Memetic archetypes in information warfare
What the cultural chaos-patterns tell us about the far-right terror
“The passion for destruction is also a creative power.” Mikhail Bakunin, Russian anarchist
In the information noise created through aggressive building of social media algorithms, we can see the uncanny cognitive chaos, swallowing people like The Infinity War of Thanos. Our civilization was built on the cornerstone of truth, verification, evidence and superiority of science. Is there any hope to turn the chaos into consensus again or have we crossed the Rubicon and gone to war?
No worries, I’m not going to explain the toxic business model of social media and Google again. There are people with high expertise I can just recommend you to read. This time I am heading in a different direction.
What struck me recently are some unusually visible patterns in the most dangerous part of the new communications paradigm — the information warfare.
Since the parallel universes of information warriors collided to create a completely new attacking power named Cambridge Analytica, a lot of things changed. Cambridge Analytica doesn’t exist anymore and instead, we see a bunch of new private behavioural — Big Data armies for sale, who are developing their abilities to influence our perception of reality at a fascinating speed. Yes, this should never happen and the line between the state defence and private business should never have been crossed. As a result, we are facing a mortal threat to the cognitive environment of our democracies.
Most of the “privately-owned” PsyOp armies of digital specialists serve the purpose of undermining the trust of citizens, deepening conflicts and creating huge obstacles to the common consensus on truth and common perception of the enemy. We do not agree who the real enemy is: is it our neighbour, is it our government, is it Russia or other adversaries? Our answers tragically differ. And this is not the only effect we can see. Information warfare has broken our previous communication — distribution system and implemented millions of new unverifiable nodes, resources and amplifications of half-truths and complete BS. The well-established system of information authorities and opinion-makers was broken and we entered a perfect chaos where no hierarchy can bring back former rules again. The crazy Antivaxx neighbour is now more trusted than our scientists or journalists.
Abandoned, bored and angry men and women seduced by the Sirenes singing about higher values of life, bravery, homeland, strength, and glory, dive deep into virtual reality combat games, that invite them to protect the white race, the ‘Christian values’ and storm the Capitol to protect their leader, the Jungian blond giant. Some of them believe to be fighters against a cabal of pedophiles, some of them just lost their purpose in a meaningless reality, attracted to the new one, offered in online groups. All this creates a weak, unstable environment for every kind of leadership and collective action, which is the goal of information warfare.
Digging deeper into that newly created chaos, we can observe some emerging patterns in memes and infodemic narratives.
The eternal return
Those who chose the far-right ideology as a tool to overthrow democracy, share some similar patterns in their stories and cultural memes. Surprisingly, the way to destroy our roots of evidence-based thinking leads through archetypes of the opposite idea of Christianity.
Pre-Christian cults on European territory lived in the concept of the eternal return, of infinite switch between day and night, between seasons, glory and fall, in a cycle of growth and destruction. Nietzsche´s eternal return revival was a small step forward to the Communist and Nazi idea to “help” the cycle turn faster and destroy the old world to achieve and actively shape a new future. Both communists and Nazis deeply refused the Christian vision of linear development, as a long stretchy way from point X to point Z, where human free will, curiosity, seeking of truth and God´s blessing could determine the result.
The return of the eternal cycle concept became especially remarkable in new conspiracy theories. Human being resigns on its own talents and responsibilities, on God’s help. Everything is determined, the world is driven by secretive powers beyond the reach of ordinary people and there is no personal responsibility in whatever you do or fail. The seductive idea of “speeding up the cycle of destruction and renewal” makes the people attack the collective rules of cohesion to become the servants of inevitable destruction. It’s not the fight for Christian values, quite the opposite. It is a massive revival of paganism and mystic cults from the past. We still somehow keep it in our collective memory and the seductive propaganda knows how to make it woke again.
Bannon and Surkov: two false prophets
By unravelling technological and narrative patterns, sooner or later you’ll come across two names. Vladislav Surkov and Stephen Bannon. Those two have something in common. They both spent part of their lives in the army, both studied business at the elite schools in their countries and then moved to dream factories, theatre and film. Bannon, too, has experience in the gaming industry. And they both ended up as the chief architects of the propaganda war machine, based on the military techniques of persuasion. Both have been able to create content that speaks to the collective demons we carry within, who speak to us in symbols of the inherited unconscious memory of our ancestors.
What can we see beneath their ideological work? Bannon invented Trumpism, Surkov named the official ideology Putinism (cute subservience, right?). Both admire theatre, memes, history, rappers and the strategy of controlling both sides of the chessboard by creating hatred and conflict (while secretively supporting the extremities on both sides). Both are unsuccessful authors of novels or theatre pieces. Both eager to play with people’s mind. There is no secret that Bannon admires Strauss and Howe (Four turnings, growth and fall, endlessly repeated)and the torchbearers of the Perennial Tradition Maurras and Evola. What else do we see as the return of the paganic narrative?
Becoming Tyler Durden
In the Jungian world, there is a shift between the Ego and the Shadow. A thin border between meaning and absurdity, between order and chaos. For traumatized people, there is nothing worse than to face the chaos, than the idea that their suffering was just coincidental, without meaning. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I see this pattern kept repeating, again and again, even my own friend who suffered a trauma from fire as a kid is now that kind of “esoteric freak” trying desperately find the answer: “Why me?”
Those people are thirsty for “explanations” and “meaning”. And the devil´s mind behind the Qanon has THE ANSWER for them: “You may have suffered as a child, but only to save millions of children later! Your job may suck, but you can now stop the steal and become a part of history!”
On my long way to research the roots of propaganda attacks inside of our Big Data society, my clever son Frank made me aware of the important piece of the popular culture. I was looking for the modern archetype of the Destroyer, something less funny than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghost Busters. Frank showed me the Fight Club and pointed his finger at the character named Tyler Durden. “That´s him. This is what you’re looking for.” He was right. Tyler Durden is the fictional alter ego of a young man with a meaningless job in a corporate company. When I listened to his sentences, I suffered a strong déjà vu: “OMG! This is like the extract of 8chan, Parler, Wizzard Chan, Gab and Breitbart discussion forum altogether!”
Just to understand the character, listen to what Tyler Durden says and why he became such a cult person:
1. “Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
2. “I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very very pissed off.”
3. “If you could be either God’s worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose?”
Feed the Demons: The ultimate method
Banon and Surkov almost won. Their product was the awakening and feeding of our old destructive unconscious demons left us by philosophers of the eternal return (I wrote a whole political thriller around this story named Feed the Demons). Digging deep in the patterns of human behavioural psychology, the propaganda masters found a huge seductive power of violent destruction, which led the German people in 1933 to the new mystical hope of “being a part of something much bigger”. They both understood that people break every rule if offered a HIGHER PURPOSE to their meaningless monotonous lives. This is what propaganda does. In fact, it´s a substitute for religion or a missing sense of human value. Modern capitalism has nothing to offer except buying stuff or consuming amusement to make us addicted to the circle of emptiness. The people who stormed Capitol were maybe people with different sorts of trauma scraped by propaganda and PsyOp, but definitely not the “deplorables”. I saw a crowd of people seeking their purpose in life. And yes, states that fail to find that “meaning” are condemned to have their citizens “hacked” by foreign or domestic propagandists. Or both.
(Thank you, Frank!)
Research of Russian disinfo, seminar leader and public speaker. Author of books on Information Warfare. www.alvarova.com