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US

The long hegemony of currency

Written by Alexander van Wijnen, september 9 2020

What happened?

As the U.S. dollar has fallen to a two-year low against the euro, there is more and more speculation about the future of the dollar as the global reserve currency. Currently, the discussion is largely based on financial and economic calculations. However, when taking a historical perspective, a clearer picture emerges. The history of hegemony points to the likely future dominance of the U.S. dollar, but leaves room for the emergence of alternative financial ecosystems.

What does this mean?

Financial dominance is the final phase of hegemony, but it lasts for decades. By comparing several elements of hegemony (e.g. military, trade, innovation), Ray Dalio has shown that the power of the global reserve currency is something that outlasts all the other elements of hegemony by a multitude of decades. We have also noted how the Hegemonic Cycle has repeatedly shifted from a phase of “material expansion” to a phase of “financial expansion” of the global economy. Hegemony ends when the hegemonic currency loses its status as the global reserve currency, but such a shift takes a very long time.

What’s next?

Although the dollar is highly likely to remain the global reserve currency for the foreseeable future, other countries, led by China, will build an alternative financial ecosystem. For instance, China’s alternative to SWIFT (the dominant interbank system controlled by the U.S.) is gaining significant momentum. Meanwhile, Chinese financial ecosystems are going global by spreading across Asia and Africa and the Chinese central bank is experimenting with a digital currency. In the long-term, the emerging Chinese financial ecosystem may undermine the position of the dollar in global trade and flows.

QAnon and knowledge

QAnon is a well-known conspiracy theory. It’s also a phenomenon of an era beyond the era of post-truth, in which we uphold the value of truth we are not able to obtain anymore: an era in which there is no truth. More and more people adhere to QAnon, but how should we understand this as a sociopolitical phenomenon?

Our observations

  • QAnon first appeared in October 2017 on 4chan, an online forum popular among alt-right and far-right adherents (it later moved to 8kun, a similar website that used to be called 8chan). The identity of the founder is unknown – all messages on 4chan are anonymous – but this person, who calls himself “Q Clearance Patriot” or just “Q”, claims to be a high-ranking official in the Trump administration with information about a conspiracy to overthrow the president originating from deep within the state. Since October 2017, the anonymous person or group known as “Q” is responsible for 4,600 posts, or “Q drops” indicating that the world, but especially the U.S., is controlled by a “deep state” that Trump is attempting to fight.
  • QAnon originated in a discussion on several platforms on social media and has become something of an “omnispiracy”, encompassing different conspiracy theories. The problem is that its belief systems are intertwined systems of different beliefs that are codependent, so that the many conspiracy theories and beliefs within QAnon can mutually reinforce each other, which is how others can be persuaded to accept new beliefs. As such, QAnon offers an integrated whole of correlated conspiracy theories and “fake news” notions. To deal with QAnon, the whole information ecosystem should be dealt with. Otherwise, any solution will remain local and QAnon will keep cropping up. This could be done by attacking the distribution system of misinformation by informing users about manipulation and fake news, combating echo chambers and tunnels for algorithmic recommendations and actively highlighting contradictions and opposing perspectives, and breaking trust in conspiracy theorists and theories by demonstrating how wrong they are.
  • Though it’s unclear whether QAnon has attracted more adherents than other conspiracy theories, the difference is that with QAnon, those in power spread the theory and thus confirm that its adherents aren’t crazy or outlaws. The community formed by QAnon has helped it to linger longer than other conspiracy theories, while the community works together to ascertain the real truth. Moreover, it plays into the desire for apocalypse and the complete collapse of society and its institutions. At the moment, there are over 35 politicians in the American Congress that have in some form or other proclaimed themselves adherents of QAnon.

Connecting the dots

For a number of years, especially since the election of Trump, we’ve had to deal with fake news. This is, however, only a phase we’ll have to go through. We’ve always relied on certain authorities that brought us truth, such as religious leaders, politicians or other persons whose knowledge we took as gospel. This led to a concentration of power, which also resulted in corruption or tunnel vision (whether consciously or subconsciously). QAnon has emerged from this and shows us a glimpse of the dynamic between media and a “post-truth” era. How can we now understand the rise of QAnon as an exponent of this?

First of all, digital technology now gives people the means to investigate for themselves and to share their insights at low cost and high scalability. This is visible in the stories and decodings of Q drops. Furthermore, the filter bubbles and echo chambers of digital media provide people who have extreme ideas with a platform and the means to broadcast their ideas. As such, QAnon and its narrative belong to the postmodern condition of deconstruction, debunking and false consciousness. Think, for example, of the critical theory of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud – the “masters of suspicion”, according to Ricœur – and this discourse is where QAnon fits in, with its alleged criticism of elites and the technocratic system (i.e. the deep state). QAnon thus appeals to a group that suffers existentially-economically, feels wronged by the leading elite and political systems, and therefore criticize these powers, which takes the form of accusations of corruption or running illustrious networks and systems (e.g. a pedophilia ring).

We’re also living in a time of latent desire for apocalypse and collapse: a preference for chaos in the system over the maintaining of the status quo. That is also the proud message of QAnon’s Awakening and Calm before the storm. Furthermore, QAnon is a meta-conspiracy theory, feeding into all kinds of anti-government sentiment and aversion to centralization of power. This matches the libertarian, anarchist movements in American culture. Corona has had a radicalizing effect on all this anti-government sentiment. Lastly, QAnon is mobilizing the strength of anonymous movements without a leader (e.g. Anonymous and Guy Fawkes, Bitcoin by Nakamoto).

But we shouldn’t just dismiss QAnon as an unnecessary conspiracy theory that wants to criticize, or as an absurd religion. In a broader sense, we’re living in systems in which we mainly take for granted knowledge and convictions handed down to us, or which we’re unable to verify. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as long as we have faith in these systems, instruments and knowledge production. Not every person has to verify for herself whether the earth is in fact round, and we don’t have to continuously engage in philosophical reflection on the knowledge instruments of a hospital to assess a form of treatment. And that means that we’re living in a time of “conspiracy” of interrelated propositions and intertwined ways of knowledge production. And it isn’t just in periods of great change and internal criticism that conditions for truth become apparent and clear. That makes QAnon a metamodern phenomenon; it constructs a narrative with an entire meta-narrative and idea of the Good Life, the political system and truth. At the same time, it’s an undesirable outgrowth, because it’s not committed to the epistemological conditions of falsifiable and coherent theory. Metamodernism is specifically supposed to guard us against that.

Implications

  • Effectively combating QAnon requires a broader view of our “ecology of knowledge production”, in which we include more aspects than a merely theoretical-discursive approach to knowledge production would (i.e. knowledge production as the formulation of true propositions and convictions). An increasing amount of research focuses on the way truth and our beliefs come into existence (e.g. the importance of feelings, the broader knowledge system of propositions and mutual coherence between them, or the way digital media manipulate our rational capacities).

  • Besides the strong focus on how knowledge arises “in ourselves”, we must take a broader view and consider the structural factors that contribute to the belief in conspiracy theories. We’ve written before about the significant demographic and political variables that influence the belief in conspiracy theories. But we should also reflect on the way we achieve ignorance instead of knowledge. The study of “agnotology”, the construction of ignorance and its manifestations, can also be helpful in understanding how conspiracy theories play into this.

Trump faces opposition from his own party for upcoming election

What happened?

The Trump campaign for the 2020 presidential election has not started yet, as we recently explained. However, campaigning against Trump already began months ago. Many forces are trying to keep Trump from winning the elections in 2020, but one of the most striking attempts to do so stem from representatives of the Republican Party itself. Examples are the Republican Voters Against Trump and The Lincoln Project, which were both founded with the explicit goal of preventing the reelection of Donald Trump. Founders of the Lincoln project even ran successful campaigns for Republican candidates before (like Bush senior and junior). The Lincoln Project has created a set of ads that have had a large number of views on social media (its founders are each reaching hundreds of thousands of social media followers with their own accounts) and are aired on conservative news channels such as Fox. For instance, its commercial called “Mourning in America,” riffing off Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” campaign, was aired in May during Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.

What does this mean?

The main reason why Trump faces this unprecedented opposition from his own party is that multiple famous Republicans consider him a danger – a threat to the Republican party, to the constitution, to the country. One of the arguments the campaign brings up is that Trump has proved to be unqualified to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting economic downturn. The goal is thus to convince just enough disaffected Republican voters that it is in the best interest of the nation – even of Republican voters – to support the Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The Lincoln Project aims to win over 3-5% of Republicans in certain states, to assure them that it is OK to change their mind. The Republican Voters Against Trump group has a different strategy. Instead of flashy and funny ads, it has collected hundreds of testimonials from 2016 Trump voters who are planning to vote for Biden in 2020 and airs them in swing states, trying to persuade with real, uncut voices. Interestingly, endorsements from individuals were also part of Obama’s strategy, and seem effective in persuading voters during a time when trust in conservative institutions or notable politicians is low – especially among Republican voters.

What’s next?

It remains to be seen whether these ads and testimonials are persuasive enough to get inside the heads of voters to affect the election. However, the Hillary Clinton defeat taught us how even small gains can mean the difference between a Republican and Democratic win. Furthermore, Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen has explained that the ads have already been successful at getting inside Trump’s head. The Lincoln Project ads garnered so much attention that Trump personally responded by tweeting and addressing the matter to reporters, which in turn has helped the campaign to gain attention and donations. As a result, the group has sufficient funds to better target Trump’s supporters in tight Senate races.