As we enter a new era of cultural conflict, old political boundaries no longer serve us.
I was never happy with the political division of “left” vs. “right.” The words, first and foremost, are vague even in their more primitive directional sense, since their interpretation depends entirely on the orientation of their user. What is “left” from my perspective will be “right” from yours, if you are standing opposite me, so it is important first to establish a frame of reference; otherwise there is likely to be confusion.
But from a political standpoint, it is difficult to infer any sort of value system directly from the labels themselves. And in fact, no one has ever given me a satisfactory explanation of what exactly defines them. Some say, “The left prefers big government, while the right prefers small government.” Others decree, “The left wing is socialist, the right wing is capitalist.”
But increasingly, it seems, these labels have devolved into jumbled assortments of specific policy alignments that have nothing to do with each other, at least without internalizing a series of tenuous assumptions about what links them. The right is “pro-gun;” the left is “anti-gun;” the left is “pro-abortion;” the right is “anti-abortion;” the right is Christian; the left is secular; and so on and so forth.
Nor does it get any better when you layer these over the top of similar terms, such as “liberal” and “conservative” or “Republican” and “Democrat,” with which the “left” and “right” has been muddied. Can there be right-wing liberals and left-wing conservatives? Republicans and Democrats refer, of course, to the parties, but although there are registered right-wing Democrats and left-wing Republicans the terms are more or less understood as equivalent to “left-wing” and “right.” And as the percentage of voters disillusioned with both parties grows, we are left asking ourselves, do these divisions still effectively mark the modern social divide?
My answer is, no. In fact, I think they do us a grave disservice by obscuring the true cultural issues of our time within outdated boxes full of loaded assumptions, unfit for purpose. And I think we urgently need a new paradigm if we are to de-escalate our political rhetoric, return to the realm of civilized discourse and understand what we are facing.
Covid-19: The Breaking Point
While 2016 and Donald Trump’s election marked the beginning of the end, the true breaking point for the old paradigm occurred in 2020, with the Covid crisis and the World Economic Forum’s declaration of a “Great Reset.” The Covid lockdowns, contact tracing and testing programs, and vaccine mandates brought into the public discourse a relatively new idea: that governments could impose, from the top down, mass social engagement with digital and biomedical technology, and use it to govern the minutiae of an individual’s private life.
This was a near-complete transformation of social infrastructure: many churches, clubs, families, friend groups and other communities faced a stark choice: they could either wither away in isolation, or go digital.
For the first time, on a mass scale, people were ordered to take medical tests, log their smallest movements on smartphone apps, and inject experimental pharmaceutical products in order to travel, leave their house, or keep their jobs.
At the same time, governments and international organizations like the WEF began advertising their intent to digitally transform society. Klaus Schwab remarked that the “Great Reset” and its associated “Fourth Industrial Revolution” would “lead to a fusion of our physical, digital, and biological identities.”
Meanwhile, as Whitney Webb reported for MintPress News, the US government was unrolling its new “National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence” (NSCAI) — an alliance of Big Tech executives and intelligence community members tasked with promoting widespread adoption of digital infrastructure and removing access to “legacy systems” (like in-store shopping or individual car ownership) in order to compete with China.
“The Great Reset” is perhaps the most visible and symbolic sign of a push from the top down, launched on the back of the Covid response, to redesign almost every aspect of our infrastructure and social culture. For those who love traditional cultures of the globe and more natural, ancient ways of living, who prioritize beauty and meaningfulness over utilitarian efficiency, or who hold classical liberal values like freedom of speech and independence, this attempted overhaul comes as a very personal assault on our way of life.
In the two years since 2020, parents in Wales have been told that their children as young as three must attend controversial sex and gender classes, designed to break down traditional concepts of sexual identity; California has announced it will strip custody from out-of-state parents of minors who flee there for surgical transitions; and the UK’s National Health Service is scrapping the word “woman” across several of their domains.
We are being told to eat less meat, give up gas-powered cars, and contemplate a “personal carbon allowance” that would necessitate intimate tracking of our energy use; our history and literature is being rewritten or erased; we have been told that natural or dissenting approaches to medicine and immunity are “dangerous;” and some people are even calling for the concept of family itself to be abolished.
Countries around the world saw their traditional cultural practices, celebrations and historical sites shut down and threatened with extinction during the Covid lockdowns, weakening family ties and the links to one’s cultural roots. During this time the void was filled by a homogenous, global, digital world of sameness.
This digital transformation marks the emergence of a new era, and with it, a new cultural battle. Like the previous waves of industrial revolutions before it, it pits the benefactors of a new technological infrastructure — and the cultural conditions it creates — against those who prefer more traditional ways of life.
Those who see promise in new technologies, find freedom in the capabilities they bestow, or directly profit from their introduction push for their adoption, and for existing social infrastructure to be uprooted, pushed aside, or rebuilt from the ground up. Their success ultimately depends on the eradication of what was there before and the widespread adoption of the new tech.
On the other side are the keepers of the “old ways,” the lollygags and Luddites. They are those who profit from traditional ways of life, whose cultural identity depends on them, or who see moral or aesthetic value in them. They may be members of traditional or indigenous cultures, orthodox religious or spiritual adherents, business owners, artists or romantics, or those seeking to return to a simpler time.
What this battle boils down to is a clash between two worldviews: the first, the “progress” narrative, which claims that humanity has been on a continuous path of upward evolution from a primordial, barbarous state, and which imposes the acceptance of the new infrastructure as a moral imperative for the utilitarian “betterment” of society; and the second, the “lost paradise” narrative, which sees man as “fallen” from a state of ancient, natural perfection to which we must return to gain redemption.
The Hippie-Conservative Alliance: Unlikely Bedfellows or Birds of a Feather?
Immediately the Judeo-Christian “Garden of Eden” story comes to mind. But it’s not just Christian conservatives that fall into this latter category. The “lost paradise” narrative also nails down the general worldview of the hippie movement. And indeed, what we would expect if my analysis holds true is a growing alliance between hippies and conservatives.
This is exactly what Sebastian Morello documents here, and what I have seen during my time in the anti-lockdown freedom scene. I would argue that there probably has always existed a space of overlap between hippies and conservatives; that that space has been steadily expanding over the past few years, especially since 2016; but in 2020 something fundamental shifted, shattering traditional barriers between these two groups and uniting them over a common cause: freedom from techno-tyranny and connection to the natural, physical, personal world.
As Morello writes:
“One attribute that seems to reconcile hippies and conservatives is that of openness to the religious or spiritual perspective on the world. Both groups wince at the subordination of all values to considerations of mere utility or efficiency and remain sensitive to the role of culture and the arts. Both groups tend to think that with the emergence of evermore sophisticated technology some things have been lost, perhaps making us less human, and they are worried by this. Furthermore, both groups think and act as if the local and the concrete are more real than the universal and the abstract, compared to progressives who live almost solely by their abstractions.”
The Covidian “new normal” epitomized a mass, global and mandatory sacrifice of the human and the cultural to the utilitarian and the mechanistic. Mandatory facemasks stifled the feel of fresh air on one’s face and the fundamental ability to breathe, one of the most recognizable symbols of a connection to the natural world.
They also erased one of our most innate ways of developing trust and connecting with each other — the human face. People around the world were told when, where, and with how many people they were allowed to break bread around a table, one of the oldest ways of sharing love and companionship; churches were prohibited from congregating in person or from sharing song together when they did so. We were told it was all “for the greater good,” to save the most number of lives and do our part for some abstract society. Many were left wondering: is it even worth it to preserve life if, to do so, you must lose the experience of living?
This marked the fundamental cultural division of the post-Covid world: between those who prioritize humanity and a “natural” state of living and being, and those who prioritize technological and centralized control over the risks inherent in the natural world. The problem is that the latter philosophy, a mechanistic one, needs to enlist all elements in order to work.
While a natural philosophy can be forced on others by authoritarian elements, the natural world tends to develop harmony among chaotic elements in a grassroots way. In the words of Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” A machine, on the other hand, ceases to function when even one of its parts stops doing what it’s told. The natural world finds equilibrium among whatever already exists; a mechanistic world requires intervention.
It is this that many hippies and conservatives, and others like them, resist. They trust in the mystic or spiritual beauty of natural processes and the natural order. They may opt to engage with technology or modern innovations, but they don’t see a need to do so that supersedes the importance of the natural experience. They don’t necessarily see freedom from nature’s risks, or access to technological interventions as a “human right” — in fact, they may see engagement with those risks, and acceptance of them, as a moral imperative and part of our connection to the spiritual world.
“The conservative and the hippie are both disenchanted with the theory of Progress. They both think that we have lost a body of knowledge and a way of being in the world that was normal for our ancestors. They both think that looking forward follows looking back; hippies typically sympathise with the traditional societies of the East, conservatives with those of the West. They both think — though few would put it like this — that the world presented to us today, downstream from Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Newton, is an untruth. They both think that whilst we may claim certain achievements in the modern era and may have new virtues where before we had certain vices, that this is not the whole story; we have lost a great deal, and we may have lost ourselves.”
In January of 2022 I found myself sitting in a conference hall in the city of Morelia, Michoacán, México, attending “The Greater Reset” — a call for resistance against the “Great Reset” of the WEF, organized by Derrick Broze. Hundreds of people had flocked to México, and to the sister conference in Texas, to show their opposition to the digital transformation of society, the Covidian “new normal” and the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
It was the most politically diverse audience I had encountered in a long time: beside me were hippies, conspiracy theorists of all stripes, fundamentalist Christians, anarcho-capitalists, vegans, crypto and stock geeks, would-be back-to-earth homesteaders, permaculture enthusiasts, sustainable builders and software developers, and even indigenous Mexicans wanting to preserve their culture. Many of us would have, and did disagree on various classic left/right cultural issues — Should abortion be legal? Are guns good or bad? Does climate change exist? What should US immigration policy be? — but we were united by one thing more important than any of these individual disputes (which now seem petty to many of us): our love for the natural, the human, the ancient, the spiritual and the traditional, and our desire to keep it alive.
Facing a Mythic Moment: How the “Left/Right” Stereotype Clouds Our Discourse
The digital transformation and the rise of technocracy is the fundamental issue of our time. It is what is shaping our world currently, from the top down, and those pushing it stand to gain a lot from the adoption of new infrastructure, new technologies and new systems. Radical changes to our social systems and ways of life are happening all around us at a breathtaking speed, sparking protests and civil unrest around the world.
Although these changes did not start in 2020, the Covid response was undoubtedly the catalyst. It was the system shock that provided the excuse for a “reset;” as Klaus Schwab famously noted, “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world.”
And in an article on the WEF website, the organization claims, “Covid-19 was the test of social responsibility,” during which (emphasis mine) “a huge number of unimaginable restrictions for public health were adopted by billions of citizens across the world.” That is, they were unimaginable until they happened, and now that we’ve crossed that line, we can reimagine a whole host of other things as we like.
As this issue comes to the fore, we urgently need a new paradigm for conceptualizing the cultural landscape. The outdated left/right paradigm has come to stand for a series of unrelated stances on specific issues; what we need is a paradigm that describes underlying value systems or worldviews, in relation to the fundamental landscape.
Otherwise it is as if we are playing a game of chess by making arbitrary decisions about specific pieces, based only on where the other player has moved their version of the same piece, and without being able to see the board.
Without value systems, what we get is a jumble of stereotypes that group people together somewhat erroneously. For example, the “right” is stereotyped as opposing the LGBT community. So what do we do with the Gay Conservatives of America organization, whose logo is a rainbow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and who declare, “We refuse to let the leftists in the LGBT define the whole Gay Community?” Or what about the left-wing, socialist, black and LGBT firearm groups such as the Liberal Gun Club, Pink Pistols, Black Guns Matter and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club? Or the rise of the anti-woke left?
Does being “left-wing” mean you have to believe in climate change, or hate Donald Trump? Does being “right-wing” mean you have to oppose illegal immigration, or abortion? An individual’s worldview can often predict their stance on a particular issue, and for this reason individuals with similar worldviews tend to make clusters of similar decisions. But it doesn’t always, because the essence of life is that it cannot be programmed like a machine — life will always surprise you.
This kind of stereotyped or issue-based political paradigm also kills nuance and squashes interesting discourse. It encourages us to develop opinionated stances on isolated, abstract concepts, from which there can be no compromise.
The heart of compromise lies in discovering a shared value system. Someone who makes a decision you disagree with can be redeemed if you know they value the same things; the deeper-rooted and more fundamental those values are, the more solid your foundation. A value-based paradigm framed within a cultural landscape is a holistic approach. It allows us to see each other around a common table, each responding to a common stimulus in various ways.
By contrast, the isolated, issue-based paradigm removes everything from its context and analyzes it in absence of its whole. It pretends there is an objective “right” and “wrong” answer that can be applied to each question (like the directional “right” and “left:” which is which depends on which way you’re facing). The selection you make determines what side you’re on.
It’s time to bring things back to a fundamental, universal, mythological level. As we are told, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact our lives completely. It will not only change how we communicate, how we produce, how we consume…It will change, actually, us: our own identity.”
This is an existential, mythic moment, during which we have to decide: what forces are we going to allow to shape our identities? Our social infrastructure? Our cultural landscapes? Do we even want them to be changed? If so, in what ways? What is it that makes us human? And are we okay with someone, or anyone, trying to redefine that?
As we ask these questions, it is important not to let old biases, frameworks and prejudices blind us to our potential allies — or get in the way of what truly matters.