or at least do not fully, understand.

The essence of the classic cargo cult is that the true nature of the things emulated is not only not understood, but is beyond their ability to understand. The Pacific Islander sees the white man, he sees the white man constructing an airstrip and a control tower, he sees the white man going out with flags and flares, and he sees the big metal bird landing from the sky, from which other white men emerge bearing cargo. What the Islander doesn’t see, however, is the massive industrial civilization which exists far away and which manufactures all the materials for an airstrip and control tower, the metal birds, and all the precious cargo. These things are not only invisible to the Islander, but are beyond his ken. And at a certain level, he is right: It’s all magic, or might as well be.

This same schema of things persists in today’s political cargo cult. People uninvolved and inexperienced in politics observe political happenings. They observe politicians making speeches, holding rallies, making promises, running for office, and claiming to represent certain people. They assume this is politics, when in fact it’s only the very public facing side of politics. They see people voting a certain way, and see that certain way reinforced in the media and in culture, and assume that “politics is downstream from culture,” when in fact reality seems to show us it’s quite the opposite [2]. And so when people have “finally had enough” or have “woken up,” they decide to take matters into their own hands and engage in politics.

However, because they cannot see the deeper side of politics, they only engage in the performative, visible aspects. Well-meaning, hard-working, mostly middle-aged men and women who believe in forthrightness, equivalences of giving and taking, clarity of purpose and expression, and all the nice things which come from living in a high-trust, homogeneous country decide to engage in political activity, and in a sense they build their own political airstrip and try to wave down the great metal birds from the sky without first constructing the vast industrial civilization necessary to provide the political cargo. Soon, they get their asses handed to them by the advanced political machine whose moves they’ve been copying.

In this way, Right-wing political action has all the bells and whistles of political action, but lacks the infrastructure and the real machinery of power on which globohomo relies to enforce its will and win tangible political victories. Its inevitable failure leaves the participants destitute and demoralized, many disengaging from politics altogether, surrendering to despair, and believing the cause to be doomed. Others persist in the cargo cult, believing they haven’t performed the rituals well enough, and may even try to refine them, excusing the cruel whims of the gods of democracy. These mysterious gods reward the Left, but not the Right, the latter of whom nevertheless proclaims moral victory when they lose because they at least performed the ritual correctly.

Sometimes the ritual is so laughably ineffective that you have to wonder if these people are stupid, or if they’re perhaps controlled opposition. Depressingly, neither is usually true. They seem to genuinely believe [3] in the cult and are genuinely unable or unwilling to study the actual machinations of power.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the cargo-cultish nature of the mainstream Right. What’s tougher is to come to grips with our own cargo-cultism on the Dissident Right. We see the things that Leftists do and we ape them, believing they’ll give us power. The Left manipulates language, so we have to come up with an entire lexicon of our own. The Left holds rallies and intimidates the middle class with their violence, so we have to do that as well, because that leads to power. The Left creates music, films, books, and video games to push their message forward, so we have to do that, too, because that leads to power (politics is downstream from culture, dontchaknowit?).

Missing from this picture is the fact that the Left can manipulate language and impose culture because of its omnipresence: Every media and cultural outlet simultaneously begins using the new word, the new concept, the new whatever, and so it becomes part of the “culture,” Without that omnipresence, nobody could be pressured into using it. The Left can riot, burn, and loot – or have its bioleninist clients do that – and they’ll get off the hook because they have the legal infrastructure to shield them from prosecution. The problem is that the media hegemony and legal infrastructure are not visible, or at least not immediately visible, and even if they are visible, they’re incomprehensible if we’re working within the liberal-democratic political framework.

I suspect that the phenomenon of political cargo-cultism arises out of a peculiarity of the human brain, which is niggardly with energy expenditure. This translates into a restriction of cognitive activity, which is a big energy sink. This means that, whenever possible, the brain will default to recognition and implementation rather than observation, analysis, concept manipulation, or other forms of deep thought, because deep thought takes effort, which expends energy. Many of our daily thoughts are prefabricated, more often than not by others who’ve implanted them in us during our education.

This is not a bad thing. An inability to function in this proceduralized way using prefabricated thought patterns is a symptom of a serious mental illness we sometimes call autism. Autistics cannot easily put concepts in the “finished” bin and then fish them out by means of recognition whenever necessary, but rather need to think them all the way through every time – or, as Temple Grandin put it, she cannot think of “a church,” only of specific churches. In a sense, the inability to recall and implement prefabricated concepts is analogous to a pilot who’d have to relearn flying every time he sat down in the cockpit. This reliance on prefabricated, simplified concepts is, unfortunately, necessarily a simplification of the concept which compounds with the simplification already present from conceptualizing the thing observed, leading to inaccuracies in perception, decision-making and implementation.

To put this in plainer language, when the normal human being encounters a problem, he doesn’t observe the problem and its context in order to inductively develop and implement a solution to this problem, but rather engages in recognition: perfunctorily comparing the observed problem to a prefabricated library of problems, selecting a match, and then recognizing from the matched problem-concept a solution-concept from the solution library which is then implemented. If it works, all is well and good, but when it doesn’t, I’ve observed some very strange things happening. After the above protocol is executed and the problem doesn’t give way, the person trying to solve the problem either looks for an authority to give him guidance, which is to say to correct any errors he may have made in the implementation of the protocol in recognition, recall of solutions, or implementation of solutions, and so on. In a professional setting, the authority figure will either solve the problem by correcting the protocol or pass it off to a skunkworks-type entity within the professional context, which then develops a solution to this problem by observing it and working from it towards the solution. Said solution is then added to the solutions library of people who need to know about it.

But what if there is no skunkworks-type entity to solve the problem for our normal human? He has to rely on his own problem-solving ability, which is sadly lacking. The ability to solve a problem, rather than implement one that has already been prepared to an already-known problem (what most people call problem-solving) is very rare. From my own observations, I’d guesstimate that the cutoff IQ where problem-solving is even possible is depressingly high – somewhere in the mid-120s (the average IQ is 100 in white populations.

Then you have the necessary personality requirements for actual problem-solving. Without a functional solution, people just keep implementing the closest thing they know, even if it doesn’t work, sometimes even putting considerable effort into defending their futile activity and taking genuine pride in the correctness of the application of this wrong solution (think of the engineer in Chernobyl repeating “we did everything right” like a mantra). They end up smacking into reality like a malfunctioning roomba smacking into a sofa and gearing up for another crack at the problem with the same old, tired solutions. After a while, sunk costs take root, and still people are unwilling to let their solution go, convinced that they’ve not implemented it correctly. Even if a skunkworks is finally established and tries to work from the problem to arrive at a solution, people will fight the skunkworks, invoke seniority over the skunkworks, and defend the failed solutions because they have nothing else and would have to admit that they wasted time trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

This is further compounded by two problems which are specific to the Right. Firstly, the political Right is mostly made up of people who are very good at following orders, which is to say implementing known procedures to known problems, and who are inherently skeptical of innovation while valuing discipline, industriousness, and conformity. However, discipline, industriousness, and conformity are not traits found in people capable of developing solutions.

Secondly, the political Right, being mostly reactionary and bourgeois, doesn’t have the resources for the long and arduous process of developing solutions. Right-wingers will actually be proud of their political inexperience, or of the fact that they are not professionally involved with it. They’ll strut around saying, “I have a day job, you know,” like it makes them better than professional political thinkers. Due to scarcity of time and cognitive resources (working eats up a lot of them), this will inevitably produce a bias towards “we know the problem, we know the solution, now shut up and implement harder”-type thinking and philosophies.

Hence, the Right engages in political cargo cultism, endlessly playing out the rituals it believes will bring it to power even after they fail for the umpteenth time. If we are to win, this has to stop. I am asking you, whenever you think about a problem we are facing as a movement and as a people, to resist the temptation to treat it and the possible solution as a known quantity. If you catch yourself doing this, stop and think about it. I’m not asking you to develop solutions of your own. Very few people can do that. Rather, resist the urge to reinforce the cargo-cult message that we’ve simply not performed the ritual hard enough. Keep your eyes clear, and try as much as is possible to observe the situation as it is. Only clarity can get us out of this.

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