The Kek Wars, Part Two: In the Shadow of the Cathedral

John Michael Greer writes:

In last week’s thrilling episode of The Kek Wars, we talked about the way that America’s managerial aristocracy and its broad penumbra of lackeys and hangers-on retreated into a self-referential bubble to avoid noticing the consequences of their preferred policies. As they did so, those policies—the metastatic growth of government regulation that strangled small businesses and transferred power and wealth to huge corporations and federal bureaucracies, the trade policies that forced working class wages and benefits down below subsistence levels, and the tacit policy of encouraging unlimited illegal immigration that created a vast labor pool of noncitizens who had no rights and thus could be exploited with impunity—drove tens of millions of Americans into destitution and misery. Now it’s time to start exploring how the blowback to those policies took shape.

Part of that blowback came from within the working classes that took the brunt of the policies just named, and part of it came from other sectors of society that were shut out of the benefits of the bipartisan policy consensus and forced to carry a disproportionate share of the costs. Another element of it, though, unfolded from a policy that elites always embrace sooner or later: the habit of making sure that the educational system produces more people trained for managerial tasks than existing institutions can absorb.

Why should elites do this? For them, at least in the short term, the advantages are obvious. If you’re going to entrust the running of society to a hierarchy of flunkeys who are allowed to rise up from the underprivileged masses but are never quite allowed to join the overprivileged elite—and this, of course, is the normal condition of a complex society—you need to enforce rigid loyalty to the system and the ideas it considers acceptable. The most effective way to this is to set candidates for flunkeyhood against each other in a savage competition that most will lose.

As your prospective flunkeys climb over one another, kicking and clawing their way toward a sharply limited number of positions of wealth and influence, any weakness becomes a weapon in the hands of rivals. You thus can count on getting the best, the brightest, and—above all—those who have sedulously erased from their minds any tendency to think any thought not preapproved by the conventional wisdom. Your candidates will be earnest, idealistic, committed, ambitious, if that’s what you want them to be; ask them to be something else and you’ll get that, too, because under the smiling and well-groomed facade you’ve got a bunch of panicked conformists whose one stark terror is that they will somehow fail to please their masters.

It’s the losers in that competition who matter here, though. There are always some of them, and in modern America there are a lot of them: young men and women who got shoved aside in the stampede for those positions of wealth and influence, and didn’t even get the various consolation prizes our society offers the more successful end of the also-rans. They’re the ones who for one reason or another—lack of money, lack of talent, lack of desire—didn’t take all the right classes, do all the right extracurricular activities, pass all the right tests, think all the right thoughts, and so fell by the wayside.

Not all of the losers in question live in their moms’ basements and spend their days playing video games, but a significant number do. In today’s America, remember, jobs are scarce, rents have been artificially inflated to an absurd degree, and what used to be the normal trajectory toward an independent adult life has been slammed shut for a very large number of young people. So those who have been shut out, the educated failures, gather online, play video games, and frequent online forums such as “the chans”—websites such as 4chan and 8chan—where posts are anonymous, the rules that govern acceptable discourse no longer apply, and the more offensive to the privileged an idea is, the better it goes over.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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