Appearance on the Subversive Podcast with Alex Kaschuta.
Alex Kaschuta: Today, I’m joined by David Reaboi. He is a national security and political warfare expert, and the President of Strategic Improvisation Consulting, and the author of the book, Qatar’s Shadow War. Welcome, David.
Yeah, it’s super exciting to have you with me because I’ve put out a little call to people, asking what they would want to know from you, and it’s been a pretty popular thread because you’re obviously a popular guy. I’m not going to ask you the main question that everyone wanted to ask you, as you can probably tell because you were on that thread with me, people really want to know what your workout regimen is like and how you got those gains, so I’ll link to your podcast about this specific topic and then people can dive into that because we’ve got lots of other very interesting stuff to talk about because you’re a bit of a polymath, someone who knows a lot about a lot of areas and also can integrate this knowledge and have a multifaceted perspective on things. So I want to pick your brain on a few things that I personally don’t know that much about, one of them being national security, which is obviously a fraught area at the moment.
So one of the questions that I think someone asked in the thread, but also I found really interesting was the idea of the open society. This has been the ideal throughout the years and it’s been taught as this amazing innovation and this is the end of history, the open society is upon us, but it hasn’t been a smooth sailing as people had expected it to be. So do you see this format of the open society, this ideal, as something that will need to be reformed or will need to be looked at from a new perspective?
Yeah, it’s a really good question. I saw it on the thread and it made me think a lot. Though the first thing that I would say is there’s a temptation to think that we are the only actors in this scenario. So if you just take a step back and try to get a handle on the bigger picture what’s happening to the open society, or our conception of it, we see that in many ways the left has abandoned, let’s say, the enlightenment principles on which the idea of an open society is really based.
So if you throw out free expression, let’s say, and you throw out the idea of equal justice under the law, what are you left with in terms of an open society? You’re left with two options. Option one is to fight to regain those principles, which a lot of folks are valiantly doing—but I’m not sure that they will be effective in the long run. Option two is sort of where I’m at these days, which is to say, “Okay, we’re going to do as much public education as possible on the importance of these things, but where we cannot win geographically, we need to reorient ourselves to new political constructions that at least contain the kernel of a population that believes in those things.” So I don’t think there’s any way at this point of, as the old saw goes, “winning the battle of ideas.”
I think that’s mistaken in the same way that people say take back the culture. Well, you never had the culture. The thing to do going forward is not to win or try to compete but try to do something apart. Some say, “We’ll just create running commentary to prove why the things that the left does is garbage.” I mean, sure that’s great, it’s fun, but it’s not going to win you anything. At the end of the day, there are people who you are going to convince, there are people who already believe what you believe in, and you say, “Okay, let’s start a successful political movement the way any successful political movement starts, which is you focus with the base.” You focus on the people that you have, and you say, “Okay, how can we strengthen these people?” And then after you’ve done that, then “How can we expand the base?” As opposed to despising your base and appealing to people who are wishy washy. Now, I know that answer went everywhere because I think at the end of the day, this is the big conversation that we’re having across many different issues.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, though the question was super, super broad. I think this is a conclusion that a lot of people are coming to, especially because we’ve been in this hypocrisy porn phase of punditry on the right for a long time. And the hypocrisy porn is getting more interesting every day obviously because the hypocrisy is ratcheting up quite hard, especially recently, but nothing’s happening. Quite the contrary.
Right. Like all porn, it’s ultimately unfulfilling.
Exactly, exactly. At this point it’s like consumption, you’re turning on your Ben Shapiro to get your anger for the day, nothing’s happening. He’s not moving the needle on anything, and it’s quite disappointing.
Also, what it does is it froths people up, like the Capitol riots. It’s been the most recent event for people. Obviously, I’m sure those people are watching a lot of hypocrisy porn, they were very angry about what was going on, they took action, the action instantly backfired because they’re not empowered. They have no cultural power. Any move this faction makes is going to be plus one for the enemy because you don’t know the narrative.
Right. And who said it brilliantly, I wish I could credit them, “your speech is violence and our violence is speech.” Those are the rules and that’s what it is. You realize you’re not playing with a leveled playing field, and the answer to that isn’t saying, “Hey, look. Look at the hypocrisy. Look at the hypocrisy.” Well, yeah, that’s a feature, not a bug, and they’re very happy with that system.
For people who are in the middle, who don’t know what’s going on, there’s a temptation to say, “Well, if that’s the way the system works maybe there’s a reason why the system works. Maybe there is something special about those on the right that they don’t actually deserve rights. They don’t actually deserve these things.” I think that’s just as plausible a road to go down as someone who’s outraged at the hypocrisy.
Yeah. And you can see the narrative warfare against this faction ratcheting up quite sharply, words like fascist, racist. Just essentially dehumanizing language has been completely ubiquitous lately, and I think that says essentially the purpose of it is to just make sure that there’s a category for these people, the deplorables, the whatever, that doesn’t really allow them a space at the table. So they’re sitting in their box.
It’s quite interesting because you’re essentially an expert in communicating these things and how governments communicate and how national security concerns are communicated, how do you perceive this increase in narrative warfare that’s been… To me, it’s been very obvious but I’m kind of on the receiving end of it so it’s pretty easy, but I’m sure from the perspective there’s always that parallax view with respective of the left, “This is just another Tuesday. It’s imperceptible.” But what do you think the consequences of this will be? Because I think, okay, this is obvious, but is it obvious for someone on the other side?
I mean, that’s a really good question, if it is or is not. I do think it’s obvious to the extent that it’s working on many in the left. I mean, there are folks who I know, family and friends and things like that, who are on the left and they have seamlessly bought into a lot of narratives very, very quickly that would have taken years, or months, or decades really to permeate through society. I know it’s very easy and fashionable for everyone to blame Twitter and to blame social media, but it’s really true, we’re in a different situation.
Let’s say, I lived in San Francisco and used to hang out at the cafes and talk to people, and I’ve beem on the right my whole life so going there was interesting because I liked to get in people’s faces. I like to discuss and argue. In the radical coffee shops in San Francisco and in Berkeley, I would encounter all of the same arguments that I’m hearing now, that we’re all hearing now on social media. The whole thing about whiteness, the whole thing about making the Marcuse Repressive Tolerance arguments, “no human being is illegal.” All of these things that are like punchlines today were tested out in places in San Francisco and in Berkeley. And social media made it such that now a middle-class couple living in West Virginia raising three kids today could be on Occupy Democrats on Facebook, and they could be pushing the most, let’s say, advanced or corrupted messaging, depending on your point of view. It’s really made it possible to radicalize a large number of people very, very quickly. So that’s where we are. I know they say the same thing about us, which is quite funny.
It’s sped up the tempo. I mean, it’s sped up the tempo in terms of these things.
I spent most of my career doing the Islamist beat, which is specifically focused on Muslim Brotherhood and what makes and made the Muslim Brotherhood unique, which was their very particular, very specific take on the radicalization process, pegged to Islamic law and also to the experience of the first generation of Muslims during the time of Mohammed. So thinking about and seeing this radicalization process, and all of the little things that it entails—for example, jargon, vocabulary, and redefinition of words, and in fact progressive revelation and things like that—you see how much they apply to the left, specifically right now. It’s really been interesting.
Yeah. I think there’s a recipe for any sort of religious movement. I think in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s very directly tied to religion. But I mean, if you saw the events of this summer, if you were paying attention, then you could not see the religious angle on it, the prostrations. There’s was even foot-washing ceremonies, kneeling. This is straight from the Old Testament. There’s not even any edits. This is pretty old school worship, essentially.
I also think there’s just quite a component of… Because this is a mainstream narrative and this is what we’ve been getting in more or less subtle ways through media, through Hollywood, through music, through everything. I mean, this was my software for a long time because I’ve been watching American media, that’s why I talk like this. It’s really interesting because that’s where I sense-check myself because, like you said, it might be that we’re also ratcheting up the narrative and going a little bit crazy with our own narrative and stir crazy. But when I talk to people who are possessed by the secular religion that we’re all kind of swimming in, their arguments are very flat. I always say they’re losing 50 IQ points whenever you talk about these subjects because they have never had to defend them. So the fact that I know both sides of the argument and I’ve had to fight my way to this point makes me feel like this is it’s a bit more of a justified position. I was a gender studies major, I mean I know the arguments for a lot of… It’s not like this is new to me.
So you were a gender studies major, that means there are genders.
How many are there?
I’ve actually studied diversity management, which is essentially a business angle on gender studies. Back then, that was maybe what, eight, nine years ago, there were two genders still. So the whole trans craze hadn’t invaded, at least in Austria where I did my undergrad, hadn’t invaded the conversation yet. But it was essentially pretty much third-way feminism all the way through stereotype threat and all the literature. It was quite hard exams because you have to learn all these fake science papers by heart and then you’d have to regurgitate them in front of a committee, and that was it. But yeah, it was something that was really trendy at that point. It was the new thing to do in Austria, where I was studying. Anyway, that’s what I’m saying, it’s not like I’m ignorant to the argumentation that they have, but it’s interesting to see people who-
It’s interesting that you use the word flat as opposed to shallow. I think flat captures it better. It immediately makes one think of the NPC character.
Yeah, it’s dull. It’s uni-dimensional. That’s the thing, it’s black and white. I don’t know, maybe that’s also why these dissident spaces are really attractive to me because I’ve never really liked the official narrative. I’ve always found it to be a bit, “There must be something more to this,” and then you peel back the layers and then that’s where the dimension comes in.
I mean, it’s an interesting time. And essentially that’s also part why I left London maybe, when was it, almost a year now. It’s been coronavirus, so time dilates. I was in tech, so tech’s pretty much a mono culture. It’s very woke. It’s very permeated by our new secular religion. Like I said, it was a black and white space, and taking the show under road was partly a good idea for me from that perspective.
Right. I know, of the folks watching it in the United States, I know that this looks very attractive. I mean, I get people who message me all the time and say, “Hey, can you help me get Hungarian citizenship?” The desire to pick and go is something that I think we’ll see intensifying greatly. I mean, I used to say things like this, in many ways my family experience, which is leaving Romania in the early 1960s and then my dad’s side in the late 1960s, and coming here prepares me for this idea, which is at some point you say, “Okay, enough is enough,” and then you go. There’s no shame in it. You are relocating because not everywhere is ideal for all time. This is a thing that the more I think about this, the more I realize that there’s a goldmine here in terms of figuring out what’s really going on.
So I have this thesis, which is that we are living through, today, the consequences of misunderstanding the end of the Cold War, because I think everyone misunderstood the consequences. Everyone looked and they saw what they wanted to see, especially we in the West because it’s what I can speak for really with any authority, is we came out thinking that… Famously, we had Fukiyama’s thesis that the end of history is here and sort of liberal democracy has been solved, the problem of what kind of government to have has been solved by liberal democracy, and we’re basically done and we’re just cleaning up the last hold-outs.
I think alongside that, we had a whole bunch of the little, tiny assumptions that went into that thesis. That we took these assumptions and then turned them into eternal truths. One of these things, one of these assumptions is that, for example, the United States will always be the last beacon of hope and freedom for the world. I mean, that’s not necessarily true. It has nothing to do with history. It has nothing to do with permanence. I know it’s a nice patriotic thing to think about, but it’s not necessarily true. And that applies to any country and it applies to history more broadly.
My friend, Michael Anton, wrote an amazing book, which is I think one of the great books of our time called The Stakes, which is an analysis of the American Regime, and his predictions about where things are going in the future. One of the great points that he makes is about the traditional conservative movement folks who cannot face the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. He calls them conservative Hegelians because they study so much history, they study the history of the Roman Republic, and they know of all these civilizations that have collapsed–but cling to the belief that America will not ever collapse. America uniquely will not fundamentally change in any ways that are negative and permanent, and we’re going to keep this thing going forever because it is basically an article of faith.
Now, that’s one of the things that we need to get over, I think. I mean, as someone from Eastern Europe, you may look at that and say, “Well, yeah, of course. What are you people, dumb?” But it’s something that’s so fundamental to the way we understand ourselves, especially if we’ve been lifelong conservative movement folks or run of the mill patriotic Americans most of our lives. We’re seeing America at this moment and many double down in delusion, which is what a lot of the NeverTrump establishment has done. I don’t think necessarily is because of corruption; I think honestly, these people are scared shitless of the implications of taking the red pill or seeing things a little more clearly when it comes to the future of the United States, the future of democracy and things like that.
On the other hand, you have a lot of folks like me and like many friends–we turn around and we say, “Hey, every indication is that this thing collapses. Not necessarily by the typical standard by which we think about collapse, but based on the principles of the Founding.” I mean, you’ve got to be pretty obtuse at this point to think that this is the America of the American Founding–or even the American society of the 1980s and ’90s. We’re very far from that. I guess I coined a little phrase, which is so and so “doesn’t what time it is.” It’s shorthand for that conception, shorthand for that kind of awareness.
I think increasingly there has been rancor since 2016 that is kind of tangential to Trump on the right, between people who “know what time it is” and people who “don’t know what time it is.” There is no more cause for friction and anger than that, because you’re not looking at someone who you see as an opponent, you’re looking at someone who you see as a traitor to reality. That creates so much friction within that right. And of course, within dissident right communities, you have the same dynamic playing out with people who are at different points, let’s say, along the road as Qutb would say. And I guess you have the same thing on the left, but on the left they’ve figured out how to deal with this better. That may be intrinsic to their politics.
Yeah, that makes sense. For you, what would be the main lesson of the Cold War, if you could summarize it, the one that we should have taken rather than the one that we understood?
Oh man, there’s so many. There’s so many. The big one, I think, is this thing that I’m kind of obsessed with, which is universal values. The conception that we all have universal values is the animating factor behind the Bush Freedom Agenda. It’s also the animating principle behind unlimited free trade. It’s also the animating principle behind immigration, Open Borders immigration.
If everyone just wants freedom, they just want economic prosperity, then what you’re really saying is everyone is basically the same. You can have, let’s say, 50 million Somalis come in to the country or 50 million Norwegians, and you’ve basically got the same country. It’s not even a knock to Somalis to say that; this is not even a value judgment. It’s just a matter of reality.
Immigration, for me, was the first issue where I dissented from, let’s say, mainstream conservative orthodoxy. I was always a restrictionist saying, “Wait a minute, this is crazy. Why do we want this?” I understand bringing in people who are easy to assimilate into a country that is interested in assimilation. Right now, you’re bringing in people who is more difficult to assimilate into a country that is opposed in principle to assimilation. So it’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to social cohesion. And we’d have these fights with folks on the right who would respond with silly libertarian arguments that are based on this.
Again, I wish I could attribute some of these things, maybe someone who’s listening knows who originally said it, but I think it’s actually brilliant, somebody said that The Wall Street Journal exists to translate the priorities of the ruling class into moral arguments. When I heard that, I was really knocked out because that’s exactly what they do. They don’t say this is good for the bottom line. They say, “No, no, no, no, we’re translating this into a moral argument, and you are a bad person if you don’t agree with this.” And thinking about their utility in the political warfare space, if you look at it as a corporate influence or information operation, that is a huge asset to have really for any outfit. Hey, you’ve got this massive media outlet and their job is to make sure to convince folks all over the country who are completely outside the ruling class, “You know what? This is really good for you. This is good for you because it’s moral and it’s great.”
No, it definitely makes sense to me. I mean, I’m sure it’s very coherent to everyone listening. It’s an interesting situation that you say it’s The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, I think, is now a small part of it, but I think that description applies to especially The New York Times. The New York Times’ been laundering morality for the upper class since the Soviet Union and all sorts of other interesting escapades that they’ve had.
I mean, most of the media is doing that, and it’s been really interesting to observe this this year, especially when we’ve witnessed the largest transfer of wealth from the middle and lower middle classes to the upper classes, to the tech overlords who’ve actually made this pod life possible, the fact that there are people delivering food. They all work as gig economy workers and they’re all empowering the Amazons and all that. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and all of these corporations have been covering this up obviously with discussions of the virus. But I think from your perspective, how do you see the narrative warfare surrounding the virus? The discussions about this is almost like the blitz, you need to shelter in place, hide under your table, wear seven masks. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me being tired of this whole drama, but it seems to me like this has been quite the effort from our media class to construct this narrative.
I mean, when this whole thing was starting, people were making comments and then were saying, of course this makes perfect sense because the COVID hysteria dials in very nicely to an ethos obsessed with health—I mean, it only goes so far because when you’ve got fat acceptance and all this other political nonsense, you can’t really say you’re obsessed with health. But let’s say it’s obsessed with the temporal world and terrified of disease. Disease or pandemic, it’s another flavor of the climate change thing—it’s nature coming to kill you. That’s a really familiar narrative on the left already for decades: “we have wronged nature, and it is coming to kill us.”
And now, of course, most everyone has already pointed out, astutely, that a lot of blue-state governors—and now a blue-state president—are very excited to use these new powers basically to do anything they want. It’s depressing on one hand because a lot of people are falling for it. But on the other hand, I don’t know, I’m pretty white-pilled at this point on some of these things, especially when it comes to the virus, because the virus has been responsible for more red pill moments than can be counted.
I’ll tell you just my experience with this virus over 2020 is, there are folks in the fitness world, who didn’t give a damn about politics one way or the other, couldn’t tell you who’s a Republican, who’s a Democrat, why, left, right, whatever. Well, now they’re sharing memes and they’re watching YouTube videos like this, and they’re listening to conversations. The switch went off, which is, “This shit really matters, there is a difference between Ron DeSantis in Florida and between Gavin Newsom in California.” Who you elect actually matters to your life in a way that they didn’t see it matter before.
Not only to your life, but to your business, to everything. I mean, you want your kids to go to school? Live in Florida. I know folks who left New York because they just couldn’t take it because they have no idea when their kids will be able to go to school. Even if you are not politically astute, or based, or woke, or otherwise politically engaged, having to deal in that reality or deal with these choices will push you, I think, in a better direction. I mean, of course you have people who still stubbornly cling to the old way of thinking or will say that what’s happening in places which are not suffering through the lockdown are irresponsible and terrible and, “Florida’s awful and they’re killing millions of people and dumping bodies in the Everglades,” blah, blah, blah. Sure. Great. Keep going. Good luck with it. But for more people, they are distrusting government, they’re distrusting media, and I think that’s an unqualified good for the world.
Yeah. And with the November elections, we’ve seen a lot of changes in legislation. I feel this year was obviously, like you said, a pretty red-pilling year for a lot of years, and it feels like the other side has been trying to not even win the conversation. They’ve tried to restructure the system so that, I’m not going to say in illegal ways, but maybe in legal ways, it favors their case structurally, essentially. It seems to me like if this election was won, I’m not going to say what I believe, but if it was won, it was won in large part also because of a ground-up restructuring of the way things are done, almost unilaterally pushed through by one side. Is this a desperate move? Because it feels like, like you said, a lot of red-pilling this year, was this trying to head them off at the pass and sort it out through different channels?
Yeah. I mean, this is sort of the key question, isn’t it? Which is that on one hand you can look at it and you can say, “Well, their final victory is at hand because they are at the precipice of silencing all of us with a click of a button and un-personing whoever they want, shutting down our access not only to communications but to things like bank accounts,” and whatever. On the other hand, you can say, “Well, they won’t be able to do it to this many people, will they?” That’s a valid question, which is one of the great red pills that people are swallowing now is that most of us no longer say, “The other side isn’t interested in that. No, no, no, they just want to win elections. They’re okay.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. “They’ll do a lot to win elections, but that’s as far as that goes.” But people now understand they don’t think we’re people and that it’s a natural consequence of their ideology.
I say this on Twitter all the time because people still don’t get it, especially in the establishment commentary, but you say, well, for four years they called Donald Trump a Nazi and his supports Nazis, and considered him the great threat to the Republican to democracy that needed to be defeated at all costs. What do you think that means? Is it possible that these guys actually believed it? And if they did believe it, what would they do to act on that belief? If you haven’t grappled with those questions, I don’t think you have any business in doing political commentary because you’re fundamentally unserious. You’re assuming that your enemies, or let’s say your adversaries, don’t actually believe what they’re saying and that it’s all nonsense. I mean, shit, you sound like a Marxist with false consciousnesses.
I feel like I keep going to the same place with these answers, which is about the failure of mainstream conservative commentary, but I do believe it needs to be beaten down intellectually so that maybe we can have a more productive discussion about what comes next and what we can do.
I notice that people who are not from the United States also look at this and they say, “Why are you guys so obsessed with these never Trump guys? Why are you guys so obsessed with these other establishment figures?” I don’t know, maybe you’re right. I’ll watch Carl Benjamin, and he’s never going after the cvcks. He just ignores them because he sees that they are nonsense, and a distraction, and ineffective. So it’s interesting the difference in the United States versus outside the United States. I think it has to do, frankly, with the way the conservative movement was constructed and is constructed in terms of what gets funding and how the mechanics of the institutions on the right can function. Either you have or the other.
Yeah. I think for people who are outside of the US, they’re also outside of the apparatus of conservatism as it is there so they just can really see the behemoth. They’re impervious to the old school right. And essentially what they are feeding off of, and what I’m feeding off of as well as being one of these people is, what is the energy on the internet? Where is the energy flowing? And it’s not really a National Review. I mean, I sometimes read it but that’s not where things are bubbling up. There’s just quite a lot of super interesting conversations happening, have nothing to do with the establishment, have nothing to do with the establishment figures. They really don’t contribute that much, except for voicing an aesthetic disgust that they point at Trump and whoever is associated with him.
Yes. And I notice too that they don’t engage with us. And when I say “us,” I don’t even mean the dissident right figures from here to there, all around the spectrum. They literally do not engage with anyone who is outside of their particular narrow clique, and it’s interesting. Then there are “one-man shows” who do a lot more for the right than an entire magazine. And not to single National Review out because I think there are a lot of people operating in a similar space.
Did you grow up on the right or were you on the left? Did you have an awakening? What was your experience?
I was pretty much on the left, as you are, as a young person. I was a never really a socialist communist. I mean, you can’t even be that when you’re Eastern European, but it intuitively made sense to me that we should be really re-distributing and… It’s just that intuitive disgust that people have with people being really rich. It’s all very visceral when you’re young and you’re like, “Why is this person starving?” It made up all the political ideology of of this simple observation of people being unequal. And then I think it was my early 20s when I started slowly shifting rightwards, and now look at me. So yeah, it’s been a journey, I have to say.
Right. Yeah. No, I think that has a lot to do with sort of understanding where people are, and it goes a long way in explaining how folks present their ideas and what ideas they engage with. Not even necessarily where their conclusions are because I think people from a variety of backgrounds can sort of come to the same spot. But what you emphasize in terms of your presentation or your communications is at least somewhat dependent on where you are in politics, how long have you been it, how long have you identified yourself with let’s say different ideology, different movement at different points. So I think that has to do with it.
It’s funny because many of my friends and I look around, and we’re all old movement right-wingers and we all are apostates from that in many ways. And I know that other friends are new to this and coming from the left. Some folks even come from a harder core left than you have, for example. Everybody’s presentation is different. The way we look at some of these things is also different. And it’s not even left-right. I mean, you can throw a libertarian in there as well or really any other system.
The confluence that I see people arriving at, coming from different areas and there’s this whole post-left movement that’s active on Twitter and post-liberalism, which is the right-wing people who don’t really want to call themselves classical liberals because it’s not a very coherent ideology. There are all sorts of people that have now reached the conclusion that that’s almost, in a way, the opposite of classical liberalism. Essentially, if you take the Koch brothers, you probably disagree with them on most things, and that’s where I see a lot of people coming from the left, reactionaries, people like that on the internet. There need to be limits on things, there needs to be limits on the market, there needs to be limits in the social realm as well.
Who decides this is probably best done at a local level, federalism, communitarianism, localism, that’s what I see being really active now, and this is something I ascribe to as well. It’s interesting to see because a lot people in these groups, like you said, they call themselves Marxists, they call themselves all sorts of things, they either have old school allegiances and they’re not really Marxists anymore or they have this materialist lens that really helpful. But do you see this as well as being a movement? Because there’s not really any party that represents this ideology or whatever it is what’s forming.
Yeah. Look, I’m not sure what the next step is. Eventually what’s going to have to happen is every successful political movement in any way really needs to have elites. It’s the true thing. We may not like it. As soon as you say that people will jump down your throat on Twitter, but it’s definitely true. Somebody is going to be running the regime.
Let’s say, you secede from the union. You’re Texas, or you’re Florida or whatever, okay, great. How are you going to run the place? Who’s going to run it? You need to create a credentialed class that is sort of with you ideologically but is professional. I mean, this was one of the big problems of the Trump administration, which is the Venn diagram of “based” and “competent” seldom overlaps, and this is the problem. I mean, for the left it overlaps quite a bit. There are plenty of loony tunes leftists, but because they have the credentialing institutions—because they were smart enough to build them for crying out loud, or to capture them, because they saw them as valuable—they have a credentialed class of folks who are at the drop of a hat, at a moment’s notice, they can go and they can take over the government. The Trump administration had a hard time finding folks who could bring in from different agencies, for example, to go into the National Security Council because everybody at these agencies, almost everybody, was opposed to them.
So that translates over to conservative movement too because we need credentialing institutions. We need to make this real. This is one thing that, for example, the neocons really understood from the first generation. Not to sound too Islamist but in the case of the neocons, “the first generation was definitely the best generation.” They they were like, “Hey, if we’re an intellectual movement, we’re going to need a magazine. We’re going to need a couple magazines. We’re going to need a think tank. We’re going to need a couple think tanks.” Because a bunch of random people writing at a bunch of random outlets does not make a movement. A movement has to have real things, and it needs someone to build them and, just as important, it needs someone to fund them.
At some point, somebody’s going to have to feed the army and somebody’s going to have to say, “Okay, it is now no longer a death sentence for you to work in America First or nationalist politics.” Meaning, if someone takes a job in this universe they’re not going to black-balled for the rest of their life. They will have enough place in this network at least to find employment for as long as they want. That’s really important because if you’re depending on folks who have been marginalized, folks who are trust fund people who don’t need the money, or if you’re depending on people who, I don’t know, have nothing else left to lose to create the elites of your movement, you are missing out on a whole lot of people who respond to traditional incentives, which is have a job where you can pay the rent or the mortgage and be able to support your kids and live a decent life, etc. And then you will be able to contribute to the fight. Because if you’re not, then it’s really hard.
Let’s say every successful dissident movement anywhere around the world, anyone, any national liberation movement anywhere let’s say, requires that professional class of folks who, at the very least, maybe they have to worry about not getting killed on a day-to-day basis but they don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from.
Yeah. There’s quite a big class of people now, I mean obviously on Twitter, on the internet, that essentially are doing dissident work but from behind anonymous profiles, so it’s definitely a big class on Twitter. Obviously more on the right, there’s no reason to explain why, and some of them are really high profile. There’s Bronze Age Pervert which is essentially a very influential thinker, big seller in the space, and there are quite a lot of the… So some of the best thinking on Twitter is probably done from behind these anonymous avatars. Do you think there’s a role for this to play? Is there enough leverage in this type of presentation to move things? I mean, at least in the case of BAP, obviously he’s very influential, but it feels to me like it’s always a bit of a trade-off. If you’re not going to be there people really can’t draw strength from your presence. That’s also what I’m telling myself to console myself in case they come for me one day.
Yeah. I mean, the anon thing is what you do when you don’t have power and it’s what you do when you’re under the gun. I mean, I agree there are a lot of great people doing great work who are on anonymous, the problem though is that you can’t build anything with it. I’m not saying it’s their fault and I’m not saying, “Hey, you’re a chickenshit if you don’t put your name out there,” because they’re very real. Obviously, everyone is in a different place and everyone has unique circumstances and asking one person to stand up and declare they’re Spartacus without any reinforcements is going to have their head chopped off.
But what this speaks to is this speaks to the importance of building something bigger because if you don’t have… Let’s say, you’ll never win the war with your best people as anons. You just won’t. Because at some point these people have to feel secure enough or we have to create an environment where they feel secure enough not to be anonymous. That may not work for everybody and it may not happen tomorrow, but this is a real priority thing that needs to happen because if the only way that you can operate in this society is to be anonymous, then it’s a bullshit society. That’s the thing that needs to be changed.
Yeah. Absolutely. I don’t know, it’s quite a worrying thing that at this point we’ve had things like Parler or we’ve had… There’s been attempts to create infrastructure and systems that could serve this population that’s now being disenfranchised. I’m curious where the first important step was going to be taken or has it already been taken to create these alternative institutions? Because it’s obviously not the case that we’re just going to barge in and retake the institutions. It’s not going to happen. So where do you see the first steps, the useful steps, being take in this direction?
Right. Funny that you brought up Parler, I actually see the tech thing as being the tip of the spear when it comes to this stuff because in many ways it did expose what’s happening in a very real way for a lot of people. Let’s say a lot of normies, grandmothers, in the U.S., especially during 2020, got themselves on Twitter and they got very used to talking politics and telling people think about things. Whether that’s a curation thing or whatever it’s creating original content. They got used to it. They know how it feels to speak their mind. It feels good. It feels great to go in and create your own network online with your own following and people who care about what you say and all that stuff. It’s great. Once people got a taste for that, I think it’s very hard now to put them back in a bottle when it comes to, let’s say, reverting to a televisual model where the news is just broadcast to them. Once you have grandma on Twitter interacting and shit-posting, then grandma listening to Rush Limbo on the radio just passively is just not going to cut it anymore.
So I think this was a driver of that dynamic. And the censorship of these folks in places like Twitter and Facebook is a driver of an autonomous impulse that starts at social media and is going to transfer over into other things. I think personally that it’s going to transfer into almost every other industry or every industry that we can think of, which is what I think is really the future in an ideologically targeted product and services of all kinds.
I think that’s what we should be doing and I think we’re there as far as the need goes. We weren’t there six months ago, but when BLM protests and anti-fur protests happened and every possible product you have ever purchased over the last 15 years is sending you emails talking about how they stand with BLM, and you’re looking at this and you’re going, “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want this. This is a minority opinion in the United States. And you Fortune 500 company or whatever are not interested in what I have to say, you are not interested in my business. And if there was a reasonable alternative, I am ready to take it.” Sure, it’s going to take a little while for people to say, “You know what? I’m going to buy based brand sneakers as opposed to Nike sneakers,” or, “I’m going to substitute these products,” or, “I’m going to go to some let’s say some janky right-wing bug-filled version of Amazon rather than Amazon.” But at some point, these things will come online.
The interface of Parler sucked, but people were on it because they knew that it was important to support things that are made for us, and that idea is building. It’s building across many, many different industries. But I do think social media was really the big one. The idea that immediately social media has no compunction in banning or throttling the accounts of tens of millions of their users just like that, with no thought whatsoever—they don’t think you’re human. They don’t want you talking. People are internalizing that. And the more they internalize that, I think the more they will search for other options and be open to other options.
Yeah, I completely agree. I just worry that the way these systems work, they’re based on these network externalities, and the values of these networks is that everyone else is on them already, which is their unique selling proposition. That’s why a lot of people are trying to reinterpret them as utilities because once everyone’s on the Twitter networker or everyone’s on the Facebook, it’s essentially the public square now if you’ve already adopted everyone. So they’ve got a lot of leverage with this. And they could have done this in very subtle ways but I think they were very desperate this year and essentially they just purged very violently. I mean, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful, like you say, that this is the next step that people will adopt new products and new services.
I know a lot of people were quite disillusioned with what happened with Parler as well, and a lot of people are calling Parler a bit of a honey trap as well because their data management wasn’t very good at least and there’s a lot of data leakage from it as well. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, personally I hope to see people stepping up in a better way. They need to be at a different level because Silicone Valley is out there, man. They’re very good at what they do. They’re an oligopoly and monopoly for a very good reason, so I think it’s going to take a little bit of more elbow grease from our end, at least on the technical side.
But at the same time, I also know that a lot of Silicon Valley is based. I would say at least 20 to 30% of people are secretly very, very, based because you see them. They’re lurking. They’re stalking. They’re reading. They show up in Clubhouse, they comment, they like, they subscribe and all this other stuff. So they’re there, they consume the content, they’re drinking the Kool-Aid, and I’m sure there’s some heft behind that. Because these aren’t dumb people. They’re pattern-matchers. They see reality often. Do you think that there’s maybe a shadow elite that’s being prepped in the background? Because it just feels like there might be a little bit of a Silicon Valley counter elite, the offspring of Peter Thiel, the ideological-
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think we both know some of these folks, and they’re great. Whether or not that they’re great at scale is another matter. I know my friends are great. I’m sure you think your friends are great. Whether or not they can construct a real movement within Silicon Valley I think is another matter and we don’t know the answer. But at the end of the day, I do think that our friends in Silicon Valley need to commit to the idea that what we would like to create or what we need to create is a thing that’s separate. That’s where autonomy comes in.
Some say, “we’re going to take back Yale. We’re going to take back Harvard. We’re going to take back The New York Times.” Dude, you never had these things—much less the capability to take them back, whatever that means. So this is all about building new things. And whether or not the folks in Silicon Valley are ready to create something that will socially alienate them from the rest of their social universe, remains to be seen. I wish they do. I hope they do.
One of the things that politics have on the folks who are in tech is we’re not used to being called nasty names. People who are in the tech world, in many ways they’re not used to this. They’re used to being thought of as masters of the universe in their fields… Taylor Lorenz come down their ass. It’s a sobering experience. I mean, hey, maybe it’s a red pill moment. Actually, you can probably see that in real time to see what happens to tech folks who are a-political, middle-of-the-road guys who are attacked by Taylor Lorenz at The New York Times and then sort of say, “Wait a minute, maybe the whole media is crap not just this one reporter.”
Yeah, yeah. They’re very practically oriented people. I don’t think they deal with this stuff until they have to. But I feel like now the frog’s been boiling now for at least the last couple years so I think a lot of very intelligent people who have managed to be a part of the establishment without paying too much attention to what the actual ideology was, they just coasted by, are now being the target of people who are more firmly in the establishment. That’s a red pill moment because at the moment the revolution eats its own and they’ve been eating away at the fringes and now they’re coming towards the core. They’re coming towards the mark-end reasons, the masters of the universe types. I feel like this is the inflection point where these guys either become part of the counter elite or there’s going to be people watching and seeing them be taken down and they’re going to be the counter elite. But whatever happens I feel like there’s something brewing in terms of who’s going to lead the future.
Totally. Totally agree.
Yeah, it’s a really interesting time. I’m curious who are our new overlords will be. I hope they’re based. That’s my only requirement, guys, whoever it is.
As long as they lift, we’re in good hands.
Exactly, exactly. You have to lift. Post-physique is also very important. But before I let you go, I have a question of the show, which I’ve tried to ask everyone, it’s essentially, do you have a subversive thinker or someone who you think should be more popular, people should read or listen to, or think about, that just doesn’t get enough time in the sun? That’s probably someone who’s been influential on your thinking and deserves a bit of credit.
That’s a real good question. That’s a good question. Who counts as subversive?
Yeah. I mean, who counts as subversive? I mean, there’s so many people who I think are criminally underrated in terms of… If we’re looking through, let’s say, a mainstream conservative lens… I’ll say this, and it’s not a dodge. It’s not a dodge. Throughout the Iraq war, you would read the Weekly Standard and you’d read National Review, and you would hear a particular criticism or defense of the war. Neither here nor there. I’m just saying that there was a particular narrative. Over at the Claremont Review of Books, you had a completely different frame for that conversation.
Now, both publications were, let’s say, broadly supportive of the war on terror, or let’s say both sides, but Claremont brought up things that it was just not a part of the conversation, specifically Mark Helprin, Angelo Codevilla. Those two, but specifically Angelo and his writing about the war and the post September 11 period. Specifically also, his book about peace is absolutely amazing and it’s one of the most underrated things that… I mean, nobody talks about it when I think they really should. But this is to say that folks at Fox, Weekly Standard, National Review, worked really hard for many, many years to make sure that nobody knew what Claremont Review of Books was, that nobody interacted with Angelo or any of the folks who were critiquing the Iraq war or critiquing the Bush administration from the right. This was a tactic that’s still used today in the sense that the mainstream right does not even acknowledge some of the criticisms or the critiques that come from, let’s say, further or deeper into the right because fundamentally I think their biggest fear is to be considered right-wingers, so the demon that they’re always after, the great demon that they’re always slaying are folks to their right.
So to wind up, I mean really anything in Claremont, anything at the American Mind, Michael Anton’s book, The Stakes, I think it’s the book of the year by far. There are so many folks who are involved in that kind of intellectual universe, and it’s my intellectual universe and I’m proud to be involved in it too, so I think that’s really the only place, let’s say the only mainstream place on the right, that is at all interesting at this point.
Another plug would be for Tablet Magazine, which now is doing stuff that is to the right of National Review often, and it’s not even a conservative magazine. It’s just a Jewish publication that deals with a lot of stuff and frankly, their editors are based. So a plug for American Mind, Claremont, and Tablet.
Yeah, absolutely. I have to second that. Yeah, the guys at Claremont…. I voraciously consume all of their content. I know you’re proud of the institute as well, but there’s the Round Table podcast, which I think is very good, people should listen to. And Spencer Klavan, James Poulos, everyone on this team are just amazing guys. American Mind is also one of the few publications that’s just going to publish whoever has a good idea just like nobodies like me. But no, just people who are good writers or are not necessarily part of the establishment. Just not that much haggling going into being published in the American Mind if you’re good and the editors think you’re good. And there’s also a lot of anonymous accounts that publish there. People who are very smart, have something to say but don’t necessarily want to say it under their real name, real face, for obvious reasons, they have a space at The American Mind. So like you said, it’s one of the few incubators of real solid dissident thought at the moment. Tablet as well. Yeah, Michael Lind works at Tablet. And people who are theoretically on the left, they write some of the best right-wing articles I’ve read lately so it’s excellent.
I wanted to leave the end of the podcast to discuss your new book that’s not out yet. I’m really curious about it. It’s called Qatar’s Shadow War, and I imagine it’s about Qatar and a secret war.
Yes, thank you. Thank you for mentioning it. It was just announced… I mean, I knew I was doing this for a while, but it was just announced. It’s going to be available shortly in a number of different places. But it’s a really short book.
I’ve been involved in sort of this discussion that wraps up a lot of different subjects for a couple of years now, I guess since 2017 or maybe longer, that really focus on, let’s say, two things. Number one is the way information operations are fought today with the media and with the dynamics of, let’s say, standard information op, whether it’s Qatar or Russia Gate. I took a lot about Russia Gate, and compare and contrast the two. So you’ve got that. And then on the other side, you’ve got the dynamics of what a lot of people are calling the New Middle East, which is something that I used to talk about many years ago when people said that I was a Saudi shill or a crazy.
But I said, “No, there are changes coming to the region that are going to be very positive,” and the fulcrum on which these things move, it’s Iran and also Qatar, which, let’s say, are the two hubs of Sunni and Shia Islamism. So the book deals with these two things and tells you why it’s important, gives you a little history of Qatar also, and I deal with a little bit of the Freedom Agenda and I smack around the Bush administration for a little bit. And then I close discussing how we guard against information operations in a free society. The answer is, you really don’t. One reason I used RussiaGate as an example for the book is that it allows people to better understand how government and media work together with special interests in order to push a narrative.
So there was an embargo on Qatar that sort of set off this Saudi-Qatari conflict in the summer of 2017. We have a period of a couple years where there was a tremendous amount of information warfare and influence operations and all these things we used to think of as spy games surrounding Washington D.C. and the book chronicles quite a few of them.
It’s really a lesson too, not just about Qatar, but about how any other country, can use the United States as a battlefield in conflicts that they have one another. It’s a totally natural thing, because we are Rome. If you’re India and Pakistan, and you are fighting it out, you’re going to be fighting it out primarily in the capitols of the United States and China in terms of influence and jockeying for this and that. I mean, that’s just one example of many, and it has to do with sort of where we are positioned globally.
Extraordinary. Do you have any projects on the horizon? Is there anything that’s taking your fancy, direction?
Yeah. I mean, it’s mostly internal to the United States. I think that increasingly thinking about national security and foreign policy is kind of overtaken by events, at least in the United States. The American audience no longer cares because I think there’s a broad understanding that the war is here. There’s an understanding that the age of foreign policy where we have the luxury of dealing with it and of getting engaged is over. I mean, I’ve felt this way for a while now, but I mean after the 6th of January and after the… I mean, you’ve got people talking in the United States actually “serious” people talking about making terrorist destinations against Trump supporters and MAGA people. In a world like that, how can you possibly care about what’s going on abroad?
So that’s where I think my focus is going to be. It’s going to be here in the United States, specifically something you brought up earlier, which is how to make communities in the U.S. more autonomous and how do you sort of create the infrastructure that supports that autonomy, whether it be political, or economic, or geographical, or whatever, communications.