And the Geotrickster Nominee for Person of the 2010s is…Rachel Dolezal!

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In the run up for 2012 a bizarre medley of hippies, conspiracy theorists, people who badly misread Mayan calendars and seemed to forget that their civilization collapsed before they could finish putting together future dates all came together to warn us of the end of the world…or at least of an era.

Well, the joke was on them. Or was it really? Maybe the joke is on us. Because now, at the end of the 2010’s its apparent that we have entered at least one new type of era-the era of mindlessly entitled and approval seeking behaviors. With the collapse of the world economy in 2008, neoliberal individualism could only maintain its existence and credibility through the hijacking of social issues and identity politics-and with the spread of social media’s popularity and up and coming generations of people who had never known any alternative but the post Cold War status quo-a whole new age of stupid was ready to descend.

2012 was indeed the decisive year. Obama won re-election easily against a cartoon parody of a vulture capitalist and then proceeded to continue down the path of tepid centrism not far removed from his opponent. That perpetual puppy dog Cory Booker defended Romney’s laughable non-career and began his own pivot towards the voice of American Thatcherism which he still does (to ever diminishing audience). Even more in line with the zeitgeist was the rise of the low-information voter appealing humanitarian hipster who was an easy mark for the Christian missionary front and unintentional Pentagon dupes of Kony 2012. It ended with the movement’s frontman, a kind of theater kid closet-case precursor to John Allen Chau, having a naked drunken meltdown in public while ranting about the devil. And possibly nothing was as emblematic of these times as Upworthy, the clickbait trollfarm of liberal virtue signaling that did so much to make the internet a cesspool of the rebirth of evangelism from the religious right to the social issues left. You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next, and Number 3 Will Shock You.

Before this period the internet was a refuge from aggressively complacent world views. It was a cynical, secular, and wonderfully unorthodox place. It was much meaner too, but in a direct and less psychologically manipulative way than the quest to mine a scarcity of virtue makes it today. Like a hippy boomer, it went from counterculture distraction to the mainstream in record time and with the most pearl clutching reactionary pathos possible.

While this new era of the Mayan Long Count may still be upon us for some time, I can think of no better time than the end of 2010’s cultural decade to reflect on who the spirit totem of this neoliberal sundowning era could be. And there is one obvious answer: Rachel Dolezal.

While Dolezal, famous for perhaps the most in depth attempt to LARP in blackface since Al Jolson (but with far more commitment to the bit as a serious exercise to be fair) is funny, she is also tragic. She was raised by seemingly abusive religious fundamentalist parents she broke with. She serves as a kind of microcosm of Late Capitalism and identity politics in one person. The utterly alienated and powerless, either too lazy or too ignorant to realize the true structural forces that make them miserable, latch onto increasingly niche social causes or communities they are not part of in order to have some power over their lives through the construction of a new identity. What interviews with Dolezal show is her levels of tragedy fueling her narcissism. The situation that caused her to seek a new identity is quite real, even if her response to these problems is mistaken.

This is so many people today, especially the terminally online. If a real commitment is not made to elevate the discourse towards materialism and away from postmodernism this is also our future. More and more powerless and perhaps originally sympathetic people just turning towards fantasy and identity. We see it in the Harry Potter obsessed liberals and the adults whose greatest travel dream is Disney World everyday. The problem with that is what little power you have becomes even more diminished when you start viewing public issues through the lens of inner reflection and personal labels. Only collective efforts can address the major issues of our times, and that requires relegating identity to a secondary status in service of the public good and causes that effect more, rather than less, people.

To end the Dark (or not-so-dark) Age of Dolezal we must usher in a new Golden Age of Civic Responsibility. To do that means not to give up personal issues but to wield them constructively in alliance with greater public causes outside of simply self-validation and attention seeking. It means calculating interest not based on personal fashion choices or cultural affinities but rather real calculable interests about how to distribute resources and who should have the power to do so.

 

The Rise of the Woke Warrior Wymynne

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A proper meritocracy should eliminate ethnic, sectarian, and gender discrimination in order to increase the mobility of its talent pool. In an anarchic inter-state system it should be obvious that states that follow such a reasoning will probably have a more intellectually robust policy class capable of more challenging internal discussions and thus more creative policies than its competition. This is a strong argument based not on morality but on strategic performance for the utility of what could be deemed an ‘intersectional’ approach to governing. One which I would support and could think of numerous examples in history where inclusivity in the policy classes paid real dividends. Amy Chua-of all people-even wrote a historically simplistic, if single-issue-convincing, book about this very subject called ‘Day of Empire’.

But acknowledging this should not make us blind to the usage of such policies in service of propaganda or an establishment which opens some doors while shutting others. Such is increasingly the case with the Woke Warrior Woman.

The Woke Warrior Women, or Wymynne if one is feeling extra spicy, are effectively the same lanyarded defense-nerds that have existed among the bipartisan consensus guys in American foreign policy circles. Support for military expansion and interventionism is always a net good, opposition to it is always at least misguided. American Exceptionalism is assumed to be at least somewhat true, and the agency or reasoning of foreign actors is often viewed on a scale of morality play vis-a-vis American norms and objectives. But now these types are more strongly identified as Democrats with solidly progressive chops on domestic (social) issues. Newly ‘radicalized’ by Trump and flush with the relative successes of the Obama years (fittingly, an administration that only truly succeeded on domestic social policy and reverted to Bushism on everything else), the WWW (W3?)’s believe themselves to be edgy and successful boundary pushers.

The actual effect of what they are largely doing in the present context, however, is to simply increase the size of the tent for the policies that are long since established as unchangeable and establishment-defended without actually changing any of those policies themselves. In many ways this is the cultural signifier for how the Democratic Party mainstream continues to drift to the neoconservative right. It is, in its own internal logic, a rational response in a way. If the international liberal order is no longer and inevitable end-destination of a humanity moving clearly on a linear and progressive path than perhaps this sinking ship can only be righted by taking it into battle and sinking all the other ships first. In this particular way the neocons were actually smarter than the traditional liberals-at least they recognized that their pie in the sky teleology was not reachable without hard power behind it.

Of course, rather than learn the lesson that perhaps the view of history as a universal and progressive process leading to a unified conclusion is far more faith than science (or even really humanities), it becomes easier for such people not to intellectually challenge themselves but rather just advocate more strident methods to keep their illusions going. The slipping of mainstream liberalism into neoconservative territory as reflected by the dominant wing of the Democratic Party is really a natural result of this type of flailing. They have to maintain that Iraq was bad-it is now entrenched as a partisan issue-but Syria and Libya were different because…reasons. Never mind both states were significantly better governed than Iraq ever was under Saddam or that Syria’s sectarian divisions are even more convoluted and dangerous than that of Iraq. Here come the Samantha Powers, and they know what is best! They aren’t some knuckledragging brutes, and so they can bring a different perspective!

Except that so far, they really don’t. Women, like men, are only allowed into the Beltway Consensus Club’s highest echelons if they tow that very consensus. In building a new government from scratch this may be necessary, but in an old and well established institution this can often be intellectual death. If growing the tent means the same ideological uniformity, then the tent’s actual potential for adaptability and new thinking is utterly squandered.

Madeline Albright’s enforcement of the sanctions regime on Iraq in the 90s was every bit as brutal in its effect and lack of results as the actual invasion was. Samantha Power’s complicity in aiding the Saudi intervention in Yemen is every bit of the policies she once criticized others for doing, and Gina Haspel’s running of an ‘enhanced interrogation’ black site was on the same level of support for bad policy that the once derided John Yoo used to give.  Maybe Yoo wishes he once could have played the woman card. It certainly will be used by much of the media and political classes to dismiss criticism of Trump’s new appointee to head the CIA.

What most of this, of course, is that the defense establishment has smelled the winds of change. They tried to hold the line on being somewhat conservative until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell showed them that, given shifting norms and the youthful demographic they seek to recruit, not only could they survive by adopting social liberalism but also that they could *thrive* with it.

This is not an unwise choice. The military was in fact throwing away endless amounts of talent before. It is perfectly reasonable for them to adopt this line as they move into a world where young people with socially reactionary views on gender and sexuality become smaller and smaller…But make no mistake, the goals of this type of marketing is just as much about getting on the good graces of the public and commentariat classes as it is expanding the recruit pool. If people nod their heads in agreement at the ‘wokeness’ (performative or otherwise) in the Pentagon or among defense contractors, they might be more willing to overlook the blatant financial malfeasance that goes on in such places, the mercenary like costliness of many private allied organizations, and the normalization of endless and unnecessary warfare.

If much of the establishment continued to hold on to the socially conservative front, it might be overextended when it also tried to hold on to its more bottom line fiscal and foreign policy fronts. You can only save so many dinosaurs at one time, and social issues represent by far the least amount of sacrifice for the old guard to dispense with. The military only looks better in the public sphere when ViceVox can write up an article about how Totally Tubular it is that These Women Drone Pilots are Spreading Wokeness over the Skies of Yemen!

One the other hand, though, at least their messaging has improved from the old ‘join the marines and slay green screen dragons’ days: