Visions Of A New World: My Interview With Eugyppius
Twitter anons VS the “experts,” the origins of wokism, language as a limiting factor in the spread of ideas, and more.
Eugyppius is the pseudonymous author of Eugyppius: A Plague Chronicle, the foremost publication on all things Covid and beyond where he masterfully details what not one single well-funded, well-staffed, well-networked mainstream outlet was able to get right about the last 2 years of unprecedented change. This has probably been my favorite interview so far and it’s made me much more interested in interviewing other pseudonymous writers in the future, and as you read along you’ll see why. There’s maybe something about pseudonymity that frees individuals from the everyday incentives we face to conform and seek status, things you’re bound to do or at least consider when you’re visible since, if you do conform publicly, you’ll get good-boy points from the internet in the form of likes and retweets and followers, and, if you don’t conform, you’ll present a legible attack surface for other status-hungry conformists—nothing signals obedience and ostensible decency like bashing deviations from popular opinion! At any rate, pseudonymity allows the open-airing of truth and that’s exactly what we get here, and if you’re truly concerned with the truth and it’s expression as much as I am, subscribe to Eugyppius’ Substack here and follow him on Twitter for more!
Over the last 6 years or so I’ve seen a kind of (as of yet) unidentified sclerosis creep into widely used online infrastructure; the internet as I knew it became less responsive to my questions and interests, more prone to elevating mainstream sources to satisfy query inputs, less likely to guide me to the individuals actually concerned with whatever problems I was facing. The usual channels for learning more about niche experiences like Google and YouTube became virtually useless, and I began to spend more of my time looking to people on Twitter or rustic web forums for answers, most of whom were anonymous like yourself. But this phenomenon seemed intuitively backward—random internet denizens were somehow producing more insightful commentary on pretty much every matter than highly credentialed experts and capital-heavy institutions. My question to you is: how is this possible? You’ve basically been more right about covid than any mainstream news source I’ve seen, and there is a significant trend online of part-time sleuths predicting world events or describing complex subjects with higher-fidelity than “persons of authority.” But what makes anons and everyday people so much better here than our ostensible betters?
Thanks for your kind words about my work. It's an interesting question, and one I've written about now and then. One of the main things, is that these curated, establishment discourses promoted by the algorithms and sustained by mainstream media organs, are always trying to do something in addition to being right. They're trying to sell advertisements at the very least, but most of them are also running interference for progressive political programs, and striving to manage public opinion. This is also broadly true of academics and most of the experts who are brought to your attention on news programs.
Twitter anons aren't trying to do any of that, so we can speak a lot more freely and grasp problems much more directly than they can. This isn't to say that we're not political, but for me (and I suspect for most others in this sphere), the political commitments are secondary to the empirical project, and arise from it. To that comes the fact that the barriers to entry are a lot lower for us, and competition is much more ruthless. So we cast a wider net for ideas and promote the good ones much more relentlessly.
In addition to just being right, I'm often impressed with how much more agile and sophisticated all of the anons I interact with are, than the participants in expert, establishment discourses. The Twitter blue checks come across as very slack-jawed and narrow-minded by comparison. All the signs of a confident, dynamic discourse are with us – the sly, ironic humour; the openness to critique; resilience in the face of censorship and algorithmic deboosting; the inordinate interest we attract from adversaries.
I want to focus for a second on the progressive political program you’ve mentioned: there’s a trend of revolutionary posturing sweeping through authority and status-minting institutions in the West that’s come with a deeply polarizing affect; shifting, ultimatum-laden demands for (leftwing) ideological commitment have torn apart families, friendships, workplaces, universities, and entire cities in the US have even suffered millions in damage from those demands being taken to their extreme. Social trust has eroded and centers of power have become addled. A number of theories have been advanced to explain what we’re seeing, a few being that unprecedented consensus-generation (virality) from the rise of social media has an over-socializing quality that inspires shock, incredulity, and disgust at dissent; that the rise of secularism has left a God-sized hole that needed filling; that the decline of hobbies has seen the means for deriving positive approval change from doing something and signaling what we’ve done to believing something and signaling our beliefs; and that progressivism is a form of memetic warfare seeded by non-western state actors, which I’m more inclined to believe these days considering that Covid hysteria seems like part of the same thing, with China producing videos of collapsing bystanders at the start of the pandemic to seemingly bait western powers into overreaction. What do you attribute to the rise of the ideology we’re seeing?
All these are very good explanations for the rise of wokery, and they clearly all play a part. Not just social media, but the expansion of the technological apparatus in general, has had a destabilising effect on western culture. We are all of us increasingly withdrawn from natural conditions, we spend most of our time in artificial environments. Our experience of the world is mediated by technology, and so we see corresponding cultural and social tendencies to deny our biological essence. This is important, because most of leftist wokery is about overcoming our animal and physical natures – whether it is denying sex differences, the influence of genes on behaviour, unequally distributed cognitive capacity, and so on.
Beyond that, I think there's another component of social media that we understand only imperfectly, and that is the degree to which it is used deliberately to influence our ideas and behaviour. Social media platforms want universal participation and an advertiser-friendly experience, and they have coincided with the rise of a woke ideology that is pathologically inclusive and that seeks to suppress certain human emotions (hate, anger) which are not conducive to consumption. You propose that "progressivism" might be "a form of memetic warfare seeded by non-western state actors," and I think theories in this direction should be taken very seriously, especially if we expand the idea a little, to include also western actors in the major technological enterprises like Google. These people are notoriously pozzed, they have amassed a wealth of data on all of our habits and how we respond to content on their platforms. The result is a massive and increasingly sophisticated effort to manipulate the opinions and beliefs of billions of people across the globe. There is a good chance that the trangender craze arises from algorithmic manipulation, and I really, really want someone to explore the extent to which big tech was involved in pushing lockdowns and containment policies. A lot of these ideas seem to have first emerged in Bay Area tech circles.
It looks pretty bleak, but one reason for hope is that progressive wokery is at root a disease of affluence. It is not a normal, self-sustaining cultural tradition, and sooner or later it will end, whenever the money runs out, if not before.
Has wokery affected your personal life living in Germany? Various political polls here in the US have seen self-censorship and cancellation become the new norm where unorthodox thinking was once the rule and where personal views simply didn’t matter, and just anecdotally a startling number of people I know have experienced both a compulsion to lie publicly about personal views to maintain social-standing and livelihoods, and the loss of relationships and opportunities when non-mainstream views have been discovered or aired. What has your experience been so far here and what differences do you see between European and US manifestations of wokeness?
This is an interesting question, because the answer is that wokery has affected my life here in Germany far, far less than it did when I was living in the United States. This is not to say that there is no wokery in Germany, but it's far more limited, particularly in the south. One theory would be that we're just behind America, perhaps by 20 years or so, and in some ways this seems plausible. For example, the primary woke-adjacent political concerns are classic feminist issues of the kind that would strike an American as quaint, such as equal career opportunities for women, and (huge in Germany right now) gender-neutral language. But it's more than that too, I think. There is the fact that Germany has its own quite separate original historical sin, namely the Holocaust, and so aggressive woke doctrines about white oppressor classes are superfluous here. To some unknown degree, and in a way I can't even articulate all that well, I would also posit that wokery and the English language are closely related, and that as a political religion, wokery has trouble operating outside the Anglophone world. Thus wokery is more current in Scandinavia than Germany, and actually quite crazy in Scandinavian schools (where the language of instruction is generally English); it's worse in the north than in the south, it's worse in cities than in the countryside, it's promoted primarily by our very Anglo-centric mass media. Finally, Germany (and Europe in general) is much more racially homogeneous than the United States, so wokery beyond feminist topics lacks an organic constituency; and I don't teach students anymore, and students and the student-focussed administration were, in my prior life as a professor in the US, the main way that wokery made itself felt in my everyday routine.
When it comes to feminism and equality among the sexes, I don't really obfuscate my views. This irritates some people, but surprisingly fewer than you'd think. There just isn't any of the toxic hysteria here, that there is in America, the UK and Canada. On some topics (including Corona) I do obfuscate my views, because I'm not in a position to change anything.
Can you go a bit further into the English language being conducive to wokeism? This is probably one of the most interesting perspectives where meme-development and propagation is concerned but I’ve only had cursory exposure to ideas related, like for example I’ve heard that German with all its precision and granularity is the language most hospitable to philosophy, so I’m wondering if there’s more there: Do certain languages act as hedges against certain ideas or as fecund ground for their development and spread?
Well, these are just half-formed intuitions, but I’m happy to expand. Just observationally, wokery in German is almost always accompanied by a deluge of English vocabulary, and again is associated with those regions and social sectors closest to the Anglophone world. Why might that be?
There is in the strictest sense what you’re alluding to, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis - the idea that languages or linguistic categories determine or guide thought. While I’m sceptical of the work I’ve read in this area, a few small points do come to mind. One is that the gender deconstructionists will probably have a harder time in languages with grammatical gender. When everything, from inanimate objects to animals to abstract ideas, has gendered articles and pronouns, special pronoun tricks become more challenging and less plausible. And staying with pronouns for a moment, I think the deeper goal of leftist word games like this is to introduce grammatical awkwardness, and to make plain speech difficult. Different languages offer different paths to achieving this. Thus, parallel to pronoun insanity in English, German leftists have engaged in a long-running (and equally absurd) attempt to introduce gender-neutral speaking habits, which is substantially more difficult and awkward in German than English. Wokery isn’t all about word games, of course, so this can’t be a full explanation, but it’s maybe a start, and perhaps there are deeper and less obvious ways in which language works here too.
But I also think wokery is native to and embedded in a tradition of critical theory, which has its deepest roots in postmodern critical theory. The earliest layers here (Frankfurt School) were obviously German, but the more direct foundations are French writers like Foucault and Baudrillard, and then English-language theorists like Judith Butler and the lamentable Kimberlé Crenshaw and so on. It’s hard to disentangle all the cause and effect going on here. On the one hand, these are arguments embedded in what you might call a broader intellectual operating system that, despite pervasive translation, exists only incompletely and without much cultural resonance outside the English language. On the other hand, these woke theorists are appealing to the interests of certain constituencies or political factions that, for historical and demographic reasons, don’t really exist outside of America and perhaps the UK. Intersectionality, for example, has something to do with the fact that affirmative action in the United States brought a lot of black women into white-collar jobs and universities, but very few black men. Black women thus needed a theoretical construct to maintain their position atop the victim hierarchy. These are social constellations that don’t exist outside the post-colonial Anglophone world. Which raises another point, the fact that wokery has a clear post-colonial political role, which will resonate far less in countries outside the Anglosphere that don’t have a very significant colonising past.
A final point would probably be that the Anglosphere has this tradition of often private residential universities, which I think are crucial for fostering a certain kind of leftist activism. Here my thoughts are even less well-formed than about English as the native language of wokeness, but in continental Europe, the university system is overwhelmingly public, with comparatively much smaller administrations, less well-defined campuses, relatively few student services, and so on. It’s much harder for schools to incubate these extremist left-wing cultures of permanent racial offence and protest. This isn’t to say there’s no leftist activism at European Unis - there is no end of it - but it’s generally much more integrated with the world beyond the university and the broader political environment, which mitigates certain kinds of extremism (but not others).
This is all reminding me of something I’ve wondered in the past 24 hours: One facet of the language angle of wokeism is that it maybe signals the acme of what Fukuyama considered a core feature of liberal democracies: the sort of simulation of war, the impulse for conquest acted out as upward advancement in academic, governmental, or private sector bureaucracies, now expressed as conquest over the language governing the procedures of our bureaucracies. Now new procedures with a new language are used by individuals unwilling or unable to play competence games to seize new territory in the academic landscape, by governments to seize new powers over the will of their people, by corporations to seize new standards for themselves beyond those of safety and quality or, for platforms, new standards beyond adherence to laws that may have constrained them to protection of privacy and the guarantee of freedom of expression. A new form of soft-power has been realized in the West which can bludgeon seemingly anyone into submission or achieve previously inaccessible goals. Countries like the United States and Canada seem smug in its deployment, confident that nothing can overcome its ability to guilt, shame, dehumanize, or transform the order of the world. But the incident happening now between Russia and Ukraine has maybe shown another way, an old way which may have defied Pax Americana, a way that shouts loudly that strength and ambition don’t need to be bound by procedural norms or obfuscated by compassionate misdirection! For the first time perhaps since the end of the Cold War the genteel cornerstone of liberalism—the idea that governance by procedure (and now by changes to procedural language) can exist without challenge—has proven itself assailable. How do you view US hegemony in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what are your predictions for the state of the world order if liberal democracy loses face?
(Eugyppius here takes a brief break before answering. I harassed him a lot, the interview was too 🔥🔥🔥 to stop now)
In a way, I‘m almost grateful my answer comes at such delay, after the West imposed its unprecedented sanctions regime on Russia. This extends even to the withdrawal of American television news operations; the western propaganda of CNN will no longer be broadcast to Russians, and this is supposed to punish them somehow. If this continues for very long, it will lead to the development of a Russo-Chinese financial, industrial, perhaps even metacultural sphere, a multipolar world and an alternative to the West. On the one hand, I think this is the result of a lot of undirected, systemic processes premised on corporate virtue signalling and pandering to blue check outrage mob on Twitter. It helps to remember that a lot of the people making these decisions are incredibly parochial; they live in bubbles where everybody has the same views, and this leads to strange extremism, like these Munich doctors refusing to treat Russian patients. On the other hand, though, in a broader metaphorical or even spiritual sense, perhaps it means the abandonment of western universalist claims. A world in which the West has to develop a particularist conception of itself as something other than these abstract platitudes about democracy and freedom and so on, could only be an improvement on what we have right now.
In the near term, of course, I think the humiliation of the West is very dangerous. Not only the political leadership, but also many of the urban upper middle-class sub-elites, live in a state of profound isolation from reality, including geopolitical reality. While I think the nature of the post-political West is to prefer cultural and economic assimilation to military solutions, they also have a lot of munitions and they command substantial armies, and it‘s conceivable they misjudge the situation and do something really stupid, like escalate to direct military confrontation with Russia.
Despite all that we’re seeing happen in the world now, are we gonna make it?
Yes, I think we will make it. I’m not sure any of us will live long enough to see the end of this period of decline, and I’m even more pessimistic that anything can be done to reverse it. But beyond that, there are are reasons for optimism: Firstly, as things unravel, and the globalist vampire squid loses its monolithic hold, there will be more opportunities for some of us, here and there, to create alternative communities or even small-scale political orders that provide some relief from the decline and allow us to realise some of our vision. Secondly, it is the broader globalist machine that is artificial and requires enormous effort and resources to stay running. We represent nothing but older, more traditional, much more stable ways of living and conceiving of the world, which are rooted in our nature and biology and can‘t really be abolished. We can‘t ever be defeated, just sidelined for a time, and the corollary to this is that our enemies can never win, they can just dominate for a time.