A cultural revolution in the usa?

Dorothy and I are enjoying a convention weekend – not the usual literary conventions, which have been disrupted by COVID-19 since early last year, but a small local con that was the inspiration of fellow author, blogger and friend J. L. Curtis (a.k.a. Old NFO).  In April last year he organized the first Foolzcon, named for April Fool’s Day, designed to bring together a small number of like-minded writers and authors to enjoy each other’s company (along with good food and all that goes with it), and inspire each other in a mutually creative environment.  It was a lot of fun, so in the ongoing absence of regular cons, he repeated it this year.  About forty of us have gathered (including almost everyone in the North Texas Writers, Shooters and Pilots Association) to talk the house down at a local campsite.  Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Of course, we can’t help but be concerned about the ongoing – and increasingly rapid – deterioration in the writing environment in the United States.  Many of us, including yours truly, believe that serious social unrest (possibly as bad as a fourth-generation civil-war-type struggle) is at best months, if not weeks away.  I’ve heard a number of discussions this weekend about preparing for such an environment, and how it’ll affect creativity, writing and marketing.  Censorship and active de-platforming are considered likely for those who dissent from the politically correct script du jour.

In that light, I thought a look back at how China’s so-called “Cultural Revolution” affected that nation.  Any US civil struggle may be more like that – an ideological struggle – than like the battlefields of the first American Civil War.  Charles Hugh Smith recently wrote about the subject, and makes some cogent points.  Here’s an excerpt from his article.  Bold and non-italic print are his emphasis.

There is a whiff of unease in the air as beneath the cheery veneer of free money for almost everyone, inequality and polarization are rapidly consuming what’s left of common ground in America.

Though there are many systemic differences between China and the U.S., humans in every nation are all still running Wetware 1.0 and so it is instructive to consider what can be learned from China’s Cultural Revolution 1966-1976.

. . .

… groups modified their alliances, identities and definitions of “class enemies” on the fly, entirely free of central authorities. Factions splintered, regrouped and splintered again. In the chaos, no one was safeThe unifying thread in my view is the accused belonged to some “counter-revolutionary” elite –or they were living vestiges of a pre-revolutionary elite (children of the landlord class, professors, etc.)–and it was now open season on all elites, presumed or real.

What generates such spontaneous, self-organizing violence on a national scale? My conclusion is that cultural revolutions result from the suppression of legitimate political expression and the failure of the regime to meet its lofty idealistic goals.

Cultural revolutions are an expression of disappointment and frustration with corruption and the lack of progress in improving everyday life, frustrations that have no outlet in a regime of self-serving elites who view dissent as treason and/or blasphemy.

. . .

When there is no relief valve in the pressure cooker, it’s eventually released in a Cultural Revolution that unleashes all the bottled-up frustrations on elites which are deemed politically vulnerable. These frustrations have no outlet politically because they’re threatening to the status quo.

All these repressed emotions will find some release and expression, and whatever avenues are blocked by authorities will channel the frustrations into whatever is still open.

A Cultural Revolution takes the diversity of individuals and identities and reduces them into an abstraction which gives the masses permission to criticize the abstract class that “deserves” whatever rough justice is being delivered by the Cultural Revolution … the definition of who deserves long overdue justice shifts with the emergent winds, and so those at the head of the Revolution might find themselves identified as an illegitimate elite that must be unseated.

I submit that these conditions exist in the U.S.: the systemic failure of the status quo to deliver on idealized promises and the repression of dissent outside “approved” (i.e. unthreatening to the status quo) boundaries.

. . .

To protect itself, a repressive status quo implicitly signals that the masses can release their ire on an abstract elite with indistinct boundaries–a process that will divert the public anger, leaving the Powers That Be still in charge.

But just as in China’s Cultural Revolution, central authorities will quickly lose control of conditions on the ground. They will maintain the illusion of control even as events spiral ever farther from their control. The falcon will no longer hear the falconer.

In other words, once the social pressure cooker valve gives way, then the unleashed forces soon grasp that there are few limits on what they can criticize as long as they do so within an implicitly approved narrative … The extreme inequalities of wealth and power that are now the dominant dynamic in America are heating the cultural pressure cooker … The lesson of China’s Cultural Revolution in my view is that once the lid blows off, everything that was linear (predictable) goes non-linear (unpredictable, fragmented, contingent, emergent, prone to extremes, uncontrollable). If America experiences a Cultural Revolution, the outcome won’t lend itself to tidiness or predictability.

To use an analogy from previous blog posts, if the pendulum is pushed to an extreme, when it’s released, it will reach an equivalent extreme (minus a bit of friction) at the opposite end.

There’s more at the link.  Thought-provoking and highly recommended reading.

As writers and creators, I submit that we will do well to start thinking about the potential consequences of our present political impasse for our output, and how we get it to our followers and fans.  That may prove much more difficult in future than it is at present.  For those of us for whom this is our livelihood, that’s not good news.

13 comments

  1. Um… since when is the violence “spontaneous” or “self-organizing”? Paying people to hold riots, shipping weaponry and bricks, and then shipping rioters from town to town, is not self-organizing. There are a few traditional urban riots going on, with traditional urban riot/loot stuff. But most of the time, it’s basically a matter of paid employees following orders, with paid DA’s and paid bail.

    It’s like a Cirque de Soleil tour, with roadies and performers, except with more destruction.

    1. That may be the past/current pattern but those types may escape the control of the pay-masters.

      Of course, there can be the problem of copy-cats and counter-protests.

    2. Those are the instigators. But they signal to people that “you can riot now” — that it is (relatively) safe to do so, in the numbers you will get.

      For instance, British football fans regularly riot after games because that’s what you do, and so they will be safe.

  2. Only a relative few are paid/organized – the majority “catch” the emotional fever, which then explodes in only semi-predictable ways.

    1. It’s a bit hard to tell given the number of high death count events in Mao’s China, and the censorship.

    2. Not quite that many. The Great Leap Forward was 45 million, and the Cultural Revolution’s latest number I think is closer to 10 million. I’m not as up on that conflict as I should be. I haven’t been in the mental space to read about it, the past year or so, so my numbers might be out of date on the low end.

  3. Yeah, I’m seeing three warning signs in the quoted bit of the essay.

    1. Apparently ignores extent to which Mao was an evil person, who wanted that sort of result, and enabled it if not outright had the people doing it primed to do so.
    2. The theory of generalized Cultural Revolutions ‘smells funny’.
    3. “extreme inequalities of wealth”

    Not bed time reading for me tonight.

  4. “extreme inequalities of wealth”
    The odd part of that is that it is the wealthier people complaining about it; not the actual “wealthy”, but definitely above the median.

    1. Not so odd.

      Below median includes a fair number of people very busy, without energy to worry about social signalling by uttering phrases. It also includes some people much too dysfunctional to bother with using fancy academic words for social signalling.

      The folks that woke academese impresses are perhaps status conscious enough that you cannot impress them unless you can also hit other status markers.

      Above median includes people who are putting effort into becoming successful, or who are successful enough with less work that they don’t have any reason to want it to be redistributed to others. It also includes very rich people, who have ambitions that wealth cannot satisfy, and have decided that mouthing communism is the way to power.

      If you are looking for people who have energy to care about that form of social signalling, and whose wealth ambition exceeds their ability, you might look slightly above median.

      If you have ability which your extra work can turn into extra wealth, you have better things to do with energy than mouthing off in hopes that somebody else will do something about it.

      Political power inequality is almost something a reasonable observer could see in modern American society, but it still raises questions of “compared to what market basket of historical societies?”

  5. You didn’t invite me? I’m crushed, so I am. I’m in Texas, given some advanced notice, I could have been there.
    (Withdraws to private space, gently sobbing.)

    1. Not in Texas, but I do go by Fool…

      It might’ve been physically possible for me to attend, but would’ve been hilariously unwise.

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