Prison Is Neoliberalism’s Social Safety Net: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Caitlin Johnstone
9 min readDec 22, 2020
Image via Stocksnap/Matthew Henry

Hi here’s $600, please forget that guillotines are a thing.

If a $600 stimulus check isn’t enough for you, then don’t be poor. If you’re poor, get another job. If there are no jobs, find some money. If you find money in unauthorized ways, we’ll throw you in prison. If you decide to just be homeless, we’ll throw you in prison for that too. If all this drives you insane, don’t worry, mental illness is what we have prisons for.

Prison is the social safety net of neoliberalism.

Life is a series of psyops. When you’re little it’s psyops about Santa and the Tooth Fairy. When you go to school it’s psyops about your government being a democracy and the news being true. When you grow up it’s psyops about capitalism totally working and the economy being real.

As your world gets bigger, so do the manipulations. They start out as cute little lies told to children by parents, and by the time you’re grown it’s a vast power-serving worldview designed to ensure the perpetual domination of an omnicidal, ecocidal global empire.

The problem with trying to work within the system to fix the system is that the system is not broken; it’s working exactly as intended. Your very first step in that direction is therefore a step right into the mouth of the monster without your sword or shield. It will devour you.

Wanting to work within the system to fix the system is approaching a monster that is genetically engineered to destroy everything you desire, with your hands empty and outstretched, saying “Can we be friends?” And of course it’s going to say “Sure! Come on in” through its dripping fangs.

Western propaganda is like advertising and uses the same psychological hooks as advertising, but it’s far more effective because people don’t know it’s advertising. It’s like if Anderson Cooper kept giving breaking news reports that drinking Red Bull doubles your life expectancy. Imagine how many more Red Bulls would be sold if people thought they were receiving factual news reports about its miraculous health benefits instead of paid advertisements. It’d be astronomical.

Advertising is a trillion-dollar industry worldwide because it works. And propaganda works much, much more effectively.

There is no valid reason for the entire US-led world order not to have been completely dismantled after the invasion of Iraq.

“Progressives should not push for universal healthcare at this time, they should wait for the next once-in-a-century opportunity like the one being presented right now by this pandemic. I am much more intelligent and mature than you.”

“Now is not the time to push for Medicare for All. First you need to wait until Democrats have a veto-proof supermajority in the House and Senate, then you need to wait until all the Democrats who oppose Medicare for All have been primaried, then you need to wait until a fake MSM-driven antisemitism scandal takes it all away.”

In normal countries opposing universal healthcare is career suicide for any politician in any party; it’s impossible to win elections on that platform. The only reason politicians can get away with it in the US is because Americans have never experienced a real healthcare system.

And of course the US is kept different because it is the hub of a globe-spanning empire whose continued existence depends on keeping the local population too poor and propagandized to mobilize politically and stop the war and military expansionism which holds the empire together. An entire empire depends on keeping Americans too poor to compete politically with the plutocratic class which uses its wealth advantage to control the political/media class, and too propagandized to know that things ought to be different. That’s the real reason behind all this.

Shitlibs: “Elect them and then hold their feet to the fire!”

Jimmy Dore: “Here’s an idea, let’s hold their feet to the fire!”

Shitlibs: “Oh God no don’t hold their feet to the fire, you’ll burn their feet.”

Give me one loud, profanity-slinging leftist appealing to the people in an interesting and engaging way that everyone can understand over a thousand overeducated snobs putting people to sleep with dry and esoteric Marxist university jargon.

The revolutionary struggle is ultimately always a battle of movement vs inertia. One side says “We need to move!” and the other side makes clever-sounding arguments for why not moving is actually the better strategy right now. In such debates, the movement side is always correct.

You don’t push politicians to act in your interests because you think they will, you do it to show everyone that they won’t. You get them essentially making your argument for you: Oh we can’t fight for that right now because the system is rigged to nullify our attempts to do so.

It’s a win-win proposition. At worst they prove you wrong and actually do act in your interests. The only thing you risk losing is a few closet shitlib followers on social media.

Americans keep expecting a system that’s not built to serve their interests to serve their interests:

  • Progressives look to congress for economic justice.
  • Trumpers think the judicial system will overturn the election.
  • Liberals thought Mueller would arrest the entire Trump camp.

What these all have in common is a belief that the system can be used to radically change the system, and it just can’t. The system is built by the powerful to maintain power structures which serve the powerful. That’s it. It’s not going to suddenly start serving your interests.

This is why the main US factions keep being proven wrong about their predictions of apocalyptic revelations which will take out the other party: they’re taking it as a given that there’s some part of the system which works in opposition to the other parts on behalf of justice. Trump is obviously corrupt, so Democrats assumed an investigation would turn up corruption and he’d be punished for it, erroneously taking it as a given that the judicial system might turn against the president. Same with the Trumpers who think the election results will be overturned.

And that’s just not what the system is for. Even relatively awake people often cling to the delusion that there exists some part of their federal governmental structure which is there to serve them, when really its primary function is to protect the powerful from them.

You guys, Russia totally hacked the US right before a new president took office again, so now it’s important for that president to push more cold war aggressions against Russia again. The evidence is entirely classified again but we need to trust and support it anyway. Again.

The political/media class keeps telling us America is being “attacked” by hackers and every time they say it’s a new Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Isn’t it funny how all these Pearl Harbors and 9/11s are always completely invisible to the public, and the evidence for who perpetrated them is always classified?

After 9/11 you got people examining footage, examining the wreckage, examining the actual forensic evidence and forming their own opinions about what happened and who was responsible. If there is no footage, wreckage or forensic evidence for you to look at, this can’t be done.

If I made a major incendiary claim, you’d want to see some evidence. If I told you “Well the evidence is secret,” you’d rightly dismiss me as a crackpot. But if I worked for a government agency with an extensive history of lying, the political/media class would accept my claim as fact.

There’s no good reason to place your primary focus on “Trump bad” stories anymore. We’ve had four years of that, now he’s on his way out the door. Biden is the next president and he’s already doing lots of things that need criticism and scrutiny. Start punching up.

People who wrongly saw Russiagate as the deep state attacking Trump because they don’t like him won’t recognize the similarities to the Chinagate op. Those who know Russiagate was the US intelligence cartel manufacturing a case for aggressions against Russia will see the same thing happening with Chinagate.

Russiagate was not the deep state attacking Trump because they don’t like him; it was barely about Trump at all. It was about reigniting cold war hysteria and manufacturing support for a new cold war. All the China/Biden stuff will be used in the same way. Some analysts recognize the fact that during Russiagate, Trump actually greatly increased cold war aggressions against Russia, but not many make the jump to seeing that that was actually what it was all about. Escalations against Russia and China have been planned for many years.

“But Caitlin, Russiagate was fake and Chinagate is REAL!” No you dupe. You only believe that because you think Russiagate was about Trump. If you understood that it’s just the US intelligence cartel diddling narratives to force a confrontation before US hegemony is surpassed, you’d see them as the same.

The battle is between those fighting to turn the lights on and those fighting to keep the lights off. Those fighting to see what’s going on in their world uninhibited by propaganda, censorship, lies and government secrecy vs those who support the evils such things are made to hide.

Gonna quit this gig and become one of those superintelligent communists who spends their time explaining why it’s actually leftist to support western imperialism and the Democratic Party.

Gonna quit this gig and become one of those politicians who gets elected on a left populist platform and then spends their career slamming the brakes on leftist agendas because they’re just not realistic right now.

Since the Democratic Party has officially decreed that Americans can survive on empty platitudes it’s actually perfectly rational that there should be a place in the Biden cabinet for Pete Buttigieg.

Understand the mistakes of the past or you’ll keep repeating them into the future. The US progressive movement will make no progress until it understands that Obama was a corrupt mass murdering monster.

Almost all of the people who keep civilization functioning do so without recognition or acclaim. The few people at the top who show up to take credit for attainments in commerce, media, politics etc are standing on the heads of millions of people, most of whom they’ve never met.

When I was in a financially abusive relationship with young kids Christmas was the worst time of the year for me. Trying to scrape together enough Santa presents so my sweet children didn’t worry they’d been “naughty” is just one way capitalism tortures those who are struggling.

I thought I’d get more comfortable with the attention this job gets me as time went on, but I’m actually getting more and more reclusive. Lefty commentators are expected to do interviews and videos and podcasts and stuff, but I just want to write and make art and keep to myself. The expectation that I should do other things besides what I’m good at reminds me of an old Mitch Hedberg bit:

“When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. All right, you’re a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script? That’s not fair. That’s like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I’m a really good cook, they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a cook. Can you farm?’ “

I’m just gonna focus on cooking.


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