Anderson Unite against Fascism 8
Stray thoughts from recent weeks
Reaffirming American values
It seems to me that the US is losing its traditional values. Both the right—now ruling—and the more extreme and vocal end of the left have abandoned a good deal of what we agreed on until recently.
I’m starting with free speech, because I’ve had to explain to several “progressive” friends recently why cracking down on hate speech is not necessarily a good idea.
The five best reasons to support freedom of speech, even “hate speech” and the like:
- Hate speech is in the eye of the beholder. No definition can be tight enough to stop people from insisting that what they say is not hate speech, and what their opponents say is always hate speech no matter how nicely phrased. (Politeness can be a way of subtly maintaining white privilege, for instance.)
- You might learn something. If not from the speech itself, then from the faft that people say it, believe it, and act on it.
- Suppressing speech drives it underground, where it spreads like wildfire—as censored things always do—and is attractive simply because it was suppressed. There is an Arab saying that “if you forbid people from rolling camel dung into little balls with their fingers, they would do it, because if it is forbidden there must be something good about it.” Moreover, suppressing speech makes the suppressed people into instant martyrs, no matter how unsavory they seemed before.
- Since the people in power will naturally be the ones doing the censoring, all opposition to those in power will soon be censored, and everything that supports them will be permitted, no matter how vile it is. This is, in practice, the greatest reason why censorship is generally bad.
- It is just plain immoral to shut other people up because you happen to dislike what they say. They have a right to their opinions and their mouths.
If what they say is downright libel, or a direct call to violence, or a lie that directly leads to physical harm to people (like the anti-vaxx lies), that is something else. Freedom is not a matter of absolute freedom; it is a matter of considering others’ rights. Speech that actually and directly causes physical harmful is not defensible. However, the wise activist errs on the side of liberty.
All this we learned in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 1960s, but it has all been said before, by Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, and many others.
Second is tolerance, which is also under an astonishing amount of attack from the left as well as the right.
It really should need no defense, but many of the same considerations as those above will apply.
- If you don’t tolerate others, they won’t tolerate you. They may not even if you do tolerate them, but, in general, hate breeds hate, acceptance breeds acceptance.
- You might learn something.
- You can’t hate everybody, but since everybody is different, there are always reasons to dislike and reject.
- We’re all in this together. A functioning society has to grow, change, and build, and can do that only by unified effort, mutual aid, and solidarity. The alternative is mutual destruction. The dominant group may win for a while by doing others down, but it merely hurts itself—first by losing those other groups and whatever they have to offer, but second by starting a spirit of hate and rivalry that inevitably tears up the dominant group itself, in due course of time.
- As before, all morality worthy of the name teaches that you shouldn’t shove your biases down everybody else’s throats.
As usual, there are limits. Obviously, I am not arguing for tolerating rape, murder, or robbery. I am arguing for tolerating people. They deserve fairness and consideration. If they are acting to harm others, they have to be stopped. Toleration of ideas is a good, but we need to argue and negotiate and work them out. Toleration of particular behaviors is a different thing: they can be tolerated only in so far as they don’t actively and unnecessarily harm people. Not all harm to people is bad—Plato and Aristotle were already pointing out 2400 years ago that surgeons “harm” people but it’s for their own good. One wants to minimize hurt, but some is necessary. In short, tolerance is a major goal, but has to be qualified by common sense.
All of which does NOT give anyone license to hate or reject anyone on the basis of skin color, ethnicity, language, history, or the like. No morality can justify that. Total personal rejection of anyone for any reason is unacceptable. We may have to kill a person in self-defense, but we are not given license to hate that individual simply for being.
I have been reading a lot about fascism lately, and the reading is not at all reassuring. Reading about the rise of Hitler is so exactly like reading about the rise of Trump that it is impossible for me to believe there isn’t deliberate imitation going on. Bannon is clearly tracking the Nazis. And such comments as Stephen Miller’s—Trump is “not to be questioned”—and Trump’s attack on the courts are vintage early Nazi.
See: Mann, Michael. 2004. Fascists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Paxton, Robert O. 2004. The Anatomy of Fascism. New York: Knopf. (Great book by an old college friend of mine)
Snyder, Timothy. 2015. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. New York: Tim Duggan Books.
Snyder has been very visible lately, warning us.
Now a definition:
“Treason: The action of betraying; betrayal of the trust undertaken by or reposed in any one; breach of faith, treacherous action, treachery…. High Treason or Treason proper: Violation by a subject of his allegiance to his soverign or to the state.” Oxford English Dictionary.
Lowest blow yet: USDA forced to take down their website showing animal cruelty sites and investigations. No way now for the public to find out about evil puppy mills, cruel factory farms, dogfighting, and the like. This was apparently done at the instigation of factory-farm animal growers. It does not help anyone significantly.
The confirmatioin of Betsy DeVos on an almost pure party-line vote is a good point for saying the US is over. The 250-year project to build a free society is abandoned.
The majority party, in total control of the federal government and most states, has voted to eliminate public education and to support a candidate whose idea of education is extremist right-wing “Christian” indoctrination. She has said she wants the churches, not the schools, to do the educating, to advance “God’s kingdom”—her version of it. The US educational system has plenty of problems, but cutting funding, eliminating work security for teachers, and building a network of minimal-cost “Christian” schools is going in the wrong direction
It shows that the Republican Party is so consumed with hate—hate towards minorities, women, liberals, gays, immigrants of every stripe—that it is willing to destroy the US economy and society to get back at those enemies. All Republicans in power understand that the US depends on an educated workforce, and most of them surely understand what DeVos will do to that.
The first thing DeVos did was take down the website for disabled students at the Dept. of Education. Again, sheer senseless cruelty—more and more the trademark of this administration.
The Republicans are held to a difficult “triangulation”: They have to balance the interests of the religious right, the white supremacists, and Big Oil and its allied far-right corporations. This has, in practice, meant combining all the hates and negatives. This will have bad effects: going the course with racism and corporate selfishness will eventually alienate many religious people, while religious and racist bigotry will ruin the economy and thus Big Oil. The corporations know this latter point perfectly well. Even the Koch brothers have spoken out against Trump’s extremism in this regard. But the Republicans are trapped, and in any case their leadership is so hate-filled that they cannot avoid cruelty.
It will take about a year for the good times produced by Obama’s presidency to run out. Republican negativity will level the economy down, especially in so far as the Republicans can destroy public schools, labor unions, Medicare, Social Security, and banking and pollution rules.
The problem is wider than hatred. It is partly due to assessment of whether we can really improve the US by working together. This meant that US society and politics was assumed to be a positive-sum game: all could win. That was the overwhelming assumption when I was young, and both Democrats and Republicans held it. Starting with Nixon but reaching real fruition with Reagan, the tone began to shift. Reagan spoke of the old ideal, but acted to help the rich at the expense of the rest—playing a zero-sum game. Starting with Newt Gingrich and reaching a climax with Donald Trump, the US has become a negative-sum game. The strongest groups maintain their relative position by hurting everyone. Surely nobody but the truly deluded believe the US can improve by taking down every group in it except rich white males. The fact is that many poor or worried white males (and others) voted to hurt other groups even more, to slow down their own decline. The US is collapsing into mutual destruction by ethnic and religious blocs.
People who were not really especially hateful or bigoted wound up voting what hatreds they did have. Trump and his minions whipped up fear and hate as much as they possibly could, and many otherwise decent people were caught up in it, voting their one hatred and forgetting their good intentions and hopes.
Keep the jokes and humor coming: “The tyrant fears the laugh more than the assassin’s bullet.” Robert A. Heinlein, in the short story “Our Fair City”
What I know of evil is largely learned from life experience, but there is a small but excellent literature on the subject. We have reviewed most of it in our book:
Anderson, E. N., and Barbara A. Anderson. 2012. Warning Signs of Genocide. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.
Particularly useful—some new since the book—are:
Baron-Cohen, Simon. 2011. Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. London: Allen Lane. In US as: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. New York: Basic Books.
Baumeister, Roy F. 1997. Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Beck, Aaron. 1999. Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence. NY: HarperCollins.
Snyder, Timothy. 2015. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. New York: Tim Duggan Books.
Staub, Erwin. 1989. The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
— 2003. The Psychology of Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Staub, Ervin. 2011. Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Zimbardo, Philip. 2008. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House.
The Republican Party has most certainly changed. In 1900-08 it was the party of Theodore Roosevelt, who started a “Progressive” tradition that lasted for decades but was more or less coopted by his relative FDR in the 1930s. Eisenhower and even Nixon were moderates. Reagan brought in a solid conservative administration. Trump brought in something quite new: a radical fascist administration that could not be more different from earlier Republican incarnations.
This tracks not only the rise of giant corporations, but the death of the folk society—the small-town and rural world—that produced the Progressives (Teddy’s) and the labor movement. The labor movement has withered away as corporations and suburbs replace bosses and urban or rural workers. The “greatest generation” voted solidly Democratic or progressive-Republican; the baby boomers started out fairly liberal but have become the backbone of right-wing voting; the rising generations seem not to vote at all.
The change in Republican Party policies has led to a change in voters. In its conservative days, it got the votes of most educated and well-to-do people. In the 1950s, especially, average income was the cutoff; people making incomes above that tended to vote Republican; below it, Democrat. This began to change in the Reagan years, and now it has reversed; educated people vote Democrat. The Republican shift to fascism has shifted the vote to the classic fascist constituency: backward sectors of the economy combined with the least educated sectors of the working classes.
Worldwide, the shift toward fascism—visible from the Philippines and Turkey to Poland and France—has seen similar voting shifts. In particular, big oil and the most backward sectors of agriculture have been the consistent supporters and concomitants of far-right-wing regimes.