Brutal repression and reality denial: the results of America’s imperial decline
This week, data scientist Rebekah Jones announced on Twitter that the government had threatened her family at gunpoint and confiscated her hardware because she had brought the public the truth about the amount of Florida Covid-19 cases. Earlier this year, Jones was fired from her position as architect and manager of Florida’s Covid-19 dashboard because she refused to censor pandemic data. After creating an accurate homemade dashboard that competed with the fraudulent official one, Florida police officers raided the home of Jones, all simply to cover up DeSantis’ own incompetence at fighting the virus.
Jones’ alternative Covid-19 dashboard is still in operation for now, but the possibility is present that Jones will be targeted by the state with trumped up cybercrime charges and put in prison for 5 years. And the mere fact that the state carried out this armed raid-which is a highly unusual action when it comes to the suspicion of nonviolent criminal activity that the action was supposedly based on-shows that something about this whole situation is deeply off. Given the baseless nature of the cybercrime accusations against Jones, and the reckless use of weapons during the raid, this isn’t a regular response to a reasonable criminal suspicion. This is an effort by the state to conceal the true extent to which society is being endangered by the pandemic.
The state wants the information from Jones’ website to be removed so badly because it gives very clear evidence that the centers of power aren’t telling the truth about this crucial public health issue. As of the moment this is being written, Jones’ dashboard says that there are 1,169,111 total Covid-19 cases in Florida, while the state of Florida’s official numbers claim that the total number is only 1,073,770. The only good news is that the official dashboard isn’t currently undercounting the number of deaths (which it actually was doing at one point, with Florida’s site having put the state’s pandemic death count at 2,931 on June 15 when Jones’ count put it at 3,022).
These are the kinds of realities that, in America’s age of imperial decline and internal crises, get concealed and obfuscated. Florida’s Covid-19 numbers are far from the only thing the state has been seeking to remove from view, and the efforts to silence these truths will ultimately go far beyond the level of persecution that’s now being applied to Jones.
In the country’s current era of increasing climate-related natural disasters, rapid living standard deteriorations, and seemingly endless pandemic spikes, a crude but extremely dangerous kind of late-stage capitalist authoritarianism is emerging. Its danger comes from its ability to turn reality on its head, to destroy scientific facts and critical thinking in favor of xenophobic paranoia and militaristic propaganda. It’s been present not just in policies like the Trump administration’s muzzlings of climate researchers and efforts to delay work on recent climate reports, but in the profound ideological and psychological influence that it exerts upon those within its propaganda bubble.
According to the predominant American right-wing worldview, both the climate and the pandemic can be dismissed fairly easily. Two-thirds of Republicans believe the government has done all that it reasonably can to contain Covid-19, even though the U.S. has had by far more Covid-19 deaths than any other country. And as of this year, two-thirds of Republicans also think that global warming is either barely a threat or not any kind of threat, a number which has only slightly decreased during the last decade. Which is even more incredible, considering that this last decade has seen a succession of unusually large hurricanes and wildfires.
These types of reality denial that our culture is experiencing are the result of a growing social engineering project. The ruling institutions don’t want the mounting of capitalism and imperialism’s contradictions to result in increased class consciousness, so they’re working to conceal and distract from the ways the system is to blame. The pandemic is producing haphazard attempts to control information from both sides of the partisan Covid-19 debate, with tech companies regularly censoring content that challenges the lockdown policies. This has opened up more opportunities for big tech and their intelligence agency partners to censor anti-imperialist and class-related content, with the incoming Biden administration eager to utilize these tools to expand this type of censorship.
The fact that the lockdowns have legitimately caused a great deal of damage to the wellbeing of the masses, with suicidal ideation and depression on the rise as a result of the forced social isolation and tens of millions losing their jobs due to mass closings of businesses, ironically adds to the impulse to deny the nature of the crisis. As do the moves from the corporate technocrats to silence those who step outside the mainstream narratives on Covid-19. The contradictions of capitalism are greatly fueling conspiracy theories, with the state’s covert propaganda apparatus eager to fuel “pied piper” false opposition narratives like QAnon.
The signs that a moment like this would come have been with us for years, represented by the frantic post-2016 efforts by corporations to censor alternative media sites, by the McCarthyist rhetoric that media conspiracy theories like Russiagate have propagated, by the onset of a new cold war that’s made Russia and China into unquestionable enemies, by the decline of U.S. diplomacy in favor of crude war escalations (a trend which Biden plans to make worse when it comes to north Korea), by the last decade’s war on whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, by the dismantling of legal protections against corporate and environmental crimes, by the Trump White House’s refusal to disclose drone warfare deaths, and by the country’s rationalizations of the human rights abuses within its migrant detention centers.
It was predictable that when a crisis like this virus hit, the worst aspects of our political culture would come to the surface and further erode the concept of the truth. As Chris Hedges wrote three years ago in his article The Permanent Lie, Our Deadliest Threat:
The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of “fake news”… Two million acres of public land, meanwhile, are handed over to the mining and fossil fuel industry as Trump insists the transfer means that “public lands will once again be for public use.” When environmentalists denounce the transfer as a theft, Rep. Rob Bishop calls their criticism “a false narrative”…When reality is replaced by the whims of opinion and expediency, what is true one day often becomes false the next. Consistency is discarded. Complexity, nuance, depth and profundity are replaced with the simpleton’s belief in threats and force. This is why the Trump administration disdains diplomacy and is dynamiting the State Department.
These trends are coming to the surface amid the Covid-19 era. And this is producing a popular consciousness that’s dooming us to continue the cycles of militarism, neoliberal economic deterioration, and state violence that have brought us to this point of decline. If the virus and the economic crash are blamed on China, the austerity and privatization policies that made our healthcare system so unequipped to handle the outbreak won’t be acknowledged. Neither will the country’s globally unparalleled military budget, which has been strangulating the social safety net for decades. The manufactured enemies will always be who’s held responsible, with the sanctions, proxy wars, military buildup, and foreign destabilization efforts able to be more easily marketed as a result.
It’s this hollowing out of the cultural discourse, this destruction of the ideas and information that can get people to start questioning capitalism and empire, that’s keeping the country flailing blindly into a future that will probably be far darker than most of us would like to admit. Eventually, the tactics that have been used against Jones will be used against journalists who seek to expose other types of evils, such as misleading war propaganda, civilian casualties, or corporate misdeeds. The military and militarism will continue to be integrated into American daily life. The internet will continue to become more closed off. Corporate power and austerity will be expanded at accelerating rates as the climate crisis continues, and as disaster capitalism becomes more normalized.
The trends we’ve seen so far portend to an even more necro-political future. One where talking about the social systems behind life’s daily violence has become even harder to do amid censorship, propaganda, and state repression.
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