Laurie Penny is at it again with another must-read this week the European Parliment and creeping fascism. Key line: “Perhaps the greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince the world that he was really boring.”
But really, pretty much every media company these days is using tabloid clickbait garbage to subsidize its “real journalism.” But that’s a cold comfort to the people forced to survive by grinding out listicles for subsistence wages, as Paul Ford reminds us in a piece on Medium about the absurdity of viral content farms. You know, like Medium.
I watched Thelma and Louise for the first time this week. I can’t imagine this movie being made today. Which reminds me, you should also read Jacqueline Valencia’s essay on on the need for more lonely women in film. Not that Thelma and Louise is exactly the type of movie she’s talking about, but it reminded me of Falling Down which reminded me of her article.
No, it’s not about Discordianism. It’s about the real world discord and human misery that is the political situation in Greece. It’s written by Laurie Penny and illustrated by Molly Crabapple, and it’s worth your time.
It’s not just political journalism, either — it touches on youth culture, the way a movement’s drug of choice reflects the zeitgeist, art, feminism and more.
Futurist Jamais Cascio has over the past couple years been elaborating on an idea called Teratocracy, “the rule of monsters.” Specifically what he’s talking about, however, is the tendency for those who lose elections to question the legitimacy of the winning parties.
Here’s how he explains it:
Democracy is defined by how you lose, not (just) how you win.
The real test of whether a society that uses a plebiscite to determine leadership is really a democracy is whether the losing party accepts the loss and the legitimacy of their opponent’s victory. This is especially true for when the losing party previously held power. Do they give up power willingly, confident that they’ll have a chance to regain power again in the next election? Or do they take up arms against the winners, refuse to relinquish power, and/or do everything they can to undermine the legitimacy of the opposition’s rule? […]
Unfortunately, it appears that attacking the in-power opposition’s legitimacy may be an increasingly effective way to derail policy initiatives. When a substantial portion (at least 30%, perhaps up to 50%) of the Republican party, for example, believes that not only does Obama have bad policies, he has no legitimate right to be President, compromise and negotiation become difficult at best. Republican leaders willing to negotiate aren’t just compromising principles, they’re aiding and abetting a violation of the Constitution. And while this is currently a Republican problem, there’s nothing to say that Democrats — the political leaders, not just the activists — won’t learn the lesson that this is an effective way to fight once Republicans retake the Presidency.
Most of this is so much hot air, but as Cascio points out, it’s about the opposition party disrupting the winning party’s ability to govern. It’s about distraction.
The problem though is that our system is deeply broken — we have a two party duopoly, broken electoral processes designed to suppress the vote, etc. There were some on the left who questioned Bush’s legitimacy to lead as well, though I’m not sure these concerns were ever voiced as loudly as the Birthers’ claims.
The frightening thing is not that people are attacking the legitimacy of government, it’s a question of who is attacking it (ie, the very wealthy) and what sort of system we are likely to get in its place. Quoting Johnny Brainwash from my interview with him in 2010, which is worth a re-read:
The only way a movement could grow strong enough to take on the paramilitarized surveillance state backed up by an enormous and well-prepared military is if it recruits its own military power from the army and the police.
I don’t say this is unlikely- in fact, it’s a more valid concern than it has been in decades. But by drawing on the institutions of power, it guarantees that it will not be revolutionary in nature. Just a different set of goons on top, and no more hiding behind veils of democracy or what have you.
For The Guardian, Naomi Wolf covers the Occupy crackdown thus far and makes some very interesting informed speculation:
Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.
That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.
The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.
No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.
When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.
Update: I’d been avoiding posting anything about speculation that the Department of Homeland Security had anything to do with coordinating the police raids on occupy until there was some real evidence. I thought Wolf had some new sources but, as Kenneth Huey points out in the comments, it turns out Wolf’s sources rely on that same old anonymously sourced Examiner story. But there is currently no evidence that Congress or the White House ordered or coordinated the raids, and the White House has specifically denied this. If anyone knows of any particular mayor or police chief denying DHS involvement, please let me know.
There are many other problems with Wolf’s account of the story, as detailed here. That The Guardian is still running this story from Wolf without any updates or corrections is disappointing.
It’s worth noting that another source of national coordination regarding the Occupy movement has emerged. Wes Unruh pointed me towards this story in the San Francisco Bay Guardian which reveals that the international non-governmental organization The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) coordinated raids nationally. Police chiefs in several major cities participated in a series of conference calls distinct from the 18 mayor call mentioned by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. PERF has also been involved in coordinating crackdowns on anti-globalization protests. The executive director of PERF, Chuck Wexler, is also on the advisory council of DHS, leading some to refer to the organization as “having ties to” DHS (including the San Francisco Bay Guardian), but I wouldn’t (yet) read too much into this relationship.
It might also be worth mentioning that according to Tom Henderson DHS vehicles were spotted at the Occupy Portland eviction, but as Tom notes the Occupy Portland spilled into federal park, so we can’t read too much into that.
One final note on the potential federal involvement in the Occupy crackdown. I’ve noticed that Portland Mayor Sam Adams almost always mentions drug use in the camp when explaining why he flip-flopped from supporting Occupy Portland to ordering its eviction. Since 1981 there has been an ongoing erosion of military and civilian law enforcement, particularly with regards to drug law enforcement. Here’s an excerpt from Diane Cecilia Weber’s paper Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments:
In 1981 Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act. That law amended the Posse Comitatus Act insofar as it authorized the military to “assist” civilian police in the enforcement of drug laws. The act encouraged the military to (a) make available equipment, military bases, and research facilities to federal, state, and local police; (b) train and advise civilian police on the use of the equipment; and (c) assist law enforcement personnel in keeping drugs from entering the country. The act also authorized the military to share information acquired during military operations with civilian law enforcement agencies.
The overlap between civilian and military law enforcement was furthered in 1986 when President Reagan issued a National Security Decision Directive declaring illegal drugs a threat to national security. You can find more on this in Radley Balko’s book/white paper Overkill.
The possibility of federal involvement remains speculative, but returning to the line about drugs again and again could be a tactic to justify the involvement of the feds, at least at the level of funding.
The Twelfth Enchantment author David Liss on the portrayal of magic in popular story telling:
In the past, people generally believed they could acquire magic in two ways: through learning the craft, either from another practitioner or from books; or through obtaining magic from a powerful being-think Faust or the classic, demonized witch, both of whom get their mojo from Satan. Anyone could learn magic as long as he or she had access to the knowledge or could make a connection with the right supernatural entity. The important point is that in theory, the gates of magic were open to everyone, and what I find most interesting is how that has changed in popular culture. […]
Magic has gone from being an open system to a closed one. Their massive popularity make the Harry Potter novels and films the most glaring example, but it’s everywhere, and has been for decades now: TV shows like Charmed and Wizards of Waverly Place, books like those of Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. More often than not, magical practitioners are born, not made. Magic is an exclusive club. You can watch and be envious, but you can’t join.
Also, Alyssa Rosenberg writes: “I wonder if a sense of biological magic also correlates to a sense of unease about how much power we have to impact our lives and to change the world. Believing that you can put the evil eye on someone, or that you can summon the devil, means believing in your own capacity to learn, hold, and wield power. Biological conceptions of magic are a way of explaining your own powerlessness. We can’t change our lives — but we’re also not responsible for changing the world — because we’re not Harry Potter, or the Slayer, or the Halliwell sisters.”
Not unrelated are Michael Moorcock’s essay on the fascist, conservative and/or reactionary strains running through sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and this essay by Stokes on the aesthetics of fascism and the TV series Game of Thrones.
This essay supposedly has spoilers up through the most recent Game of Thrones book, but the first page or so of the essay sets the ground work for fascist aesthetics and is quite interesting. I’ve only read the prelude to the first novel, and haven’t seen any of the show, but I don’t think anything was spoiled in the first few paragraphs.
The essay opens with a nice long quote from Susan Sontag:
It is generally thought that National Socialism stands only for brutishness and terror. But this is not true. National Socialism—more broadly, fascism—also stands for an ideal or rather ideals that are persistent today under the other banners: the ideal of life as art, the cult of beauty, the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders). These ideals are vivid and moving to many people, and it is dishonest as well as tautological to say that one is affected by Triumph of the Will and Olympia only because they were made by a filmmaker of genius. Riefenstahl’s films are still effective because, among other reasons, their longings are still felt, because their content is a romantic ideal to which many continue to be attached…
Let’s just get this out of the way. I am not calling George R. R. Martin, or any of the other authors discussed in this post, a Nazi. Nor am I calling them Blackshirts, nor connecting them with any other historical group of totalitarian assholes. The aesthetic principles I’m discussing here are neither the result of fascism nor indicative of fascism, they just take advantage of the same emotional circuitry that fascism takes advantage of. These are not politicized aesthetics, rather, fascism is aestheticized politics. It’s not quite accurate to claim that aesthetic similarities don’t imply any ideological similarities at all, but that’s a lot closer to the truth than the other way around.
For Memorial Day, some dismal reading about the way the U.S. treats its soldiers (yes, this would actually be more appropriate for Veterans Day):
On 11 March 1932 Waters called for a march on Washington and 250-300 men from Portland joined him. They marched behind a banner reading “Portland Bonus March – On to Washington.” The veterans and their families had popular support and the support of some authorities. A Portland railroad offered the use of dung-stained cattle cars to transport the Bonus Army. The Indiana National Guard and the Pennsylvania National Guard used military vehicles to transport the Bonus Army. Toll bridge operators let the Bonus Army march silently across bridges without pay, and police officers refused to arrest Bonus Army veterans for trespassing. Thousands joined the Bonus Army as it marched towards Washington with Sergent Waters as their elected leader. Waters forbade drinking, panhandling, and ‘anti-government’ or ‘radical’ talk.
When Waters and his Bonus Army arrived in late May 1932 they were twenty thousand strong. The veterans and their families camped in buildings abandoned during the Great Depression and in giant shantytowns. Communists showed up at the shantytowns and agitated for their cause among the veterans. In reply, Bonus Army veterans seized the communists, held trials and sentenced them to fifteen lashes. More than two hundred communists were expelled from the Bonus Army camps. But supporters who were not communists showed up at the shantytown with material support. Among them were eight German soldiers, each having fought against US soldiers, each wounded twice or more in World War I, all naturalized citizens and bearing a total of eight tons of food and supplies for the Bonus Army.
On 29 June the US Government announced it would not meet the demands of the Bonus Army and that the Bonus Army had to leave by 15 July. By 5 July there was no food remaining. On 7 July congress offered $10,000 to the Bonus Army if it would simply leave Washington DC. Some did take the money and leave, but many more took the money and stayed while other veterans joined for the first time. One thousand more veterans and their families had joined the Bonus Army in Washington and more were on their way. On 17 July 1932 Congress voted down the bonus and then adjourned. President Hoover went on a vacation.
It can happen, in fact, because conservatives so thoughtlessly and readily use violent eliminationist rhetoric when talking about “liberals” (to wit: anyone who is not a conservative). They will adamantly deny it, of course, but the cold reality is that this kind of talk creates permission for angry and violent people to act it out.
Neiwert wrote in his book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right:
a particular trend that has manifested itself with increasing intensity in the past decade: the positing of elimination as the solution to political disagreement. Rather than engaging in a dialogue over political and cultural issues, one side simply dehumanizes its opponents and suggests, and at times demands, their excision. This tendency is almost singularly peculiar to the American Right and manifests itself in many venues: on radio talk shows and in political speeches, in bestselling books and babbling blogs. Most of all, we can feel it on the ground: in our everyday lives, in our encounters, big and small, with each other.
I have a hard time blaming Palin’s antics and the “Target” campaign, any more than I blame rap music or action movies for other violence. At the same time, I don’t think this elimination rhetoric is entirely blameless. I’m reminded of Leon Wieseltier’s words about religion and terrorism:
If the standpoint of broadly collective responsibility was the wrong way to explain the atrocities, so too was the standpoint of purely individual responsibility. There were currents of culture behind the killers. Their ideas were not only their own.
The signal always gets distorted, degraded…and more popular every time. Dumb is accessible, people like dumb. They like aliens, they like Satanist bad guys, and they like to buy products that signify their secret knowledge. It’s hard to exaggerate how hollowed out the Conspiratainment Complex has become in 2010. Conspiracy Theory is literally being taught to Americans on a chalkboard now. Remote Viewing has gone from a classified project to a mini-industry of competing DVD training packages. Even Tila Tequila is tracking the Illuminati’s every move these days. This is an emerging demographic and it’s going to be extremely important in the next decade. […]
Today, these competing meta-narratives are blending into a Conspiratainment mainstream, where the largest possible audience meets the lowest common denominator. Roswell is an article of faith, JFK is holy scripture, and 9/11 is the wedge issue and the litmus test. The Apollo 11 mission exists in a Schroedinger-style quantum state where it simultaneously did and did not land on the moon, although the priesthood agrees there was a cover-up, either way.
A few years ago, I wrote an article about contemporary subcultures and made the case that the 9/11 Truth movement was a legitimate subculture. Although it was already being productized in the form of DVDs, books and merchandise, I didn’t think it was something that would be appropriated by the mainstream. And though 9/11 still hasn’t been appropriated by the mainstream, thanks to the likes of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, conspiracy theory is more mainstream than ever.
This reminds me of a quote Justin posted on Facebook a while back. I can’t find the specific entry, but I think it was from a 9/11 Truther. It went something like this “Conspiracy theory has never hurt anyone, but the Obama administration has.”
Don’t think for a second I’m letting Obama and company off the hook for their targeted assassinations, Afghan war escalation, etc. But I’m calling bullshit on the “conspiracy theory never hurt anyone” line.
It would be disingenuous to say The Protocols of the Elders of Zioncaused the Holocaust, but it did contribute to the antisemitism and paranoia during the first half of the 20th century that enabled WWI and the holocaust. That’s a pretty serious amount of blood on the hands of a conspiracy theory.
It’s these very issues that lead me to begin distancing myself from conspiracy theory after the second EsoZone. Once I’d hoped that conspiracy theory could enlightening, a way to break down rigid thinking and foster skepticism and critical thinking (as Robert Anton Wilsons’s writings on conspiracy theory had done for me). These days I’m cynical about that prospect (see here and here) of conspiracy theory opening people’s minds. Instead of breaking down “consensus reality,” conspiracy theory has been entrenching many people deeper into their own “reality tunnels.” Before I thought, at the very least, conspiracy theory could be entertaining. It just doesn’t seem funny to me any more.
Meanwhile, as Justin writes:
Conspiracy theory tends towards monolithic explanations, attributing far too much power to far too few people. Political Science assumes the existence of hundreds of co-existing and conflicting conspiracies in any group of over thousand people.
Most real, successful conspiracies are mundane and barely covert: consider the Council for National Policy, an invitation-only Evangelical Conservative influence network with a membership list so powerful it defies belief. What happens when you get Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft into the same room? Throw in Oliver North, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jesse “33°” Helms, James Dobson, and big money sponsors like Richard DeVos, Holland Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife and Nelson Baker Hunt.
Another interesting example is the Family, a Christian theocratic conspiracy, which I’ve covered quite a bit here. The Family tries to keep a low profile, but not exactly a secret. Yet, I could find only one reference to the Family on Alex Jones’s InfoWars – naturally, an article about the possibility that the Family may have helped finance 9/11. Here is a real and well-documented modern conspiracy. Where’s the outrage from conspiracy circles? (To his credit, Jones did have Jeff Sharlet on his show.) I could find no references to the Council for National Policy on InfoWars.
That, I’m afraid, is the sad state of conspiracy theory. Real conspiracies play out before our very eyes, while too many very smart people clutch at straws.
You might recall this essay by fascism scholar and futurist Sara Robinson from last year. Robinson has just published a rather dismal follow-up examining how the Tea Party is shaping up to be a legitimately scary fascist party.
Here is the part I found rather unsettling (emphasis mine):
The successful fascisms, on the other hand, were the ones that held together and to gained enough political leverage that capturing their governments became inevitable. And once that happened, there was no turning back, because they now had the political power and street muscle to silence any opposition. (Fascist parties almost never enjoy majority support at any stage — but being a minority faction is only a problem in a functioning democracy. It’s no problem at all if you’re willing to use force to get your way.)
Americans who support the Tea Party brim with contradiction. An October Bloomberg National Poll found that while 83 percent of Tea Party supporters favor repeal of the health-care reform bill, majorities would keep key provisions of it. Fifty-seven percent would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with preexisting conditions, 52 percent would add more prescription drug benefits for Medicare users, and 53 percent would require states to set up plans for people with major health problems. “The ideas that find nearly universal agreement among Tea Party supporters are rather vague,” says pollster J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the survey. “You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.”
Tea Party candidates show no such ambivalence. When it comes to government, they don’t want to trim fat, they want to amputate limbs. Angle says she would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Buck says he would get rid of the Energy and Education Depts. And candidates across the country say they aim to eliminate the web of special tax breaks, earmarks, and subsidies that benefit industries from golf cart manufacturers to the largest automakers.
In other words: The Tea Party rank-and-file support politicians they don’t even agree with. Why? Based on the data from the NYT/CBS poll and the Bloomberg poll: Because they don’t know what’s in the health care bill they’re so afraid of. They don’t realize their taxes have actually gone down since Obama was elected. They don’t know how their tax money is spent. And they don’t even seem to know what the politicians they support actually plan on doing.
Here’s what I wrote last year on our chances of getting out of this one:
I don’t share Robinson’s faith that we can pull out of this. I don’t have her faith in the Democratic Party, which I think plays the role of “good cop” in what’s actually a one party system. I think the entire establishment media, not just Fox News, is a party of that system and can never be made to “get the story right.” I don’t think we can rely on the police to do the “heavy lifting.”
I haven’t seen much to change my mind in the past year, except possibly that the non-News Corps owned mainstream media has been getting somewhat better.
Robinson proposes three different possible scenarios, this one being the “worst case”:
A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement’s lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They’ve already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.
Unfortunately, the only alternative to the Tea Party seems to be the Democratic Party. And what happens if we do vote down the Tea Party and keep the Dems in power? I must admit to being surprised at how fickle the American public is. After only two years, we’re suddenly ready to give control back to the Republicans just because the Democrats haven’t been able to reverse the damage that the GOP spent eight years creating? But, even with a near super majority, the Democrats haven’t enacted anything even approaching progressive reform. No wonder people are getting impatient. Even with a majority in the House and Congress, it still feels like the GOP is still running things.
And yet I know this is exactly what perpetuates the problems we have. Both the GOP and the Dems get people to vote for them out of fear of the other party. “Sure, we suck but are you really gonna let THEM take office?”
There’s a scenario that Robinson doesn’t mention: the Tea Party candidates get elected, and they get gobbled up by the Washington DC machine and nothing much changes. The Tea Party base are just as disappointed with their candidates as liberals have been with Obama and the various “netroots” candidates.