Archive for the 'on Society' Category

Facism Lying In The Shadows Of Democracy

Fascism refers to an authoritarian right-wing system of government and social organization that has always lurked in the shadows of democracy like a circling shark. Fascism is notably contemptuous of the democratic process. While some practitioners include racial superiority and personal supremacy, all Fascists require unquestioning obedience to a supreme “leader”. There have been many times in history when Fascism overtook democracies and we may be witnessing one of those moments right now. It is easy of course to call names at people whose behavior we don’t like and that makes it necessary to be quite careful when doing so. But as the old saw puts it: “If the shoe fits … etc..” One purpose of calling names is, of course, to dehumanize the targeted groups of non-believers and to create a common vocabulary with which to describe a taxonomy of common experience. On the other hand, there are also times when labels are exact, to the point, and necessary.

So then what exactly is “Fascism”?  Well, it cannot be whatever we want it to be as a label for people and movements we disagree with. I submit here Robert O. Paxton’s description of the intrinsic nature of Fascism which seems to fit not only the historical manifestations of Fascism but those which are current:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood  …  and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Historically the most powerful incubating conditions necessary for Fascism to emerge have been economic. When a majority of people in a society feel threatened by economic failure those fears are easily exploited by demagogues fingering immigrants, overbearing government bureaucrats, or foreign powers, a cleverly played “blame game” that exploits anxiety, insecurity, fear, ignorance, and makes irrational attributions of evil to necessary “others”, others being the most useful essential element in the equation. As a tactic, cynically playing groups within a society against one another almost always succeeds. Joseph Goebbels wrote during the Nazi takeover of Germany, “It will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes that it provided its deadly enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.” It is not difficult, as Hitler and his associates demonstrated, to play any class of people against any other, to vilify scapegoats, especially in difficult economic times. This scenario has been played many times throughout history. And, even as you read this, Fascism is rearing its ugly head in several places in the world including the United States. As Chris Hedges put it, “Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.”

Robert Paxton also wrote that in Fascism  “ … a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues … without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” I would add to this an inhumanity wrapped in callow religious piety. For example, one of the leader of the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act in the US House of Representatives in recent years is a self-professed pious practicing Catholic who has been praised by his Bishop. We have to ask them, was the “fishes and the loaves” lesson not taught in that diocese? Given that the majority of those in this country who are perpetrating these wars against humanity are self-professed Christians one can’t help but marvel at their inhumanity and the apparent ineffectiveness of their religious beliefs. 

When I read comments made by elected officials that poor people are somehow lacking in effort and motivation it brings to mind reading A Tale Of Two Cities in high school – the poor people at the barricades, the infamous, “Let them eat cake.”  It could have been A Tale Of Two Worlds – rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged, powerful and weak, selfish and giving, employed and unemployed. Those are the contradictions Fascism tirelessly works to exploit. Fascism, today cloaked within the shadows of high finance and so-called conservative politics, is ready and waiting in the wings to overtake and drown our wounded Democracy in it’s own contradictions. The dichotomies describe social patterns repeated over the course of history which have led inexorably to political upheaval and violence. History does, of course, repeat itself- perhaps endlessly because human nature is what seems not to change. The Karmic wheel keeps on turning.

From Camelot to the Gutter,

Today comes to mind a play I saw in Poland many years ago immediately after the fall of Communism. In the darkened theatre an actor came to center stage and into a single spotlight. He was dressed in black. The man looked around at the audience in silence, paused, and said in a strong clear voice as in a declaration – only one word – żal. He bowed his head, dropped his arms to his sides, and the stage went dark. Silence followed. Zal is the Polish word for utter sadness and tragedy. It is żal that comes to mind today.

I remember, as a toddler , being taken to see Franklin Roosevelt. The great man appeared waving from the railroad overpass in Springfield, Massachusetts. The crowd roared a tumultuous greeting and I saw adults with tears in their eyes recalling, of course, the long Great Depression. I recall JFK and was in Wichita Falls, Texas at Sheppard AFB when he was assassinated in Dallas. I served as an Air Force SAC Combat Crew officer under his command during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In my life and memory I have now seen my country go from from the “Great Society” to separating children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps. Today we have a president who publicly mocked a disabled person and stands accused by several women of numerous occasions of sexual harassment. I have seen my country go from Camelot to the Gutter. żal!

Binary Pablum For The Masses

The smoke and mirrors tactics of the 2016 presidential campaign continue with the relentless repetition of empty mantras such as “Make America Great Again”, “Lock Them Up”, and “Fake News”. Venom is being spewed across the country, part and parcel of the same strategy of puerile name-calling, disruption, and confusion as we witnessed in the last election 

This is the fundamental strategy of the non-stop Trump campaign that continues to create and manipulate ressentiment and foment a collapse of civility and faith in government. It is all shuck and jive with some of the mainstream press unwittingly complicit in Trump’s strategy simply by repeating his vile utterances. The press cannot ignore even a bloviating President, of course. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Joker in Chief deliberately deploys a maelstrom of contradiction with which the entire civilized world must struggle, and that, of course, is the intent. Keep all the rhetorical balls in the air. Keep everyone guessing. When did America stop being great? What isn’t great about America? There aren’t any answers forthcoming because there is no truth to appeal to and none is demanded by his True Believers. It’s true because their Dear Leader says it’s true.

How this came to pass and why it has been so effective are the $64 questions of our time. One answer to consider is a longing by so many people for a world where everything is rendered as simplistic binaries. No subtleties, everything is black and white. A very large proportion of the mainstream public does not want shades of grey, they want certainty. It’s a longing, if not a desperation, for an,“Us against Them”, “Right and Wrong” world. Good guys vs. bad guys. They want it to be like Tom Mix riding to the rescue, blasting the bad guys, and riding away on his white horse with the fair maiden holding on behind him. Destroy the Taliban. Destroy al Qaeda. No big deal! And, while you are at it, why not take down the United Nations? Take all those freeloaders off Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and food stamps. No DREAMERS, no foreigners. Up or down, left or right. With us or against us. Never mind consequences or complexities and nuance. Don’t stop to think that you will be hurting yourself. It’s only a matter of “bada bing”, drop a few small nukes here and there and everything will be back to the way we imagine it. We’ll be “Great Again!”

Trump gives his base a comforting, simplistic conception of the world, a peculiar form of indecipherable clarity. No questions need be asked, he has their backs. He says whatever comes to mind and it’s swallowed whole. “Lock her up!” None of it is realizable, of course, it’s just out there like a gigantic public Binkey. A warm bowl of Mom’s chicken soup, binary pablum for the masses.

    

The use of simplistic binary rhetoric has been the modus operandi of Populist leaders throughout history. Hitler and Mussolini were masters of the tactic to rally and control their true believers by pointing at designated illegitimate members of their society. Today’s undocumented Dreamers and refugees are yesterday’s Jews of the Third Reich. We have a President, a Silvio Berlusconi with bad hair, who will say whatever it takes to maintain the delusions. It’s the confusion and the illusions he creates that hold his polity. What kind of destructive mentality emboldens a person holding the highest office and the highest level of responsibility in our society to publicly denounce people like James Comey as an “untruthful slime ball”? What kind of gall does it take for a five-time draft dodger to insult and threaten Robert Mueller, a retired military officer who has served this country honorably?

What will emerge out of the chaos being spewed out across this country and across the world stage remains to be seen.  And I don’t doubt Putin is having a good laugh at our expense. 

Binary Pablum For The Masses

 

The smoke and mirrors tactics of the 2016 presidential campaign continue with the relentless repetition of empty mantras such as “Make America Great Again”, “Lock Them Up”, and “Fake News”. Venom is being spewed across the country, part and parcel of the same strategy of puerile name-calling, disruption, and confusion as we witnessed in the last election 

This is the fundamental strategy of the non-stop Trump campaign that continues to create and manipulate ressentiment and foment a collapse of civility and faith in government. It is all shuck and jive with some of the mainstream press unwittingly complicit in Trump’s strategy simply by repeating his vile utterances. The press cannot ignore even a bloviating President, of course. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Joker in Chief deliberately deploys a maelstrom of contradiction with which the entire civilized world must struggle, and that of course, is the intent. Keep all the rhetorical balls in the air. Keep everyone guessing. When did America stop being great? What isn’t great about America? There aren’t any answers forthcoming because there is no truth to appeal to and none is demanded by his True Believers. It’s true because their Dear Leader says it’s true.

How this came to pass and why it has been so effective are the $64 questions of our time. One answer to consider is a longing by so many people for a world where everything is rendered as simplistic binaries. No subtleties, everything is black and white. A very large proportion of the mainstream public does not want shades of grey, they want certainty. It’s a longing, if not a desperation, for an “Us against Them”, “Right and Wrong” world. Good guys vs. bad guys. They want it to be like Tom Mix riding to the rescue, blasting the bad guys, and riding away on his white horse with the fair maiden holding on behind him. Destroy the Taliban. Destroy al Qaeda. No big deal! And, while you are at it, why not take down the United Nations? Take all those freeloaders off Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and food stamps. No DREAMERS, no foreigners. Up or down, left or right. With us or against us. Never mind consequences or complexities and nuance. Don’t stop to think that you will be hurting yourself. It’s only a matter of “bada bing”, drop a few small nukes here and there and everything will be back to the way we imagine it. We’ll be “Great Again!”

Trump gives his base a comforting, simplistic conception of the world, a peculiar form of indecipherable clarity. No questions need be asked, he has their backs. He says whatever comes to mind and it’s swallowed whole. “Lock her up!” None of it is realizable, of course, it’s just out there like a gigantic public Binkey. A warm bowl of Mom’s chicken soup, binary pablum for the masses.

    

The use of simplistic binary rhetoric has been the modus operandi of Populist leaders throughout history. Hitler and Mussolini were masters of the tactic to rally and control their true believers by pointing at designated illegitimate members of their society. Today’s undocumented Dreamers and refugees are yesterday’s Jews of the Third Reich. We have a President, a Silvio Berlusconi with bad hair, who will say whatever it takes to maintain the delusions. It’s the confusion and the illusions he creates that hold his polity. What kind of destructive mentality emboldens a person holding the highest office and the highest level of responsibility in our society to publicly denounce people like James Comey as an “untruthful slimeball”? What kind of gall does it take for a five-time draft dodger to insult and threaten Robert Mueller, a retired military officer who has served this country honorably?

What will emerge out of the chaos being spewed out across this country and across the world stage remains to be seen.  And I don’t doubt Putin is having a good laugh at our expense. 

Deconstructing Democracy

Here is how it’s done. Deny and Destroy reality then, moving right along, construct a new reality that suits your purposes. Hitler was a Grand Master of the technique as he constructed the Third Reich, the “Deutschland über alles” meme that is neither symbolically nor emotionally different from, “Make America Great Again”. Mussolini was not far behind in his similar accomplishments. Be the populist who gives the audience the binary world they so desperately want: Right or Wrong, Us or Them, Populists recognize the reality that their audience, their followers, don’t just want things to be simple, they are desperate for it! They want to believe because something is better than nothing, better than a complicated nuanced truth. The repetition of simplistic meaningless slogans, “Lock Her Up”, and “Make America Great Again”, binds them to you. Outright lies also bind your followers to an identity they can understand, embrace, and chant. It is these methods with their racist subtexts that inspire and normalize behavior thus far regarded as socially unacceptable.

Be sure to order ball caps and paraphernalia with your vacuous slogans prominently displayed. Identify groups of “others” and isolate them with racist subtext and degrading inference. Vilify and reject those groups as being illegitimate members of your society taking what is rightfully yours including jobs you won’t take. Demean immigrants and the countries they come from. Openly suggest your women and children are not safe with undocumented criminals lurking in the bushes. Create an energetic, irrational, but useful, distrust of “fake news”. Your sympathetic news outlets will repeat and validate the rant spreading it far and wide.

Once you have sufficiently vilified the “others” the next step is to attack familiar and foundational institutions. Call into question the integrity of the FBI, the CIA, public education, even the military as you undermine public faith and confidence in government itself. Also, mock and alienate foreign countries and their leaders. Use obfuscation and emotion to create mass cognitive dissonance to divert attention from what you and your colleagues are really up to. Keep repeating the lies. Discard the rules of civil discourse. Keep stirring the pot. Everything is in flux, dangerous, and vulnerable.

This is what we as a country have come to – not a celebration of Democracy but the destruction of Democracy. We are in the midst of an ongoing massive case of political propaganda that exploits “ressentiment”, a French word  that “expresses a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration and anger”, an anger and ressentiment that can thus be easily directed and exploited.

My dictionary describes a demagogue as someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator in a society enlisting them to attack and resist those they are conditioned to believe are responsible for whatever reality they have been forced to live in. Demagogues don’t even spare children. With an ongoing all out attack on public education and children in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, nothing is safe, no one and nothing is sacred. Repeat after me the demagogue says, “USA, USA”, shouts the crowd until they are hoarse. Perhaps even delirious. It’s mind numbing manufactured cognitive dissonance and that, my friends, is the point. That is always the aim and purpose of deliberate manufactured anarchy out of which social control has historically emerged.

This is not Democracy. This is the destruction of Democracy.

What’s Justice Got To Do With It?

The problem with lawyers can be expressed in three words – Truth, Justice, and Winning. Simple sounding words alright but words that govern a great deal of what transpires in this American society in the guise of civility. The three words and their opposites follow us through life like a pack of hounds. Winning has become all in this competitive American society. Whatever it takes to win is the battle cry. Children are conditioned almost from birth to compete at whatever activity they engage in and to achieve it at whatever cost. We have popular sayings to characterize both poles of the dynamic – winners and losers. Champs and chumps. And as the memorable Vince Lombardi put it, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

When lawyers convene in a courtroom the word Winning looms like a scimitar. Forget about Justice – it’s all about winning. If lawyers don’t win they will soon be out of work not unlike coaches of losing professional sports teams. In fact, court trials are not unlike sports events as each side competes for the same trophy – not always Justice but, always and ever, Winning. Are there two or more truths in these matters? Truth is irrelevant.

What this Sophistry does is reduce Justice to a very low status. Seeking Winning over Justice naturally demeans the legal processes and, even, worse destroys public belief and faith in the fairness of civil justice and civilized recourse. This is why we must have ACLU lawyers and the other exceptions who fight bravely and intelligently for social justice and a manifestation of Truth. On the other hand, those who vigorously oppose the ACLU and its lawyers are just as interested in defending a vision of society that does not necessarily include Truth or Justice but generally advantage and venality. Of course the irony is that those hired to oppose the ACLU are also lawyers.

According to social philosophers, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, “reality is socially constructed”, thus we find ourselves in courtrooms confronted with conflicting realities as constructed by the opposing sides. These combating realities are presented as Truth, so help us God. It is not as much legal philosophy being played out as it is a pathology. What we are witnessing is sociopathic behavior which destroys the social contract that has kept this country on a more-or-less even keel since the end of the “Great Depression”. I was recently informed by a lawyer that there is no Social Contract. I took it he meant that it’s, “everyone for themselves, it’s all “dog-eat-dog”. This is the socially constructed reality being played out in courtrooms today.

As the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt so elegantly put it, “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and to impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs.” Absent Truth, the “real state of affairs” is rendered irrelevant. There cannot be Justice in this, and in the end the most serious moral flaw in the adversarial legal system is the making of Truth simply another victim. What kind of a world will we then have if the liars prevail?

A Piece of History – Roosevelt

When I was six years old I was taken by my mother to the Springfield, Massachusetts railway station. The station had a high overpass across which the passenger trains passed. On the street below was an enormous crowd packed elbow to elbow and stretching back for several blocks practically vibrating with anticipation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had confronted the “Great Depression” and created the “New Deal”, was loved by working people like my parents, who had suffered through the 1929 – 1939, “Great Depression”. At the rampart of the overpass the great man, by then afflicted with polio, appeared, he waved and was greeted by the crowd with the most tumultuous expression of respect I have ever experienced. There was no ressentiment, no anger only respect and gratitude for a better future. This was the America that defined my basic understanding of our social contract, my social reality. This was the America I grew up in. This was the country I joined the military to serve. It was a very different country from what we have become today, a country with a President, Masha Greene writing in the New Yorker, describes as a “foul mouthed vulgarian”. During Roosevelt’s terms of office programs such as Social Security, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the National Labor Relations Act were created and implemented. Today all of these are under attack. To what end are ordinary working class people being manipulated to demand curtailing social programs that they and their families have benefitted from for generations? What kind of world do these Trump supporters imagine they are being led to? Are they ready to accept levels of poverty not seen since the dust bowl era, the soup lines of the depression? And, as jobs are shipped to low wage countries health care becomes out of reach for our own working class poor. All of this is happening while the accumulated wealth of a minuscule number of individuals grows even more enormous, becoming, “Rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”. What kind of society denies sustenance and health care to the disadvantaged and displaced by a political and economic system that denies them meaningful work? What ends are being served shipping entire factories abroad leaving thousands of Americans unemployed? To what ends are the foundation stones of an American belief system being attacked and destroyed? What of the common welfare of its’ citizens and taxpayers? Can a commons of any sort rise out of the rubble of playing every group of Americans against others? In the past, this kind of antisocial destruction has been an invitation to violence some of which we are already experiencing. The answer to all of these questions cannot be evermore attempts at social control, government propaganda, lies, or the kinds of police violence we have seen before and after this past election. We have not seen the end of groups like “Antifa” arising out of the ruins. People have understood the costs of social divisiveness as far into the past as one cares to look, as far back as the 6th B.C. when Aesop coined the phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall.” We are now divided. We must ask and demand answers to the question, Where is all of this going? “Where are you taking us?” The government cannot keep on locking up and silencing protesters. Plainly, todays’ Republican populist politics of destruction is evolving towards levels of social and economic inequity not felt since the Great Depression. Perhaps that’s the “Great America” Trump, the Republican Party, and the billionaires who sponsor them envision. Could be.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 57 other followers

Categories