Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ur-Fascism: 28 Signs, 2 Essays

And it goes without saying that the Untied States pegs all 28 of them.

The video I posted yesterday wasn't scary. It was fun; it was one of my favorite episodes only because I like stories that have happy endings.

Increasingly, I'm beginning to wonder if the story of the American experiment will have a happy ending.

My eternal optimist says that eventually, things get better. I've been vindicated by history time and again - on the large scale, things progress. But that's only after thousands of missteps on the local scale. As a whole, I believe humanity will persist and are worth putting faith into. As individuals, however...

I was reading through these two posts from "Americans Against the Tea Party" today on FB, and I felt it necessary to share. These are all the trademarked signs of fascism, each one consisting of four points. The first one is Umberto Eco, entitled "Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." The next is by Dr. Laurence Britt, called "Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism." While some of these are along the lines of "uh... duh?" others are really interesting. It can be dangerous to try and paint a whole movement just because they tick a few of the boxes - it's like trying to diagnose a mental illness if you have no idea what you're looking for - but having a degree in History and knowing sociology more than likely gives me a little more room in playing around with this stuff.

I'm not going to hit all 28 points, but I do want to look at a few of them. First, from Eco's paper:

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.
Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
This one is interesting. I've known for some time there was a connection between anti-Enlightenment/Romantic movements and fascism; fascism itself is a highly Romantic movement that idolizes the cult of the hero, cult of tradition, and an outright rejection of modernity in favor of the other two. The idea that reality can be rational and that the cult of tradition and the cult of the hero may be wrong - something that comes with the Enlightenment and rationalist movements - is anathema to them.

Let me take this down a step, and let's look at modern entertainment, in particular, the Star Wars series.

Star Wars, which is arguably more popular than Star Trek, the only other widely known "science" fiction series in the public mind, is built around the concept of the cult of the hero. You have your hero, who is far larger than anyone else, who rides forward from obscurity to strike down the corrupt order, become well known, and save his father (a mass murdering, child killing monster who can be redeemed only through the love if his son. I hope I'm not the only one who finds this message absolutely horrible; imagine, Adolph Hitler redeemed and allowed eternal existence in Force Heaven because he asked his son for forgiveness.)

Let's take look at a popular piece of literature - Lord of the Rings. How does the Lord of the Rings end? It ends with Aragon taking the throne was the just new king and the heroes riding off into the sunset (or, in this case, with Frodo and the others sailing to a different land).

Both of these above are, arguably, anti-rationalist. Fantasy as a whole is anti-rationalist, but those are two very popular instances of anti-rationalism in our country. Does this mean that liking either makes you a fascist? No - not even remotely (Tolkin was vehemently anti-Nazi). But fascists do a similar thing with their cult of the hero, and their cult of tradition, and (arguably) their worship of fatherhood and traditional authority. While liking those movie/books doesn't make you a fascist, one has to wonder what kind of message they send to young  and impressionable individuals who see these films. Superheroes are more of the same. Superman is the ur-fascist. Visible faces of unquestioned and unearned authority, elected by themselves, who answer to nobody but themselves. Rulers are divinely appointed, by fate, by authority, or by "midichlorines". And unlike WH40k, these are totally unaware of the message they send. At least WH40k, which isn't all that well known to begin with but a popular go to for fascism in modern fiction anyway, is aware that there's not a single good faction one and everyone's fascist, genocidal assholes. The examples above? Nobody stops to think of the Good King as an example of fascism, whether he's Aragon with his sword or Superman with his strength. But he is. And it's disturbing that neither the creators nor the people who consume it even stop to think about the ramifications. Sure, they're fun. But even when you're having fun, you're learning something - any good teacher will tell you that. Are you learning democracy is good and works from Lord of the Rings, or any form of modern entertainment, or are you learning democracy is bad, people are bad, and we need one true ruler to rise above them all and lead us to a new golden age? Preferably male, preferably White, preferably a hero. Midichlorines optional.

This is right here in American pop culture. Thousands of Americans consume this daily, without even stopping to think about the message that's being sent (yes, I have read the David Brin essay where he rips Star Wars a new one, for basically this same exact reason. I approve of that essay, and I expand it to encompass the entire fantasy genre and most modern forms of "science" fiction. There is no such thing as a good king. There never was. There never will be.) Fascism is, at it's heart, anti-Enlightenment. What else is anti-Enlightenment?

Most of your anti-science movements are anti-Enlightenment if you just scratch their surface. Anti-GM crops, anti-vaccines, anti-global warming, anti-evolution, 9/11 truthers, the birthers, 99.9% of the modern Republican Party... they're anchored firmly in anti-Enlightenment "thinking" - if the reaction --> emotion process that they follow can be called "thinking."

Okay, I'm going to stop and say one more time that liking Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or fantasy in general does not make you any of the above. It doesn't even put you in the same category as any of the above. But a lot of people consume it, and they never even give it a second thought. They never seen the hidden message, and the creators never understand it. They're turning this stuff out without understanding it. That should be scary in its own right.

What does that mean on the larger picture? If everyone is told that democracy is a failure, people can never rule, that we all need a good king and a powerful hero to save us, that we can't live on our own without the strong hand of authority in our lives or make our own decisions, what's to stop it all from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy? American killed democracy and married fascism because that's what everyone expected to happen, so nobody stood up and did anything against it (I know; I've seen the third Star Wars movie, with Portman's famous line: "So this is how democracy dies - with thunderous applause." It's not enough to save it from the accusations of hero worship, and the Republic was never a democracy anyway - they had an unelected body of "peace-keepers", appointed by the presence of a magical force, that managed the Republic for the government. The people never protected their democracy - the Jedi did.)
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.
Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
The thinking with the R-cortex, in other words. We remove the prefrontal cortex from the picture and all we're left with is instinct. A great many Americans are good at this - humans as a whole seem to be vulnerable, if only because the prefrontal cortex is relatively new in evolutionary terms - only a few million years. The R-cortex and the early mammalian brains are far, far older, and those instincts far, far more base. As Eco calls it, the cult of action for action's sake identifies with these instincts. An individual does nothing. An individual does. A person who can will, a person who can't, will teach. The salt of the Earth will not be dignified with critical thinking. We will protest having the right to elect our own officials by dressing up as pseudo-patriots and going out with drums and pretending to be rebels while proclaiming that a man who would've been a Republican's Republican back in the 1980s is a socialist, reality be damned.

Fascism taps into something primal. It taps into something powerful, something that short-circuits the prefrontal cortex and with it, any critical thinking that might be applied. And then it raises up that lack of critical thinking to new heights, holding it up to others as a image of what's not only expected but respected by the community at large. And by tapping into that powerful, primal drive, it circumvents any desire to restrict authority. What becomes of it all, then, is people who are spurred froward by an eidolon not remotely related to thinking or logic, governed by their emotions and fear, and driven by a furious reassertion of traditional order which, in their mind, is the only thing that can save the world. And this reassertion must be done with heroes, who do, not think.

So next time you find yourself wanting to ask what Republicans or Teabaggers are thinking, don't bother. The honest truth is that they're really not thinking at all.

Next, from Britt's paper:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
This is something I've known all along. Looking at any of the photographs will show flags after bannisters after flags, all of devoted towards the Fatherland. The mottos, the slogans, the songs and symbols, all of which short-circuit the prefrontal cortex and trick the brain into thinking with the R-cortex and the mammalian brain.

This one is especially funny with the Tea Party, because according to the flag code, the U.S. flag:
  • (i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • (j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
In short, it's against the flag code to do half the shit that the Tea Party does with the American flag.

Of course, this is because these are all symbols to them. What they're symbols of don't matter. The only thing that matters is that they're symbols of something. Knowing what they represent requires thinking beyond emotional "reasoning" and logic.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
At least we haven't yet seen this one in the United States.

History's shown that in the long run, things get better.

Unfortunately, that's the long haul. Very few of use plan for that, and it doesn't take in to account the kind of missteps that we're making right now...

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