“How can one close one’s eyes at the fact that the demons themselves have taken over the rule of the world, that it is the powers of darkness who have here made an awful conspiracy”. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)
The last five years has seen a remarkable transformation of the political left. The left has been almost turned inside out, abandoning many of its long held and long fought for values along the way. But many voices on the left are now speaking out against this bewildering makeover. For instance, we can listen to a recent exchange between philosopher Charles Eisenstein and playwright CJ Hopkins on Eisenstein’s A New and Ancient Story podcast. Eisenstein begins by asking, “In the last couple of years, as you know, all of a sudden people who I thought were deep allies have defaulted to this narrow public health orthodoxy, and then unlikely allies have sprung out of the woodwork, who I wouldn’t have expected to see things the way I do. Care to comment on that?”. Hopkins responds, “Really nothing makes much sense anymore does it. I hate to use the labels, because what so many people think of as the left, these days has become this sort of authoritarian, quasi totalitarian mass, and it’s unrecognizable to me…It’s just a really weird time. I’ve given up labeling myself and given up using the labels because I don’t think they mean anything anymore”. To which Eisenstein responds, “Right. I’m always like, hold on, I thought the left was supposed to question authority, and now all of a sudden if you question the CIA or the big tech companies or big pharma, all of sudden you’re this Trump supporting white supremacist yahoo. It just doesn’t make sense to me”.
One of the great slogans of the 60s countercultural left was “Question authority”. Another long-time slogan of the left has been “No gods, no masters”. When I was growing up in the 80s, I saw plenty of bumper stickers that said, “Kill your television”. Yet now it’s apparently believe all authorities, obey many masters, and trust all the talking heads on the television. What happened here exactly? In a nutshell, Trump happened basically. The 2016 election of Donald Trump, and the corporate media portraying him 24/7 as the horrifying embodiment of so much of what the left is against, comparing him to Hitler all along the way, created a counter reaction and deep entrenchment on the left. One of the results, as Matt Taibbi writes, “Six or seven years ago, “Deep State” was a term you would only see in left-leaning media…In the same way hydroxychloroquine became snake oil the instant Trump said he was taking it, the “Deep State” became a myth the moment Trump and his minions started talking about it. Deep state warriors like Brennan, Clapper, and former CIA chief Michael Hayden, held in near-universal disdain before as some of the world’s most loathsome people, people so morally ugly it showed on their hideous faces, became immediately respectable by rebranding themselves as Trump critics. The early Trump years, in fact, made heroes of every tumescent peeping-Tom creep and spook in the federal register, now cast in the press as democracy’s infantry, saving the world through intercepts, informants, and leaks. In a flash, programs that terrified American liberals previously, like FISA, became weapons of Holy War, in the ongoing campaign to Oust Trump via a succession of investigations and impeachment bids”.
Trump’s use of the term deep state led to much of the left rejecting the whole notion, despite Bill Moyers doing a feature on it on his PBS show in 2014, and mainstream historians writing about it for years such as Peter Dale Scott and Michael Glennon. And it also led to the remarkable embrace of deep state players as the go to TV pundits, as Taibbi notes. In a recent article entitled ‘The US “Left” Has Repositioned Itself on the “Right” – Aligned with Capital, War and Repression’ on the website The Black Agenda Report (which is subtitled ‘News, commentary and analysis from the black left’), author Riva Enteen writes, “Those who still believe the Democrats can save us, continue to be shell-shocked by the Trump presidency, so his enemies become their friends. FBI pronouncements are unquestioned as gospel, as MSM babbles with retired military and intelligence “experts”. CNN has more FBI agents and federal prosecutors working for it than anyone outside of the FBI headquarters in Washington. The fox is watching the hen house, so true investigative journalism is dead to MSM, as they are now stenographers of the State Department. If fear is crucial for state authority, the free flow of information is essential to prevent fascism. The Domestic War on Terror under Bush was condemned by liberals. Biden's must be as well”. Amen to that. In an article for Dissident Voice, called ‘What’s Left? In Defense of Glenn Greenwald’, Enteen takes a different pass through the same territory, writing, “Many people ask why does Glenn Greenwald keep appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show? The question I keep asking, but get no answer, is why Greenwald, Tulsi Gabbard, Aaron Maté, Matt Taibbi, Max Blumenthal and Jimmy Dore can only appear on Fox? Why are they not on “liberal” MSNBC or CNN, let alone Democracy Now? The dominant, ubiquitous paradigm that cannot be challenged is – don’t go after the democrats. Greenwald, as Julian Assange, is condemned by liberals only post-Trump. The liberal visceral hatred of Trump has trumped rational discourse”.
The same thing has occurred when it comes to the pandemic. It began under Trump and responses to it were instantly absorbed and entrenched into the divisions of the bitter culture wars. In a recent article entitled ‘The Left’s Covid failure’, two self-identifying leftists (a journalist and historian) write, “Ever since Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro expressed doubts as to the wisdom of a lockdown strategy in March 2020, liberals and those on the Left of the Western political spectrum, including most socialists, have fallen over themselves to adhere in public to the lockdown strategy of pandemic mitigation — and lately to the logic of vaccine passports. Now as countries across Europe experiment with tighter restrictions of the unvaccinated, Left-wing commentators — usually so vocal in the defence of minorities suffering from discrimination — are notable for their silence”. Backed into an impossible corner by this “visceral hatred of Trump”, the left has turned a blind eye during the pandemic to many things it has long fought against, such as the huge transfer of wealth and the growing inequality that have flourished under the pandemic response measures. It has ignored the brutal human cost of the lockdowns and other pandemic regulations, such as the destruction of small businesses, the rise in suicides, overdoses, child abuse, divorce, spousal abuse, the devastating loneliness of the elderly, and the massive strain on mental health in both young and old. It has given unconditional support to its old nemesis big pharma, including a corporation such as Pfizer with a rap sheet a mile long. Russell Brand even had to defend Trevor Noah recently for the ghastly sin of even suggesting that Pfizer may have conflicts of interests. Anti-staters have championed the unchecked growth of state power, and liberals have actively campaigned for the reduction of our liberties. My body my choice has become take the jab or you’re a reprehensible refusenik, and a media that was once viewed as inventing reality and manufacturing consent is now unquestioningly accepted. The free speech movement of the 1960s has been swapped for celebrations of mass censorship. The postmodern critique of science (coming from many radical left philosophers) appears to have been forgotten, replaced by a rote “trust the Science!” mantra. The media slur against those who “do their own research” has been gleefully repeated, making a mockery of the long Western tradition of free and sovereign thinking running from Socrates to Sartre. Perhaps most remarkable, there are progressive churches implementing vaccine passports, somehow blacking out on the fact that Jesus took his ministry to all the outcasts of his society, including lepers. What’s up has become down during this painfully topsy turvy time.
There have been some notable exceptions to this general rule on the left though. There’s the Lefty Lockdown Skeptics out of Britain, who bill their website as “socialist anti-lockdown news and analysis”. The New York chapter of BLM came out against the vaccine passports. Long time media critic Mark Crispin Miller, professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at New York University, has been a very strong voice of opposition during the pandemic, paying a heavy price for it along the way (although he’s just been cleared of charges brought against him by his university). The civil liberties lawyer Jenin Younes, tweeting as @Leftylockdowns1, has been a standout voice. You can listen to an interview she did with libertarian Tom Woods, an interesting conversation between “unlikely allies”, as Eisenstein termed it above. The British Left, led by Jeremy Corbyn, have opposed the vaccine mandates as “anti-worker and repressive”, and have unsurprisingly been called anti-vaxxers because of it. Comedian Bill Maher has taken plenty of shots at the liberal left’s response to covid, and Russell Brand seems awake to deeper machinations going on. Journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi have managed to resist current left orthodoxies, although they write less on covid and more on the political arena, but it’s currently all entangled together. Freddie DeBoer continues to challenge his own side of the political fence, including his most recent piece imploring liberals to give up their unhealthy obsession with Trump. The emergence of Substack as a platform where these independent journalists (and others such as Alex Berenson) can be financially supported, has freed up some excellent journalists to write free from the censorship of big tech or overbearing editors, blowing much needed holes in the lockstep narrative control of the corporate media.
Not all this startling inversion on the left has to do with the figure of Donald Trump. Some of it can be attributed to the shift towards the woke left during the past several years, and the change away from a focus on class warfare to identity politics. But even then, the figure of Trump is impossibly mixed up with the woke left too, and as mentioned by our two authors above, any response to the pandemic remotely seen as right-wing/MAGA/Trumpian etc. has been rejected on the left with passionate revulsion. Trump even once joked that he should’ve said that hydroxychloroquine was a terrible thing that nobody should use, and then it would’ve been embraced. The Oust Trump at all costs mentality, spilled over and now ensnared within cultural responses to the pandemic, has created a situation where the much of left has now lost the ability to think in terms of principles (as Glenn Greenwald astutely puts it). If you believe that the right to free speech is crucial for fending off tyranny, then you want that right for your enemies too, even Trump. The left’s inability to uphold many of its deepest principles in the name of political victory at all costs, now has many within the left turning away from it and leaving. A recent and much shared article in Tablet magazine called ‘The Turn’, by Israeli author and scholar Liel Leibovitz, is a very good expression of this growing phenomenon. Leibovitz writes: “You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot. You are living through The Turn if you have questions about public health policies—including the effects of lockdowns and school closures on the poor and most vulnerable in our society—but can’t ask them out loud because you know you’ll be labeled an anti-vaxxer. You are living through The Turn if you think that burning down towns and looting stores isn’t the best way to promote social justice, but feel you can’t say so because you know you’ll be called a white supremacist. You are living through The Turn if you seethed watching a terrorist organization attack the world’s only Jewish state, but seethed silently because your colleagues were all on Twitter and Facebook sharing celebrity memes about ending Israeli apartheid while having little interest in American kids dying on the streets because of failed policies. If you’ve felt yourself unable to speak your mind, if you have a queasy feeling that your friends might disown you if you shared your most intimately held concerns, if you are feeling a bit breathless and a bit hopeless and entirely unsure what on earth is going on, I am sorry to inform you that The Turn is upon you”.
As a Gen X’er I’ve been on the left for over twenty-five years, but I too experienced The Turn a couple of years ago and had to walk away too. It was mostly for the same reasons voiced above, an abandonment of values, an inability to stick to principles, and the toxic nature of the new woke religion and its caustic and divisive cancel culture. I identified with being ‘politically homeless’ for a while, and then after having lots of positive interactions with those on the conversative-right (as well as reading black conservative voices in the US), I started to toy with locating around a small Canadian tradition called Red Toryism. And then very recently I just said to myself, screw it, I don’t have to leave the left just because it has changed so radically. I’ll just call myself part of the ‘old left’. And then I saw that Riva Enteen in her article defending Glenn Greenwald was also using the term the old left. The noosphere is like that. But it’s not quite simply a revival of the old left, it’s an old left that in my view needs a pair of assemblage add ons, it needs to thoroughly integrate the parapolitical and the paranormal. In Part 2 of this piece, I’ll sketch what a parapolitical-paranormal left might look like, and why it’s an important understanding to have during this world historical time.