When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, gave in his Noble Lecture the credo, “Let the lie come into the world. Let it even triumph. But not through me,” that was based. Not participating in transparent lies or mass delusion is based. Doing so against the madness of the following crowd is based. Nearly everything that it means to be based is either contained within or predicated upon this one trait of character.
Solzhenitsyn wrote those words as a result of his observations living in what may have been the most brutal tyranny of human history: Stalin’s USSR. That simplest of refusals—the refusal to lie on command, or even to fit in—is, in the end, the summary of his observations of what kind of people had what it took to resist a totalitarian regime. Keeping your head down while you hope the unconscionable blows over, say, so you can keep your job but none of your dignity, is not based.
Being unwilling to lie, which is to say being based, is what set Solzhenitsyn’s various heroes apart from the weakness of character, cowardice, and greed that allowed others to survive, if that’s what it can be called. Solzhenitsyn’s brilliance was in observing that, in the end, this trait of character—the willingness to resist lies, be yourself, and tell the truth even when people won’t like you (or will kill you) for it—is one of the small number of necessary characteristics to grind true tyranny to a halt. The other, if you want to know, is laughter. Both of these things, mixed in the right proportions and applied in the right circumstances, make what it means to be based.
Solzhenitsyn’s time in the USSR under Josef Stalin was extreme, but it was not unique. China, Cambodia, and other places saw similar, or even perhaps worse, depending how one counts untellable horrors. While “it could never happen here” is a bit of wishful thinking applied to the question of whether the Nazi regime could ever be repeated in the United States, the ideological conditions and general cowardice that enable these sorts of catastrophes have already come knocking at our door. Their reception has been, from those with the power to answer, troublingly warm.
Though, for the moment, better conditions generally prevail in our day-to-day lives in our teetering Western liberal democratic republics, we have also found ourselves in yet another period in human history when the many millions believe—or at least pretend to believe—outright, transparent lies about the nature of reality, both social and material. What’s more, our elites and the institutions they command have taken the repetition and promulgation of these lies as sure marks of both status and, believe it or not, sanity. That is, once again the lie is coming into the world, and we have been forced to ask ourselves: will it triumph?
That’s an open question, and its answer depends, in turn, upon the answer to the more personal question Solzhenitsyn answered firmly in the negative. Will it come through me? The fate of the future of Western Civilization and Mankind may well hang in the balance of how that question gets answered, and by who, and how many. That is, its answer depends on how many people are willing to get based and stay that way.
The risk is in a peculiar way perverse. If lots of us get based, there’s very little risk to any of us. On the other hand, if only a few of us do, the risk is immense. It’s the prisoner’s dilemma writ large. If a few get based and most don’t, I lose my skin where you might not. If a lot get based, there will be some damage, but it will be minimal. The trouble is that everyone’s self-interest calculation looks straightforward: getting based is a fool’s errand. This misunderstands both the stakes and the truth of the situation. Going based en masse breaks the spell and eliminates the danger. Failing to do so will bring ruin upon all but a few. Put more plainly, you should take the radicals running this show seriously when they say “liberals get the bullet too.”
To me, then, there’s just one option. It’s time to get based and help other people get based. It’s time for based nation. It’s time for a based movement.
Before we begin on such an ambitious venture, however, the origin of the term “based” should be addressed forthrightly because it is profoundly limiting and, in fact, something that prevents being properly and fully based. The term arose online in talking about various ideas that might justify biological racism and referenced being unafraid to say those things because they are politically unfashionable. It arose in being intentionally, and often crudely, politically anti-correct. It arose, frankly, in crowds rightly identified as being “alt-right.” One could say it has expanded from there into something mostly more commendable. I contend something further: that these new early adopters of the mentality were merely re-inventing, typically crudely, something that has been known since time immemorial, while lashing out at the absurd and illegitimate powers of our absolutely ridiculous day. Forget all that edgelord garbage. The Declaration of Independence was based as hell and still is, and no sane person could mistake Thomas Jefferson for some douchey shitposter just looking to rile up some Libs.
Now we can begin. To be based, simply enough, begins with being willing to speak your mind and state objectively true facts about the world even when people don’t like you for it. It means neither lying nor apologizing just because the crowd expects you to, least of all under the absurd implication that doing so makes you more virtuous and brave. It is the refusal to be concerned with what other people think of you when you’re being yourself and the recognition that it doesn’t even make sense to apologize for being true to yourself and your values, telling the truth as well as you can see it, or making a joke, even a bad one. In judo and jujitsu, base is what keeps you from getting thrown, swept, or flipped. Having base is based.
Being based means tolerating most of what’s done in good faith or to lighten the mood. It’s being real with lots of room to play. It elevates the worthy without falling into the indulgent trap of “celebrating” the ordinary, mediocre, and fake. It includes forgiving the trespasses of others when they aren’t rooted in malice and being unwilling to be a doormat when they are. It also means being sensitive but never hypersensitive. When you’re throwing a tantrum, you’ve definitely stopped being based.
Put another way, fitting to our contemporary circumstances, being based is the opposite of being Woke. Woke is wholly intolerant of everything but itself. It, because it is cynical of every motivation, it never acts in good faith. It brings down every mood and celebrates the worthless and the ugly so long as these take no shame in themselves for being worthless and ugly. Woke forgiveness is impossible because, to the Woke, forgiveness would justify the sin. It demands absolute conformity and tolerates no dissent. It defines hypersensitivity, elevates it as a virtue, and, as a result, is always throwing a tantrum.
Obviously, Solzhenitsyn wasn’t writing about the Woke in The Gulag Archipelago, but what he was writing about was another species in the same totalitarian genus. He was writing about people who, due in large part to their ideological commitments, had become “conscious” of a pseudo-real distortion of the world that we otherwise all must share. The lies he admonished us not to live by might be different lies in specific, but they hold up the same sort of regime in general: a tyranny simultaneously doomed to fail and, according to the preposterous theory informing it, unable to fail. The lies serve this intolerable contradiction, and, in the end, so does the censorship, the gaslighting, the caprice, and the murder, by the tens of millions, if necessary. According to Solzhenitsyn, the one remedy to this sort of incomprehensible (and avoidable) tragedy is to, in a word, get based.
There are, in the end, only two things that can tear such a regime down, and they are, as it happens, interrelated. They are the two most powerful weapons against tyranny in the human arsenal: telling the truth, including by refusing the lie, and laughter. Both are based, and to win both are necessary. While Solzhenitsyn tells us that the whole of a tyrannical regime can be brought down in the end by a single person repeatedly telling the truth, the fact is that the USSR that tyrannized him actually fell when its subjects—for citizens they were not—began to laugh at it. So, where being based begins in a certain stoicism, it’s the most based when it’s stoicism with a sense of humor.
Humor isn’t necessary but is the key to being truly based. Absurdity must be exposed, and no acid is more corrosive to the absurdity of tyranny than laughter pointed in its general direction. So, while being based begins with being unapologetic in yourself and the truth, whatever anyone thinks, it does this ideally while being funny. Power, as it happens, abhors a laugh, at least when it’s not based (based power abides). The more seriously anything takes itself, then, the less based it is, and, in turn, the less able to withstand the based it can be. Voltaire was based; John Oliver is an asshole. This is why the left can’t meme. Meme culture is based. The left is not based. (All your base are belong to us, indeed.)
In a very real sense, being based means being able to roll with the joke and knowing that when someone can’t, it’s on them. The based don’t apologize for jokes because they understand that, simply enough, the only people who would demand an apology for a joke didn’t get it—and that’s not at all based. Jokes are meant to dissolve pretense, and there’s nothing more pretentious in the world than asking someone to take back a joke. Some jokes aren’t funny, and in that case, all that’s needed is to let them fall flat.
This isn’t to say, of course, that being based means being disparaging. Far from it. That’s an earlier and more pitiable iteration of based. As noted above, the based are a tolerant lot, unless it’s of pretense, unfairness, cruelty, or bullshit. Disparagement and bullying aren’t cool—and thus they are primary modes of the Woke—so they sure as hell aren’t based. Jokes are subversive. Jokes erode power everywhere it is abused. Jokes burn off the dead wood and leave what’s green, what’s authentic, untouched. Being based includes understanding the difference.
In fact, the subversive humor of being based is what makes being based so open instead of being closed. It is by its very nature irreverent and sometimes crude, but it always punches up, as they say. It is, after all, based, meaning being planted squarely on the ground. In that regard, being based means recognizing the plain fact that life is, on the balance, a comedy rather than a tragedy, and the more pretentious and unaware those in power are of this fact, the funnier their absurdities become.
To strike a more philosophical tone, being based means having common sense in a postmodern context. Like it or not, “Postmodernity” is the name for the time in which we live. It’s a time of images, corporate gloss, and a certain imposed detachment from the real. If you’re Woke, you think this is a weapon. If you’re based, it’s funny as hell, and, let me tell you something, brother, we’re not going to hesitate to drop our best memes from the top rope. The politics of parody are infinitely lame against the relentlessly subversive power of kayfabe. The cream, after all, rises to the top. You may not like it, but you have no choice but to accept it.
To put that somewhat more seriously, the difference between being based and being Woke is the difference between laughter and shame. Comedy and satire have always had incredible subversive potential against illegitimate power because they get those seduced by that power to laugh at themselves for being a bunch of rubes and fools. That makes them based. Shame has no subversive potential. It’s the tool of tools and scolds. It bends people only to a certain point, and that point is precisely the moment at which they finally laugh. This is why based will always defeat Woke. Because Woke is dumb.
The subversive world of the based is one of pushing boundaries so that the arbitrary and pretentious ones fall even while the real ones are allowed to stand. In this observation is all the difference between humor and shame and thus all the distance between based and Woke. Humor washes away the absurd in a tide of laughter and leaves behind what’s real and what really matters—that’s based. Shame doesn’t. It just knocks everything over in its ridiculous attempt to prove that it’s the only thing that isn’t absurd—so not based; totally cringe, in fact. That is, humor is gentle while shame is crude, and humor is alive where shame is afraid to live. This is why the based roll with the joke. This is why the Woke laugh at nothing. It’s because they have no base.
Tyranny is knocking, and we need to get based. Solzhenitsyn told us what it would take to stand up to the end of the world, and what it boils down to is being based—and being based for our times. Our times are absurd, but this doesn’t diminish the threat. Still, in the end, there’s nothing new under this yellow Sun, and, as ever, the truly absurd cannot possibly abide people who completely refuse to take them seriously. The future, then, belongs to the based, not to the clowns. That future is ours because the future is based.
Freedom is ours for the taking. The lies are coming into the world, and, for the moment, they have begun to triumph. Lord, though, are they funny. Being based is little more, then, than a laughing refusal to be pushed around by the preposterous. It’s a refusal to go along with the crowd when the crowd has gone mad. While many people seem to realize that there is some problem, only the based realize not only that its safer and healthier to break away, but that it’s also hilarious. The based aren’t about to live by ridiculous lies because they’ll be too busy laughing the bottom out from under them.