Every Saturday evening out here in the mountains of southern Appalachia, the talk radio station that broadcasts from the nearest small city (it comes in pretty clear at night; not so much during the daytime) plays a rerun of an old Art Bell show from the 90s or early 00s. This past weekend, it was a replay of a broadcast from 1996, in which the topic was the Militia movement of the time. I was in my early 20s when it aired originally, so those times are hardly unexplored territory for me (though I will admit that my memories of 1996 are mostly a haze of Soundgarden, Animaniacs, Quake LAN parties, Sailor Moon, and not-very-successful attempts to woo the Japanese exchange students at my college). And yet, I found myself astounded at just how alien (no pun intended) the thinking expressed by both the host and the callers in those pre-9/11*, pre-alternative media days seemed. The difference in attitudes between then and now couldn’t possibly be more striking, especially in the degree to which people trusted the government, mainstream media, and civil institutions more than we do today. Yes, they insisted, the government may have been hiding a crashed UFO or two from us, but by God, we still had the Constitution! If the legislature passed an unjust law or the security services under the Executive branch became abusive, certainly the courts would sort it out justly and fairly, and if lower courts didn’t, there’s no doubt that the high-minded jurists of the Supreme Court would! And sure, the press (it was unnecessary to say “mainstream press”, because in 1996 there was essentially no other kind) might be a little left-leaning in their private thoughts, but they wouldn’t just outright lie to the public – if it was in the New York Times, or if Dan Rather said it on the CBS Evening News, then it had to be true! Thus, even on a program which based itself (by the standards of its time) on peering beyond the veil to find the hidden truths out there somewhere, the official government/media narrative of events like the atrocities at Waco and Ruby Ridge was simply assumed to be substantially true. And while they were, of course, imperfect and sometimes made mistakes in judgment, the basic goodness, competence, and honesty of all of the institutions were beyond question by serious people.
As I sat there incredulously listening to this piece of the not-too-distant past, I found myself coming to the understanding that what I was hearing was separated from modern thinking by not just one big paradigm shift, but by several of them**. It was from a time before the rise of the Ron Paul-style libertarianism which had its great moment during the Bush-era wars of the 00s, before the age of Neoreaction and the Alt-Right which followed in the ’10s, and before the era of MAGA and the Dissident Right (not to mention the Social Justice Warrior movement) that forms our modern sociopolitical landscape.
And of course, it is also from the era before the Great Pandemic of 2020. The fact that this will most certainly be another great a paradigm shift was driven home to me when I was watching a YouTube video by the author and Iraq/Afghanistan veteran Richard C. Meyer, in which he accused the publishing industry of being stuck in what he termed “pre-COVID thinking” – a coinage that may seem odd as we all quite suddenly try to adjust to this crisis, but that encapsulates a concept that is crucial at this historical moment. It is certainly one with particular relevance to us as dissidents. It is our responsibility to always be ahead of the curve, and as such, it is not too early for us to begin to think of what post-COVID thinking may entail. Doing so will provide us with a chance to ride the wave of disruption that has washed over us, instead of being swamped by it, as many have been and will be.
First, let us be clear on one thing: our society’s political, social, and economic elites want us to learn nothing from this. Those who believe that this crisis will change elite behavior in any appreciable (much less sane) way – that it will shock them out of their pattern of greedy, shortsighted, and ultimately self-destructive actions – are fooling themselves. Let’s not forget that 9/11 was going to “change everything” too; and it did for a couple of years, until the initial burst of emotion surrounding it faded. In the long term, however, other than using it as an excuse to help themselves to a few new tools of power, it didn’t change their behavior one bit. The pandemic won’t, either. Recall that ten years after 9/11, we had twice as many Muslim immigrants in this country as we had the day before it. Ten years from now, if our elites have anything to say about it, we’ll be doing twice as much manufacturing in China*** as we did before this pandemic hit. That’s just the way it goes in corrupt, declining civilizations which find themselves saddled with a self-absorbed, out-of-touch elite class running things.
No, what our elites want more than anything right now is for things to quickly get back to “normal” – defined by them as endless masses of urbanized cubicle drones working long hours (at least, until their H-1B replacements get approved) to pay off the mountains of cheap-credit debt they’ve piled up in order to pay for useless junk churned out of Chinese slave-labor factories. That was the pre-COVID model. And our elites liked it. A lot. So they’ll do everything they can to memory-hole this whole event – to put it in the category of “Hey, remember that crazy time when…”, as if it was no more consequential than Disco Demolition Night. That’s what they did with uncomfortable events like the LA riots of 1992, and ultimately even with 9/11, which despite all the weepy exhortations to “Never Forget” it, has drifted so far out of the public consciousness that even the burgeoning field of 00s nostalgia ignores it in favor of misty memories of GTA: Vice City on the Playstation 2.
But here in the modern era, in which we are (rightfully) far less trusting of our elites and the institutions they serve than we were back in 1996, we can say that just because they are unlikely to learn much from this disaster, that doesn’t mean that we can’t.
In the weeks and months immediately following the attacks, almost nobody was able to form a clear picture of what Post-9/11 Thinking would look like in the long term. We couldn’t see the chain of events that would follow in its wake, nor what the reactions of different parties would be to it. Some of what happened ended up being the exact opposite of what conventional wisdom predicted. It was thought that we would grow more cohesive and unified as a nation, but the political (and in many ways, regional) divide has, over the intervening twenty years, become deeper and wider than ever. It was thought that a “rally ’round the flag” effect would make the government more trusted, but (largely thanks to the rise of internet-based alternative media) people believe in it less than ever, with even the most flag-waving of conservatives decrying the “Deep State” (now there was a radical, out-of-the-mainstream term in 1996!) and demanding that a strong leader “drain the swamp”. It was thought that the aftermath of 9/11 would cement the economic and military supremacy of the Imperium Americanum, but even before the pandemic appeared, two lost Middle East wars and the economic crisis of 2008 had weakened it to the point of leaving many doubting its viability.
Among the many signs of post-9/11, post-alternative media change have been some of the very things that Art Bell and his callers spoke about on that radio show. A mistrust of the government and the institutions, and a desire to become less dependent on them, that seemed like fringe lunacy even to a program based on stories of Bigfoot, extraterrestrials, and secret projects at Area 51 no longer does; the unthinkably radical has become thinkably normal. In 1996, if the Attorney General and the New York Times said that the Militias were simply a bunch of criminals (and worse – racists!), and that “survivalists” were merely paranoid kooks, then that’s what they were. But things are very different now. The fringe of Militia members and survivalists has morphed into modern civilian tactical culture – which simply did not exist in those long-gone days. In 1994, a nationwide Assault Weapons Ban could be enacted because even among gun owners, few owned or wanted that class of firearm. But today the AR-15, which in those days was seen as the weapon of radical loons and was effectively banned by that now-expired law, is – by far – the best-selling rifle in America. The idea of normal people taking tactical shooting courses, now quite common, would then have been thought crazy. Even something as now-innocuous as a 5.11 store in the neighborhood strip mall would have been seen as puzzling in the 90s (“An upscale survivalist gear store? Why?”). Events have moved them far off the fringes that they used to occupy.
The bottom line is this: Big, paradigm-shifting events, of which the COVID pandemic is the latest, change the culture in ways that our elites increasingly cannot see, cannot understand, cannot dissuade us from, and cannot stop from happening. So all of us should cease caring what they think about it and how they will respond to it, and start formulating our own thoughts and responses. This will, of course, be a tentative, ongoing process, and may lead us down a few blind alleys along the way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start along the path.
And so I say to all who may read this is that our most important task now is to consider one central question: What does post-COVID thinking look like? What lessons should we take from this, regardless of what the elites may think or do? How far will all of the pre-COVID paradigms shift, where will they shift, and how can we place ourselves ahead of that curve? Most importantly, what concrete actions should we take (as opposed to only talking and not also acting – which is perhaps the most expired of all pre-COVID plans) in order to place ourselves and those like us in a position to thrive in the post-COVID world?
In the coming days, I will offer my own thoughts on these issues, but for now I believe it is enough to urge everyone on the Dissident Right to start to engage them. This is the most important conversation we can be having right now. Any individual, any group, any philosophy, any political position, or any movement stuck in pre-COVID thinking is now irrelevant, because the post-COVID world, for better or worse, is what lies ahead.
(*It was even a few months before the Atlanta Olympic bombing/Richard Jewell debacle, which turned out to be quite a harbinger of things to come.)
(**Oswald Spengler noted that, as civilizations go into the final stages of disintegration, the pace of events seems to accelerate, meaning it can go through a number of paradigm shifts that one might have taken decades or centuries in only a relatively short period of years.)
(***At most, this may convince them to start moving their sweatshops out of China and across the border into Vietnam, or perhaps to another poverty-stricken Third World hellhole with a slightly less incompetent [but no less corrupt and oppressive] government. But as for impressing upon them the point that becoming economically dependent on faraway dictatorships in order to save a few pennies here and there is a bad idea, it won’t.)