The Psychology of Distributed Fascism

A similar question makes itself present in almost all junctures and lines of human questioning and refuses to come to neat resolution. This is the recursion problem, the point at which a dam must be artificially erected in order to continue the act of rationalist reasoning. It has many names with slightly different connotations that nevertheless seem more fraternally tied than differentiated-the a priori assumption, the axiom, the absence necessarily implied when Derrida discusses supplementes, and in more specific contexts, both the Big Bang and God. None can be justified except by the negative consequences and loss of forward direction that would come with their not being presumed. We’d lose geometry and a bunch of other stuff.

It seems like a safe initial presumption, given the small sliver of the totality of existence any of us is allowed to live in, the further limitation of our reliance on our senses within the context of this limited sliver and the limitations of comprehension and our own singular consciousness in relation to the processed data of these senses, to put any presumptions to absolute knowledge of metaphysical laws by human beings on permanent probation status. The implied problem in any text with phrases like “Let us presume (x).” There’s a hole behind the presumption, it’s always been there. We can’t really know what we’re missing, that’s the exclusive property and knowledge of the hole, and in order for human society and thought to progress we kinda have to treat it like an outstretched power cord in a cluttered apartment we have to be careful not to trip over.

This problem creates the more practical problem of leaving a certain uncomfortable but unavoidable looseness in the classic questions “How ought I live?”, “What’s right?” and related questions. On the final level, once the logistics and practicalities are considered, or sometimes before they can be considered with any seriousness, this question of when the recursive series of “why that?”‘s ends comes up and can’t be resolved except by ignoring it or cheating; the ultimate Kobayashi Maru, the Gordian Knot that can’t stop unspooling rope on either side, a series of colorful handkerchiefs tied together pulled from a top hat with no bottom. What’s called faith or confidence insists it must come into play; the world and our selves refuse to change without us stepping out of the room momentarily lest we actually see either naked. No one who ever claimed to have peered inside eternity’s trench coat has ever seemed happier for having seen the bared and dangling thing therein.

For the honest person of a severe rational character this can loop around back to a rhetoric of “science” that ends up as circular and self-justifying as the vocabulary set it replaced; that can’t answer the finer questions of culture with any more precision than an allan wrench can drive in a philips head screw. Our tools cry out more and more to us for attention in the manner of children; they desire constant assurances we love them and need them more than they especially care or are equipped for fixing the pressing problems of capitalism’s increasing irrelevance or climate change.

The easiest way to psychologically resolve the deadlock and make way to action, meaningful or meaningless, is in the shape of the oppositional identity.

The oppositional identity works a bit like the archetypal silent comedy mirror routine.


Each side of the mirror keeps making halting gestures, almost recognizing itself but wanting to be sure that the thing on the other side isn’t itself, defining it’s self and it’s course of action in the negative space of the other. Normative identity in the US is very much built around what one doesn’t do, for the reason the (insert “undesirable” element) does whatever this is and usually little other reason. Performative differance. The moments of recognition, the common ground so often sought by ecumenical organizations religious and secular, is in fact the source of antagonism and anxiety and when the energy to antagonize and worry dissipates, the source of peculiar absurdities.

Lacan claimed that the thing the patient actually wants when entering the analyst’s office is a way to hold onto their symptoms, not to get better. While Freud’s thoughts and theoretical work has been applied to group psychological contexts more frequently and substantially, it seems this observation could be overlaid on the current US scene and yield insight.

When the far left wants to defend the far right racists currently “occupying” federal land in Oregon on the grounds that action taken against the Bundy crowd would bode poorly for the left come…the revolution? OWS mach 2? I’m not entirely sure? Possibly nothing? I can only presume such a line of reasoning arises from the shared awkward flirtation with the notion of revolution on both sides, the bared fantasies of overthrow that have their uncomfortable and not just slightly masturbatory existence outside the manufactured structures of ideology, the empty space in the attic that’s still an integral part of the house. The far right wants to protect the abstract fantasy of “revolution” the way many teenage girls would likely cry if Justin Bieber ever got married.

What do these people stockpiling guns want them for if they don’t want to shoot someone? What common ground is desirable with what amount to domestic brownshirts? As a psychological phenomena, fascism is built around the absence of a substantial structure to temper pure oppositional identity; the idea of “decentralized” or “distributed” fascism, what would have sounded like an obvious oxymoron not that long ago, seems very much a possibility, maybe even a reality. The necessary logistics have shifted. As Stanley wrote a couple months ago:

Even though Donald Trump has not yet successfully built up a fascist mass movement, he has something Hitler and Franco didn’t, a mass media based on 24/7 cable news and the Internet. Germany, Spain and Italy in the 1930s had well-developed civil societies, educated populations, and conservative family structures, a traditional culture in touch with history the United States in 2015 doesn’t. An Italian or German in 1930 could turn off the radio. Americans in 2015 always have their smart phones, or their computers. Few Americans have any space at all outside of the corporations and the mainstream media. Ironically, however, it also makes the charismatic fascist demagogue unnecessary.

The thrust of this society, the guiding principle that outstrips the actuality of the large corporations and federal or state governments, is the belief that it’s an innate human right, for some humans anyway, to collect rent on other humans’ labor. There’s been a stewing slaveholder’s revolt in this country that has flared up repeatedly since its initial salvo in 1861. Human slavery of course has no reasonable justification that stands up to any logical scrutiny based in any consistent ethics; at the same time more literature has probably been produced justifying it in one way or another than on any other human question.

If the justification for this eventually has to come to its stark nakedness, public masturbatory displays, open carries, gloppy angry sentimental mush like all nationalism, to expect reason from a class purposely set out to avoid it lest they give up their privileges, we should expect some ugly shit to go down.

So long as this belief exists as folk religion, as the unspoken foundation of peoples’ dreams and the foundation of the wealthy who exist as carrots falsely promising the actualization of this dream to those beneath them, there will be flare ups. We should be actively trying to figure out what to do to curb and seize the massive private stockpile of arms in this country.

6 thoughts on “The Psychology of Distributed Fascism”

  1. In broad strokes we neither feel safe nor feel secure in our futures. We are vaguely aware that our ‘position’ in the world is slipping. That our debt eventually has to get paid off. We know the house is empty.

    We are schizophrenically undetermined about where the concrete threats actually lie – indeed they mostly seem theoretical. Yet we feel helpless. Our psychologies pick the most convenient threats and coping strategies.

    Therein Americans from every walk of life have become bedfellows with variations on politics of powerlessness and of power. Many engage in so-labeled identity politics – where security can be found in placing oneself into a category that is under a distributed assault.

    To those in search of a hero, Trump seems like a great candidate mostly because he seems strong. Promises to unilaterally suspend and thwart rule of law are welcomed not because it seems wise but because it seems strong.

    For others, enemies of the American nation seem – even where they move adversarially counter to interests in the zero-sum game – seem compelling for their virulence and their ability to affect siuch harm.

    Emerson wrote that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. He did not get to witness the politics of powerlessness and power and the bipolarity of modern psyche. Would he have gotten that the self-diagnosis of the modern American is completely correct? Americans suffer because they are mostly powerless and helpless – and they know it.

    1. Emerson wrote that most men lead lives of quiet desperation.


      The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

        1. I think what happened vis a vis the far left and the Oregon standoff was a simple case of group think. Once they set the narrative “liberals bad conservatives not so bad, they were going to force everything into that narrative. So Jacobin (and just about everybody else) gets punked by a Twitter troll.

          Groupthink is an underrated phenomenon in American life. It affects just about everything. People will go to see a terrible movie (like The Force Awakens) simply because “everybody is seeing it.” People decide a suburban town has bad schools, the town is dead. The elite press decides that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, they proceed to believe everything George W. Bush says.

          It’s what Thoreau understand as well as anybody (which is why he separated himself out from the herd). My professors (when I was an undergrad) used to mock Thoreau. His cabin wasn’t too far outside of Concorde but they never understood he meant spiritual (not physical separation).

          This was the same kind of separation, not incidentally, Hawthorne mocked in Wakefield and it does dupe too many people into walking down the wrong path (like the left falling hookline and sinker for the Bundys line of bullshit).

          1. I think that very well may be right with regard to the Bundy crowd/the left.

            Broadly speaking, inside America, what I see is a terror stricken insecure people. About a year ago I met an extremely privileged person (working with me at Microsoft, though I did not know him in a work capacity) who owned a nice car since he was 16 and a nicer car since he got the MS gig, had in large portions his own house at 25, etc.

            But when he got some alcohol in his system he broke down that the world was going to shit, the whole world was coming after his rights and his money, that humanity as we know it was headed toward existential destruction and that we should seriously consider the nuclear existential offering to stop the bleeding. (He was serious about all of this.)

            This is an anecdote of course, but one I want to use as an indicator and for study of a broader psychological trend I do think is readily apparent for naked witness.

            This individual had no concrete threats in mind but felt completely insecure about his future, financial and otherwise. He was rapt with the sense that he could not stop any of the things – all bad – from coming, coming. He felt he could only watch and suffer his own downfall, whatever it was going to be. He was worried simultaneously about climate change boiling everyone alive slowly and that it might be a perpetrated exaggeration for political control. He was simultaneously terrified that ‘the terrorists’ were going to come kill America and that America killing terrorists would mean taking away all of his rights. He didn’t want to be attached to the financial system having had his family lose so much during the last global crisis and didn’t want to be the one left out. He thought that financial collapse, global warming, global thermonuclear war, terrorist-driven global genocide, poor people revolting, and America shifting into a Fascist state were likely to jointly happen all within the near future.

            I have heard some variation or combination of each of these from pretty much everyone I know and on/from pretty much every media outlet. It may come in the form of a war on women, a war on blacks, a war on free speech, a war on guns, a fascist state, a fundamentally corrupt political system, a neoliberal or post-neoliberal capitalist oligarchy, a terrorist victory, a takeover by the military-industrial complex, an invading china, a russian spectre, a socialist coup, a neoconservative coup, presidential overreach, a right wing radical insurgency in legislature, immigrant takeover of America, rape culture, mass shooting culture, US imperial might waning, global financial instability, nuclear disarmament unwinding, global surveillance and new technological methods for societal control, robotic revolution putting everyone out of work, overpopulation, mass gmo-based monoculture agricultural failure, the anti-bacterial age ending, etc, etc, etc.

            The forms that this sense of impending doom and personal assault take vary widely – and yes are informed by groupthink – but broadly speaking Americans are nearly constantly panicked.

            On reddit (I know) some months ago, a rising post from a younger person in AskReddit (a forum were people ask other people about their experiences) asked whether it seemed to the older generation that this modern era was particularly tumultuous – or whether it was just a widespread sense.

            What was left out of the choice of two is that this era isn’t perpetrated by a sense of desperation and foreboding.

            I think the psychology for all with strong opinions on the Bundy’s, informed by their own social context including groupthink, are with whatever side makes their sense of powerlessness seem legitimate: governmental illegitimacy (as Dan put it ‘awkward flirtation with revolution’) or political unilateralism, even considered terrorism by some, by right wing gun-massing super-conservatives.

            I think you are right. People underplay the effect of groupthink in America. Humans are animals, and herd and get spooked the same way they do.

            The thesis here is that Americans really are in a corner. Many of the items listed in the paragraph a few lines back have elements of truth – and some to a large degree.

            Americans feel powerless and helpless, mostly because they are. The question is how they deal with it. Right now it’s politics of powerlessness and power but more and more we’re watching Americans dip into desperation.

            Let us hope that Americans are wise. For as Emerson (sic) said: “But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

            1. You should work your comment up into a separate post.

              Even very privileged labor in the United States is still labor. You can have 2 cars and a McMansion and you still don’t own the “means of production.” In fact, the more privileged you are, the more you’re worried about losing what you have. Add to that the fact that the state (as well as the advertising industry) does it’s best to amplify peoples’ fears and voila, you have a nation of Richard Corys.

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