Supersonic Man

November 1, 2018

the most charitable interpretation of fascism

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 10:22 am

Although in any right-wing nationalist movement you will find plenty of people who are virulent racists, sexists, xenophobes, and other deplorable types, I don’t think this kind of hate and evil explains the broad popularity that such movements often develop among ordinary people.  I don’t think they’re driven by hate as an end in itself.  Instead, they develop toward supporting hate because of more practical motives.

From what I see, the average working-class Joe who signs onto a nationalistic agenda does not hate immigrants and/or minorities, though he does resent immigrants or minorities.  The difference is that he’s not being hostile to them simply because of their ethnicity or origin, but because of what he perceives them to be doing once they come into his neighborhood or his nation — namely, acquiring wealth and resources, getting jobs, consuming goods, occupying space.  He resents them not for existing, but for getting something that he wants for himself.

The predominant scare stories told about immigrants and minorities are not about how they look different, speak oddly, or worship wrongly, but about how they get good jobs or receive benefits at taxpayer expense.  This is what upsets most anti-immigrant nationalists: not that newcomers to the country are odd and foreign, but that they are either getting governmental handouts or “taking our jobs”.  The resentment is based on a belief that if they have more, he will have less.

This is why fascism flourishes in tough times, when workers are doing poorly.  The fear that he will have less if someone else gets more seems to have already come true — he does have less, which means someone else must have gotten more.  If a faraway ruling class gets more, he feels there’s probably very little he can do about that, or that it’s only natural or inevitable… but if someone who is competing at his own level is getting more, well then, that’s a fight which he has a good chance to win.  It looks like an opportunity, whereas taking on the boss does not.

The aforementioned ruling class is very aware of this.  Like the old story says, a big boss, a blue collar worker, and a poor immigrant walk up to a plate of cookies.  There are one hundred cookies there.  The boss immediately takes ninety-eight of them, then he turns to the worker and says “Keep an eye on that immigrant — he wants to take your cookie.”

When workers had unions, they were a lot more confident that they could take on the real competition — the guys who actually were getting all the money they were not.  Without unions, there’s a much deeper sense of helplessness, so it’s only natural that many people will look downward rather than upward when seeking someone to take on in a fight for a better share.  And without unions, of course, semiskilled workers are a lot worse off financially than they used to be.  As a group, they are being systematically ground down toward poverty.  The worse things get, the less they are ready to act as a team and the more desperately some of them will turn on each other to try to grab a piece of what’s left.

The crooked narratives of fascism are never just about how those scapegoated people, whoever they happen to be in any given instance, are different or inferior.  They are about how those people, by living in your neighborhood, are taking something away from you — a job, a handout, a government service, or even just the seat you wanted to get when you go out for some entertainment.  The unstated presumption of fascist ideology is that the social and economic benefits of living in a society are a limited resource, and that getting the social support you deserve as a member of that society is a zero-sum game, in which gains for them are losses for you.  Therefore you should try to preserve as big a share as possible for your own friends and family and neighbors — the people who constitute your true community — rather than for people who are part of the same larger society but don’t quite feel like friends or neighbors yet.

Fascism is founded on convincing people that the benefits of being a member of society are scarce, to the point where there is not enough for everyone.  They can’t be shared freely, because there’s only enough for those with a strong social claim — the native majority — and the rest will have to do without, or everyone will be poor.  This claim of scarcity is believable during hard times when everyone is suffering, or during times when working people are impoverished by greed.  When scarcity is a concrete fact of life, it’s easy to believe that there isn’t enough to go around.

Hardcore racists and similar deplorables are only, as far as I can tell, somewhere between a tenth and a twentieth of the populace.  But willingness to believe in these narratives of scarcity can easily spread to a far larger portion of the citizenry.  If the deplorables want to indoctrinate people with racist hatred, they will piggyback their assertions that certain people are evil or inferior on top of these scare stories about scarcity.

In the end, the reason we are seeing a rise of enthusiasm for fascism is because we have allowed so much concentration of wealth.  It’s the reason a wannabe fascist like Trump is able to get votes, and it’s also the reason he was able to steal the party from the establishment Republicans, as their habit of transferring huge amounts of wealth from workers to owners had gone on for so long that the cover of lies they kept over it was wearing too thin to maintain.  Fresh new lies were needed, for the party to fool anyone.  Of course, by signing yet another tax cut for the rich, Trump ended up settling right back into the old lies, which means that his appeal to the working class is now tarnished.  We can only hope that this obvious sell-out helps diminish the appeal of fascism in general.

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