Reposted from Medium
Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Inequality, and Stagnation All Fuel Fascism. But Those Define This Century. Now What?
There’s a difficult and uncompromising question that I think needs to be asked at right about this juncture in human history. Given the resurgence of global nationalism, extremism, fascism — America, Germany, Poland, Hungary, France, to name just a few — is it going to end any time soon? Is there some kind of natural stopping point? Or will climate change, inequality, mass extinction, and stagnation all feed it — perhaps to tipping point? Is the future fascist?
(Let’s not waste time “debating” whether or not what we really see rising in the world today “really is” fascism. What else do you call putting kids in camps…after separating from their families…where they’re not allowed to hug each other…and many of them never see their parents again? Those are the textbook legal definitions of both torture and genocide. So we’re at a time when torturing little kids — and genociding them — is just an everyday affair.)
What we see rising in the world again today is indeed very real fascism: so far, it follows the predictable, classical sequence of demonization, dehumanization, expropriation, and elimination with eerie, stunning, frightening accuracy.
To really answer our question — is the future fascist — we have to understand two things. One, what fascism really is, and why it comes to be. Let me do that as concisely as possible (and you can judge for yourself whether or not I succeed.)
Fascism is best seen as a kind of theft. A deep and profound theft — the deepest theft of all. It begins with the theft of rights, proceeds through the theft of norms and values, and ends with the theft of possessions, of which the most valuable is one’s own life.
Fascism is therefore a kind of group theft. It is when one group commits the truest and deepest kind of theft upon another, usually many others. Of course, along the way from the theft of rights to the theft of lives, there is also the theft of democracy, of decency, and humanity.
So first, there is an in-group — a group “in” power, “in” the majority, “in” control, which is also to say a group defined by “insiderness”: you can’t belong to this group by choice — you either belong a priori, or you don’t. You are either genetically pure or you are not. You are either a real person or you are not. You are either a human — or you are a subhuman. None of this is your choice — it is the in-group’s choice, and within that in-group, usually the tyrant’s bidding.
This in-group then proceeds to rob those less powerful than them of…everything. Think about the fascist sequence for a moment. It begins with demonization: the theft of dignity, of belonging, of selfhood, to work, to simply be part of society, the social milieu, to exist without guilt and shame and fear.
Then comes dehumanization: the theft of personhood itself — this is the crux of the fascist sequence, because the creation of personhood is the human race’s greatest accomplishment and discovery to date. Then comes expropriation: because you are not a person, you do not have any property rights, and rights at all, in fact — so all that you have can be taken from you, and you are subjugated, sent to a ghetto or a camp. Only people, after all, live in society.
Finally comes elimination. What is stolen at this stage? The body itself is stolen. Anything goes. Torture, imprisonment, disappearance, mass murder. At this final stage of fascism — what is left to steal? Everything has been taken.
So. Fascism is best seen as a kind of group theft. One group decides to take everything it can from another, many others. Everything really means everything — not just material things, but all that they have, from rights, to power, to self-determination, to life itself. And yet strangely, the material things are the crux of this matter, too. How so?
Think of the average good German — the Nazi, perhaps reluctant in the beginning. He lived in a struggling, broken, failed society. Along came the Nazi Party to offer him hope. He would be great again! Soon enough, our man — let’s say a machinist of some kind — decided to join the SS. He found himself living, just a few years later, to his own astonishment, in a fine mansions, on the banks of a historic river, filled with gilded furniture and picturesque art. His children played and frolicked in it, and his wife gazed at him adoringly. What a man he was!
The mansion, though, was taken from a successful Jewish merchant: expropriation. He had no right to live in it anymore, nor to own anything in it, since he was not a person: dehumanization. He was a pariah, a scapegoat, a nobody, whom nobody wanted to associate with: demonization. Now he lived — if living is the right word — in a camp. And soon, he would be dead: elimination.
What had really happened here? See it clearly. The first man, the SS officer, had stolen the second man, the Jew’s life. He had committed a kind of theft on an unimaginable scale. The theft of existence itself. That is what fascism really is: the theft of existence. Because there is nothing greater that can be stolen than existence, fascism is a “crime against humanity” — the greatest crime that we know of yet.
Now. My example above should give you a strong hint as to why fascism ignites, too. Why would the humble machinist end up so depraved, so morally weak, as to…take not just another man’s home, belongings, property — but his rights, his life, his very existence?
Think back a few years. The humble machinist was living in a place called the Weimar Republic. Nothing seemed to be stable. Everything seemed made of clay. He couldn’t feed his kids, his wife, pay the bills. He was always broke, always desperate, always ashamed, always afraid.
Is it any surprise he turned to crime in the end — high crime, the theft of existence? Haven’t hungry and desperate men and women always gone that way? What else are you going to do when you can’t fill your kids’ bellies — if not steal? And what is there more to steal than existence itself — and how better to steal than under the noble propaganda of a party and tyrant telling you that you will be “great again” when you do it?
(No, I’m not “justifying” fascism. I am trying to explain it. Because when I look around the globe, I see fascism rising as one of the globe’s biggest, most urgent problems — and yet there are so few people explaining why that I can count them on the fingers of one hand. Fascism is the elephant in the house of of democracy that’s burning down (if you want a mixed metaphor).
So. Fascism is a kind of group theft — the greatest theft of all. When one group decides to steal everything another group has — not just property and possessions, not even just rights, but existence itself — from others. Like most crimes, fascism results from the desperation of deprivation. It is the product of a collapsing middle class — because a middle class is a creation of modernity, when it crumbles and buckles, it turns against those below it. In that way, fascism is the dark side of modern prosperity — what happens when it is lost.
That is why we see fascism rising around the globe. We are living in a time when prosperity is failing even in rich countries, and it is failing badly. It’s not one of the universe’s greatest and most miraculous coincidences that fascists rule America at the exact moment when the majority of Americans are now effectively poor, unable to afford food, housing, healthcare, and bills — it’s a stark causal relationship.
Now. That’s been way too long an explanation, but I want you to really understand fascism. It’s every civilized person’s first responsibility today. Now let’s answer our question: is the future fascist?
What is the most salient fact of the world today? It is that climate change, mass extinction, inequality, and stagnation are all skyrocketing. In other words, resources are growing scarce for the average person. We have plundered and pillaged our world, and it doesn’t have much more left to give us. The skies are polluted. The insects and bees and fish are dying off. More than a million species are going extinct. The rocks and minerals have been mined to depletion. “Inequality” means the ultra rich hoard all the money, power, and control, and so there’s not enough to go around.
Those are all forms of resource scarcity. And resource scarcity means growing deprivation, my friends. We don’t have adequate substitutes for the natural resources that are growing thing, yet — nor do we seem to have to have the will to fix a broken global economy. That means that the prices of things will continue to rise and rise, whether energy, meat, water, or bread. Not to mention more sophisticated things, like healthcare and retirement and childcare. Sure, junk like Twitter and Facebook will be free. But can you fill your kids’ bellies on Facebook posts about Kardashians? I didn’t think so.
So as resource scarcity on a dying planet turns into widespread deprivation, even in rich countries, imagine the average person again, unable to feed their kids, fill their bellies, provide for their families. What are they to do? We don’t have to guess — we have a vivid example already.
They are likely to do what Americans did. Americans grew poor, suddenly, in the matter of a few decades. And at the precise same instant, they turned passionately, violently, and en masse to fascism. (No, maybe you didn’t — but enough of them did to give something very much like absolute power to a supremacist tyrant.)
What Americans did what was utterly, eminently predictable, if it’s seen clearly: they decided on theft, as they grew suddenly, sharply poor. They decided to begin to steal from less powerful people, from minorities, from the vulnerable. What? Their freedom, their dignity, their self-determination, their status in society, their rights, their existences, and even their lives. Sure, it was called “Making America Great Again” — the greater the theft, the more noble the lie. “It’s their fault we’re poor — get rid of them and we’ll be rich like we were promised!!” But “they” didn’t make Americans poor — and stealing everything they “have”, just like the good German stole the Jews’ existence, won’t make “real” Americans rich. Nonetheless, the point is: fascism is theft, beginning with the theft of existence, culminating in the theft of life, brought about by sudden poverty, and America is its preeminent example today.
You won’t like me saying that. I don’t like me saying that. It’s an ugly and terrible thing to say. Forgive me. But is it true? You can be the judge of that.(Remember how predictable the fascist sequence is: demonization, dehumanization, expropriation, elimination. As hunted kids are herded into camps, far from their parents, as hate spikes, as the President defies the rule of law — isn’t all that exactly predicted by the sequence, and doesn’t America’s stunning collapse follow the sequence unerringly? And yet it was also utterly predictable in this sense: a newly poor nation will turn to theft when it can’t make ends meet, and it will do it in an organized way, and it will do it in a noble and high-sounding way, too. Fascism is group theft, remember?)
Let me come to the point and the lesson.
America is the canary in the coal mine of global collapse. Of a dying planet, a dying world, a dying era of civilization, of the end of a time we’ll come to see as a golden age. It is the first newly poor country in the world — one that’s still nominally rich, which hides the fact that it’s now effectively poor. What we don’t see, even if we see that much, is the catastrophic effect that America’s newfound poverty had — it led, like it usually does, to the social choice of group theft, of one group stealing existence, rights, power, and control, from all the rest, more politely called fascism. America’s plunge into poverty ignited the fascist spark — when there wasn’t enough to go around, one group of Americans decided to take the superiority and prosperity promised to them by force. That process is self-evidently ongoing.
But we should see American fascism as instructive, illuminating, a glaring red warning light for the world, and every country in it. This is an era when climate change and mass extinction are going to begin to cause serious and severe issues of resource scarcity worldwide, whether for water, air, food, or land. Yet resource scarcity and depletion easily turn into deprivation. When deprivation bites, people turn to theft. But it’s beggars who steal bread. Societies steal bigger things, truer, more sophisticated things. They steal rights, selfhood, personhood, life — existence itself.
They are hungrier predators, with sharper teeth — and those teeth smile. One man hungry and desperate to steal is a thief. He steals bread. A hundred is a mafia. They steal turf. A thousand, a revolt. They form a nation. A nation of the hungry and desperate, though, is fascism waiting to happen. And it steals all that there is to steal. Existence, beginning with personhood, proceeding through possessions, ending with life itself.
Is the future fascist? Perhaps, perhaps. Certainly, the tensions and pressures for fascism in this century will only mount and grow. They will cause many countries to implode and collapse — America is just the first.
And yet nothing is written in stone. It’s true that this century will be a difficult time. And yet America’s great mistake wasn’t that it fell prey to natural scarcity — but the artificial scarcity of predatory capitalism. It didn’t invest in itself, in its people. And therein lies the lesson. Nations that invest in themselves — in healthcare, childcare, food, air, water, retirement, democracy — to combat the pressures of growing scarcity before they become deprivation, will be the ones that survive this century. The ones in which a good, decent life is still livable, without having to steal it away from those more vulnerable than you still.
Those that don’t? Take a good hard look at America. Is it something you think anyone else should become? Or is it a warning to the world — about how fascism is the highest theft, the theft of existence, a spark ignited by the vacuum of sudden, sharp deprivation?
You be the judge of that.