The Empire Depends On Our Unwillingness To Look At Its Crimes

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readFeb 7, 2024


Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

This entire sick dystopia is held together by psychological compartmentalization. By the fact that it’s more comfortable to avoid looking directly at the horrors of the status quo we live under, even though on some level we all know those horrors are there.

All the shitlibs you see cheering for Biden right now are on some level aware that he’s backing a genocide of unbelievable savagery that is inflicting unfathomable amounts of suffering upon our fellow human beings, but they avoid looking at this reality directly. All the information is right there right out in the open, but they cognitively squirm and twist away from it so that they see only Biden’s acts like slightly reducing America’s student loan debt and not being Donald Trump.

They do this because to really wrap their minds around the depravity of what Biden is doing would shatter their world. It would mean letting in some very scary truths about their nation, their government and their political system that they’d rather avoid noticing. It would mean a crushing deluge of cognitive dissonance until they dramatically revised their worldview into something that could allow for a Democratic president behaving like a complete monster. It would mean having to completely restructure their understanding of the world they live in.

That takes effort. It takes emotional labor. It takes a willingness to experience a high degree of psychological discomfort as you wade into the muck of reality to face the inconvenient facts you’ve been avoiding looking at your entire adult life. It takes a willingness to experience this unpleasantness not just intellectually, but emotionally and viscerally as well. You’ve got to look at it with your eyes and your mind and your heart and your guts. And you have to somehow find the time and psychological spaciousness to do all this in a society that is designed to keep ordinary people busy, tired, dysfunctional, and stressed out.

A vast globe-spanning empire is built on the foundation of how difficult it is to look directly at something that is extremely unpleasant to look at, about which you have been propagandized and indoctrinated your entire life into accepting as normal. In school we’re taught that we live in a democracy and that our government is basically good while other governments are bad and their countries are places you would not want to live in, and then in adulthood this false indoctrination is reinforced and built upon by propaganda from the mass media. Before we have time to learn how to think critically, we are spoon-fed a worldview designed by the powerful for the benefit of the powerful, and we will experience cognitive dissonance if at any time we are presented with information that contradicts it.

That’s the primary job of mass media propaganda: not so much to convince us to believe new stories about weapons of mass destruction or whatever, but to build and reinforce a worldview within us which is fiercely loyal to establishment power structures. That’s why the propaganda is served up in two different ideological flavors: one for the shitlibs and one for the rightists. You’re funneled into whichever mainstream, power-serving echo chamber best suits your conditioning and disposition, and then you are fed a power-serving worldview therein which you will zealously defend as the gospel truth.

It’s a highly effective trap, but it’s not inescapable. Anyone who’s ever escaped from an abusive relationship, a dysfunctional family or a cult knows that it is possible to find your way out of a psychological cage that has been built for you by a skillful manipulator, even if there were times in the past when you hadn’t even known the cage bars were there. The light of truth has a way of finding cracks through which to enter, and all it takes to start things off is a faint little glimmer.

We can fight the machine by creating as many of those cracks as possible, which in practice looks like doing everything we can to wake our fellow humans up to the abusive relationship we are in with the western empire. Finding as many ways as possible to show as many eyes as we can the murder, the injustice, the exploitation and the ecocide, not just intellectually but emotionally as well. Many of the indoctrinated are too far gone to be reached right now, or are too personally invested in the status quo they defend, but many others are right on the cusp of leaving the cult of the empire, ready to take the leap if they are just given a good enough reason to.

And to be clear, this is already happening. If this wasn’t already clear to you, Gen Z’s ferocious opposition to Biden’s butchery in Gaza should have driven this point home now. It is not a coincidence that the first generation to turn their backs on mass media indoctrination and start creating their own media and their own ideas is by far the best on Israel-Palestine right now. The humans have already begun shaking each other awake, and its happening most among the humans who are furthest from death.

Right now it feels like the empire is leaning very hard on our tendency to dissociate and look away. Their actions in Gaza look like they’re torturing someone to death in the town square and looking us all dead in the eyes while they do it, trusting that we’ll turn our gaze away and submit. But it isn’t working. People are looking more, not less. The western empire has never had more critical attention on it than it has right at this very moment.

Getting people to look at the empire’s real ugly face behind the mask of perception management is difficult to do, but it’s also the only thing we have to do. Once enough people start looking, the game is already over; it has already lost all its power. So please know that everything you do to help push this forward is making a very real difference. And please know that you are not alone.


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