January 1, 2021

In the past couple of years, the idea of ‘the bugman’ has become common currency among those who spend way too much time in the wrong parts of the internet.

Put simply, the bugman is slang for a default, normie consumer, who imbibes uncritically the great narratives of today’s power structures: the kind of person who mistakes the basic bitch hedonism that Western society offers in abundance for a source of deep meaning.

Accordingly, the bugman enjoys Netflix and Deliveroo; Marvel franchises and Blue Apron. The bugman probably thought The Last Jedi was pretty cool for its feminist messages. It is an article of faith for him that Beyoncé is a queen who slays. In fact, the bugman’s opinions are so tediously orthodox they can be widely shared on social media without any fear of payback.

The bugman’s original etymology (and entomology) refers to how he lives in a kind of honeycomb of similarly indistinct humans — a block of flats, say, probably in a major metropolis. But in recent years, the bugman has taken on another origin story. It can now mean ‘he who would gladly eat the bugs’. A global citizen, primed for the coming age of deep ecology proposed by XR and Greta, in which cows are banned, and protein is dispensed from reconstituted insect matter with far lower carbon footprints.

It’s the future in which we no longer own cars but merely rent space in self-driving taxis; the one in which we have to apply for our annual flight credits from the National Carbon Register. In its most extreme version, it’s the world of pod people — where the joyous citizen takes on the awesome planet-saving responsibility of limiting his housing to the necessary few square metres of dormitory space. After all, the bugman is instinctively a globalist, deeply trustful of international institutions, and their high-level plans for his future.

Which brings us neatly to an international institution, and its high-level plan for our future. It takes us into the heart of a conspiracy that isn’t, but a tendency that most certainly is. It is in the spaces between this non-existent conspiracy and the thriving tendency that a new war to control meaning is now raging.

In June of this year, the World Economic Forum hosted a video seminar called The Great Reset, to promote a book, also called The Great Reset. It was a crushingly tedious time for all concerned. Bookended with the mitherings of Prince Charles, the event mainly involved a panel of worthies — who all had that NGO tan that comes from endlessly staring at discussion documents about third world poverty from a luxurious Alpine apartment — sharing their thoughts on ‘sustainability’, ‘green jobs’ and ‘the global south’.

Their Great Reset, as unveiled in their seminar, proposes a generational shifting of the track-lines of our economic development. It calls for de-carbonising, with the help of massive government stimulus; it wants an internationalist approach that clamps down on tax-dodging companies, paid for by new taxes on the wealthy. Lame, perhaps. But on the face of it, hardly sinister.

The stronger thesis of The Great Reset was best stated by the former Vatican ambassador to the US, Archbishop Carlo Vagano, who in November of this year wrote an open letter to President Trump:

Mr. President, I imagine that you are already aware that in some countries the Great Reset will be activated between the end of this year and the first trimester of 2021. For this purpose, further lockdowns are planned, which will be officially justified by a supposed second and third wave of the pandemic. You are well aware of the means that have been deployed to sow panic and legitimize draconian limitations on individual liberties, artfully provoking a world-wide economic crisis. In the intentions of its architects, this crisis will serve to make the recourse of nations to the Great Reset irreversible, thereby giving the final blow to a world whose existence and very memory they want to completely cancel. 

This is the Great Reset as it now exists within the conspiracy world: the premise that life as we knew it is being flattened so as to be re-forged into the bugman’s paradise — with special emphasis on Covid-19 being essentially fake, or at least wildly overstated.

Clearly, these two Great Resets — the lame version and the conspiracy version — are very different propositions. Yet there is also a sense in which they talk to each other, feed off each other. Above all, each provides an excellent strawman for the opposing team to attack.

Take the case of Justin Trudeau, who became a viral sensation in Great Reset (lame version) circles in September, when he used his speech to the UN General Assembly to talk about using Covid to pursue more of the politics he already enjoys:

“Building back better means getting support to the most vulnerable while maintaining our momentum on reaching the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development”

Agenda 2030, often spoken of in the same breath as the Great Reset, is the UN’s “sustainable development goals”, a long list of platitudes about the environment and inequality of such aching tedium that it makes The Great Reset (lame version) look like The 120 Days Of Sodom.

In the moment, Trudeau was saying no more than what the Trudeaus of this world tend to say. But then, the beauty of the Great Reset is that it has become a framework for connecting the dots between all the world’s Trudeaus and their mandarin class. These are all the people Steve Bannon used to call The Party Of Davos. And in the battle to define what comes after the Jahr Null of Covid, so far, it’s this Davos crowd and these ideas that are winning every skirmish.

For the very online Right, it hasn’t escaped notice that, whether it’s voiced by Biden, Trudeau or Johnson, ‘building back better’ always seems to mean pinning the individual under the state, in service of an open-ended, easily-redefined ‘common good’. Boris Johnson’s great green reset is one of the more curious cases in point: a moment where a leader went over the heads of his working class, northern balance of power, to play to a gallery of internationalists. The Prime Minister has bet our future on untested heat pump technology and expensive electric cars.

Of course, Klaus Schwab’s annual talking shop is hardly the only organisation vying to turn the crisis towards their agenda. The problem, it seems, was that they were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off; the title was just too good, too on-the-nose, to be ignored. The Great Reset was accidental over-sell, but only in the way that lighting striking the highest conductive point is ‘accidental’. By November, when the phrase really took off, societal disquiet was already rumbling, looking for an obvious point-of-contact with reality. Suddenly, a vague unease had a name.

But at the same time, both sides also refuse to concede that the term has multiple meanings. For the WEF and its allies, any opposition to their policies must therefore come from wackos. This kind of queasy duality is a standard part of the modern playbook. By 2017, the term ‘alt-Right’ had come to mean both ‘card-carrying Neo-Nazi’ and ‘young people slightly to the right of Douglas Carswell who own a modem’. In debate, the distinction was deliberately elided to de-platform and defame. Ever more, the term ‘climate denier’ performs a similar function.

On the other side of the fence, those who deal in the fantasies can deploy their own motte and bailey. They point to the WEF’s actual plan as a safe harbour in reality — a stout Christmas tree of genuine fact, on which they can then hang their madder baubles. As one YouTube commenter beneath the WEF video had it: “When we warned of a reset, we’re [sic] were called conspiracists. Now what idiots?”

Between them lies the real argument, unloved and untackled. The crisis has already put down several waymarkers towards a world few of us signed up for: from the steamrollering of mom-’n’-pops in favour of Amazon, to the truly cashless society, to credit scores based on your Google history to the oft-floated ‘vaccine passport’. The bugman is always figurative: a kind of platonic ideal pointing towards the dangers of a technocratic 2020s. To take it literally is always to miss the point.

The WEF case rests precisely on explaining why we won’t end up in that future. But tackling the unease fuelling The Great Reset’s wide spectrum of critics would also mean addressing the sentiment underlying both strands of opposition: that however buttery the buzzwords, human beings are rightly suspicious of those who make abstruse high-level plans for their ‘welfare’. Especially if they’re designed by pointy-heads from Davos with no skin in the game — whether they come bearing a thought, a plan, a scheme, or an outright conspiracy.