politico

Reflecting On Our Futurism

09.26.08 | permalink | 3 Comments

A commenter in the Gawker post inexplicably linking to my last obsessive over-analysis (thanks, Pareene!!) pointed to the dissolution of fact and fiction in the public sphere as one of the hallmarks of a society in transition to fascism. He links to a post explaining the fascist aesthetic, how it fetishizes war and violence as the anti-artistic ideal, imagines the nation as a unified body which must be cured of disease, and “promises capitalism without capitalism…that is, hierarchy and profit without instability and profiteering.”

It was that last bit that made me shiver.

In the last week, I’ve tried to follow the plan they’re serving up for our economy. I’ve also watched, with great confusion, as the loudest cheerleaders for ruthless lassiez-faire capitalism pushed bail-out proposals which looked to me like the literal inversion of a Republican economic model.   That’s because a real Republican is a rare bird in a post-Vietnam era;  neocons are not republicans. Republicans have an adorable affinity for ‘old world’ values and savings accounts. They own an airedale.  I think they probably have more faith in the basic goodness of humanity than I ever will, because they’re always like “blah, blah, blah, affirmative action is unnecessary, low expectations bad performance, discrimination isn’t real.”  Charming?
Neocons, however, just aren’t as cute. It must feel like a dirty shame to be part of the GOP these days, faced with just how far they’ve taken that whole righteous theocrat schtick.  It’s truly, deeply shameful.  Not the bawdy Spitzer shame, either, only some Tell-Tale heart blackness:  when you aggressively enforce laissez-faire reconstruction policy on New Orleans at the same time you insist on being handed a magical corporate welfare check made out to a “non-reviewable committee,” well golly, it just seems to me like you’ve got a lot more in common with a fascist than a republican.

I would estimate that I know less than a damn thing about the most prudent and ethical steps towards recovery, but for all the inhumane realities of capitalism in action, most of us do agree that at the end of the day, some semblence of a free market is our best bet by a mile. So here’s my confusion; if the defining quality of a free market is that all ventures must be allowed to sink when they sink if the goal is to maintain a healthy economy, might someone throw me a bone on what it is we’re doing right here? And if we’re finally going to acknowledge a collectivist bent in our policy, what exactly does it mean for all of this money to get funneled into bloodless corporate infrastructures instead of working to protect the actual people with measurable vital signs and lives and families and futures which might never restabalize?

Oh, that’s right, we were talking about facism.

Don’t laugh—what if, in retrospect, we look back at this as one of our very first doses of ‘penicillin’? What if this is the ostensibly innocent start to a series of divisive maneuvers made to purge the American ‘body’ of an undesirable population?

Considering that it’s the upper/middle class will be most acutely affected by this crisis, it isn’t so far out. While the reverberations of a collapsed economy will inevitably change all of our lives, by definition, the working poor do not have 401ks. They do not have stock portfolios, nor diversified retirement funds that have or will soon evaporate before their eyes. Significantly, with the fiscal resources and privilege to do so, this is also the most educated population, the most liberal population, and consequently, the population with the luxury of time and resources necessary for artistic innovation. That’s sort of a funny thing, because art, you must understand, happens to be the scourge of fascism.

Walter Benjamin first wrote about political aestheticization, which offers (via wiki) that “life and the affairs of living are conceived of as innately artistic, and related to as such politically. Politics are in turn viewed as artistic, and structured like an art form which reciprocates the artistic conception of life being seen as art.” Thus, the impulse is to grind, buff, and polish the chaos of art/life into a glossy, ultra-efficient little husk. Benjamin describes it like poetry, as “the body’s long inarticulate rebellion against the tyranny of the theoretical.” Under these conditions, the plan of action would be to exhaust the intellectual and fiscal resources of the leisure class and reward the mechanized severity of the corporate infrastructure.

Sounds familiar. Play along for a second and let’s imagine how this might unfold.

The fascistic aesthetic looked to achieve a tyrannical cultural narrative with lines and angles as inflexible and harsh as the above painting by Depero. By exploiting the uncertainty of liberalism and exploding all language and discourse with an orchestrated assault on meaning and truth, it ain’t such a bad plan. You might just find yourself with a segment of the population suspended in a moment of anomic uncertainty, having had their guiding principles of truth disoriented and dismantled. That’s just the sort of girl fascism likes. “Mankind…now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.” Like every good “interrogator” knows, destruction of the human spirit is a meticulous process that requires great patience:

→ First, create a deeply suspicious environment for communication and information (the war against a liberal/conservative media), draining all energy which might be channeled into a pursuit of truth through a concentrated, rapidfire succession of decentered, appropriated, nonsensical words/ideologies/crusades (Obama as a Muslim, Palin as a feminist and a victim of sexism, the sacrosanct reproductive “choices” made by Bristol Palin, hacking Palin’s email was an invasion of privacy but yours is free game).

→ A sustained hostility for what is said will eventually be subsumed by a hostility for how it’s said, meaning language itself. It’s unlikely there will be an effective action to mobilize on the community level (peaceful protests in the confines of police barriers, neutered population who feel passively victimized by the gov’t), understanding that the reality of this effort involves diplomacy, which involves language, which they have lost faith in.

→ Populations start to fragment regionally first, feeling alienated from their “fellow countrymen” (middle america vs. Liberal elite). This eventually will erode the communal instinct at every level, and will culminates in a period of self-imposed isolation (what for?)

The tyranny of this solitude or metaphoric ‘atheism’ is crushing. Enter fascism, stage right. With the understanding that it had been an excess of truths that had started this conflict (they know because they made ‘em up themselves!), the case is made for just one lone, irrefutable, unbending path to divinity. It does not take long before every neighborhood starts looking like the EuR (your local gated community?)

As nuance is not especially valued in the fascist aesthetic, the persuasion would be in the simplicity; all the hand-wringing liberal anxieties would be razed with no remorse, leaving inarguable solutions to what were once protean philosophical dilemmas. In effect, their game plan wouldn’t be pretty, but it’s probably familiar:

Corporate subsidies and tax breaks in the name of “restoring the market,” with a silent proxy that the middle class will bear the burden. No reproductive rights—the body belongs to the state. No legislative protections for “special interest groups” like women, ‘mos, people of color, the elderly, the poor, the formerly incarcerated, etc. Inalienable rights such as health care the only province of the wealthy. No immigration, and expulsion of “outsiders” (unless you’re white?). Theological beliefs trump all efforts in science, innovation, discovery. As fascism is by nature a war on the chaos of nature, the environment is of little consequence. A pleasure in war, and a distaste for the damaged bodies that return from it. A rabid insistence that inequality, injustice, and difference is a myth, a relic of the past. A state controlled, unilateral education that stresses rigidly sober disciplines, and squashes the imagination and possibility of youth. Paternal invasions of privacy, pithy standards for civil liberties and a completely opaque government. Art, of course, is implicitly obscene.

I may only be playing around, but it’s not really very funny. It’s not some cloying, exaggerated catchphrase, or a painted Hitler mustache on the lip of a dopey-looking W; the climate of discourse, media and speech we are living in suddenly demands a little gravity given to what was once a throwaway charge, a little firecracker to ruffle republican panties. There’s been a shift. Whether the neocons are creeping towards a fascist state or just tearing pages from its playbook, something is happening, this is happening. We all feel it. The dissonance created by this purported culture war feels huge, almost cosmic. Everything’s urgent. Muddled. Terrible. It doesn’t much seem like we’re electing any one person so much as a whole order of cultural, intellectual, and moral standards. When I stop to think about the trajectory we might take if the neocons do in fact seize the voting base, I feel mute, helpless, and alone. I guess, however, that’s just the point.

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