It’s hard to know where to begin, really. The video is so overstuffed with the identity politics buzzwords of our time that it makes your head spin. “I am a cisgender millennial who’s been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder” is a real line. The patriarchy gets a (negative) shoutout. The woman in the video is wearing a shirt with the feminist symbol and the words “Mija You Are Worth It.” It’s a lot to take in.
The video is, without question, strange and offensive stuff. The CIA cannot, by definition, be woke! It’s…the fucking CIA! It exists to destroy the kinds of movements responsible for the ideas and the language that its employee is now claiming as the agency’s natural heritage. Wokewashing America’s top torture center is pretty much the definition of evil.
Once you screw your brain back on, though, the video takes shape. It’s an updated, more public version of the kind of thing the American state has done for generations: attempt to use the language and ideas of the left in order to destroy the left. In the 1960s, this effort happened rather more covertly. Now, the CIA is proudly doing the work on YouTube—and it’s making people flip out a little. Here’s a representative example:
I’m really not sure you can say that the left has failed because the Central Intelligence Agency, whose job it is to fuck with everyone’s brain in service of the endless American empire, is trying to use the language of identity politics in the shallowest, most cynical fashion.
What you can say is that the CIA video is yet another reminder that it is quite possible to deploy this kind of thing as a way of fighting a deeper kind of emancipatory politics. We all remember when Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders by saying that breaking up the banks wouldn’t end racism or homophobia. It was an infuriating, pernicious deflection—and guess what, it worked pretty well. That is what power does, whether it’s the power of the state or the power of capital (insert line about “one and the same” here). It reaches into activist movements and sets about neutering them by any means necessary. It takes potentially dangerous ideas and tries to turn them into meaningless mush. It makes every attempt to turn revolution into reform, and then reform into nothing at all. It has always done this and it will always be trying to do this.
The response to this need not be “well, I guess thinking that race matters sucks now.” It should be to understand that the CIA, and the power centers that it represents, is issuing a challenge here, and that its move to portray itself as a woke bastion of progress has to be fought and defeated. That is one of the biggest fights that the left has on its hands these days: to successfully show people that hiring more women guards does not represent real victory, to make the case that something bigger and deeper and more disruptive is the only way to make actual progress. Don’t let the CIA win, people.