Tag Archives: fascism

The Fascists’ Rear Guard

Fascism is an expression of a larger social tendency that, in English language translations of Marx is called “the slaveholders’ revolt.”

It is a process by which every couple generations the revolutionary potential of the angry mob is turned in on itself in the hope that the destruction of society is the only hope to save the rich and their vacation homes from the consequences of their actions.

Every time this happens, there is a faction that arises as the rear guard for the fascists.

This rear guard is usually seen by their contemporaries as being part of the center-left. They will pay lip service to left social causes. They will probably even consider themselves as being politically to the left.

This faction thinks that they can save society and the rich and their vacation homes through small, largely symbolic distributions of pats on the back and cookies. They become covert extremists. Their extremism usually goes unrecognized because it arises in the paradoxical form of their doing nothing or as close to nothing as they can get away with.

As the metaphorical house we all live in burns around us, they insist vehemently that the smoke you feel in your lungs, the char that you see, the heat that you feel in anxious tingles just under the surface of your skin is in fact a problem of interior decoration. Or a misunderstanding.

They will get angry to defend this interpretation. They will gaslight. They will kneecap those with the audacity to acknowledge the house is on fire.

They will finally acknowledge after it’s too late that the house is in fact on fire, but claim that to say the house is on fire is impolite or uncivil.

And finally, when the crisis can no longer be denied, they will market themselves as “the only people who can save us.”

They believe half-heartedly their arrogance will magically make good faith negotiators out of Nazis.

They believe this because to believe otherwise would contradict their savior complex.

They believe this because it’s easier than doing something.

Having gone through bad faith motions of “negotiating” on our behalf, these cowards will offer up the populations they claim to represent as human sacrifices when the wolves show their teeth, craving blood.

The wolves dream of reinventing society to match their internalized self-image of endless opulence and grandeur.

They leave behind mass graves and Trümmerfilm.

The moderates dream of history stopping because they feel entitled to it because…they feel entitled to it.

Cruelty shields the wolves from the heat of the burning house. Denial shields their rear guard.

They are a cargo cult. They think if they say “the house isn’t on fire” enough times, the house will cease to be on fire.

The moderates “mean well.” This “meaning well” means nothing.

It means nothing because whether we kill each other or support each other we are ultimately in this together. The world I live in is the same one you have to live in.

The moderates’ denial will not stop the wolves from eating them, it will only clear the space for wolves to eat the rest of us first.

All their “good intentions” just help pave a wider road to hell.

They leave behind mass graves and Trümmerfilm.

Notes on an Impending Reichstag Fire

1) Donald Trump obviously colluded with Russia. I’m not really sure how any reasonable person could conclude otherwise after he’s fired three separate people investigating into it and multiple aspects of the Steele dossier we all thought sounded ridiculous a couple months ago have been confirmed. He also mentioned in his letter about Comey’s firing “You told me I wasn’t under investigation 3 times.”

2) Trump learned politics from Roy Cohn, one of the most toxic figures in US history. Cohn’s entire strategy was “Never back down on anything and attack anyone who questions you, personally.” Richard Nixon could eventually be cornered into stepping down. Trump will, when cornered, retaliate with any means at his disposal. He’s already done this throughout his life and in his short political career.

3) Trump doesn’t have any real incentive to back down in any capacity at this point because the only way this ends is with his total consolidation of power or with his going to prison/frying.

4) Don’t be surprised if it turns out McConnell and Ryan and others got in on it. Rumors are already spreading on twitter to that effect, and they’re not standing behind Trump at this point because it makes them look good.

5) Trump established a “committee” to investigate the completely bogus “crisis” of “voter fraud” this morning. Translated: there’s a committee figuring out how to fix the 2018 and 2020 elections through suppression of the vote. Anyone who thinks he isn’t going to try to convince his base to go to the polls next year armed to the teeth to scare off potential voters hasn’t been paying attention. Remember the “my second amendment people” comments?

6) You all know I’m about as far to the left as anybody. I don’t like the DNC, I don’t like how they handled the Sanders thing, I don’t like their connections to Wall Street, etc etc. However, the US falling into banana republic status doesn’t help anybody. The DNC doesn’t seem interested in taking all the chips off the table, and for now that’s the best we’re gonna do. You can save the “I told you so” whatever bullshit for later. This isn’t about you or me being right, this is about stopping a racist mad man from consolidating unilateral control of a massive domestic police force and the most comprehensive surveillance apparatus in human history.

7) Trump is only cornered this much so far and he’s already doing this stuff. He has no knowledge of policy or how government actually works. When his economic policies inevitably fail, he will attempt to consolidate power through appeals to violence. This is a common strategy of dictators-let the disgruntled population take out their anger on each other instead of going after the guy at the top. Mao did it, Duterte is doing it. Trump’s campaign manager, Manafort, was involved in the violent consolidation of power in Russia. Putin had his own Reichstag fire. Trump will inevitably try to declare a war/stage his own Reichstag fire/both in order to avoid having to back down. Trump has repeatedly voiced his admiration for authoritarian lunatics ranging from Duterte to even Kim-Jong Un.

I’m not really sure what we do from here.

When Does Late Capitalism End and Whatever the Other Thing is Start?

When does late capitalism end and whatever the other thing is start?

Now more than 100 days into the national embarrassment of the Donald Trump administration, the entire tide of everything seems to have changed. All these disparate problems we’ve been complaining about on this blog have recombined themselves into a seeming perfect storm. Nothing is quite like it was. If someone had sent me the phrase “Rape is a pre-existing condition” a year ago, I would have presumed it was a line from Andrea Dworkin, or an album by a hardcore band. But then…well…here we are.

Postmodernism, a body of theory dealing with the cultural logic of late capitalism, doesn’t quite cover it anymore. Trump is definitely postmodern in the extreme-here’s a guy whose public image is that of a womanizing playboy despite his, as his ex-wife put it, “difficulty maintaining and achieving an erection,” the ultimate businessman despite his having declared bankruptcy and generally having failed in any of his actual business endeavors, a Republican who was until a couple years ago a Democrat, the harbinger of “change” promoting ideas that seemed old in 1950. Equal parts Billy Mays, George Wallace, Zapp Brannigan and Jay Gatsby-a phantom whose teflon qualities seem to stem less from nothing sticking to him so much as there not being enough of a him for anything to stick to.

And across the globe we’re seeing candidates with a similar lack of substance beyond right wing anti-immigrant rhetoric and a day-time TV temperament.

Endless theories have been proposed to explain Trump’s base because none of them seem big enough to actually feel satisfying in the face of how stupid and pointless and tragic this all is. He’s clickbait in human form. A limp and dinky ground ball that slowly puttered between America’s legs. Maybe the thing after late capitalism should be called Bucknerism.

Mediocrity, Propaganda and Trump

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THE INTERNET IS ITS OWN ECONOMIC SYSTEM AND IDEOLOGY

History seems to move faster at certain times than others. Now is one of those times.

Karl Marx, thinking about industrialization, claimed that a newly emergent economic force/system was actually revolutionary in the sense that it reshaped all the territory and politics it touched. 100 years later, Marshall McLuhan claimed similar powers for the emergence of technology. The internet differs from prior economic revolutions in that it seeks to reshape the current geographic layout of man in order to completely replace it. It literally recreates itself by writing itself on the landscape-anyone who’s ever used Snapchat or even Pokemon Go could tell you as much. The internet, at this point being both a new technological and new political formation, presents a two-front war with all of us unfortunately trapped in the middle.

RADICALIZATION IS A FEATURE, NOT A BUG

A library science professor I had in college assigned an academic paper whose author and title I forget. It dealt with the “bridging” vs. “bonding” elements in how internet communities were shaped. A “bonding” community was one that tended to increase homogeneity and insularity-it brought together people with a specific set of interests/demographics and isolated them from the outside world over time. A “bridging” community brought people together across demographics/interests. Internet communities were found to be almost exclusively “bonding”, while groups organizing on the physical proximity of persons were shown to fall more evenly across a bridge/bond spectrum.

The alt-righter thinks by himself: “If I feel wronged about anything, no matter how stupid or  illegitimate, I’m sure I can find people willing to indulge or enable me, and the more wronged and isolated I feel about the thing, the more time I’m willing to spend on the internet with these people enabling me. Because these people are now my real friends, they hold disproportionate social influence over me and my initial attraction to them doesn’t suggest strong independent thinking skills to begin with.”

The vernacular of internet discourse has centered around increasingly shocking content and progressive desensitization to extreme materials for nearly as long as the internet has existed. This is how the neo-Nazis and ISIS both recruit. This is how Gamergate happened. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The thing after neoliberalism is shaping up to be equal parts dialectics and The Producers-the far right parties have realized the worse they govern, the more terrorism they allow to happen, the more they’re rewarded under the current system.

THE SHIFT IN PROPAGANDA:

1)

It’s very important to remember there is always an external and an internal propaganda system. The external propaganda system legitimizes the group/regime to those outside. The internal propaganda system legitimizes and normalizes the group/regime to its members. These two systems often seem to work at cross-purposes and most propaganda doesn’t make its intended audience entirely obvious, especially to its intended audience. Why would it? Things always seem much more enticing when you’re not the person who’s supposed to be seeing them.

2)

Let’s use the Nazis and particularly Nazi cinema to illustrate this point.

Internal propaganda systems: The Nazis were the first modern political party to use street graffiti and a large part of how the rural population was sold on Hitler was through traveling screenings of short news reels. In many of these rural German communities, access to movies of any sort was rare. These newsreel films looked partly like ones that would be shown in US theaters at the time between cartoons and features. However, the repeated visual symbols were mostly morphed copies of ones in the classic USSR silent films. Further cases of internal propaganda include the numerous lesser known Nazi features. Films like Hans Westmar, a fictionalized version of a false story of Nazi “martyr” Horst Wessel, or Jud Suss, Der Rothschilds: Aktien Auf Waterloo, etc., were sold as entertaining historical melodramas. Hans Westmar in particular broadly resembles recent sentimentalized “martyr” films like American Sniper.

External propaganda: Hitler attempted to normalize and bring prestige to his movement/country abroad the same way many state governments do-by making fancy movies and sending them abroad to festivals. These include Triumph of the Will and Olympia. While both were screened in Germany, their intended audience was abroad. The continuing public perceptions that the Nazi government was meticulously well organized (they weren’t, many high up officials including Hitler were on meth for extended periods) or that Triumph of the Will was what sold the Germans on Hitler speak to the enduring power of this strategy.

3)

How does the internet change things?

Per Ernest Becker (by way of Otto Rank) : Man needs to be able to feel as though he is the hero of the narrative of his life.

Per Ray Kroc: Why wait 15 minutes when I can have it now?

Per Neil Postman: If you don’t think the medium of communications biases what can be communicated, try translating Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” into smoke signals.

Per Twitter: 140 characters or less.

Per Marshall McLuhan: The content of the new medium is always the medium it’s replacing.

Trump’s rise is inconceivable without the internet. Memes are graffitti/propaganda writ large and reduced to their simplest form. TV and cartoons were more effective than any propaganda medium prior because of their immediacy; looking at a comic strip or single panel lacking words, by the time you think “do I want to read this?” you’ve likely already read it. A meme is even more immediate-it lives or dies on the extent to which we can already predict what it’s going to say. At the same time, it creates a fake sense of community built around knowing who “Scumbag Steve” or “Bad Luck Brian” is. The sense of inclusion is created by removing all communal standards beyond the basic self-referential acknowledgement the “community” exists. It allows a sense of familiarity to push out critical judgement.

I got some shit for writing about Elliott Roger’s “manifesto” more than a year ago, but in retrospect, it seems to pretty accurately reflect what can be understood about the psychology of Trump voters-how many people in this country based their self-esteem and sense of specialness on how many Pokemon cards they had? How good they were at video games? The very fact that video games seemed to offer a clearly delineated meritocracy, however meaningless? How horrible was it when they saw on the internet there would always be someone with more Pokemon cards or a higher score; who made the commonplace banality of their struggles obvious; who pierced through any notion they were special? The internet of course also had little tribes and klans collecting these fresh malcontents; sometimes they were already assembled and simply soured when they felt angry enough on realizing however ironically they were not the special snowflakes they accused everyone else of idealizing themselves as; they were just waiting to be scooped up on bodybuilding forums and other pits of the internet.

And as with toxic narcissism in all its forms, the playground taunt “I know you are but what am I?” isn’t just the mature response but the necessary one. Much has been made of the fact that the districts most reliant on subsidized health care and welfare programs overwhelmingly voted for a man promising to eradicate these programs they depend on. Much of this discourse has unfortunately taken the closed discourse of self-satisfied liberalism-“What idiots!”-instead of investigation into the mechanics of self-loathing.

4) 

How do the internal and external propaganda systems of the US work?

Internal Propaganda Systems: These consist largely of the tendency that people are reaching at when they refer to “the mainstream media”. All the major news sources, particularly those on television, work first to legitimize the current political system by overemphasis on chaos and terror, by reporting on everything from tornadoes to mass shootings to the “inherent scariness” of non-mainstream ideologies. Their first priority is to legitimize the current system in whatever form it takes, both forwards and backwards in history. This is why all the reporting when Reagan died, even from ostensibly liberal outlets like NPR, was focused on his “great statesmanship” blahblahblah, while never mentioning Iran-Contra or his exacerbation of the drug or AIDS crises. Their second priority is partisan. MSNBC is already broadcasting stuff about how “presidential” Trump looked on Tuesday night because he…took advantage of the widow of a Navy Seal he sent to die for literally no reason for a photo op. Without the prestige of the government, the banal careerism of the many reporters employed by these institutions collapses. A popular war helps the media as much as it helps the president. The internal propaganda system also places a heavy emphasis on popular media-everything from the boring politically empty celebration of civics in something like Parks and Recreation through to the superheroes-as-Blackwater Wagner-lite of the Avengers/Iron Man movies to the sleight of hand use of martyrdom to cover a broken ideology in films like American Sniper to the use of hundreds of drones during the Super Bowl to normalize their use all feed into this larger ecosystem.

External Propaganda Systems: These would involve a much larger article. Ross Snider has written about them pretty extensively on this website. Overthrowing elections, exported versions of the propaganda vehicles mentioned above, etc etc etc.

5)

How do we innoculate ourselves and rebuild media into something humane that serves society?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it….

How is the New Fascism Different?

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Ippolito Caffi, “Interior of the Colosseum”, 1850s, National Gallery

Fascism has been frequently defined as “the merger of state and corporate power.” This phrase is commonly attributed to Mussolini, though there’s no evidence he said it. Regardless, this soundbite has resonated exists as the most common coherent definition of fascism and works well as a still object against which I can attempt to measure society’s current rapid motion.

The current fascist consolidation isn’t the same as the one that rose in the first half of the 20th century. The earlier fascism rose in a cultural moment of technological ascension that was genuinely convincing. The possibility of utopia seemed real in concrete ways that hadn’t prior; in just a generation the material constraints that had defined humanity had lifted. This possibility also contrasted with what historians of WWI have dubbed “the possibility of total annihilation” and that Eric Hobsbawm discusses in The Age of Extremes-the act of warfare was now the possibility of complete annihilation without even a corpse as a remnant. This tide of fascism was effectively bookended with the ultimate realization of total physical annihilation-the atom bomb. While regional fascisms continued after WWII, fascism in toto was seen until recently as a response to the interwar period. Until 2016 anyway.

What has changed in the interim and how do we need to adjust our understanding of fascism so we can effectively respond to it? I feel like the current situation is primarily driven by two factors: 1) A population that consciously/subconsciously understands that there is a very strong possibility of an extinction event or at least severe version of what evolution science calls “a bottleneck”. 2) The overt merger of corporate and state power being caused by the transition/collapse of capitalism into what I would call competitive feudalism.

Both of these subjects could and have been the core of numerous long books. For brevity’s sake I’m going to lay out the bones of my argument in numbered observations:

1. Fascism in its initial incarnation was Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism/Maoism’s mirror image. Each saw the possibility of social perfection in the broader project of mass industrialization but defined utopia differently. Nazism was aesthetically an attempt by a society to embody the orderly image of standardized mechanical production, as opposed to Stalinism/Maoism’s attempts to rapidly industrialize so that industrialization could be (at least in theory) harnessed for the good of the majority population. This note is strictly referring to the projected self-image of these three movements and not their actualities, which, as we all know, were far messier and eventually catastrophic. The “alt-right” fascism of 2016 was born out of chaos and is happy to project an outward image of chaos-Donald Trump’s bizarre self-contradiction and embrace of domestic terrorist organizations not directly under his command is much closer to Mao’s tactics for consolidating power during the Chinese Cultural Revolution than Hitler’s deification of orderly militarism.

2. The new fascism has grown in a period defined by the proliferation of very possible (probable?) end of human civilization, and possibly life on Earth itself. This would be either through a third world war going nuclear or an unseen multiplier effect to climate change. This isn’t an argument on the probability of either event-their omnipresence in discussion and mass consciousness is more than enough to engender complex and bizarre effects. Increasingly erratic weather can’t help but give a morbid pall to even sunny warm days, particularly when they’re falling in the middle of February. Pretending that the chaotic novelty of recent politics isn’t related to climate change or the clear end of the viability of capitalism just because its adherents claim not to believe in climate change or the potential that capitalism could ever end is ridiculous. The zombie-neoliberalism-professionalism of the Democrats and the lulz-racism-deathcult of the Republicans are both clearly responses to the constant obvious reminders of the very real possibility none of us are going to reach our sell-by date. The Democrats think that rigid adherence to capitalism as it was will rise a dead thing, or worse that technological accelerationism will save us just in the nick of time. The Republicans/neo-fascist parties worldwide think that if they can ritually cleanse society of people/things that annoy them or their constituents (everything from the guy serving them at McDonalds having an accent to invented wars on Christmas) they can return to an imagined and fictional happy equilibrium. Confusing correlation with causation isn’t a result of ignorance but a psychological tool for releasing cognitive dissonance. The feeling of “powerlessness” among young white men is not solely attributable to economic prospects declining but to the larger cultural sense that there very well could not be a future.

3. The new fascism is not a politics of possibility but a politics of exhaustion. It’s not founded in the shadow of imagined utopia but in the shadow of imagined extinction. Hitler had Speer drawing up plans for a grand new Berlin, Trump can’t even say whether he’s going to actually do any of that infrastructure whatever he was vaguely talking about.

4. The ready accessibility of more information than can possibly be processed even by people who spend all day trying to make sense of what’s going on, compounded by the strong probability most of this information is fake or misleading compounds this sense of helplessness. The internet has shifted from an object of liberation hopes to one of Orwellian control that Orwell didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to put together. Instead of a TV that watches us, we have a dispassionate TV where we flail up and down to get its attention-several thousand people do this for a living now. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible

5. The best way to measure this breakdown of public trust in well…the very concept of trust: satire requires a social narrative with clear boundaries regarding what can credibly be accepted as real. These boundaries have broken down. This is the age of #nottheonion, an age featuring traits both of Baudrillard’s simulacra and Debord’s Spectacle, where reality has finally outpaced speculative fiction. We are in the thing after satire and after capitalism, not because either collapsed but because both have triumphantly ascended to omnipresence and by doing so lost the other whose differance defined them.

6. The way that power is distributed through media, due to #4, is basically a thing that can only be mastered by a small group of people with extremely specialized skill sets. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible with representative democracy. The famous line is “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Now that everyone ostensibly owns a printing press, outside of the questionable credibility of something going “viral”, access to readership is pretty much entirely a matter of training in and adherence to what were once termed counterinsurgency principles or the money to continually push posts. Access to the kind of AI/data crunching capabilities that allow someone like Robert Mercer to get Donald Trump elected or get Britain to decide to leave the EU cost several million dollars at the bare minimum and is limited to those who have the infrastructure and the highly qualified/extremely limited number of individuals that can run such an operation. The more polarized and scared the country is, the more money Facebook makes.

7. Accordingly, the practice of psychology has revealed itself as being a tool of mass control first and a sort of therapeutic thing second. The part that benefits the ruling classes is not the therapeutic part and much of the “progress” that has occurred in the last 150 years both in the social and hard sciences rewrite society in a manner more akin to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics than a coming tech utopia or “luxury communism”.

8. The fact that the current business model of the largest companies in the country is “disrupt and then take advantage of however long we can maintain a monopoly” speaks to the fact that there isn’t any more space for capital to expand. The fact that the capitalist warlords can directly govern now instead of ruling through proxies speaks more to where the country was already headed than any huge seismic shift caused by Trumpism. Much of the country feels powerless because in terms of the broad levers of power, they are. The struggles going on between the tech and oil/old-new money takes on an apocalyptic Twilight of the Idols feel. They’re fighting over who gets to own the pie when the turnover of capitalism settles into a single totalistic owner-subject state not given over to whatever struggles of consolidation in the marketplace are still left.

Framing the Violence Narrative

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In the past few months the term “fake news” has come into the mainstream in a major way. A cursory definition based on its usage would have you believe it’s just an updated synonym for the old standby “propaganda,” but is this true? Yes and no. Our full assimilation into the information age has drastically transformed the way propaganda functions. Whereas in the past it was possible to withhold information and only present your preferred narrative, the current climate invites everybody to share all their information for the express purpose of cutting it all down and putting it on the same playing field. The idea is to put it in people’s heads that no information is reliable, no matter the source. Once this has occurred you have successfully discredited rigorous investigative journalism based on truth and fact. It’s suddenly no more credible than the .com ramblings of some kook in his rural Texas basement or perhaps more foreboding, the media apparatus of the state (i.e. @realDonaldTrump). This has long been a part of Vladimir Putin’s playbook where the cardinal rule is that in order to get people to believe in something, you first have to get them to believe in nothing.

To simplify (TL:DR in modern web speak);

Pre-information age propaganda = limiting access to information

Post-information age propaganda = discrediting all information (ie, fake news)

If information isn’t credible, framing and emotional narrative rise to the forefront of importance. What you say is less important than how you say it and the cognitive effect it has on the person you are speaking to. This is why Democrats lose election after election in spite of superior policy – Republicans know how to appeal to emotion while Democrats don’t think they have to play that game. We’re seeing how this plays out in reality, and it’s not pretty. The latest activity on this matter is the development of the “violence narrative” –  an attempt to take the riotous activity of the anarchist group Black Bloc and associate it with the entire left-wing, liberal worldview. I will explain this soon but I want to start with a more obvious example of an expert in post-information age propaganda. I don’t mean Donald Trump (though he does qualify) but another media figure who has been compared to a more verbose version of Trump. That being cartoonist Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame.

This is the first paragraph of an article he recently wrote on climate change;

Before I start, let me say as clearly as possible that I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change. If science says something is true – according to most scientists, and consistent with the scientific method – I accept their verdict.

This is the third paragraph;

“So when I say I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change, I’m endorsing the scientific consensus for the same reason I endorsed Hillary Clinton for the first part of the election – as a strategy to protect myself. I endorse the scientific consensus on climate change to protect my career and reputation. To do otherwise would be dumb, at least in my situation.”

What have here is a massive contradiction, but one stated with authority and conviction, not unlike the way President Trump plows through his own non-truths. The first thing Scott Adams wants you to know is that he accepts climate change is a real thing. It’s the first sentence in his article on the topic, so therefore it must be really really true. A professional like Mr. Adams would not dare deny the work of science when he himself is just a cultural media figure. Therefore it should come as a shock when two paragraphs later he states that the only reason he accepts the science on climate change is to protect his reputation. In other words he is saying that he doesn’t accept the scientific consensus on climate change but he wants to confuse the reader into thinking he does so that he has more credibility. He’s giving you the runaround, like the narcissist he strives to be.

If we want to take Adams at his word in that he cares about his reputation and career (and this seems reasonable given that narcissists usually do care about this stuff)  I’d posit that he has an anti-climate change agenda. Despite his claims, that’s more beneficial to him personally and professionally at this point seeing he’s become a bit of a right wing media darling in a similar vein as Mike Rowe. As the article continues Adams goes to great lengths to disguise himself as being balanced, saying hyperbolic things like “this is the only place you’ll see both sides of the issue!” That isn’t to say he doesn’t make good or interesting points but that’s always been the hallmark of good propaganda, no matter what era it comes from. It always knows just where and when to sprinkle in just enough truth to lend itself credibility.

On surface level Adams seems to be writing about the difficulty in figuring out the truth behind climate change. In the era of fake news however only suckers read things surface level. Look not at content or facts but framing and intent. Then you might see that this piece is designed not to bring people closer to truthful concepts but rather to fan the flames of debate in order to increase his popularity with his new niche audience. He is playing into the recent right wing promotion of information chaos, which in turn helps to discredit the order and limits imposed by science (liberally biased, naturally). This helps push the right’s anti-climate change agenda which they need in order to pull back all those pesky regulations that prevent enterprising American capitalists from exploiting the environment for profit er… um… I mean creating bountiful high paying jobs for the working class.

When analyzing fake news  what one says often has less importance than when they say it – timing is everything. Just like you never get a second chance at a first impression, the first statement one makes tends to be the most revealing. Adams first statement was that he accepted climate change, though he carefully omitted his reasons for this until later. He dropped in a very mainstream point of view to set the frame that he was a credible guy. Compare this tactic to one used in numerous conservative responses to the recent punching of Richard Spencer on the day of Trump’s inauguration. This article by John Nolte of conservative news blog “Daily Wire” is a perfect example, though interestingly it’s a little bit trickier than what you get from a so called “master persuader” like Scott Adams. There’s some build up, starting with the first paragraph;

“Okay, fine, somewhere in my Twitter stream you will find a joke about my not being too terribly upset over this creep Richard Spencer getting sucker-punched on TV last week. My tweet was a joke, though, and I am clearly on record, time and time again, speaking out against violence and the encouraging/excusing of violence. Also, I am not The New York Times.”

Nolte is humanizing himself by letting us all know that yeah, he felt none too bad to see physical violence enacted against the self proclaimed leader of the “alt-right” (which is now synonymous with white supremacy). He goes as far as to call the guy a creep, just to make sure we all know that Mr. Nolte in no way approves of the viewpoints of Mr. Spencer. He also clarifies the he’s very much anti-violence in any way, shape or form (he was just joking, after all!), thus further laying down the frame that he’s a decent guy with good values. What follows is an overly elaborate and hypothetical construction of Spencer as an actual Nazi. Hypothetical because in reality Nolte wants to enforce the notion that really the guy is just an unpleasant kook and nowhere on the level of actual Hitler. This is down to downplay the danger people like Spencer represent to society and in particular minorities. This is summed up in his fourth “paragraph” (just one sentence, for potency I guess);

“For argument’s sake, I am ready to stipulate that Richard Spencer is one sick and twisted piece of racist garbage.”

In his next “paragraph” (again, one sentence) he drops the true bombshell, already hinted at in paragraph one;

“Nevertheless, in its attempt to normalize and excuse and rationalize any kind of political violence against anyone, even a Nazi, The New York Times is more a Nazi than Spencer.”

Though not as direct as Adams, the tactic Nolte uses is essentially the same. Adams emphatically stated that he believed in climate change but then quickly made that belief subordinate to another point about the fuzziness of truth and unreliability of science. Nolte emphatically states that he despises Spencer and goes as far to paint a picture of him as an honest to god Nazi before revealing his true target – the NYTimes and by proxy, the liberal left. From one of the final paragraphs in his piece;

“This push for and encouragement and normalizing of violence among the left and our national media, is no joke. It’s been going on for years, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, from the Obama White House, and within the institutional left.”

Let’s overlook the fact that a death from a purely ideological left wing terrorist attack hasn’t occurred on American soil since 1981. During that same time period since then there have been numerous deaths associated with domestic right wing terrorism in multiple attacks. That’s merely a side point to the fact that right-wing motivated violence is more likely to be state sponsored than left-wing violence which tends to come in the form of civil disobedience that generally spares harming  individuals in favor of property destruction. This paradigm works very well for the right because state sponsored violence is not only legal but far more brutal and effective than anything pesky civil disobedience can muster up. The military and police have wide latitude to do what they want and not face legal repercussions, for better or worse (some may argue they need that latitude to perform a tough thankless job, but that’s another topic).

State sponsored violence however doesn’t have to come from an organized and sanctioned group.  It can also be self-defense, and thus legal (ie Trayvon Martin). This point is reinforced by the creepy way Nolte’s article ends;

“Buy guns, America. You need to be able to defend yourselves and your loved ones.”

So just like Adams wrote an article denouncing climate change disguised as an article about the fuzzy nature of truth, Nolte has written an article essentially endorsing violence disguised as an article about how the left should be villainized because they endorse violence. Left is right. Up is down, something something 1984. It’s all very confusing and intellectually draining to try and follow. What’s not confusing is how Nolte comes very close to advocating the murder of political opponents by planting the seed in people’s minds that if you don’t kill the leftist first than the leftist might… um, sucker punch you in the face.

What we have seen happen here is an example of the right wing media writing about political violence in a way that falsely frames it as purely a leftist phenomenon. Were this just some rambling kook on a right wing dumping ground then this wouldn’t be much of a problem but sadly these things don’t stay so neatly contained. The extensive media coverage of the riots at UC  Berkeley in response to a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos handed the right wing media a golden opportunity for a more concentrated effort to paint the left as violent and threatening and possibly even something worth countering with violent force of your own, if necessary. This narrative has been created and framed independently of the facts, which in the case of both Berkeley and the Spencer punching still seem rather fuzzy, lost in the tides of information and “fake news”.

There is no doubt that violence is occurring in America in 2017 but who is really being harmed? Rather than accept right wing narratives at surface level, people need to be asking deeper questions. Is the broken window at Wells Fargo bank in downtown Berkeley really more egregious than the thousands of sick and disabled people who could die with the repeal of the ACA? Is Spencer taking a sucker punch more disconcerting than the fear minorities live in thanks to the spread of his ideas? To me the answers here are obvious but perhaps the kind of violence I’m talking about is too esoteric to play well on CNN. On a logical level I think most of us know where the most harm is being committed but thanks to their expertise at controlling narratives, the right wing has put the emotional view front and center and are using it for political gain. Luckily enough their act is not a hard one to replicate, and the facts being on your side makes for a more definitive tie breaker than a Mike Pence trip to the Senate. It’s time the left learned how to beat the Breitbart’s and Daily Wire’s of the world at their own game.

Cargo Cults, US Fascism, and Where We Go From Here


The 2016 elections centered around how to interpret the post-WWII history of the US. A mixture of panic and nostalgia produced a bizarre confluence of memes in the time leading up to November 8th. Conservatives shared warm memories of Saddam Hussein because “at least he killed all the terrorists for us” and endless memes were spread among the center-left optimistically praying for the second coming of…Dwight Eisenhower? 

On all sides except for the Hillary camp, there was a sense of an order collapsing-nostalgia without any countercurrent is the fork society sticks in an era to confirm that it’s done. Like the infamous Cargo Cults, they fixate on the external trappings of the US post-war boom as a way to avoid confronting the larger set of events that made it possible. The Sanders followers grew from a progressive left that had been saying since 2011 or so “If we bring back the New Deal tax code/financial regulations, everything will be back like it was.” The Trump followers said “If we go back to being as racist and sexist as we were then, the post-war boom will return.” 

Of course neither of these options will actually bring the boom back, even if a return to New Deal checks would be welcome. The US economic miracle was a result of being the world’s only uncontested superpower and having endless contracts to rebuild Europe for 20 years and those circumstances coinciding with the peak of Fordist manufacturing. Those conditions aren’t going to happen again. 

Hillary Clinton’s projected nostalgia, being for the last 8 years/the 1990s, was even less convincing and added insult to injury by using tired tricks on an increasingly politically aware population. Clinton was perhaps the most pragmatic in that she saw the 1950s weren’t coming back no matter what. However, she also offered a fatally unconvincing vision of what to do going forward.

The stories of election tampering taking root in the digital hive mind  serve as proxies to speak about 3 primary suppressed anxieties shared by the majority of the population:

1) If advertising analytics/data crunching voodoo actually works then it by nature can’t coexist with actual Democracy. Our individual fantasies of being master of our own destiny, built up for decades by trying to label whatever it is we’re buying “the alternative” don’t hold. We know that our decisions are no longer entirely or even substantially our own. This isn’t a result of Russian etc. interference but simply a fact of surveillance capitalism/web 3.0.

2) Everyone knows that the wealth gap is increasing and will continue to increase due to the basic math that Thomas Picketty laid out: the rich getting richer and everyone else being left out to dry is what capitalism is. Capitalism as we imagined it up to this point is a withered carcass; all that’s left is the accumulated money at the top. No one besides maybe a couple die hard Hillary hold-outs seriously thinks capitalism can continue much further. The whole border wall thing is a ghost dance for a capitalism that isn’t coming back.

3) Climate change is real, and furthermore climate change is something we’ve done to ourselves and that we could conceivably rein in. I believe the part in italics is what actually scares much of the population and particularly the wealthy/religious as it punctures the idea a God is watching over us or an invisible hand is strategically grabbing the market by the pussy.

The upper middle class and aspirant classes beneath them been circling these tire fires for the last 9 years since the 2008 crash. Trying to “detoxify” ourselves and the uglier parts of our way of life by buying more expensive groceries and/or obsessively revisiting the markers of youth and trying to get double equity on them by reselling them as important political events (this is as true of the right wing ad campaign for the Seth Rogen vehicle The Interview as it was for the new Ghostbusters). These campaigns advertising everything from cars to movies to vegetables all had a heavy shaming element. This was because their actual social function wasn’t primarily to “save organic farming” etc etc but to preserve the social markers telling people as their wealth shrunk that they weren’t actually poor, that their college educations still made them meritocratically superior and not just deep in debt. Artisan hamburger restaurants and craft beer were similar manifestations. Of course, eating the right vegetables and other acts of symbolic ethical consumerism won’t pay off your student debt.

These 3 anxieties correspond with the death of an economic system, the collapse of the primary controlling social narrative (Horatio Alger etc), the rapid cold decimation of an entire way of life that existed before computers, and the potential deaths of hundreds of millions of people/loss of all of the world’s coastal cities. Everyone going crackers at the same time is a predictable if dispiriting response.

The way forward from here can’t be a nod backward. Automation’s arrival leaves two paths open for the US-either an equitable and liberal welfare state, or a society obsessed with ignoring/removing society’s “disposable” elements-the migrants, the poor, minorities, and anyone standing in the way of the disposal (the left basically.) The US is currently heading down the latter path. 

We need to aim big if we’re going to have a future. We can’t simply shoot for reforms. The tools and infrastructure for a futuristic, equitable and sane society are in front of us. Automation’s impending destruction of the global jobs market could be a positive thing if the tools of automation were seized for the general population. Many platform economy systems could be replaced by open source software updated with tax payer money. There is little about Uber’s app that couldn’t be replicated fairly easily and certainly nothing about it that warrants the size of the single company. Austin Texas already has their own replacement app just for Austin that’s been working fine.The e-commerce platforms could become a dynamic unified e-communism without too much tweaking.

These are the sorts of demands we need to be making. This isn’t the same world it was 10 years ago. And this time we can’t just make demands-we need to be willing to fight for them.

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.

Charlie-Chaplin-and-Lloyd-Bacon-in-the-mirror-gag

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.

Are the Police Acting Like a Distributed Gestapo?

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddy Grey, and now Sandra Bland, I’ve seen this movie over and over gain. The screenplay rarely changes. A young black man, or woman, gets into a confrontation with the police. He dies under suspicious circumstances. For the first few days, local newspaper reporters, who usually depend on the cops for leads to stories, just publish the police department’s press release. But it rarely stops there. Political activists investigate the incident. They publish what they learn in online journals and on social media and this in turn sparks protests, not only against the police, but against the local media, which all too often act like a stenographer for the local police.

The newspapers, no longer able to ignore the discontent, respond in two ways: They send their reporter back to write a more detailed report on the police killing. But they also “investigate” the victim, who we invariably learn was “no angel”, had a criminal record, marijuana in his system, or an all around “bad attitude.” Far right-wing media like Fox, Breitbart, and New York Post amplify the smears, and, along with the more mainstream, “liberal” newspapers, turn what should have been the trial of a police officer into a trial of a victim far too dead to defend himself. Sometimes a local district attorney will convene a grand jury. There’s almost never indictment. Liberals will call for a federal investigation. It almost never happens.

Surely this has to end?

But what if it doesn’t?

The growth of grassroots political organizations like Black Lives Matter, and the spotlight shown on both the police and the corporate media, are encouraging. But they are by no means guaranteed to succeed. History points to darker possibilities. The growth of revolutionary socialism after the First World War led to the birth of its mirror image: fascism. In the United States, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s provoked a ferocious backlash. George Wallace, the Republican “southern strategy,” the Boston bussing riots and the Tea Party. We’re still living with it today.

Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism treats fascism, not as a stable political system, but as a historical process. While the only perfectly realized fascist states in history have been Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, all “fascisms seek out in each national culture those themes that are best capable of mobilizing a mass movement of regeneration, unification, and purity directed against liberal individualism and constitutionalism and against Leftist class struggle.” A fascist movement unfolds in a cycle of five stages: (1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy. A fascist leader trying to build a fascist nation will play on the nation’s “fears of decadence and decline; assertion of national and cultural identity; a threat by unassimilable foreigners to national identity and good social order; and the need for greater authority to deal with these problems.”

So let’s take three examples of fascist and potentially fascist leaders: Donald Trump, Francisco Franco, and Adolf Hitler. Donald Trump is clearly a would-be fascist leader of a movement still in stage one. While he’s a long-time racist who plays on white fears of national decline and resentment against blacks, and while he does have wide name recognition in the elite media, it’s unlikely that he will win the Republican nomination. What makes him appealing to the elites in the media — he’s a demagogue with no history as a traditional politician –- also makes him unappealing to the elites in the Republican Party, who would rather use him the way they used Sarah Palin. He will move the “Overton Window” to the right, but will be pushed aside for Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio.

Francisco Franco, by contrast, made it all the way through stage 3 almost to stage 4. But after he built a mass movement and took power with the support of the Spanish ruling class and the Catholic Church, he made no attempts to create a new revolutionary society on the model of Germany or Italy. On the contrary, he deftly evaded Hitler’s attempts to recruit him as an ally for the war against the Soviet Union, and would eventually rule as a traditional authoritarian, not a fascist. He made no attempts to replace the Catholic Church or to get rid of the king. Eventually, he demobilized the mass movement that he built in response to the Spanish republic and the Spanish Civil War.

Only Mussolini and Hitler went through all five stages, building a revolutionary “prerogative state” alongside the traditional “normative state,” plunging their countries into total war that would lead either to the conquest of Europe or to their own destruction. We all know what happened. Mussolini ended up dangling on a meat hook. Hitler shot himself inside the bunker. Franco and his Portuguese counterpart Salazar on the other hand ruled for decades, eventually becoming part of the “free world,” the coalition of capitalist governments the United States built up against the Soviet Union.

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 American ruling class can mobilize white fear and resentment without having to resort to a George Wallace or a Donald Trump, let alone a Hitler or a Mussolini. Let’s call it “distributed fascism.” While the traditional charismatic fascist demagogue needed storm troopers, mass spectacles, and a centralized “prerogative state” that would eventually displace the traditional “normative state” — The SS, for example, a militarized police force answerable only to the Nazi Party, would eventually replace the traditional German army and Prussian officer corps. — “distributed fascism” works in reverse.  The prerogative state doesn’t replace the normative state. The normative state evolves into the prerogative state. Most of us don’t notice since the prerogative state retains the outward appearance of the normative state. But the more movements from the left like Black Lives Matter protest police brutality and the remnants of Jim Crow and segregation, the more the mass media mobilizes right wing, racist fear and resentment behind “city police forces,” which are, in fact, no longer traditional police forces subject to the rule of law, but paramilitary class armies similar to Hitler’s brown shirts and Mussolini’s black shirts.

We probably won’t ever find out what really happened to Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old university administrator who was violently arrested this past July on a trumped up traffic offense then later found dead in her cell. Did she kill herself the way the police and mass media say she did? Did the arresting officer slam her head against her car and induce a concussion, which, left untreated, led to her death by traumatic brain injury? Was there really “marijuana in her system” at the time of the arrest? Or did the medical examiner plant it on her after the botched autopsy? We will probably never know. There is no institution in American society, not the local district attorney, not the media, not the federal government that will investigate and release the truth if the truth leads to the arresting officer going to jail. The mystery around Sandra Bland’s death isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. There is no process of accountability that will allows a “bad officer” to be brought to justice for murdering a black man or woman, not for Sandra Bland, not for Freddie Grey, not for Michael Brown, not for the clearly innocent Eric Garner, who was strangled on video in front of the entire country.

While the American ruling class may not be consciously fascist, they still seem to fear a revolutionary upsurge by the American people, and by black Americans in particular. Hitler had his Ernst Rohm and Heinrich Himmler, but the American ruling class doesn’t need storm troops with a centralized leadership, let alone a single fascist grandee. All they have to do is mobilize conservative, white resentment and fear of national decline behind the highly militarized, but decentralized network of big city police forces, the class armies they built up in the wake of 9/11. A more centralized command structure, in fact, is not only unnecessary. It’s not desired. The banks were able to crush Occupy Wall Street with a highly coordinated attack, even while arguing they had nothing to do with it, that it was just about city cops dealing with a public nuisance. The intermittent murders of black men and women by the police, in turn, don’t have to be planned, just allowed to happen. The police become, in effect, a distributed Gestapo, a rallying point behind which conservative whites, already heavily armed, can reaffirm their loyalty to the capitalist state, even while denying it. They hate the federal government. They support their local sheriff.

In his classic book The Age of Reform, the great historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out that it was decentralization that prevented the United States from going fascist like Italy or Germany. Sadly it seems the decentralized nature of the 24/7 mass media may bring us fascism after all. Whether or not we notice it will depend on our ability to think critically. I doubt Sandra Bland died with any illusions about what the United States has become.