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Brownstone Institute

Flagellantism Is the New Political Ritual


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From the Brownstone Institute


The old FedEx envelope was clever, a work of art even, optimistic and colorful, signifying speed and progress. What a beautiful contrast to the plainness of the US Postal Service. For years, I can recall dropping off these treasures and paying maybe $10 to assure its delivery across the country, even the world. For me, it was a fabulous symbol of an improved life, living proof that progress was baked into the historical trajectory.

But two days ago, the clerk at the FedEx office confirmed a different ethos. There was no doing business without a scan of my government-issued ID. I asked for confirmation: so if I did not have this, there is simply no way that I can send a package. Confirmed.

Then came the envelope. It was the color of the brown bag I took to school when I was a kid. Serviceable, drab, dull. Also the new one is stamped with a big green marker: recyclable. There is no design, no art, certainly no beauty. It’s all gone. Its main message is suffering.

What happened to the old envelopes? They’ve been replaced, the clerk explained firmly, with no more detail.

A recycle exhortation suggests shortage. We have to reuse everything because there just isn’t enough to go around. We must sacrifice. The color suggests privation. It’s an aesthetic of sadness and penance. Then of course the price tag came: $26 for delivery not tomorrow but in two days. So compared with some years ago, we pay 2.5 times as much for service half as good as it was.

Don’t complain. It’s just the new way. It’s the new way of life.

What happened to progress? It’s been replaced. The new path is flagellantism: in politics, culture, economics, and everywhere.

The flagellants were a medieval movement of public penitents that roamed from town to town in garbs of woe, flogging themselves and begging as penance for pestilence and war. They were infused with a fiery, apocalyptic, and millenarian passion that they could see terrible moral realities to which others were blinded. The theory was that plagues were being visited upon the earth by God as punishment for sin. The answer was contribution, sorrow, and acts of penance as a means of appeasement, in order to make the bad times go away.

It’s true that there were people who did so in private but that was not the main point. The central focus and purpose of the flagellant movement was to make one’s suffering public and conspicuous, an early version of the virtue signal. In the guise of personal sorrow, they were really about spreading guilt to others. They would show up at any public celebration with a message: your happiness is causing our suffering. The more you party, the more we are forced to bear the burden of the need to be in pain for your sins. Your joy is prolonging the suffering of the world.

Flagellantry is most recognizable in the aesthetic. The first signs I recall seeing of this occurred immediately during the panic of March 2020 when it was proclaimed from on high that a terrible virus was visiting the US. No, you couldn’t see it, but it is highly dangerous, everywhere present, and should be avoided at all costs. You must wash constantly, douse yourself with sanitizer, cover your face, dress in drab colors, and be sad as much as possible.

Fun things were banned: public gatherings, singing, house parties, weddings, and all celebrations. This whole scene took on a political patina, as people were invited to think of the invisible virus as a symbol of a more tangible virus in the White House, an evil man who had invaded a holy space whose malice had leaked out in the culture and now threatened to poison everything. The more you complied with mandatory misery, the more your work made a contribution to making the pestilence go away while we wait for the inoculation. That could take two forms: driving him from the White House or releasing the vaccine which everyone would accept.

Joseph Campbell was correct about the role of religious impulses in the human mind. They never go away. They just take on different forms according to the style of the times. Every single feature of traditional religion found a new expression in the Covid religion. We had masking rituals that were rather complicated but learned and practiced quickly by multitudes: mask on while standing and mask off when sitting. We had sacramentals like social distancing and communion with vaccination. Our holy water became sanitizer and our prophets on earth were government bureaucrats like Fauci.

Flagellantism did not disappear once the old president left and the new one came. Even after the pandemic ended, there were new signs that God was angry. There was the ever-present climate change which was a sign of earth’s anger for being drilled and carved up for energy sources. And the bad country said to be responsible for the unwelcome invader of the White House – Russia – was now rampaging through the holy land of its neighbors.

In addition, the broader problem was capitalism itself, which gave us things like meat, gasoline, fur, and other signs of evil. And what gave rise to capitalism? The answer should be obvious: imperialism, colonialism, racism, and the existence of whiteness – each of which called for mass penance.

The pandemic unleashed it all. It was during this period that corporations decided that profitability alone required signs of suffering and hence the rise of ESG and DEI as new ways to assess economic value of corporate culture. And new practices were added to the list of the highly suspect: monogamy, heterosexuality, and religious traditions such as Christianity and Orthodox Judaism that should now be regarded as deprecated, even as part of the underlying problem.

It was during this period when I found myself on an apartment hunt and observed a newly remodeled offering. I asked why the owner had not replaced the flooring. I was corrected: these are new floors. Impossible, I thought. They are gray and ghastly. That’s the new fashion, I was told. Looking it up, it was true. Gray flooring was being installed everywhere.

How does wood become gray? It dies. It starts to decay. It is swept away by rivers and floats around for years, alternatively soaked, baked by the sun, and soaked again, until every bit of color is drained away. It becomes driftwood, a survivor of the elements and a symbol of the brutality of the cycle of life. Gray flooring is therefore the ideal symbol of the age of suffering, the proper material on which to move back and forth pondering the evils of the world.

In a world governed by flagellantism, ugly formlessness rises to replace aspirational art and imaginative creativity. This is why public art is so depressing and why even the clothing we can afford at the store all looks dreary and uniform. In this world, too, gender differences disappear as luxurious signs of decadence we can no longer afford.

Two other anecdotes. The overhead bins on the flight just now were largely empty, simply because most passengers chose the cheaper Basic Economy fare. This also requires they have no carry-on luggage and hence be forced to pay for checked luggage or travel with all their belongings in a backpack. We’ve gone from gigantic Louis Vuitton steamer trunks to stuffing things in pockets and hiding them from authorities.

Another case in point. I asked the man in the high-end shoe shop why none of the shoes had leather soles. Instead all shoes have these cushy rubber soles that seem weak and pathetic, and make no noise when one steps.

“Everything has changed since covid,” he said. “All shoes are house shoes now.”

I had no words and walked away, my entire thesis confirmed.

Sure enough, all the data we have suggests the mighty triumph of flagellantism. Fertility is down dramatically. Life spans are shortening. People are sicker. Excess deaths are rising. We learn less, read less, write less, create less, love less. Personal trauma is everywhere. The groceries are more expensive so we eat whatever we can, when we can, while hoping for breezes and whatever sunlight there is to provide just the essential energy we need to slog through another day.

Degrowth is the economic model of flagellantism, reducing consumption, embracing privation, acquiescing to austerity. We no longer declare recessions to be on their way because recession is the new way we live, the realization of the plan. The word recession implies a future of recovery, and that is not in the cards.

Decolonization is another watchword. It means feeling so guilty about the space you inhabit that your only moral action is to stay put and reflect on the sufferings of those you have displaced. You can of course say a prayer of supplication to them, so long as you never appropriate any aspect of their culture, since doing so would seem to affirm your rights as a human being.

You want joy, beauty, color, drama, adventure, and love? It’s not gone entirely. Park yourself on a yoga mat on your gray floor and open your computer. Stream something on one of many streaming services you have been provided. Or become a gamer. There you will find what you seek.

The experiences you seek you can only observe as an outsider looking in. It is not participatory. Same with sex: you are there to watch, not physically engage in with others, unless of course you embrace a gender identity other than that declared at your birth. Social distancing never went away; it is how we live in a new age of unending penance.

So, you see, it’s not just about eating bugs. It’s about a whole theory and practice of life and salvation itself, a new religion to replace all the old ones. Cough up your government-issued ID, send your package if you must, think twice before complaining about anything on social media, and figure out a way to channel your depression and despair into quiet humble gratitude and acquiescence. Don’t forget to recycle. The flagellants have taken over the world.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker

    Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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Brownstone Institute

Censorship and the Corruption of Advertising

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From the Brownstone Institute

The most powerful companies in the world have united against free speech, and they’ve deployed your tax dollars to fund their mission.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee released a report on the little-known Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and its pernicious promotion of censorship. GARM is a branch of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), a global association representing over 150 of the world’s biggest brands, including Adidas, British Petroleum, Nike, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Walmart, and Visa.

The WFA represents 90% of global advertising spending, accounting for almost $1 trillion per year. But instead of helping its clients reach the broadest market share possible, the WFA has appointed itself a supranational force for censorship.

Rob Rakowitz and the Mission to Supplant the First Amendment

Rob Rakowitz, the leader of the WFA, holds a particular disdain for free speech. He has derided the First Amendment and the “extreme global interpretation of the US Constitution,” which he dismissed as “literal law from 230 years ago (made by white men exclusively).”

Rakowitz led GARM’s effort to boycott advertising on Twitter in response to Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company. GARM bragged that it was “taking on Elon Musk” and driving the company’s advertising income “80% below revenue forecasts.”

Rakowitz also championed the unsuccessful effort to have Spotify deplatform Joe Rogan after he expressed skepticism for young, healthy men taking the Covid vaccine. Rakowitz attempted to intimidate Spotify executives by demanding to hold a meeting with them and a team that he said represented “P&G [Proctor and Gamble], Unilever, Mars,” and five advertising conglomerates. When a Spotify employee said he would meet with Rakowitz but not his censorsial consortium, Rakowitz forwarded the message to his partner, writing “this man needs a smack” for denying his demands.

The WFA extended its efforts to direct manipulation of the news market. Through a partnership with the taxpayer-funded Global Disinformation Index, GARM launched “exclusion lists,” which created de facto boycotts from advertising on “risky” sites, which it described as those that showed the “greatest level of disinformation risk.” These lists included the New York Post, RealClearPolitics, the Daily Wire, TheBlaze, Reason Magazine, and The Federalist. Left-wing outlets, such as the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed News, were placed on the list of “Least risky sites,” which facilitated increased advertising revenue.

GARM, the WFA, and Rakowitz is the latest scandal demonstrating the destruction of our liberties at the hands of consolidated power. Like the Trusted News Initiative or the Biden White House’s censorship efforts, the aim is to remove all sources of dissent to pave the way for the further corporatization of the oligarchy that increasingly replaces our republic.

The WFA’s Attack on Democracy

Just as Rakowitz could not hide his contempt for the First Amendment, WFA CEO Stephan Loerke demanded that his conglomerate overtake the democratic process.

In preparation for the Cannes Lions Festival (a gathering of billionaires and multinational corporations in the South of France every June), Loerke released a statement demanding companies “stay the course on DEI and sustainability.” According to Loerke, these policies must include responses to “climate change” and the promotion of “net zero” policies,” which have already wreaked havoc on Europeans’ quality of life.

Loerke wrote: “If we step back, who will push for progress on these vital areas?” Though he suggests the answer must be nobody, traditionally self-governing countries would charter their own courses in those “vital areas.” And in that paradigm, the corporation would be subordinate to the state.

But instead, the WFA has inverted that system. Through its clients, the trillion-dollar behemoth extracts money from governments and then deploys those funds to demand that we accept their reshaping of our culture. The parasite becomes the arbiter of “progress,” eroding the society responsible for its very existence.

As the WFA sought to punish any groups that criticized the Covid response, its client Abbott Laboratories received billions of dollars in federal funding to promote Covid tests in the US Army. As Loerke demands “net zero” policies that will unravel the Western way of life, WFA patrons like DellGEIBM, and Microsoft receive billions in revenue  from the US Security State.

The organization is fundamentally detached from traditional advertising, which aims to connect businesses with consumers to sell products or services; instead, it is a force for geopolitical and cultural manipulation.

Perhaps no WFA client better represents this phenomenon than AB InBev, the parent company to Bud Light, which destroyed billions of dollars in market value last year after selecting Dylan Mulvaney as the icon for its advertising campaign.

On its surface, the selection of Mulvaney as a spokesman appeared to be the result of an executive class detached from their clientele. But Rakowitz and the WFA reveal a deeper truth; they don’t misunderstand the public, they loathe them.

The organization is a force designed to punish them for their unfavorable, unapproved belief systems. It is an attack on the freedoms written into our Constitution as “literal law from 230 years ago,” as Rakowitz scoffed. The mission is to eviscerate “the right to receive information and ideas,” as our Supreme Court recognized in Stanley v. Georgia, and to make our republic subservient to its corporate oligarchy.

The stakes here are very high. The economic revolution of the 15th century and following was about a dramatic shift in decision-making, away from elites and toward the common people. With that came a wider distribution of property and rising wealth over many centuries, culminating in the late 19th century. Along with that came a shift in the focus of marketing, away from elites and toward everyone else.

The consolidation of advertising and its control by states strikes at the very heart of what free economies are supposed to be about. And yet, states that desire maximum control over the public mind must go there. They must gain full hegemony and that includes advertising. It should be stopped before it is too late to restore freedom over corporatism.


Brownstone Institute is a nonprofit organization conceived of in May 2021 in support of a society that minimizes the role of violence in public life.

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Brownstone Institute

Imagine Life without Fossil Fuels

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

By Thi Thuy Van Dinh

At 4 am on Tuesday 9th July in Seville (Spain), I woke up alerted by a text to my phone. “We had a bad night with Hurricane Beryl. Your house still stands and the critters are safe, two big trees down, no electricity, no Internet, and poor phone service.”

My children and I were visiting Andalusia, one of the oldest and most gorgeous European regions, blessed with the best food and the warmest people. This is one of my favorite places on earth, but for now, my family and I are calling South of Houston (Texas, US) home.

I panicked, being instantly seized by maternal instinct. Our entire house is run by electricity. On our return in a few days, there would be no warm food, no milk, no air conditioning, no TV, no running water, no toilet flushing. In town, neither kid activities nor story time at local libraries. These conditions are undoubtedly hard for young children who have only known comfort so far, although hundreds of millions of children are growing up in such circumstances daily.

Then I calmed down. The first thing to do should be thanking God for protecting human lives there, and for our wonderful friends and community.

I understood what happened immediately. Trees have fallen everywhere, taking down most of the grid and affecting more than a million people. It would take a few weeks to fix it. Houston would be first, of course, the crowded and business-minded urban areas will be rightly prioritized and rural areas follow after. After such largesse provided for the solar industry by successive American administrations, why has there been no money to put wires and cables underground in hurricane-prone regions?

We always have a month of canned meat and dry salami, drinking water, olive oil, lard, animal feed (we have some farm animals,) and 750 gallons of water in storage, candles, matches, and flashlights. For emergency situations like a war or a natural disaster. We have a pool conveniently built for Texan summer heat even though the filter won’t work. I can dig a hole in the garden if I want to give the kids some survival training, or I can use the pool water for toilet flushing. Our hens and ducks give us more than enough fresh eggs daily.

But I should have kept a few solar phone chargers and probably some solar panels for our well pump (solely activated by electricity). My husband should have had a better stock of gas to run our generator through the fridge and the two freezers. At least, I can still grill and the kids can help gather dry branches to make a fire and cook camping meals. After all, it is easier to survive without energy in a hot place than in a cold place.

My situation isn’t probably the worst, and I will be able to help some people around me with food and water. I will entertain the kids with games I used to play under the moonlight and the starry sky. However, with little or no gas (petrol) in town, and likely long lines at available stations, I will have to calculate our car trips well.

I told my 7-year-old what happened. He said he would fry eggs on the car and roast marshmallows on sticks. Young children are such marvelous beings. With only their imagination and innocence, they bring wonders to our world. Who knows, we might be lucky enough to catch some fireflies in a jar – I replied, nurturing his excitement. As his mother, I have the duty to minimize his suffering. Nevertheless, I would like to seize this opportunity to give him and his younger sister some duress training on life without fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil to power modern devices – a bit like how I grew up.

Have the international, national, and non-governmental Net Zero crusaders ever lived a day without using any technology powered or facilitated by fossil fuels and their byproducts?

I would like to invite them to live here with us. I will show them that had I had solar panels on my roof, I would likely be cleaning up all of their dangerous debris around the house. Right now, a Tesla would be of less use than an ox cart in my Texan town.

But life at my homestead after Hurricane Beryl seems rather poetic. Well-prepared, a week or two without electricity might equal an ecological or soul-searching retreat with meditation time, good books on a hammock, bird-watching, simple yet exotic farm-to-table meals, and constellation identification.

For a real experience of a life without fossil fuels, climate leaders and activists should consider signing up for the sustainability internship program offered by Mr Jusper Machogu, a Kenyan farmer who was recently attacked by the BBC for his campaign on X requesting “Fossils Fuels for Africa.” Participants will learn how to grow foods without technologies powered by fossil fuels and live with a minimal impact on nature in rural Kisii.

Ploughing the land with bare hands before planting isn’t fun at all. Watering the crops regularly might well bring people closer to God with spontaneous prayers. Weeding or harvesting by squatting under the sun is tough. Even without factoring in any risk of pests, diseases. and unfavorable weather, what are the chances they would have to get out of poverty and food insecurity without cheap, reliable, abundant, and scalable energy?

Billions of subsistence families are still going through this. Worse, they continue to put their health at risk by cooking with agricultural wastes, wood sticks, and cow dung, while the Western world and their investment funds shamelessly demand poor countries and their populations to adopt intermittent, expensive, and unreliable green energies, instead of supporting fossil fuels (as well as hydropower and nuclear) production and infrastructure.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who repeatedly called to “close the door on fossil fuel era” (on International Clean Energy Day – 26 January 2024), would you live entirely and produce your own foods without fossil fuels?

United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Chief Inger Andersen, who, at the closing of the 28th Climate COP (Dubai, UAE), claimed that “we know the solutions, we know what needs to be done,” would you be able to build a town for your staff without using oil, gas, and their byproducts?

How may we, as voters and taxpayers, demand that decision-makers lead by example, truly adhering to their green agenda first, before they insist that others implement it?


Dr. Thi Thuy Van Dinh (LLM, PhD) worked on international law in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Subsequently, she managed multilateral organization partnerships for Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund and led environmental health technology development efforts for low-resource settings.

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