“Stubbornness is stupidity for smart people.”
The irony of nearly all prophylactic meditations on Fascism is that almost every meditation of that type will miss what is most urgently fascist in the culture, of the text’s author, at the time she/he is writing it. This peril-specific blindness is an inevitable feature in the rise (and rise and rise) of Fascism and functions very much like an evolutionary adaptation in the animal kingdom: the parasite inoculates the host against the host’s ability to properly identify the parasite, as though the torso of a bather, who is mildly worried about mosquitoes, is covered, quite placidly, as she sits in a pond, with leeches. Fascism is, at root, the Herd Instinct unleashed and manipulated; it is an unnatural crisis, a crisis of destructive intent, on a massive scale, that is deliberately engineered by those who will attempt to benefit from the crisis.
Fascism is not a spontaneous devolution of civilization. Fascism is a massive and laborious trick and the trick is predicated on the trickster’s ability to supply the orgiastic communal pleasures of the Herd Instinct unleashed… without calling attention to the process. And, similarly, to steer the enormous political energy of the orgiastic pleasures of the Herd Instinct unleashed without calling attention to the steering.
John Baskin’s piece in the New York Review of books, “The Unbearable: Toward an Antifascist Aesthetic” centers his meditation, on Fascism, on interrelated critiques of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. Baskin writes,
“Some critics of A Hidden Life have bemoaned the film’s lack of historical detail, pointing out that hardly anything is said about concentration camps or about the intricate political circumstances that prepared the way for Nazism. According to The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, Malick uses Nazi Germany “emblematically,” as a merely metaphorical backdrop to “illustrate the ultimate clash of good and evil, the ultimate price of resistance.” Likewise, The New York Times’s A.O. Scott lamented that Nazism is “depicted a bit abstractly, a matter of symbols and attitudes and stock images rather than specifically mobilized hatreds.” These criticisms not only miss Malick’s point, they invert it.
Malick, like Knausgaard, thematizes the “symbols and attitudes” of Nazism because he perceives how central these were to the appeal of Nazism itself. The film demonstrates impressionistically what Knausgaard, with his characteristic thoroughness, lays out in voluminous excerpts of diary entries and contemporaneous accounts from the period: the “goodness” of Nazism was as much about its symbols and attitudes as it was about its policies and actions. But the appeal A Hidden Life makes as an artistic experience is the opposite of symbolic. For the contemporary viewer, the film’s power flows from the fact that, whatever political and social convulsions led to the moment when Fani cranes her neck skyward, individual Germans like Franz and Fani were confronted by a choice that remains perfectly legible today.”
But isn’t the “perfectly legible,” by virtue of being obvious, the very opposite of the place one should look for the latest iteration of a (subtly encroaching, yet already-long-arrived) threat that cycles, with Power’s guidance, through History? Would one expect the symbols, symptoms (and epidemiology) of a mid-20th-century outbreak of Central-European Fascism to remain relatable/ relevant to demographics in a 21st century American Empire? Are we still being coached to keep an eye out for titanic iconography, torch-lit spectacles of mass gatherings, stirring march music and loyalty oaths one is mandated to sign or face death? Is that really how the Big F will have come, this time? Wouldn’t one expect an inversion of the expected? Like, for example, the banning of mass gatherings rather than the mandating of them…?
Should we be expecting an Eva Braun, or Leni Riefenstahl, this time around, or a Greta Thunberg… ? A Goebbels or a Fauci…? A little man with a funny mustache or a tall man with unfashionable glasses, an ill-fitting suit and a bad haircut…? Well, which set of characters is most capable of unleashing and steering the virtue-signalling endorphin-hits of your postmodern Herd Instinct…?
Later in the essay, bringing his essay’s insinuated focus to the foreground, Baskin writes:
“Beginning not long after the 2016 election with the historian Timothy Snyder’s bestseller Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017), soon followed by the philosopher Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (2018), numerous scholars have sought to use historical analysis of the Weimar period to alert Americans to the early signs of fascistic rule. As the Trump presidency has dragged on, these urgent warnings have given way to a wide-ranging debate, including in these pages, about whether such historical analogies are warranted or appropriate.
Understood in relation to that debate, Malick’s and Knausgaard’s artistic treatments of Nazism may persuade us not of the inaccuracy or inappropriateness of such analogies, but of their utter and complete futility—at least insofar as it is claimed such comparisons can inoculate us against repetition. In their focus on the emotional pull of Nazism—its promise to liberate citizens from the frustrations and banalities of an alienated, lonely existence, to connect them with a mass of like-minded souls in “unconditional joy”—the works of Malick and Knausgaard expose us to aspects of how fascism works that it would be laughable to think could yield to academic analysis, no matter how accessibly arranged.”
“Establish a private life,” warns Snyder. “Listen for dangerous words.” Do we really imagine it was advice such as this that interwar Germans lacked?”
Baskin, warning that the actual mechanism of the threat of Fascism (the Herd Instinct unleashed and steered) is being missed… is missing it himself. Why? Because it’s his job to. Witting or not. Baskin’s meditation is an instrumentalized misdirection; Baskin is steering us not toward the objective anti-instinct of Logic (and Logic as applied to Empirical Evidence) but “inward,” where, as it happens, we are most vulnerable to manipulation:
“An appreciation of the full spiritual force of movements like Nazism might encourage us to countenance a third alternative, one that acknowledged the centrality of symbolism and emotion to political life, and deployed them against the eroticized collectivism that is so evident in Riefenstahl’s film. This aesthetics would honor the triumph, we might say, not of the collective will, that threatening “we,” but of the individual conscience.”
As though the flimsily-subjective membrane of the individual conscience is a bulwark against the irrational ecstasy of the Herd Instinct unleashed. How many individual consciences of the post-War era have loftily informed their bearers that race-mixing, homosexuality, “Commies,” and premarital sex, and so forth, were Evil? How many priests with a clear conscience have condemned how many heretics to death? The individual conscience is almost as reliable, as a moral guide, as the individual erection is as a consultant on ethics. Morality itself is time/place/ culture-contingent. It is more a scent than it is a bollard.
The really clever Fascists always conscript your “conscience” first. And how many people reading this quick little essay are seriously in danger of being fooled by the grotesque living symbol Donald Trump? None. Is averting the imminent catastrophic ramping-up of the agonies of the wasting disease of Fascism really a matter of Trump vs Your Conscience? Are there any forces/movements/fads in the World bigger (or more generationally-enduring) than Trump…?
Look elsewhere for the Evil and look elsewhere, similarly, for protection from it.
How will we counter the terrible pleasures of the Herd Instinct unleashed?
2. A FORM LETTER WITH WHICH TO EXIT FACEBOOK (copy and paste)
I know from private emails that a few of you are fully aware of what is going on and the scary implications thereof… and that you are also rather hesitant to go public with the fact that you see through the Orwellian Theater we’re being forced, at present, to live through (and don’t worry: I won’t “out” you). Of course you see through it; of course I see through it. We aren’t children and we aren’t illiterate peasants and we aren’t (whatever the Ruling Classes prefer to think) cattle.
There have been plenty of things… plenty of Big Lies… to see through before. The Big Lies tend to fly thick and heavy around election time, don’t they? That’s traditional. But this is different. The Lies are Bigger than ever… the “facts” supporting the Lies are thinner than ever… and the “Reality” our Governing Psychopaths appear to want to frog march us into is such a note-for-note pastiche of just about every Dystopian Sci-Fi Epic that ever scared me as a kid (in the 1960s)… that it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s happening.
But it is.
Well, it’s not as though things were placid and good in 2019… there was already plenty of nonsense to contend with, wasn’t there? But it felt like nonsense on a “normal scale,” back then.
Perhaps an abnormal sense of “normal” was already a result of the violent, life-distorting rips, twists and ripples, in the fabric of Civilization, from the Big Event, in 2001, that brought us the TSA (remember the old ladies in wheel chairs frisked and pushed through scanners?)… and “Homeland Security”… and a steady stream of fear-inducing videos (of dubious persuasiveness) that seemed to stop, rather abruptly, a few years ago, as though the company producing them had gone bankrupt. One minute, bearded fanatics with scimitars were hiding in the dumpsters behind every Starbucks… the next minute… they weren’t. Because a New Threat… a new figure of hatred and terror… took over, dominating every media channel (as the bearded fanatics politely, and professionally, ceded the stage to the new attraction): the Rotting Apricot!
Hated like The Devil by half the American electorate, treated as a kind of Messiah by the other half: what kind of aging, whore-diddling, Mafia-adjacent child of robber barons was this that turned everyone… his haters and disciples alike… into shriekingly post-rational teens?
I saw so many old friends go nuts. Because hating this Rotting Apricot was exactly like (to mix gustatory metaphors) hating an old carpet splattered with fresh hot dog diarrhea… except worse: because it became about hating the old carpet splattered with fresh hot dog diarrhea, day in and day out, seven days a week, *for nearly four years*. I saw/heard very little quietly rational talk about removing the fresh hot dog diarrhea, and absolutely no quietly rational talk about who had dumped it on the old carpet, or why. All I saw was old friends (the chords popping out in their necks) screaming at the dog diarrhea as though it had a brain. To be fair: the very strange people who were, on the other hand, praying to the dog diarrhea to actually *save them,* with a miracle or two, were probably dumber/ nuttier but these people were not my old friends.
Imagine calling an old friend and the first thing this friend brings up, every time you call, is the dog diarrhea? And how hideously it seethes and bubbles in the sun! And the dog diarrhea (and how it seethes and bubbles etc) is the beginning, middle and end of every 2-hour chat! At some point, the DD on the old carpet becomes less concerning than the friends’ obsession with it. (I imagine that even the bearded fanatics, playing idly with their scimitars, off-stage, must have started wondering WTF was actually going on: it’s not as though there was so-called “video footage” of the Rotting Apricot “beheading”… or, that is, appearing to commence to behead, before the “fade to black”… weirdly stoic stunt doubles! Why couldn’t they, the bearded fanatics, inspire rage and terror like this? How could they learn from the Rotting Apricot?)…
Even that nearly-4-years of fresh hot DD on the carpet seems like a Summer of Love compared to 2020’s dark, creepy, Orwellian (make that Huxwellian) pit-of-the-stomach angst.
If you’ve read-up enough (from even sources that the “mainstream” provides) about standard global yearly Flu… or even, say, Tuberculosis … stats, and you weren’t sleeping through all your High School statistics or Science classes… you’ll understand that the Smarties (and certain wizened Sharpies with so many decades under their belts that they’ve lived through Nixon, The Bushes, the Clintons and half a dozen Nuremberg-type war-of-aggression/ war crime invasions… and actually learned from the experiences) aren’t afraid of anything New. There is nothing “new” to fear.
No: The Enemy… the real Terror… the Widow/Orphan/Keener-maker… is very old.
Been with us from the beginning. Working the mischief, getting off on the screams, the miseries, the Death that any twisted fuck with just a little power might bring to what might otherwise have been a lovely day, week, month or year for perfectly innocent people. No, I don’t believe in The Devil (I was not asleep during High School Science classes: I got Straight A’s, you see, and I’m no slouch at Mass Psychology, either: “The Devil” is a scapegoat, just like The Rotting Apricot). The truly Monstrous is never supernatural in origin.
The sadists, rapists, kidnappers, torturers… and the slicker, fancy, “successful” ones who prefer to do it on a global level… maybe there’s a gene missing, or maybe there’s a gene too much? The twisted fucks who scheme while we raise our children, sign orders of execution while we paint our kitchens, use “disposable” African children as pharmaceutical guinea pigs while we write our plays and novels or as we naively put down-payments on our dream-cottages and otherwise do our best to live decent lives. The twisted fucks in their pastel sweaters and TED-Talks headsets and Monopoly Money and secret 5-year-plans.
Where do they come from? When will they leave?
ADDENDUM: IT’S ALWAYS DANGEROUS JUST BEFORE, AND RIGHT AFTER, A PIVOTAL ELECTION
“David Graeber, leftist anthropologist, activist, and anarchist, died September 2, 2020, at the age of 59. His death was sudden and a shock to his students and the scores of people influenced by his ideas. In a world where most academics value theorizing over activism and choose to abstain from public protest, Graeber was vocal about his anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist views.”
“Graeber posted on Twitter in August that he had “been sick for a month.” He maintained that the illness caused him “weird soapy taste in my mouth, exhaustion, stomach [and] lung-ache.”
“Graeber died on September 2, 2020 in a Venice hospital at the age of 59. He had been recently active before the time of his death when he posted a video to YouTube on August 28 saying that he had been feeling “a little under the weather” but that he was beginning to feel better. His wife Nika Dubrovsky announced on Twitter that Graeber was vacationing with her and friends in Venice and that he died from internal bleeding, with the cause to be determined by an autopsy”