Thursday, January 18, 2007

MORE AMERICAN FASCISM

Chris Hedges has just published his book “American Fascism: The Christian Right and the War on America”. For Americans at this point in our history it would be a hugely valuable book for its title alone; far too many Americans no longer remember much (nor were they educated into) the dynamics and terrors of Fascism. And this on top of the natural human tendency to think that “it couldn’t happen here” – although as early as 1935 Sinclair Lewis, in a book of that name, quite vividly imagined what it would be like if ‘it’ really did spread over here. Fascism is a fundamental human dynamic – operative within individuals and within groups; it is not at all merely a phenomenon that once happened somewhere else and is now ‘merely’ history.

Furthermore, the mainstream media’s very cautious and respectful handling of Fundamentalism (which is now as “PC” a media topic as any of the ‘traditional’ or ‘classic’ American PC topics) results in too many Americans not grasping exactly the nature of what this phenomenon is and the threat it poses.

And the entire concept of ‘threat’ has lost its kick in our modern American discourse. After decades of PC and the maneuvering of the various Advocacies many citizens now imagine that whatever is a ‘threat’ is merely a ‘threat’ to the interests of some other group(s). That something might actually pose a ‘threat’ to the Republic itself or to the basic fabric of the vision of the Framers … this is not even imagined. And of course, the Framers having been ‘deadwhiteeuropeanmales’ many aren’t even sure that anything they made is worth the trouble of keeping it.

All of which places us – or rather, decades ago placed us – at great risk. As it came to be accepted, even if only implicitly, by many citizens that the Republic was not worth keeping, and that therefore citizens’ participation was not effort well-expended, and as it came to seem that organized and advanced-level Advocacies were doing all the maintenance and repair that seemed to be do-able, then a huge vacuum was created when the citizens no longer Peopled (yes, I use it as a verb) the Republic and its government in all of its Branches.

Today that risk is intensifying exponentially as powerful forces are flowing, surging, into that vacuum. We are at the stage in this country where it is not prevention but repair that must be done, and quickly. This, to use a phrase of FDR’s, is a national emergency as urgent as war itself. But – I say it now – it is not ‘war’, not actually and not metaphorically. The Republic was hugely damaged by the waging of metaphorical ‘war’ (wars on this and wars against that) even before its interests and capabilities were severely degraded by the waging of actual war. What we are called to should not be described metaphorically; let us describe it plainly: We are called to fulfill our responsibilities as its citizens to People this Republic.

This may be painful and demanding: the disciplined sustaining of proximity to pain and exertion in order to achieve a large and necessarily abstract goal is not something we can confidently expect from the young or from ‘postmodern’ humans or from a consumerist and technology-saturated culture. But it must be done. We are reminded that once the berg was sighted, the officer in charge on the bridge of “Titanic” made one last and ultimately fatal decision: he sought to escape all consequences of a collision by trying to avoid the berg, thus turning her broadside to it, such that she sheered along the jagged edge of the berg and ripped herself open for an irretrievable length of her vulnerable side. Had he, instead, decided to accept that trouble was unavoidable and steered to hit the berg head-on, with his bow (the sharp, pointy front part of the ship), there is no small chance that she would have survived – albeit with a lot of shaken-up and irritated passengers – to sail into New York. It’s an advanced-level skill in life to know when some amount of consequences are unavoidable and then maneuver constructively to take some damage but still survive. It is not a skill highly prized in our modern American reality.

Hedges starts by quoting and explaining each of Umberto Eco’s “Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt”. Eco had reflected on the nature of Italian Fascism – already ‘matured’ by 1930, from which Hitler had later drawn his original inspirations for implementing a Fascist ethos in Germany. I’ll note the ones that catch my eye and add my own thoughts as to our present situation.

The cult of tradition: Given decades of PC sensitivity to potentially ‘offensive’ or – more recently – ‘hurtful’ or ‘hateful’ facts, coupled with a revolutionary impatience with and dismissal of all the pomps and works of the oppressing DWEMs who ran this country for so long, generations of American children have grown up without an adequate working connection to any overarching culture of American traditions. Into this vacuum has flowed the Fundamentalist assertion (nor can it be refuted without risking ‘insensitivity’) that American tradition is somehow an overtly Biblical tradition, and – especially – those parts of the Biblical tradition that emphasize, justify, even demand war against unbelievers. So now, as the only apparent alternative to the colliding visions of the assorted Advocacies of the Left, we have the brassy, blood-red apocalyptic visions of the Right. Both are basically visions of ‘war’ – figurative and/or literal – and neither even begins to do justice to the genuine American traditions and the genuine Founding Vision that so excited the Framers and the early generations of Americans and of assorted folks around the world.

The rejection of modernism: Deep down, both Advokists (if I may) and Fundamentalists appeal not to the ‘modern’ skills of thought and reason and analysis, but rather to an earlier, visceral, almost primal emotionalism: the truly ‘human’ act is now ‘to feel’ rather than ‘to think’. Yes, the Advokists want to generate Outrage in the face of outrages that must be fixed immediately so that the next outrage can be tackled, and the Fundamentalists want to generate belief in an urgent Bible Mission that must be started immediately so that ‘God’s Final Victory’ can be assured, or maybe induced. But neither of them want you to ‘think’ about what they want you to do. Just do it. Just ‘get it’ and do it. The modern ‘scientific’ approach to knowledge, based on the Enlightenment (that hotbed of Advokist bugbears – the DWEMs – and Fundamentalist bugbears – the ‘secularists – is rejected by both). If you ‘get it’ or if you ‘believe’, then you won’t need to ask any more time-consuming and distracting questions or do any other ‘thinking’. It will be enough that you are on-board and that you do what must be done. Ja. That was, at one time, pretty much the SS welcome-to-the-club speech on your first day at training camp. Welcome to ‘our’ world, indeed.

The cult of action for action’s sake: So if you don’t need to think, then how do you show that you’re dedicated to the cause and on the job? You ‘act’ – you do what must be done to bring about the Final Outcome. Action shows robust faithfulness; thought indicates doubt and weakness and lack of zeal for the Cause. Real men don’t think, real revolutionaries don’t think – they both ‘act’. Quickly, decisively, strongly – they ‘act’. You start to get an idea of what parts of the brain aren’t going to be getting much of a workout in the programme of either the Left or the Right. And in an American culture where fathering has gone the way of Objectivity and Thought and Reality, then young males are going to be desperate for some way, any way, to ‘prove’ their manhood, to themselves as well as to others and to ‘the world’. Unreflective action … on a personal level, on a societal and national level; it sounds like a recipe for the Iraq War. And while Learned Hand said rightly that sooner or later we have to stop considering all the alternatives and decide and then act on that decision, the kicker is How long and how well we actually do that ‘considering of alternatives’ before we stop thinking and start projecting ourselves into the world.

The critical spirit distinguishes, and that is ‘modernism’: I’m not sure if it’s childish (which may be an insult to children) but it’s certainly cognitively primitive to avoid complexity. It is then primitiveness raised to a syndrome if one not only seeks to avoid complexity, but then insists that everything in the world is really very simple anyway, so that people who complexify are both wrong and (why not?) godless and (what the hey?) evil and damnable. But human events, ‘life’ if you wish, resemble nothing so much as the surface of the human brain: deeply valleyed and mountained by innumerable cross-connections. So anyone who tries to flatten ‘life’ and events into ‘simple’ and ‘clear’ and utterly understandable phenomena is trying to lead a mountain-climbing expedition without any ropes, spikes, hammers, or protective gear. Criticism has gotten a bad rap from the Theorists of the PC militia, but we absolutely cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Down with the mindless, running-dog lackeys of PC, but let’s keep our skeptical, intelligent, robust ability to face and deal with complexity. We need all that to People the Republic.

Disagreement is a sign of diversity: If there’s one thing worse than doing the wrong thing, it’s doing the wrong thing and then erecting it into a Plan. You do this by refusing to admit you did the wrong thing, and instead come up with a Theory that proves that what you did was actually the right thing – or, at least, a good thing and not a bad thing. And it helps if you get a professor or ten from prestigious and presumably Truth-seeking universities to stroke their chins thoughtfully for the cameras. But this scam only works as long as you aren’t facing serious real-time, real-life consequences from what you went and did in the first place. As long as nobody looks too closely at the outcomes of what you’ve done, then you can make a living off of just talking and smiling and spinning and ducking and weaving and going to conferences. But sooner or later, like the passengers on any ship, either you’ll have the courage to go up on deck and have a look around out there, or else ‘out there’ will maybe come in through the porthole and knock over the Chablis and your inkpot. Constructive ‘diversity’ would be a bunch of widely different but fundamentally united human beings helping each other in a search for Truth upon which they can formulate their common life together; or, that same bunch, seeking “to achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all (persons)”. Groups that define themselves by how different they are from each other, then trying to come to the table and fight over the cloth … that’s not ‘diversity’ in any useful sense. In fact, as the consequences intensify, it’s not only not-useful but downright folly and madness.

Ur-fascism derives from individual or social frustration: It is not a good thing to ignore frustration in a society, let alone to start and impose programs that are bound to cause great frustration, and then on top of that ignore those effects that your programs are having on a lot of people. By doing that for decades of PC, the Left and the Democrats literally created the fires of confusion and the smoke of discouraged apathy among wide swaths of the citizenry, fire and smoke that were intensified all the more by being ignored (with great effort by the media) and repressed. It was only a matter of time before the Right and the Republicans saw that these smoldering fires could be used to fuel a resurgence. So on top of ill-advised Left mistakes (which undermined the People) we then got immature and downright primitive Right mistakes (which are leading the un-Peopled Republic into dark dark valleys). Nor will the Dems coming back to power be able to turn back the clock to the time before consequences took hold. Our societal choices reflect our military choices in Iraq: there are still a few moves left, but there is damage that’s been done that may never be undone – to ourselves as well as to everyone over there. Frustration needs to be dealt with honestly, and that means it needs to be admitted. For far too long, that frustration was not only ignored but belittled (without being acknowledged), and when it finally blew outwards and upwards into the middle of the American scene – with the help of this and that sorcerer’s apprentice – it took on the characteristics of just-spewed magma and flowed all over the place. Worse, the sleazy Christ-flaunting Bhagwans of the Fundamentalist movement are telling their hyper-excited followers that it’s all a good thing.

To people desperate for an identity, Ur-Fascists offer the fact that we’re born in the same country: As they used to say in Dogpatch: Gack! THIS is all they offer? That we just happened to be born in the same country? Yes, you can then put a coat of hot-wax on that thing by claiming that it was God’s will that you were born here, but basically that’s just enlisting God to endorse a much smaller script than the one He already wrote. Now them Kathliks offered an identity of being created in the image of likeness of God, which gave you a common bond with every other human being on the planet, extending backward and forward in Time, and reaching beyond Time as well. Now THAT was an identity. But it’s far bigger than any individual nation-state and to the Ur-Fascist idolaters of the State (and Fundamentalists fully qualify as such idolaters) whatever God wants has to somehow match what the nation-State wants. Like in Shinto. We’re all desperate for an identity, and a purpose, and a role, and a mission – and the sense of purpose and Meaning that all those things will give us. And the best of us will admit it and embrace what seems (perhaps with the Holy Spirit’s prompting) best able to give all those good things to us. By leaping into the vacuum created by 40 years of Left-Dem deconstructing, and stoking the primal, long-ignored passions in American society, the Fundamentalists have taken over the way the fictive Sauron set up shop in Mordor after a long exile.

The followers must feel humiliated by the wealth and power of their enemies: Humiliation is one of those really primal but unquenchable passions. Many a Madison Avenue ad-exec has probably gone to the grave without figuring how to tap into humiliation among the customer base without being blamed for reminding them of their humiliation in the first place. Humiliation creates a powerful personal Emergency: powerful negative feelings mushroom up that have to be released. But Humiliation also immediately offers a target for all those energies: your enemies. And since you are chosen by God to live in this town, then your enemies must be godless as well as being evil enough to humiliate you. And once that reaction gets going, there’ll be a hot time in that town. It doesn’t help that the Ur-Left, equally as fundamentalistic in its way, has helpfully claimed that there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a God – leastways not in public, and will all the yokels who think otherwise please step up to be registered for the trip back to Podunk?

There is no struggle for life, but rather life is lived for struggle: Life is a long, sustained staggery journey toward what is ‘higher’, within yourself and beyond yourself and Beyond yourself. The task of each person is to be a master&commander of the self, and ease that creaky vessel along in company with other such, toward this or that (intermediate) goal, and yet always toward the Ultimate Goal (accordin’ to them Kathliks, leastwise). Such a person disciplines him/herself to embody Truth and Virtue, allowing that Truth and its power to flow in (from Deep Within or from Above), and then and only then to flow out toward others. Like the Old Testament Prophets, such a human being then becomes an exemplar and a model of Life’s/God’s energy or grace in the world, and can speak Truth to the powers of this world. But such persons do not envision life as war, nor the human being as primarily a ‘warrior’ nor a war-maker. The angels may be assigned to do that, a lot of Old Testament inhabitants were told to do that, but then Christ came along and told Peter to put up his sword. A far greater power than the sword would be drawn into the world and SpaceTime through the Landing Zone (LZ) that Christ would open with the energy generated from His own willing suffering and death. All this is far too spiritual and far too mature for already-agitated folks whose primal passions and lesser brain-areas are constantly being massaged by the nation-worshipping, mind-massaging Bhagwans of the Fundamentalist hierarchy. They shouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery in their condition, but that’s the problem we’ve got on our hands now, isn’t it? They most certainly are operating heavy machinery: everything in the US arsenal.

Elitism is encouraged, and a contempt for the weak: How any bunch that claims to be Bible-worthy can purposely nurture a contempt for the weak is beyond me. But contempt for the weak is very much what the Fascists wanted to do, in order to spackle up their populations for war, to make better soldiers and more obedient civilian workers. Of course, the Dems spent 40 years raising up this and that Identity and claiming all sorts of special treatment for it based on its ‘weakness’. But that whole gambit got way out of hand and those without a Left-assigned ‘Identity’ were kicked to the curb and had to go and look for one of their own. And while they were out walking the dark highways and alleys looking for one, the well-coiffed, well-dressed, shiny-toothed Bhagwan-Vampires of Fundamentalism found them, and promised them life-without-death, and that they’d never be laughed at again. And now they are no longer ‘weak’ and hate the weakness they once were (and may still be). And in the darkness they are bound to Power and War and Violence and the sleepless, never satisfied, always grasping Nation-State. And they must call it Good. And they must call it God. Nor will they admit that they have bound themselves in a living nightmare, but rather will strike out more forcefully to make their nightmare real to others, until – no wonder they look forward to it – God comes and whacks all their enemies and takes them to Hawaii, all expenses paid.

Everybody is educated to become a hero: As if you could teach anybody to be a ‘hero’. Not even the official heroes of the country really think of themselves as heroes, nor did they plan to be heroes. But of course, it’s an indication of just how really needy these people are that on top of being God’s Deputies, and being ‘chosen’ to be Americans, they also have to be ‘heroes’. Them Kathliks used to call such people ‘saints’ but the Nation-State prefers ‘heroes’ and wisely so: there’s no use reminding folks that there is or ever was a really better alternative than the utopia of serving an all-powerful State. And in the Fundamentalist theological scheme, you get ‘saved’ by saying you were and telling a good enough story about it; that’s all it takes to be a hero. And in the PC self-esteem book everybody’s a ‘hero’ just because they’d feel bad if you didn’t call them that. Mix these two likkers and you’ve got one corrosive cocktail indeed. And so we do, now. In terms of self-image, just how many people are sober in this country right now, do you imagine? How many are faithfully waging the long, slow journey, in season and out of season, in good times and bad – as opposed to looking for twelve legions of angels to clear the road ahead and peel them a grape or sitting back under the shade of a tree and waiting to be discovered as the unknown princeling of the royal family?

Since it’s hard to keep in touch with permanent war and on top of one’s heroism, the Fascist will to power is transferred to the sexual arena: Well, what else has a guy got to do? No – wait, that’s the feminist position. But no, that’s what God put guys here for, right? To make babies and to kill other people’s babies – or former babies. Them Kathliks never did get the hang of it, but who’s gonna listen to them now anyways? Sex, sex, sex – and yet you don’t find the word passing Jesus’ lips. Maybe He was too busy. Or – no wait – bein’ God He just knew that St. Paul would be along shortly to take care of all the loose ends. Of course, if ‘loose ends’ is all that sex amounted to in Jesus’ day, then … what the hell is going on now?

There are eye-catching phrases these Bhagwans make, like for example: “We are the vice-regents of God”. Now if somebody said this out on the street, or in a City Council meeting, or even a faculty meeting (where it’s especially hard to determine the presence or non-presence of sanity) said this out loud, people would be concerned. But when a Bhagwan says it, folks are ecstatic and send him monies. But this is how desperate these folks are, how needy, and how sleazy these whackjob preachers really are. Because I’m sure that they actually consider themselves to be “vice-regents”. And for those of our viewers who have just joined the Earth-show, “vice-regent” was a rank immediately below King, assigned in the old days to those who would govern a far-distant and valuable Imperial possession in the King’s place (the land being so far away from the home country that it would take too long to get the King’s permission for everything). But .. wait. If God is everywhere and knows Everything, then what does He need a vice-regent for? Or a whole religion-full of them? And is every low-esteem Fundamentalist in the pews as equal a vice-regent as the group's Lexus-driving Bhagwan? What's going on here?

Violence is magical and holy: It was an old Kathlik maxim that whenever something reely reely reely made you feel gooooooood, then it was probably bad. Given the visceral and primitive rush we get from our reptilian brains when we get violent or are the recipients of magical gifts or get to have and to use magical powers … or get to wield the authority of God … well, a good case can be made that this stuff isn’t good for you in the long run. In fact, getting high on it will probably shorten your run appreciably, as it has ours on the Eastern front now.

“Saved at the age of 3”: OK, childhood is magical, and that’s probably why it’s not a good thing to make kids try to declare for ‘religion’ too early on: they can’t really distinguish ‘magic’ from ‘religion’ from the true Presence and Call of God. And maybe that’s why we are now faced with a monstrously large chunk of our citizenry whose religious beliefs are only one soundstage over from fairy tales. Nor is this to deny that for another large portion, the one that claims to be enlightened, there is no magic, no spirit, no wonder at all – one thinks of Garbo’s marvelously humorless Soviet apparatchik in “Ninotchka”, but without the redeeming relationship to Melvyn Douglas. Too bad, because in Kathlik thought, Douglas played a role not so different from the Holy Spirit.

"This proves that the United States was a thought in the mind of God from all eternity": For a minute - maybe it's the use of the scientific-sounding "proves" or the professionally theological phrase "from all eternity" - you think you've finally got something here, and it is - let's admit - a mighty big proof it it's true. Well it IS true. This country WAS INDEED a thought in the mind of God from all eternity. Of course, so was cottage cheese and honey-roasted peanuts and Soviet Communism and the platypus. If God is everything the Fundamentalists claim, then EVERYthing was in and on His mind all the time from the get-go. So nu?

Hedges is on to something in this book, and it’s big and it’s very serious. Our present national situation cries out for citizens capable of psychological and emotional and spiritual and intellectual and civic maturity. We are not going to find this advocated by the revolutionaries of the Left or the Right. But it is what we must muster in sufficient quantity and strength to enable a quorum of The People to exercise what I’d have to call ‘adult’ influence.

This is not a call to ‘war’, a metaphor far too easily deployed by the revolutionists of Left and Right, Advokists and Fundamentalists. It is a call to a robust civic humanity without which fulcrum the machinery of this Republic will shake itself apart – and violently.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Davidco said...

Let's not forget the central and overarching keynote of fascism: government power at home and abroad placed at the disposition of corporate capital.

This is why we are building permanent bases in the Middle East and have no intention of leaving any time soon.

These corporations are now multinational and have larger revenues than most of the 200 imagined communities called nation states who claim to control the world.

In the US, subtle control of the electoral process through campaign contributions and the power of their lobbies is their methodology of control domestically.

If you travel outside the US, they make no bones about it. You see them actually flying their own corporate logo flags at each of their franchise gas stations, for example.

4:02 AM  

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