Supersonic Man

April 23, 2022

Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to be a new tool of commerce for people who don’t trust governments, not an investment commodity or a get-rich-quick scheme. Yet that’s what they’ve turned into. And the further we get into it, the harder it is to see the whole idea as anything but a con.

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February 27, 2022

The Investigation of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Theory of the Bicameral Mind

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 11:15 am

I’m rereading the book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. This is the kind of book that gets called seminal, because it is bursting with original thoughts and ideas and insights that can be quite inspiring to many readers. It is also the kind of book that gets called pseudoscientific crackpottery, because it’s also bursting with extravagant semi-untestable assertions based on thin evidence. I think many who’ve read it can relate to Richard Dawkins when he called it either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius; nothing in between”, and even some of its defenders will nod their heads at statements like On first reading, [it] seemed one of the craziest books ever written” (Gregory Cochran). In modern terms, the book is usually described as “discredited”.

But despite the fact that I don’t think its controversial core theory is true, I still see a lot to value in the book, and recommend it as a thought-provoker. And one reason for this is because a lot of us still carry around a lot of naive ideas about conscious self-awareness that Jaynes does a good job of challenging, just by bringing an unusually clear eye to everyday acts of introspection.

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October 30, 2021

the novel “Dune” is both great and flawed

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 3:23 am

Dune, the career-defining 1965 novel by Frank Herbert which is the source of the current blockbuster film, is certainly a magnificent epic. It is a richly complex work with a lot of meaning, and it deconstructs a lot of narrative tropes familiar from our favorite legends and entertainment, at a time when such things were usually accepted uncritically. Hero’s journey, chosen one, white savior — they’re all there, played halfway straight but always askew and always illuminated from an unusual angle that makes you see it in a new way. And the book is packed with everything that was popular and trendy in its time, from martial arts to mind-expanding drugs, from youth rebellion to superpower origin stories, from the feudal struggles of high fantasy to the new science of ecology.

(Someone recently summarized the tale, when asked to boil it down to one sentence, as a bunch of greedy horny men failing to peacefully share a planet made of cocaine.)

To summarize it somewhat less briefly, the protagonist is Paul Atreides, the teenage heir of a feudal lord who rules an entire planet. Thousands of years in the future, the galaxy is divided among such families. The Atreides family is offered an upgrade — a chance to take over as rulers of another planet, Arrakis or Dune, which despite its arid barrenness is the most lucrative in the galaxy because it is the sole source of The Spice — a drug which not only extends human life but gives some users vision across spacetime, without which interstellar navigation is impossible. They suspect the offer is a trap but have no way to turn it down. Sure enough, once they arrive they are attacked, and Paul’s father is killed, along with the majority of his staff and followers. Paul and his mother Jessica escape into the desert, where they encounter the untamed indigenous people, the Fremen. Paul integrates into Fremen society, eats spice, and develops prophetic visionary abilities. He teaches the Fremen advanced techniques which he has been trained with since infancy because of his privileged upbringing, and this training raises their already formidable combat abilities to near superhuman levels. He emerges as their messianic leader, and leads the Fremen in a rebellion that overthrows not only the villains who killed his father, but the emperor of the galaxy. Oh, and there are giant worms.

Hard science fiction it’s not — this story is more a fantasy set in the future than a tale of science.

What that summary can’t begin to capture is how rich the novel is as literature. From the delicate balance of genteel wit and murderous intrigue at a formal banquet to the complex ecological cycles which underlie the worms and the spice, from the way that Paul’s parents blend simple heartfelt decency and love with ruthless scheming (and I will note that Jessica, not Paul, is the novel’s deepest character), to the endless depth of history and culture that is apparent in the Fremen way of life (which has its origins in Central Asia), I would say this is a towering achievement which can stand right beside genre-defining immortal works like The Lord of the Rings.

Or rather, I would have said that when I was younger. Now I’m less certain.

The novel struggled to be published, but then became the best-selling work of all time in its genre, just as Tolkien’s trilogy did.  It also ended up being the start of a series in which Herbert wrote five sequels during his lifetime, while leaving notes on two more which he thought would wrap the series up. But his son Brian and others have decided to keep on a-milking the cash cow with prequels and spinoffs, and have produced a run of books that now brings the series to 22 novels, along with numerous shorter works and a bunch of ancillary nonfiction. I have no intention of ever reading all this surplus. Even in Herbert’s own books I never got to the last sequel. Like most long series the returns diminish at a very noticeable rate. And Herbert’s own final work ends on a cliffhanger.

But some of those sequels are pretty important for understanding the original. Because the original, as I said, plays all those chosen-white-heroic-quest tropes kind of straight, so you can read it on one level as a ripping adventure of a young hero righteously kicking villains’ asses. But as Herbert put it, the second novel, Dune Messiah, plays the heroic theme inverted. The former protagonist now lives through a tale mostly consisting of frustration and futility. Only after reading this does the message sink in that it never was right or good to root for Paul Atreides to win — that his victory is not really a triumph of good over evil, and that the real message is to not be a follower like the poor misguided Fremen.

But is that the real message? Despite his intent, Herbert never did make this subversion of heroic themes, and of the impulse to follow a messianic leader, very coherent or clear in those first two. To this day it’s far from inarguable that this is the subtext, no matter how much Herbert said out loud that it was. So he got more clear and explicit in the third and fourth books. In Children of Dune he returns to a more heroic mode and makes the new protagonist, Paul’s son, into something explicitly like a comic book superhero. Here he casts the futility of Paul’s story in book two as a failure of nerve — he was unwilling to take this extreme path. But in its followup, God Emperor of Dune, our new superhero runs a totalitarian theocratic dictatorship and is worshiped as a god. Yet this never makes him a villain, as he has knowledge that supposedly makes it necessary for him to play the bad guy so that humanity will survive a coming crisis, and then sacrifice himself at the right time to make this possible. (The nature of said crisis was revealed only in the posthumous works, and involves artificial intelligence.)  This feels to me like kind of a cop-out, so the protagonist can still be the hero.

In the remaining books, there’s a prolonged war as a faction of baddies conquers most of the galaxy, with a worse threat lurking behind them, and the protagonists are no longer named Atreides.

The message may still be somewhat unclear, but that’s Herbert: he seemingly never makes his themes or characters unambiguous. Villains may sometimes be purely rotten but no hero is purely good, and no noble motive is without its negative side.

An interesting example of this is a non-Dune novel that Frank Herbert wrote in 1968, The Santaroga Barrier. This also involves a mind-altering drug, though one with more subtle effects. This drug exerts a suspicious level of control over its users lives. And the thing is, the question of whether it’s a destructive menace or an opportunity to take a next step of human development is kept balanced and unresolved through the entire novel. Herbert utterly refused to allow the reader a settled answer.

A later novel, The White Plague (which is the most impressive non-Dune work of his that I’ve read, and shows him as a better conventional writer than anything in the series does) is set largely in Ireland and features an IRA terrorist as one of the primary characters.  The guy’s a fanatical murderer and yet the most persuasive and compelling viewpoint in the book is his.

The drug in Santaroga, like the spice in Dune, is of biological orgin, and is cultivated in a manner resembling the raising of mushrooms. This is a clear connection to Herbert’s real life hobby of mushroom cultivation… in which his favorite type of ’shrooms were of the “magic” variety in genus psilocybe. Yeah, there’s a reason why his heroes are tripping balls as a way to gain enhanced abilities. Even the way the spice turns the whites of the eyes blue is inspired by the blue color these mushrooms can develop after picking, especially if damaged.  He had been known to do peyote as well.

Even in the original Dune the ambiguity is there throughout.  At every step Paul is striving for survival and victory, and doing everything necessary to pass every test… yet he’s also desperately looking for a way off of the path he’s on, as he foresees the extreme bloodshed which will occur in his name.  He wants a way to get the success without the awful cost, never finds it, and seems unable to choose the path which would save millions.  But since that would leave some vicious sadists in power, the novel certainly doesn’t recommend that as an alternative.  In fact it doesn’t even consider it.  Paul doesn’t even see himself as having the free will to make such a choice — his desire to escape produces a lot of hoping and wishing, but very little deciding and acting.  His capacity to see the future robs him of choice — a process which becomes complete in the sequels. As a way of subverting a hero’s journey, that’s kind of unsatisfying: since we have to mostly take Paul’s word for it that the violence is inevitable, it seems almost as if God is putting a stamp of approval on what is essentially a tragic outcome, and in the end everyone we’ve followed through the novel cheers the bloodshed.

The subversion is a good deal more successful where it deals with the Chosen One trope.  The Fremen do indeed see Paul as chosen, as destined… but only because covert operatives centuries ago seeded hundreds of cultures, including theirs, with carefully crafted myths that would make them ripe for exploitation by a figure like Paul. His mother Jessica is a member of the organization that set this up, the Bene Gesserit, and knows how to take full advantage.  That is a pretty sharp barb at how our society has historically combined religion and colonialism.

(But religion itself plays a surprisingly small role in the Dune series. A lot of the old faiths have blended and combined until they have become vague and empty, and the engineered myths adapt to whatever local variations they find. Herbert himself began as Catholic but turned to Zen.)

As to the white part… the relationship of the galactic noble families to the people of Arrakis is as colonial as can be, but he doesn’t overtly bring race into it.  In this future it appears that historical shades of pure black and white are somewhat blended away, and some people have color combinations not seen today, like dark skin with red hair… but still, the lordly families seem fairly close to white, and the Fremen are definitely swarthy, though not as dark as Paul’s friend and combat tutor Duncan Idaho.  Race is not a thing to the people of this future — at no point does anyone care about it… yet the old racial divides still inform the story for us.  The whitest-looking family, by Herbert’s descriptions, is the Emperor’s.

Anyway,  since I haven’t cracked it open for decades, and I’m feeling a lot of uncertainty about some aspects of it now, it’s time to reread Dune.

May 29, 2021

the end of Windows hegemony — update

Filed under: computing,Hobbyism and Nerdry,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 1:06 pm

More than eight years ago, I wrote a post here called “the end of Windows hegemony?”.  It was quite premature at the time, and for year after year nothing seemed to happen to make any of the predictions or possibilities mentioned in that post move any closer to reality.

But in the year of the pandemic, it’s finally starting to look like people are reconsidering their automatic default allegiance to Microsoft Windows.  At the time of that post, according to statcounter.com, the desktop market share of Windows was 84% in North America and 91% worldwide.  Now it’s down to 63% in North America and 75% worldwide.  The biggest gainer has been MacOS, though it looks like they may have started trending back down again in the middle of 2020, perhaps due to caution over the change of CPU architecture.  Back then they were at 15% and 8%, and at the peak they hit 28% and 18%.  The other main beneficiary has been ChromeOS, which has gone from essentially nothing to 6% in North America and 2% worldwide.

Perhaps as a response to this downward trend, Microsoft is now planning a fancy new update to the Windows look and feel… and unlike previous major updates, this one is pretty much mandatory.  They’d probably call it Windows 11 if they hadn’t committed to using the name Windows 10 until the end of time… and maybe they will anyway.  Time will tell whether there are good options available for those who decide they hate whatever new style they come up with.

In this, Windows is  becoming like Android, though with less ability to choose different aesthetic styles of UI by picking a different hardware maker.  As with Android, those who make the effort to dig into alternatives will probably have pretty good options to change some things they don’t like, but most non-techy users will not benefit from this, and will take what they’re given.

Mostly what they want, from what I’ve seen, is lack of change.  They want the time and attention they’ve invested in learning software systems to not be lost.  Automatic and mandatory changes are likely to be met with resentment, if they require any relearning.  The time when they feel open to change is when they buy new hardware, which is why Android suffers less of this resentment.  It used to be that paying money for a new OS version would also open this window, but that’s not something that happens anymore.

Marketing-wise, Microsoft was never well served by trying to switch to an evergreen software model in which they pump out updates when they see fit rather than when the user wants them.  Their users, outside of corporate IT departments and technical professionals, are willing to take what they’re given, but want it to be stable and predictable once they’ve gotten used to it.

And I think that what Microsoft has failed to appreciate about its own position is how much their entire Windows business has depended on people’s willingness to take what they’re given.  Aside from gamers, almost nobody chooses windows for themselves because they actively want it.  They take it because it’s what’s been given to them.  Because it’s the default — because it’s what you get automatically if you don’t make an active choice.  Because it’s what everybody has always gotten, and they don’t need to think about it.  I suspect that, like many others before them, Microsoft has mistaken a historical privilege for an earned reward.  They’re probably having thoughts like “They love what we’re doing, so let’s give them more of it.”  Decisions based on such thoughts will not mesh well with reality.

Soon, with Apple gaining by leaps and bounds, now having superior hardware thanks to in-house silicon chips with no x86 baggage, and ChromeOS rapidly becoming more visible and viable, customers are going to have to start thinking about it again.  The time is near when the average computer shopper might no longer get Windows automatically, but will actually make a mindful decision about what OS they prefer.  And I don’t think very many are going to actively avow that they really like and prefer Windows.  After all, the first bar that any competing OS has to clear, in order to be commercially viable at all, is to do better than Windows.

April 28, 2021

Is Russia too broke to be a space power anymore?

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,spaaaace!,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 7:26 am

Long ago, Russia was the unquestioned leader in spaceflight. Even after we beat them to the moon at enormous expense, they still notched up lots of firsts in other areas. And even after we took clear leadership with shuttles and Mars landers and space telescopes, they were still the clear second best. But now the big space rivalry is USA vs China, and though Russia has many announced projects and plans, they’re having a harder and harder time following through on the execution. If it weren’t for their great heritage, and the national prestige that they’ve got tied up in spaceflight, they might by now be a minor space power, less active than the European Union, and surpassed by the rapid advances now being made in India.

But because of that prestige issue, they have to do their best to act the part of a space superpower, though it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up. The gap between what is planned and what’s possible in practice seems to be getting steadily wider. The Indians might surpass them yet, if they don’t pull off some of these projects.

Let’s run through their announced projects, and see where they’re at:

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April 22, 2021

SpaceX’s enormous Starship as lunar lander for Artemis — does that make sense?

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,Rantation and Politicizing,spaaaace!,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 10:48 pm

Surprisingly, it makes more sense than it appears to at first glance, both as an alternative to a small lander and — for the near term — as an alternative to just using Starships for the entire trip. But it’s not clear that it leaves us with any need to use the boondoggle SLS rocket. So NASA’s recent decision to use SpaceX’s next generation rocket to land on the moon with, but not for the rest of the Artemis mission, may not be perfect but is also not wrong.

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January 22, 2021

Sanity is your responsibility as an adult

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 4:24 am

When people hear the word “sanity”, they tend to think of it as pertaining to medical or psychiatric conditions over which an individual may be powerless. But those cases are actually the exceptions, not the norm. For most of us, how sane we are is actually a matter of choice. We choose every day whether to remain fully engaged with reality as it is, or to fall into some form of denial or delusion. Some of us make these choices mindfully, including many who have to deal with mental health challenges, and some of us do not.

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December 20, 2019

capitalism, free enterprise, and entrepreneurship are three separate things

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 6:27 pm

Those who claim to speak for the positive value of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise often try to convince you that the three are all one thing, and that the arguments in favor of one apply to all. This is not true.

One who practices capitalism may also be an entrepreneur who practices free enterprise, but this is not necessarily the case. A person might be a capitalist, entrepreneur, and free-enterpriser all at once, or any two of the three, or just one (or none).

Let’s start by looking at what, strictly, each term refers to. Then we can look at how the distinction becomes important to keep in mind.

Entrepreneurship is when people invest their personal capital, or capital financed by debt, into starting a new business, and then try to grow the business larger. The key factor is that growth and success depend on their own effort and skill in developing the business, rather than on just the capital that was invested.

Free enterprise is the absence of official and unofficial barriers to trade and business — a condition in which those who have an idea for trying a profitable venture can succeed or fail on the value of the idea, rather than be obstructed by some law, regulation, or privilege. (One gotcha is that when good productive ideas are liberated and empowered, you can also end up enabling opportunities for crooked scams.) The term “free enterprise” is loosely also used to refer to the practice of operating a business venture which depends on these conditions, rather than being dependent on, for instance, subsidies or protectionism. Of course, those whose businesses are dependent on an advantage of this sort often like to pretend otherwise, and co-opt the term even though it doesn’t apply to them.

Capitalism has a strict technical meaning: it is the practice of using wealth to increase the productivity of labor. Someone who buys a nailgun to replace a hammer, or a backhoe to replace day laborers with shovels, is engaging in capitalism. To clarify this, we must also point out that technically the terms capital and wealth do not refer to money, but to tangible assets such as land and equipment. Anything of value is wealth; anything durable which is used productively is capital. (If it’s consumable rather than durable, it’s stock.) It is these physical assets which increase labor productivity, not the money that was spent on them. Assets which enhance productivity can also be less tangible, such as a copy of Photoshop or the contents of a reference manual. (Education and training also increase productivity but are difficult to characterize as capital.)

A main side effect of capitalism is that the more capital is invested in your job, the less you have a claim of ownership over your own productivity. If you can’t do similar production on your own with your own equipment, much of the value of your work will inevitably be claimed by your employer instead of by you.

Using capital to increase the productivity of labor is the classical meaning of capitalism. In modern society, capitalism has another meaning which grows out of this: because after one capitalist invests in productivity, he can then sell that set of productive resources to another for cash… in the end, what capitalism amounts to in places like Wall Street is the practice of using money to buy ownership of workers’ future productivity. Investors end up having no direct connection to, or even knowledge of, the physical capital which actually enables the business to produce; they deal only with money, yet they fill the role of a capitalist because they own these durable resources, and the organizations and systems that have been set up to put them to full use.

And this brings us to why the apologists for Wall Street capitalism want you to conflate what they do with free enterprise and entrepreneurship. Both of those things create wealth, and have a lot of positive value for society. Both are rightly defended against the sort of encroachment that can cause economic prosperity to be undermined. But capitalism as practiced by Wall Street does not create wealth, it only asserts control over wealth. Wealth creation depends on labor and skill, not on money… and especially not on money which is simply used for speculative trading rather than for adding productive capacity. Speculative trading does not count as true capitalism, but those who practice this parasitic means of making money would, of course, rather you did not draw that distinction.

One of the favorite activities of Wall Street capitalists is to wait for an entrepreneurial outfit to get into financial trouble, then use that trouble to buy up control of it at a bargain price. At this point, if the workers are lucky there might be some new investment in productivity, but more often the result is that productivity is sharply decreased, in order to turn durable assets — including intangible assets such as brand reputation — back into money. This kind of raiding is technically the opposite of capitalism as it was originally defined, but those who practice it still want to be taken for practitioners of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, because a more honest look at their livelihoods is so much less flattering.

Investment banker types conflate capitalism with entrepreneurship so that they can call themselves “job creators”, even though as a class they often destroy more jobs than they create. And they conflate capitalism with free enterprise so that the social need to liberate creativity and productivity can be misconstrued as an excuse to give free rein to parasites and predators.

If we as a society want to encourage the benefits of capitalism, we should draw a clear line between true investment which raises production, and activities such as speculative trading and raiding, which do nothing to create new wealth or benefit the overall economy. Our policies should encourage the former but not the latter.

September 16, 2019

The right wing is not driven by ideology

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 8:41 am

If you go by what you see in the media, American conservatism appears very ideological. Its spokespeople and pundits do a solid job of stating principles, avowing beliefs, reasoning from claimed axioms, and otherwise behaving as if they are believers in ideologies. While leftists generally present their ideas as being based on human values rather than dogmas — values such as compassion, fairness, decency, or just simple pragmatism — spokespeople of the right proudly wave various banners of dogma in which they assert we must have faith.

And this confuses their opponents, because the ideology being avowed keeps shifting whenever it’s convenient for a given debate. Also, among the multiple belief systems that conservatives commonly argue from are some which are completely incompatible with each other. For instance, one popular belief system among conservatives is a form of free-market capitalism which teaches that greed is beneficial. But another popular one is the belief that the sole path to salvation is through Jesus Christ, whose teachings harshly denounce greed and the pursuit of wealth.

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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 may not see any noticeable difference in their condition, or if he does, he probably 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.

The core appeal of fascism is “less for them means more for us”. The lie of fascism is in persuading people that they are going to be in the “us” category, when that group will usually include only those who become part of the power structure. Racism and nativism and other bigotries are the means of selling ordinary powerless citizens the illusion that they are members of the “us” group. And lack of economic opportunity is what justifies the desire to take from some to benefit others.

You can’t expose the fascist lie with logic and evidence; those who swallow it are usually capable of baffling levels of doublethink, and will happily embrace or make up alternative facts to discredit the evidence of their eyes and ears, because to be dissuaded of the lie would mean losing a source of hope. Some of them even cheer for lies they recognize as such — they admire the act of lying, and see themselves as a partner who will benefit from the lie, rather than as a target of it. Others simply can’t see any contradiction.

The effective way to undermine fascist tendencies is to improve economic opportunity for all.

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