Monday, May 20, 2013

Why I despair

One of the things that I find most difficult and at the same time most elidable is the persistence of "conservatism" in my country.

I've hammered away at this again and again; outside of the tiny fraction of people in the U.S. making an assload of money for nothing (and I count things like "investment banking" as nothing; moving piles of money from spot A to spot B should be worth about what you make for pumping gas, especially given that its become pretty obvious to me, looking at the performance of my IRA mutual funds, that you could duplicate the "market wisdom" of my "financial advisers" pretty closely by going to the zoo and taking a random monkey off Monkey Island, setting him up in the middle of a big chessboard and letting him fling his poop, and then moving your investment money around based on which square the shit lands in. Jesus.) the tenets of movement conservatism are bad for Americans and America. Bad socially, bad politically, and especially bad economically.

And yet, there seems to be a steady hard nut of about one-third of the electorate that refuses to budge away from this obvious idiocy. And, infuriatingly, I can neither explain nor understand it.

But along comes one Mr. David Grover who, in his comment on one of Pierce's posts, seems to me to nail it square in the 10-ring:
"30% of every OECD country polls fascist. That's just always been the case, for 150 years. In most modern wealthy democracies those people are afraid to express their opinions, because its commonly understood that people who hold those opinions are generally detrimental to the common good. That was the political lesson of WWII.

In the US however they get their own news channels and one-half of the political power, because for some reason around 1980 we all started feeling sorry for the narcissistic fantasists and sentimentalists that call themselves "movement conservatives," who told us they felt bad because they were left out of what they called "the Liberal consensus."

The Liberal consensus was really just an agreement not to let the aforementioned narcissists do what they do best, which is to monopolize the conversation and claim its all about *me* and *my pain* and what about *my people*, which in general prevents us from confronting actual real live reality, like genuinely poor people and genuine disasters like climate change. And we let down our guard, forgetting that these 30% always feel bad, because they really have nothing more to their belief system than a heightened sense of persecution coupled to a heightened sense of their worth. Everything else - their politics, economics, religion, sociology - is an attempt to rationalize those two basic principles: "I oughta be in charge, but my inferiors won't let me."

30 years later people in the media think they're entertaining and sell eyeballs so they give them a seat at the table, and they don't realize the fascists want all the seats and have bad table manners besides. And while the rest of us would like to pay attention to the reality we've ignored since Reagan first pretended he was President, the media and the conversation is dominated by these 30%, who refuse to give up their fantasyland, just as we should have known they would.

I'm not normally reductive when it comes to people, but that these 30% would hallucinate that they're hard done by and at the same time threaten the rest of us over their perceived injury is as predictable as flowers blooming in spring."
The nut graf is in the second-to-last paragraph: And while the rest of us would like to pay attention to the reality we've ignored since Reagan first pretended he was President, the media and the conversation is dominated by these 30%, who refuse to give up their fantasyland, just as we should have known they would.


The connection between "for some reason" and "1980", by the way, is no coincidence. The election of Reagan and the whole "Reagan Revolution" was fundamentally the backlash of white people of both parties against Civil Rights. It was the result of the fraying of the New Deal coalition because the uppity nigras, beaners, wimmens, and other assorted dusky- and non-penile-Americans pushed for a place at the table. The wealthy white oligarchs who had been aching to reclaim what they saw as their birthright were able to use the anger of the poor white working-class who felt threatened by this to turn the national story around into blaming the poor people, the unions, and the Negroes for all the troubles in the world. This hasn't changed much since then. Look at us; mired in the sixth year of the Lesser Depression and talking about...deficits? Cutting people off food stamps and Social Security? While the rich are richer than ever and the stock market soars? While we farkle around fighting phantom "terrorists" in Africa and Asia?

Are we fucking mad?

And here's the despair part; a notional democracy cannot function where a third of the public is fascist. Fascism - that is, the belief in the mashup of political authoritarianism and crony capitalism - is perhaps the most pernicious form of government outside of theocracy. It has a terrible facility for retaining the outward flourishes of popular sovereignty while gutting the workings. Having one third of the nation willing to be openly fascist, having a congeries of Right wingnut "news" media that feeds these fascists their own worldview...the resultant trainwreck should surprise no one.

And I honestly have no idea how we reverse this.

The last time it took a massive global depression and a world war brought on by some of the less sane fascists. Assisted by what at the time was a hugely more vital and aggressive Left, a Left that included actual communists and socialists that controlled entire countries and were powerful in many others. It included "mainstream" news organizations much more committed to the ideals of equality and community and much more skeptical of the oligarchies and fascists. It also included an industrialized world that was insular enough that, while the plutocrats were able to play the poorer sections of the U.S. against the better-off in a race to the bottom of the wage scale, at least the industrial workers were protected from the truly desperate poverty of the Third World. While that sucked for Venezuela and Ceylon it didn't for New Jersey and Liverpool.

None of that remains.

The free global movement of capital and trade means that corporations and their wealthy owners can use the poverty of Sri Lanka to destroy middle-class wealth in working-class Detroit and Oxnard. The acceptance of the wingnut pity party as a "valid narrative" means that the centuries of hardship visited on people with dark skin and no penis can be excused and avoided, that the notion that wealth means human value can be exalted once more. The confusion of unbalanced opinion with verifiable facts as a "he said-she said" disagreement means that anyone and anything can be ratfucked, and the ratfuckers are still the same ones that were sending around fliers for Helen Gahagan Douglas on pink fucking paper all the way back in 19-fucking-50.

But to reverse this trend, to beat back these bastards, would take a WW2-level effort. For someone like me it would mean abandoning my home and family and my work to spend the rest of my life fighting this massive heap of bastardy without anything like the support that the people fighting in 1919 or 1929 or 1939 had. It would be becoming my late friend Charles Gittings whose entire later life was consumed by his drive to right one simple wrong; the "prison" at Guantanamo Bay.

A prison that remains open today.

I don't have Charles' kind of courage, the kind of courage that accepts the suffering and woe of fighting the good fight knowing that it is almost certain that you will lose. And it's that kind of courage multiplied ten hundred thousand times over that would be needed to change the drift that I see taking my nation into a dark place that I do not want it to go, where I do not want my children to go. I can see the dangers, but I cannot see how - short of self-immolation - I can aver them, and not even then.

I desperately WANT to hope. I fiercely WANT to find a reason to believe that those tens of hundreds of thousands of people will find the courage to fight back.

But then I think of the massive indifference that Charles met with, on the simple and easily-understood crime of an America that was and is imprisoning people without trial or hope of trial.

And I cannot.


Don Francisco said...

Most people use politics as a way of sharing grievances with like minded people, rather than as a way to improve their lives. How much politics is about achieving positive change compared to taking something away from others?

I don't think the US is exceptional. Take my own; the amount of absolute drivel written about the EU in every news outlet, and no-one challenges it. I've come to the conclusion over the years that the truth about the EU is something people just aren't interested in. They need to know it is bad so they have something to blame, something to hate.

It's that old nutshell about whether you believe in progress. Scientific, sure. Moral & political? Hmm.

There was a cracking thought experiment - I can't remember where I read it but it goes something like this: imagine you are transported back in time 3,000 years to ancient Egypt. You meet some locals and you show them an iphone. As technology like this is completely unimaginable & incomprehensible, they think it is magic. However if you were to tell them about some contemporary news stories - govt scandals, banks stealing and defrauding - it's something they can probably relate to.

It's difficult knowing how far our respective countries will drift to the right, away from social responsibility and towards the arms of oligarchs and self-interest. All the harder to witness knowing the greater good social democracy could often bring.

Leon said...

At least in Canada right now it seems some winds are blowing the right direction. Harper's chief of staff has had to step down in a growing scandal involving conservative senators possibly mis-spending public funds. As well, my hometown mayor, who's the Canadian version of Limbaugh (overweight, blustery, neo-con, twit, but much more polite) has supposedly been filmed smoking crack cocaine...

Podunk Paul said...

Talk about brave --

Syrbal/Labrys said...

The water in the pit is lukewarm...thus neither the frogs or the lobsters complain until it is too fucking late, Chief.

Yeah, I'm there with you...

Brian said...

I'm sorry Leon, but I don't think current events in Canada are going to translate into any real change. I would say that Grover is right: 25-30% or so of the populace that votes polls Fascist in Canada too, and they have their boy in office. Now maybe his style irks a few, and I could see some kind of internal revolt saving the rest of us from the worst excesses he has in mind for us, but the Cons are here to stay... mostly because we let them. I recommend The Sixth Estate, a good blog, to you - he has made a couple of very good posts in the past few days.

FDChief said...

Leon: I guess my problem with that would be - why does it take smoking crack or mis-spending funds to get these fuckers "in trouble" - given that their economic priorities (shoveling cash to their crony-capitalist pals in the form of tax giveaways to fatcats while shiking the workingman and the poor) effectively ALREADY constitute "misspending public funds". And their social priorities; God, guns, gays, abortions already provide evidence that they've been smoking crack.

To me you're providing evidence of the problem, not the solution. These silly little private "scandals" shouldn't mean anything one way or the other given how utterly miserable these people are at governing. The fact that they do - the fact that these worthless trivialities are the ONLY reason these hairbags are in trouble - is possibly the worst indictment our our current situation I can think of...

Ael said...

And yet, some things do change.

Look, for example at the rise of gay marriage, or even better, pot legalization (even if it is still ongoing).

Anyone know a decent analysis of how the pot legalization process is playing out? I wonder if there are any lessons that can be generalized.

Pluto said...

Too much stuff here to comment on it all. Reminds me of the good old days at the Intel Dump.

Re: Pot Legalization
I can't find a good analysis on this topic because the two sides are so busy blow smoke at the public that they are drowning out rational voices.

Similarly, I can't find a good analysis on the long-term effects of smoking pot. THC is a remarkably complex molecule and the FBI put a stop to official analysis in the early 70's when they started the war on drugs because they didn't want to discover that they were wrong when they labeled it an "intro drug." The studies that were done before the FBI's moratorium hinted that the drug's effects are a lot more complicated than we currently understand. Hopefully not in a bad way. Contrary to current political theory, what you don't know CAN hurt you.

I can't speak with any authority on Canadian politics, the only thing I can share is that looking at Harper reminds me of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip; big, empty, spooky, staring eyes.

On the Chief's despair:
It's going to take a crisis to change the balance. Something huge that will affect every person in the country, and quite possibly the world. I'm talking a new disease, major sunspot activity, famine, or an economic crisis bigger than the last one.

Being me, the last seems the most likely because Bush is now out of office and the incredibly stupid neo-cons are likely to push hard to surpass Euro-style austerity (which is working SO well for them).

I had a good laugh recently. My state legislature, which recently did a hard shift from Republican to Democrat last election, just adjourned after a busy and mostly productive season (for a change). The lead Republican was all gloom-and-doom, sadly saying "Elections have consequences."

My response: yeah, he's right. The legislature passed a whole bunch of long-term growth-oriented proposals and funded them by raising taxes back to where they were 20 years ago. We're going to have more jobs, our streets will have fewer potholes, our children will be better educated, and our people will be happier.

All of this at the expense of putting some amazingly rich people out of some pocket change (at least from their point). Elections really do have consequences.

FDChief said...

Pluto: my fear is that the "crisis", whatever it turns out to be, will, instead of shaking people out of the Gilded Age funk we've fallen into will, instead, activate all the fear neurons and sent us looking for a Man on Horseback.