Tag Archives: Fascism

Boycott Hate-mongers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new blog here. You could say I’ve been on strike, but not really: I’m not holding out for better pay of benefits. It’s more a matter of running out of energy to do all the things I want to do for my own amusement and thus leaving this one aside for a while. In any case though, there’s now an issue that I want to both think through rant to the rest of the world about so its time to open this back up and dump some fresh verbiage on any of you who happen to be interested.

The issue which comes to mind of course has to do with next month’s mid-term elections in the United States. I try to be active in my US citizenship, but not being registered as an absentee citizen of any particular county in the US the way the law works is that I can’t really make my vote count no matter how I want to influence things. I also, as a matter of principle, don’t believe in dumping money into major party campaigns, with the idea that money should be the accepted means of determining election results. I know that in practice it often works that way, but that is only because too many Americans are too poorly educated to think critically about the crap that those control the airwaves dump on them. I don’t believe the political system can be improved until the educational system improves. Unfortunately the conspicuous decline in the integrity of the political system is leading to continuous decline in the education system, so the vicious circle is spiraling downwards rather than progress enabling the nation to climb upwards. Thus the decline of America as a superpower is inevitable and accelerating.

But rather than been all doom and gloom about it I really want to spread some sort of message of hope for my native land. For them to have hope, however, they will have to start working together as a people. That can only work if they find some greater unifying factor than who they hate. For the nation to thrive as a nation it needs some idea, not of who they want to fight against, but what they want to fight for.

If that has ever happened before in US history, though, it hasn’t been within my lifetime. Thus I’m not terribly optimistic about the prospect for American decline being reversed any time soon, but for all my friends there who are able to vote and who want to use your vote to try to move things in a positive direction here’s what I seriously suggest: Don’t vote for anyone on the basis of who they promise to fight against!

If they’re spending millions on convincing you to join them in hating particular bad guys and this message is coming across louder than any hope for the future they have to offer, you can be quite sure that by voting for them you will only make the problems in Washington worse, regardless of which party they represent.

Even when the forces of peace seem to be grossly overpowered by the forces of hate...

Even when the forces of peace seem to be grossly overpowered by the forces of hate…

It comes back to the principle of the classic thought experiment of the “Prisoners’ Dilemma.” In its basic form this comes down to an interrogator trying to extract confessions from two partners in crime, when in fact he has little other evidence to establish their guilt. So effectively he promises each that if either one confesses to the crime he will be immediately pardoned and the other will serve a heavy sentence. If both confess, a sentence will be served by both, but it will be lighter than what which would be served by just one who would not confess. Thus one viable version would be for two suspects of computer fraud to each be told, “If you confess to your crime and your partner doesn’t, you’ll be out of jail by the end of the week, whereas he’ll serve 5 years for the crime. If he confesses and you don’t, you’ll serve the 5 years and he walks. If you both confess, you’ll each end up serving 3 years.” What goes unstated is that if neither confesses they’ll both be released after a maximum holding time for the trial process of 2 months.  So for each individual, provided they care nothing about the other, it makes the most sense to confess: His time in jail will be 2 months less if the other doesn’t confess, and 2 years less if he does. But if he is thinking of their collective good he will not confess: By not confessing, even if the other fellow does confess, he can reduce their combined jail time by a year. If the other fellow doesn’t confess, by also not confessing he can reduce their combined jail time by 4 years and 8 months.

The lesson is that individuals who are most successful in their competition with others, if they care nothing about those they are competing with, in the long run they do collective harm for everyone. The only way for the pair, or team, or society, to succeed together is to start thinking of the collective harm or benefit that comes from a particular action rather than just “what’s in it for me”. Americans’ current lack of capacity to think collectively in this regard is what is driving the country towards decline. Nowhere is that more obvious than between the major political parties.

Beyond that there is what might be considered the Fascist mentality: hatred towards a mutual enemy really does draw people together, and if you want other people to work together with you towards the realization of your personal goals the best way to get them to do that is often to convince them to hate something you can be their hero in fighting against. If there isn’t some evil entity for them to hate you can always create one for them. Hitler obviously drew on a tradition of using the Jews for such a purpose. For Americans the bad guy has been variable, but always there: the dark skinned “savages” whose lands they were taking, or the British imperialists, or the rebellious and resentful former slaves, or the non-integrated newcomer immigrants, or the threat of Communism, or now primarily the threat of expansive Islam. Any (combination) of these threats could be used at different points in American history to rally people together to fight as a team.

If the common enemy wasn’t enough the other motivational tool in the fascist box would be fear of punishment by the powerful and fully legitimized authority structure. The secret police, the inquisition, the ministry of justice or “Big Brother” by any other name is always watching and always ready to pounce on those who don’t do its bidding.

Of course I don’t want people supporting Fascists, but to base campaigns on hatred towards any other group by labeling them as Fascists ultimately only reinforces a Fascist mentality in the society. The only way to escape this is to rather work towards a model of solidarity between citizens: working together towards the ideal printed on the dollar bill: “e pluribus unum” –– out of many, one. Unless we can clearly envision what we should be working together as one to achieve, common enemies can provide us with no lasting stable government structure, to say nothing of peace, happiness or security.

The ideals I suggest to build solidarity around would be basic human rights: setting certain goals for how all people should be treated just because they are people, and accepting no excuses for treating any human being with less dignity than what befits a human being. This was essentially the message of the “Four Freedoms” laid out by FDR and painted by Norman Rockwell to motivate Americans to fight in World War II. This was the essential message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted shortly after the last World War with hopes of avoiding another one.

Sadly most Americans seldom stop to think about the matter of what even their enemies are basically entitled to as human beings, and when it comes to “rights” they have the naïve tendency to consider “the right to bear arms” as more fundamental than the rights to “freedom of movement” or “asylum from persecution” (UDHR articles 13 and 14); to say nothing of rights to “social security” (art. 22), “equal pay for equal work” (art. 23, §2), “to form and join trade unions” (art. 23, §4), “an adequate standard of living… including… health care” (art. 25, §1) or an extensive “right to education” (art. 26). With that sort of mentality the basic threshold to building a sense of national solidarity based on a respect for human rights tends to be too high for most politicians to pass over these days. Consequently rather than building the world’s most technically or ideologically advanced society, the United States is currently building the world’s most extensive (and profitable) prison system. That trend is worth reversing. In fact in my humble opinion reversing that trend is actually infinitely more important than maintaining US military hegemony in the world.

I haven’t heard of any campaigns in the current election cycle which provide me with a great deal of hope in this regard, so I won’t endorse any particular parties or candidates. What I will suggest is for all voters to take a step away from the status quo in the system, taking a baby step towards a dynamic of solidarity: Don’t vote for anyone on the basis of who they promise to fight against! If both parties are campaigning on no other basis than that you really may not be able to do any good with your ballot. If, however, in any given race, one candidate is just a little less aggressively hateful than the other, and just a little less obviously clueless about the meaning of human rights, vote for that candidate.

Meanwhile take the trouble to read through international agreements and declarations regarding human rights in general. You don’t have to agree with all of them, but you owe it to yourself to stop and think about them in light of the question of what all human beings should be entitled to as human beings. From there work towards making the society in which you live, and in which you participate in the process of selecting the government, one which respects these sorts of rights, and one in which people work together in a spirit of solidarity to protect each other’s basic rights in these regards. Part of that is to discuss these rights with each other and to encourage your neighbors as well to stop and think about them.

If US citizens en masse were to start thinking in this manner it might not be enough to halt the phenomenon of cultural decline there, but it would certainly slow down the process. It would also make whatever sort of society we are moving towards far more livable and enjoyable for our descendants.

Any other hopes I have for the nation can only be realized from this starting point, so please work on sharing it and spreading it!

Those in other (nominally) democratic nations, please learn from the Americans’ mistakes and strive in your own lands as well to promote solidarity based on respect for each other’s basic human rights. The whole planet really needs this!

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Filed under Education, Human Rights, Politics, Solidarity

Silencers

In considering the varieties of “Christian Politics” lately, I’ve been looking at the question of which of the outspoken voices in this field are genuinely committed to a pluralistic democratic form of government and which believe that their priority should be to enforce God’s will on their fellow citizens, using the democratic process as one imperfect means of doing so until “God’s kingdom” can be more properly realized. This is actually a particularly hard line to draw, as many of the most conspicuous characters in the field work very hard on trying to have it both ways. The question is, when someone like the Southern Baptists’ lead lobbyist Richard Land says that his goal is to establish “an American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority,” how seriously do we need to take that, either as a promise of stability or a threat to religious freedom? When Chris Hedges labels this sort of political action as “American Fascism” is he exaggerating, or does he have a legitimate point? This goes back to a question of the essence of American identity, the minimum requirements for freedom of religion, and the practical limits we are willing to place on freedom of expression.

silencerIf we start with the fourth point from Wolterstorff that I quoted last week –– “There is to be no differentiation among citizens with regard to religion [or lack thereof] in their right to hold office and in their right to political voice” –– the key question becomes, what constitutes a significant threat to the right to political voice for various players within the political process?

Since the term “fascist” is already on the table here, let’s go ahead and consider the negative examples of the Axis Powers leading up to World War 2. The Germans, due to a fair amount of frustration with the loss of their previous cultural stability based on “Christian tradition,” and the consequent economic turmoil that their country was going through, became increasingly polarized between Communists and right wing nationalists, both of which claimed to represent the interests of the common working people. As their country became more polarized and as it became more and more difficult to pass basic legislation due to ideologues’ unwillingness to compromise, basic legislation started to be passed more and more by executive decree –– using Article 48 of the Weimar constitution. The practical matter of getting stuff done –– keeping the power turned on and keeping the trains running –– became more important to people than the principle matter of everyone continuing to have a voice in government. Into this situation stepped a brash young Austrian-born leader by the name of Hitler, taking power as something of a minority compromise candidate and insisting on overcoming the problems of divisive fragmentation in German political culture through ruling by decree. The idea was to silence everyone who didn’t agree with him by calling their patriotism into question, especially those of the political left. Within two months citizens’ constitutional right to elect representatives to theoretically speak on their behalf became a thing of the past. Hitler’s speech of February 1, 1933 was a classic in terms of religiously justifying his party’s process of seizing power and silencing the opposition:

Since that day of treachery [the surrender at the end of World War 1] the Almighty has withheld his blessing from our people. Dissension and hatred descended upon us. With profound distress millions of the best German men and women from all walks of life have seen the unity of the nation vanishing away, dissolving in a confusion of political and personal opinions, economic interests, and ideological differences…

Communism with its method of madness is making a powerful and insidious attack upon our dismayed and shattered nation. It seeks to poison and disrupt in order to hurl us into an epoch of chaos…. This negative, destroying spirit spared nothing of all that is highest and most valuable. Beginning with the family, it has undermined the very foundations of morality and faith and scoffs at culture and business, nation and Fatherland, justice and honor.

as leaders of the nation and the national Government we vow to God, to our conscience, and to our people that we will faithfully and resolutely fulfill the task conferred upon us.

The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life….

Turbulent instincts must be replaced by a national discipline as the guiding principle of our national life. All those institutions which are the strongholds of the energy and vitality of our nation will be taken under the special care of the Government.    

It is not hard to see how a frustrated and impoverished people who are prone to see trusting God as the answer to their problems would readily go along with this sort of program, and how they would gladly participate in the process of silencing anyone who would dare to disagree. With Communists and Jews as scapegoats for all that had gone wrong, and with no one daring to publicly challenge his “mission from God,” Hitler did indeed bring about a major economic turnaround in Germany, instilling people with a great sense of pride in their national destiny and their right to attack all who opposed the value system they represented.

Where did they go wrong strategically? Perhaps just in terms of over extending themselves militarily. Where did they go wrong morally? In too many places for me to try to detail here. Suffice to say, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the best solution that the best minds of the time could come up with to reduce the risk of the same sort of tragedy happening again. This document brings together, in rather diversified form, the best of religious and secular thinking of that age about what people should be entitled to for no other reason than that they happen to be human beings. This in turn defines what the task of government is: insuring that the rights of all of its citizens are defended as thoroughly as possible.  I believe it would be fair to say that the primary risk of fascism in the current generation comes from those who have never bothered to acquaint themselves with this document, and/or those who consider their particular religious or nationalist agendas to have a higher priority than the principles of human dignity it lays out.

Some of the most broadly recognized general principles contained in this document are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from slavery, the right to citizenship, the right to family life, and the right to just and fair legal protection for all. These rights spill down into other things that may be more controversial: the right to travel internationally, the right to regular paid vacations, the right to a basic education, the right to change religions, the right to adequate health care… But perhaps the most challenging bit is the practical application of the rather broadly accepted Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. In other words, I can’t use my rights as a means of trying to take away your rights, and visa-versa. That is especially difficult when it comes to speech and religion. How do you allow someone to be free to practice a religion that contains the teaching that it must attempt to dominate all other religions? How do you allow everyone to have their own say when the purpose of speaking for many is to shout the next guy down?

It’s quite fair to say that both the US ideal of freedom of religion and the international ideal of the UDHR remain works in progress. We have never had a state of affairs where perfect respect for all members of society has been realized in an ideal fashion. There have always been some who have been unfairly discriminated against, abused as a labor force, stolen from and/or scapegoated. Since I have become an expatriate from the US the level of social protection and recognition has gradually improved for some, such as Hindus and homosexuals, while it has gradually fallen apart for others, such as inner city school students and minimum wage laborers. This was one of the main points of Barack Obama’s “More Perfect Union” speech, which was probably one of the key moments that ended up getting him elected as president. We need to avoid nostalgia for the days when some folks rights were better recognized, and we need to work towards the idea of having all people’s dignity protected more than it has been thus far.

So the question with regard to religious interests in politics is one of how far we can allow particular groups to dominate in the interest of unity, order and prosperity, at the expense of others rights to participate in the democratic process and have their other rights properly recognized? This leads us to consider which groups which are now dogmatically promoting their own agendas at the expense of constructive dialog between interest groups might be genuinely dangerous in the future. Who might we allow into power as a minority compromise group, assuming we can somehow keep them in check with the strength of the system, only to discover as the Germans did in the early 1930s that we have unleashed a monster? But just as critical a question: If we suspect that a particular group could rise up to become the new Nazis, how far can we go in working to preemptively silence them or shout them down without the cure (or immunization) becoming worse than the potential disease?

There are particular groups out there these days that I consider particularly dangerous in terms of having a stronger commitment to their set ideas of right and wrong than they have to constructive dialog and mutual recognition of each other’s basic rights. This, however, is a matter of human temperament for many, which cannot be fixed through eliminating particular political alternatives for them. I believe that the best we can do is to try to educate people in the processes of constructive dialog and in awareness of the rights of others. If we can, both from religious and secular perspectives, avoid tribal mentalities of praying to our various sorts of gods to “bless us, burn them,” we’ll stand a much better chance of not inadvertently wiping ourselves out in the next few generations.

Meanwhile, when we see political groups of various sorts doing hatemongering and attempting to silence the political opposition in the name of doing God’s work, remember where that sort of rhetoric has been used before.

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