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  • Vlad Ivlev

Which way, Western Man?


You walk into the Swiss embassy. A popular uprising is brewing outside. A shredded paper trail leads you to a dimly lit maintenance closet. Inside you find your hedge fund manager, trembling, wincing, rocking himself in the corner.

“What have you done??”

“I-I think we sh-should all follow China’s example in this pandemic.”

America First. America Alone. America in measured decline. America the benefactor of rogue states. America the swinger of d*cks. America the neutered. America financially ruined by its own offspring. Fortune 500 America. Immuno-compromised America. America, private militia incorporated. Bureaucratic Bloat: America. Renminbi Printer, American Capital Ltd. Thank you for calling America, how can we actualize you?

Steve Bannon calls it the Fourth Turning. A generational divide. Weak boomers make strong millennials. But Steve, history doesn’t go in fours. History doesn’t go at all. The future is retroactive, and history is controlled anastrophe. Can you imagine the future? No, not cyberpunk. No, not fully automated luxury gay space communism. No, not the matrix. Is that all you got? That’s all too familiar. Too nostalgic. The future must be alien. And you’re no alien, Steve. You’re a familiar man found in an unfamiliar world. Trying to make sense of it the best you can. For many it is in fact the best. But your best is civic nationalism. And capital is fluid, nation is decay. A back-and-forth between Downsizing and Skynet. History is an imperceptible implosion, and only in retrospect can we pinpoint the planetary nebulas that gravitate towards the blast-to-come. We can, however, elevate the present, so maybe, just maybe it gets picked up.

What is in present? A pandemic. Is it a black swan event? No. Is it a paradigm shift? Absolutely. The Zoomer 9/11. Emergency powers normalized because our attention span is the duration of a news cycle. We live in a news cycle. Society of the spectacled influencer. Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race only a month ago. I feel like I spent lifetime in quarantine already. Some would call this the end of an era. In reality, the last breath of this era is comprised of several eras of its own. I’m looking forward to the era of June. To the era of next week. To the era of next Wednesday. How can we imagine a future when we get whiplashed by today? Steve Bannon can, because he doesn’t imagine a future. He imagines a future without America. And who can blame him? The World Health Organization spouts Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda. United Nations welcomes the CCP in the Human Rights Council. The CCP crammed itself into the North Sea Council, without even bordering it. Italy welcomes CCP aid with open arms. CCP debt-trap diplomacy is taking over Africa without proxy wars. Where is the United States in all this? Stuck between funding the entirety of Chinese growth and isolating itself at the same time. An impossible position. Can you really blame Americans for being paranoid? Can you blame them for looking inwards? And yet, this justified paranoia will be their undoing. Because, when the COVID-19 dust settles, the US will have a grim choice between protectionism and what Bannon calls globalism. One puts the US in the global backseat, the other turns the US into an Investment Bank with private security. I am at once in awe and terror at how the CCP has elevated realpolitik to the next level, before anyone else.

Let’s take the backseat outcome. How do you expect flag-waving, pill-popping, red-blooded Americans to react when their superpower becomes second best in all but symbolism? Insert 30+% projected unemployment, insert a federal government that cannot sufficiently administer to almost any of them, insert an abominable healthcare system, the steep rise of crime, Sinophobia. Finally, consider historically, what happens to a country with a sense of crippling national shame, for being wrecked by a crisis of their own creation, a nagging thought stuck in the subconscious, never admit but always presume. No, this is not a recipe for Nazi Germany. Remember the future is alien. The outcome will be akin to a Cthulhucene to us today, and seemingly inevitable to our progeny. What does that future seem to you? Speak its name so the future hears you. Scream it. Do it now. Ask a friend to join you.

Alternatively, lets imagine “globalism”, which really is the continuation of today. Milquetoast mediocrities posing as public figures get elected on insignificant moral accessorizing, glorified middlemen for special interests that slowly move all supply-chains to China. This outcome is way too familiar for me to be likely, but again, coked-up nostalgia can be as alien as a paradigm shift. Unlike in China, special interests in the US are far too uncoordinated to meet a national challenge head on, conflicting interests, parallel industrial sectors profiteering from each other’s missteps. There’s never enough austerity, and as Americans lose all sense of the non-digital world, desperation takes hold, an algorithm centralizes social organization, the monthly stimulus package, a down-market life-support gets extended indefinitely. A post-public future, where revolution is online!

“Gosh darn Keith, fellow CEO of neoliberalism.org, look at them go in the comments! Feisty little critters. Hold on a sec, is that one over there mentioning Taiwan?”

So, which way Westerner? Do you feel like you have a choice? Do you even have a choice? I might be too jaded to imagine a better outcome, but I can try. You deserve a happy ending. You, the stuff of dead stars, forged in the void to move and think by yourself. What a precious thing you are. I love everything that you are and despise everything that you’ve become. I imagine a future where we jerry-rig capitalist innovation towards a fair playing field, where you can finally feel responsible for your success and failures alike, so we can complete our life-projects, allow our passions to flow, feel politically relevant, learn from our mistakes, envision grand creative milestones and finally collaborate on collective projects so we can all feel proud of something, together. Escape terrestrial space and create a immense kaleidoscope of political regimes to choose from, spanning the entire galaxy. And as the universe finally grows dark, we meet again one last time and tell each other what we’ve achieved, the friends we made, our lowest moments, the dreams we realized, our exploration of the infinite landscape of human and post-human creativity and finally embrace each other in maximum entropy, before all matter decays forever. That’s a future I want to imagine but can’t. Try with me.

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