The great 20th century thinker Yogi Berra once noted that it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. There’s no doubt that current events will prove him right again, as he has been about so many things through the years.
For one thing, logic doesn’t help as much as one might hope in situations like this. It would, if humans were rational creatures, but we aren’t, and believing that we can be made so, even in the face of both overwhelming evidence of the right answers and of terrible consequences if we fail to pursue them, is a path to madness. For all of the faults of his signature work, Stefan Molyneux is right to point out that preferable behavior is not at all the same thing as preferred behavior – what people should do and what they will do often bear little resemblance to each other. There are a lot of factors that play into that; normalcy bias, self-interest, panic, shortsightedness, and outright stupidity being prominent among them. People are most often slow to learn and quick to forget even the most painful of lessons. As Rudyard Kipling put it:
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire
It’s not easy for non-fools to predict the actions of fools, other than maintaining the general sureness that they will stick their fingers back into the fire, one way or another. But exactly how? Hard to say. They seem endlessly creative in finding new and inventive ways to do it. That’s one of the things that makes governance, even (maybe especially) by the smartest of people, so difficult.
So I’m afraid I won’t be as much help as you might like in predicting what fools will do in response to all of this, other than repeating what I said in my last piece about our political, social, and economic elites (the biggest fools of all!) chomping at the bit to wabble their fingers back into the fire at the earliest opportunity by returning to the status quo as soon as the immediate crisis has abated.
But, dear reader, you and I both know that this is neither possible nor desirable. We also know that, other than guarding against the damage that it may cause to us, non-fools must disregard the thoughts and actions of fools completely – they should have no bearing whatsoever on what we think and do.
So let me offer a few not-particularly-organized observations about the current crisis, along with some ideas about how non-fools should proceed in the wake of it.
My first thought is that the age of snarky, ironic, cynical, “2edgy4u” internet nihilism – on both the left and the right – is over. That was an indulgence of the fat, dumb, and happy pre-COVID age. It inspires nobody to useful action, and is thus useless in more difficult and challenging times. Beyond that, there is no humility to it, and if there is anything that the past few years should have taught us all, it’s that none of us know for sure where things are going or how we are all going to get there. We can, and should, take the steps that seem right based on broad strokes of historical knowledge and an understanding of trend lines. But over the course of my adult life, I’ve seen all corners of society, regardless of political outlook, caught blindsided by Black Swan events like the end of the Cold War, 9/11, the Trump presidency, and now the coronavirus pandemic. Humility allows us, when these things happen, to say that we were wrong, that events outpaced us, that disruption snuck up on us while we were looking the other way. This in turn allows us to be flexible, to be ready to fight on all fronts, and to take every opportunity that presents itself to us, foreseen or unforeseen. We cannot afford to eternally be stuck lagging behind paradigm shifts, holding onto outdated pet theories or comfortable old strategies out of pride, and “fighting the last war” as the saying among soldiers goes.
In fact, one casualty of this has been many people’s normalcy bias – the idea that there is an inevitability behind things staying the way they are forever. This is subtly but importantly different from the shattering of the “End of History” illusion that took place after 9/11. Yes, 9/11 showed us that the outside world was still a violent place, and that we were not immune to the effects of that. But at no point did it call the fundamental stability of our system and our way of life as a whole into question. There was a call to war, but nobody saw any need to re-evaluate any of the basic underlying arrangements on which our society operated. Of course, the elites who profit off of those arrangements in terms of money and power will not want any of them re-evaluated after this crisis, either. Yet it is now obvious that Modernity has failed to keep its side of the bargain in which we agreed to give up our traditions, our culture, and our faith in exchange for cold rationality and empiricism protecting us from demons like plague outbreaks that we thought we’d left in the distant past. To the great mass of common people, the shock of watching this sudden failure of its social and political arrangements has been catastrophically disillusioning. An unthinkable possibility has become reality, and this in turn makes all unthinkable possibilities seem far more thinkable. The ways in which this can benefit dissenters should be obvious.
Here I am not necessarily asking you to lead a revolution or come up with a plan to save the world. What I am saying is that it is time to start formulating and taking action on plans to detach yourselves and those around you as much as possible from a system that, in the pre-COVID world, we already knew was evil, but that post-COVID reality has shown us is far more fragile and unsustainable than most of us ever believed. And so, dear reader, I challenge you: It is time for you – for us all – to do something. Perhaps you can save the world. If so, I hope you do. But if you can just save the people around you by becoming a contributing member of a sane, stable, shock-resistant, and sustainable community, then you will have done a great service. Here is where I believe you should start.
The first thing you should do is to get out of the big cities, which history shows us are deathtraps in times of disruption. Here, a lot of ignoring of fools will be necessary on your part. First, you’ll have to ignore the leftist press and academia, which is already trying to gaslight the public into thinking that the coronavirus pandemic is a particular problem of the rural south instead of the big coastal cities like New York, a bit of ludicrous wishful thinking that a moment’s glance at actual data disproves. Second, you’ll have to ignore the fools who will try to convince you that big cities are the safest places to be in times of disruption, based largely on some 20th century examples of tyrannical regimes disarming the peasants and then taking the fruits of their labor by force in order to feed the cities. There are a few key fallacies involved in this thinking.
First and perhaps most obvious is the fact that in the United States (as opposed to Cold War-era communist states), the countryside is armed to the teeth and the cities are not. The late 20th and early 21st centuries provide no lack of examples of what happens when a traditional 2nd Generation army sets itself up in a nation’s big cities and tries to impose its rule on an armed and hostile countryside; as you are not fools, I need not tell you what the results of that have been. Second is the fact that the big cities are run by elites who hate you and want you dead, so turning to them for protection is plain suicide. Perhaps in a different era – say, in the East Germany of 1967 – you could have survived by keeping your head low and pretending to go along with the official ruling ideology. But we do not live in that age anymore – your skin is your uniform, and when trouble comes to the diverse big cities you will be targeted mercilessly for wearing it. Finally, and most subtly, there is the conflation of tyranny with disruption, or, put another way, of tyranny with chaos. These are very different phenomena*, and the realities of one will not be the realities of the other. This is important because at this juncture of history, we can observe that the Big Problem of the 20th century was tyranny, while the Big Problem of the 21st century is more likely to be chaos (with a lot of anarcho-tyranny to deal with along the way). Everything in the 21st century seems to be pointing in that direction. Its first decade began with a show of dysfunctionality on the part of the US government in its handling of the 2000 election, and then with 9/11, which, despite neoconservative seething about “Islamofascism”, was fundamentally an act of chaos and disruption. The wars that resulted from it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, far from ending up in the westernization of Islamic lands under benevolent American imperial rule that we were promised, merely sunk them all into chaos. Chaos and disruption are the forces that pull at us most now. And while these can work to our advantage if we’re smart, they’ll destroy us if we act like fools, which would include staying in the places where they cause the most destruction.
There’s a reason why smart elites in functional societies (as opposed to what we have now) have always kept country estates they could retreat to when chaos and disruption reared their heads. Heed their wisdom.
If any of you think I’m directing scorn at the mainstream media for their counterfactual attempts to convince people that the cities are safer than the countryside, I say: on the contrary, I welcome it. The more fools there are who stay in the cities believing that they’ll be protected from the effects of disruption, the better things will be for the non-fools who know better. When trouble comes, we’ll have enough of our own to care for without being saddled with saving big-city fools from the entirely predictable consequences of their own poor decisions. Let them stay where they are. And while I’m giving out counterintuitive thanks, I’d like to offer some to all of the Social Justice Warriors who have worked tirelessly to throw the Dissident Right off of social media, to get them fired from their urban cubicle jobs, and to render them unemployable anywhere except in the rural sections of deep red states. I know that for those who fear being “hurled into the void”, as the Zman puts it, this seems like the worst fate imaginable. But nothing could be further from the truth. What we on the Dissident Right need to do now more than anything else is to disconnect from the corporate and consumerist, to stop spending too much time on the internet, to get out of the diverse, polluted, crime-ridden, disease-prone, and degenerate big cities, and to start making things real in genuine communities full of people like us.
I moved out of the big cities a couple of years ago, and I can tell you from firsthand experience: It’s pretty comfy out here in the void. So come home, white man. Get out of the cities as soon as you can. Take a massive pay cut if you have to. Change careers if you have to. Stock shelves on the night shift at Walmart if you have to. But get yourselves and the people you love out of the cities before it’s too late – if it isn’t already.
(Yes, I understand the desire to stay in the cities. I lived in Silicon Valley for 25 years. I loved it dearly, and I desperately miss the old Valley of the 90s and 00s. But that world is gone, and it’s never coming back; we tread that path but once. And if nothing else, I can’t imagine trying to get through this crisis in my tiny old city apartment instead of my cottage with its yard out back and a hayfield out front.)
This ties in with another consequence of the pandemic that I’m already beginning to see. Of course, the effect it has had on the public perception of globalism goes without saying, but what I am also encountering is the first flowering of a new resurgence of regionalism. This is very different than what I saw after 9/11. In those days, the hearts of the entire nation poured out with love and sympathy for New York City and Washington, DC. Now, with New York City as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the near-universal sentiment I hear is: “To hell with them. Nothing good comes from that place anyway”. This is a troubling portent for nationalists, because it may mean that it’s getting to be too late for nationalism, if you mean it in the “From Detroit down to Houston, and New York to LA” sense. Eventually, we may all have to choose something smaller-scale to transfer our primary loyalty to. It’s not too early for each of us to start thinking about what exactly that might be.
I’d suggest you begin with something very local. This weekend, I knocked on my neighbor’s door and asked whether everybody there was okay and if they needed anything. They were fine, I’m happy to say, but a bond of mutual care was established in that moment which may help me out very much someday. I urge you to consider doing something similar.
With that said, let me offer some observations on the larger situation, and the likely consequences of the pandemic.
Behaviors will begin to change at all levels, from the governmental and corporate to the individual (though whether they will change as much as they should is an open question). One of the biggest long-term effects of all of this is that the government will likely no longer be able to afford a lot of nice-but-unnecessary things that it previously could. A sensible elite class would, in this situation, drastically downsize the empire and the military-industrial complex, and strictly limit social services to the truly needy, and then only to citizens of the republic. No, I’m not counting on that being what our elites decide is “necessary”, either. But something is going to end up having to give, now sooner rather than later, and the day is no longer so very distant when they will be dragged kicking and screaming into reality. For example, the days of blowing half a trillion on a fighter jet that doesn’t work, and doesn’t have a realistic mission even if it did, are very quickly drawing to a close. Lots of other outdated or noncritical things will have to go, too. Our elites will fight tooth and nail to keep them, but our journey to the point where they just won’t be able to anymore has been drastically accelerated.
Some other behaviors that are going to have to change include the populace being in debt up to their eyeballs and businesses being leveraged to the hilt. The cheap credit carnival was always just a sideshow of Clown World, but now, fun as it was while it lasted, it must be closed – the Fire Marshals of the Copybook Headings, having discovered that the damn thing nearly burned down ten years ago and is now on the verge of doing so again, have condemned it, and only a fool would ignore their posted warnings. Post-COVID, having nothing in the kitty for a rainy day other than a maxed-out credit card just seems suicidal. For corporations, beyond the obvious madness of rendering their business model completely and utterly dependent on an incompetent, corrupt, dishonest, unaccountable foreign dictatorship in order to function**, another behavior that is overdue for change is supply chains running at “just in time” efficiency. While maximum efficiency is appealing to penny-shavers, it leaves no slack in the system to absorb shocks of the kind we thought we were invulnerable to back in pre-COVID December. The smart will see the need to get more local, more sensible, and more resilient.
On an individual level, we are bound to see the same normalization of prepper culture in the post-COVID world that we saw with civilian tactical culture in the post-9/11 world. The prepper stash will be the new AR-15; only “doomers and extremists” wanted one before the crisis, but everyone will want one after it. There’s a great business opportunity in that for people more adept at such things than I am.
I will restrain myself from giving you much advice with prepping here, as there is no lack at all of smart, qualified people ready to offer thoughtful suggestions for free over the internet or in books. Instead, I will limit myself to two suggestions. First, you need not go overboard with prepping – an “end of the world” stash that fills every spare inch of your house is probably unnecessary. But you’d be surprised how well a two to three month supply of essentials fits into a relatively compact space. That said, my second suggestion is that if your living arrangements are such that even this modest level of preparation is impossible, move.
This of course brings up the question of “The Happening”, and whether all of this makes such a thing more likely or less likely. This is a matter that I must admit remains unclear in these early days of the post-COVID world. It could be that people have had their fill of disruption and privation for a while, reducing the chances of it. Or the forces that tear us apart could be accelerated, increasing them. Either way, you should make yourself ready. As for the effects on the political spectrum, at the moment they are a Rorschach test in which virtually everyone is seeing what their preconceived biases have conditioned them to see. Trust none of that, even among your own perceptions. Even the effects on the great issue of our day, mass Third World immigration, are uncertain, though there is some reason to be hopeful – it is likely that a poorer West that is less able to spend lavishly on social programs for the diverse, combined with a much-reduced ability for anyone to travel internationally, could slow it down considerably. We’ll see.
It is always true that the only certain thing in life is change, and thus the only thing that I can definitely promise you is that the post-COVID world will be different from the pre-COVID one. I’ve kept my predictions modest for a reason (there’s that humility creeping in again), but even at that, they could all be completely wrong. Take them under advisement, but of course, keep your own counsel about how you will move forward.
Just make sure to stay off the path of fools. It will be crowded enough without you.
(*Though of course, tyranny and chaos are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as Sam Francis’s insight on the phenomenon of anarcho-tyranny shows. But again, anarcho-tyranny is functionally unenforceable on a heavily-armed countryside, even while it is remains near-infinitely enforceable in cities. And it should not be forgotten that both chaos and anarcho-tyranny present an enormous opportunity for those who are able to offer a better alternative.)
(**One other minor casualty of this will be the bizarre strain of [largely Boomer-driven] pro-China xenophilia that has been a thread within the Dissident Right since the early Moldbug era. With apologies to the likes of Spandrell, Nick Land, John Derbyshire, and Fred Reed, the bloom is off the China rose, forever. This should also [again, should, not necessarily will] sweep out the last vestiges of free-trade libertarianism, and indeed all of the “GDP uber alles”, homo economicus thinking that has dominated much of the mainstream right since the days of Gordon Gecko. Those sorts of pre-COVID thinking are now on the ash heap with the cremated remains of a few hundred thousand former residents of Wuhan. Of course, our elites from all factions will still do everything they can to convince you that your primary foreign enemy is Christian Russia instead of Communist China, but anyone still listening to our elites on matters like this after the hunt for Iraqi WMDs came up empty-handed needs their head examined.)
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