I often talk about the lanyards in a foreign policy context and how our technocratic classes are incapable of seeing past such obvious bunk as ‘American Exceptionalism’ when they need to be calculating actual policy and real life circumstances. Events this week clearly show that this dynamic applies to domestic policy as well.
‘The Mandate of Heaven’ is a concept in old Chinese political thought that effectively states that the gods/universe are pleased when the state is governed effectively and displeased when it is not. This displeasure is often shown by earthquakes, flooding, rebellion, and disease outbreaks. Obviously, to the smarter thinkers in imperial China, these events-barring possibly some rebellions-could happen at any time no matter what the government was like. So they added some nuance to the idea. It wasn’t the existence of bad things that showed that a government had lost the Mandate of Heaven, but the inability of the government to effectively respond to such crisis that was the issue. This usually had something to do with appointments being made on personal connections and perceived subservience rather than ability, along with unchecked corruption. This showed clearly that the government in question had become a malignant force that needed to be restructured or replaced. Either a different faction of the elite or a non-state mass movement would then begin the work of doing so.
Nowhere is this concept more apparent than in present day America’s out of control mass incarceration and militarized police culture, which is increasingly in the service of profit and well connected private enterprise before that of civil society. Despite being a young culture on the world stage, the United States is second only to Britain in having the longest lasting uninterrupted government model in the world. That is indeed a sign of success for this model, but entropy increases with time all the same. A workable model may delay the inevitable, but it cannot stop it. When a socio-political model outlives it usefulness people start to take notice.
Ostensibly set up to tackle the spiraling crime rates of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the most draconian policies of our present criminal justice system were put in place when the violent crime statistics were already starting to rapidly decline. This coupled with a growing siege mentality among American urban police going from community based to outsider-suburb recruited cops led to an alienation between the enforcers and the enforced more reminiscent of European colonial empires occupying foreign countries and governing them through constabularies. As the crime rate went down, violence on behalf of the police paradoxically increased. So did the percentage of citizens incarcerated. Until, of course, the United States took the dubious distinction of the most proportionally incarcerated society on planet Earth. For a society so obsessed with the often nebulous concept of freedom, what more objective marker could you have between a free and non-free society than the percentage of citizens in jail? But alas, the process continued.
Fast forward to the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent flooding of police departments with military equipment no officer was properly trained to use but more than happy to deploy. Around this (probably feeding off of troop worshipping post 9/11 bellicosity culture) formed a newly militarized police force. LARPing like they were deployed in the Sunni Triangle in surge-era Iraq, American police roamed the streets busting down doors and filling surrendering and sometimes even random people at the wrong address with lead from M-4 carbines and other such weapons. With this turn came a new sense of entitlement utterly divorced from keeping a communities’ peace as events from this week clearly show. The Supreme Court was more than happy to give these grown up bullies added legal protection as well.
It is worth noting that American (and all western hemisphere states) have a form of policing intertwined with racial antagonism towards black and native populations alike. This is because, from the start, the tragedy of our hemisphere is one of genocide and slavery paving the way for European enrichment. However, to take our out of control police as a racial issue alone is to miss the the point and, ultimately, to redirect criticism from our dying political order and onto a more elite-friendly narrative of ethnic grievance.
While no one doubts that being a black male puts an American at disproportionate danger from police, this ignores that being poor itself-across all ethnic categories-is the ultimate indicator of police violence affecting someone. One needs only see the death rates of people detained in and around impoverished Native American reservations or the dark and bloody history of union suppression in majority white Appalachia to see that first and foremost the police are the protectors of socio-economic elites and the upholders of a rigid class hierarchy. But the increasing murderousness of American police culture cannot be honestly confronted by our presently existing policy and media elites because to do so would be to admit that 1. they themselves caused this situation, and 2. they benefit from it. So while the racist element is very real, when taken as the absolute excuses for all of this it functions far more as a redirect. A way to protect the powerful from deeper criticism and inflicting the blame onto some kind society-at-large. This is religious liturgy and not serious politics.
This is why social media is currently flooded with self-flagellating white liberals posting about how they benefit from ‘whiteness’ and promising to ‘do better.’ As if these people or their feelings matter one way or another when big structural issues come calling. There are many whites and others who do not benefit from our present socio-economic arrangement because their skin color does not grant them entry into the truly protected club: the elites of the ruling class and their enabling minions. Yes, the ruling class is disproportionately white compared to everyone else, but its purpose is to replicate the presently existing oligarchy and it will still do so with a fully diverse public face just as easily as what it does now. Look at ‘progressive prosecutor’ Kamala Harris’ record as attorney general of California or Barack Obama’s tepid expansion of all the mistakes of the Bush Presidency to show exactly how ‘black faces in high places’ without changing the system itself or opening it up to greater ideological diversity is a relatively meaningless enterprise. It is why a significant gay support base for Pete Buttigieg failed to materialize and why it is controversial that cops be allowed to march in pride parades. No amount of endlessly chanting woke shibboleths like ‘bodies and spaces’ can possibly challenge this entrenched power. In fact, one suspects its popularity among media-affiliated classes is evidence that is it specifically designed not to.
By failing to confront the actual power dynamics of our societal level corporate and security state hegemony, this masochistic genuflection on behalf of liberals ironically upholds the very system it wants to critique. Amazon and Apple are out tweeting ‘Black Lives Matter’ but the policies unleashed by the deindustrialization those companies support and that require a prison-industrial complex to uphold aren’t changing.
To reverse-engineer right wing racial essentialism into wokeness leaves scholars such as Professor Adolph Reed asking the vital question: What possible end point could this have but race war? When identity takes over as the final level of explanation analysts are willing to tackle, it just shows that America’s commentariat is so thoroughly removed from a systemic analysis of how neoliberalism ruined civil society and facilitated the rise of the warrior-cop.
But nowhere is this disconnect so obvious as among the very people currently in the process of losing The Mandate of Heaven. The lanyard-wearing, cable news watching equivalents to the eunuch administrators of old. It is the politics enacted and supported by our governing and private sector elites that led to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent rioting. And yet it is they who are most shocked by the present turn of events. Why is this?
One major recurring element of states in terminal decline is a class of administrators who become divorced from the realities of political power. A society that has been around for too long without major structural changes comes to take itself for granted. There is an assumption by the lanyard-eunuchs that what works for them works for everyone. They ignore that all political orders are upheld by force because the force is never directed back at them. When I used to work for the government, the American Exceptionalist blinkers could be seen running full force. I could write up a thorough critique of how a foreign countries’ security service was driving up extremism and sabotaging civil society and be lauded for it…then if you made a comparison to America people’s faces would immediately fall. The assumption in lanyardville was always that America isn’t like those other places. But while many of the security forces from objectively impoverished countries I looked at abroad were more corrupt than America’s, practically none of them were as consistently violent or deadly. Yet to mention this to the wonk-class produced only stony silence.
Then, suddenly, a spark finally catches the tinder and the violence of society is pushed backwards onto the sheltered. Now it is their police, their buildings, and their institutions that are under attack. They cannot compute this turn of events and thus retreat into elaborate conspiracies of outside agitators, both foreign and domestic, that must be responsible for causing such chaos inside their perfect and ever-improving whiggish society. While no one can deny grifters, charlatans, anarchists, and pot-stirrers flock to such events like bees to honey, this is neither new nor is it ever a primary reason why such things occur. Neither Soros nor Putin could trigger a cross-country rebellion. But universal suffering across the nation under an out of control police force and the corrupt system it upholds certainly can.
The truth the lanyard-eunuch is afraid to realize is that most people don’t really believe in America, its justice system, the cops, the media, politicians, and the rest of the package. Those things are forced on them and technocrats believe in them, but they hold no sanctity for many others. And why should they? For the Mandate of Heaven to remain in force a government must govern capably. Ours isn’t, and much of the technocratic class is paid not to notice this or even to excuse it.
As America descends into its Late-Ming period of blaming foreigners and revolting masses for the incompetence of its own rulers, it would be wise for future policy makers to take heed from this perpetually recurring trend in complacent societies: That the realities of hard power always matter more than the ideological justifications upholding it. Though one should be doubtful there is a cohesive message in the present riots across the country, the raw force of a backlash itself has already moved the needle on our disastrous criminal justice system. Putting the fear into the police that they so often and so casually inflict onto others may make them think twice in the future before acting. Without dramatic footage of often excessive street violence the issue could be sidelined or ignored. It cannot be now. It is now up to the governing classes to respond accordingly or one day face their removal. Then, like the dynasties of old, historians will write the postscript of the era with, ‘And then, their heyday long since passed, the rotten edifice shuffled off this mortal coil to the delight of many and to the tears of the corrupt administrators who had made its replacement a necessity.’