Identity, oppression, fascism and drivel

This blog isn’t a blog, it’s a diary. I use it to think through problems, to ruminate on whatever iteration of neo-fascism-Lite we’re currently nurturing like a multi-tiered sprout-maker in the sun. It should be immediately apparent to anyone who read this blog that I write as I talk – completely unedited drivel. And I truly mean, unedited. I don’t revisit. I can type almost as fast as I can talk, which surely must be the crowning achievement of my ignominious ejection from third form typing with Mrs Wilson during my one unremarkable year at Wellington Girls’.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the US. I’m not given writing about US politics, in the main because I’ve noticed that most New Zealanders seem peculiarly fascinated with it, which is an odd cultural artefact in itself.

No, I’m thinking about it because of Facebook, most notably, the sheer number of friends who’re moving back to either Australia or New Zealand. It seems, generally, that my friends in the US entered some form a lockdown in around February and thought; ‘let’s just sit tight, this will be over soon’. But it wasn’t, and the pandemic, coupled with the prospect of an unwinnable election – that is, it doesn’t matter who wins, the outcome will result in destabilising protest and social unrest – has rather galvanised their thinking. New Zealand, with its cutely grandiose, homely politics and largely functioning justice system provides an irresistibly appealing realpolitik.

Alarmingly, they’re talking of fascism in the US. Good old fashioned fascism.

It’s a great word but I don’t think it will come to pass. Rather, I think the US will end up with a situation resembling Brazil. Or, I should say, even more like Brazil, with uber wealthy captains of industry flying their choppers over the rioting slums, straight into their luxury compounds. The US is already a peppercorn of ‘worlds’ – parts of the American south have been listed as ‘third world’ since the early 1980s. For every matcha tea drinking Californian hipster there’s a grimy 8 year old in Missouri with rickets. The diversity of the US is so self evident it’s not noteworthy and so I won’t either.

Fascism requires broad appeal, consent and consensus, none of which are available in tipping-point quantities in the US. Also, we receive a very jaundiced view of US politics here in the antipodes – a sort of a caricature of a failed state, complete with a cartoon leader and manichean narratives of righteousness. Broadly, the US is drawn as a cautionary morality tale illustrating the pitfalls of unfettered individualism, both economic and cultural. This is why we’re exposed to so much crowing about their lack of a public health system – it’s the embodiment of a failure of the true meaning of citizenship. They only care about themselves! No wonder they’re so fucked!

It’s not true, of course. Americans are politically engaged in ways that Australians and (to a lesser extent) New Zealanders are far too lazy to countenance. Many Americans – ordinary, lower to middle class people – think hard about their personal connection to politics. To be sure, sometimes this leads to perverse outcomes, where large groups of people come to believe that the entire show is being run by lizard people from outer space, which, quite frankly, might be a bit of an improvement.

Americans also give a shit about their ‘fellow man’. They believe in charity – real, genuine charity, often motivated by (largely) Christian impulse. Churches in the US provide an enormous amount of social support. Many if not most Americans also believe in free speech and freedom in a way that would make Australians squeamish. I guess my point is – there’s no point in thinking about America in the simple dogmatic terms we’re presented with in our media.

So what of fascism? Is the US headed for fascism? And what might like look like? I’ve long been fascinated by how and why countries head into fascist dictatorships. What’s interesting is that although the authoritarian dictators, everyone from Hitler to Mugabe, look more or less the same, the methods by which they come to power are historically bound and necessarily different.

Yesterday some clever sausage on Twitter posted a letter in which Roald Dahl’s publisher roundly told the author to fuck right off for being an annealed turd. Most odious was Dahl’s lazy anti-semitism, having casually stated that he thought that the Jews retained something in their character that made them responsible for their persecution. I’ve written about this before, but I think the point to be made is that it’s no good wringing our hands over Dahl’s personal shortcomings unless we’re prepared to look at the social and cultural milieu in which he came by them.

Roald Dahl was expressing a view that was quite common in the middle of the 20th Century, and something we like to quietly sush-up about now. He would have been familiar with what was known as ‘the Protocols’ and ‘the Elders of Zion’, a laughably facile co-ordinated campaign of misinformation with terrifying parallels to today. And I think it highlights something important about where we’re at politically and what that means for galloping ‘fascism’.

To explain Dahl’s anti-semitism as a personal failing is simple. It appeals to us on contemporary terms. He was a shit and should be cancelled forthwith. To make sense of his anti-semitism as a structural failing is a different matter entirely. We see this dualism emerge again and again – a binary between a cultural explanation and a structural one. Take this article, for instance, that contrasts African American theorists talking about oppression in the US.

I’ve used this example because the ‘right’ is often more engaged in cultural explanations of social dysfunction and decay, being more invested in explanations for inequality that blame the victims rather than the structure. Is it the individual’s fault? Or is it the society in which they find themselves? It’s a tawdry question and importantly, the answer is less important than the format of the question.

It’s obvious to anyone that society and the individual are inextricably interwoven but when we focus on ‘the individual’ we come to see the solution to all problems as the responsibility of the individual. This is the danger of identity politics. Identifying oneself as racist or ‘anti-racist’ is pointless unless you’re willing to engage with the structural, institutional arrangements that make racism possible. We’re not though, because we’ve been told we can’t. We have personal power – all the narratives about ourselves are personal ones – but not political power. The collective is dead. It is boring and unfashionable. The only social capital to be made or found is through identifying oneself as unique in some way. An influencer.

We haven’t eradicated questions of social injustice, inequality and oppression, we have shifted our language to preclude them.

Initially I was incensed that so many people would spend so much time engaging in the pointless internecine war of gender politics over say, JK Rowling’s rather pedestrian public article about women’s rights. I thought it was a distraction from the huge, looming catastrophes like climate change and destruction of the environment. And it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a training module, yet another way of encouraging people to think deeply about their identity, to focus their attention inwards.

Foucault saw this coming. The techniques and strategies of the self are myriad but all moving in one direction: inward. We are being trained in ever more subtle ways to accept power. I’ve mumbled incoherently about a personal example of this before, the time when everyone in my office cheerfully donned an ankle bracelet for a week.

I suppose I’ve got a lot more to say and think about this, but I’ve also got work to do and yet another computer program to learn (seriously, why can’t we just agree on one program and stick with it? This is why I still do (some) equations by hand).

I have one other observation this morning. Although me this seems like a completely banal observation it came as a shock to the dog walkers on the beach this morning: I think Trump will win the 2020 US election, just like I thought he would win last time. In fact, I thought he would win more or less from the moment he received the nomination. I think this time he will win with a more convincing majority, largely due to a higher turn out on Republican voters.

Just while I’m crowing about my prescience…I never predicted Brexit, ostensibly a country and system I should be more ‘familiar’ with, living, as I do, in a British colony.

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