Trump Was Predictable; How, and Why

Having written that extremists taking over both sides was inevitable, here’s when and how

This is a rant that’s been planned since the start of this blog – though, you know what?  Having written about Slug Control, maybe this should be called a ‘blug’ – Since I started this blug, but wanted first to find the article that spelled it out so clearly, so it could be referred to.  That’s been given up, though, as a lost cause.  The article existed, but I don’t know enough about how to do research of this sort to find it.  It was an op-ed by one of the big names of the 1970’s that appeared in a Sunday edition of the Grey Lady, and you would think that would be easy for even the clunkiest to find; but apparently my clunkitude knows no bounds.  Hell, it was only two posts ago I was all giddy at figuring out how to include a link!

Nevertheless, as one of John Cleese’s Monty Python characters said, ‘adapt, adopt and improve’.

To begin with, a barbershop my dad took me to at around age five or so, in the middle ’50s, in a middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West.  I was struck by the barber telling me that guys should get their hair cut every three weeks, and then the world, he said, would be a better place.  That was when I first realized that people adopt a philosophy that is primarily informed by their own self-interest.  And no, I’m not saying that I would have put it that way at the age of five.  I’m sure I said nothing more brilliant than:

“Gee!”

Still, it stuck with me, and I thought about it a lot growing up, not that I have – old, yes, but not up; and I kept hearing different versions of the same self-informed wisdom from Really Old People (you know, old people, like teenagers and even older!) constantly – that a person’s thinking starts and ends with what makes their own life better, or, as I would have put it as a kid:

“Boy, adults sure are dumb.”  Not sure I didn’t go so far as to add, “… as dirt!”

(It was a different time: The Lone Ranger and Davey Crockett didn’t swear, so we didn’t, either.  Not saying a better time, just different; my first swear word came out of my mouth at age 19.  It was “Hell.”  It was, interestingly (or not), in the Green Room of the Fir Acres Theater at Lewis and Clark College, and Markie Post, of ‘Night Court’ fame, was but one of the hearers who were shocked, not at the word, certainly, but that I said it.  We were playing a card game called Sargeant Major, and . . .  But I digress.)

Then a few years after that, a deeper aspect of the same thing became apparent: Our brains work in ways very different than it seems to us they do.  Much of our intelligence is aimed at inventing justifications for the things we want to do – it’s pretty clear that this, and little else, separates us from the other apes – and which I dubbed, some time around the age of eight or nine, the ‘Yellow Light Syndrome’.  It’s the way people tended to think, a kind of automatic self-excuse-making habit that applies in so much that people do, noticed as a passenger in my parents’ car, back in the uninformed Neolithic, when kids could sit in the front seat of an automobile.

The driver gets close to an intersection when the light turns yellow, and steps on the gas rather than the brake; and, when I give them the fish-eye (I never did have much patience with adults, who I thought of as hopelessly silly, which is at least one of the reasons why, even after more than six decades, I still refuse to become one) they said, more to themselves than to me, “I was too far into the intersection to stop.”

No, you weren’t, you clunk; you just didn’t want to stop.  When I started to drive, this same process happened in me the first time I came to a suddenly-yellow light; but I wanted to be a good driver, so I absolutely refused to go along with this dangerous foolishness, and learned to react by braking, and so never once have run a red light.  Still, it meant a lot to me that I could feel, could sense when this excuse-making process started up within my own brain in any situation, and tried to become instantly distrustful of it.  That started a lifetime process of questioning any impulse, in myself or others, that seemed to be compelled by emotion.

So that’s by way of pointing up my own prejudices.  Other observations that have contributed: The moment in the Kennedy administration at a meeting of church members held to express opinions about the growing conflict in Southeast Asia, with Old People standing up and ranting about ‘godless Comm’nism!’, when I first realized that communism, a clearly failed system, was never going to find support within the United States, but fascism could easily be adopted as a result of mindless fear; the moment when, with bowed head, I first heard the Presbyterian pastor of our lovely Mid-Century Modern church slip into our prayers to a merciful God that He bless and aid our brave soldiers in Killing Commies for Christ; the description in civics classes from the fifth grade on of our system as ‘a voluntary society’; Republicans telling the lie that the War on Poverty was a failure, despite all the studies and statistics that showed the opposite, because they had to lie about its unquestionable success; and, of course, the entire Nixon administration.

That’s the end of the intro – what Walt Kelley’s Howland Owl would have termed ‘the poor parlors.’  For some reason, the pretty skunk lady Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah, though French, never corrected him.  Say la vee, Pogo.

It was after the Nixon nightmare ended, in the administration of the first of what now has become a tradition of Republican Presidents not winning election, and a man who was actually much more athletic and graceful than Chevy Chase portrayed him as – by the by, did you know Chevy’s actual first name was Cornelius?  No, I didn’t, either – it was during the administration of Gerald Ford that a Sunday editorial appeared in the New York Times stating the staggering idea that, at least in terms of policy, the long competition between Liberal and Conservative concepts of governance was over, with Liberalism winning hands down; that though the debate would go on in words, the political struggle continue, yet at least as a theory of how actually to govern, Conservatism was DOA, and all government structures from now on would be quietly Liberal in construction.  It was tightly reasoned and very persuasive; the Great Society, as proposed and passed by LBJ and as perfected in its application by Richard Nixon – as mentally deformed as he was, and as inept at war-making, he was, it will surprise you to learn, a very capable administrator who made the Great Society work – had made great strides at reducing poverty, and at advancing equality and opportunity, and so had laid the groundwork for moving bravely into the future, sweeping all opposition before it on a tide of magnificent success and increasing wealth.  There would still be political parties, still Right and Left, but for the most part, Conservative and Liberal would be labels rather than descriptions; behind the scenes, Liberal policy, which had worked so well, would continue to work for the foreseeable future.

It was all so clear, so unarguable, so persuasive.  And I could see instantly that, though correct as far as it went, it was so frighteningly inadequate.

I was staggered.  It was a moment I still recall, sitting in our simple, knock-together dining room with the paper spread before me, reading this opinion piece as it was carried in our Oregonian.  I could see the future unfolding so clearly, as if the clouds had rolled away revealing in frightening detail the gradually appearing expanse of a horrifying vista.

First, I saw that, to the degree the debate really was over, it meant that good people on both sides would leave politics.  With little more than the details of surrender to be worked out, decent, hard-working, dedicated people who dominated in both parties at that time, the giants of legislative and administrative brilliance, would slowly leave Politics for other fields; after all, brilliant minds want to do brilliant work, and if the job was done, why hang around?  This would leave a vacuum for lesser minds to fill, opening both parties to extremists of Right and Left, and clearing governance of all pretense to respect for my beloved Voluntary Society and the Jeffersonian ideal of liberty.  And so it rapidly evolved, with haters and racists coming to dominate the Right and prim, humorless control freaks the Left, which further drove talent and wisdom from both parties.

I could foresee that the Republican Party would rapidly become enslaved to reactionaries – and, as I argue in a moment, inevitably to fascists.  They would first work to weaken public education and the liberal national news media – because a well-educated, well-informed populace tends toward liberalism, and thus would be a threat to their control.  An urge to control the population would become an inevitable goal of the Republican party; nature abhors a vacuum, and if good men and women of fine character and honest, sincere personality left for other fields now that The War Was Over, the power that Republicans – and, from different impulses, Democrats – still held would now be used for other, more self-informed goals.

And it was clear what those goals would be: Service to the Rich, advancing the power of the Powerful.  That very day in the mid-Seventies when, with horror, I read that opinion piece, was the first time – but far from the last – I saw what would increasingly become the clear purpose of the Republican Party, and many Democrats as well:

Comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

The Democrats too would suffer a slow but steady exodus of talented, dedicated Liberals who desired only to make ours a better Republic based on the free marketplace of ideas, to be replaced with others who wanted only to feather their own nests and strive for power without purpose, and those of such limited vision and so filled with hubris that they really imagined themselves singularly blessed by such wisdom that they could tell the rest of us what to do, in humorless, remorseless detail, sneering at and shaming any so foolish as to imagine themselves fit to decide for themselves the right and the good.  Those talented few who actually wanted to help people would avoid politics and instead just go out and do it, and they did, starting many very successful non-governmental organizations, leaving those who want power only as an end in itself; and without any larger reason behind them, those Democrats still attracted to politics would be purchasable by that same wealth that would purchase the Right.  The barber’s dedication to a philosophy that every man’s hair should be regularly cut would become the politician’s belief that the rich should support their political career for the greater good, no matter their party or political persuasion.

Please note this point: The barber of my childhood really did believe in haircuts; the politician really does believe in what he’s doing, no matter how conveniently self-informed his actions or his dedication to fund-raising from the rich, no matter how transparently useful to those rich his legislation might be.  Self-excusing behavior is part of the very essence of what it means to be human; it was a necessary development of the Mind arising from the Brain, the cause of the rapid evolution of bigger brains that occurred between 800,000 and 200,000 years ago – and all this magnificence you see around you, the powerful culture we’ve developed, our technological brilliance, is but a side-effect of that self-excusing mechanism so vital to that brain growth, central to how ‘mind’ self-arose from the increasing chaos of ‘brain’.  You do this.  I do this.  How then do we criticize this tendency in others or ourselves?  How do we move forward when everyone is so blind to their own emotion-centered thoughts that justify instantly even the most inhuman, brutal, vicious acts?  How can we keep from repeating the horrors of the past, of man’s inhumanity to man?

Jefferson showed us the way: that my rights end at the tip of your nose.  But even he did not rule that way as President.  How then for any of us?  Yet that is our only hope – and a fascist dictatorship of the Right, or a progressive one of the Left, is the inevitable result of abandoning Jefferson’s pledge to grant each other the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff’.  (It’s not my fault his ‘s’s looked like ‘f’s.)

That’s the frightening future I saw so clearly unfolding, now some forty-plus years ago.  And so it has turned out to be.  We are awash in Governance by Command, whether the hob-nailed, steel-jacketed, spike-encrusted Bible held high by the goose-stepping Right, all the better to club us into Holy Obedience, or the shaming, limiting, fettering, three-foot-high speed-bump- and ‘guardrail around the guardrail around the guardrail’-installing Left, both the belt-to-the-butt Daddy Government Rightists and the opposition-shaming Mommy State Left, both doing everything they can to display their usefulness to the One Percent – oh, but their One Percent, their own side’s approved-of and party-financing wealthy – with the rest of us running first to one side and then to the other for relief from the dictation of the opposite parent.

And as for Fascism: First, understand that fascism isn’t a swear-word, but a too-common organizing principal, not a dirty word but a descriptive political term.  Think of it that way, or else become part of what makes it so easy to establish.  Think of traditional monarchy, with the King as leader of government, of party, and of religion, controlling the entire society and granting monopolies that determine commercial success; and then add that the King anoints himself.  That’s fascism – a monarchy without nobility.  It’s important to honestly understand the word as description, because it is, in complexity terms, a random attractor; the fall-back organizing principal of humanity, the vortex self-government may always stray too close to and fall in, the monster always waiting for any civilization that clings like the cowards we tend to be to the Strongman whenever bravery simply costs us too much to display, or is thought rude.

And then understand the impulse to fascism, which is simplicity itself; the thought, including your thought, that if everyone would just shut up and do what I say – or what you say, or Trump says, or God says, or anybody – then we would be safe.  That first impulse that, if indulged, will lead to fascism if unresisted is nothing more than thinking ‘what we need to do about this is, we all must . . .” followed by any words, Hitler’s words, Trump’s words, Jesus’ words, Mohammed’s words, your words, my words.  It really is as simple, as common, and as dangerous as that.  There’s a problem; and ‘we all must’ get behind the solution.  The danger is never that there is a problem – there are always problems.  The danger is never that there is a solution – there are always solutions.

The danger comes in that simple belief – the ‘we all must’.

If I could impart to you any one message, it would be this: Complexity and variety gives life; only The Grave is uniform, only Death is normative, the only thing ‘we all must’ do.  And, yes, even that message, when imposed on others, is deadly.  None of this is easy, but that’s life.

In late grade school and through high school, I was so horrified by my parents’ generation’s World War, with our nation’s noble though late-to-the-dance fight against Hitler and the unspeakable, unendurable revelation of the Holocaust – my mom admitted to me, with shame, that, yes, they knew, that Americans paying attention knew about the camps from the beginning – that I was determined to read all I could about how this thing could have happened, and in one of the most advanced, in many ways one of the most progressive, of all nations.  It’s not the simple, self-glorifying story that Hollywood likes to tell and Americans prefer to believe, of a people gone mad at the Siren call of a hypnotic character, that it could all be blamed on Hitler.  It is, in fact, a natural progression that all political systems are subject to whenever any people becomes too weary, too frightened or too lazy to maintain respect for the rights of their neighbors, even their ‘right to be wrong’ as long as they are only wrong for themselves.

It starts in rural areas, and Religion is important right from the beginning; Religion and Fear.  And a mouthpiece – right away, you have to have a mouthpiece; in early-20th-century Germany, to buy small, local newspapers, the advanced technology of Hitler’s time.  You need to start right off telling lies, and in small rural markets, it’s pretty easy to buy yourself some liars, and plenty of poorly-informed braggarts and bigots.  It doesn’t matter to them what you are selling, as long as there is the opportunity for thugs to enjoy strutting and threatening, and for grievance.

In rural areas, it’s easy to find, and inflate, this sense of often-justified grievance, against the City, against the better educated, against the banker and the lawyer, and the foreigner, the ‘other’.  It’s easy to lie to such people, inflating real grievances – life in the country, on the farm, far from the easy ways of urbanites, is often enough a hard life, where a high interest rate is as frequently crop-destroying as bad weather or locust plague, and that makes it fertile ground to plant imagined complaints.  Always there must be a grain of truth to the complaint, but it need only be a tiny one, no more than a mustard seed.

And what is the mustard seed of our time?  The goodness and decency of the Progressive, which grinds all things exceeding small.  The good and just hearts, refusing to accept that hunger and want should be allowed in the planet’s wealthiest nation, just as they shouldn’t – and then the natural next step, the ‘we all must’.  That simple, decent, good-hearted step is all it takes to push a liberal respect for the Public Good into ‘Hey, I know what you should do!’ do-goodery that does one thing more than any:

Irritate.

Add governance and you get – yes, often, successful answers to real problems.  But for good or ill, it irritates.  It irritates, then pisses off, then infuriates, and more often doesn’t work, a result which the furious drive to do good blinds the really committed Romper Room DoBee to.  And that, in turn, propels conservatism, a respectable approach to governance (even if not one I could ever take) into first reactionary and then fascistic response.  There you are, far away from the world these eggheads live in, hardly a pot to piss in, ‘they’re telling us what kinda pot to piss in?’  It irritates. ‘Why would I feel any identity with this association of scolds you call a culture?’  Thus arise feelings of detachment from the mainstream that provides the fuel for evil people to use, and inflated grievance thus becomes an extractive industry.

Then there is the vital importance to such a movement of the Scandal – but it must be understood that invented scandal is far more important than any real one can possibly be.  In some real story, some complaint with a basis in fact, the story belongs to whoever wants to tell it, to expose it, easier for the well-connected, well-research Big City media to tell than the small, home-town sheet.  The important lesson for the Murdochs of this world: You can’t use a scandal you don’t control.

Invented scandal can be bent, shaped, controlled, exposed just as you want, to the end that best serves your goals, and most importantly can be blamed on anyone you want – best, of course, on those who can least defend themselves.  (Cowardice is as vital a part of far-right political movements as sneering condescension is to the Left, then as now; never pick on anyone who can fight back, never risk yourself being hurt.)  And there’s a tremendous benefit to the building of a wholly-owned media empire, which is so important to any fascist movement, a flack-filled, insincere propaganda arm without which this disease cannot be spread; if a scandal is real, serious journalism will investigate it, but when scandal is invented, the mainstream won’t even notice it – and then your propaganda machine can claim conspiracy, accuse serious journalists of being in service to all those who the growing mass of aggrieved distrust, greatly strengthening the propagandists’ claim to being the only trustable source of news.  Thus does the fake news become the only news the aggrieved ‘true Germans’ (or true Americans) believe or are ever exposed to.  Whether the Nazi press of those ugly times or Fox News today, the same vital message: Listen only to us, hear only us, everyone else lies.

This was, after all, the most powerful tool the Nazi (or the more recent Republican) propaganda machine had.  Yes, there was the power of the Big Lie, made up, then as now, of many smaller lies, repeated over and over, never admitting they are lies no matter how much the ‘lame-stream’ media proves them to be lies, simply repeating them any time you are confronted with the truth.  And yes, the projection; if you are planning on rigging an election, as Nazis did (and Diebold’s modern voting machines do), then the first step, before the rigging, is to accuse the other side of, horrors, rigging! so that when true accounts of Nazi-stuffed ballots (or Republican votes being consistently four or five percent higher in electronic balloting) arise, the press can cling to their favorite, convenient, comforting meme that ‘everyone does it.’

So, yes, the Big Lie and aggressive projection; but the most important, most effective lie is the wholly-owned scandal.  Nazi propaganda accused every opposing politician of scandal after scandal after scandal, repeating each one endlessly, blocking out any refutation, rolling over anyone trying to truth-test them – and completely bewildering serious journalists, who often didn’t hear of these ‘scandals’ until the gullible were up in arms about them.  Thus the effectiveness of the trap – to the already suckered, it’s more proof that only the fascist news sources can be believed, that the fix is in, that the conspiracy of the existing power structure would never allow the ‘scandal’ to be ‘honestly’ examined.  After all, how do serious people investigate a thing that never happened?

Such ‘scandals’ thus don’t have to make any sense at all.  Better if they don’t.  That’s how the popular, widely-supported and elected President Paul von Hindenburg was forced to appoint Hitler as Chancellor; ridiculous scandal after ridiculous scandal was accused of von Hindenburg, until even the big city papers started to call his a ‘scandal-plagued administration’ though each ‘scandal’ was clearly a lie, and then, as is inevitable – for all have sinned, and have feet of clay – one scandal has just enough truth in it to be believed by the many, fatigued and bewildered by the endless accusations.  Thus of the Clintons, as slick as any modern politician must be to appeal to our lazy, ill-informed populus but not more or less honest than we ever allow a politician to be.  As Winston Churchill so presciently said, ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.’  That’s the practical use of the wholly invented scandal told to those anxious to believe it.

Bill Clinton, who deserved well enough his moniker of ‘slick Willie’, was put to this wholly-made-up scandal-mongery when he had been President less than two weeks.  He made a trip to Los Angeles, and while there, he held up LAX for hours – on a Friday, at five o’clock! – while he was getting a haircut from a celebrity hairdresser.  If you were alive at the time and remember those days, you are familiar with this, only the first of many Clinton Presidential scandals, proof of his detachment from the concerns of the common folk, showing his corrupt nature.

Only a few problems with this; even as this story was being repeated on all the news shows and reported on by every newspaper, reporters started noticing, and writing about, oddities in where the story started, and in what travelers actually experienced.  The very first alerts to this ‘scandal’ came out of the California Republican Party offices, three hours before it was supposed to have happened; reporters who were already at LAX, as well as every traveler interviewed, said there were no such delays; Air Force One was parked well off any runway, in a secure area out of anyone’s way, nor was it itself delayed – it was actually waiting, as planned, to pick up a sick child who needed to get to a hospital in the East (which melodramatic touch is actually commonplace, as it was, until Trump, a common practice as old as Presidential air travel); the haircut was also planned as a way to save time, and was being contributed gratis.

But did any of these facts get reported on?  Well, yes – if you read the entire first-day article and the next-day reporting that showed this well-researched ‘scandal’ to be entirely phony.  But in Hitler’s day and ours, the popular press is a money-making venture, and boring old Truth is never as cash-generating as exciting lies. Big-name journalists want to keep being invited to all the wild parties, want to keep their celebrity, and only a few fail to value their reputations for even-handedness more than they value Truth, and thus must cling to any evidence they can find, or invent, that ‘both sides do’ whatever sins are displayed.  Hitler and his backers knew this, as did the Republicans of President Clinton’s time, as does Rupert Murdoch, as have Hillary Clinton’s many silly-scandal-inventors; it really doesn’t matter how absurd the made-up scandal is.  Just repeat and repeat and repeat, and depend on the laziness of reporters, the greed of the owners of media and the gullibility of humanity.

Thus also with Hillary.  A foundation that has done astounding work worldwide to ease the way for charities to become effective, to cut through bureaucratic inertia, to help millions on every continent, became ‘scandal’.  A terrible situation in Libya, caused more than anything by Republican refusal to pay to increase security, a situation a Secretary of State had nothing to do with, became ‘scandal’.  A desire, out of the exhaustion and defensiveness to repeated false accusation, to secure email from assault became ‘scandal’.  Scandal after scandal, all of them invented, all of them absurd, all of them successful; you know that Hillary is corrupt.  You know this, don’t you?  Screw reality – you just know she’s corrupt.  Why wait for Truth to put its pants on?

Works every time.  Worked for Hitler.  Worked for Billo, and Rush, and Rupert.  Works for Trump.  Works.  Every.  Time.

Does that mean that Democracy is doomed?  If the garbage that Rupert et al has been using for decades to destroy America for the sake of enriching themselves, put to no purpose beyond saving the Very Wealthy from paying back into our culture a reasonable fraction of the vast wealth our culture has provided them with, has worked, and always works, then what hope do we have?  Is this always the way Democracy dies?  After all, it died in its birthplace, ancient Greece.  Is this always the way a Republic dies?  After all, it died in its birthplace, ancient Rome.

Yes, it is.  This is the way self-government always dies.

That’s why our Fondling Fathers gave us this tinkered-together, clattering, messy hybrid, a Democratic Republic, with each part checked and balanced by another.  For example, we think of the Supreme Court as being the final arbiter, but it isn’t; if the Supremes decide something is true that sticks enough in the American craw, even they can be overruled by a Constitutional amendment, though such a thing is very difficult – on purpose.  And then the Supremes get to say what that new amendment means, while the President decides what it does, and on and on.  Every part is checked by another.

But that doesn’t make it proof against fascism.  If one Party decides its own rule is more important than the Nation, and can fool enough fools into foolishness, then such a Party can rule all parts; and if We the People stop caring, and don’t stop them, then there is no hope.  If one Party, through the time-tested sales techniques of the Big Lie, the Invented Scandal, the Propaganda Machine and the Frightened Public, takes over control of the Administration, the Judiciary and both houses of the Legislature, then the Constitution and its highly theoretical limits on the reach of governance become useless paper, fit only for the rich and powerful to wipe their asses on.

That’s fascism.  Not a dirty word.  Not the unacceptable term, never to be uttered in Polite Society.  A system of political organization where one Party controls every part of the State, where there are no boundaries between State, the approved Religion, the Judiciary, and those commercial and wealth interests approved of by and financing that Party, where allegiance is not to the country but to the Great Leader.  It always starts the same way, when the population of the republic becomes so frightened that they willingly give up their rights for the illusion of security; and if the thing they fear is invented or inflated and the security thus imaginary, it elevates and strengthens the very worst of that people, and those least qualified to lead so much as a funeral procession become Pallbearers in Chief.

That there are such people is a given; there will always be vultures.  The trick is not to give them a body to feed upon.  The Jeffersonian idea, which even he was not faithful to, was that a limited State would leave each of us free to decide for ourselves what happiness was and how to pursue it, as long as our pursuit did not limit the rights of anyone else to define and to pursue.  This turns out to be harder than it might seem – telling others what their happiness should be, and how they should pursue it, is just too tempting, and our brains just too good at excusing us for the telling.  We know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And finally we KNOW we’re right.

And the most dangerous, this: When we’re right about being right.  That’s when we stop listening to the whimpers, the pleas, the cries of the people we’re crushing with our rightness.  That’s fascism.

 

The lungs of all social mammals contain within them a family of bacteria, just a few of the many symbiotic life forms that we depend upon for our existence.  Only this family isn’t there to help us live.  It’s there to help us die.

It’s something that came about because sometimes evolution happens on the level of the herd at the cost of the individual, and because lungs are, by their nature, dangerous.  We take the outside environment into ourselves, in and out, in and out, several times a minute.  We have many protections against the infectious life forms, toxins and other pollutants in that air; but when those protections fail, those lungs can, again, by their very nature, become a threat to those of our species we socialize with, who are, after all, likely to be our own family, our own genetic inheritance, breathing in the air we breathe out.  Therefore it can become an evolutionary benefit, even to our own gene pool, if we as an individual are removed, should we become a threat; and coughing up dangerous bacteria and toxins that have blossomed within our lungs makes us a threat to our own genes being successful through others.

Of course, that’s where predators come in, and why every species needs its predators to keep the species strong by removing the sick and the weak.  But if predation fails in one particular herd to take out one particular vector of disease, the whole herd can fail.  Evolution is remorseless; predation isn’t perfect, and without some fail-safe, having lungs can be just too dangerous.

That’s where this family of bacteria comes in.  The vast majority of lung-equipped individuals will live out their whole lives, and their progeny theirs, and these symbiotic life forms we carry will continue on as usual, reproducing at a very slow rate, never a danger.  But if our lungs become too damaged for too long, these bacteria start to reproduce rapidly and produce toxins so dangerous that we die.  Quickly.  It’s evolution remorselessly acting on the level of the group at the cost of the individual.

And that’s what fascism is to the body politic of all democracies, all republics, and our Republican Democracy.  When the checks don’t check, when the balances get out of balance, fascism is always there, a background, low-level infection that starts reproducing rapidly as indifference and fear and stupidity sicken us, weaken us so much that we die so that Freedom doesn’t.  I’ve said this before in this blug –

We need Freedom. Freedom doesn’t need us.

Another, better Republic will arise from the ashes, to make their own mistakes, to have their own prejudices, to steep in their own fears.

Freedom, then slavery, then freedom, then slavery, an endless cycle that continues on until either we develop a cultural solution to this automatic impulse to self-justification or until our technology becomes so powerful that, in falling, we end the species.  And then the planet will see if the cockroach can evolve a better intelligence.  Ecce homo.

 

 


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You are John Galt

Ayn Rand’s failure to achieve objectivity doomed her philosophy, and infests both Republicans and Libertarians with lunacy

For readers whose lives have been blessed by a complete absence of awareness of Ayn Rand’s writings – for Lack of God’s sake, don’t read them! – a brief ‘splanation is in order.  (Thus a running joke I keep telling; that I can be brief about anything.)  Ayn Rand was a Russian-born American writer of repellent romance novels in which she indulged in entirely emotional political observations disguised as ‘objectivity’ that brought the action to a halt while we are expected to stand in awe of her brilliance.  She believed, over her long, tedious life and with consuming passion, in the inalienable right of every man, woman and child on the planet to be completely free to completely agree with every single thought Ayn Rand ever had.  And that pretty much sums up her philosophy; all the rest is merely her personal history warped into small-minded political theory.

She grew up under the domination of an emotionally distant and autocratic father (boy, there’s a rare thing upon our Earth) who she loved with her whole mind and soul.  This love shaped her thinking in ways she entirely failed to understand or appreciate.  Her philosophy of selfishness became a worship of the rich and powerful over every other consideration.

She was a stunningly bad writer.  I was attracted to Libertarian philosophy as a teen, based on things I’d read, and so came to her novels with an already-forming appreciation for the importance of liberty, and of the ‘voluntary society’ as I’d heard described in Civics classes since the fifth grade.  After high school, when I had become friends with several students at an upscale Liberal Arts college near the lower-middle-class neighborhood we lived in, I read ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to understand her ideas at the same time my friends were encountering – well, to be more honest, forced to read – her novels in their Literature classes.

We all had pretty much the same reaction to her thick, foggy, unreal characters with their bizarre motivations and twisted sexuality – never two people making love, always a man taking a woman by force with the woman resisting until she became Overwhelmed by His Masculinity and willingly Gave In to His Domination.  What decent human being would want to be either part of this ugly kind of – well, you can’t really call it ‘love’, can you?  Fine for those warped souls who are into Dominance and Submission, but not much there for human beings.

We all thought this was yucky and not believable at all, so much so that it became a running joke with us.  “I love you, Pamela!  You are my heart, my soul.  You consume my mind.  You are everything to me!  And so I must leave you, and become your mortal enemy!  I must spend my life destroying everything you stand for, until you lie before me, bereft of all that you have achieved!  Because I love you!”  “I hate you, Theodore!  I despise you and everything you stand for.  Therefore I will marry you, and make our lives together an endless chain of worthless accomplishment until we grow to be empty shells of once-human wreckage, until your love for me turns to hate!”  I promise you, if you read her muck – please don’t – you’ll see this mocking is accurate.

I had a lot of trouble finishing Fountainhead – I’m not sure I ever did – because of this very unattractive vision of inhuman human relationships, but more than that, because I had no sympathy for the central character’s motivations.  I had known since an early age that I wanted to be an artist, and had already formed ideas that I have kept all these long years since; that nobody’s concepts had any importance at all except mine in what I should make, what it should ‘mean’, how I would work or what vision I should create – up until I was done, until I had presented it to the world, at which point I had had my chance to speak, and had to shut up.  My artwork would be about me and only about me; but once I’d finished, it had to stand on its own, and then only other people’s ideas mattered.  If one person thought it was wonderful, then it was wonderful; if another thought it was garbage, then it was garbage.  I’d had my chance to speak; if I’d failed to say what was in my mind and heart, so much for me.  Art is a deeply personal experience, belonging entirely to the person having it, and at that point, to hell with the artist.

That might seem, to anyone who has encountered this thick, ugly book, to be pretty much what the architect at the center of the hopeless BDSM apologia that is ‘The Fountainhead’ believes.  Here’s the thing:  He’s an architect!  He imagined that the tall apartment tower he’d designed was his and his alone, and when the people who paid for it to be built had the gall to add balconies to his design, he had the right to burn it down.

This repelled me.  If he wanted, like me, to be the only one whose ideas mattered, he would have been, like me, a sculptor, an individual working alone; or a writer, or painter.  But there simply are some artistic fields that are – that must be, by their very nature – collaborative.  Even writers and composers have publishers, editors, musicians, conductors, people who make contributions to the end result, people who the artist cannot create without depending upon.  The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who some say was the inspiration for Rand’s Howard Roark, was the kind of arrogant goober that she admired, and he created buildings whose designs will stand forever as monuments to inspired creativity, to the brilliance of his mind – but his buildings won’t, because he didn’t listen to his contractors and builders, and so his roofs leak, his beams sag, his foundations crack and shift.  Richard Wagner was also this kind of dismissive, selfish composer, and wrote some of the greatest music ever heard – but he over-estimated its worth, especially in his endless, moronic Ring cycle, where half an hour of greatness is stretched into nine hours of butt-numbing tedium.

So I was repelled just where I ought to have sympathized.  So much for The Fountainhead; mindless dribble.  So much worse was ‘Atlas Shrugged’.  In it, a man named – well, crap, folks, if you’ve read the thing, you know what happens, and if you haven’t, there’s only one thing I can say, one word of advice –

Don’t.

It’s Ayn Rand at her power-worshiping, dominance-dependent, father-adoring worst.  Hopeless.  But in a strange way, not really her fault.

Rand simply couldn’t understand the basis for her own ideas, for two regrettable but inevitable reasons.  First, she was so lost in her own endless worship of her father, and for any emotionally distant, dominating, abusive male figure, that she was unable to see how deeply it affected her philosophy.  Can you say that you truly understand how your own philosophy has been shaped by emotional need?  I’ve tried; I’ve been aware since childhood that my own deep rejection of authority, as much as I might justify it with logic and reasonable argument, is a reflection of an emotional reaction to anyone who tries to tell me what to do, say, or believe.  There’s no way around it – so admit it, right up front, don’t lie or deny, either to the audience or to yourself.  I try – but if you conclude that the philosophy herein described is merely an outgrowth of that resistance, can I argue?

Ayn Rand didn’t even get that far.  Her father, who must have been a repellent sumbitch, shows up in all her characters; her heroes are like him, her villains his opposite.  As much as she wished to state her philosophy in her works, her message was hopelessly clouded by these sods she couldn’t help but write about.  Thus did they creep into her ideas of the Ideal Community, where men – in her mind, always men – of great wealth and power, Titans of Industry all, should dominate, and where the rest of us should willingly submit to them.  Thus her ideas of ‘liberty’ – that each one of us should be free to find, and kowtow to, our own Dominant Father of wealth, our own John Galt.

Even among her own followers of ‘libertarian’ thinkers, called, snarkily, ‘The Collective’, she maintained this mad exclusivity of the right to think, bizarre in a philosophy that is supposed to be about the importance of the individual.  Members could belong as long as they kept agreeing, as long as they always parroted every word, every thought Rand uttered; challenge her on any idea, even slightly, take a position that was one degree away from hers, and you were out on your ass.  She never could see this was true, never could account for her own sick emotionally-distant-hero-worship and its effect on her thinking.  She was trapped, and so made a hollow, unsuccessful advocate of anything that could remotely be called ‘liberty’.

Even sadder, even more important to understanding Rand’s complete failure to create any useful philosophy out of her rejection of what she called ‘collectivist thinking’ (a rejection I share) and the second of the two important reasons she couldn’t understand her own concepts of libertarianism, was simply that she was born too soon – just a bit too soon.  If she’d been at all open to developments in science that were taking place in the 1950’s, by which time she knew everything she was ever going to know and had completely closed herself off to further introspection, she might have seen the growth of a field of mathematics that explains what she was trying to find in her search for an ideal of society that might have been worth fighting for.

She grew up in a time of determinism, a time when science was the investigation of how this clockwork universe ticked.  Science assumed that there was a way that all things worked, nested simple machines under all of nature, linear mechanisms hidden from our view, and that once these linear processes were understood in detail, we could control all things and perfect our world.  This was Science as she was taught to understand it.  I’ve always found Firesign Theatre’s statement of this inevitably flawed concept the most compelling, in Fudd’s First Law – ‘If you push something hard enough, it will fall over.’  Thus the trap she could not avoid; she truly thought that, if only everyone would learn the joy she felt at giving in to the strong male, society could be perfected, a simple mechanistic world greased by wealth, an orgy of selfishness – with self-interest assumed to mean a slavish worship of the kind of unfeeling masculinity that made her knees weak.

Thus the Atlas who, in her fevered imagination, held up the world; the Captain of Industry who she imagined was responsible for creating the ever-increasing wealth and power of America and the West.  She simply didn’t know enough about those Captains and their weaknesses, accepting as she did the propaganda that surrounded them: Henry Ford displayed his wisdom about industrial processes while hiding his abusive dismissal of the rights of the human beings who made his wealth, and whose inventiveness at every level added greatly to it; the inventive genius of Thomas Edison, who hid so well the actual inventors who really made his breakthroughs that few were aware that it wasn’t really him who ‘learned 88 things that didn’t work’ when trying to find the right filament for ‘his’ light bulb; the cruelty and ruthlessness behind the monopolists who made vast fortunes in railway, steel and oil – these users of other’s creativity, who made great wealth from the blood of others and left them crushed and impoverished, she imagined to be themselves the creative force of human accomplishment – the determiners of her deterministic world.

If she had been more open to new ideas, she might have learned and grown in her thinking – but she never did.  It’s the application to politics, to cultures, of this new understanding of how rare and how common is randomness, how the smallest things shape the largest systems – the science of complexity – that I try, and doubtless fail, to apply in what I call ‘organic politics’, and in my Three Laws of Advanced Civilizations (You can’t tell people what to do; you can’t tell people what to do, even if you are right; you can’t tell people what to do, especially if you are right.)  The linear science of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the deterministic processes she was taught were the basis for all things, whose precise understanding must lead to human greatness, fooled her into thinking too simplistically about the nature of cultures, and the motivations upon which people act within them, the vital complexity of human experience.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ portrayed just such a deterministic world as she grew up in, in which the source of human creativity was imagined to be a small number of powerful men – again, in her world, it was always men – who the rest of us unworthies depended upon for all things, and who we, in our petty delusions of importance, oppressed with our imagined equality; and just as a clock depends on its mainspring, if only we had the insight to yield to and be controlled by these Great Men, ours would be a better world.  In her thick novel, saturated with sickening domination sexuality, a man named John Galt conspires to remove from society all these ‘mainsprings’ upon whom Rand, in her own confused deterministic thinking and bondage-fantasy imaginings, pictures as being vital to the workings of our world.  By taking away these all-important men, Rand’s Galt would prove their necessity, which would – well, I don’t know, result in all of us worshiping them as she does?

I’m not sure where she was going, because I threw the book down at the end of John Galts’s endless rant, a swamp of foggy thinking in an opaque mess of a speech at a party of VIP’s that Galt visited, theoretically to explain why more of these movers and shakers should follow him into exile, but actually to give Rand an opportunity to lecture the rest of us peons on our failure to get all moist at beholding these Gods, as she did.

It was a tangle of weak argument and improbability.  These titans of industry were supposed to be standing around this big room at a party of vast wealth and privilege, dumbstruck by the magnificence of this speech, overawed by the stunning philosophy displayed.  I’ve known some of these powerful; there’s not one chance in hell they’d have let this clod rant on for more than about a minute and a half.  Movers and Shakers aren’t interested in what you or I or the Lord Gawd Awmighty might think or say about anything.  As I read through this clotted glob of speech, I couldn’t for an instant suspend my disbelief; I kept thinking that about now, one of the Rich and Mighty would clock the twerp.  A friend, as an exercise for a sophomore speech class at this college I hung out at, gave a dramatic reading of the speech; it took more than an hour, and not the most impassioned intonation could make what was being said clear.  Oh, yeah, sure; the Powerful Elite is going to stand for that.

As my own writings constantly betray, if you can’t say something succinctly and clearly, if you can’t express your ideas understandably, and have to keep backing up and running at it again and again, it is because you yourself don’t really understand what you are saying.  It’s not that all ideas must be simple ones to be good – far from it; but if you have to keep hacking at them again and again, adding more and more words instead of clarity, then you should give it up as a loss and rethink your message.  We lecture ourselves inside our own brains about what we wish others would understand, and are too willing an audience, too easily persuaded by our own arguments; but if you can’t make a sensible presentation of your ideas in writing, it’s because you’ve too easily skipped over some vital bit of logic, just as she did.  I got to the end of his great speech, this distillation of Randian Objectivism, and threw the book across the room, never to pick it up again – not out of rejection of her argument, but because I was aware that I’d just encountered her most important exposition of her reasoning and yet hadn’t an idea in hell what it was.

The true creators of our world are the poor, the used up, the weird, the desperate.  The rich who control all things are seldom of any creative importance; invariably they are users of other people’s creative genius – though I would at the same time insist that the using is itself an ability of great value.

Consider Microsoft’s Bill Gates; his entire fortune was based on his theft of the operating system known as CP/M (after all these years, I had to look up where that name came from; it stood for ‘Control Program/Monitor.’)  My first programming in personal computers, on the brilliant Eagle II business desktop that I learned to build batch files and a few machine-language programs on, ran on CP/M, and for many years – and wouldn’t I give a lung to still have these! – I had both CP/M and a very early, pre-commercial-release copy of MS-DOS on the old 8-inch floppies, which were very floppy indeed, and knew how to look at their hidden machine language code that both showed the same ‘boilerplate’ that gave credit to the designers of CP/M.

Thus the Gates fortune was based, unarguably, on the stolen work of others; and from there, by practices that John D. Rockefeller would have recognized and admired, he bought out, stole or forced into submission or bankruptcy the efforts of thousands of creative people, holding back rather than moving forward the progress of computing by many years by imposing on us a broken, weak operating system.  It is for these very reasons, as the unavoidable result of just these piratical activities by a man who hardly deserves his reputation, that Windows is today such a mess, so leaky of privacy, so open to viruses.  From the influence of his manipulistic nature, the Internet developed practices so abusive that the user has become the used, the product to be consumed rather than the consumer of the product.

And yet, might it not have to be so?  Since this story is repeated over and over in the development of our advancing technology, might it not have to be that the ability to create is a different skill set than the ability to generate wealth out of that creativity?  Might it be that those two abilities – creativity and business acumen – might be, at least in most individuals, mutually exclusive?  I think about whether I could get up every day and go to work knowing that the jobs of thousands of people, the interests of thousands of stockholders, the continued existence of a world-wide corporation depended on my ability to make the right decisions.  No, I couldn’t; could you?  Doing so depends, I think, on a focus of mind and a domination of personality that cannot exist in a brain that allows itself to wander about and see strange, often illogical connections – and that’s the essence of creativity, to ‘believe six impossible things before breakfast.’

And so our politics is haunted by Rand’s flawed reasoning, the unreal wanderings of a sexually deviant mind (not that I have anything against deviancy, mind) who didn’t know enough about complexity to guide her own thinking about political systems.  We are plagued by her legacy and the warped thinking it has led to, of the wealth-worshiping Republican Party, of the Speaker of the House who cannot see beyond his sycophantic obedience to obscene wealth to even imagine that the poor, the sick, the unfortunate might have any contribution to make that could possibly compare to that of the Kochs, the Rex Tillersons, the Rupert Murdochs of this world.  To his small mind, all these huddled masses with their plebeian yearnings are clogging up the system, and he’s here to scrape them off, to get them out of the way of the John Galts of this world.

The Republican Party may or may not be able to get rid of the ACA, to defund Planned Parenthood, to end government welfare, NPR, regulation of the stock market, to overwhelm resistance to oil pipelines, to allow corporations – ‘people’ in their minds – to foul the air and water, enslave workers, remove any trace of power from the lower classes – and they might actually not give a damn if they do; but certainly, they will reduce the taxes of the rich.  That, they can be depended upon to do.  Your Republican Party; comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

So who is John Galt?  What is the creative force we so desperately depend upon to keep us from drowning in a sea of the waste-product of our technologically advanced, extractive-industry-dependent culture?  It isn’t the rich and powerful; being rich is almost never the result of creativity but rather of knowing how to use the creativity of others to advantage.

No, the rich are not, are never, the force that moves us forward, never Atlas holding up the world; they can shrug all they want, and only their own privilege will suffer, nothing else.  You are John Galt.  So is everyone who solves problems, works to improve lives, educates themselves or others, volunteers, gives, contributes to a food bank, drops their coins in the little box that sits next to the machine that gives change.  Every act of decency, every bit of creativity applied to any thing you do, whether done selfishly or selflessly, each thing done to make your life or someone else’s better, easier, healthier –

That’s how John Galt acts in this world.   You are Atlas, and if you shrug, the world falls.

In ways Ayn Rand could never imagine, every small act of creativity in this non-linear world we live in – these are the things that make our world work, in ways far beyond anything that can be done by the wealthy elite that Ayn Rand, and today’s make-believe Conservatives, could ever imagine.  Be John Galt.  We all depend on it.