Darkness is Gathering

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny. — James Madison.

An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. — Thomas Jefferson

Imperialism requires that a . . . domestic democracy change into a domestic tyranny. – Chalmers Johnson

No American wants to believe that fascism is creeping into American life.  To face such a possibility is shocking, horrendous, unthinkable.  Even less do we want to believe that our civilization could collapse within the foreseeable future.  So I do understand why people don’t want to know.

Even though I read and hear the warnings of crisis on a daily basis, there are days when I just can’t let any more in.  A friend sends me a new report on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, or the execution of nine mountain gorillas, the number of polar bears that have drowned, or the increase in brutality and criminal behavior in the New York City Police Department, and I just can’t read it.  I put it aside for later.  Something in me recoils, a combination of despair and grief that causes me to back off and seek diversion in something that will lift my spirits and make me laugh.  There’s plenty of that to be found.  Then, after a short ‘news fast,’ when balance and equanimity have been restored, I resume tracking the reality that is picking up speed in the world.

Why bother?  What’s the good of knowing something terrifying or heartrending that you can’t do anything about?  Mort Rosenblum, author of Escaping Plato’s Cave: How America’s Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival, has a good answer to this question:

For all the words and images we call ‘media,’ precious few trained eyes see distant reality up close, and these grow fewer by the year. When reporters do warn us of a crisis, we pay scant attention. We react to effect and ignore the causes. And then, overwhelmed, we cite that old saw as a path of least resistance: You can’t worry about what you can’t change. We must turn this around: You can’t change what you don’t worry about.

Or, as I would put it, you can’t see the opportunity if you don’t face the danger. Or, what you don’t know can hurt you.  And what concerns me are the Earth, the truth, and the future.  My long-term concern, far beyond my own lifetime, is the survival of a sane human species.  Sanity depends on knowing or at least seeking the truth, fearlessly, and survival depends upon having a loving relationship with the planet that sustains us.  That’s the philosophy that motivates my life and this website.

I spent about a week deeply questioning myself about the wisdom of bringing up the difficult subject of fascism in America on my brand-new website.  Would readers turn away?  Would I be on a ‘watch list’ and detained next time I try to enter the United States?   Would my friends in the US be placed under surveillance?  Would I lose my teaching position?  Would I become a political exile from my beloved country?  These are the fears I had to face.

I finally decided to be fearlessly honest, as I’ve been trained to be by my Buddhist and Dharmagaian teachers, in accordance with the larger ‘conscience of the whole’ – that is, the conscience that cares for the well being of Gaia and the rest of humanity.  I decided that I had to discuss fascism in America for two reasons: because it is real and because knowing about it, even if we can’t do anything to stop it at this point, gives us a better chance of responding in a sane manner that might make a difference to ourselves, those around us, and the rest of the world.  Even if Americans aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in the world, the rest of the world is paying attention to what’s going on in America.

So what is fascism anyway?

In American progressive circles fascism is commonly understood to be a melding of militarism, corporatism, and government into a centrally controlled state, characterized by nationalism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism.  Wikipedia states, “Fascism is also typified by totalitarian attempts to impose state control over all aspects of life: political, social, cultural, and economic, by way of a strong, single-party government for enacting laws and a strong, sometimes brutal militia or police force for enforcing them.”

That fascism had its adherents in the United States as far back as the Second World War was confirmed by Henry A. Wallace, the Vice President under FDR, 1941-45.  In April 1944, three months before I was born (!), Wallace wrote an article for the New York Times entitled The Danger of American Fascism.  He says,

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. . . .

The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power. . . .

[A]lways and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power. It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice. . . .

The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity. . . .  They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection. . . .

Do I need to point out that what Wallace is describing sounds very much like the tactics of the Right Wing in the United States?  Wallace, by the way, ran unsuccessfully against Harry Truman as a Progressive Party candidate in the 1948 U.S. presidential election. His platform advocated an end to segregation, full voting rights for blacks, and universal government health insurance.  He was just a little bit ahead of his time.

Knot-in-the-stomach news

I quote Wallace at length because what he said in 1944 has so much resonance with what Naomi Wolf writes in her article “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps.”  This article is a condensed version of Wolf’s new book The End of America, which describes the steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms, and turn an open society into a closed society.  In “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps,” she argues that George W. Bush and his administration seem to be taking all those steps, which are:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

2. Create a gulag

WTO Protest, Seattle, 1999 (Some of my students were there.)

3. Develop a thug caste

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

5. Harass citizens’ groups

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

7. Target key individuals

8. Control the press

9. Dissent equals treason

10. Suspend the rule of law

For comparison, see “Fascism Anyone? in which Laurence W. Britt’s study of seven fascist or proto-fascist regimes yields fourteen recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuses of power.  He says, “[E]ven a cursory study of these fascist and protofascist regimes reveals the absolutely striking convergence of their modus operandi.”

Regarding Wolf’s number 1, “Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy,” she says,

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain – which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks – than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

When I read this, I was surprised that I’d never thought about the ironic juxtaposition between Bush’s rhetoric to justify the “War on Terror” – that terrorism could bring about the “end of civilization” — and the actual threats to civilization that he and his administration never acknowledge: climate change, peak oil, and ecological deterioration.  Using the threat of the end of civilization by “terrorists” to whip up public support for war is obviously much easier than explaining the complex problems that actually do threaten civilization – and preparing the nation to curtail its energy consumption and emissions in order to avert a collapse.  The irony is that if we had leaders who were courageous enough to tell the truth and who were not so completely beholden to the oil and defense industries, we could be putting those billions of dollars not into war but into retrofitting the United States in order to cut emissions and prepare for the inevitable decline in fossil fuel availability.  But that isn’t the kind of ‘leaders’ we have.

Blogger and historian Carolyn Baker, in her review of The End of America, observes,

[S]ome pivotal factors that Wolf has not addressed are global energy depletion, climate change, and global economic meltdown which are exacerbating the fascist shift about which she so brilliantly writes and which will continue to embolden that shift as energy scarcity, climate chaos, and financial crises add fuel to the fires of terrorism that the ruling elite have so consciously and carefully incited and fanned throughout America. As American society continues to unravel, the fascist shift will escalate, and what is left of our civil liberties will further evaporate.

In the same article, Baker says of Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,

Klein documents one of the key strategies of fascist empires: shocking their citizens into submission in a variety of ways from widespread societal terrorism to the administering of electroshock therapy to individuals. . . . [A]nd what we are likely to see more frequently in America, are deliberate shock tactics applied by law enforcement to citizens for the purpose of achieving massive social control.

We return to The Shock Doctrine later [and in Positive Disintegration and The Dark Side], but I want to make it clear that Klein and Wolf are not the only people warning us. Remember Daniel Ellsburg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers on the history of the Vietnam War?  On September 20, 2007, Ellsburg gave a speech in which he said, ”I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state.”

There are signs that a police state is already beginning to manifest.

In September 2007 I read of three incidents of excessive force used on US citizens.  These events were all video taped by bystanders.

• Reverend Lennox Yearwood was tackled by six Capitol police when he objected to being prevented from entering the hearing at which General Patreaus was giving testimony on the war in Iraq.  Rev. Yearwood was wearing a button that said “I LOVE THE PEOPLE OF IRAQ.” He sustained severe injuries to the ligaments in his ankles and was on crutches after leaving the hospital.

• Andrew Meyer, 21, at the University of Florida – was tasered by police when he asked a question of Senator John Kerry about the impeachment of President George Bush.

• In Palmdale, California, high school security guards roughed up Pleajhai Mervin and broke her wrist after she dropped a piece of cake on the floor when someone jostled her in the cafeteria line. The high school girl was suspended from school and then arrested.  When her mother hired a lawyer and demanded that the security guard be arrested, she was arrested and suspended from her job at another school.  The student who filmed the incident and his sister, a mere bystander, were also arrested.

Security guards are apparently among the new “thug caste” that Naomi Wolf writes about.  Some of these 300-pound bullies do not seem to regard their duty to be the protection of people or enforcement of the law, but feel at liberty to terrorize and hurt innocent people.  This is very worrying when you think about it.

Former Reagan administration official Paul Craig Roberts has said that “an epidemic of US police brutality” has turned into “a pandemic.”  However, Nick Turse’s description of the proto-police state arising within the NYPD in “NYC, the NYPD, the RNC, and Me: Fortress Big Apple, 2007is what convinced me.  Having recently read the articles cited above, and having just seen the movies “Children of Men” and “The Lives of Others,” I waded into Turse’s longish story.

I must admit that it took me several days to read Turse’s article because I got such a knot in my stomach as I read his vivid descriptions of his experiences — and the facts of the militarized “surveillance state-let” that Manhattan has become — that I kept putting it aside for ‘later.’  Since I’d lived there, it was easy for me to visualize the city and imagine what it feels like to be watched by 15,000 surveillance cameras on the ground and by helicopters overhead.  I couldn’t help remembering what it felt like to move freely around the city 25 years ago, when we weren’t afraid of the police and weren’t being watched 24/7.  I could feel the paranoia in Turse’s description of what he went through and learned, and it scared me.  It really scared me about moving back to the United States.

Besides Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and Wolf’s The End of America, there are a number of other recent, well-documented books issuing warnings regarding the dangers to American democracy and Constitutional freedoms posed by the Bush administration.   For example, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. If you’re curious, it’s interesting to check out books with related themes on the Amazon.com pages for these books, and see the readers’ comments.  There are readers who are paying attention, but, so far, the American public at large hasn’t gotten the message.  And that does not bode well for staving off the police state or military dictatorship that is poised to shock the country into submission.

A crisis of perception

Many years ago, physicist and deep ecologist Fritjof Capra observed that the environmental crisis is a crisis of perception.  I believe that that is what we have with regard to the inability of Americans to respond to the many converging crises of our time, and not only the environmental crises.  As the Archdruid (and Dharmagaian Ally) John Michael Greer says in “Imaginary Countries,”

When a gap opens up between ideals and reality, the result is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, and America has a very bad case of it. A great deal of American political debate over the last half century or so has accordingly focused on trying to relieve the cognitive dissonance of America’s inevitable failure to live up to the high ideals on which it was founded.

I hear moans about cognitive dissonance from many bloggers and speakers on the peak oil lecture circuit these days.  Here is an image that occurred to me to illustrate the cognitive dissonance that I experienced in the United States this year:

The ‘average American’ is speeding along on a highway in her nice, safe SUV. She’s driving through the desert with her gleaming city behind her.  The road is straight and she knows it well.  So she’s watching her city recede in the rearview mirror, dreaming about how great her life is and how great it is to be an American.  She doesn’t pay attention to a slight rise in the road, beyond which she cannot see, because she knows there’s nothing beyond it except some old railroad tracks, and she’s never seen a train on them.  So she continues on cruise control, looking into her rearview mirror, listening to her favorite music.

What she doesn’t see or hear is that two trains are approaching each other on the same track.  The train on the left is bearing, like Pandora’s Box, global energy and resource depletion, climate change, and global economic meltdown.  The train approaching from the right carries the American Dream. Beyond the tracks is an army of soldiers in the service of the American military dictatorship that they plan to implement as they reconfigure the shreds of the American Dream after the crash.  The trains are each going at a speed that will bring them to impact right at the railroad crossing on the road that our average American is traveling on.  That railroad crossing is just a couple of hundred yards beyond the rise she will soon top.  If she’s paying attention she may avoid the collision of the trains by taking a sharp left turn onto an unpaved road before the soldiers can get to her.  Is she paying enough attention to see both trains and the soldiers beyond the tracks, and that she has the option of taking a dirt road and getting away?

I’m elaborating here on an observation that others have made that the reason Americans can’t believe the warnings and can’t see the dangers ahead is that they are looking at America in the ‘rearview mirror.’  The image of America that they hold in their minds is the ideal of America that they learned as children.  What they are seeing is America’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, and myths that are quickly receding into the past, but are kept alive by advertising and propaganda on television, in print media, and in movies.  They are looking at the way things were, not the way things are.  They are not looking ahead, nor seeing the dilapidated state of the present territory they are traversing.  They don’t see the degradation of the environment, or of the formerly great educational system, or of the neglected national infrastructure. They haven’t noticed the increased militarism and the detention centers that have sprung up around them.  They are unaware that civil liberties and Constitutional guarantees have been deliberately and severely eroded, and that the indebted American economy is in an anemic state.  They haven’t noticed that the United States no longer belongs to the people, it belongs to corporations that have claimed the rights of people.  The people haven’t been paying attention.  They thought they were safe.

And, as an American expat living in Holland, I can assure you that the Dutch are also looking in the rearview mirror of their culture – and probably a lot of other Europeans are, too.  But even worse, the Dutch are seeing the United States through America’s rearview mirror.

In Part 4 we will consider the possibility of civilizational collapse followed by a Dark Age, what that could mean, and why we need to look through the front windshield.

Further reading/watching:

Why Even If You Have Nothing To Hide, Government Surveillance Threatens Your Freedom By John Dean  10/19/07

American Tears by Naomi Wolf  10/12/07

Talk by Naomi Wolf – The End of America at the University of Washington 10/11/07 (video 47 mins.) – Excellent!

[See The Dark Side and its links for more. . . .]

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