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Populism can only burst


A Ponzi scheme has built-in dynamics: he whole point is that the people into the scheme early come off well and are encouraged, and the suckers who are in late get fleeced. But not all schemes that are Ponzi in their dynamics intended to be so. Any market-priced investment has the potential for a fashionable wave of investment to inflate the price for a while, followed by a similarly exuberant fall. A proper Ponzi scheme is one, I guess, that is designed to have that dynamic or a piece of deliberate market manipulation that has that effect.

These things, when they are sufficiently blatant, are illegal. But this is merely a matter of degree and of the degree of asymmetry in the information available. In many small investors’ minds these effects are the whole point, as in the GameStop incident. The reaction of institutional investors to GameStop and its related surges revealed that they routinely use their size to fleece smaller investors that way.

If we concentrate on the dynamics rather than the finance, we can see that financial Ponzi schemes are only one member of a tribe of exploitative practices. Current politics all around the world has become dominated by practices that commentators call right wing populist, but which are simply Ponzi power plays. They build a phony trust to fleece people of political rights.

“You can never taper a Ponzi scheme”. The point of the dynamics is that you can set up a scheme and start it going with ease, but you cannot wind one down or normalise it — it can only crash. Even when it is Madoff and the Queen is a client. The dynamics are everything.

Non-financial Ponzis

There is nothing about the dynamics of a Ponzi scheme that says that the currency must be financial, must be money. What we are seeing is political Ponzi schemes where the currency is some debased form of trust or political capital. Conventional Ponzi schemes trash value, trash peoples’ savings: these recent political schemes trash the consent needed to govern a country.

They can only crash and we can see why. You can never rebuild legitimate government on the foundations of corrupt elections and dishonest tax systems. You can never rebuild trust in politicians who line their own pockets and those of their chums. These things are not democratic or representative and cannot become so. It is obvious ever time there is a political choice to be made that such schemes back away from any sort of accountability and democratic mandate.

The point about the dynamics is absolutely crucial and central. There are always political compromises to be made and talk of the end justifying the means, and these statements can be true. But as part of a Ponzi scheme in the modern idiom, such statements are always excuses and are intended only to kick the can down the road while the scheme does its corrosive work. We have written before about predatory delay, where delay which seems to be about inaction is actually active subversion and corruption of policy.

In financial Ponzi schemes, the investors are told lies about how returns are paid to them, where the money comes from. In political schemes people invest their political support and their hopes and fears: but they are lied to in the same way. The likes of modern social media means that different lies can be told to different people to amplify the political effect. It is instructive that the people lied to in this way (us, basically) do not set about comparing the lies they have been told. The gotcha is at a more visceral level than that: this is not about information.

To understand how the lies work we need to understand marketing and messaging. We need to understand how seduction is always a false promise of something. We are seduced by things we want to believe are true or can become true. If people can infer what it is we want to believe they are able to sucker us into a Ponzi scheme.

White supremacy and hypercapitalism are illogical and self-destructive ideals that only survive through the intentional eradication of coherence and the violent enforcement of “revelatory” knowledge and faith over empirical logic.

The Right has to be incoherent to defend them. Jared Yates Sexton

What people are given to believe in in such schemes must rank above evidence and information of all sorts, otherwise you will get premature collapse of the scheme as the lies are seen through. It follows that the central tenets such as white supremacy are subject to inflation: they must be continually amplified and enhanced to keep their properties. I like Sexton’s “eradication of coherence” above. Fascists believed in order and making the trains run on time. Neofascists can have no such cover of efficiency and effectiveness.

Fake news has its systematic side. You can predict what fake news will be about because anything that challenges or threatens the edifice will be denied and misinformation about it spread.

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.”

― Hannah Arendt, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’

Food fascism

Food fascism was there from the start of settled agriculture. “The state originated as a protection racket in which one band of robbers prevailed” is the belief of James C. Scott. What needed protection was the crops without which people would starve. The price of moving from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled agriculture was that you were forced to submit to a proto-state. And, of course, when states war with each other, scorched earth policies are common: always the little people come off worst. Always pawns.

The converse applies. If you are a fascist wanting to control a population then imposing a certain diet is a key strategy. If you think the current rash of “eat less meat” diet being promoted at global levels is about everyone having enough to eat or saving the planet by reducing emissions you are being incredibly naïve. We no longer have to be farmers ourselves to have a food strategy forced upon us to keep us docile.

As we wrote over a year ago, the pandemic produces a map of whose diet leads to metabolic ill-health and to susceptibility to the virus infection. What has been learnt from the virus is the polar opposite: the authorities have learnt how to cower us into accepting policies which do not address the problems but keep us divided and docile. We will get worse food, not better.

Why would someone want to tell us what to eat? The excuses are telling: there is an epidemic of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, whatever. So, we need to be forced to eat “better”. The fascist view is of course that people are choosing to eat badly and to get ill, and that the authorities are wiser about what they should do. But what people eat is what they have been sold, and there is more evidence that what the authorities are promoting is causing the ill-health than the other way round. So we get a doubling down.

Just to remind ourselves. The traditional Inuit diet consisted of fat (seal blubber) and protein, no fruit or vegetables. In Field Work by Bella Bathurst there is en passant mention of a farmer in the Black Mountains in Wales who ate nothing but pork fat from his teenage years and had a long, healthy, hard, working life. The deranged Trump is a good image for the outcomes of the standard American diet.

It is the need to persuade or coerce us into other food habits that is the entrance into the food fascism Ponzi that we find ourselves in. It is the need of the authorities to double down on their “advice”. It is the fantastically exaggerated predictions of eco-collapse and doom if we don’t cut down our meat consumption. Somehow, we are supposed to think that some beef cows in feed lots is worse (for the planet) than prairies teeming with bison (and the associated flourishing prairie ecosystems).

The tipping point

These systems become properly fascist when the need to have people believe the narrative overtakes any sense of what governance might be about. Remember the origins of the abortion controversy in the US. Abortion was never an issue at all. Then someone picked it up as a way of dividing opinion and garnering votes. Once it become clear that the population could be manipulated, then abortion was such a pressing issue that it become violent and there was no common ground or evidence to work from.

This process is not reversible. There are many issues where I find I cannot have a discussion about the nature of the issue because I know that the whole narrative is organised for some other purpose: it is about the people who must have control, not about the issue at all. The current set of sociopathic corporate executives believe that they must rake in more useless cash at all costs.

So there is a tipping point. If Dido Harding becomes NHS Chief Exec, then the NHS is no longer what it always was. Its purpose lurches into some other narrative from which it cannot emerge. It becomes part of a Ponzi scheme of channeling public money into supporters of the Ponzi, until the social basis is completely lost. This is not about efficiency or management or big data or scale or apps or telemedicine or any other quasi-technical rationale: it is about exploitation pure and simple. It doesn’t even need to pretend anymore.

The dynamics spiral into oblivion. Any individual policy or initiative might have a plausible justification but the dynamics show what the scheme really is. I find it fascinating how an utterly useless politician can, because he is so lacking, be wide open to being taken over in this way. Kompromat.

As with climate change the point of a tipping point is that it puts you into a different system with different rules. Trying to claw your way ack is simply not going to work. Once the NHS is gone we can’t have an NHS no matter how much we might want one or vote for one. The news item that most frightened and depressed me this week was that PWC are recruiting 100,000 more staff.

Belling the cat

Warnings are not the point. What I write here could be construed as a warning but it is not. The mice can’t put a bell on the cat. Facebook is out of control. In narrative terms we are already past the tipping point. What we speak of here is recognising that we are in a new system where the old rules do not apply. We need to look at how fascist regimes collapse under their own contradictions. But we haven’t been under a global fascist empire before.

What we might pay more attention to is the symbiosis of the players. What is the Faustian pact between big Pharma and incompetent governments? How can projects like Brexit mimic the abortion project, where are the deep gotcha’s? Caitlin Johnstone has described very clearly how the continuation of the US empire requires US citizens being poor and stupid.

In October there is a book by David Graeber and David Wengrow to be published: The Dawn of Everything, a new history of humanity. The book shoots all the key narratives that are used to oppress us down in flames. The antidote to being past the tipping point, to being in the doom spiral of a Ponzi is to use the hopelessness to recognize these narrative fictions as baseless and tendentious in the extreme. We just don’t have to believe that rubbish anymore. The authors, Graeber recently deceased, have a way of using scholarship to point out the already proven alternatives to TINA.



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Aidan Ward

Aidan Ward

Smallholder rapidly learning about the way the world works