Stones, smoke, and light

A lot of my writing in this blog is retrospective, keeping most of the content removed from my present-day circumstance and present-day events in comics. But this one’s pretty close to home and I’ll share. The series Berlin nears its completion with the publication of issue #20, presaging the conclusion of the trilogy thus far seen in City of Stones and City of Smoke with City of Light.

As with so many comics-related things in the 1990s, I was first introduced to Jason Lutes’ work in the back pages of Cerebus, specifically his Jar of Fools, which I bought the instant I saw the collected paperback. Anyone who read Inking is sexy will instantly recognize that Jason’s work is right in my zone. Granted, I like almost any comics art with a ton of the stuff in it, but his combo of even lines, strong outlining, and solid blacks is special, managing to be both detailed and clear. He’s right in there with Hergé, and in my mind, there’s a cluster which also includes Rick Geary and Alison Bechdel.

What he brings to it even more so, though, is ambition. Berlin began in 1996, aiming at a detailed political account of the city from 1928 through 1933, shooting for the highest possible visual and cultural detail. And like I said, first published by Black Eye Productions and now by Drawn & Quarterly, it’s getting close to the conclusion planned in #22.

Isn’t that kind of … slow? Hey – you ask me, a person can do a comic when and how they want. This one, as well as Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze, goes slow and steady, well, mostly steady, considering other work like Houdini: The Handcuff King and Jason’s prof job at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

There’s something important about the time in this case: how much has happened here-and-now from 1996 to today, which the book comments on substantively. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fascism! fascism! alarmist, Trump is Teh Nazis guy … no, I’m a lot worse than that. You don’t want to know how I think the term fascism, strictly defined, applies to the country I was born in. Just sing that anthem at the football game and be happy. What I’m referring to is the issue of small-d democracy, i.e., the simple fact of voting within some kind of governmental framework, and how it intersects with but does not represent either individual experiences or social organizing. Weimar’s a good example, and so are we – it’s not about specific purported parallels, or a predicted outcome, but about different examples of the same phenomenon.

Now I’ll shift back to the virtues of the comic, subtopic: style. First is its diversity of pace, ranging from a whole page dedicated to nuances of a glance, or a clarinet solo; to landscape poems and way-of-life portraiture; to complex dialogue full of shifting relationships; to explosive action.

The story also plays fun and loose with its focus, diving into the thoughts of any character whenever (in fact, justifying the existence of the thought balloon as a unique contributor), careening into surrealism to show a character’s musings and perceptions, using sound effects when it seems to work and not when not. Yet the effect is profoundly naturalistic, in part due to the meticulous – hell, monolithic – architecture, but also because the thoughts and effects are so familiar. A surreal imagined effect is how the mind really does it, so it’s naturalistic after all.

So what’s this about me and Berlin? It began with a 2004 essay which included a toss-it-in protogame as an example, using grey-spy literature for maximum moral crisis. Later, I decided I might have been onto something and thought about maybe doing a game, so dove into that literature, which I hadn’t done before, and from there into the equally grey world of Cold War spy-everything. Oddly, when I read Markus Wolf’s Man Without a Face., something snapped – and I embarked on a genuinely insane project to combine education, non-fiction writing, and role-playing, which I called Spione (German for “spies”).

The overall saga of Spione is both successful and upsetting, as I think I wrote a damn good book (hell, buy it here) and the game in it broke all kinds of ground, but the more general web project fell apart – and I lost the incredible Wiki I built that cross-referenced an insane amount of spy fiction, non-fiction, and journalism. For me personally, the project was incredibly life-changing. The relevant point here is that during its production during 2005-2006, I had visited Berlin five times, embarked on learning conversational German, and developed a network of friends and chance acquaintances across the country.

Back to the comic (again) and how it relates. Wait, the fall of the Weimar Republic is a wee couple-three events earlier than Spione‘s Cold War focus, right? And it’s true, the political culture and the cityscape were so shattered in the interim that not much really translates directly. However, as with all the great divided cities, Berlin is profoundly layered by events, and if you know the history, get to know locals who care about it, and walk and look carefully, the just-previous past is extremely important for viewing your primary period of interest.

Once I began visiting there – five times in 2005-2006, as well as trips to other regions –  the comic took on more power in my mind, and I combed through it with care. That’s how I knew where to stand at the bridge on the Spree where Rosa Luxemburg was killed, or why I demanded we drive slowly through the roundabout on the way to the stadium. Or for the opposite case, how I knew what had been leveled to make way for the Soviet War Memorial in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

It’s no surprise that a fair amount of the scenes and characters’ situations concern the nightlife, as the single touchpoint for the period in American culture is Cabaret. If you don’t showcase how gaudy and desperate it was as the Nazi menace looms in the background, then according to the culture, you’re not “doing” Weimar. Trouble is, that narrative is both superficial and shopworn, and it’s not just a matter of other arts. It’s about the depth.

Ronald Taylor’s Berlin and its Culture and especially Charles W. Haxthausen and Heidren Suhr (editors), Berlin: Culture and Metropolis challenge the general notion that pre-WWII Germany, and especially Berlin, was a pathologically distorted culture. The logic of that notion runs, well, the Nazis and the war and the Holocaust were such horrible things that only a “sick” culture could have produced them, so now let’s dig about in the previous twenty years and show how sick it was. And then there’s the over-specific flipped version, which is to point to this-or-that national leader, or to problems in one’s own society, and say, see, see, there’s the sickness, rising again.

Whereas these books, and I submit, Jason’s Berlin as a whole, examine the period from the perspective that everything happening in it is – while historically specific – completely normally human, and worth discussing right in-and-among the raft of other social-political circumstances of our lifetimes and just before, rather than as the separated outlier. This is both less gaudy and more disturbing than the pathology-based viewpoint, which has lasted way longer than the circumstances of the propaganda that spawned it, and serves to distract from a clear conversation about what modern social life and politics are actually like.

Disclosure: The reader has probably already noticed that I use first names for the comics creators I know personally and surnames for those I don’t. Jason and I have not met or talked much, but we follow and comment at one another’s social media.

Some more good books: David Clay Large, Berlin; Brian Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape.

Links: Jason Lutes’s Drawn & Quarterly page, CBR.com: Jason Lutes talks the final days of “Berlin”

Next column: Two villains (May 21, if the actually-happening-now move to Sweden doesn’t entirely flatten me)

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About Ron Edwards

Game author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor

Posted on May 14, 2017, in Politics dammit and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 105 Comments.

  1. “You don’t want to know how I think the term fascism, strictly defined, applies to the country I was born in. ”

    Um, why yes. Yes we do.

    Also, out of curiosity, why have current political events been off limits for this blog.

    Not that I’m complaining, this continues to be some of the finest cultural critique out there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Damn, now I have to work up a solid reply.

      I’ll start with the last thing first, the current political events part. I’m not sure what you mean: as a topic for a post, or in the comments? Also, where is there a directive about current events? Did I imply or say it in a post? I couldn’t find anything in the posted blog rules to indicate “off limits.”

      (Fascism later. Might take a bit.)

      Like

      • No directive, just an observation. Honestly, I find your political and cultural stuff so relevant that in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election this was one of the first places I came, searching for some way to make sense of the whole mess, and was then surprised that the One Thing That Literally No One Else Can Shut Up About isn’t really directly discussed here. And you tend to be very deliberate about things, and this then made me start to wonder if there wasn’t a specific reason that you haven’t talked about it, and then I got curious as to what that reason might be.

        That’s all.

        – Tor

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        • It’s a valid point. The specific reason is … well, both too general and too specific, I guess.

          I think the fault or problem or failing of U.S. political culture – and if we want to artificially focus on presidential elections – occurred first in 1948 and second in 1972. Meaning, certain trends like productivity vs. wages, or the effective one-party system, or the cheap oil trick, or the re-instatement of slavery throughout the nation (instead of just Texas and Florida), or the attempted harnessing of reactionary religion both domestically and in foreign policy, were put in place during the WWII-to-Vietnam era, and, since then, ramped up to become policy itself, and not once subjected to serious criticism in policy terms or even public comprehension.

          In this context, Trump is a blip, and just about all current/memetic language for correcting it/him obviously means returning to the heinous business as usual. I don’t see that as very inspiring. So focusing on him is too specific, and focusing on the big picture is too general to address “recent events” in and of themselves.

          Like

        • (this is weirdly not letting me reply to your June 20 comment, so replying here)

          You said:
          “It’s a valid point. The specific reason is … well, both too general and too specific, I guess.

          I think the fault or problem or failing of U.S. political culture – and if we want to artificially focus on presidential elections – occurred first in 1948 and second in 1972. Meaning, certain trends like productivity vs. wages, or the effective one-party system, or the cheap oil trick, or the re-instatement of slavery throughout the nation (instead of just Texas and Florida), or the attempted harnessing of reactionary religion both domestically and in foreign policy, were put in place during the WWII-to-Vietnam era, and, since then, ramped up to become policy itself, and not once subjected to serious criticism in policy terms or even public comprehension.

          In this context, Trump is a blip, and just about all current/memetic language for correcting it/him obviously means returning to the heinous business as usual. I don’t see that as very inspiring. So focusing on him is too specific, and focusing on the big picture is too general to address “recent events” in and of themselves.”

          I guess I was afraid of something like that. For what it’s worth, I think that if there is an upside to Trump, it’s that it’s causing a lot of people to have a political awakening that extends far beyond Trump himself, and I’ll leave it at that.

          – Tor

          Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s do this in steps. Here’s part 1; Tor, I want you to respond before I do part 2, OK?

      I want to establish that it’s not controversial to use the term “fascism” as a wider phenomenon than strictly Benito Mussolini’s regime in post-WWI Italy. No big deal there, right? After all, it’s characteristically applied to the National Socialist Party rule in Germany (that’s “Nazis,” colloquially), perhaps even more so than to the party that popularized the term.

      I’m good with the standard concept that both of these regimes or movements were alike enough to be lumped together and that the lumping term is, so to speak, on tap for when it might apply to any other such regime or movement. What I’m preparing to say next relies on this concept, so before I eat up more bandwith, I want to make sure this isn’t going to be a point of contention, or to resolve it if it is.

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      • Yes, I 100% have no problem with the idea that fascism as a phenomenon might apply outside of Mussolini Italy or Nazi Germany; in fact, I’ve made similar arguments myself in the recent past.

        – Tor

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  2. Cool. On to …

    Part 2: Let’s talk about what’s meant by an “ism” or any equivalent. For example …

    The term “democracy” has been abused into absurdity. It only and simply means voting is somehow involved in governance. Which is very old and very widespread, throughout tons of governmental systems which differ greatly from one another in many other features. There isn’t any such thing as “a democracy,” merely this-or-that democratic feature in this-or-that historical situation, for better or worse with no apparent pattern to find.

    As associated with the U.S., it’s been idolized into far more than that meaning: (i) associated with the republic-style aspects of the U.S. Constitution and the separate branches of government, (2) associated with prosperity and general satisfaction with life, (3) associated with U.S. foreign policy since WWII. However, U.S. political culture isn’t any shining example. Even taking the documentarian version at its face value – best described as “let’s organize referenda,” this has never applied to the nominally eligible U.S. population in full. And what little it’s had on actual policy, that’s been scuttled step by step throughout the Cold War period. Simultaneously, my (3) above has confounded “democracy” or “genuine democracy” with U.S. identity and policy to an absurd extent, such that if “we” do it, then it must somehow both represent a uniquely democratic outlook (whatever that is) and be the product of a uniquely pure and effective democratic process.

    All this is to say that the presence of democratic steps or features in a governing system is no immunizer against or falsifier of its fascism. Nor does being fascist obviate or have to “topple” the democracy.

    I presume that there’s no need to go into similar detail regarding “communism” or “socialism, both of which have been similarly bloated into “systems” rather than policies, and as well, confounded so thoroughly with one another that I’m just as happy throwing both terms out.

    Here’s another nonsense term: “totalitarianism.” Even more so, in fact, as it’s strictly a policy wonk word to justify demonizing specific targets of policy – spin. It has a definition, but no state or society accords with that definition, past or present; humans don’t become automata, ever.

    Those things which are usually pointed to to indicate it – excessive state security, paramilitary youth movements, characterization of a fictional persona for the state, regimentation of the workplace, identification of “productive” work with personal virtue, obscure and pettifogging bureaucracy, identification of a certain governmental office as “the leader,” gaudy reversals of formerly dissenting customs or holidays into celebrations of the state, ecstatic and even orgiastic festivals to display loyalty to the state and enthusiasm for its policies, identification of a specific religion with the virtues of the state, identification of acceptable minority religious activity by its fixed loyalty to the state – are not only common across many instances, they apply astoundingly well to the U.S., beginning just after the Civil War and taking quantum jumps after each World War.

    Tor, I assume I’m being boring and obvious and failing to get to the point, but long experience has taught me to do it. Otherwise I’ll get one and a half sentences out before someone gets hysterical about totalitarianism and communism/democracy, usually ending by shouting “Stalin! Stalin!” So … just hoping for one more confirmation from you that I’m making sense, or if necessary any pointed criticism from you of what I’ve said, to lay it down before I get there.

    Like

    • Ron, If you what you are saying is “Democracy is this one thing that has existed in a lot of different forms in a lot of different societies for a long time, but in America the term has become loaded down with huge amounts of baggage that have nothing to do with the act of voting” then I’m totally on board.

      I’m not sure I’m on board with your comments re: totalitarianism. Because no society has ever achieved some Platonic totalitarian ideal we can’t talk about totalitarianism? Wikipedia: “Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.” Surely there are people who believe in this, and surely there have been political systems that have done their utmost to achieve this, and surely some of these political systems have been more successful than others. Is it really that controversial to say “the Soviet Union under Stalin was a totalitarian state”? Or, the United States in 2017, for all its flaws, is not a totalitarian state?

      In reading your indicators of totalitarianism and how they exist in the US, I’m like, ‘okay, I can see the connection’ but it still seems like there’s a comfortable gap between 9 million political dissidents murdered under Stalin and the United States treatment of its own citizenry.

      I mean, am I missing something?

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      • Lots to unpack, I’ll do it in a couple posts. First part, regarding democracy:

        I’m going a bit further than that to say that there isn’t a noun, “democracy,” distinguishable from comparable nouns. In other words, the U.S. isn’t “a democracy” because that’s not a category.

        The U.S. merely includes a plethora of democratic techniques scattered about its larger political culture/system, just like tons of other societies, past and present, each with its own particular profile. Calling the U.S.’s profile “democracy,” let alone the best or most original or purest one (“true democracy”), and tying its historical aggregation of voting techniques to a bunch of other stuff (e.g. states/federal organization, rules for parties, court system, specific laws) is walking into a swamp.

        However, I don’t think going this far into that topic is important to our current one. My only goal here is to forestall the “But we can’t be fascism, we’re a democracy” reaction.

        Like

      • Re: totalitarianism – I’m struggling against the internet argumentative event horizon.

        The Wikipedia definition holds its own negation through the flexibility of its terms. “Wherever feasible,” “state authority,” “regulation” …

        The essential element goes unstated: that the totalitarians exert terrifying and unique techniques to turn their citizens mindless, and that (according to this view) they succeed, so, therefore although various other situations are “bad” or “tragic,” they are at least not evil in an alien and robotic way. This is hardcore Cold War talk: if I had a dime for “but at least it’s not totalitarian” regarding Chile under the Pinochet regime, Spain under the Franco regime, Zimbabwe under the Mugabe regime …

        It strikes me that arguing this point is getting off track. I’ll try to get back on, but I can’t resist pointing to one thing about your response. Even by that definition, how many people abused or killed during a given regime is not stated as an indicator. Do you see how you shifted the issue by asking that? “Totalitarianism is not a category.” “But Stalin killed zillions of people!” Tons of human societies have killed zillions of people in an organized way, whether their own citizens or otherwise or both. To debate about how many, or whether that means this or means that, is to be diverted quite badly.

        On track then: I’m not saying the USSR wasn’t, or that the USA is – I’m saying the term itself isn’t a meaningful category, and there is no “is” to evaluate. My concern is to remove “totalitarian” from the discussion of fascism, just as I did with “democracy,” and for a similar reason: the reflexive cry of “we can’t be fascist, we’re not totalitarian like STALIN” is very quick.

        However, whether it really does/doesn’t exist as such isn’t core to my upcoming “is the U.S. fascist” reply. I’m OK with merely shelving totalitarianism as a term rather than genuinely agreeing to eliminate it, if that’s OK with you.

        Like

        • Been mulling this over. I think I get what you’re saying about the term “totalitarian,” that it’s a term that’s been used selectively to target political enemies of the US. I didn’t realize how selectively the term had been used during the Cold War. A little googling around found an article from the Hoover Institution saying that “The Chilean military regime from 1973 to 1990 was authoritarian, certainly, but not totalitarian” and ending with “It’s time to acknowledge that the legacies of the Pinochet years are a much better mix than they are usually said to be.”

          Hmm.

          I also didn’t immediately associate the term totalitarian with the idea that the state was turning people into automata (in fact, I can’t say I’ve had that many conversations with people where the phrase ‘totalitarian’ even came up: could be because I was only ten when the Berlin wall came down so it was less of a conversational topic?), so I think that was confusing me as well.

          All that said, I have no problems whatsoever with your last two paragraphs above. I don’t see fascism and totalitarianism as being inextricably linked, and I’m also fine shelving the term “totalitarian” for purposes of this discussion.

          Tor

          Liked by 1 person

    • epweissengruber

      Couldn’t find a relevant link so I have to rely on memory: literature and propaganda depicted people living in Warsaw Pact countries as beaten down, propagandized, and numbed. The intent may have been to raise sympathy for victims of Communism and, thereby, encourage acceptance of NATO policies. But that dehumanization also fits into a nuclear deterrence logic: given that potential victims of nuclear strikes have been so degraded and dehumanized, it’s not really that bad if they get incinerated in a war between West and East. Considering millions of people as one faceless horde — be it a pathetic or a menacing one — makes imagining bombs thrown against them a little easier.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I gave a lot of thought to this while working on Spione, as it was very difficult to get others to visualize citizens of the DDR as anything except wretched, bowed figures wrapped in rags, standing in food lines.

        My thinking is a little different from yours – merely that it triggered the American horror of poverty, “you see what socialism does, it makes people poor.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • epweissengruber

          Yes. But you did get apocalyptic bravura from opinion makers. I came across one National Review piece where the writer said something to the effect that, given Christian eschatology and absolute moral principles, having the Earth depopulated in a righteous fight against evil is not the worst possible outcome of the Cold War. Fighting and dying to retain Christian civilization and going out as virtuous Christian warriors preferable to enduring slavery. The Yale grad’s fancied up version of “Better Dead than Red.”

          Liked by 1 person

        • My understanding of John Foster Dulles’ outlook was that it matched this view.

          I suggested in Shahida that reactionary fundamentalism became transnational due to deliberate aid across borders/nationalities, and that this action is characterized by accord and mutual agreement among reactionary-fundamentalist Christian, Muslim, and Jewish power-brokers. (References: Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God and Robert Dreyfuss’ Devil’s Game.)

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Part 3: I might as well finally define fascism then, right? The earlier points being that (i) it isn’t restricted to the details of historical examples and (ii) that I’m presuming it is a “thing,” actually happening, and not a chimera like the terms I described above.

    Dictionaries are full of hassles for this purpose, but I think I’m staying in their collective bounds with the following description. Each of the entries below should be conceived as a spoke of a wheel; “fascism” is – as I see it – getting toward the center of the wheel such that the different components mutually reinforce one another. I’ll save the analysis for a final post.

    Economic
    This is the core: private industry retains its corporate financial identity, but specific corporate entities are so favored by the government, and so integrated with their functions, with key individuals passing back and forth, that they comprise a single power-and-policy structure.

    The effect is that the state exists such that these companies profit, and these companies’ continued dominance is regarded as the health of the state. Legally it’s evidenced in non-accountability, via a tapdance between “but it’s the government, so regulations upon private enterprise don’t apply,” and “but it’s private, so built-in constraints on government don’t apply.”

    Crucially, the funds are measured and evaluated (“the economy”) in terms of finance – given debt to use as collateral, who’s investing in it. It tangles up in three ways – the money value is converted into arcane indicators disconnected from their sources; no one can tell where Bank ends and Treasury begins; and the majority both comes from and disappears into international transactions rather than a domestic process. Again, the “health of the state” is identified with the continued flowing of these transactions, and these also comprise the basis for diplomatic alliances and policy collusions.

    The necessary, constant extraction results in depression, middle-class failure. But since it comes in cycles, the next bubble provides an illusion of recovery and redemption, although upon inspection, and despite much advertisement, it applies only within strict socially-designated boundaries. (Crucial: this ‘spoke’ gets going long before the explicit hard-right political party gains government traction.)

    Military policy
    It emerges from the economics. The term “military-industrial complex” is extremely technical, especially considering that Eisenhower’s original speech included “-congressional.” Briefly, the government subsidizes businesses which directly serve the military, the local representatives make way for the businesses with easy-terms and other smoothing deals (re-zoning, etc), and the local populations’ employment environment is primarily defined by these businesses. The impact on every aspect of the local culture – – is a whole textbook of discussion, particularly the destruction of genuinely local industry which in a sane world would be called “the economy.” Employment goes up but nothing else does, and since this work is the only game in town, labor power evaporates.

    An interesting detail: such employment is not at all perceived as “government” work, regardless of its dependence on public funding and on current government investment in military buildup. To refer to it as socialist (in non-U.S. parlance, “leftist”) would result in dropped-jaw stares.

    A subtler version occurs in academics, especially the sciences, with a dramatic shift from basic/inquiry science to dedicated-aim engineering projects. The interplay among funding, influence, loyalty, and weapons development is really complicated, not as obvious as “we fund it so you’re loyal and you make our weapons,” and I can’t go into it in detail here.

    The militarism more-or-less cannot help but be used eventually, considering how many people and systems are staked on garnering support by being “ready.” This leads to international bellicosity of the inch-by-inch, dare-you-to-stop-me sort, and also the incremental takeover of policy by those who discover ways to seize and override the nominal channels. Therefore actually going to war is a bit of a surprise to those who thought they were in charge of policy. The events are littered with resignations and with disgraces as people ended up talking past the point where they wanted to go.

    Getting ahead of myself now, as this is a center-of-the-wheel topic, but the actual military action is always unbelievably stupid: it’s all shock-and-awe strike, good theater but strategically disastrous. Contrary to popular belief, the war once under way is already lost – it’s characterized by out-of-control, sadistic action on the ground, and by complete confusion and failure of basic goals at the management level. The effect is to do a lot of damage, to set up unstable puppets and call that “victory,” with literally zero local support – and then to be trapped in insurgent quagmires with no administrative capacity to get out. Notably, the vaunted military is crap against organized troops. It does great storming into a situation but supply and other organization is amateurish, falling apart fast. The troops are badly prepared for brutal, hands-on engagement and typically retreat in a rout. Most successes of this sort rely on puppet-government security forces instead.

    Social psychology
    This is easy, historically and verbally. The “fasces” is an object whose symbolism is quite clear. It’s about violent strength through many small contributors’ unity of purpose. It goes beyond the ordinary (I’d even say universal) concept of collective action, as each unit is not only unified, it’s uniform with the others, it’s interchangeable with any other such unit, and the “purpose” has only one quality: deadly force. There’s no nuance; it says what it means, it means what it says, and it happens to be fully accurate.

    The symbol also requires – makes no sense without – an enemy. An enemy is easy to spot: it’s not uniform, it doesn’t contribute in the way each (“of us”) contributes, it’s necessary outside the bundle … if you’re aren’t part of it, then you suggest there’s some other option, and if you question it, well, by definition, you’re a threat. Socially, the designation of a fascist group’s enemies undergoes mission creep by definition. At first, you can’t disagree on essentials, then, you can’t disagree on current policy, then, you can’t disagree on any particular detail of comportment, and finally, you can’t disagree on any damn thing at all.

    One important quality, to borrow a Marxist term, is the petit-bourgeois content of the avowed value-system, which is tied to the ethnocentrism I discuss below. No space to go into that here. Another, probably more important for present purposes, is the narrative of wounded virtue, resentment, “stabbed in the back” associated with the military. That’s tied to the elevation of military service to the society’s primary virtue, swiftly becoming fetishism both visually (uniforms, regalia, all getting a photogenic redesign) and verbally (no one says “soldiers,” but a long standard phrase instead).

    Institional psychology
    Obviously, the external or imposed aspect of fascism requires bigotry – technically, ethnocentrism, that you (as a type) are right and proper, meaning any details about anyone else will do to signify “other” – it could be religion, could be a physiological feature, could be a range of surnames, could be a given political label. Any such person, especially collectively, cannot possibly be trusted as part of the fasces. What they actually do or say means nothing; the very fact that they are here at all is an affront, an offense, an injustice.

    Since the “us” is so strictly defined, relatively unrelated variables (opposing political party, ethnicity, religion) are confounded to make any “other” a single threat. This permits easily-targeted groups to be lumped in. They can be abused safely, blind toward the fact that one is picking on the least-able to fight back but yet feel as if a terrifying social menace has been necessarily confronted.

    I’m including it under this category because it’s not the mere individual attitude which serves as a partial defining feature for fascism, it’s the institutionalization of the attitude, its role as the “new normal,” politically and professionally rewarded as such. Therefore discriminatory policies, or worse, may be regarded much like public effort toward common hygiene. Significantly, at this level, discrimination (or worse) can easily be directed toward state-designated targets, rather than merely conforming with grassroots ones.

    I dunno where “nationalism” ends and “statism” begins, or if they’re the same thing, or what. Whatever that is, turn it up to 11, such that this particular organization and policy effort is hailed as both inevitable and at-risk – and it swiftly becomes a religion in every sense of the word. Durkheim would love it: celebration and demonstration of “our nation,” “the country,” “the homeland,” et cetera, is a constant feature of social life. It receives incredible institutional support, again at a non-membraned, conjoined interface between government and private, focusing directly upon the military and sports.

    To me, it’s most evident in the frequent flatly-illegal, blatant maneuvers of various state and industry actors. No established or written feature of the law – and remember, this is from an ideology purporting to restore “law and order” – is safe from simple violation, often using particularly childish logic which amounts to brazening it out every time. The public acquiescence to such things, even their enthusiastic acceptance by some, treating these un-representative, un-legal, and often nonsensical events as the new normal.

    Not that such events have no purpose – they uniformly diminish the power of unions (the union might continue to exist, but as enforcers for the employers, not as collective bargaining for labor), and to co-opt media of all kinds. To say that publishers and producers become mouthpieces for state policy is simply true – it’s not hyperbole.

    Contrary to popular usage, I don’t think the specific personage of “the leader” is causal in fascism, rather, he’s strictly an effect of the bigotry and statism reinforcing one another. He’s always catapulted into prominence through some appropriation, rather than being an effective organizer or political animal. His buffoonery is real and widely recognized and commented upon. I even think he’s not technically a dictator, as rule is conducted by a cynical gang of insiders for whom the leader provides cover. Tracking the leader’s unpredictable pronouncements with their machinations is fascinating as they try to capitalize on some things and to paper over others.

    He is, however, undeniably a demagogue. It’s impossible to tell whether he’s taking cues from his supporters or vice versa; perhaps no one knows. His absurdity is actually a source of strength – the most fervent supporters feel very humiliated and “loser” ish, so the more critics mock the leader, the more angry and justified the supporters feel in resenting them, adopting the absurdity in defiance. The more angry and out-of-control the leader, the less willing or even able he is actually to do any sort of job of governance, the better to focus the fuck-you, yeah-we-suck, what’s-it-to-you, you-egghead-above-it-all orientation of public support.

    Security, policing, oppression
    This is a biggie, maybe even more so than the militarism. There’s a heavy police presence with new, expanding special security and law-enforcement powers, directed hard at subpopulations deemed not quite right enough, and undergoing unsubtle mission creep. THe extremity is always pretty shocking – the degree of brutality, reach, overstepping, presence is way past what anyone would have imagined possible … and crucially, accepted.

    Related, but not synonymous, are the militarization of the regular police, and the ramp-up of new branches and departments of political police. The latter are openly and straightforwardly directed to “thought enemies” of society – those who haven’t done anything but are considered ripe for doing so at any moment.

    Related and synonymous, however, is the presence of thug movement support from the populace, which is not only tolerated by law enforcement, but fully complicit with it. Mob action is literally a police weapon; police action toward the mob is openly protective. Standard protests and demonstrations have no chance: the mob attacks while the police stand aside; the police attack and the mob backs them up. Such movement suppport is widespread enough that it becomes a wing of the government (or one of its many bewildering departments and divisions), psychologically preserving its “we’re just citizens” autonomy. Many of them become named militias with government-issued equipment.

    I’ll tell you what’s not the case, however: true uniformity of support among the general population, not even among those deemed “all right.” Most everyone goes along just enough, referring to current events as an aberration, poking fun at the events within acceptable bounds, all the while buying in more than they think they do. To these people, there are consequences for less-than-perfect ideological purity but they’re generally not eligible for open abuse. And those who get too visible undergo severe career and other social marginalizing, quickly becoming unpersons although they’re not arrested and/or murdered.

    One last, crucial: these “spokes” get under way long before the party identified as “the fascists” actually wins anything or takes power in governing terms. When it does, everyone is flabbergasted, including them, especially since the prior history includes a series of what look like crushing popular or electoral defeats. What’s happened is that the nominally liberal or centrist parties, and balancing mechanisms, have instituted a great deal of the above spokes quite a ways toward the wheel’s center, before the ranting buffoons show up to grab hold of it, as if it had been prepared just for them.

    As I mentioned above, there’s a part 4. Thoughts on this part first?

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    • Hey Ron,

      Wow. Give me a day or two to absorb this and formulate a response.

      Tor

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    • Ok. This is a great description, and jives extremely well with my own built in understanding of what fascism is. I’m also trying to read this without reflecting too much on the United States in order to keep an open mind, but it’s hard not to.

      So my one question/comment at this point is, isn’t it fair to say that any society is going to exhibit these symptoms to some extent? Governmental favoritism of certain private corporations, the targeting of ‘others’, factions looking to push militarism and profit from it? And doesn’t that make the definition too broad (as in, all governments are fascist)?

      – Tor

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      • I’m also trying to read this without reflecting too much on the United States in order to keep an open mind, but it’s hard not to.

        That alerts me to clarifying something. I didn’t write a bit of the above post with reference to the U.S. It’s taken strictly from descriptons and definitions of designated fascist regimes.

        … isn’t it fair to say that any society is going to exhibit these symptoms to some extent? Governmental favoritism of certain private corporations, the targeting of ‘others’, factions looking to push militarism and profit from it? And doesn’t that make the definition too broad (as in, all governments are fascist)?

        Two points. First, I specified that I’m referring to the confluence and mutual reinforcement of all those components. No single one of them is atomically fascist.

        I do think the confluence, once under way, takes on extremely recognizable features. It’s pretty hard to think “fascist” without imagining some puffed-up baboon in an oversized military hat, a fired-up, murderous crowd, a sinister coterie of brutal semi-police, and an immediate military assault in action. But that’s all right, because for some reason, once at the center of the wheel, that set of outcomes is apparently pretty damn predictable.

        The point being that identifying this or that component in some other society is not a fascist atom or “tell.” One has to decide when the confluence is strong enough to define the term, which I leave to the experts. To look below to my point #4, Jaspers focuses on the collapse of factional debate – specifically, the elevation of centrism as ideal policy – as the key causal moment or event. As a non-expert, I tend to focus on the “paper” quality of many of them as a key observation, in that they have to mutually-reinforce as none withstands critique. You asked about both of those points below so I’ll talk about them there.

        Second, I think history provides some interesting other ways to have done things, not in some dramatic alternative sense like “real communism in antiquity” or whatever, but with many of the same features, but organized differently, or with a single core difference, such that the “wheel” never forms. I’ll talk more about that further down as well – probably at the end, still a major post or two away.

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  4. Part 4: Analysis.

    I recommend Karl Jaspers’ Wohin treibt die Bundesrepublik? (American title: The Future of Germany), published in the late 1960s. He wrote it to warn against the dangers inherent in a centrist coalition … that may not make much sense in American terminology, so I’ll translate it to liberal-conservative alliance, or as it’s often spun, “bipartisanship.”

    The following may be too abstract a summary; let’s see. OK, speaking not of psychological attitudes but dedicated collective effort, let’s run a spectrum from Revolutionary, Reform, Liberal, Conservative, Establishment, Reactionary. It’s linear, not a horseshoe. See those two in the middle? They’re pretty much alike. They operate within a designated system of negotiation, and for the most part, their differences are best described as “let’s change it a little more” vs. “let’s not change it just yet.” I won’t break down the details among the two “harder” options on each side, but will stick to this point: that the two on the right (Establishment, Reactionary) are able to “hide” within a nominally conservative political effort, especially when police work and armed service are identified as specially patriotic; whereas the two on the left (Revolutionary, Reform) are much more visible for what they are, and easily targeted – and demonized as disloyal when they criticize the police and the military.

    Another way to put it is, the Liberal contingent may not like or want to be associated with its “harder” cousins, but without them in play, if only as a threat, it has no muscle to negotiate with the Conservatives, and has no choice but to ape them and in effect merely to increase the Conservative contingent with a guise of opposition. And all the while, the more extreme rightward contingents are growing in effective power, without the hard-leftward contingents (who do not fear the electorate) to call them out, or to meet them in the streets. If this isn’t stopped by a dedicated organization – i.e., if the leftward contingents are successfully made taboo – then the entire government class becomes dedicated to scrambling to prove how orthodox (patriotic) it is, by throwing the Establishment and then the Reactionary contingents as many concessions as it can. The entire government becomes nothing but a Reactionary surge toward empty-headed chaos while the most cynical Establishment players loot it blind, and while the former Liberal+Conservative contingents maunder and waffle about why can’t they be in charge. And by that point, not conceding to the Reactionary contingent is not only political suicide, but incurs genuine physical threat too.

    (It may help to think of an American “party” not as a party at all, but as a monetary focus for forming coalitions among these sorts of efforts, such that a given named party represents very different coalition at any given moment. I’ll bite my tongue to avoid going into a long discussion of coalition parliamentary politics.)

    (You can probably see that I’m not even bothering to dismiss the terms “liberal” and “conservative” as they’re mis-used and debased in U.S. parlance. For example, what I’m calling the Conservative contingent here is best represented, currently, by most Democrats and what are derisively called the RINOs.)

    So briefly: a centrist coalition opens the door to the isolation and demonization of the leftward contingents, and soon only theatrical and ineffective versions of them remain; meanwhile the rightward contingents become the real power-players under cover of false debate and essential blending of the two centrist ones.

    You see how this runs counter to the modern dogma, right? According to that dogma, factionalism is bad, coordination at the center is the solution, and the goal is apparently for everyone finally to know, to agree upon, to want, and to act toward a single societal vision. See his point? Centrism is fascism, socially and philosophically. All that remains once that’s under way is for the hard-righters to step into the prepared space.

    His book isn’t so abstract though. He carefully describes the incremental way this occured in 1920s and 1930s Germany, especially the subornment of labor, the flip in media support, and the shift among public intellectuals which they seemed unable to perceive in themselves. I had not read it too long before I visited the History of Berlin Museum, where the same period is presented in exquisite detail as you descend a staircase, and I was amazed at how well he’d summarized it. Experiencing that exhibit was like reading his account through a higher-focus lens – and crucially, it shows that such effects are not due to same vague and cause-free “national mood” or “shift in public opinion,” but engineered by relentless, precise moments of administrative bullying.

    My addition to Jaspers’ analysis is, as I couldn’t help but jump the gun on in my #3 post, is to highlight the bubble quality: the alleged prosperity and recovery, the house-of-cards war financing, the alleged awesome military, the alleged restoration of law and order, the alleged overwhelming popular support. It’s all papered over at the time with dumb phrases that everyone seems to believe, but it’s painfully obvious in retrospect. No one thinks otherwise about Italy, and the only reason we don’t say it about Germany is that the myth of the “unstoppable” foes we stopped from “taking over the world” is too valuable.

    That’s why I think fascism as usually discussed, focusing only on the gaudy end-stages of specific instances, is not a system or social organization at all, but the predictable actions of profiteers and thugs in the positions of power they’ve managed to grab, following the prior tacit breakdown. That’s why those actions only make sense as far as profiteering and thuggery go, and in terms of governance, economics, and military action, they’re spastic and destructive internally as well as externally. That’s because government, economy, and military in any organized sense of the term, are already long gone, and these guys are in it for the loot, with one or two exceptions who apparently believe their own bullshit. This train-wreck endpoint doesn’t really interest me. I’m interested instead in that prior process, which is characterized by self-congratulatory democracy, e.g. rapid party re-organizations and dramatic electoral campaigns purporting to “go one way or the other” with no actual change in policy, and most especially, by the apparent dominance of what’s termed the moderates, or centrism.

    To repeat Jaspers, I think that phase is not “a struggle against the darkness,” but is rather its onset, during which social reform is characterized by symbolic, articulate rhetoric, but is completely non-substantive, and whatever representation the nominal democracy provides is scrubbed away. The police repression, the military build-up (and concomitant decrease in military sense), the institutionalization of racism, all ratchet up way before any “glorious leader” is thrust into the limelight. Coincidentally this recent article isn’t too bad a look at that: Cannibal Corpse.

    … annnnd, sure enough, there’s a part 5, to talk about the U.S. Last one, or maybe not. Thoughts on this first? I think it’s finally getting at what you asked about.

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    • Okay, a ton of questions. So many questions. I’ll dive right in.

      “let’s run a spectrum from Revolutionary, Reform, Liberal, Conservative, Establishment, Reactionary. It’s linear, not a horseshoe. See those two in the middle? They’re pretty much alike. They operate within a designated system of negotiation, and for the most part, their differences are best described as “let’s change it a little more” vs. “let’s not change it just yet.”

      So good. I don’t know why, but I’ve never seen the range of political positions laid out like that, and that’s weird, because it’s an incredibly clear and useful way to think about it.

      “whereas the two on the left (Revolutionary, Reform) are much more visible for what they are, and easily targeted – and demonized as disloyal when they criticize the police and the military.”

      Oh my god, yes. That makes sense and helps to explain the imbalanced way far left and far right gets talked about in our society. This has been bugging me for a long time, but your comment makes perfect sense.

      “Another way to put it is, the Liberal contingent may not like or want to be associated with its “harder” cousins, but without them in play, if only as a threat, it has no muscle to negotiate with the Conservatives,”

      Is this symmetrical? I mean, can you swap the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ in the above statement, or is it asymmetrical as in your comment that I quoted above.

      “and has no choice but to ape them and in effect merely to increase the Conservative contingent with a guise of opposition. “

      Okay, I don’t understand this. The liberals have no choice but to ape the Reformists and Revolutionaries? And why does this increase the Conservative contingent?

      “And by that point, not conceding to the Reactionary contingent is not only political suicide, but incurs genuine physical threat too.”

      Ah, yes. This sounds familiar.

      “(You can probably see that I’m not even bothering to dismiss the terms “liberal” and “conservative” as they’re mis-used and debased in U.S. parlance. For example, what I’m calling the Conservative contingent here is best represented, currently, by most Democrats and what are derisively called the RINOs.)”

      Okay, so to be clear, the scale you described above doesn’t have to do with specific political positions, only with how you relate to existing systems of power? So US Democrats are “Conservative” because they essentially defend the status quo with some concessions to Liberals and Reformists?

      “So briefly: a centrist coalition opens the door to the isolation and demonization of the leftward contingents, and soon only theatrical and ineffective versions of them remain; “

      Hopefully your answers to the above will help illuminate this for me.

      “You see how this runs counter to the modern dogma, right? According to that dogma, factionalism is bad, coordination at the center is the solution, and the goal is apparently for everyone finally to know, to agree upon, to want, and to act toward a single societal vision”

      I’m starting to see. Here, let me take a shot: because the political spectrum functions asymmetrically, meaning the far left operates under more scrutiny and criticism than the far right, a coalition between the center left and the center right especially hurts the far left.

      “where the same period is presented in exquisite detail as you descend a staircase, and I was amazed at how well he’d summarized it. Experiencing that exhibit was like reading his account through a higher-focus lens – and crucially, it shows that such effects are not due to same vague and cause-free “national mood” or “shift in public opinion,” but engineered by relentless, precise moments of administrative bullying.”

      Sounds like a pretty awesome museum.

      “My addition to Jaspers’ analysis is, as I couldn’t help but jump the gun on in my #3 post, is to highlight the bubble quality: the alleged prosperity and recovery, the house-of-cards war financing, the alleged awesome military, the alleged restoration of law and order, the alleged overwhelming popular support. It’s all papered over at the time with dumb phrases that everyone seems to believe, but it’s painfully obvious in retrospect.”

      I think I get this. Can you think of an example of a ‘dumb phrase that everyone seems to believe’?

      Also:

      “No one thinks otherwise about Italy, and the only reason we don’t say it about Germany is that the myth of the “unstoppable” foes we stopped from “taking over the world” is too valuable.”

      So the Wehrmacht wasn’t an awesome military power? How did they mud stomp all of Europe less Britan then while taking on Russia?

      “but the predictable actions of profiteers and thugs in the positions of power they’ve managed to grab, following the prior tacit breakdown. That’s why those actions only make sense as far as profiteering and thuggery go, and in terms of governance, economics, and military action, they’re spastic and destructive internally as well as externally.”

      This makes sense. Can the thugs and profiteers be elected officials? Can they also be non-elected people in power (like bank executives, or corporate CEOs)? Are the thugs and profiteers distinct in ideology and methods from other politiicians or people in power? I mean, can you point at Mike and say, ‘he’s a thug’, and then point at Jean and say, ‘she’s just a regular ol politician’?

      I’m feeling like this is actually the in-depth answer to my original question, which was why you don’t you talk about Trump in your blog.

      – Tor

      Like

      • I’m pulling this question out of order, to the front, because it matters so much.

        (RE) “(You can probably see that I’m not even bothering to dismiss the terms “liberal” and “conservative” as they’re mis-used and debased in U.S. parlance. For example, what I’m calling the Conservative contingent here is best represented, currently, by most Democrats and what are derisively called the RINOs.)”

        Okay, so to be clear, the scale you described above doesn’t have to do with specific political positions, only with how you relate to existing systems of power? So US Democrats are “Conservative” because they essentially defend the status quo with some concessions to Liberals and Reformists?

        Absolutely correct. You have understood me perfectly. I’m talking about democratic government, of nearly any type or organization – anything in which avenues of representation are present and dynamic.

        I should also point out that, as with the definition of fascism above, it is not derived from studying the U.S. either. It’s taken strictly from my study of coalition democracies (parliaments), the most common version in the world today. I also think many, many historical cultures qualify in this category without modern acknowledgment. Therefore I only mentioned the current U.S. terms in the post in order to dismiss them.

        Oh yeah – this construction is authored by me; it’s part of my book/game in development, working title Amerikkka. I am heavily influenced by what appears to be the unspoken “everyone knows” use of these terms during the late 19th and early 20th century, but I know of no source from that time which sits down and defines them. (And nearly anything after WWII is basically blither.) For example, Jasper – whose views date from prior to WWII – uses them as unspoken givens, not in these terms or in the explicit construction I laid down.

        When I do apply them to the U.S. it works beautifully, but only if you realize that our rhetoric and overt democratic processes, e.g. the named parties, mask the dynamics that are more visible elsewhere.

        Like

      • (RE) “Another way to put it is, the Liberal contingent may not like or want to be associated with its “harder” cousins, but without them in play, if only as a threat, it has no muscle to negotiate with the Conservatives,”

        Is this symmetrical? I mean, can you swap the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ in the above statement, or is it asymmetrical as in your comment that I quoted above.

        In this case, yes, it’s symmetrical. But it’s also highly specific to the topic at hand: seeking to preserve a substantive debate between Liberal and Conservative, while each one is still powerful and relevant enough to wield actual power.

        As long as this is a real debate, i.e., centrism isn’t being sought, then government in this circumstance can actually, you know, govern – alternative policies get debated, votes get integrated with policy-making, and a policy gets hammered out which probably annoys a lot of engaged participants, but which most people in the larger population, even those with opposed interests, are OK living with.

        Therefore the idea that the Liberal contingent “needs” the presence of Reform and/or Revolutionary, and the Conservative contingent “needs” the presence of Establishment and/or Reactionary, is not due to affinity or shared goals, but as unused threats by Liberal and Conserative in order to keep strong hands against one another.

        As a related and important point, one thing that emerges from this analysis is that being adjacent doesn’t mean “has affinity,” quite the opposite in fact. So there is no overriding “unfied” Right or “unified” Left that can be defined as a goal or specific kind of effort.

        Remember that I’m specifically excluding Reform from Liberal, and Establishment from Conservative. In this construction – Jasper’s ideal – those two contingents are fervently attempting to take over the center two at all times but are forced to play nice in coalitions instead. Thus their positive qualities can be extracted for policy-making and their negative ones can be left for hard-liners to grump about in their Reform newsletters and Establishment lodges.

        Jaspers’ argument is that in such a circumstance – which I suppose you might as well call “democracy” if you don’t mind the imprecision – then we may see some bad policies and we will certainly have to put up with many outrageous claims and demands, but we may often see very good policies. Most people are at least being heard, radicals of all sorts can throw their intended monkey-wrenches into the mix without much chance of genuine disruption (and a really good idea can gain traction), and we will not spiral into fascism. The Revolutionaries and the Reactionaries will be pissed-off most of the time, but even they will get their way in small things more often than they think.

        But outside of that specific topic, every contingent is its own powerful avenue or approach to political action, with relative amounts of power (let alone representation, population-wise) being a matter of historical moments. When it comes to impact, whether votes or bullets or covert action or narrative-building, none is intrinsically more effective or important than any other.

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      • (RE) “and has no choice but to ape them and in effect merely to increase the Conservative contingent with a guise of opposition. “

        Okay, I don’t understand this. The liberals have no choice but to ape the Reformists and Revolutionaries? And why does this increase the Conservative contingent?

        Whoops, you misunderstood me there. The Liberal effort has no choice but to ape the Conservatives, or risk being demonized along with the harder-line leftward contingents. If centrism is the ideal, then the isolated Liberals are disadvantaged now – they are vulnerable to cries of “you’re not playing nice, you’re being radical, you’re being partisan, we knew it all along.” Since the Liberal effort has to maintain their agreements with the Conservative in order to be part of the power structure at all, it’s no surprise that very soon, as few as one or two election cycles, the Liberal position is swiftly indistinguishable from the Conservative one except with a few more smiles and nods. (And the Conservative one is now a bear trap containing powerful Establishment and Reactionary efforts under “moderate” “we’re all [insert nationality] here” guise.)

        (RE) “So briefly: a centrist coalition opens the door to the isolation and demonization of the leftward contingents, and soon only theatrical and ineffective versions of them remain; “

        Hopefully your answers to the above will help illuminate this for me.

        Let me know.

        Like

      • I’m starting to see. Here, let me take a shot: because the political spectrum functions asymmetrically, meaning the far left operates under more scrutiny and criticism than the far right, a coalition between the center left and the center right especially hurts the far left.

        Yes. However, again, only if we’re restricting the topic to how strong Liberal and strong Conservative efforts interact, when making actual policy through substantive debate, and how fascism can be understood to arise without reference to gaudy personalities and pathology. That’s Jasper’s highly specific topic in his book, but I like to think about the larger picture for which this is just one circumstance.

        For example, Jaspers’ viewpoint isn’t sympathetic to the various points or positions held by Revolutionary or Reactionary that might, you know, have a point. He only acknowledges those insofar as snippets of them filter into the more central positions, which he sees as positive. Therefore he’s very supportive of the idea that society includes vocal, intense, potentially even violent political efforts – but is trying to find a way for the Liberal and Conservative efforts to be the most powerful, representative, and policy-making ones. I think his point is very good toward that end – that you get that result when those two efforts do not seek agreement, and especially not make a formal “we shall agree and co-govern from now on” deal.

        However, his analysis – perhaps necessarily, for his point – seems shallow to me in terms of regional identity and economics, throughout an area. There are policy debates for which who is the winner or loser is going to be strikingly different from region to region, and for which highly generalized, broadly-sourced compromise really isn’t the best answer, and for which the loser isn’t going to go along nicely.

        He also seems a bit naive to me in terms of just how much assassination, mob violence, propaganda, and intimidation occur in non-fascist democratic processes, both within government and out there among the populace, and at the service of any of the six efforts whose proponents happen to feel they wouldn’t get their way if everyone voted at the moment.

        Like

      • (RE) “My addition to Jaspers’ analysis is, as I couldn’t help but jump the gun on in my #3 post, is to highlight the bubble quality: the alleged prosperity and recovery, the house-of-cards war financing, the alleged awesome military, the alleged restoration of law and order, the alleged overwhelming popular support. It’s all papered over at the time with dumb phrases that everyone seems to believe, but it’s painfully obvious in retrospect.”

        I think I get this. Can you think of an example of a ‘dumb phrase that everyone seems to believe’?

        “Mussolini made the trains run on time.” This one illustrates the power of such a statement both at the time and for later historical narratives, i.e., it’s still popularly stated.

        He, or rather, that regime, did no such thing.

        Like

      • (RE) “but the predictable actions of profiteers and thugs in the positions of power they’ve managed to grab, following the prior tacit breakdown. That’s why those actions only make sense as far as profiteering and thuggery go, and in terms of governance, economics, and military action, they’re spastic and destructive internally as well as externally.”

        This makes sense. Can the thugs and profiteers be elected officials? Can they also be non-elected people in power (like bank executives, or corporate CEOs)? Are the thugs and profiteers distinct in ideology and methods from other politiicians or people in power? I mean, can you point at Mike and say, ‘he’s a thug’, and then point at Jean and say, ‘she’s just a regular ol politician’?

        Sure. It’s important to my whole construction – and you can see it from my first responses – that democratic terms and processes do not comprise a category that excludes the category of fascism. It seems intrinsic to Jaspers’ point, too, that various democratic forms and even processes are still in place well after actually-existing fascism is in place.

        Therefore “thug,” “profiteer,” “politician,” and “elected official” are separate concepts but potentially overlap in any combination. Mike’s a thug, Jean’s a politician, and Bob’s both, and Martha is neither but is a profiteer, and Sam’s both a profiteer and politician, et cetera. I guess I see their separate definitions as easily parsed, especially when we’re not talking about motives to infer, but straightforward and observable actions. Don’t forget the extensive grey area of appointees, too, who are not elected but are in place due to an elected person’s power. If “politician” means “policy-maker,” then man, any of them can be a politician.

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      • I’m feeling like this is actually the in-depth answer to my original question, which was why you don’t you talk about Trump in your blog.

        It is. I actually set it up – or wrote enough to salve my sense I should say something – in the post itself, which you picked up on. I’ll get to the specifics about that in the next post, about whether and how these notions about fascism apply to the United States.

        I’m also holding off from replying about the awesome unstoppable insurmountable Wehrmacht. I typed a whole ton actually before realizing how many sacred cows I was not only shooting but desecrating. Let’s save that for later – it’s not really a detour but will make more sense after the next post, I think.

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        • And……. this is why I read this blog. I’m fine to move on to the much built up and equally anticipated #5, but I do have a few comments and questions (as I write this fireworks go off in the distance and someone is playing the national anthem as part of July 4 festivities).

          – Is there any connection between the various positions of the political spectrum (Revolutionary, Reform, etc) and moral right and wrong? Or, maybe that’s a bad question, how about this: have you thus far implied any such connection? This may sound like a weird question but I have reasons for asking.

          – When you said “I am heavily influenced by what appears to be the unspoken “everyone knows” use of these terms during the late 19th and early 20th century,” are the terms you are referring to “Revolutionary, Reformist, Liberal, Conservative, Establishment, and Reactionary”? If the answer is yes, then I’ll feel a lot better about my life long confusion about what exactly these terms mean, in spite of hearing them ALL THE TIME.

          – This: “In this construction – Jasper’s ideal – those two contingents are fervently attempting to take over the center two at all times but are forced to play nice in coalitions instead. Thus their positive qualities can be extracted for policy-making and their negative ones can be left for hard-liners to grump about in their Reform newsletters and Establishment lodges” is hilarious and tremendously useful.

          – It sounds like you are saying that a healthy and just democratic society will benefit from, and possibly even need, citizenry who represent all of the various positions (“Revolutionary” etc). Is this what you’re saying? That Reactionaries in small amounts can be/are good for society? (maybe you are saying that here: “For example, Jaspers’ viewpoint isn’t sympathetic to the various points or positions held by Revolutionary or Reactionary that might, you know, have a point”?)

          – As far as dumb phrases go, “made the trains run on time” seems to be the most famous, how about “Hitler fixed the German economy”?

          Okay, that’s all. Ready for #5.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Is there any connection between the various positions of the political spectrum (Revolutionary, Reform, etc) and moral right and wrong? Or, maybe that’s a bad question, how about this: have you thus far implied any such connection? This may sound like a weird question but I have reasons for asking.

          Answering your better construction: no, I have not implied any such thing.

          However, I will also say that to the concerned individual, stuck in a policy-situation (which is to say, living in society), for which these approaches are present not as abstractions, but as deeply historical and highly-coded actual events and rhetoric, with actual policy consequences on the line, the exact coalitions among the approaches, at this moment, will be inextricable from this person’s moral right and wrong. Completely understandably and perhaps intrinsically.

          When you said “I am heavily influenced by what appears to be the unspoken “everyone knows” use of these terms during the late 19th and early 20th century,” are the terms you are referring to “Revolutionary, Reformist, Liberal, Conservative, Establishment, and Reactionary”? If the answer is yes, then I’ll feel a lot better about my life long confusion about what exactly these terms mean, in spite of hearing them ALL THE TIME.

          It’s “yes.” As far as I can tell, following the 1940s, the terms became so tied to their local applications in U.S. and Cold War policy that they swiftly lost their generic meanings. It’s also important to see what happened to them in the late 1980s, when they shifted from merely compromised and confounded with specifics, to genuinely incoherent.

          For a very good, quite precise example of solid post-WWII and pre-1990 usage, see Puh-leeze! for my discussion of the Red Skull’s mind-control of the Falcon in the mid-1970s.

          It sounds like you are saying that a healthy and just democratic society will benefit from, and possibly even need, citizenry who represent all of the various positions (“Revolutionary” etc). Is this what you’re saying? That Reactionaries in small amounts can be/are good for society?

          It’s tough to stay clear about when I’m (i) paraphrasing Jaspers’ points about centrism and fascism, I hope correctly; (ii) framing them in my larger-scale thoughts about these approaches and democracy, outside his specific topic; and (iii) stating my judgment about virtues and limits of his argument. In this case I’ll stay with (i).

          I think Jaspers’ goal is simple: “How do we avoid fascism?” He doesn’t state an ideal-oriented goal about healthy, just, and democratic, he’s merely starting with existing forms of democratic as a given and talking about a particular potential outcome. I happen to find this down-and-dirty perspective appealing, especially since it’s very rare among post-WWII philosophers.

          To extrapolate or interpret slightly, I also think – or infer from his text – that these approaches are phenomena that exist. Given a political process in which representation and voting play a part, they all kick in hard as features of society. (Remember, he doesn’t break them out into six “entities” like I did; it’s just that his phrasings and the dynamics he described fit nicely into the entities as I’ve summarized them myself.) Given that, it’s not a matter of “need” or “should,” it’s simply that this is what society looks like, and moving on from there.

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  5. Part 5. It’s probably obvious by now that I consider U.S. political culture to have become fascist long ago, i.e., enough spokes far enough into the center, mutually-reinforcing enough, and with enough emergent effects. I concede that another person might have a different “enough” threshold, such that they’d state a different date, or state that we’re not there yet, but I do not think the processes and effects are much in debate. The trouble lies not in the argument but in directing people’s attention to it.

    Since it’s a multi-spoked wheel, I provide no single date, but I think core features are easily found in the National Security Act of 1947, in George Kennan’s White Paper of 1948, and in the remarkable collusion of state, espionage, and corporate power represented by the Dulles family by 1952. I recommend examining the election rhetoric of 1948, the first time that the two primary political parties of the U.S. fought to own the same policy position, i.e., not offering a policy choice at all. Until that point, the Democratic position was to fight “enemies abroad,” specifically communists, and the Republican one was to fight “the enemies at home,” ditto. By the election in 1952, both parties were explicitly committed to doing both, and the only electoral issue was which one was doing it/them the more fervently.

    I point especially to how the technique of replacing union leadership with right-wing mob and business collusions, developed in Italy just after WWII, was imported successfully to the U.S. and implemented in full by 1953.

    Another significant moment was 1972-1978, when the U.S. was bankrupted by the Vietnam War and its economics were shifted to be defined strictly by credit for international finance. Domestically the impact was immediate – no recompense for production at all, the flatlining of wages which persists to this day – and later, austerity, which was initially used as a weapon against Allende’s presidency in Chile, and is now rebranded as domestic and EU policy. As long as we’re talking about electoral moments, I recommend examining the Democratic Party’s destruction of the McGovern campaign and the resulting invention of superdelegates; you’ll have to look well past Wikipedia. This period also includes the loss of even the illusion of criminal accountability for the president and associated positions, the skating of the intelligence agencies past exposures that should have scuttled them entirely, the instigation of the War on Drugs and the expansion of the Texas prison system, and the first appearance of explicit belligerence (i.e., no longer “who us? what warmongers?”) as the defining virtue of foreign policy.

    I trust that it’s not necessary to dissect the creeping militarism throughout the second half of the 20th century, beginning with covert ops and U.N. action as cover, then shifting into unilateral action, first with little missions and eventually into bombing campaigns and full-scale invasions.

    Nor should I really need to go into the more-and-more high-impact collusions among finance, insurance, and real estate. I stress that as with the military policy’s it’s been a steady creep regardless of specific president or political party.

    By contrast, it may take more effort than I have available to convince some readers that the liberalism that they’ve prized as “progressive” (meaning Reform) for the past thirty years isn’t Reform at all, or even Liberal, but has been hand-jobbing the hard right the whole time. I call attention to (1) gay being OK after all – once they’re shown to be properly committed to military service; (2) much yap about a woman’s right to choose while actual birth-control and abortion services disappeared from most of the U.S., especially for anyone under median income; (3) astonishingly blatant black show ponies, assimilationist to the core, held up as evidence for the disappearance of racism – while the prison system re-instituted ethnic slavery nationwide and the police became a militia, including bare-faced banditry and ethnic-cleansing assassination.

    For similar reasons, I’m not going to provide the necessary many-thousands word essay to clarify what the Reactionary really is, here and now. It would begin with a good airing for the term “white,” and the realities the term obscures in all directions. A post someday perhaps. Even the most radical only sort of get it: The cultural anxiety of the white middle class and The racial mythology of the Left’s political nostalgia; I’m citing them now because the latter ties well to this discussion’s topic.

    I had my personal “all right, that’s the corner turned” moment. Some time in 2006 and 2007, reading Jaspers and thinking about that exhibit in Berlin, I decided that whenever it might have been clinched as a process (1980? 1996?), the deal was sealed – i.e., the process had invited in those who would truly use it – when Dick Cheney set up his own White House Staff.

    That’s a very technical statement so I should clarify. On paper, according to the National Security Act of 1947, the various intelligence agencies were all supposed to run their findings through a central node for final analysis, hence, “Central Intelligence Agency.” It wasn’t to have any other function. However, this agency turned out to have its own surveillance and operations programs as an artifact of last-second finagling, e.g., until 1958, the operations branch, or Office of Policy Coordination, was semi-pseudo private and actually not officially part of the CIA (and had its own back door into the Treasury for funding). The operations director of this … thing, Allen Dulles, became the head of the (real) CIA in 1952, and that pattern was often repeated after the OPC finally did get folded officially into the CIA. This person was also, as part of that job, the representative of U.S. intelligence (National Security Advisor) at meetings of the National Security Council, as per the actual-on-paper mandate of the CIA.

    Real players in the history of the Cold War U.S. knew that this whole arrangement – basically a direct line from the Security Council into CIA covert ops, and back up, was a source of incredible real power. From the top, you could run operations that were tailor-made to justify the policy you wanted, or you could run operations without policy at all and dare anyone to stop you; from the bottom, you could force policy-makers to live with what you just did … it bypassed every on-paper, organized form of governing, and existed entirely free of oversight or law.

    Now, exactly who grabbed that lever at any given moment is a matter of raw history. You’d recognize a couple of the names easily and not a couple of the others. But what I really want to talk about is how a number of employed positions evolved during the decades, associated with that chain of power, and like all shady bureaucracies, taking on a policy identity of its own. This is the so-called White House Staff, whose name might lead you to think of people dusting china or setting up PowerPoint for visiting school groups, but is actually a terrifyingly significant policy culture, and since it’s not actually a named intelligency agency, is completely free from oversight or accounting. Thus the White House Chief of Staff is a grossly powerful person who, historically, has not been above seizing that lever himself.

    In 2000, Dick Cheney did something only a very canny, knowledgeable insider could have done – he not only seized the lever, but also set up his own, independent White House Staff, de novo. This is why he and a number of cronies could insert short-lived “replacement” agencies right over the DIA, the CIA, and the NSA, each of which stovepiped any snippet of un-analyzed intelligence (i.e., rumors) to his office. Those, as you should know, became leaks to compliant media, then the media reports were used as an excuse for the White House to be “forced” to respond. (This is addition to the new Department of Homeland Security, which was set up to report and function directly under the White House, rather than the Department of Justice like the FBI.)

    I was especially interested to see the intelligence community get forcibly reorganized in 2004, such that the CIA Director would no longer be the National Security Advisor. That set of events remains murky and could be discussed some other time, but suffice to say that whatever Cheney and Co. were accomplishing by doing it, they knew what they were doing.

    Anyway, sometime just after that, a psychology professor friend wanted to know why I wasn’t singing Barack Obama’s praises and jumping around at this chance to get back to “normal” via a Democratic presidency. I bit my tongue regarding the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (1998), the adoption of the Three-Strikes policy across multiple states during 1994-1995, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (1996), the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1996, the candidate’s curious reference to the invasion of Afghanistan as the “good” war, and the obvious fact that the Patriot Act wasn’t about to get repealed. I decided to summarize by saying that the longer thread of American history, well beyond merely the Bush presidency, had gone past the breaking point, for which the actual power-players of that presidency had seized control in a manner very much like that of the Nazi Party in 1933-1938. And election or no election, whichever party, whoever said what from the Oval Office or on the way to it, I thought that whatever rule of law had obtained in the United States, it was now gone, and I didn’t think there was any turning back.

    Unbeknownst to me, he ran this past a couple of history professors, to receive the reply I’d have predicted: Nonsense, they said. Godwinning. What does a biologist know. Pish and posh. I found out about this a few weeks later, when my friend reported this response to me as well as its sequel – one of the history profs had spotted him across campus and ran over to him, out of breath and wild-eyed, to exclaim that “that guy” (me) had blown his mind. He’d apparently decided to look up the details of the 1930s Nazi period, in order to be prepared for the next moron who’d utter such stuff, only to discover, in his words, “… [Cheney et al.] must have studied it!”

    All this is why my response to Donald Trump’s candidacy, let alone his presidency, isn’t “Oh no, now we’re looking at fascism,” but rather, “What, it took a Trump for you to notice?” That Trump is himself odious is irrelevant. The relevant thing to me is that desiring him not to be president (take your pick: didn’t win in the first place, should be impeached for this-or-that reason and removed from office, “will no one rid us of this terrible man”) is all too easily a method for drumming up support for anyone, Democrat or Republican, who reminds us of “the good days, you know, before Trump.” And that those days were and are fascist.

    I hope that clarifies why I haven’t mentioned presidential or other electoral politics at all during my time blogging, again, because I think they’re mainly irrelevant theater at this point, bolstering the toxic centrism precisely as Jaspers had described. If the current president were 100% Trump’s opposite, that’d be no different and I’d be saying the same things.

    One last part, titled “what I didn’t say,” comes next. Thoughts on this part first?

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    • Damn. All right, well, let’s get on with it.

      I have to admit after our preceding conversation, and given the amount of “what the fuck is going on” soul-searching I’ve been doing since the presidential election, I found myself nodding in agreement more than I thought I would while reading this last section. I don’t know the history well-enough at this point to say “yeah, you’re right,” or “nope, you’re wrong,” but damn it makes a lot of sense. Hopefully I’ll have some additional commentary on the history after looking into it deeper.

      So at this point, I’ll just ask one question. When I think about fascism, I think about people like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. These are leaders who, once in power, don’t relinquish it until they die or are forceably deposed. Now, you addressed this above, and I’m not ignoring those comments, but even if we don’t have a singular leader, it seems that under true fascism those in charge (whether a singular leader or a coterie of ‘thugs and profiteers’) will will never willingly give up the power they have. Given that, isn’t it significant that someone like Cheney can have his hands on the controls, and then via a democratic process, have that power removed? In true fascism would this be possible?

      – Tor

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      • When I think about fascism, I think about people like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. These are leaders who, once in power, don’t relinquish it until they die or are forceably deposed. Now, you addressed this above, and I’m not ignoring those comments, but even if we don’t have a singular leader, it seems that under true fascism those in charge (whether a singular leader or a coterie of ‘thugs and profiteers’) will will never willingly give up the power they have. Given that, isn’t it significant that someone like Cheney can have his hands on the controls, and then via a democratic process, have that power removed? In true fascism would this be possible?

        Let’s take this in two steps, a reply for each. The first, rather razor-edged step is to critique your mode of questioning, itself in two ways.

        First, your opening phrase “when I think of …” I consider this a red flag, in discussion, and the reason why applies here. We – you and me, anyone reading this critically – cannot let the analysis be governed by our associations. Whether one person thinks of Franco’s never-ending position of power, or another thinks of the Final Solution, or another thinks of who-knows-what, is an inadmissible variable.

        That’s why I tried earlier to establish that we were not defining fascism strictly through example, but rather considering historical designations of fascism to be instances of a more general phenomenon, which itself might include instances that were not so designated. Exactly which details of historical instances are the defining or clinching “that’s it!” features, I completely denied to myself, and to the discussion as a whole.

        Second, your easy-to-miss specification at the end: “true fascism.” That’s not admissible either. It restricts the topic to some example only in your head, which the rest of us must guess at; it also opens the discussion to grey and fuzzy “fascism but not true fascism” category into which others’ points or examples can easily be swept. It’s the reverse of how I framed the discussion, which allows for, even assumes, a diversity of specific personages and outcomes, seeking to discover a commonality if it’s present.

        Put together, those two phrases add up to the concept “I know it when I see it,” which in practice, always means “when it happens I can claim it’s not happening, if I refuse to see it,” or “it’s only happening if [designated group] does it,” and other, similar appeals to cognitive dissonance.

        The second step is much nicer, I promise.

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      • The second step is the question of permanency of titular leadership, and/or of genuine power.

        I think the leader-forever is its own phenomenon which may occur in or out of a fascist context. Three very different examples which are not ordinarily assigned that label: Josep Tito of Yugoslavia, Konrad Adenauer of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and David Ben Gurion of Israel, the latter also in the subset of “now I’m retiring, whoops, no, I’m back again.”

        The no-questions-asked examples of yes-it-is fascism are pretty rare, after all. Italy, Germany, and Spain – I think that’s it. You and I are already presuming that there are others, un-recognized as such, and that fascism as a topic cannot be restricted by the exact details of these. Things that are really rock-solid alike among them, and which are rare to vanishing elsewhere, might be fascist in an atomic “only in fascism” sense, but I don’t think this variable is one of them.

        For this variable, we’ve got two quite short regimes curtailed by simultaneous military defeat and economic collapse and one that went on (and on and on) with Me-For-Life in full play. Hard as it is to imagine that Hitler, or better, Goering and cronies, would step down for a successor if the war and international credit hadn’t done the job for them, you and I must concede that if they never formally claimed such permanency, those regimes can’t be added to Franco for examples of the same. (I actually don’t know if they did – I thought not, but if Benito or Adolf issued such an edict on day last-minus-1, let me know.)

        The question is a good one even without linking it to a fascism/not-fascism debate. Let’s take Cheney. Why would such a coterie of thugs, profiteers, and ideologues, having seized power so effectively, meekly give up their offices in January 2009? Why would we not have seen, either from them or from any of the other gangs which took on such a role in the past, the usual granting of presidency-for-the-duration-of-the-emergency or permanent-security-advisor or similar titles to override the election cycle?

        Possible answer #1 is simply that the American situation, or situations, were never as bad as they got in other countries in which that very thing happened. For which “never as bad” is defined as “the system wouldn’t let them get away with it, it was still robust enough to resist subornment to that extent, and thank God for that.”

        If true, I don’t think this case falsifies the notion that the United States is fascist, but it does suggest (or relies upon) an image of the wheel with all the spokes poking and lengthening inward, but not really fully coordinating to make a hub, and with some of them retreating/shortening as well. So it’d be a state of almost-fascism and almost-collapse for who knows how long. This would be the image favored by many Americans, I think – the idea that if only we could get “to” or “back to” (take your pick which) robust democratic practices, self-corrections would kick in and you’d see the body politic undergo a literal healing process, to turn itself “the right way” once it sniffed fascism on the rise.

        Possible answer #2 is nastier: that the American situation has become worse than the situations which evolved into Third Reich Germany or Fet y de las Jons Spain … in that the military depredations, domestic oppression/atrocity, and cultural narrowings we call fascist are so established and normalized that differing power-seekers can “fade” in and out of visible titular office, looting and pillaging whether they’re in or out. It would be more about Crony and less about Leader. Each crony-cabal would like more “in” time if possible, but the situation is cushy enough that being “out” about half the time is better for all of them than the whole thing crashing down.

        In this construction or interpretation, the oppression and domestic nastiness are much more incremental and nuanced – allowing, for instance, assimilationists and facilitators from oppressed groups to participate – but also so long-lived that they become genuinely horrific without acknowledgment or effective protest from anyone with power, worse than the Final Solution in raw number of corpses and much, much longer-lasting. Or to put it another way, the “problem” with Hitler-ish fascism isn’t that it’s too fascist, but too stupid and not fascist enough to keep the cash flowing into parasitic pockets, to keep the war-threat and wars rolling on with ever more brutality, and to keep the body politic distracted with play-fight play-issue elections, indefinitely.

        I don’t know which of these possible answers is the real one, or if there’s another to be investigated as well, but I really wish people like those history profs I mentioned would be on the job about that, instead of pish-poshing people like me who ask questions like this.

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        • Hey Ron,

          Good answers (both steps).

          I think if I had sat down and really thought it out I would have come up with your possible answers #1 and #2 (though I definitely wouldn’t have expressed them as well). Also, it seems like without too much digging it’s possible to come up with examples that support either one (possible answer #1: the US has some real fascism antibodies as evidenced by the initial blocking by the courts of Trump’s Muslim ban; possible answer #2: the terrifying continuity of Goldman Sachs executives holding senior level positions for both Republicans and Democrats dates back how far?).

          Also, I’ve been thinking over your analysis of the US and I think I have a substantial critique, but give me one more day to put it together.

          Thank you for taking the time to talk through this, and answer all my questions, it’s been extremely helpful.

          – Tor

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  6. This is a lot to digest. Absolutely interesting, clearly well-reasoned, and I think I need some time before I could say anything useful about it. And thanks to Tor for getting it started and for the questions! But … am I reading correctly that the last part, the “what I didn’t say”, is still pending?

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    • That’s right. I’d like thoughts and replies posted along the way, rather than waiting, if possible.

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    • Hi Ron –

      OK, I’ll jump in, trying to hold back a bit pending the response from Tor.

      Much of this, especially the use of terminology, makes sense to me (probably being from the same era helps). Though I must say, while it feels like my thinking/understanding was/is in decent (not absolute) synch, my expression/language is sometimes more “contemporary.” Which is often not a good thing, so I appreciate how this helps sharpen my understanding (and hopefully, improves my communication).

      I’m a bit troubled by “Establishment” in the Revolutionary->Reactionary scale – the others seem readily characterized as political/philosophical approaches to socioeconomic policy, whereas Establishment is more a position within socioeconomic reality. Easy enough to think of it as “more conservative than Conservative, but less reactionary than Reactionary,” but I worry that exclusive ownership on the Right of a label that’s more concrete/less conceptual subtly distorts our understanding of the scale. E.g., while I think I understand/accept the process by which the farther Left can be and has been successfully labeled as disloyal, I’m not sure that happens either necessarily or accidentally. I (and many folks I know) would have considered, say (speaking broadly of groups I know just enough to know that their specifics are more consequential than I’m considering here) most Yippies to be “better Americans” than most Birchers. Nowadays, there are fewer folks thinking so, but here’s hoping that trend can be altered.

      Ron, you clearly allow that opinions may differ as to when “enough” is reached to generate the “fascist” label, for the U.S. or (I assume) any particular situation. And I think your spokes of fascism and focus on the mutual reinforcement are quite appropriate. I think I see some attention paid in this direction by U.S. media/analysts, in the various discussions of the “revolving doors” of power (be they between elected office and lobbyist, corporate board and appointed official, or etc.). They’re not necessarily labeled as fascist features but certainly are deemed suspect as counter to good governance. So highlighting and providing a discussion-context for the similarity of fascist processes and what’s happened/is happening in the U.S. is valuable. I’d want to also include a way to see how things are NOT like fascist processes, maybe by looking at how you discuss some of your OTHER possible ways of doing things and how that matches up with the U.S. From an analytical point of view, that feels like a corrective to Tor’s “[doesn’t everything] exhibit these symptoms to some extent” (from an emotional point of view, there’s me hoping “please, not ‘it’s fascism all the way down’ …”) But you may already be planning to talk about that, I’m just stressing that for me, I see value in a) fascist issues in the U.S. (Left and Right) without even needing fascISM, and b) a NOT-fascism context to look through, as well.

      For what it’s worth, here’s what I’d say about the good ol’ U S of A in light of these posts: over my lifetime (and yes, stretching back some decades before, best as I can tell) we’ve seen the political process become more and more accurately described as a serial crony-fascist exploitation of the citizenry (its’ own, and across the globe). Not universally, maybe not even always intentionally (and I suspect I know your opinion about how much that intentionality matters), but steadily, increasingly, and in actual impact significantly greater exploitation. I’m not sure where that leaves me relative to your thoughts, but your thoughts definitely led me to “serial crony-fascist exploitation”, a phrase I currently like quite a lot. Um, I mean, it makes me more than a little ill to confront it, but it strikes me as accurate and in need of being confronted.

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      • Three planned replies, this is the first.

        Hi Gordon,

        Let’s begin by defining Establishment. I didn’t actually lay out my full argument for these “entities,” which I worried about considering it’s an original model and is easily mis-read. I hope it’s OK to focus on this one; perhaps doing so will also illuminate how the others should be understood too.

        First, all of them are my ways of describing collective effort at a given moment. Not an ideology, not an attitude, not a psychology, and not a fixed side on any named issue. Or rather, at a given moment, all these things can be observed and fixed sides are in evidence for all the issues, but you can’t take a side on a given issue and use that to track “what’s Liberal” throughout history. Certain general associations are possible, especially regarding war.

        Second, social movements and political actions usually come about through coalitions of these efforts, not through one of them doing its thing alone. This applies especially to parties, and fortunately in most modern societies the named parties are indeed very identifiable with these efforts, and they act in explicit coalitions that shift all the time. The U.S. situation is much more deceptive, in that the parties are instead institutions that act as cover for invisible coalitions of this kind. They also hide the complex regionalism across the nominal United States, for which even the word “state” is a weird misnomer.

        Those coalitions are fascinating especially because they “skip” adjacent efforts so often. Establishment + Liberal, Reform + Conservative, et cetera, all the time – even Revolutionary and Reactionary can be solid coalition partners (although typically not with each other). But that’s so interesting and distracting that I’ll shelve it right away.

        Third, explict democratic events are very easy and tempting to describe with these terms, but they should be considered tips of icebergs, not the entirety of a society’s political phenomena. Those party dynamics I mentioned above are just like that; in a more-easily observable world, we’d be talking almost entirely about grassroots phenomena. Even more so, elections and electioneering are incredibly tempting as a focus of attention (one might say this is their big flaw, both in analysis and in practice), and they are definitely merely components of democratic events – I really wish it’d be easier to remind people that “political” means making policy, and even more so, that laws & such are after-effects of doing so.

        So, on to Establishment: it’s not merely “the way things are done.” Far from it – this is far more specific, it’s the interests represented by inherited wealth, where inheritance is either kinship or some form of long-standing ownership or both. My original name for it in my early drafts was the Hard Right. Privilege is the key – go ahead and mix it up about the laws and rules for this or that, who cares, we keep what’s ours, we keep it the way we like it, and things relevant to us get done our way, period. That’s why, like Reform, it’s 100% paralegal; to the Establishment bloc at any moment, “laws” are what other people have to do, and they exist so that we can do what the hell we’re doing without any fucking interference. That’s completely different from the ongoing, legal framework of negotiation that characterizes and is upheld by both Liberal and Conservative efforts, which as far as the Establishment effort is concerned, is theater.

        This effort may not represent too many people directly, but (i) it can be very powerful due to the resources at hand, and (ii) more people might support it than you think, if they consider themselves the direct beneficiaries as servitors, middlemen, functionaries, and serfs, especially when some other group can be demonized as dangerous. Interestingly, it tends to lose force at points when its dynastic features break down for internal reasons.

        I hope that clarified my use of the term and concept.

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        • Up front – my guess is the details on this model aren’t vital to the overall fascist stuff, I’m drilling-down because a) it’s what I do, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, and b) I didn’t want to assume a misunderstanding/disagreement here was meaningless to the overall discussion.

          The thing I was noticing with “Establishment” is that it felt like a “not like the others” category, because it DID conjure up for me a lot of that stuff about having power, privilege, an actual advantageous position in the current, real situation – and the others did NOT attach themselves strongly to anything particular about the current, real situation of those gathering their “collective effort at a given moment”.

          So your description of Establishment makes sense (and that “collective effort at a given moment” strikes me as an excellent focus), but helps not at all with the “not like the others” issue.

          100% with you on frustration re: politics/policy distinguished from electioneering, although I guess I understand some of the confusion given that a) interests are sometimes served by perpetuating a vague conflation, and b) there’s some truth in the U.S. system that you don’t get to do policy unless you can do electioneering.

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        • I am generally frustrated by that concept as an argument feature. Things get names because they’re different, after all – it’s only when someone’s introducing a category error that this objection matters. I tried to make it clear that we’re talking about collective effort, which is the same thing across all of them, votes + voice + violence basically, and I guess that isn’t getting through.

          I”m not surprised … in the Amerikkka draft, I have a whole section discussing the efforts/entities, as part of looking at democracy as such, and the fascism topic is a whole Profile (sub-chapter) of its own, long after I expect the reader to process these ideas and relate them to other ideas at the same level. So I’m talking forwards into the highly-specialized case of fascism at the same time as talking backwards into what should have been the foundational concepts.

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        • It may have gotten through eventually – I can now imagine all five set up as collective action towards the benefit/achievement of each of ’em, from whatever current position each member might have. That some of those working for the Establishment ARE the Establishment doesn’t seem so odd (by comparison – NOTHING odd in the bare description) considered that way.

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      • Second reply.

        while I think I understand/accept the process by which the farther Left can be and has been successfully labeled as disloyal, I’m not sure that happens either necessarily or accidentally. I (and many folks I know) would have considered, say (speaking broadly of groups I know just enough to know that their specifics are more consequential than I’m considering here) most Yippies to be “better Americans” than most Birchers. Nowadays, there are fewer folks thinking so, but here’s hoping that trend can be altered.

        I think the issue of disloyalty is a big floppy red herring. It’s also a good example of winning an argument by framing its parameters. I sort of enjoy talking about it when someone brings it up aggressively, although they typically don’t.

        My reasoning goes, fine – let’s say there’s an emotional and psychological state which is, unequivocally, both the single most American (i.e., in specially-American character) and also the most loyal American (in terms of someone’s loyalty to any nation). And to remove the need for tedious debate about what it is, let’s say that you, my friend, whoever is raising this topic, indisputably have it.

        Given that, now let’s presume that I don’t. So … what is to be done with me? Should my vote be counted less, perhaps a fraction of a “real” vote, or perhaps not at all? Should I be subject to different legal expectations and penalties? Should I perhaps be deported and stripped of citizenship? What exactly is the consequence of this difference in view, for the person “without,” or “less?”

        To state my rhetorical point bluntly: the very notion of loyalty as a desirable standard, as a feature of position or psychology which takes on value in a policy discussion, is empty noise.

        Gordon, you didn’t bring it up aggressively, but you did raise it as … well, as something that’s out there to be discussed, perhaps to be cared about, perhaps to lay claim to. My response is to question the premise at its very roots. I confess I don’t understand or care about any such thing. If there’s loyalty to a nation-state which is distinguishable from ordinary ethics toward the real human beings one may affect, then I go further, and say I abjure any such thing – and am automatically suspicious of anyone who has it or values it.

        The pained activist who explains, yet again, that dissent is a “highest” American value and that questioning policy or authority is the route to constructive change, fill in the blank, fill in the blank … has already lost the social point to the person who sneeringly insulted him or her on the basis of loyalty. And that social point was all there was to that tactic.

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        • I meant to discuss this mostly in the context of the process you outlined whereby Liberal is afraid to associate with Reform/Revolution (but Conservative is more able to use Establishment/Reactionary), which seemed to me to rely upon it. “Disloyal” was not a rigorously chosen word – “better Americans” was more carefully selected, though I’d expand it to “better human beings, as informed by the best ideas associated with America” if REALLY explaining myself. (I suppose I should add that I think “the best ideas associated with America” aren’t always as American as people think/claim, but I can’t claim to be a real expert on details)

          I’m not quite as sure that the social point is ALL there is to the tactic, but I am interested in … consistently denying that path to “victory”. I think I can open the window to caring about being a good humanAmerican without having to accept someone elses’ use of “loyalty”. Though I do see the trap of allowing them to define that loyalty-as-they-mean it is what matters.

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        • My thoughts on this is that, during 1930s and early 1940s Germany or Italy, throughout Franco’s regime in Spain, and to extend a bit, during Pinochet’s regime, or Marco’s, or plenty of others one might toss in … there were a substantial number of citizens who said exactly the same thing.

          The cultural conclusions following Nuremberg re: the Nazis basically said, “Screw you, you were there, you didn’t leave, you had to know, don’t lie, you were all totally into it, you paid your taxes, I saw tons of you screaming cheers at those rallies, and you’re all collectively at fault,” even though the actual court outcomes tended to be nuanced.

          I think that cultural conclusion is unfair to many people who didn’t have to blind themselves in any un-ordinary way, merely in the ordinary way, and who held onto a pleasant faith that Germany “wasn’t really like this” and it would blow over, and be redressed by law. I don’t think they were right thinking this, but it seems to me that the behavior is understandable and even expected to be the default.

          I do find one part of that conclusion compelling: focusing on the extremity of the wrongs perpetrated by the regime. One thinks, there has to be a line, past which even the most positive, humanistic, genuinely admirable faith in one’s birth society’s ideals, must stop and say, “Nope. This is it,. If ‘we’ are doing this,, then I’m not in ‘we,’ and pride in ‘us’ is no longer admirable at all.”

          Slavery, rent-based extraction, fixed employment, feudal-level income inequality, debt servitude, police murder, demonstrable collective health threat by withholding health care, multiple wars of choice, suborned propaganda as the baseline for news and entertainment … what, I must ask, would be enough for you to draw that line?

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        • Slavery, rent-based extraction, fixed employment, feudal-level income inequality, debt servitude, police murder, demonstrable collective health threat by withholding health care, multiple wars of choice, suborned propaganda as the baseline for news and entertainment … what, I must ask, would be enough for you to draw that line?

          The inability to find others also working to change those things? An utter lack of hope that some/any/all of ’em could change, in my lifetime? I’m not sure, but obviously I’m still not past that line. Plus, as mentioned later, if I saw each of those things in the same way you do, maybe I’d be MUCH closer to where you are.

          Another way to say it – I do have ideas as to what I think it means to be a good human here in America, and at the moment I’m neither willing to accept the ideas others have put forth, nor to believe my ideas are impossible.

          None of which means it’s a bad idea to take a look at that line, of course.

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      • Third reply. I read your post as carefully as possible to determine its foundation and, if present question. I saw in a somewhat plaintive appeal to the difference between “ist” and “ism.”

        I confess that looks like hairsplitting to me. This may also simply be a difference in personality and breaking points, in that I, for example, feel no particular desire to hold, “well, we’re not really or quite at fascism yet,” as a baseline position.

        Neither “universally” nor “intentionally” seems valid to me as a hard line to cross, for definition’s sake, or to wait for before reaching one’s breaking point.

        I suppose if I had to verbalize how far is too far enough, I’d focus on extremely concrete and identifiable policies in action.

        1. Widespread legal, paralegal, and violent discrimination against quickly-identified, widely-blamed groups in the population. Redress against the perpetrators is farcical at best; more likely they were acting in concert with nominal law enforcement.

        2. Wars of choice, predicated on “if we win then it’s OK,” and characterized by splashy operations, multiple atrocities, and dubious cries of victory. Tied to fetishizing and over-complicating the miltary as a subculture and to establishing its administration as a political bloc.

        3. An easily recognized, widely observed standard for “real” identity with the state, itself synonymous with the society. It’d include, off the top of my head, ethnic identity (or a hierarchy thereof) and its purported tie to the “soil,” support for the current state policy (see #1 and #2), and, I suppose, a frequently-stated appeal to a deserved, perhaps inevitable future of national dominance.

        If these in action add up to a point I can’t abide living with, let alone supporting even in the most passive possible manner (simply by being there), then whether it’s only at an “ist” phase for a few thing, as opposed to the “ism” phase for the whole chimichanga, doesn’t seem like a relevant question.

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        • “ism/ist” and the foundation of (that part of) my post … your reply maybe helps me hone this down. I think my concern (similar to Tor, maybe, and not atomist) is this: establishing an understanding/model of fascism and mapping the U.S. into it is powerful, important, and useful, but not enough. It’s definitely more than just a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I’m very glad to see you lay it out here. But towards my goals (like Tor, somewhat: understanding what’s going on, Trump, plus seeing possibilities for long-needed change that MIGHT now be more accessible), I feel like another context is also needed: either embedding fascism-analysis in a more general system-analysis, or running the U.S. through other/multiple models. Or something.

          No intention on my end to put universally or intentionally forward as hard lines, but … they (or other factors) don’t have to be hard lines to MATTER. Not that I see you saying they don’t, but I guess I kinda want to include more than just the evidence that supports a fascist label. Not because I’m overly attached to “well, we’re not really or quite at fascism yet” – I think in a lot of ways we are, and in some ways we’re not, and I don’t really care about whether that gets us the label (though I suspect that if I were as clear as you are about it, I might react differently).

          This is definitely a bit paradoxical for me: we’re talking fascism, so of course everything is about fascism – that’s to be expected. Except that it’s NOT what I expect – I expect to be able to look beyond fascism as well. Maybe that comes in your next, “what I’m not saying” post.

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        • My reply above might be OK for this one, I hope. The topic of fascism is an issue in the text I’m drawing from (mine, not Jaspers), which addresses militancy in a democracy, specifically the United States. I’m making the case that the issue of fascism is solid and sobering, not merely an epithet either to be screeched or sneered at with counter-epithets.

          That text, though, does not require agreeing or determining that the U.S. is, or has “gone,” fascist, only that one sees it as a valid standing concern for every modern society and that someone else might see it that way for the U.S.

          So your call for a larger framing conversation is exactly what I started working on years ago. But since Spione and Shahida are, to put it generously, failures for me as a publisher, I can’t justify working on it as I did with them.

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        • Since I personally have utterly failed to convince folks (RPGers or otherwise) that Spione or Shahida would be fun/interesting/rewarding to play, I suppose it’s foolish optimism to think that Amerikkka would be any different. Even if I were to advocate for foolish optimism (and I DO want to), I’m not the one investing time/energy/money.

          Just acknowledging the beneficial (and absent) framing is enough to silence my “butbutbuts” in this area.

          PS – In all the US election/Russia/emails and whatever of the last few years, I thought of Spione in the context of cyberops, tradecraft differentials, and maybe a different route to the “Cold” for the operators. But chasing the topical is probably just a slightly different flavor of foolish optimism.

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  7. This should be written by a historian, not me, but nonetheless:

    Many of the items that you identify as fascist, and that you ascribe to post WW2 America, look an awful lot to me like common features of nation states in general, and as pre-existing features of the United States in particular.

    So, when we talk about “the presence of thug movement support from the populace, which is not only tolerated by law enforcement, but fully complicit with it” (your words), I think of Jim Crow and lynch mobs, or of illegal land-grabs and the associated violence directed against Tejanos in what would eventually become Texas.

    Or, when we talk about “the frequent flatly-illegal, blatant maneuvers of various state and industry actors” (again, your words) I think of the centuries long illegal war against Native Americans.

    Or when you say “private industry retains its corporate financial identity, but specific corporate entities are so favored by the government, and so integrated with their functions, with key individuals passing back and forth, that they comprise a single power-and-policy structure” I think of something like the Hudson Bay Trading Company, where a private corporation actually WAS the government in parts of North America (not a US example, but an example of the crossover between private corporations and government as a feature of the nation state).

    In other words, either some of these defining aspects of fascism that you mention are either not fascist, but something else (statist?), or the fascists roots of the country date back to earlier than you are allowing.

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    • This strikes me as that atomism again, which surprises me. I’ve said more than once that none of the features need be identified as fascist on an individual basis. The defining aspect is when they come together in such a way that the “fasces” ideology is normalized.

      I suppose one might specify the tipping point is when this normalization is enforced by extra-legal domestic and foreign-policy violence. Per Jaspers, it’d be before that, when acknowledged countervailing elements (the press, unions) are suborned. Others might focus instead on effects well after that point, when the ritualization of the new normal becomes what most people would call cult-like.

      I think that that disposes of your first option: “defining aspects of fascism that you mention are … not fascist,” because that’s what I said in the first place, absent the adjective “defining,” which you stuck in there, not me.

      Your second option, “the fascist roots of the country date back to earlier than you are allowing,” needs pulling apart. One part is your phrase “than you are allowing,” which I think I’ll harpoon. I did not “allow” any such time-limit on any of these features. One or more could be old as Methuselah or young as yesterday, for all it matters to the process I’m describing.

      The other, more interesting part – tied to another point you’ve raised earlier – is the possibility that fascism is a standing possibility for many societies, not-yet-present or could-be-present at all times. To which I’d say, “Sure, why not?” especially for those with well-engaged democratic techniques built into their governance, and I wouldn’t be saying anything unusual. This is a common viewpoint, and although it’s practically axiomatic in explicitly leftist theory, it’s not regarded as nuts or implausible by any “name” I can think of across the wider political spectrum. It’s where Jaspers is coming from for sure – note that he is explicitly not a hard left contributor. As I recall my entire educational section regarding Classical Greece concerned the subornment of democracy to economic overstretch and empty-headed militarism.

      P.S. I totally agree that your historical examples fit the bill as the kind of components I’m talking about.

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  8. Tor Erickson

    Two points: when I started writing my reply laying out “pre-existing” elements of fascism, I had in mind a bunch more examples. For example a friend had reminded me of the Coolidge quote which I mistakenly recalled as “The business of America is business,” and thought ah-ha! Government and the economy I tertwined. Only to find that’s a horrible misquote and means nothing of the sort. And so it went. Most of the examples I was thinking of didn’t really mean what I thought they did, and instead of strong examples across the board I came up with the specific instances I listed above. So there’s that.

    Second point, and this may sound incredible, but it was literally not until I read your reply this morning that it occurred to me that fascism only arises out of societies with democratic systems in place. I have no idea why I didn’t get this back at Grinnell when we studied the rise of the Nazi party or in any of the intervening years, or for that matter until this point in our conversation (it was your Classical Greece comment that made it click for me).

    Okay, I’m ready for the last bit (also the Wehrmacht!).

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    • Not really relevant to our discussion, but my favorite “Silent Cal” quote is,

      The man who builds a factory builds a temple, that the man who works there worships there, and to each is due, not scorn and blame, but reverence and praise.

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    • Let’s keep this isolated to this little sub-thread.

      (RE) “No one thinks otherwise about Italy, and the only reason we don’t say it about Germany is that the myth of the “unstoppable” foes we stopped from “taking over the world” is too valuable.”

      So the Wehrmacht wasn’t an awesome military power? How did they mud stomp all of Europe less Britan then while taking on Russia?

      Another snake pit here. I’m pretty sure this reply will lose me whatever readers this blog has left … it’s more than controversial, I’m speaking heresy.

      What you’re calling “all of Europe” is a small, mostly-flat postage stamp, geographically speaking. With the exception of the Alps, anywhere in it is eminently attackable by anywhere else. It is small, and everyone’s related; I have never seen its international conflicts as anything except civil war within an interconnected community, specifically concerning external sources of revenue. (This is tied to the larger picture of Eurasia that I discuss in detail in my book/game Shahida., i.e., that this little peninsula is best understood as a rebellious want-in-want-out corner of the Levantine empire.) (I’ll hold off on discussing the unspoken but relevant cultural regions: the Nordic-German swath across the northern coast, and the Mediterranean coast, or rather its northern shore, as it’s continuous all the way around.)

      What people call the awesome striking power of the Wehrmacht is exactly what European strike forces have done to European targets for millenia. It’s distinguished as the first full-scale impact of the industrial revolution on war technology, so no surprise that its scale jumped up a notch, including using the assembly-line model for ethnic cleansing.

      However, we are talking about a momentary flash – 1939 through 1941. Did a ton of people get killed and tons more get dispossessed? Sure. Did a bunch of already-useless post-WWI puppet governments squeak and vanish? Sure. Did a ton of opportunistic assholes use their “gee, welcome, allies” moment to swing into local ethnic cleansing? Sure. It’s also the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, and World War One, and those are spikes among low-level and more regional versions of the same for millenia. It’s a pretty blood-soaked spit of land.

      I absolutely am not saying this was trivial; It’s atrocity, war crime, everything you want to call it. But it didn’t threaten “the world.” It accomplished regime change in several adjacent spots, but even that fell off sharply a couple borders in.

      When I say “military might,” I mean achieving military objectives – in this case, conquest, meaning to place a compliant government in power for the indefinite future. That failed badly. German forces had almost no actual takeover effect anywhere – southern France, northern Italy, Norway, Finland, up and down the Balkans: all wracked and ungovernable through insurgence. (You’ll notice they avoided the real tough nuts: Switzerland, Sweden, Spain.) So what if the Reich had invaded Britain, in these terms? One more batch of Quislings helpless to quell another insurgent swamp … in fact, I’d love to see what happened if the Nazis tried to occupy Ulster, let alone the majority of Ireland. Those guys know a thing or two about bombs.

      Crucially, the Wehrmacht got nowhere regarding the single prize that all 20th century European conflict is really about: the trade routes and governing cities of Mesopotamia and the Levant – Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul, Cairo. Without that, the disposition of regimes and alleged borders to the west are so much scratching in the dirt. Britain and France had seized them in 1917 for the first time ever, and Germany barely threatened that hold.

      Let’s say Britain had been invaded and a Vichy or Quisling equivalent had been set up, with about the same effectiveness over the Isles’ population (and that’s generous). Fast-forward four more short years – do you really think the Nazi Party would be “ruling” from Berlin, the whole way from the Isle of Man to Vladivostok? How? The partisans in northern Italy and southern France didn’t need the U.S. to rebel successfully, and Norway wasn’t far behind. Do you think there’d have been any sort of Wehrmacht attack on the U.S.? With what? With what imaginable hope of actual rule?

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, “great tactics, bad strategy” like all those West Pointers waving their Sun Tzu around. I’m saying, “moronic tactics, moronic strategy,” all the way around. Play war, flashity-bang-bang, tons of murder and otherwise ruined lives, and all of a sudden hey, we have no soldiers, hey, we have no supply, hey, a kid just blew up our barracks, and look, back home, they’re out of money.

      That’s the variable to look at: immediate overstretch, not even counting the invasion of Russia, and how the domestic economy fell apart instantly. D-Day was in 1944, three years after the breaking point. It didn’t liberate a captive Europe; it chased forces that were already in retreat, and I stress, retreat to nothing, merely a doomed last stand. The only genuinely military mud stomp in this story is the Soviet push west.

      The romance of the Wehrmacht is one of the 20th century’s most disgusting legacies. You can see it on the History Channel every night if your stomach can take it. Modern military theory has a huge hard-on about Blitzkrieg without grasping that it’s stupid: destruction, atrocity, show war, chickenhawk strutting. Israeli militarism is hell on captive populations; it’s quagmire and bankruptcy once it steps over a border.

      The usual response to this is to accuse me of being an isolationist (whatever that really is), just shy of being a Nazi sympathizer, ending with “What should ‘we’ have done then?” I’ll leave identifying the round dozen of inadmissible argument techniques in there as an exercise.

      It’s OK though; I accept that I’m culturally wrong. Any history prof will tell you I don’t know what I’m talking about. If you’d like to see one of the exceptions, more about the U.S. and the Roman Republic than the Reich, it’d be Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire.

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      • I’ve got a slightly different take on the foolishness of the German military, centered more on the oilfields at Baku (the family of a close friend escaped from there, eventually – the stories are harrowing and yet filled with human decency, at some point from every “faction” they bounced across and between). Also a big-time prize sought in WW I. And I think I’d disagree on the POTENTIAL danger to the world, but as it turned out … closer to your view, I guess.

        I can’t find the precise numbers right now, but I was amazed to discover at one point that the Yugoslav “partisans” numbered something like 1/2 a million, a year or more before D-Day. A far cry from the feisty little group of guerillas reliant on US/British support to provide a minor annoyance to the Germans the common understanding assumes. Perhaps England was in (temporary? but doubtless still appalling, of course) danger without US intervention, but Europe generally – not so much.

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        • Turns out, I can’t quite just leave it at that … there’s a HUGE amount of detail in the “POTENTIAL danger” phrase of mine. As far as I can tell, for many at the time it was shockingly possible that the Nazi military and social approaches could work. All in all, I think that should have been – and was – considered. Along with power-policy, sure. That is, sure power-policy “was” considered. “Should have” and power-policy is a more complicated subject, for me anyway. Certainly I disagree with details of how power-and-policy were considered/applied.

          But damnyou, my partial-collegiate education, how is it you left me with ANY illusion that the U.S. was directly responsible for Victory in Europe? A modicum of comparison to the STAGGERING numbers in the East would have revealed where the most strategically consequential tragedy and by-some-definition-triumph were happening. How COULD you have missed that? Oh, yeah, mumblemumble Cold War … blahblahRighteousAmerica … Sigh.

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        • A visit to the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin is always recommended.

          During one of my later visits to the city, I took Cecilia there. It was a very grey drizzly day (in Berlin? really?), and the dozen pink roses someone had left on the plaque at the memorial really stood out, Pulitzer Prize imagery.

          Yes, in 2007, people left roses at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin.

          I mentioned this to one of my local friends who, it must be said, was very Wessi and had previously lost no chance to speak poorly of communism, the DDR. anyone living there, Trabis, et cetera. This time, he instantly changed his rather breezy demeanor, fixed me with a penetrating and very German stare, and said firmly, “Zey paid de p’ice for zat war.”

          Yes, in 2007, anti-communist, very West German Germans acknowledged – and felt strongly – about the role of the Soviet Union in WWII, and wanted to make sure that the American in the room was schooled about it.

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        • According to the Soviet position throughout the Cold War, the notion that the Reich/Nazi policy “could work” was not in doubt. It was regarded as a great evil which threatened war and misery perpetually – not because it meant Germans (hsss!) would take over the planet in governing terms, but because it meant competing and colluding profiteers would corrupt and ruin anything they could govern, and systems like the Nazi one were not merely vulnerable to such people, they elevated and empowered them, as well as brainwashed their very victims. The Nazis were considered not as a unique pathology, but as the particular momentary excrescence of this more general problem.

          That position also held that the American policies toward the world – which they characterized as constant and almost-unbelievably over-powered military threat + ruinous trade-terms which skewed quality-of-life – were already corrupted by the very same influences and ideologies, and would go nowhere good very fast. The Soviet policy-makers therefore considered themselves still to be fighting WWII. I do not exaggerate.

          This position was widely derided in U.S. and western European education as the ravings of obvious madmen and woolly idealists, as the U.S. high-water mark of liberty, prosperity, and democracy was clear to anyone with eyes, and its contribution to such things worldwide was an act of unique historical altruism, in fact a fruition of developing political systems since the dawn of human history. I do not exaggerate here either.

          You may already have read George Kennan’s Long Telegram and “X” article. They shed some light on the topic.

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      • Holy mackerel. I was impressed when you took on The Watchmen and Chris Claremont X-Men in the same post. But the Wehrmacht?

        I feel like you literally just wrote “Day is night, white is black,” and did a mic drop.

        This is going to take some time to absorb.

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        • Don’t over-read me, though. I’m not saying “it was nothing,” or “nothing would have changed.” The Thirty Years War wasn’t nothing, either. I’m not denying that there was a war or that it and its associated ethnic cleansing hit shocking levels of overdrive.

          I’m criticizing certain very assertive, very abstract claims and beliefs like “the U.S. saved the world.” The associated belief – very powerful in the U.S. – is that war outcomes can be regarded at the same idealistic level, even synonymous with, democratic decisions, effectively referenda in a very naturalistic way.

          And I stress again, policy debates regarding U.S. actions in the 1930s and 1940s are literally history – they happened. The entire notion of casting it as a “we” question, or as a bottle question of ethics instead of a power-and-policy outcome, is broken as far as I’m concerned.

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  9. Part 6: Now for what I didn’t say, or rather, terms I didn’t mention. I’ll go term by term, feel free to discuss without waiting for the next one.

    Capitalism
    Wait, isn’t this the big villain of the piece? You’d think from someone who’s always linking to Counterpunch that it’d be the go-to. But I tend to look at it a little differently. What people mean by it these days, yes, is some awful shit, much of which I’ve mentioned already, not least among them the military-industrial complex in highly specific form. And what Marx in particular meant by it, OK, I get that too, and I note that it’s not exactly being repeated in pure textual form. What leads me to re-work my thinking about it was David Graeber’s Debt, a remarkable opus which I think everyone needs to run not walk to read.

    Briefly, this is really about who bears the risk for capital investment, a very narrow category, much more specific than “buying and selling.” The case study which really jumps out is the economic law which held roughly from 800-1500 among various states called Caliphates (not “the”), including al-Andalus. That law enforced that if you invested money in some venture, and it doesn’t pay off, then you’re the one who’s out of pocket. That’s right – not the borrower. So capitalism in the sense of investing capital, sure, but no debt consequence for the investee.

    The consequences of such practice are pretty phenomenal, but one of them seems to be – no war over commerce. (Wars among different Muslim power-groups concerned governance, i.e., who gets to tax a given area, and they never threatened sea trade, which I confess just boggles my mind.) Another seems to be a thriving businesss-y social class who don’t seem, all in all, to be bourgeois in the strict sense, and no finance bubbles.

    That’s why one of my motifs in this conversation has been bubble finance, austerity, rent extraction (which is now health extraction too), and debt peonage. Build an economy on these things, and “exploitation of workers” takes on a very real and toxic meaning which lends some strength to claims of inevitable collapse and inevitable revolt. Maybe not enough strength to support real inevitability, especially since that concept is nested in the 19th-century fetish for progress, but enough to matter for practical worrying. To get to the topic of this conversation, I am sufficiently pessimistic to throw out that fetish and conceive that yes, vicious oppression of this sort could be sustainable, and that Goebbels was really onto something toward that end. Like I suggested earlier, that Hitlerist fascism is the stupid flailing sort and Francoist fascism is the cunning long-lived sort … and if you can see a difference between these and, respectively, modern American neoconservatism and modern American neoliberalism, then you can see something I can’t.

    The book’s really big and concerns massive topics like slavery and banks through the entirety of recorded global history – I mean, as major concepts – to show both how common the state-and-bank-and-cash society is, and how it’s intimately related to debt slavery and perpetual war, but also that it’s a thing in the phenomenological sense which appeals to me as a scientist, a thing which isn’t just a node in some ineffable “process” or any teleological notions of society’s purposes or a purported sequence of societal developments.

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    • First off – I’m reading this as you saying “a thing to worry about for fascism (in the US or anywhere) isn’t Capitalism, but (many forms of) Debt.” I mean, not that you’re saying ONLY that, but let me know if I’m wrong in making that part of it.

      “Debt” was recommended to me some years back – when I considered it, I thought it looked very dense, and the criticism of its’ errors and lack of economic rigor seemed accurate (though not the resounding refutation of various pieces the critics seemed to be hoping for). Since I’m reading less nowadays than I used to, I didn’t bite – I’ll reconsider that.

      But given that I haven’t read it, and while I consider myself economics-informed I’m no economics expert … I’ll fall back on personal experience/reaction. How would you say your … non-debt capitalism(?) of 800-1500 Muslim polities compares to contemporary venture capital investments in tech (and other) startups? Are you familiar enough with that form of capital venture to offer an opinion? At my first glance, they look pretty similar – there’s (generally) no “debt” to the startup business, though there is some sort of loss of ownership. Now, when the capital interests of the investors conflict with the business/livelihood interests of owner/operator/employees, it can get quite nasty – though rarely (there are some ways) involving indebtedness. And I guess its gotta fit within the context of bubble finance somewhere, though I can’t tell if that’s a necessary aspect or just “as it turns out in this case.” One would imagine that an al-Andalus investment trend could fall prey to bubble phenomena as well.

      It’s funny how life creeps up on you … only in the last few years have I come to realize how HARD I’ve worked at not being a part of the standard economy (looking for corners where the fascism/ists can’t find me?) I’ve spent way more years self-employed (or self-under-employed, at times – in terms of income, if not effort) than not. Even some of my early regular employment was kinda-independent. The closest somewhat-exception was my long run at a tech startup, and I’ve not been able to decide how to characterize that. On the one hand, boy could you call it exploitative – incredibly long hours, but “you could get rich!” (emphasis on the could, and sigh, we didn’t). But I was paid well, was mostly outside the standard “corporate culture” of the time, and got to use computers to do interesting things.

      (I guess I’m treating this thread as just like the rest of blog, but instead of analysis/commentary, autobiography, and comics, it’s analysis/commentary, autobiography, and socio/politico-economics … given how much here is between you and Tor, I hope this isn’t a misstep.)

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      • I’m reading this as you saying “a thing to worry about for fascism (in the US or anywhere) isn’t Capitalism, but (many forms of) Debt.” I mean, not that you’re saying ONLY that, but let me know if I’m wrong in making that part of it.

        Regarding the term capitalism itself, my only point is not to make it a buzzword, or to assign it the power of a metaphysical force. I have also never quite grasped how it is an “ism” in historical rather than ideological terms, at least not as phrased by Friedmanites and self-designated Leftists alike. So: not a buzzword, not a metaphysical force, and that’s all I’m saying.

        Regarding venture capitalism of the 80s, and further talk about the al-Andalus and related commerce, I can only say, “Read up, read up,” and not claim expertise enough to lead a discussion about it.

        Regarding the autobiography, I know exactly what you mean. In my case the combination of educational/economic upward mobility (which didn’t go very far upward, economically), personal naivete, ethnicity (perhaps), and what I guess was unconscious ideological position, had a similar effect. I was 100% marginal in many ways, some of which do not bear repeating, and yet often right in the thick of important doings. Even getting a mortgage in 2002 didn’t change much – my wife and I handled that so carefully that pulling the rope to step away from it six months ago wasn’t very hard.

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  10. I’ve been discussing this thread with an American history professor friend of mine and he suggested Debt also, as a point of reference to the topic at hand. Guess it’s time to check it out.

    Re: Spione (because I can’t reply to that particular thread), I played with Jesse Burneko at Big Bad Con last year and it was pretty amazing though it also fried everyone’s brain. So, Gordon, if you can make it to Walnut Creek this October we’ll get a Spione/Shahida double header going and see what happens.

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    • Important: to continue a thread at this blog, when you hit the disappearance of the Reply button, just keep using the latest/deepest Reply prompt. It works fine.

      I get very upset talking about Spione, especially in re-reading threads like Jesse’s discussion of that play session, so let’s stop with that.

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    • I will defer to your prof friend (with some relief) and ask you to ask him about: the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the U.S. Federal Reserve. I stress that I am only talking about what they are and do, as available from any knowledgeable source, not any front-loaded value judgments or alleged shadowy whatnot – it’s simply important information to know about the world we live in.

      (Good references: the trilogy by Chalmers Johnson: Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, Nemesis)

      Some additional domestic details: personal credit cards, as we know them, were introduced tentatively in 1958, and became widely available around 1980-81. See also the interesting nature of the personal mortgage.

      (Good if topic-specialized references: Irwin Black’s The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, Neil Barofsky’s Bailout)

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  11. Continuing with Part 6:

    Freedom and/or liberty
    I’ll dip into one of my favorite books, Colin Woodard’s American Nations, which is much more historical and rigorous than any on-line summary I’ve seen has conveyed. The idea is more than the usual, “gee, parts of the U.S. sure are different,” identifying (I am convinced) genuine political blocs which operate as nations in the classic sense. This may confuse U.S. people (as it did me), because to everyone else in the world, that term is emphatically not synonymous with “state,” such that “nation-state” is not a redundant term at all. And by “operate as nations,” I mean, very concrete joint action that’s often antagonistic to neighbors and bolsters internal power-structures and mores.

    Woodard’s re-casting of the Revolutionary War and Civil War in these terms is … revelatory.

    If true, how his thesis relates to the otherwise-meaningless designations of borders and named states (“California,” “United States of America”) mainly concerns budgets. If a state budget, then how it can suborned from other nations which happen to be included in that state; if a federally-originated budget, how to get those funds channeled toward the nation’s power-brokers’ ends rather than anyone else’s.

    I’ve found the concept especially useful to understand long-running, often bafflingly policy blockades in U.S. history – it turns out that when state votes and ratification count the most, states who are really battle-grounds among the nations turn out to be the hitch-up points. Same goes for the swing states in federal elections. I’ve also found that when people describe themselves in terms of commonly-designated regions, e.g., The South, they always draw circles-and-arrows in the air to try to explain what they really mean, and Woodard’s breakdown accurately lays out what’s intended in my experience of listening to such explanations.

    Anyway, I’m not getting to the point in this case, am I. Woodard thinks that the terms “freedom” and “liberty” differ profoundly in meaning from nation to nation, as well as from one another. It’s related to his point that people in each nation, believing in “the United States of America” as they do, feel strongly that they are the real Americans and everyone else is obviously a little confused.

    Most coarsely, “freedom” has more to do with speaking your mind and “liberty” has more to do with not being regulated about your property. But how that relates to “government” is really, really messy, and even more so when slavery gets mentioned – either the latter is completely shuttered off from any such talk because it obviously doesn’t count (try talking to someone about modern prison labor some time …) or it’s turned into a weird ideal concerning people who live very far away, and isn’t intended to apply to people nearby. Now take all of that and put them into spinners based on each nation’s history and resulting mores, and what emerges isn’t a gestalt or synthesis of the best of each, but a Tower of Babel.

    Cold War unity, or rather the appearance thereof, makes it worse – it kicks the Tower over, even. What are we to make of the phrasing, “The world cannot exist half slave and half free,” when endorsed by the patriotic Deep South? What am I to make of my long-standing observation that people living in places considered far more repressive than the U.S. are much more extensive and accurate in their bitching about their homeplaces’ shortcomings than we are?

    At this point in my life I am convinced there is no merit to either word without extensive clarification in precise policy terms. I’d be just as happy talking about an issue of the moment and figuring out what to do about it without any reference to either. H’m – I bet I didn’t make that case very well. Let me try once more.

    Let’s go back to historical fascism. I have no beef with the notion that whatever freedom and liberty may be, Jewish people, Romani, communists, gay people, and a plethora of others run afoul of the fasces in Germany, Poland, and parts east certainly had nothing of the sort during the 1930s and 1940s because they were being murdered. But you see my point here, I hope, that because they were being murdered, they didn’t have lack of those things either … they didn’t have the life in which to investigate possession/lack thereof. I’m interested in what freedom and liberty are when people are alive, working, feeling like at least a part of the society they’re in, with hopes for their children and friends.

    So, the useful comparisons then turn to Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, and because they count too, the DDR and similar cultures under nominal “actual existing socialism.” They have plenty in common: they’re police states, and the police as well as the military and media are badly corrupted by the security establishment (political police, to use the technical term; they’re not “secret” by a long shot). If you live in terror of someone finking on you, or of losing your job, or of losing your health due to a beating or some contrived fuck-up of your health care, all because of what you say … if your current livelihood and ability to change it is distorted into unique shapes due to some designation … well, that’s when I get interested in what freedom and liberty are.

    And that’s when I start getting real obnoxious about “home of the free” and start sounding like a real West Coast hippy without a shred of parody (remember, I come by that stuff honestly, not through movies). It doesn’t matter that it was worse in Chile than it was for me; it’s bad enough for lots and lots of people in the U.S. for me to swing that way. It’s from this perspective that my “no merit” comes. I hope it makes a bit of sense.

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    • In my mind, Iris DeMents’ “Wasteland of the Free” is playing as I read this one.

      I too could maunder on, bring in “American Exceptionalism”, say “If so, not what YOU think it is,” but really … I think I’ll just listen to the song play in my mind, now, and actually play it, loud, soon.

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  12. Freedom and liberty, part 2

    One more bit on this topic: the Constitution and/or the Founders or Framers or whatever we call those guys. It may strike you as a character flaw, but (i) what’s one more upon the zoo of them I’ve revealed in this blog so far, and (ii) we’re all friends here except for everyone who isn’t, so … I kind of don’t give a shit.

    That has two parts. First, that originalism isn’t part of my framework of analysis or even interest. For example, I’m fascinated by the origins of new religions during the 1st century C.E., but it’s not because I think finding “the historical Jesus” would finally teach all what Christianity is supposed to be. Same with this too.

    Therefore, yes, I do want to know what Jefferson said about this-or-that, or what whoever the guy from Alabama said about it too, and I’m as interested in Ben Franklin’s sexual escapades as anyone (meaning everyone). I think knowing the sequence of events from 1770-1789 in exquisite detail is important as hell, let alone the larger contexts of such things as the French and Indian War, or the global slave trade and its related items of commerce. But it’s not because I want to winkle out what these few guys with pens really meant in order either to say “see, there it is!” for present policy, or to say, “see, they were assholes, it’s all a big fib.” That’s what you get with the historical Jesus discussion as well as with this one – people are turning to originalism just so they can capitalize their own personal Yea or Nay about issues right now.

    Second, and probably more difficult, is that I reject the notion of evolving societies, specifically in the Spencerist sense that we struggled “up” from the animals, and now that we’re people, we struggle “up” from savagery,” then “up” from monarchy to proto-democracy, and now “up” to some sort of perfected democracy. Progressives and industrialists and supremacists alike all agree on this at a very deep level, and I step away from all of it.

    (If by “evolving,” you mean “changes in composition and type based on historical contingencies,” which is what I mean by it, as an evolutionary biologist, then sure. But no one means that except us evolutionary biologists, not even most other biologists.)

    How that relates here, is that I don’t see any giant march to more and more free, more and more liberated, more and more just, more and more happy, more and more prosperous, more and more any fucking thing regarding human history, except obviously, more people. I see no Ascent of Man.

    However, nor do I take the lazy way from there and mope about saying, “they all suck, we all suck, it all sucks, whine whine,” but that’s another issue. The point here is that whatever we want to designate freedom and liberty, and presumably, or at least in my case, want to see more of and to see it preserved for our children … well, there’s some of that in any given society, ranging from precious little to quite a lot. I’ll venture that a wide range is and has been globally observable at pretty much any time. I’ll venture too that if you want any, you’ll need to fight for it rather than rely on any “arcs.”

    [I edited out a paragraph that didn’t work, and fixed another thing or two. All changes are in brackets.]

    [I suggest that we aren’t very good at observing quality of life, personal contentment, and – struggling for the right words – social redress of wrongs, outside of our frameworks of exceptionalism and progress. There may be a deep-seated conflict at work between insisting how awesome we are and experiencing dissatisfaction. From there, I suggest that my phrasing above about “fighting for it” is evidence of this conflict.]

    It’s hard to see [good, happiness, success, justice, political inclusion, in anything but 20th century explicitly-U.S.-allied economic terms], because (i) we have a terrible time separating income, and position in terms of income inequality, from any other aspect of the quality of life. Because (ii) European and North American narcissism elevates rather grubby local doings into universal, nigh-cosmic steps in a purported process, overlooking the lucky strike of grabbing the Americas to exploit as more important than any such process. Because (iii) we refuse to acknowledge voting here, there, and everywhere throughout just about any society you can name, as “democracy.”

    Anyway, I may be maundering now, as aging men will. Tor, let me know if there’s some other term you think I’ve left out or that deserves clarification in the context of this conversation. Please let your prof friend know that he’s welcome to post here too.

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    • Damn, guess I can’t resist a bit of my own maundering, and pointing at other people and their books. I heard Joan C. Williams interviewed on the radio (NPR, probably) a while back, and put her “White Working Class” on my list to read. “Their dream is not to join the upper middle class, with its different culture, but to stay true to their own values in their own communities–just with more money.” A bookblurb I just found, that captures a bit of what struck me in the interview.

      I haven’t gotten the book yet – nor thoroughly read American Nations, though I do have it and have skimmed it. But hearing Williams – and in particular her arguments as to why such an attitude has sensible economic and psychological roots – seemed like … recognizing a different nation. A different view of freedom and liberty, a different pursuit of happiness. In this case, not one particularly alien to me, but also not one I’m really in touch with.

      Full maunder: the America I’m interested in is all about making various nations work together, in the face of “concrete joint action that’s often antagonistic to neighbors” and Babel-towers, kicked-over or not. But damn, we’re doing a piss-poor job of late, and haven’t ever done as well as we’d like to think, even without considering the Great Big Failures (slavery and native genocide, for starters). It’s a bloody difficult task, but given the advantages those historical contingencies have provided, we damned well OUGHT to be tackling it.

      Ron – not giving a shit (about the Founders et al) might be seen as a character flaw, but what you seem to be really saying is you reject originalism and the Ascent of Man. Since I’m 100% with you on originalism, and quibble on the Ascent only by adding “maybe, if we work at it”, I hope those aren’t character flaws. In fact, I think a lot of folks either already agree or can be convinced that deification of the Founders et al isn’t the point, the point is making that shit matter somehow – and if you can’t, it’s not worth bothering with.

      Finally – I’d look at reconciliation of the conflict between “insisting we’re awesome” and “experiencing dissatisfaction” as simply … necessary. Just as legit self-esteem can NOT obviate the need for self-improvement. . Certainly I personally haven’t focused my life on bringing my designation of freedom and liberty to America, or the world, but following your “you’ll need to fight for it” and no “whine whine”: so we’ve gotta fight for it, personally and generally. Boo hoo, poor us. I mean, a certain respect for the difficulty is wise, and let’s allow that we and others will sometimes fail, either in the fight or to fight at all. But in the end, OK, we find places and ways to fight, for ourselves and others, to whatever degree we manage. That’s how it works, right?

      And really, as I read all this pointing at fascist behavior in America, rejecting originalism, heck, Comics Madness generally – it’s part of the fight, right?

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      • I’d like to distinguish between:

        – striving to improve one’s living/society situation (at whatever scale) in terms of a perceived historical arc or (more likely) ladder, according to the arc or ladder of one’s preference.

        – striving to change one’s living/society situation (at whatever scale) in pure experiential and historically local terms, according to how one thinks it ought to be changed

        Note how moral the first one is, regardless of how cynical or self-serving one may be individually. Upon analysis, despite sputtering, a person is forced to state the socio-political, allegedly scientific, and/or cosmic arc of history that the effort is representing.

        Note how amoral the second one is, regardless of how justified or righteous one may feel individually. Upon analysis, despite sputtering, a person is forced to own his or her plain old desires for how things should be.

        The second one makes a lot of sense to me. It requires a certain … admission, perhaps, or even existential snarl, that “yeah, fuckin’ make me,” is an operative principle in human affairs. And whatever happens this time, it doesn’t advance or set back anything … the future will have to take care of itself, just as we’re doing in the present.

        The first is, I’m afraid, culturally and psychologically opaque to me. Radicals, progressives, mainstream participants, subverters, and whatever spin one puts on it, I can’t see it as anything but blither. At best, I say, “Go you,” and “So what are you really doing.”

        Woodard’s breakdown, even though he doesn’t put it quite this philosophically, distinguishes sharply between Yankeedom vs. Left Coast activism in ways that match this distinction.

        Based on his descriptions, I venture that the former focuses on a responsibility to history and employs (even relishes) shame and censure. I venture that the latter focuses on anarchic, “let’s try it” experimentation, and is notably shameless in many meanings of the word.

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        • My reaction: that makes sense, and while my back goes up a bit at what I’d call the SIGNIFICANT nuances such a distinction glosses over … it is the nature of distinctions to gloss over nuances, and I wouldn’t attack it fundamentally. If I strongly identified with your 1st case, maybe that’d be harder. I’m not sure that your pitching my response as characteristic of the 2nd case, but it wasn’t intended as such. I’d LIKE it if the changes I’m in favor of improve the future, but more likely (before too long) not – certainly imagining that they necessarily will strikes me as delusional.

          I do LIKE finding things, from anywhere historical (prehistory, ancient Greece, the Founders), that I think are good to persist. But fundamentally, Yankeedom activism as characterized does strike me as … ungrounded (or maybe better, inaccurately imagines itself grounded). Perhaps there’s a New Amsterdam activism I should consider? (Where did I put that book …) Not that there’s anything wrong with the Left Coast (it’s been home for quite a while now).

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        • Correction – should be “pitching my response as characteristic of THAT 1ST CASE”

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        • It seems like you guys are beating around the bush: is anyone actually defending the ladder theory of improvement on this blog?

          Also, worth noting (and since Gordon has tipped his hand as a philanthropist, why not), it’s most definitely the ladder theory of improvement that provides the moral justification for Development. Which, as I think I made clear, is not a good thing in my mind.

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        • “is anyone actually defending the ladder theory of improvement on this blog?” No, clearly not – but many, many people do, so no problem by me that Ron highlighted it. And my “maybe, if we work at it” nuance to the Ascent can creep in here, and needs to be watched carefully.

          “tipped his hand as a philanthropist” Have I? Am I? Real questions, if mostly for myself.

          You may have put your finger on what brought me to this thread, or at least why I’ve typed so much … my own current cruxes, my right time/right place.

          I mean, being on the board – there’s no pay, no perks. I (and others) just help my friend and his remaining family try and be smart (in a “should we help them try it?” way) with how he spends the money his dad left him (peanuts, by most foundation standards, but enough). Work load is OCCASIONALLY intense, when we review proposals, but outside that – at most an hour or two a week.

          But now add in that my (low – because, I’ve read, there’s an economic law* that the more people your work might help, the lower your compensation) pay the last few years comes from working on software and data for a non-profit affordable housing organization. Have I stumbled into being some sort of “do-gooder”? Do I want to continue that trend? Am I insulated from the emotional impact of how ugly some things in America have been/are getting by the fact that I can take refuge in “well, I’m trying to make things better!” If so, is that so bad?

          Again, real questions, mostly for myself (though hey, opinions welcome). I’ve got some thinking to do on this one, to see if it ties in to the subject at hand. I’ll go ahead and venture (maybeMaybeMAYBE) – “how can the U.S. be fascist when I’M doing THIS?”

          *OK, not a law – a cynical but often-accurate view.

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        • Hi Gordon, I think you nailed it.

          “how can the U.S. be fascist when I’M doing THIS?”

          Obviously I will not presume to answer or reflect upon this question for you, but looking elsewhere, I do think phrasing it as a rebuttal – “No, the U.S. is no way fascist, Edwards, you crank! I’m [we’re] good people, I did this, we did that, we’re trying to do good!” – is a widespread response I’ve received to these views in other conversations.

          My thought? Plenty of Germans and other people subject to fascist regimes hid targeted individuals and saved their lives. Plenty of them rebelled and were imprisoned and punished across a wide range of severity. Plenty of them spoke out internationally, and plenty of them tried to organize networks of alliances. Crucially, lots and lots of them iived in a state of mild resistance, giving lip service to loyalty and the fasces, reserving counter-action for mild or small ongoing aspects of life within that framework, or for designated spheres of (real) activism that were tolerated by the regime.

          None of that made the regime itself any less fascist in the most savage and despicable sense of the term.

          Tor – this ties to your original inquiry. The paragraph in my original post which you initially responded to is based on my disdain for invoking fascism relative to Trump’s presidency. My response to that invocation – usually kept to myself – is, “we are long past that door, and I didn’t see you complaining then.”

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        • This idea that what I’m doing with my life in particular right now is meaningfully a reaction to U.S. socio-politics generally (rather than fully the consequence of personal circumstance and decisions connected to … other stuff) is brand-new here. I think I need to spend more time than this thread will remain active before I know even what *I* think about it. So what to say?

          I can translate the “Edwards, you crank!” rant into “Edwards, maybe give more weight to [x,y,z] good thing!” But … “in *no* way fascist”? Um, all I’ve got is “dumbfounded.”

          Ron – I remember the Forge booth one year, you said something about being irritated by the booth across the way, selling kinda righty/kitschy shirts, posters, doodads. I responded with some sort of “well, you know – free speech is for everyone” shrug. But I was irritated too, and it’s clear now you’d have welcomed my freely saying so – so now I am, whatever decade-ish later it is.

          Tor – I just realized, we played a session of “Shadows in the Fog” together at John Kim’s, didn’t we? Seems so long ago …

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      • I ought be done here, let Tor and Ron wind it up, great stuff, educational, personal insights – and for a bit, some areas of life have been/are calling for major time/energy. But one idea just won’t go away, so …

        I’ve got two thoughts on “dissent” – a word you mentioned, Ron, but – hell, let me just express the somewhat (at least) contradictory thoughts:

        1) When I look at the variety and breadth of dissent I see here in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine the same going EVER un-brutalized in any of the agreed-fascist regimes. Sure, as Ron pointed to, there’s dissent even there – and there’s not an utter LACK of brutalization here – but seeing the dissent we DO have leaves me a bit hopeful. More than a bit, on a good day (which, admittedly, are becoming rarer).

        2) On the other hand, I sometimes think dissent here goes un-brutalized (when it does) because the power-players have gotten so damn GOOD at blunting, co-opting, and rendering it moot WITHOUT brutality, they don’t always need to go that route. Even accepting that everyone’s line may differ, the ability to distract from even LOOKING for the line (especially effective with those not particularly INCLINED to look) seems … scary-good nowadays. So that scares me.

        And … maybe that’s all I’ve got. Certainly I don’t think I’m going to reconcile those two thoughts anytime soon.

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        • Ron said “Tor – this ties to your original inquiry. The paragraph in my original post which you initially responded to is based on my disdain for invoking fascism relative to Trump’s presidency. My response to that invocation – usually kept to myself – is, “we are long past that door, and I didn’t see you complaining then.”

          Yeah. I’ll take that. I think it was something of the answer I was looking for when I came here.

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        • Gordon said: “1) When I look at the variety and breadth of dissent I see here in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine the same going EVER un-brutalized in any of the agreed-fascist regimes. Sure, as Ron pointed to, there’s dissent even there – and there’s not an utter LACK of brutalization here – but seeing the dissent we DO have leaves me a bit hopeful. More than a bit, on a good day (which, admittedly, are becoming rarer).”

          Well, okay, how about this. Most of the dissent is swallowed and subverted into a Democrats vs. Republicans thing, or a Russia thing, or Trump is an idiot thing. Which, like, ends up not really being dissent.

          For example, last week The Intercept came out with a story about Jared Kushner helping to push the embargo on Qatar because a wealthy businessman there refused to give him a loan for half a billion dollars (https://theintercept.com/2017/07/10/jared-kushner-tried-and-failed-to-get-a-half-billion-dollar-bailout-from-qatar/?comments=1#comments). The story came out on July 10, and didn’t even make it into the New York Times or Washington Post (correct me if you can find something). Instead, they were covering Donald Jr. and the Russians: the top five stories on the Post were about the fallout from his meeting with the Russian lawyer.

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        • More of my negativity may not be called for, considering that opening these questions for oneself is more than anyone else can reasonably expect.

          To add to Tor’s example, Trump’s Red Line. The NYT refused to run it; they’ve been refusing Hersh’s work for almost a decade. He published The Redirection in The New Yorker and has been published mainly in the UK since, but even those venues rejected this one. It received no, zilch follow-up in the U.S. news cycle.

          My own view is that seeing every nominal dissent effort, Code Pink, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and even Democracy Now (that one rattled me) successfully muzzled and turned into tailspins, seeing what I consider to be utterly centrist commentary called “critique” or “dissent” (e.g. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver; i.e., reinforcing prejudices about the nominal debates is fine, just not actual policy debates), and seeing what I consider to be appalling violence applied toward instilling fear, is plenty.

          “Just obey the officer and do whatever he or she says, don’t make eye contact, don’t refer to the officer directly or to the law, in fact don’t say anything but ‘yes sir,’ don’t reach for your ID or anything else …”

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        • I feel like my “on the other hand” got ignored here, and it applies whole-heartedly to my responses below. But I’ll give a bit of my perspective on the subjects mentioned, with complete understanding that we’re not going to sort through it here.

          I did do some research on the Khan Sheikhoun attack at the time. Based on that (non-professional, non-extensive), Hersh’s article (which I read just now) strikes me as some good points mixed with pure speculation and wrapped up in really bad journalism – no surprise from me that NYT or others wouldn’t publish it. Which (to get explicit with my “on the other hand”) is not to say journalistic coverage of the attack, the reprisal, what that means in general geopolitically or about Trump and his administration in particular was good, either.

          I did hear (NPR?) about Kushner/Qatar. Since I was already aware of the Trump Tower Baku project, which can really only be explained as part of a HUGE money-laundering operation by the ““The Corleones of the Caspian”, I confess to a shrug upon hearing it. That our current president and his family are corrupt in ways beyond even the already-existing corruption has always seemed obvious to me. I doubt Kushner/Qatar was/is the story that would get traction in convincing the unconvinced people of that (those who can be convinced, anyway), but sure, it’d be nice to see it tried.

          One more thing I’ll say – I was probably already leaning towards the belief that dealing with Trump as an exception wasn’t sufficient. If nothing else, Ron’s left me VERY convinced that it is in fact a big mistake to approach it that way. Not that MY thought has huge impact, but I will go forward in life having it, anyway.

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        • I don’t think either Tor is or I am ignoring it but rather agreeing with it, … and when a discussion hits this level of backtracking to clarify such points, it’s a clear signal to let this sub-thread end.

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        • Given the topic, I’m tempted to say “Oh, yeah? Clear signal to WHO?!” But … I agree. And it’s your blog, anyway.

          Again, thanks!

          Like

  13. Okay, maybe it’s time I write something about why I’m dragging Ron (and now Gordon, sorry Gordon) through this process, because believe me, it’s more than just an academic exercise. If you haven’t guessed by now, this has been a significant conversation for me, probably in part ‘right time/right place’ (meaning 8 months after the presidential election pulled me into my first real engagement with American politics in, maybe forever), but also as a way to put into words something I’ve been trying to articulate for years.

    Part 1 (yeah, I’m doing this in parts, if Ron can, so can I)

    Like Ron, I grew up in Northern California, but — prepare yourselves for a hippy pissing contest — off the grid, in the mountains, and on a piece of land that, while I’m not sure that I can call it a commune, I’d also have a hard time saying it wasn’t one. That meant 100 acres of forest communally owned by four families, a set of by-laws, meetings, and perhaps more than anything else, a sense that, well, private property lines were blurry. We had fences, because of deer, but walking through someone’s yard to get to, say, the pond, if that was the fastest way to do so, meant that you opened their gate, walked through their yard, and out the gate on the other side. Borrowing food items was equally casual: if we needed something and our neighbors weren’t home to fetch it out for us, it wasn’t unusual to let ourselves in to their house and borrow it (not that every family on the land participated in the same way in this arrangement. Two of the more private families in the commune built their houses a bit farther away than the rest, and the result was that day to day interactions with those folks were a fraction of what they were with the two households that were closer. Also, over time, I’ve watched attitudes on the commune change: I don’t walk through people’s yards anymore, and if I need to borrow something I’ll call first, and if they’re not home, then I’ll probably go to the store. That said, to this day I remain extremely close with one of those families (like, day to day interaction on both social and economic levels), fairly close with another, occasionally chat with the third, and interact with the fourth, a new family to the neighborhood, primarily through their son who does odd jobs around my woodshop twice a week).

    Hopefully it will become clear later on why I’m going into this background here.

    Fast forward to senior year in high school, and I’m studying abroad living in a suburb outside of Madrid, Spain. The family I’ve been placed with are political exiles from Argentina, and towards the end of the year, sitting at the kitchen table my Argentinian ‘mother’, starts to tell me stories about how, one by one, all of her friends had been disappeared before she fled the country. She describes one of the methods of torture that was favored by the military at the time (which I won’t repeat here), and the image is so graphic I can still recall her exact words, in Spanish, to this day, 20 years later. A month later my Argentinian mother is caught in a conundrum: our family has been invited to a dinner party at a friend’s, but she doesn’t know if she will be able to attend. The hostess is married to a retired, career spook. “I hold the CIA responsible for the deaths of my friends and family,” she tells me. I have absolutely no idea what to make of this, but her tone is so quiet, so sincere, that it opens a door I have not been able to close since.

    (As an aside, it’s a couple years later when I’m a junior at Grinnell College in Iowa, that I bump into a fellow named Ron Edwards on this awkwardly named site called Hephaestus’ Forge. For the first time I’ve found somebody who A) takes role-playing gams as seriously as I think they should be taken and B) is able to put into eloquent words the thing that I have been searching for since I first cracked open red box D&D in 1989; a style of play that focuses on the creation of story during play as the purpose of play, something strange called ‘Narrativism’).

    Next up I’ll talk about my political awakening, as I travel to Uganda and get exposed to my first real dose of institutionalized oppression and racism, and how growing up in the woods helped me to make sense of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely know the life-style upbringing. Mine was a little different, but a fair amount of it overlapped into the communities you’re describing. Our beatnik and activist acquaintance profile overlaps, maybe not 1:1, but with no more than a single degree of separation.

      The only input I have for this part is to mention – as noted here at the blog, piecemeal – that I “went dark” about politics and any cultural, position-based dialogue from about 1990 through about 2005. It began absolutely based on the outcome of the Iran-Contra investigation (see Ollie Ollie oxen free and ended when I was (i) really getting going on Spione and (ii) found out how badly some fellow faculty were being harassed by Homeland Security. I was in a state of mind I would later learn characterized many East Germans – basically zero faith in any institution in my society, without hope for improvement at any but the absolutely most immediate level, determined to maintain a shred of personal dignity, working like a bastard at something I could live with doing, not even bothering to say my views, trusting hardly anyone (actually no one) with my judgments on policy and society.

      Therefore when we met, first on-line and then when your dad and you kindly invited me to dinner when you were in Chicago, we didn’t realize how extensive the overlap was. I would certainly have been more squee-ish over building Gary Snyder’s house, for example. I think I recall talking about camping, but not how specific I was about the Trinity Alps. So let me belatedly say how much I would have, or should have, been more appreciative and more explicit about actually knowing the world you’re talking about now.

      Like

      • Yeah, my grandmother spent time in Monterrey (family legend has it she dated Ed Ricketts, never confirmed that one), before settling in Mill Valley. Lots of fun stories from there, Merry Prankster parties, possibly a guest appearance in “Dharma Bums,” before moving up to the area where my parents homesteaded in the foothills.

        I know you’ve done some stuff on comix, I don’t think I’ve read it yet, but how about this: I was introduced to the original Zap series, and Robert Crumb in particular, by my maternal grandfather (a veteran of Iwo Jima, and still kicking at 94). I’ll see if I can dig up the drawing Crumb did of grandpa’s office staff for a work anniversary back in the… 60s? My grandpa was also our Gary Snyder connection: they went to Reed College together (grandpa was older and attending school on the G.I. bill) and stayed friends, so that when Gary bought his land up here and brought my dad up to help build his house, my grandparents followed shortly after because the mountains seemed like the cool place to be at the time.

        And… ah, man. I just clicked through your link and read about Shafi. That’s awful. Growing up Reagan was the political boogey man. I got in trouble in third grade because I tried to defend Gorbachev and wouldn’t praise Reagan. And I can still remember my mom trying to explain Iran-Contra to me: “He just lied, and lied, and lied,” and “and when they asked him questions he would just say that he forgot.” I definitely did not understand at the time. I still barely do.

        Like

  14. Part 2

    I live and work for about 8 years after college, moving about, as post-college students sometimes do, and then, bored and a bit lost, take a friend up on an offer to assist on a humanitarian project in Uganda. This is the first big awakening for me, and boy does it hurt like a mother.

    On the ground in rural Uganda what I find is the exact opposite of what people back home are saying. The narrative that is selling people from my hometown to travel to Uganda and ‘help’ out, the one literally plastered across the front page of my home town newspaper, is along the lines of “the Ugandan locals are caught up in a world that is ‘modernizing’ too fast for them, and they need help adapting” (I am vastly oversimplifying the overall story here, but not this particular message). The reality, as I soon discovered, was far, far more horrific.

    What I find waiting for me in Uganda is a situation birthed from the horror show of British colonialism, and kept alive by the direct descendants of that system, a web of NGOs, the World Bank, and the IMF (no need for me to ask my history prof friend about what those organizations do), better known by their euphemistic alias, “Development.”

    My immersion in Development happens almost immediately, and without the protective blinders that my fellow American volunteers seem unable to remove. For this I give two reasons.

    First, my childhood running around barefoot in the woods, bathing in the kitchen sink, and lighting the house with kerosene lamps meant that when I saw Africans living in much the same way my response is not an immediate, knee-jerk gasp of horror that they are living in ‘such conditions’ (a response that was the first step in a complicated process through which visiting Westerners would begin to dehumanize the Ugandans), but instead more along the lines of ‘cool, that’s sort of how I grew up’ (and to head off complaints, I’m not saying that my level of privilege somehow compared to that of the Ugandans we were working with: it didn’t. My point is simply that my immediate, visceral response to seeing a bare-foot child was not shock and horror, as was the case with many other Westerners).

    Second, growing up where I did (the foothills of the Sierra Nevada), in the family I did (both my mother’s parents were serious beatniks and good leftists), meant that I had been taught to never take authority at its word (or, more simply put, my mom taught me to ‘question authority,’ a phrase now so co-opted by mass marketing it leaves me stunned). This meant that when the ‘good Christian doctor’ running the show (who delighted in the Ugandans calling him “White Father,” I shit you not) told me that the biggest problem of the tribe we were working with was their inability to adapt culturally, my first response was, “Really? I mean, really??” whereas the other volunteers would nod solemnly in agreement and go about their day.

    Over the course of the next four months in Uganda I run into two sources that help me make sense of what’s going on. The first is the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. What particularly stands out for me in his account is the story he tells about the wife of his new master, a woman being exposed to slavery for the first time. Douglass recalls the woman as initially being kind to him and the other slaves, but over time she becomes hardened and cruel, eventually turning into an unrecognizable version of her former self. His point: the institution of slavery warps both the slave and the master, as each plays their necessary, appointed role (I’m reminded of Ron’s observations about being called “boss” for the first time and his reaction to that). Douglass’ description matches perfectly with a phenomenon that I’m able to observe first hand in Uganda, and that hitherto had seemed mysterious and bizarre. Men and women who back in the States we call “good people” arrive in Uganda and quickly fall into deeply racist, paternalistic roles when interacting with the Ugandans. Then, as a learned survival tactic, the Ugandans play the expected part (‘happy savage,’ ‘suffering native,’ take your pick). The more I become attuned to this phenomenon, the deeper I realize that it goes, and the more horrifying examples I am witness to (friends of mine, Ugandans in their 50s and 60s, dressing up in skins and hunting a pig for a camera crew in exchange for pocket change that they will spend on cheap banana liquor is one low point).

    The second source I read at this time that helps me understand what is going on in Uganda is American Pictures, by Danish-born photographer and writer Jacob Holdt. Holy shit. I had never seen matched anywhere else the rage, pain, sorrow, suffering, hypocrisy, and sheer, beautiful, tenuous humanity that Holdt captures in his writing and photographs as he hitchhikes through impoverished, mostly black but sometimes poor-white, America. Holdt is the first one to introduce me to the idea that slavery is a living, breathing beast in America still, and to the idea that power and oppression are blind, hypocritical tyrants, often perfectly exposed to those on the bottom, but frequently invisible to those on the top looking down.

    It was Holdt’s notions about power and oppression that give me the critical framework to evaluate what I’m seeing first hand as part of my day to day life in Uganda, and to begin to grasp how and why ‘good people’ from back in the States are buying into a paternalistic, racist view of the Ugandans they are supposed to be helping.

    Over the next two years I watch how these well-intentioned, good people work relentlessly to keep the Ugandan tribe we are trying to help locked into poverty and ignorance, all the while stridently claiming that they are trying to do just the opposite (and actually believing themselves, as well). I finish my work in Uganda deeply, deeply shaken, and with a sense of hopelessness and cynicism that I have yet to completely shake.

    That’s most of the background that led me to this conversation. I may or may not do a Part 3 based on the conversation that happens next.

    Like

    • My apologies for the possible patronizing aspects of my earlier suggestion to learn about Development.

      I’m agreeing with you on all fronts in this post. I think the same phenomena apply to how quite a lot of Americans get characterized and institutionally treated as well, specifically both white and black.

      Like

    • Tor –

      I’ve already had my “man, I’m just a typical suburban white guy*, getting into stuff with a real, legit hippy” moments with Ron, but you’re bringing it all back. I’m going to try and just set that aside and say I’m interested in part 3. I’m incredibly glad you got Ron to pursue this, and glad Ron pointed back to it with an invitation (I hope I read that right) for others to join in.

      Also – in consequence of the asterisk below, and despite my … adequate if precarious and not-currently prosperous personal status, I sit on the board of a high-school buddy’s small family non-profit that makes <$15,000 grants, sometimes internationally. They've sent money to Uganda in the past (http://www.experienceeducate.org/), and the kind of thing you talk about scares me every time I consider organizations working in that part of the world (or anywhere, really, but I'm a little more comfortable with my judgements here in the U.S.) My email MIGHT be visible already, but if not, gordonclandis is at that yahoo.com – let me know if it'd be OK to contact you for opinions/input on any Africa-based proposal we get in our next funding cycle (which will be starting up in September).

      This is one of the few ways I currently feel I might have small impacts in the world at large, but I'm reluctant to use Ron's blog as "publicity" (not that the foundation seeks that – they always get WAY more proposals than they could possibly fund), so I'll leave it at that.

      *It's both worse and more complicated than that – I grew up in one of the richest, most privileged towns in the country, and thus the world. But within that context, my family was – I'll be lazy and say "lower-middle class", and given that, in that town, plus the times, my personal path, and how CLOSE things are on the East Coast – I feel like I MAY have avoided being entirely in that bubble.

      Like

  15. Ron said “I guess I should have said, if there’s a who’s-the-most match, you win, I’m OK with that”

    These days I’ll take my wins where I can get them.

    Read both the linked posts, good stuff. Got a wry chuckle out of realizing that there must have been entire generations of us getting exposed to S. Clay Wilson way too young.

    Is there anything else we need to cover in this fascism conversation? Any questions that I should have asked? Anything else I can answer about why I was asking?

    Like

    • I’d like to know what your initial internal response was upon reading the paragraph you responded to. It may have been neutral or “dunno” enough not actually to be a position, but it may have been a stronger Yea or Nay that you kept close to the vest for purposes of keeping my response unbiased by it.

      Now, after all this tippity-typing, I’m curious to know which, and also to know how this conversation and its ripples into, apparently, many more are affecting that initial response.

      Finally, I’d like to know what some of the other people you’ve spoken with have said, especially concerning some of my points or claims that struck you hard. A couple that stand out in my mind are (i) Jaspers’ notion of the vulnerable and toxic center-coalition and (ii) what I said about the Wehrmacht, and by extension, fascist military action.

      Like

      • Hey Ron,

        Yes. I can and will respond to all those points. Give me another day to put my thoughts together.

        Best,

        Tor

        Like

      • Ron said: “I’d like to know what your initial internal response was upon reading the paragraph you responded to. It may have been neutral or “dunno” enough not actually to be a position, but it may have been a stronger Yea or Nay that you kept close to the vest for purposes of keeping my response unbiased by it.”

        Okay, a confession. I didn’t stumble across that paragraph. I searched for it. More specifically, I did a site specific search on your blog for “Trump” and was impressed—but not surprised because I’ve been paying attention—that the word only popped up twice. I touched on my reasons for why I was interested in your thoughts (or lack thereof) on the current presidential administration in my comments waaaaay back up at the top of this discussion and I won’t repeat them here, but I will talk about where I stood coming into the conversation.

        A lot of this was covered in my two autobiographical comments above, but I realized that I left out the key point, which was how my trip to Uganda ended (this should also be of interest to Gordon). On a local level, I stumbled on a nasty bit of corruption: members of the dominant local tribe, the Bakiga, were using the indigenous tribe I was working with, the Batwa, as a way to lever money out of Western donors. If it were simply a case of individuals on the ground pocketing money intended for other uses, I could have shrugged it off: the American money was getting divvied up on the ground by Ugandans, and whether or not those Ugandans were the intended recipients didn’t matter much to me.

        But it was more than that, and this was my first real education in the interplay between racism, oppression, and economics. The flow of money to Uganda relied on the Western perception that the Batwa were backwards, childlike, uneducated and helpless in the face of their own “traditional” culture. The more that story got told, the more money got sent over. Which meant that the Bakiga had a vested interest in keeping the Batwa ignorant, disenfranchised, and borderline starving because, well, people are a lot easier to control when you can buy them off for the price of their next meal.

        As you pointed out, Ron, there’s nothing unique about Africa or Development in this scenario or in these attitudes, and as the situation in Uganda became clear to me, it also became impossible to not reflect on how similar situations might be repeating themselves in the United States with, say, poor, inner-city black or Native American populations. But the real bombshell didn’t land for me until, with the backing of a group of Batwa, I tried to reach out to the American donors to let them know what was happening to the money they were sending over, and what the Bakiga were doing to the Batwa.

        We were shut down hard. Like, so hard my teeth rattled, and my eyes teared up, and I started to do serious mental risk/reward calculations along the lines of “will I be at legal jeopardy in California if I continue to speak out?” As it turned out, the California donors (white, moderately conservative Christians with high-paying jobs) were so deeply invested in their perception of the status quo in Uganda (Africans exist on a lower ladder rung than Americans do, culturally, economically, morally, everything; climbing that ladder is ‘good’ in an absolute moral sense; anything we can do to move them up that ladder, no matter how coercive or locally problematic, will result in a net positive, and is therefore justified) that they were willing to lie, threaten, bribe, and blackmail anyone able and willing to bring it into question, all of which the good philanthropists back in California did to me and the Batwa speaking out to get us to shut up.

        While the ensuing events and revelations were traumatic, enraging, and depressing all at the same time, they did offer at least one benefit: for a short time I was able to pull back the curtain and, in spite of being a privileged white male from California, view the United States from the bottom up. I was given the chance to experience what it feels like to oppose a deeply entrenched power structure: lies became normal, ‘justice’ as a concept meaning ‘fair’ or ‘equal’ went out the door, and tactics that in ‘polite society’ would have been abhorrent became the norm.

        What particularly struck me was that the Californians employing these tactics were, by most standard measures, ‘decent folks.’ They were doctors, and dentists, and lawyers all integrated into local society, and generally perceived as ‘good’ upright citizens and people.

        Which brings me around to answer your first question: when Trump won I was less surprised than most people I knew. I had a different sense of who the ‘normal’ Americans were who voted for him than most of my friends or family. I knew they had been there all along, and that they shared deeply embedded ideas and attitudes with the majority of the US population (even if the majority didn’t vote for Trump), including many from the self-identified left.

        Did I think this meant the US was fascist? No. But when you brought it up, something clicked in my brain, a little connection that tied together those good and decent citizens from Nevada City , to the Trump win, to the police shootings that have been going on for years, to the growing power of the anti-feminism voice on the internet, to the growing way that we idolize the military (I get nauseous every time I see some 30 year old white guy with biceps walking around wearing one of those Punisher death’s head t-shirts that were popularized by special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan) to the … well, everything else. So, coming into this conversation, did I think the US was fascist? No. It didn’t occur to me. Did I see the Trump administration as immediately identifiable as fascist in a way that perfectly aligns with every spoke on your wheel? Yes, without a second thought. Was I surprised when I expressed this opinion to a friend who I’ve had a lot of political discussions with and he was taken aback and immediately launched into a “He’s not a great president but he’s not a fascist” speech? Yes, blown away. It seemed self-evident. Have I been wondering from whence this monster arose? Yes, absolutely, deeply. Do I think, at the conclusion of this conversation with you that I feel confident saying the US is fascist? No. I don’t know enough. Even if your underlying logic is solid, the history and the details are hazy to me. I need to learn more. Will I ever be able to see the Democratic party the same again? No.

        Does that answer your first question?

        Liked by 1 person

        • It does, and thanks.

          I call attention to the friend you mentioned who instantly focused on Trump as such – as if the question were, “with Trump is president, are we/the U.S. fascist now?” I don’t suppose there’s much point in clarifying to someone who does this that the real question is whether the U.S. has been a fascist state for one, two, three, or six decades.

          I don’t actually call attention to that particular friend. I’ve been getting that response from others for some time myself, and I know that there’s no point.

          Like

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