Are You Free?

Anarchy – “a state of society without government or law,” “political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control,” “lack of obedience to an authority; insubordination.”

Oligarchy – “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.”

In addition to those words defined above I had originally conceived of also illustrating the definition of power. Yet it appears to me – as of the time I write this – that there are multiple problems therein:

  1. There are a good many breeds of power.
  2. The interpretation thereof will vary wildly from reader to reader, depending on one’s present circumstances, political persuasion, or loosely-defined social/cultural explanations of power; as well as the processes by which it is secured and exerted.
  3. There should be no ambiguity regarding the purpose for which it is defined, as Marxian criticisms of power, power relations, and hierarchy – i.e. “power” in relation to the labor theory of value, for example – are not respected in the following commentary.

However, we can attempt to refine power as strictly and objectively as possible, without having to endure a lesson in philosophy. Henceforth, and for the purposes of this commentary, we can define and refer to “power” in more precise synonyms in no particular order:

  • Authority – “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.”
  • Influence – “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.”
  • Prestige (adj) – “having or showing success, rank, wealth, etc.”
  • Hegemony – “leadership or predominant influence exercised by one nation over others, as in a confederation.”
  • License – “permission to do or not to do something.”

The definitions above, along with many others might coalesce into a sort of temporary definition, at the very least, for the sake of commentary. With that out of the way, we can observe some modes in which power is exerted, the pros and cons of those modes, and the processes by which they are exercised.

Until this point, the purpose of defining anarchy and oligarchy may have been of some confusion. This is because the objective of this analysis is to study the way by which anarchy and oligarchy may work in concert in order to express a highly particular, uniquely modern, and exceptionally Western form of rule; which, as unpleasant as may be, might provide some insight into the way that the system seeks to control.

By the system I mean the current organization and arrangement of (mainly) Western government and any other institution, private or public, existing within and to any extent intertwined with said government. At the risk of resembling a Boomer hippie or a first-semester-of-college millennial, I will continue to call the system precisely what it is. There is no need to call this configuration anything other than “the system.” We know what it means.

As another caveat, let us not pretend that the system has no desire to influence your thoughts and actions. By its very definition, there is no system in the world that does not seek to change the behavior of its subjects. This is not to say that every system wishes ill upon those under its governance and administration, as the ruling elite of each system influences its subjects for a purpose that (often) does not involve the complete annihilation of its own.
The Exertion of Power

Insofar as the question of how power and control are made use of, there are two main “modes” which I believe accurately encapsulate the manner by which a population is controlled – yet these modes are not mutually exclusive. A given system can dominate its subordinates in exclusively one mode and one mode only, or a combination of the two modes can be utilized. The latter often existing in the case of multiple factions within the system’s upper echelons that may conspire, or may not.


To cut to the chase, I’ll pose a question. If I mention the word tyranny, what is the first nation-state that comes to mind?

Do you think of the monarchies of old? Do you think of the British Empire? Do you think of U.S. imperialism? What else? Does North Korea come to mind? Or perhaps The Democratic People’s Republic of China? Maybe even the Russian Soviet Union?

These systems are typically the immediate response to certain keywords such as tyranny, autocracy, authoritarianism, despotism, and so on. I would argue that this response is somewhat conditioned, which is not to say that each and every one of the aforementioned systems were not tyrannical, autocratic, authoritarian, despotic, etc. It is to say that as Westerners, we have conceived of this type of power – the raw, unabashed, in-your-face power – as the ultimate expression of a distinct and uniquely evil desire for domination, oppression, brutality, and subjugation. Whether those descriptions of evil are true as they relate to any individual regime is for one to decide himself.

These sorts of systems which openly subjugate, control, and otherwise exert power over their denizens are merely one of the operational modes – one side of the coin, if you will. This sort of system we can call the Hard Power System (henceforth HPS). Though the HPS will arrest, torture, and generally make life miserable for some (such as, but not limited to political dissidents, historical “revisionists,” and religious figures) it does so in an overt and conspicuous manner. If you are arrested in The Democratic People’s Republic of China, you will be told why you were arrested.

“You are under arrest for conspiracy to commit treasonous acts against the Chinese Communist Party,” they might say. Otherwise “你因串谋对中国共产党采取叛国行为而被捕.”

The overarching system of mainland China, as an example, is not afraid to show you that they are capable of and will use force against detractors and dissidents in relation to the party. It is authority. It is – dare I say – authoritarian. However, I would regret having this go without mention:

Authoritarianism is not inherently an evil thing.

As Westerners, we tend to conceptualize authoritarianism as the most evil thing in the world. There are two reasons why the worst thing you could ever call any other citizen of a Western country a “Fascist,” a “Nazi,” or “literally Hitler,” and the denotation of such slurs is certainly one of those reasons: ‘you are a fanatic who seeks to control others and kill them if you continue believing what you believe.’

Yet I would challenge one to think about how the citizens of HPS might truly feel about their situation. Is it as bad as we think it is? While living and teaching in The Democratic People’s Republic of China, I came to know many Chinese people, most of whom were coworkers. One could imagine that in downtime, many conversations were had about the differences, both subtle and overt, negative and positive, between the respective systems under which we were born. Of course, I knew about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which resulted in the slaughter of hundreds upon hundreds. I knew about Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, both which claimed casualties in the tens of millions. But the Chinese don’t know. They might know that the incidents exist, but they certainly don’t know the raw havoc that sent millions upon millions to an early grave. I knew of these things, yet I also knew (for the most part) almost exactly what you can and cannot say. There is a certain comfort in knowing where the boundaries lie.

Nevertheless, aside from using certain parts of the internet and speaking openly in defiance of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, I was not in danger. Conversely, I remember the expression of complete disgust and disdain returned to me when I mentioned that doctors prescribe Adderall to children, or when I mentioned that there are places where you will be fined if you do not call a man in a wig a woman, or perhaps when I mentioned that a teacher can’t give their student a pat on the head without fearing a lawsuit. The more I spoke with them, the more I realized that I am not as free in America as I would’ve had them believe. I did not understand that there was a sort of freedom in walking down an alleyway in the dead of night with the only fear that perhaps some kind Chinese person will try to strike up a friendly conversation.

This leads into the reverse side in the exertion of power.


I am sure that many will guess by the acronym alone that the reverse of HPS is SPS. Whereas Hard Power Systems rely on the overt usage of control and forced compliance by the excessively ordered implementation of rules and regulations, the Soft Power System (henceforth SPS) does nearly the opposite. Soft power is that power that is set principally by non-state actors, which can make things a bit more complicated.

The SPS is just as dominant as the HPS, but it dominates by way of culture. It has no need for excessive displays of force as it is the one that sets the cultural narrative. SPS is an inherently cosmopolitan system. These rules and regulations flow outwards from primary school to university education; coming from the elite of large metropolitan areas, political parties, the media, and large corporations.

Though I feel that many will disagree with whether SPS is good or not, I think most might be able to agree that whatever the content, rules, mores, or regulations that arise from Soft Power Systems, there are Soft Power Systems, and they are extraordinarily effective.

In an HPS, we might see the system actively placating those in rural areas, people with backgrounds in the military – religious people.

On the other hand, the SPS targets the exact opposite population for placation. This is because metropolitan areas, with their abundance of human resources (pun intended), are wildly successful in quickly and memetically spreading ideology to the whole of the system’s population.

One very important note here is that those who work to actively promote the guidelines which make up the SPS are not involved in a conspiracy to change the culture. Much of what an SPS does revolves around social control – established via a loose societal consensus regarding what is acceptable and what is not. This consensus doesn’t come with a design, but is based on a solid foundation of philosophy and epistemology. The primary mechanism by which the SPS maintains its control is social pressure and ostracism. As an example, though we might think of a monarch as expressing hard power and hard power only, there was quite a lot of soft power involved in monarchy. Over generations, the population was conditioned to believe that the king was the rightful heir of the throne because it was inherited from God. These days we might find this notion ridiculous, but the SPS largely came from the Church. Go against the king, and you have made an affront towards God himself, and who among the kingdom does not believe in God? Further still, who among the kingdom will not punish you for the heretical act of defying the king, and by direct association, attacking the Holy Church itself?

Though 99% of the world does not live in a kingdom – at least a functional one – there is an overarching force of soft power which permeates all of the West. It is inescapable. In my previous article, I described the function by which society marches ever further leftward and this is enforced precisely through the SPS under which we live. Think about this:

There is a twenty-eight year old woman who harbors racial prejudice. Racial prejudice is one of the most taboo subjects within all of the West. While having a private conversation with a friend, she says a racial slur. Her friend proceeds to provoke her, and records it on video. Her friend posts the video to twitter. The prime movers of the SPS spread the video like wildfire. The woman is fired. She is not afforded social media accounts. Her family disowns her as a result of social pressure to do so. Private corporations – a large part of soft power – disallow her to fund raise on all crowd-funded websites where those who might be sympathetic could offer her money. She has effectively lost everything.

Now, let’s think about this:

There is a twenty-eight year old woman who harbors anti-Christian beliefs – or lack thereof, I suppose. Sacrilege is one of the most taboo subjects within all of the West. While having a private conversation with a friend, she states that she would kill Christ herself had he not already died. Her friend proceeds to provoke her, and remembers everything the woman said. Her friend tells the priest. The Church liturgy spread the message about her like wildfire. The woman loses all working prospects. She cannot speak in public. Her family disowns her as a result of social pressure to do so. The man who sold her potatoes and bread once a week spits on her when she tries to approach him. Her husband leaves her and removes her from the house. She has effectively lost everything.

What is the difference other than four or five hundred years?

The woman in both of the above situations was never oppressed by the state itself, but to claim the soft power expressed in the scenarios above has less effect on her than hard power could would be a mistake. This is not to say that SPS is better than HPS or that HPS is better than SPS; rather, it is a description, but I digress.

All definitions sourced from –

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