C J Hopkins is an American playwright, author and political satirist/commentator based in Berlin. His debut novel Zone 23, published in 2017, describes a post-catastrophic, ‘genetically-corrected’ corporatist society in which dissent has been pathologised. He has since published two books, a darkly satirical chronicle of the US political scene during the Trump administration and a collection of essays from his blog Consent Factory. Since the beginning of 2020, his texts have focused on exposing the ways the global neo-liberal regime uses the Covid narrative as a tool to criminalise dissent. This is a written exchange between us.
Daniel Miller: The German intelligence agency has recently invented a new category of ‘extremists’ in order to monitor anyone questioning the official narrative of the so-called pandemic. You continue to publish extremely incisive columns doing just that. Do you think you are under secret police surveillance?
C J Hopkins: Who knows? Probably not, as I assume the Bundesverfassungsschutz [Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution] has bigger fish to surveil. I’m not a German activist or an organiser. I’m just an expatriate author with a blog. Then again, given the level of paranoia and fanaticism in Germany these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on the periphery of their radar somewhere.
DM: Analysing what has taken place over the last fifteen months presents a complex problem, especially with respect to these two entangled dimensions of collective psychology and organised, deliberate project. The mass hysteria of general populations and the conformism of mid-ranking functionaries cannot plausibly be attributed to a direct chain of command but relates to how certain groups of individuals are structurally incentivised to obey political authority, and not ask questions. At the same time, there is also a deliberately and systematically organised psychological project designed precisely to provoke hysteria and compel compliance in the service of definite political and economic goals. This project has so far been highly effective.
CJH: Yes, that describes the formative stages of any totalitarian ideological system. There is always a small minority of conscious actors driving the movement, but its success ultimately depends on converting the masses to the new ideology, or just terrorising them into compliance with propaganda and brute force. I described the last 12-14 months as Phase 1 of the ‘New Normal’, i.e. the ‘shock-and-awe’ phase, in a recent column. But that was meant to alert readers to what is happening, not to provide an analysis of its components. Societal-scale ideological transformations like this are always terribly complex affairs, a combination of deliberate and organic elements. The organic elements (i.e. the manipulation of the masses) seem clear and familiar. I’m not sure how deliberate the deliberate elements are. Frankly, I’ve been more focused on opposing them than analysing them. I think we are at a stage where the ‘New Normal’ can be, if not entirely stopped, then at least significantly crippled, or forced to adjust its trajectory, such that possibilities for resistance remain. As for analysing and articulating the structure and dynamics of power in our supra-national, global-capitalist age, that is a much larger and longer-term endeavour, one I’ve been touching on in my Consent Factory columns, but they aren’t the right vehicle for a serious, in-depth, philosophical analysis.
DM:The slide into totalitarianism has been accelerating for a while. Over the last several decades and especially the last few years we’ve seen a major erosion of professional expertise and independence in all key political sectors and in the last ten years an ideological corruption of language resembling the corruption of the ‘language of the Third Reich’, analysed by Victor Klemperer. The period before the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia was characterised in part by a major overproduction of intelligentsia and this has now also occurred in the West. Today with millennials we face simultaneously the most educated and the poorest generation in the West for a hundred years.
CJH: The roll-out of the ‘New Normal’ is a quantum step in this direction . . .
DM: Perhaps the so-called ‘Great Reset’ is more accurately described as a ‘Great Acceleration’ given that it proposes to intensify these megatrends. Already, digitalisation, atomisation and proletarianisation have intensified over the last fourteen months. As they say, ‘you will own nothing and you will be happy’. ‘You will own nothing’ is already the way things are going. Why ‘you will be happy’ is not immediately obvious but perhaps you will be on compulsory psychotropic medication, as required by your mandatory vaccine passport. One question I have about this concerns the motivations of the elite in pushing towards these goals. Do they believe what they say, or is this all purely instrumental for them?
CJH: People are strange creatures. Most of us are capable of ‘believing’ in things we don’t actually believe, and then turning around and not believing them as soon as believing them no longer serves our purposes.
I tend to focus more on systems than individuals. As I’ve written in my columns, I don’t believe there’s a roomful of global capitalists sitting around at Davos or Bilderberg or wherever consciously conspiring to implement the next phase of world domination. It’s more like what Chomsky and Herman describe in Manufacturing Consent regarding the corporate media and censorship. Those in positions of power in the system don’t have to be told what to think or what to do. They know what they are supposed to think, and what they’re supposed to do, or they wouldn’t be in those positions. They’ve been trained to serve the system for years, and to justify and rationalise their service however they need to, and that includes ‘believing’ whatever official narrative they need to believe to maintain and/or advance their positions and remain in good standing with their peers. This remains true at the highest levels of the system, where it is the structure and needs of the system itself that generates the ‘beliefs’ and ‘vision’ of those in the most powerful positions.
As for the ‘Great Reset’, it looks to me like another major step in the process of consolidation and restructuring that global capitalism has been carrying out since the early 1990s, when it became the first truly globally hegemonic ideological system in history. When a system is globally hegemonic — and I don’t think we’ve gotten our minds around that fact and what it means yet — it has no external adversaries, because there is no longer an ‘outside’. It controls the entirety of the territory. Once that has been achieved, the system needs to (a) restructure itself to adapt to its hegemonic supremacy, which is an altogether different circumstance than the struggle for supremacy that preceded it, and (b) identify and neutralise internal opposition — again, because there is no longer any external opposition. It doesn’t really matter how conscious the ‘elites’ are of this process. The evolution of the system demands it.
If you look at the history of the last 30 years through that lens, what you will see is global capitalism restructuring itself as an unopposed, globally hegemonic system and neutralising any and all forms of internal opposition. The ‘War on Terror’, the ‘War on Populism’ (i.e. 2016-2020) and now the roll-out of this new, more openly totalitarian form of global-capitalist ‘society’ are not at all surprising. On the contrary, they are exactly the steps one would expect a newly-established globally hegemonic system to take.
DM: You identify global capitalism (or ‘GloboCap’) as the central actor in this drama. There is another school of thought, descending from James Burnham, which argues that we are no longer exactly in a capitalist system, but a form of managerialism resembling fascism, since it effects a merger between state and corporate power. In either case, one could ask whether this system is as acephalic and automated as you seem to suggest. After all, elites really do gather in Davos, and it seems hard to imagine that they don’t plan collective exploits together or have no ability to do so. You speak of global-capitalism ‘restructuring itself’ but the global system is actively being restructured by particular agents?
The Great Reset is clearly an extremely bold plan being explicitly pushed by a small circle of powerful stakeholders. Beneath this command level, a much larger group of cadres is implementing their policy. This larger group actually appears almost mind-controlled. To what extent are people hypnotising each other, and to what extent there are fully lucid individuals floating above the maelstrom? As Burroughs says, ‘only a very few Senders know what they are doing and these top Senders are the most evil and dangerous men in the world’.
Finally, although global capitalism is perhaps hegemonic, it is still composed of different power centres who don’t share exactly the same interests, above all China, Russia and the West. Each of these zones, which are also themselves subdivided, has handled the ‘New Normal’ in different ways with Russia the most sceptical, China the most cynical, and the West the most fanatically deranged. Sometimes I wonder whether what we are living through is the death rattle of a delusional and dying Western system, rather than the imposition of a new paradigm of global government.
CJH: Of course there are individual agents carrying out the restructuring of global capitalism. Systems are comprised of and maintained by individual agents. My point is that these individuals are essentially interchangeable components of the system, the fundamental structure and evolution of which frames their decisions and actions. An ideological system is like a tennis court, a chessboard or an artistic medium. It establishes the territory and the rules according to which individuals think and act. In a tennis tournament, the individual players on the court change, but they are all playing tennis. Same goes for any artistic medium. You can’t play music with paint, or paint with a piano. Language is another useful analogy. Anyone who speaks more than one knows that the structure of the language determines how you think, how you perceive, what you are able to express.
It would be convenient if there were a clutch of conspirators at the top of the pyramid orchestrating everything according to an arbitrary master plan. Then we could ‘storm the Bastille’, chop off a few heads, and radically change things. It’s tempting to see things that way, because there are identifiable people at the top. But global capitalism is a Hydra. Chopping individual heads off achieves nothing, other than replacing the heads with other heads. And the Hydra remains the Hydra.
As for global capitalism being total, I would argue that it is. I’m talking about global capitalism as a global ideology first and foremost, and as a global economic and financial system that every ‘developed’ nation is an interdependent part of, including China and Russia, and even ‘pariah’ countries such as Cuba or Iran. We’re so used to thinking in terms of sovereign nation-states competing with other sovereign nation-states that we haven’t quite gotten our minds around the fact that they are not the primary actors any more. Of course that level of competition continues, but it is more like the competition between corporations . . . a struggle for dominance within the global capitalist system, as opposed to a struggle for the power to dictate the nature of the system itself. That struggle is over for now, or rather, it continues differently, as insurgent movements from within the system, because, again, there is no ‘outside’.
DM: This analysis is drawn from Marxist approaches, which in your hands as well as those of others continue to demonstrate their critical utility. But I also wonder whether they don’t also arrive at a limit. To the extent that they posit an unsurpassable, total system, it seems that resistance is futile. Nevertheless, you wrote earlier about efforts to ‘cripple’ the New Normal before it has a chance to fully install itself. How do you think this could take place?
CJH: I certainly read a lot of Marx as a younger man, along with a lot of other philosophers, but I’m not sure what is specifically Marxist about my perspective, nor do I think that it posits an unsurpassable system. No system is unsurpassable. Everything passes away, eventually. It is just a question of when and how.
As for crippling the implementation of the ‘New Normal’, that’s already happening and has been since the beginning. Any form of totalitarianism ultimately depends on its foot soldiers to carry out its edicts. Although the majority of the Western masses have been collaborating with it so far, there is a sizeable minority that has opposed the ‘New Normal’ from the outset. We’re at a critical stage at the moment. On the one hand, opposition is growing, and even a few prominent public figures who have remained silent for the last year are starting to feel like they have a licence to criticise or at least question the official Covid narrative. On the other hand, the authorities appear to be determined to carry out this ideological shift, mainly by imposing their new pathologised segregation system. It’s a question of how many people will continue to follow orders now that the ‘shock and awe’ phase is over.
It’s up to those of us who have been resisting the ‘New Normal’ from the outset to urge others who see the insanity of it, but who have been silent until now, to speak out and stop complying. To do that, we have to refuse to behave according to the rules of the official narrative and generate as much social friction as possible by doing so. Basically, we have to demonstrate with our actions that the ‘New Normal’ is a paranoid, totalitarian, ideological movement with no basis in reality, so that those who are complying with it are confronted by that fact.
As I have stated repeatedly, whatever the virus is or isn’t, we do not need a ‘New Normal’ because of a virus. The notion that we need to radically restructure human society because of a virus, any virus, is literally insane. We need to force those complying with the ‘New Normal’ to face the insanity of their actions and beliefs. It may not work, but it’s our only chance.
This article first appeared in IM1776 on May 21, 2021, and is republished by kind permission.