Cognitive Warfare: Neoliberal Misery & its Destabilizing Consequences

Rainer Shea
This article is part two in a series on American collapse and the potential for a U.S. civil war. Read part one for a detailed explanation of the ideas I’ll mention here about the U.S. empire’s internal cognitive warfare.

The imperialists are the architects of their own demise. Through reacting to the decline of U.S. hegemony by domestically applying Washington’s tactics abroad—highly militarized policing, exploitative policies, covert CIA propaganda, clampdowns on journalism, paramilitarism—the imperialists are ultimately accelerating this unraveling. This is because when these and other imperialist tactics are used abroad, they have the effect of making the places they target more unstable.

Importing the Yugoslavia model for counterrevolution 

To see the socioeconomic consequences of imperialist interventions both abroad and at home, take the impacts of Washington’s meddling within and bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. As Michael Parenti assesses:

The U.S. goal has been to transform the Yugoslav nation into a Third-World region, a cluster of weak right- wing principalities with the following characteristics: incapable of charting an independent course of self-development; a shattered economy and natural resources completely accessible to multinational corporate exploitation, including the enormous mineral wealth in Kosovo; an impoverished, but literate and skilled population forced to work at subsistence wages, constituting a cheap labor pool that will help depress wages in western Europe and elsewhere; dismantled petroleum, engineering, mining, fertilizer, and automobile industries, and various light industries, that offer no further competition with existing Western producers.

The imperialists were able to do this by socially engineering Yugoslavians to not be in a position to resist the destruction of their livelihoods. The CIA manufactured ethnic tensions throughout the Balkans, staging false flags that got blamed on the Serbs and outright fabricating alleged Serbian atrocities. Even after the socialist Serbian leader Milosevic got exonerated on his bogus war crimes charges in 2016, Washington’s propagandists have continued to insist upon his guilt, and portray his allegations of Serbophobia as a Serbian nationalist propaganda tactic. The Serbs have needed to be scapegoated, because without a scapegoat, the empire would have to fess up to its crimes against Yugoslavia’s people.

The empire is now doing the equivalent to those within its own borders. The CIA and its puppeted media outlets have scapegoated the Russians, and even more the Chinese. They’ve blamed destabilizing events within the U.S., like Trump’s election, racial tensions, Covid-19, and January 6th, on these enemies. They’ve cultivated an atmosphere of casual liberal xenophobia towards Russians, and created an explosion in hate crimes against Asians. And it’s all served to shore up the empire’s narrative control over its own citizenry; if Americans are blaming foreigners and minorities, they won’t scrutinize their own government, or the increasingly necro-political policies it’s imposing upon us in reaction to its global loss in influence.

But as with everything the imperialists do, this internally applied Yugoslavia treatment comes at a cost: it replicates the dire and chaotic conditions of imperialism’s targeted countries in the core of the empire, where things are supposed to be relatively prosperous and peaceful. As Cecil Rhodes admitted, imperialism helps the bourgeoisie prevent the lower classes in the imperialist countries from rising up by foisting the worst miseries of capitalism onto those within the countries imperialism exploits. The social contract in a place like the United States depends on the people feeling like the benefits of living under an imperialist regime outweigh the drawbacks.

Proletarian revolution is best able to happen in the places where capital is weakest, thus why history’s socialist revolutions have so far almost all been outside the core imperialist countries. What happens when even the core countries economically contract to the point of having severely weak capital? When they buckle under the weight of their own mounting contradictions? When—most importantly—this leads to the masses within those countries to lose the relative benefits which the imperialists have used to bribe them into complacency?

Doubling down on neoliberal shock policies

This is the stage we’re getting towards due to the ever-more-severe corporate pillage that this internal counterrevolutionary propaganda campaign is enabling. The recent strike wave has provided only so much balance against the ruling oligarchy; despite narratives to the contrary, neoliberalism holds on, because neoliberalism and its agenda of upward wealth redistribution are the only ways to keep profits up at this stage in capitalism’s crisis. The extreme inequality that our ruling class continues to exacerbate is a reaction to capital’s weakening; the maintenance of the lifestyles of the elites depend upon an ever-greater sacrifice of the people the elites see as disposable. Which is a rapidly growing section of the population.

This waning of capital, and the increasingly extreme lengths the ruling class takes to compensate for it, are apparent in the current labor shortage. The failure of wages to keep up with inflation has led to a “Great Resignation,” where millions are refusing to work not out of laziness, but because they don’t see being outrageously exploited as worthwhile. Now the bourgeoisie are considering sending in the National Guard to fill these empty employment roles. Capital has grown so deficient that it’s on the verge of resorting to militarized scabs.

This is a more severe version of the engineered collapse that’s occurring throughout the other imperialist countries. Political economist Ricardo Tranjan recently assessed the implications for Canada of this doubling down on the neoliberal model:

As the dust of the 2021 election settled, it became clear that this 40-year nightmare is not over. With the exception of the $10-a-day child care—a feat that can be credited to a generation of devoted advocates—little has changed. Justin Trudeau rolled back CERB instead of making the long-due changes to unemployment insurance permanent. His party’s platform mentions a new insurance program for the self-employed that leaves out precarious workers. In the housing file, the Liberals continue to focus on making mortgages more accessible and providing loans to private developers. To address the climate crisis, the winning party is promising more of the same inadequately funded, incremental approach that hasn’t worked so far. The proposed corporate tax increase targets banks and insurance companies, leaving out all other industries. The earlier promise to implement a national pharmacare plan fell off the map, perhaps because it requires upsetting the pharmaceutical industrial complex.

The situation is even worse in the United States, because the U.S. lacks internationally common features like universal healthcare and paid parental leave. With the masses still broadly demobilized, and increasingly fragmented by a pandemic environment that’s been exploited by the high-tech sector, the ruling class is emboldened to keep accelerating neoliberalism’s rise in inequality. Monopolies like BlackRock are unprecedentedly expanding their reach at the same time that average workers are getting shut out of society by rising living costs. U.S. billionaires have seen their wealth collectively increase by $2.1 trillion since the pandemic’s start, while over 1 in 3 adults in the country now have difficulty paying for their household expenses.

During the last two years, 15 percent of U.S. households with children have come to be classified as food insecure, with statistics indicating many parents have had to sacrifice their own nutrition to shield their kids from the impacts of the shortage. U.S. evictions are rising following the moratorium’s expiration, confirming the fears about what would come from the government’s neglect of people’s right to housing. A year ago, two-thirds of Americans feared they wouldn’t be able to pay for health insurance in the coming twelve months, a mass anxiety which is now getting vindicated by 2021’s Covid-19 deaths surpassing last year’s toll.

What’s also led to the globally unsurpassed U.S. pandemic death number is the fact that the U.S. is especially deficient in its social safety net, even compared to all the other imperialist countries. When people can’t take time off from work without immediately coming under threat of destitution, effective quarantines are impossible. All of these crises are being exacerbated by the Biden administration, despite its promises to raise living standards; any policies that don’t radically deviate from the neoliberal model are neoliberal shock policies by default, ones that allow dysfunction and misery to be compounded.

In growing chaos like this, crises such as the supply chain disruptions and the climate-related natural disasters get amplified in their humanitarian costs. As do the destabilizing effects of the cognitive warfare that the U.S. empire is increasingly waging against its own people.

Pouring gasoline onto a social tinderbox

I’m not making an “economic anxiety” argument to explain why bigotry against Asians and other minorities has been on the rise in recent years. People don’t become racist simply because they get poorer. But adverse events throughout imperial decline, economic deprivation being one among many, can make people more susceptible to paranoid rhetoric. Rhetoric that the intelligence centers and their media lackeys are eager to promote.

Eric Levitz of New York Magazine has described the ways uncertain times increase the potential for delusional beliefs:

The tendency toward conspiracism is deeply rooted in the human psyche. It manifests across time and geography and is likely a product of evolutionary pressures. On an emotional level, human beings tend to find the idea of being threatened by forces beyond their comprehension or control much more upsetting than being threatened by an intelligible enemy. Social psychologists have found that when fearful people contemplate potential misfortunes, they tend to feel helpless and pessimistic, but when angry people contemplate the same, they feel a sense of optimism and control. And one simple way to transmute fear into anger is to perceive an evil agent behind whatever development is causing you uncertainty and disquiet. (Confronted with apocalyptic wildfires of uncertain origin last week, many conservatives in the Pacific Northwest attributed the conflagration to “antifa” rather than to complex and amoral climactic forces.)

Is it any wonder why Canada is one of the countries where QAnon has been picking up the most traction, given the extent to which Canada has been following Washington’s example of accelerating the neoliberal assault on the masses? Illness begets illness. Miserable conditions beget hate and ignorance, especially when a concerted campaign is being waged to make public sentiments head in such a dark direction.

Indeed, there’s ample evidence that U.S. intelligence has been taking advantage of this growing psychological vulnerability of the masses to sow conspiracy thinking. This year, a Reuters investigation supposedly found that the very first Twitter account to use the term “QAnon” had “retweeted obscure Russian officials.” This is a red flag that QAnon is a modern version of the FBI’s COINTELPRO; in accordance with the numerous anti-Russian hoaxes that have been produced by U.S. intelligence throughout the new cold war, these supposedly Russian sources could have been FBI disinformation agents who were seeking to carry out a psychological operation, and then pin it on a U.S. rival. The FBI may have lit the flame behind the QAnon movement, and the numerous outbreaks of violence this movement has produced.

If this sounds far-fetched, look at the extent to which intelligence operatives have manipulated public opinion surrounding the pandemic, to the effect of inflaming tremendous violence.

Going against numerous warnings from scientists to not believe the “Wuhan lab leak” theory without far more substantial evidence, the liberal side of the U.S. media has been joining the rightists in promoting this conspiracy. As Alan Macleod of MintPressnews has assessed, the intelligence sources behind this narrative show all the red flags for being new versions of the Iraq WMD hoax propagators. So much that “The lab leak theory bears a striking resemblance to the WMD hoax of 2002, not only in the fact that one of its key players is literally the same journalist using potentially the same anonymous sources, but also in the bipartisan political and media support it enjoys.” Elaborates Macleod:

If anything, The Wall Street Journal article [that argues for the conspiracy] is more suspect, given that it is based on nothing but anonymous state officials who refuse to share the evidence or go on the record. National security state operatives are among the least trustworthy sources it is possible to encounter, journalistically speaking, as it is part of their job to plant false information in order to alter public discourse. The only group less deserving of blind faith than natsec officials would be anonymous natsec officials. Yet many of the biggest and most embarrassing media blunders in recent years have been based on dodgy data from shadowy spooks feeding dubious intelligence to credulous dupes in the press….Even worse, The Wall Street Journal article’s lead author is Michael R. Gordon, the reporter infamous for co-authorship of a notorious 2002 New York Times article claiming Saddam Hussein was seeking to build weapons of mass destruction, a piece widely credited as a keystone of the push to invade Iraq the following year. For that article, Gordon also relied upon anonymous state officials.

Russiagate. QAnon. The Wuhan lab leak. All of these conspiracy-fueled hoaxes from the last several years have shared the signs of being intelligence psyops, ones designed to either advance the CIA’s recent meddling in U.S. elections or advance the war buildup against Russia and China. And all of them serve the broader goal of sabotaging the development of class consciousness among the masses, of filling people’s heads with divisive and paranoid nonsense so that they won’t unite against the empire.

The imperialists are trying to make the best of their situation of unprecedentedly contracting capital. They’ve engineered a deterioration of conditions in this country on par with what they’ve done to places like Yugoslavia, then taken advantage of the consequential social ills by subjecting the people to strategic lies. The lab leak lie is perhaps the most destructive one they’ve put out so far; by creating a hoax about China being to blame for the virus, the U.S. ruling class has exploited the massive pandemic deaths that have come about from neoliberalism. This has led to an ongoing increase in hate crimes against Asians, with these crimes sometimes taking the form of mass shootings.

At the same time, QAnon has been motivating its followers to engage in more militia activity and weapons gathering. What will happen when these factors that our government’s propaganda is exacerbating—violent bigotry, paramilitarism, and reactionary vigilantism—combine during the coming years? At what point will capital’s contraction become severe enough for these militias to act as a counterrevolutionary terror force, sanctioned by the state and empowered by the state’s disinformation? What other sorts of extreme measures will the U.S. ruling class be taking by that point?

Rainer Shea: Exposing the lies of capitalism and imperialism. Subscribe to his newsletter on Substack.