Whenever I hear about an instance of imperialist online censorship, or a short-term plan by a ruling class technocrat to further the erosion of free speech, I wonder: what’s the endgame of this? How far do these oligarchs plan to take their campaign to control the flow of information and suppress dissent? Because the destabilizing events the U.S. empire has undergone during the last year is small compared to what the climate’s meltdown will ultimately do to the capitalist world; as professor Jem Bendel concluded in his 2018 paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, at this point in the deterioration of the climate we need to view “collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and extinction as possible.”
According to the Pentagon, which published a report last year assessing the potential for global warming to destabilize the U.S., this collapse will for one thing mean a widespread breakdown of the country’s power grid—one that will likely happen within “the next 20 years.” This is in addition to the ever-escalating storms, floods, fires, and droughts, which will turn millions in the U.S. alone into refugees in the coming decades. Abrahm Lustgarten of the New York Times wrote this year about just how much these factors will impact the living standards of the masses:
“I mapped out the danger zones that will close in on Americans over the next 30 years… What I found was a nation on the cusp of a great transformation. Across the United States, some 162 million people—nearly one in two—will most likely experience a decline in the quality of their environment, namely more heat and less water. For 93 million of them, the changes could be particularly severe… The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting. Florida officials have already acknowledged that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable. And the nation’s federal flood-insurance program is for the first time requiring that some of its payouts be used to retreat from climate threats across the country. It will soon prove too expensive to maintain the status quo.”
This is what the U.S. ruling class, soon to be led by a Biden administration that’s filled with censorship-eager corporate and political elites, is having to confront in its task of keeping the country stable during the coming decades. A disappearance of habitable zones throughout much of the country, and a resulting breakdown of social support systems that have been stretched thin by decades of neoliberal austerity, will drive tens of millions into abject poverty. The capitalist ruling class has ways of profiting off of disaster, and therefore could survive such a collapse. But the big danger is that these disaffected masses will organize into revolutionary groups that have the political education to take down the capitalist state.
Which is where the censorship campaign comes in. The rapid intensification of online censorship in recent years, mostly carried out by online companies like Facebook and Google at the behest of U.S. intelligence agencies, is only a preparation for the more direct information policing efforts to come. In 2016—which is notably the year when this censorship campaign really kicked into overdrive—the U.S. Army War College published a report which recommended extreme censorship, ostensibly perpetrated by the military, as a route towards pacifying the desperate and disaffected masses of the near future.
The report says that outside of the wealthy “smart cities” of this future will be “feral” ones where the state loses jurisdiction if it doesn’t adequately counter the hypothetical insurgents. And these insurgents, it mentions, will in large part be motivated by a desire to wage class war. It warns of future natural disasters “precipitating the collapse of a fragile city into a feral one. One only has to look at the experience of New Orleans under the impact of Katrina to see how a city can rapidly degenerate into anomie and anarchy, with the normal rules and norms of urban life abruptly jettisoned.” It quotes an academic who says that this loss of control will largely be the result of “class conflict,” which “might greatly complicate the post-combat, pacification, and occupation periods.”
In the military’s efforts to retain control over the populations of destabilized zones, the report says, two major problems will emerge:
“The restoration of order and stability would have to accompany if not precede major disaster relief operations. This effort could also create opposition. The other problem when dealing with cyberspace in relation to megacity contingencies is that adversaries can exploit the almost automatic transparency that it creates—both to show US forces in bad light and their own actions very positively.”
Thus comes the need for heavy-handed censorship within these zones. It says that invasion plans must involve shutting down the internet, cutting off cell phone service, and making sure the local media only puts out U.S. military propaganda. Where this action plan starts to eerily resemble the current operations by online companies to deplatform online anti-imperialist journalists is when it mentions the “online opinion-makers”:
“Part of IPB [intelligence preparation for the urban battlefield] prior to any action in a megacity or sub-megacity must be to identify the services providers for both telecommunications and the Internet. It is also important to identify online opinion-makers who could have a major impact in any controversy over U.S. military intervention.”
Note that while the report generally tries to portray these operations as being planned to take place within future foreign invasions, it outright admits multiple times that U.S. cities will be among the targets for everything it recommends for its future interventions abroad; it says that “The urban dilemma,” where there’s “a risk of insecurity among the urban poor,” is something that “Even cities like Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo are not immune” to. Specifically in regards to its plan for brutally shutting down all opposition to pro-U.S. narratives within the occupied zones, it also says the U.S. could absolutely be one of the place where these things happen:
“Presenting compelling narratives can enhance legitimacy and authority in the eyes of many stakeholders (such as the urban population). Understanding the utility and power of digital media, therefore, allows for enormous reach and breadth that can indirectly alter the battlefield. The user-friendliness of mass media and mobile technology allows adversaries to manipulate and garner favorable public opinion and recruit support. For these reasons and more, civilian and military leaders cannot afford to ignore the requirement for compelling narratives… In the final analysis, the battle of narratives and the contradictions of security are likely to be at the forefront, especially as the most likely contingencies will be humanitarian or stabilization operations. Moreover, such operations could even take place within the continental United States, as demonstrated by the Los Angeles riots and the responses to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Presenting a positive image of the military to the American public is indispensable for continued support.”
To which I say: makes sense. Of course in a situation where the U.S. empire is desperate to maintain control over its internal population, it will resort to all of the most dictatorial actions it accuses its adversaries of engaging in. The nightmare image that the imperialist propagandists paint of north Korea, where a deeply impoverished population is deprived of all information that goes against the government’s reality-inverting narratives, is what the imperialists ironically plan to create for those within the U.S. itself.
Or at least this will be the fate of the poor people within the country. As the climate crisis continues to mount, the rich will still be able to access the internet from within their high-tech urban enclaves, though even this internet (like the West’s internet in general) will at that point be censored to an extreme extent. The journalists who seek to expose the U.S. war crimes which are taking place in the impoverished areas will be hidden from public view, and potentially taken as political prisoners like Julian Assange has been. And the only thing that could change the situation is for those pesky guerrilla forces in the “feral” zones to finally win control over the continent.
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