Article 43

 

Revelations

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking To 2019

image: dying america

We Need a More Humane Economic System
Not One That Only Benefits the Rich

By Richard D. Wolff
December 27, 2018

Prof. Wolff joins Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now to discuss the current economic crisis, from the stock market fluctuations to the partial federal government shutdown.

The partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is entering its fifth day after a political impasse over President Donald Trumpגs contentious demand for border wall funding. Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to fund his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite previously repeatedly claiming Mexico would pay for the wall. The shutdown is occurring as concern grows over the U.S. economy. U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. In response, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an emergency meeting with top financial regulators and also convened a separate call with top executives of six major banks.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Im Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is entering its fifth day after a political impasse with Congress over President Donald Trumps contentious demand for border wall funding. Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to fund his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, despite his previously repeated claims that Mexico would pay for the wall.

The shutdown is occurring as concern grows over the U.S. economy. U.S. stock markets are on pace to suffer their worst December since 1931 during the Great Depression. In response, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held an emergency meeting with top financial regulators and also convened a separate call with top executives of six major banks.

AMY GOODMAN: This came as President Trump renewed his attack on the Federal Reserve, openly criticized its chairman, Jerome Powell, whom he appointed. On Christmas Eve, Trump tweeted, ғThe only problem our economy has is the Fed.

Well, for more, weԒre joined now by Richard Wolff, emeritus professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, visiting professor at The New School, founder of Democracy at Work, hosts a weekly national television and radio program called Economic Update, author of many books, including Capitalisms Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown.

Richard Wolff, welcome to Democracy Now!

RICHARD WOLFF: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve got, before this, the capital gains tax break, the break for the richest Americans, and President Trump says hes improving the economy, and now the stock market has plummeted back to the Depression times. Explain.

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, we’ve had an economy that never really escaped the crash of 2008. In a way, the last 10 years have been an economy on life support: vast amounts of money pumped into the economy; record drops in interest rates, inviting everybody - business, individuals, governmentsחto borrow moneya debt-sustained situation. And after a while, you canגt mount up the debt on the basis of an economy that hasnt really gotten going. And we’re seeing the eventual break.

You know, the capitalist system has a downturn every four to seven years. Its had that for centuries. And the last big downturn was 2008 and ‘09. So, if you do four and seven, and you add it to nine, we’re due for one. And every major stock market observer, bank and so on predicts that we’re having a downturn. So its really only a question of exactly when. And the stock market anticipates this. And so we’re having, in a way, economic chickens coming home to roost. And the notion that its just the FedҒs policy that explains this is really the kind of remark that would get a student a very low grade in any economics course.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Richard, why - if over the last 10 years the Federal Reserve kept interest rates so low and provided so much cheap money, why hasn’t inflation increased dramatically in the U.S. over this period of time?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, the irony is, it’s one of the bizarre ways an economy works. There was no incentive to take all that money and go in and produce things that might have driven up prices and so on, because the people in America can’t afford to buy it. Our wages have been stagnant. The debts have been so big that people are afraid to borrow the way they once did, even though they still do, but not at the growing scale as before.

So, all that extra money kind of went into the stock market to make itself make quick money by buying shares, hoping that they would go up. And if all the rich people who get it into their hands do that kind of thing, you see the stock market go up, but the underlying economy doesn’t go anywhere. And again, after a while, that’s not a sustainable arrangement.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the other thing that happened, though, after the Trump tax cuts, there was all of these companies buying up their own shares, seeking to drive up their prices, right?

RICHARD WOLFF: Exactly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now all that money has been lost?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, basically, yes, because it was funny money to begin with. It was money that was not used to hire people, was not used to raise people’s wages. All of those promises were never delivered on. Instead, it rushed into the stock market or buying back shares, which is another way of playing the market. So the market prices went up. The mainstream media tended to say, See, the economy is in good shape. It’s strong, because the market went up.

But the underlying reality of most people, which is reflected in our politics, is one of bitterness and anger and resentment that they are not participating in this so-called recovery. And now the rich are also facing the falling apart of this house of cards as the market tumbles down. And poor Mr. Trump, having staked his reputation on a rising market, is now confronted with a declining one and is looking for a scapegoat, which Mr. Powell, his own appointee, is providing to him.

AMY GOODMAN: Who I always thought wrote that op-ed piece for the Times. But I do want to ask about this Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s secret meeting - emergency meeting, I should say - with top U.S. financial regulators, after hosting a call with executives from six major banks on Sunday. You have him meeting with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Bank of Americas Brian Moynihan, Goldman SachsҒ David Solomon, Morgan Stanleys James Gorman, Tim Sloan of Wells Fargo, Michael Corbat of Citigroup. What message did he convey to them? And what about the meeting with the regulators?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, I think the basic plan here, no one knows the details, but most of us think this was not a leak. This was a letting us know that the government is busy fixing all of this. The hope is that by promising everybody’s on board to fix it, that the market will somehow come back. Its the easiest, simplest first step.

But the irony is, it didn’t play out very well, because the mass of people saw it for what it was: a ploy, an effort to verbally shore things up - which makes you wonder about how bad it really is, having pretended there was no problem, having pretended we have a strong economy. We don’t have one, so now you have to kind of talk it up.

My guess is, it wont make a big difference. We have a long-term instability built into this economic system, and we look to be on the verge of doing just that kind of downturn that history suggests we ought to expect.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is Trump so angry at Mnuchin right now?

RICHARD WOLFF: Basically, he’s looking for scapegoats. I think if he can’t use Mr. Powell - there’s some evidence he tried to figure out whether he can fire him. He was told, apparently, he cannot. OK, he can fire Mr. Mnuchin. That’s for sure. So maybe he has to shift his focus of whose the bad guy here, against = so he isnt the bad guy, so the system is never questioned. He’ll find somebody who he can fire to do the theater that he seems to like to do to solve problems by pointing to a scapegoat.

JUAN GONAZLEZ: And to what degree does TrumpRs continuing trade war battles with China have an impact on the U.S. economy and where people think its heading, not where it is right now?

RICHARD WOLFF: Mostly, at this point, it’s terribly uncertain. Companies around the world cannot make plans, cannot make investments, cannot make assumptions about whats going to happen, because we don’t know what hes going to do, we don’t know what the Chinese are going to do.

But, you know, theres a more deep historical problem here. And itҒs really American history. When we became an independent nation, it was partly because we were held backtea party, remember?חby the British. They had a rule: They wanted the colony to be subordinate. We didnt want to do that as Americans, and we ended up pushing back against the control, the effort to hold back American development. We went to two wars: the Revolutionary War and, again, the War of 1812.

The history records are not good about trying to squelch an upcoming economic power. China is todayҒs upcoming economic power. The effort to squelch and stop it is both likely to fail and extremely dangerous, because these trade wars have a nasty habit of becoming military.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about this government shutdown and who it hurts? I couldnt help thinking about the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of workers will not be paid. Of course, itҒs particularly painful through the holidays. Many other hundreds of thousands are being furloughed. You have those in the private sector who rely on the government jobs for their jobs. They will lose their jobs or not be paid. I mean, President Trump, before he was president, of course, we know that he didnt pay many of his own workers. But this idea of who is hurt during a government shutdown and who continues to get paid?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, for me, this isҗas Senator Corker said, this is theater. This is Mr. Trump producing a big news event. He is in charge. He is acting. And for him, the cost of these hundreds of thousands without incomeand, by the way, all the people they canגt spend on, who are losing an income indirectly, when you multiply this out, as we do in economics, the impact is very severe. And Im not even talking about the services they canҒt perform and the long-run effects of the services not being performed by the government. The IRS is cutting back at a time when we are desperately in trouble with our revenues anyway. So, yeah, its a crass, self-serving, political ploy, the costs of which, like in the tit-for-tat war with China, are huge but are not being counted, because they donҒt calculate in to the self-promotion of our leadership.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But this is all coming, supposedly, in a time when we have the lowest unemployment record in decades, supposedlyunemployment rate. Yet, of course, many of those who are employed are severely underemployed. But Iגm wondering what your sense is of the actual economy itself?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the reality is that we are - we have a lot of employment, but the quality of the jobs has collapsed over the last 10 years. The people who work now used to be people who had a job with good income, good benefits and good security. The jobs, overwhelmingly, created have none of those things: low wages - that’s why our wages have gone nowhere; bad benefits - those are shrinking, pensions and so on; and the security is virtually gone. One of our biggest problems in America is people don’t know one week to the next what hours they’re working, what income they’ll get. You can’t have a life like this.

So, what weve done is we’ve ratcheted down the quality of jobs. We’ve made people use up their savings since the great crash of 2008, so theyҒre in a bind. They have really no choice but to offer themselves at lower wages or at less benefit or at less security than before, which is why there’s the anger, which is why there was the vote for Mr. Trump in the first place, because this talk of recovery really is about that stock market with the funny money that the Fed Reserve pumped in, but is not about the real lives of people, which are in serious trouble, hence the numbers, like a average American family can’t get a $400 emergency cost because it doesn’t have that kind of money in the background. So, you’ve undone the underlying economy, you have this frothy stock market for the 1 percent, and this is an impossible tension tearing the country apart.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the Democrats will be taking officewill be taking over the House next week. And itגs not only the Democrats, but you have this whole new generation of progressives that are moving in. What do you want to see happen? What can they do?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the first thing is, they have to get strong enough, which may take a while, to have the numbers able to fundamentally change policy. Thats what I want. I want them to recognize that our economic system is a problem, that there ought to be a national debate, which theyҒre in the best position to start, that we stop looking for this scapegoat or that onenot just Mr. Trump with Powell or with Mnuchin, but the whole mass media effort to see a problem everywhere but in the basic economic system. We have to get over that. For half a century, weגve been afraid to debate those questions, because of the Cold War and everything having to do with it. Lets do that.

Let’s ask, for example, whether the best way to organize our enterprises is to have a tiny group of people - board of directors, major shareholders - make all the decisions, so that the rest of us have to live with the results, but we have no input. You know, a country that promises it is committed to democracy has never faced the fact that in the enterprise we don’t have democracy. We have a tiny group of people making all the decisions. And that’s not a good idea. And maybe now we can face that the decisions they’ve made, individually and collectively, have plunged us into a situation where we cannot afford the luxury of not facing basic questions about how our economy is organized. We should have done it for the last 50 years. Maybe this new generation of young people coming into the Congress will begin that conversation and, hopefully, bring us along into a national debate on these subjects, which is long overdue.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, but beyond the debate, what kind of legislation do you think that the House should be seeking to pass?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, easiest way to summarize it: We have been following - and, unfortunately, Democrats, too - something called trickle-down economics. We do economic policy where we help the folks at the top - we bail out the big banks, we give a tariff benefit - and we hope it trickles down, which it rarely does.

First thing they can do, reverse it. Lets do trickle-up economics. You help the people at the bottom, in all the different ways that we know how to do because the FDR regime back in the ‘30s did a lot of that. So we know how to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Like?

RICHARD WOLFF: Do it well, put people to work. Put people to work doing socially useful things at a decent income, not working in a fast-food restaurant under unbearable personal situations. Here’s another one: this greening of America. There’s a project that could help millions of people in a direct way. Let’s kind of do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Put forward by a Democratic Socialist, a Socialist like yourself.

RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. And thats where we’d expect it to come from, because we haven’t been willing, outside of the mainstream, to have the debates, so - excuse me, in the mainstream we haven’t had it. So we need the folks coming in, that are new and different, to talk about all of those things.

We did them before. The minimum wage should be raised, and dramatically. We should be helping all the kinds of people who have been denied help. We should be making sure that jobs are secure, that jobs have proper benefits, that we’re enhancing the benefitsall the things that could help the folks at the bottom have the money to spend, that will trickle up into the profits and revenues of business. That’s a more humane system.

And, you know, even if it doesn’t work as much as we want it to, at least we will have helped the majority of people. What we have now is trickle-down, that helps those of the top, and then, when it doesn’t trickle down, what have we got? We’ve helped those at the top - again. The focus on trickle-up would be an alternation in our policy that’s long overdue.

AMY GOODMAN: Are we in the midst of a recession, or is it just about to hit us?

RICHARD WOLFF: It’s just about to hit us. Goldman Sachs is literally predicting it. JPMorgan Chase - you mentioned these institutions before - they’re all saying in their newsletters - if you read the financial press, its not a question of whether, it’s just a question of when. And its sort of within the next six to 18 months. So, yes, it’s possible those will be wrong, but, you know, its been that way for a couple of centuries. It’s a good bet. And so, yes, were going to have one.

And Mr. Trump is in the very dangerous position of having two years to go before he has to run for re-election, at a time when the one thing he can point to, which is economic something, is going to disintegrate, as it has in the last several weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Wolff, we want to thank you for being with us, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, visiting professor here in New York at The New School, founder of Democracy at Work, hosts a weekly national TV and radio program called Economic Update, author of a number of books, including Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown.

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The Year of Fascism
Ten Lessons We Should Learn From 2018

By Umair Hague
Eudaimonia
December 30, 2018

Theres an open secret that too many of us donҒt want to admit right now, at the end of a long, ugly, emotionally bruising, psychically battering year. Yet if were going to learn anything from the mess weҒre in, it starts with just that open secret.

This was the year of fascism. The year that bona fide fascism  replete with demonization, dehumanization, demagogues, camps, show trials, and hints of genocide ח made a dramatic, shocking return to the global stage. Do you think I exaggerate? What other system, way, attitude, puts toddlers on trial? cages infants? Calls them vermin? Does literally unspeakable things, things for which we have no words, like killing them by denying them water and medicine, or freezing them to death? This was a year defined by the resurgence of fascism, if only we are brave enough to admit it. I wouldnt blame you if җ like many people  you canגt quite bring yourself to do so. After all, doing just that brings up tough, unforgiving questions. Was I complicit? Am I? Arent we better than this? DidnҒt we learn anything from history?

The year of fascism began in America. It skyrocketed to the heights of power, and then spread through the world like a terrible epidemic. Soon enough, Europe was infected. Paris was on fire. There were neo-Nazis in the Bundestag. Italy was gripped by its own ugly bout of what looks a lot like national socialism. And so on. Now, it was utterly predictable that America was going to implode into fascism (no, that doesnt mean youҒre a fascist, it just means that there are supremacists in high office, doing terrible things, which are slowly normalized.) Not just because fascism was invented in America  the Nazis, after all, studied Americaגs race laws, great admirers of its system of slavery and segregation  but because political economy said so. That brings me to my second lesson.

Economics was right, but American economics was wrong. Was it the one of historyגs greatest, weirdest coincidences that nations as different as America, Italy, and Austria all melted down into different degrees of fascism? How can the cause of fascism be cultural when these nations dont share cultures? But wait җ wasnt economics wrong? IsnҒt the economy booming?

Its baffling җ and nobody explains it well, mostly because almost nobody remembers how to think about it well. I dont blame you for being confused. The confusion arises from the a simple problem.

American economics was wrong. About what? About everything, more or less. Capitalism - by way of slashing social investment, privatizing everything, making corporations people, and cutting taxes for the rich - wasn’t the answer to everything. Wealth and income and prosperity didnt trickle down from billionaires to average people. Instead, the rich turned into the super rich, while the average American went deeper and deeper into debt, unable to afford basics like healthcare and education and a home on his stagnant income.

(American economics is so badly wrong that it says absurd, bizarre, hilarious things like: “the economy’s booming!!” at the precise moment that life expectancy is cratering, suicide and depression are skyrocketing, young people cant afford to start families, old people can’t afford to retire, and average incomes have barely budged for half a century. LOL So when people living shorter, unhappier, grimmer, poorer lives, to the point that they kill themselves in despair, have become a “booming economy,” then, my friends, a theory of dunces has replaced reality with a grotesque and backwards illusion. The earth isn’t flat - though American economics would like us all to believe it is, in a weirdly Soviet twist.)

But American economics is not all of economics - its just a weird, cultish subset, its own strange discipline, which is at this point, so badly wrong its somewhere between absurdly hilarious and tragically gruesome. That’s because 1) it didn’t study the world 2) learn anything from history 3) think very hard about whether it’s conclusions are backed up by the most basic empirical reality (like - wait, how can an economy be booming when life expectancy is falling? Isn’t life the point of money, not money the point of life?)

EconomicsҢ  not American economics, but the real thing - said exactly the following would happen  exactly what the great economists of the past, like Keynes, would have predicted: because the average Americaגs life had fallen apart, because he was so deeply indebted, society would destabilize, and a fascist-authoritarian wave was likely to roar. Keynes, after all, was the one who pointed out that is precisely what happened in Weimar Germany. In todays context, it goes something like this: when there isnҒt enough to go around, and there is no way to ever get or have or be any more, people define the weakest among them as nonhumanӔ or subhumanӔ  precisely so there is more for them. That brings me to my third lesson.

Fascism is a way to ration a stagnant economy. It is what happens when a collapsed middle class punches down, instead of lifting up. Imagine that the pie is shrinking for a moment. But our bills are going up, year by year. What are we to do? The easiest solution is to exclude some people from having a share. That is what fascism really is. We define some people as inhuman, so that they do not belong anymore ח and then there is more, suddenly, finally, for the true peopleӔ, the volk, the real ones. In Weimar Germany, that is exactly what happened. Spectacular economic mismanagement led to runaway inflation, living standards cratered, there wasnt enough to go around җ bang! Fascism.

But thats what happened in America, too җ only in a less obvious way, at least to pundits, who never leave the DC/NYC bubble. Prices for the basics of life  education, healthcare, even food, rose by thousands of percent. But incomes didnגt. The average persons living standards cratered. There isnҒt enough to go around  enough healthcare, education, incomes, jobs, money, retirement, childcare, maternity leave ח all these things are in chronic, constant shortage, thanks to predatory capitalism, which needs those artificial shortages to boost its profits. So peoples share of the social surplus has declined sharply. That alone predicted a sudden tidal wave of fascism җ and then there was the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which made it more or less inevitable.

Let me give you a concrete example so its clearer. There was a nobody җ a man who used to be a machinist, unemployed now in Weimar Germany, drunk every day, wth no hope in the future. Along came the Nazi party. He joined it, out of hope. And he found himself living in a fine riverside mansion, filled with grand art and furniture. Suddenly, he had power, money, respect, belonging, an address. He was someone. But the mansion was seized from a Jew  and given to him because he was an SS officer. And so, really, was the respect, money, and belonging, too. Do you see what I mean? Itגs often said that national socialismӔ is just a label without a meaning, but that is wrong. It is the act of taking the possessions, belongings, wealth, incomes, jobs, homes, and ultimately, the personhood of those who are even weaker than the middle class who has collapsed into new poverty  by defining them as impure, as unreal, using the state to do it ח creating whole new industries and jobs (not to mention norms, values, and ideals) along the way.

But thats what began to happen in America җ a collapsed middle class, suddenly lurching into new poverty, began punching down, hoping to seize prosperity from those even weaker than it, Mexicans and blacks and immigrants and so on, by taking away everything from them  beginning with their personhood. Stagnation lights the spark of old bigotries. But the lesson is this. Middle class collapse is the strongest predictor of fascism there is ח it tells us a society cant punch up, climb up, lift up anymore, and soon enough, it will begin to have to punch down.

Fascism is always a depression away. What does it mean for a middle class to collapse? Where are the good jobs left in America? The truth is there arenҒt many. Sure, the unemployment rateӔ is low  but the average American is living paycheck to paycheck, unable to muster $500 for an emergency. That tells us in no uncertain terms that the jobs he is doing are low-wage, dead-end ones ח essentially, he is a servant to the new rich, whether he drives their cars, or delivers their fineries, and so on. America has undergone several decades now of hidden stagnation  itגs economics statistics only tell us about the health of capitalism, but when the stock market booms, average people get poorer, not richer, because those profits are had by cutting away their incomes and wages and raiding their pensions  all while charging them higher prices every year for the very things they produce.

But when people cannot make ends meet, then the problem of allocating a stagnant social surplus arises. And yet, just as in Weimar Germany, the capitalists, who are profiting massively by driving the average person into stagnation, cannot be moved - they will not budge an inch, or give a dollar, to lift living standards up. They simply don’t care What is a society to do? There is no solution left, apart from excluding some, so that the illusion of prosperity for the true volk can appear. Bang! The fascist implosion begins. Germany 1934. America 2018. But the lesson is: fascism is always a depression away. It is a solution to a very real problem - a bad one. The problem of depression, of stagnation, of stuck or declining living standards, and no resources or mechanisms available with which to reverse them. What is left but to turn on ones neighbour, and take his bread, then? A starving man will do anything to feed his kids - including believing a bellowing demagogue when he shouts those other kids, the strange-looking ones, are parasites and vermin.

Fascism was predictable. So how come nobody predicted it? The sequence above  stagnation, middle class collapse, simmering rage, implosion ח should have foretold a fascist wave in gigantic blinking red letters blaring air-raid alarms. It did, to those of us who are versed in history, economics, and politics (after all, greater minds, from Adorno to Fromm to Bourdieu, have spent decades explaining how capitalism implodes viciously into fascism  not the Marxist revolution that once was hoped for.) Those of us who did see it coming tried warning of it as desperately, urgently, and loudly as we could. But Americaגs class of leaders  politicians, academics, intellectuals, columnists, pundits - didn’t just refuse to listen. They made us pay a steep price - we were shunned, mocked, reviled, and taunted. Those of us who saw it coming were women and minorities, mostly, or both, and we have lived this before - but those who didn’t see this coming were those who couldn’t. That is because they were all one kind of person: comfortable, upper-middle-class, Ivy League, white, who’d never really lived anywhere but the East Coast of America. No, its not that they;re all bad or inherently bad - it’s that a kind of predictable group think emerged, just like in a frat-house: hubris, arrogance, willful blindness, a closing of the mind - and a backlash against anyone who tried to open it.

דLOL  fascism? Those people are weirdos! No matter how accomplished they are, theyגre nottheyŒre not us! Theyre women and minorities! Come on. WeҒre right  we always are! There are more of us than them ח and were stronger!!Ҕ They were right  there were more of them than there were of us. They were stronger. But that didnגt make them righter. It only made them, sadly, a little deafer, dumber, and blinder. They failed at job one of any leader  protecting their society from turning on itself.

It happened here, and it still is. Because of the comfortable atmosphere of hubris, arrogance, and ignorance among them - America’s politicians, intellectuals, and pundits spent all of 2016 and 2017 lost in a fog of denial, wandering in circles like the blind. “How bad could it possibly be?” A lot, lot worse than they thought, it turns out. They spent that vital time minimizing, denying, and erasing the possibility of implosion - instead of reflecting on it, considering it, understanding it, grappling with it. The New York Times and Washington Post profiled Nazis as handsome, charming rogues, over and over again - while warning their readers never to bring to use words like fascism and authoritarianism, because it couldn’t happen here.

And that is exactly how in 2018, it did, with a vengeance. Bang! Those of us who warned of it were dismissed, taunted, mocked, and sneered at  and we still are. It would be wise for those who made the fatal mistake of not seeing fascism coming when it was eminently predictable to admit it, to learn something from that mistake. But I donגt see any evidence of that. Morning Joe, who supported Trump all election long, is now a vicious enemy of his. But he never examines why, is open enough with his viewers, to say, I was wrong, and that is how we got here. Why was I wrong? Doesn’t it matter? You see, unless there is responsibility amongst leaders - then there will irresponsibility. Until there is accountability, then there will be failure. Not to take responsibility for I failed to protect my society from fascism, and that was my first jobӔ is to add insult to injury. That brings us to my next lesson.

Fascism takes us by surprise  happens faster, harder, and worse than we think because we try very hard not to think about it at all. Weגre in denial  but denial is fascismגs best friend. America spent so much time it-cant-happen-hereing that it did. That is one part of the story in a nutshell. ItҒs difficult to admit that fascism is a thing that hasnt ғgone away, died some kind of natural death. But fascism is more like a plague, which can strike at any time, if you understand the above, than some kind of episode in distant history. ItԒs always just a depression away. And yet when we waste time it-cant-happen-hereing, like AmericaҒs leaders all did, for crucial, vital years, then how can we prepare for it? Fight it? Prevent it? We cant. We disempower ourselves, as we always do, when we make ourselves blind. America was caught totally by surprise by its fascist implosion. Most people, IҒd wager  who are good and decent people ח are still in shock, though they might not know it. Theres a lingering hangover of disbelief, of confusion, of bewilderment. Wait җ were killing kids? What the? How is this happening? Yet shock is what happens when you spend so long in denial, reality comes as a jolt.

NobodyҒs immune from fascism  itגs only cure is prosperity. Fascism spread to Europe, too. Nobody is immune from it. And yet the spread of this latest fascist wave tallies with what the economics predict: those societies where middle classes have done better see less of it (not none of it). Sure, France and Germany and Sweden all have their extremist fringes  who have risen to power. Yes, the Gilets Jaunes are setting Paris on fire. But these nations arenגt headed by supremacists. They arent nearly as badly affected by neofascism as America is җ and that is because America is where the middle class collapsed the most.

Fascism is a disease of modernity  itגs cancer. It happens when middle classes implode into sudden poverty  thatגs a curse of prosperity, because middle classes are a new phenomenon in history. When they cant make ends meet, when they grow desperate, enraged, when they lost trust and faith in society җ then they turn on those below them and beside them. A man who has been lifelong friends with his neighbours will take all that they have if he sees his children starving. It is the simplest and greatest lesson of the 20th century. For that reason, peace amongst people is the most fragile and tenuous victory of all  it only becomes possible through shared, enduring, growing prosperity. Why is it that a century later ח we still havent learned it? And that brings me to my last lesson.

Social democracy insulates societies against fascism. Fascism is rising hardest and fastest in countries which have failed the challenge of really modernizing. Of giving people a fair chance at a decent life. Foremost amongst these is America җ where people must make grim, terrible choices, like chemotherapy, or feeding my kids?Ӕ, my life ӗ or my life savings? But there are many more. EuropeԒs peripheral states, too, are failing to modernize. Russia has descended into nationalist fervor since it failed to modernize. And so on. The lesson is simple. Fascism is a kind of reaction to a society being stuck at a certain stage of development  it is what happens when a society fails to make the transition from capitalism to social democracy. Or, worse, regresses from social democracy to capitalism. Fascist pressures are emerging in Europe precisely because a foolish policy of austerity is turning social democracy back into capitalism. You can think of it like falling into a chasm, if you want.

Capitalism is not meant to last forever. It is meant to evolve into social democracy. Society is meant to transcend capitalism, to go beyond it, by investing the social surplus it creates in things like hospitals, schools, education, media, retirement, for all. If a society doesn’t do that - then the rich will become ultra rich, while the middle implode into the new poor, and that new class of poor will grow resentful, enraged, embittered, and punch down, hoping to seize what they can from those even more powerless than them. Bang! Thatגs the fascist implosion. Its what happened to the world in 2018. Economics has everything to do with it. It’s not a coincidence that so many countries turned so hard towards fascism so fast.

The question in 2019 is whether we are wise enough to begin understanding it.

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Culture of Stupidity

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We Are The People of the Apocalypse
Clinical psychologist John F. Schumaker reveals the dangerous erosion of human personality at the heart of modern consumer culture.

By John F. Schumaker
New Internationalist
December 14, 2018

“For a culture to avoid self-destruction as it progresses,” writes Henry George in his classic 1883 work Social Problems, “it must develop a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit while ensuring responsible and visionary leaders who embrace the mental and “moral universe.” By stark contrast, modern consumer culture barrels in the opposite direction, breeding an increasingly trivialized and disengaged strain of personhood, devoid of the loftier qualities needed to sustain a viable society and healthy life supports.”

Human personality - a crisis

While the ever-deepening mental-health crisis is common knowledge, less understood is the even more serious personality crisis that has rendered the consuming public largely unfit for democracy and nigh useless in the face of the multiple emergencies that beg for responsible and conscientious citizenship.

In times of crisis, we turn reflexively to the state of the economy without considering possible collapses within the general state of the person or what psychologist Erich Fromm called a culture’s social character. By this he meant the shared constellation of personality and character traits disseminating from a society’s dominant modes of inculturation, all of which serve to forge common values, priorities, ethics, lifestyles and worldviews, and even the so-called will of the people.

Writing when he did over 50 years ago, Fromm already noticed the unfurling of a personality crisis, using the term marketing personality to describe the one-dimensional, commodified and de-sensitized eternal suckling that was, as he forewarned in the famous conclusion of Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1962), succumbing to a culturally manufactured consensus of STUPIDITY that could prove our ultimate undoing. Since then, the social character has become so stunted, and the decline of true citizenship so complete, that some now speak of the apocalyptic personality propelling our rush toward self-destruction. But the problem now goes far beyond an agreed-upon stupidity.

Cultural infantilism

Immaturity has joined forces, as a cultural consensus, with a growing number of social thinkers warning of the dramatic rise of psychological neoteny, otherwise known as “cultural infantilization”. Bruce G Charlton’s influential 2006 Medical Hypothesis article “The rise of the boy-genius” detailed the cultural evolution of a personality profile marked by delayed cognitive maturation, emotional and spiritual shallowness, and diminished profundity of character that manifests itself in a child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge. While these Ғunfinished personalities may have increased adaptability in a mercurial culture of inconstant loyalties, abbreviated attention spans and compulsive novelty-seeking, they also expose society to the rawness and limitations of youth that hamper higher-order judgment and decision-making abilities, and culminate in a ђculture of irresponsibility.

In his 2017 book “The Public in Peril,” Henry A Giroux writes about the cultural infantilism of daily life, which encourages adults to assume the role of unthinking children while simultaneously crippling the imagination of the young and destroying their traditional role as “the repository of society’s dreams,: Through the engineering of an infantilized society, he observes: Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses.ё The result is a social system overly invested in ethical ignoranceҒ and a public sphere. dumbed to the value of an enlightened and democratic body politic.

In a similar vein, sociologist Christopher Swaders book The Capitalist Personality (2013) documents the prevailing of a rudimental cultural personality featuring exploitive egoism, selfish ambition and profit-mindedness that became the psycho-social mainspring of consumer capitalism. Although bedevilled with deadly long-term consequences, the ґcapitalist personality was a predictable outcome of a system functionally dependent on low levels of ethical conviction, personal growth and spiritual wakefulness.

Guilt has lost its power

Of the many ways that we invite self-destruction, the climate crisis cries loudest for responsible citizenship and leadership. It is by far the greatest moral, ethical and psycho-social challenge encountered by our species. But the cultural conditions that foster collective responsibility, other-mindedness and conscience development have eroded. Guilt has lost much of its former powers of persuasion and deterrence. Character building as a socialization pathway to ethical resolve and civic commitment is virtually extinct. The trait of narcissism, as well as diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, have risen so much in recent decades that many now regard the narcissistic personality as a normal outcome of current social-cultural conditions. The same is true of the sociopathic personality.

Researchers, such as those at Essex UniversityҒs Centre for the Study of Integrity, have chronicled a deepening crisis in which people are increasingly willing to condone behaviour, both in themselves and others, as well as their leaders and institutions, that once would have been deemed dishonest, immoral, unjust and anti-social. The sociopathic personality has become integral to the workings of modern consumer capitalism. But as sociologist Charles Derber, the author of Sociopathic Society (2013), also notes: Climate change is a symptom of the sociopathic character of our capitalist model.ђ

Adiaphora

Empathy is the cornerstone of civilization and the faculty of human intelligence upon which all well-functioning societies depend. But evidence shows it to be fading from the global social character. Using data from 127 countries and over 100,000 assessments, the State of the Heart Report (2016) showed empathy to be one of the fastest-declining components of overall emotional intelligence (EQ). According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the psycho-social workings of consumer capitalism make such moral dissociations inevitable. In Moral Blindness (2013), he uses the ancient Stoic word adiaphora (meaning indifferents) to describe the consensus of indifference that enables consumer capitalism to fulfil its operative promise of ever-growing creative destruction. As a result, he writes, we are at risk of losing our sensitivity to the plight of others, something which applies equally to our socially sanctioned indifference toward future generations and the well being of the planet.

Climate of apathy

The ruination of nature is an implicit assumption of the current capitalist system. While the terms apocalypse fatigue and doomsday fatigue have joined similar ones like climate fatigue, environment fatiguҒ and green fatigue, all these imply, not only a mature and dutiful citizenry, but one exhausted from fending off ecological catastrophe, which is of course ridiculous. In fact, around 10 years ago, an especially large drop in climate concern coincided with a deluge of high quality climate change research alerting people to the need for urgent action. In the most comprehensive study of its kind, titled Declining public concern about climate change (Global Environmental Change, May 2012), political scientists Lyle Scruggs and Salil Benegal analysed data over the last 30 years and demonstrated that climate concern is on a downward slope, with recent years showing the most precipitous decline.

The seemingly suicidal ditching of climate concern was blamed initially on economic woes, but environmental researchers gradually discovered that education, rather than being the master key to responsible and ethical behaviour as one may think, can actually make things worse. Called the cultural backfire effect, it refers to the way in which people retaliate against facts disconfirming their cultural beliefs by actually strengthening those beliefs, even when they are blatantly erroneous. Researchers at Yale Universitys Cultural Cognition Project studied this effect in relation to the climate change beliefs of different political parties in the US. For Republicans, most of whom do not believe in climate change, as their factual knowledge of climate change increased, they actually became less likely to believe in it. For Democrats, as their factual knowledge increased, they were more likely to believe, even when they knew less than Republicans. Such findings demonstrate that our beliefs are much less a product of what we know, or what is right or wrong, than who we are by virtue of our cultural identities.

An overarching cultural system

Yet the reason that people in general, regardless of sub-groupings, are so feckless and impassive, and their actions so antithetical to what they must be at this pivotal crossroads in our existence, is that everyone has been assimilated into an overarching cultural system whose lifeblood is the mercenary indifference and irresponsibility of its followers. Consumer culture has endowed its ґunfinished personalities with minimal aptitude or motivation for constructive disobedience. While the young are the historical igniters of social change, todayҒs de-idealized youth are the most conventional and conformist generation in history with most being huddled around the same dead zone of market-driven values, commercialized meanings, and digital distractions.

Aligned to the forces of destruction

It was once assumed that, if the democratic process could be perfected, the ֑will of the people would blossom forth in the service of the greater good. But democracy is proving worthless, and even counterproductive, as a solution to the ecological crisis and other side-effects of our obsolete cultural system. Once a critical mass of the population becomes fully aligned to the forces of destruction, as it has today, democracy becomes more of a liability than a solution. At that point, a society finds itself in a psycho-spiritual plight as great as any of its political, economic or technological ones.

Experiments in eco-religion, or green religion, reasoned that the type and degree of change required today can only be achieved through spiritual growth and enlightenment. But these failed, with none able to compete with a rapidly de-moralizing society, as well as the honeyed ґprosperity theology and ґconsumer theology movements peddling less sin, soul and sacrifice, and more getting than giving.

Above self

Only the odd diehard biophile or flower child still preaches love as the revolutionary force that could awaken a higher humanity and reverse our death march. People have become less loveable, both in terms of their loveableness and, more crucially, their ability to love. In ґToward a culture of responsibility, Yasuhiko Genku Kimura singles out the current consensus, saying: ґThe pandemic of irresponsibility bespeaks a pandemic of lovelessness in the world. More to the point, Noam Chomsky states: ґIf you care about other people, thats now a very dangerous idea.Ғ To care about anything above, or outside of, oneself has become culturally dangerous, and most dangerous of all to the entire enterprise of apocalyptic capitalismђ would be a populace attuned to the sacredness and supremacy of nature, as tended to be the case throughout most of human history.

The Great Law of the Iroquois required that all major decisions be taken with consideration of people and the land seven generations into the future. Chief Luther Standing Bear, the renowned author and philosopher head of the Oglala Lakota Iroquois, who felt morally bound to remain a chronic disturberђ despite his acclaim, observed: A manђs heart away from nature becomes hard. Our alienation from nature undoubtedly contributes to our relentless abuses of it, as well as our perversion of priorities and total loss of cosmic grounding.

Who we are has never been more incompatible with who we need to be. What we have become is the greatest threat to ourselves and the planet. We have been perfectly groomed, psychologically and spiritually, for disaster. We have become hard. We are the people of the apocalypse.

John F Schumaker is a retired clinical psychologist and academic living in Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/24/18 •
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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

American Implosion

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The Final Stage of Collapse and the Institutionalization of Mass Violence

By Umair
Eudaimonia
October 30, 2018

Consider three events from the last two weeks in America. Fascists beat people on the streets of Manhattan. An organized campaign of mass political bombing, by an ardent member of an authoritarian movement, was thwarted just in time. And yet that very same authoritarian movement, expressing no remorse, let alone culpability, began to demonize refugees approaching the border as a caravan packed with mafias and terrorists - precisely the kind of delusion that had probably inspired the bomber.

American collapse is becoming American implosion, my friends. How so? As always, you are to judge, and I will simply state my case.

A decade or so ago, I used to point out - or at least try to - that America was a failing state. Now the pundits, cosseted in their bubbles, neatly swaddled in the safety blankets of ideology = a little more cruelty, it’s good for everyone, laughed and cried: “failing! LOL” how!? “Get a grip, dude!ʔ Yet even then, if you cared enough to look, you could see, very clearly even then, the problems that would lead directly to American collapse. Skyrocketing inequality, a struggling middle, shrinking real incomes, failing public institutions of every kind, a long history of tribalism, seemingly no escape from all the preceding - hence, a growing sense of despair, rage, and frustration, a catastrophic loss of trust in institutions, faith in the future, and optimism for society. Bang! A perfect, classic, setup for social collapse. Itגs not that Im some kind of oracle by any means - its that I was one of a handful of people who bothered to look up at the gathering dust. I wondered, in fact, why more didn’t. But I digress.

And then America did collapse. Funnily enough, ironically enough, when no one thought it would or even could. In three precise ways, which is what Id always meant by American collapse. Society collapsed structurally, into a place where the middle was a minority, and mobility and opportunity were things of the past. The economy collapsed from one that offered something like a dream, to one in which 80% of people live paycheck to paycheck, will never retire, exploited mercilessly, and just as cleverly, by the very capitalism they go on believing in faithfully and cheering for. Hence, as a result, the polity collapsed, too - from something like a barely-democracy, to one which didn’t function at all, as extremists took it over, and began the project of regress, stonewalling, paralyzing, and jamming up the gears of an already sputtering machine. System failure wham!! crash.

In such a society, there is only one route left - each stratum, each caste, must prey on the one below it, punching it down further, for the illusion of prosperity to appear. Bang! Already, perhaps you see the problem: now, such a society is descending into the abyss. There is nowhere to go but lower when everyone is pulling the next now down a little further. Where is the bottom, exactly?

This is the demagogues moment. “It’s their fault! Those dirty Jews, Mexicans, Muslims, those women, those gays!” That much is the story of the last decade, and its culmination, which was the election of a demagogue’s social collapse becoming a grim reality, without often fully or consciously understanding, really, that it is collapsing, or why, or even how. Only desperately trying to survive it. I’ll come back to that.

All this was the story of the last few years in America. But now collapse is becoming something different. It is approaching its final and terminal phase, which is implosion. Let me be precise in what I mean by that. A society collapses socially, politically, and economically - from an open society into a caste society, from democracyגs fundamental goods of equality, justice, freedom, and truth, into authoritarianism’s bads, of hate, spite, paranoia, lies, rage, vice, and from prosperity into predation.

But what comes next?

What comes next, my friends, is the institutionalization - the formalization, if you like, of all those things. And that is the final stage of collapse. When a society has built institutions which pervert democracy, and enshrine and formalize authoritarianism, fascism, and so on, then the work of collapse is done. Society is reborn now - from light into darkness - as a blind, keening thing, screaming for blood. It is just a knife, a gun, a fist now - a system of violence. But I will come to all that.

Democracy offers us the great primary goods above - which are the most valuable ones of all. Authoritarianism offers us, in their place, corresponding bads. It tells us to prey on our neighbours and peers and colleagues and friends - and in that way, to define ourselves as members of the tribe, who are the protected ones, or the true volk, or the party members. It tells us to give up on freedom, justice, equality, and truth, and instead seek spite, rage, hate, fear, and lies - often, so much so that collapsing societies come to call the latter the former  as the primary aims of society, of culture, of an economy, and, of course, the lives within them.

Now instead of institutions which enshrine and promote democracy’s great goods of equality, freedom, truth, equality and justice, a society begins to build new institutions, which produce authoritarian bads - spite, hate, rage, fear, paranoia, lies - instead. How do they produce them? The same way institutions always do. By incentivizing them economically, socially, and culturally. By creating rules, codes, and laws, which punish their nonproduction. By creating values which normalize - spread, promote, and glamorize them - culturally. By creating role models of fine young Nazis, for example, who are profiled in august newspapers. By impressing upon peoples minds that this is who we are now, and this is what we have become.

Let me give you a specific example of what I mean by ғinstitutions of implosion. Today, courts try little infants from certain ethnic groups as if they were vicious criminals. It violates every principles of reason and civilization, doesnԒt it? But why  what is it an example of? Such a court is an implosive institutions, which enshrines ח codifies, legalizes  the bads of hate, spite, delusion, paranoia, and fear.

Now, it’s true that there are always dissidents and resistances and even freedom fighters. Alas, my friends, one of the most misunderstood components of social implosion is that it rarely takes an active, loud, participant majority. It only takes a minority of fanatics - and a majority who is too weary, too apathetic, too resigned, or too foolish, perhaps - to act before it is too late.

When is too late? When the new institutions of implosion have arisen. So what too late means is that by the time such institutions have come to replace enough of a democracy’s institutions, then the game is over. When the courts, the government, the libraries, the polices, and the armies, as an incomplete list, have all been infiltrated, changed, transformed - from agents of democracy, to agents of authoritarianism - then what is there left not just to fight for, but more crucially, to fight with? This, my friends, is why it has never really taken a majority to implode a society - just a minority of committed enough fools.

The problem is that America has had those in spades, and still does. The Newts and Jeff Flakes and Ben Sasses. Men who abjure but do not reject, who are alarmed, but will not act. They do not seem to understand that complicity is not the just the action of bad people, but the inaction of good people, too - and much more so, where and when it matters most. America’s minority of fools led it to the cliffs of collapse, and now it is pushing it off the cliffs of implosion.

Remember my three examples? Lets go through them to understand how badly institutions in America have already been perverted and corroded from democratic to authoritarianism.

When the fascist gang beat people on the Manhattan streets, the police were right there. In Manhattan, they are never more than a block away, really and in this instance, apparently, they stood there - watching. When the would-be mass bomber began to issue threats on Twitter, users reported him - but no action was taken. Then he was suspended - after he was arrested. LOL. And a caravan of refugees - which is to say a few hundred souls seeking refuge - is demonized as a criminal gang full of terrorists daily by some large component of the media, the intelligentsia, and the polity.

How many institutions is that, in just those three examples? You can judge for yourself. The point is that all this is the institutionalization of violence. And while its true in a sophomoric grad-school way to say - but a society always institutionalizes violence, dude! (yes, we all know that - wisdom is understanding there is a world of difference between a system that minimizes some necessary level of violence, so that the the public good is safeguarded, and one that maximizes violence, which trickles down in great waves, from caste to caste, from tribe to tribe, so that there is no longer any public good. One is democratic, and the other, fascist, to speak plainly.

The point is that many, perhaps the majority, of America’s institutions are now beginning the process of institutionalizing authoritarianism’s bads - hate, spite, rage, delusion, lies, paranoia, fear. They are institutionalizing violence - rewarding people for it, whether economically, socially, culturally, professionally, and punishing those, of course, who receive it. So by implosion, I mean the institutionalization of violence.

And when that process begins, it is often both unstoppable, and far swifter and more deadly than people realize. Soon enough, the brownshirts and death squads and morality police stroll down the streets, caning and beating those who look them in the eye. Soon enough people cheer publicly - even if they are disgusted on the inside - when the knives cut and the guns fire on the helpless, powerless, and weak.

Soon enough, a society is just a gun, just a knife, just a fist. Just violence, conducted over and over again, daily, by the mindless against the powerless, at the behest of the powerful. Violence which is ecstatically ritualized, celebrated, and applauded, whose rituals serve the purpose, of checking for and enforcing every last bit of absolute conformity in habit and in thought. Conformity, submission, obedience. To hate, to delusion, to the lie. The lie that is always violence. For the moment we see the truth of another, their grief, their sorrow, their mortality, we do not wish to harm them, do we? We take them in our arms, like a brother, like a mother, like a father. We only harm them when all we see is a monster, an infection, a stain, something to be rubbed away and cleansed, before it infects us, too. Should we think that then we have become what the fascist wanted all along to reduce us to: the gun, the knife, the fist.

Ah you see? You just thought it didn’t you? Don’t be ridiculous!! It can’t happen here!  Ah, my friend. You poor soul. But hasn’t it been, all long? Vote, then, vote, as if your life depends on it. It does only maybe you dont know it yet.

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image: third world

Americas Next Civil War
The United States shows all the warning signs of impending social and political collapse

By Stephen Marche
The Walrus
October 29, 2018

Everyone in Canada with any power has the same job. It doesn’t matter if you’re prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, or premier of Alberta; it doesn’t matter if you’re the mayor of a small town or a CEO of a major company, if you run a cultural institution or a mine. Canadians with any power at all have to predict whats going to happen in the United States. The American economy remains the world’s largest; its military spending dwarfs every other country’s; its popular culture, for the moment, dominates. Canada sits in America’s shadow. Figuring out what will happen there means figuring out what we will eventually face here. Today, that job means answering a simple question: What do we do if the US falls apart?

American chaos is already oozing over the border: the trickle of refugees crossing after Trumps election has swollen to a flood; a trade war is underway, with a US trade representative describing Canada as “a national security threat;” and the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known openly praises authoritarians as he attempts to dismantle the international postwar order. The US has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and scorned the bedrock NATO doctrine of mutual defence. Meanwhile, the imperium itself continues to unravel: the administration is launching a ԓdenaturalization task force to potentially strip scores of immigrants of their US citizenship, and voter purges = the often-faulty processes of deleting ineligible names from registration listsare on the rise, especially in states with a history of racial discrimination. News of one disaster after another keeps up its relentless pace but nonetheless shocks everybody. If you had told anyone even a year ago that border guards would be holding children in detention centres, no one would have believed you.

We have been naive. Despite our obsessive familiarity with the States, or perhaps because of it, we have put far too much faith in Americans. So ingrained has our reliance on America been, we are barely conscious of our own vulnerability. About 20 percent of Canadaגs GDP comes from exports to the United Statesitגs a trade relationship that generates 1.9 million Canadian jobs. This dependence is even clearer when it comes to oilsomething the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will ship our natural resources to global markets, could remedy. The fact that the premier of British Columbia tried to stall the project in a show of regional power is a sign of a collective failure to recognize how perilous our position is. Ninety-nine percent of our oil exports go to a single customer. And that customer is in a state of radical instability. According to a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports, 31 percent of likely US voters anticipate a second civil war in the next five years.

We misunderstood who the Americans were. To be fair, so did everybody. They themselves misunderstood who they were. Barack Obama’s presidency was based on what we will, out of politeness, call an illusion, an illusion of national unity articulated most passionately during Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there’s the United States of America.” It was a beautiful vision. It was an error. There is very much a red America and a blue America. They occupy different societies with different values, and the political parties are emissaries of those differences - differences that are increasingly irreconcilable.

Many Canadians operate as if this chaos were temporary, mainly because the collapse of the United States and the subsequent reorientation of our place in the world are ideas too painful to contemplate. But, by now, the signs have become impossible to ignore. The job of prediction, as impossible as it may be, is at hand.

After the midterms, special counsel Robert Mueller presents his report to the deputy attorney general, and America is thrown into immediate crisis.

Congressional committees call a parade of witnesses who describe the president’s collusion and obstruction of justice in detail. The Republicans respond on television and through public rallies. Rudolph Giuliani, on Fox & Friends, declares that “flipped witnesses are generally not truth-telling witnesses.” Trump airily waves away the Mueller report at a rally for 100,000 supporters in Ohio: “I’m going to pardon everyone anyway, so its all a waste of taxpayer dollars.” A ProPublica survey shows Americans are divided on impeachment.

Since the Republican base remains overwhelmingly supportive of the president, the House Republicans, arguing the need for national unity,Ӕ do not vote for impeachment, which requires a majority in the House. The vote then goes to the Senate, where Republicans refuse to remove Trump from office. Mueller presses instead for an indictment. There is no legal precedent for indicting a sitting president.

The case proceeds to a federal judge overseeing a grand jury and then eventually to the Supreme Court, which has been tipped rightward with Trump nominees. The court rules that the president cannot be indicted. Protests fill the streets of Washington, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Polls vary. Somewhere around 40 percent of Americans believe the government is legitimate. Somewhere around 60 percent do not.

Steven Webster is a leading US scholar of “affective polarization,” the underlying trend that explains the partisan hatred tearing his country apart. In 2016, he and his colleague Alan Abramowitz published the paper “The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization of U.S. elections in the 21st century,” which was one of the first attempts to track the steady growth of the mutual dislike between Republicans and Democrats.

Affective polarization is a crisis that transcends Trump. If Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election, the underlying threat to American stability would be as real as it is today. Each side - divided by negative advertising, social media, and a primary system that encourages enthusiasm over reason - pursues ideological purity at any cost because ideological purity is increasingly the route to power. Abramowitz runs a forecasting model that has correctly predicted every presidential election since 1992. After he modified his model in 2012 to take into account the impact of growing partisan polarization, it projected a Trump victory in 2016 - and Abramowitz rejected the results. That should be a testament to the power of the model; it traced phenomena even its creator didn’t want to believe. Nobody wants to see whats coming.

Webster describes a terrible spiralling effect in action in the US. Anger and distrust make it very difficult to go about the business of governing, which leads to ineffective government, which reinforces the anger and distrust. “Partisans in the electorate don’t like each other,” he says. That encourages political elites to bicker with one another. “People in the electorate observe that. And that encourages them to bicker with one another.” The past few decades have led to “ideological sorting,” which means that the overlap between conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans has more or less disappeared, eliminating the political centre.

But its the people in the parties, not just the ideas in the parties, that have changed. “There’s a really big racial divide between the two parties,” says Webster. The nonwhite share of the American electorate has been increasing tremendously over the last few decades, and most of those voters have chosen to affiliate with the Democratic Party. What worries Webster isn’t that the Republican Party remains vastly whiter than the Democratic Party, which, in turn, has become more multicultural - though that’s happened. The real source of the crisis is that white Republicans have become more intolerant about the country’s growing diversity. According to the PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey, half of Republicans agree that increased racial diversity would bring a mostly “negative” impact to American society. During the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush years, there really wasn’t as much of a difference between the racial attitudes of white people in both parties. “That’s no longer true. During the Obama era, if you look at just white Republicans, 64 percent scored high on the racial-resentment scale. For white Democrats, it was around 35 percent,” says Webster, who analyzed data from the American National Election Studies. The Republican Party has become the party of racial resentment. If it seems easier for Americans to see the other side as distinct from themselves, that’s because it is.

The loathing just keeps growing. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats declared the opposing party’s policies a threat to the nations well-being - up from 37 and 31 percent, respectively, in 2014. Political adversaries regard each other as un-American; they regard the others media, whether Fox News or the New York Times, as poison or fake news. A sizable chunk also don’t want their children to marry members of the opposing party. A lot of people say, “What would happen if there were a very independent-minded candidate, a third-party candidate with no partisan label, who would come and unite America?” Webster says. “That is absolutely not going to happen.” In surveys, independents seem to make up a large percentage, but if you press those self-identified independents on their voting behaviour, they look just like strong partisans. Abramowitzs own analysis of the 2008 election suggests that only about 7 percent of American voters are truly independent in that they don’t lean toward one party or the other.

America is becoming two Americas, Americas which hate each other. If the Democrats represent a multicultural country grounded in the value of democratic norms, then the Republicans represent a white country grounded in the sanctity of property. The accelerating dislike partisans feel for the other side - the quite correct sense that they are not us - means that political rhetoric will fly to more and more dangerous extremes. In September 2016, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin gave a speech at the Values Voter Summit in which he openly speculated about violence if Hillary Clinton were elected: “Whose blood will be shed?” he asked. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren.” More recently, Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official, wrote that “it was quite near time” for Trump supporters to kill Trump opponents (the blog post has since been deleted).

Such explicit calls for violence are being driven by a “dynamic of othering” that, once started, might not be easily stopped - except by disaster. “I don’t see an optimistic scenario here,” Webster acknowledges.

the man who assassinates the president uses a .50-calibre Barrett rifle with armour-piercing incendiary ammunition. He purchased it legally at a gun show.

The assassins note, posted on Facebook the moment after the assassination, amounts to a manifesto, but it’s nothing Americans havent heard before. He quotes Thomas Jefferson, about the tree of liberty refreshed by the blood of patriots. He compares the president to Hitler. “People say that if they had a time machine they would go back and remove the monsters of history,” he writes. “I realized that there is a time machine. Its called the present and a gun.”

The assassination of the president leads, at first, to a great deal of public hand wringing. On social media, the assassins heroism is suggested and then outright celebrated. Within a month, the assassin’s face appears on T-shirts at rallies.

The assassination is used as a pretext for increasing executive power, just as in the aftermath of September 11. Americans broadly accept the massive curtailing of civil rights and a dramatic increase in the reach of the surveillance state as the price of security.

Scott Gates is an American who lives in Norway, where he studies conflict patterns at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. His work has been devoted to political struggles in the developing world, where most of the civil wars happen. He now sees that his research has applications at home. The question for the US, as it is for every other country nearing the precipice, is whether civil society is strong enough to hold back the ferocious violence of its politics. Gates isnt entirely sure on that point anymore.

Democracies are built around institutions that are larger than partisan struggle; they survive on the strength of them. The delegitimization of national institutions :almost inevitably leads to chaos,” Gates says, citing Trump’s constant attacks on the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system as typical of societies headed toward political collapse, as happened in Venezuela under Hugo Chvez. The Supreme Court has already been the engine of its own invalidation. Since the ideologically divided Bush v. Gore ruling which decided the 2000 election, the Supreme Court no longer represents transcendent interests of national purpose. Trust in the Supreme Court, according to a recent Gallup poll, is split sharply along partisan lines, with 72 percent of Republicans reporting approval compared to 38 percent of Democrats. Mitch McConnell’s decision to make the appointment of a Supreme Court justice an election issue in 2018ᒗan appointment that will likely not get the support of a single Democratic senator - is an example of a political institution being converted into a token in a zero-sum game, exactly the kind of decision that has played a part in destabilizing smaller, poorer countries. Once the norm has been shattered, it becomes difficult to glue back together.

In a sense, the crisis has already arrived. Only the inciting incident is missing. In December 1860, the fifteenth president of the United States, James Buchanan, believed he was offering a compromise between proslavery and antislavery groups in his State of the Union address, but his remarks preceded the Civil War by four months. His declaration - that secession was unlawful but that he couldn’t constitutionally do anything about it - became the moment when America split and the war was inevitable.

Few American institutions now seem capable of providing acceptably impartial arbitration - not the Supreme Court, not the Department of Justice, not the FBI. The only institution in American life still seen as being above politics is the military, which, according to a 2018 Gallup survey, is the most trusted institution in the country, with 74 percent of Americans expressing confidence in it. No surprise: the worship of the armed forces has been ingrained into ordinary American life since the Iraq War. Not so much as a baseball game can happen in the US without a celebration of a soldier. Members of the military are even given priority boarding on major US airlines.

If civil order were threatened, could America look to the troops to step in? In 2017, about 25 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans said they would consider it דjustified if the military intervened in a situation where the country faced rampant crime or corruption. In an article in Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks, previously a counsellor to the US undersecretary of defence for policy and a senior adviser at the US State Department, could imagine ԓplausible scenarios where military leaders would openly defy an order from Trump.

A coup would hardly be unprecedented, in global terms: in Chile, in the 1970s, a democracy in place for decades devolved into winner-take-all hyperpartisan politics until the military imposed tranquilidad. But even the armed forces might not be enough of a power to stabilize the United States. There is a huge gap between enlisted troops and officers when it comes to politics. According to a poll conducted by the Military Times, a news source for service members, almost 48 percent of enlisted troops approve of Trump, but only about 30 percent of officers do. It appears that the American military is as divided as the country.

Would a coup even work? The American military hasn’t been particularly good at pacifying other countries civil wars. Why would it be any good at pacifying its own?

There are trends - which no country can escape, or that few have escaped, anyway - that forecast the likelihood of civil conflict.

A 2014 study from Anirban Mitra and Debraj Ray, two economics professors based in the UK and US respectively, examined the motivations underlying Hindu-Muslim violence in India, where Hindus are the dominant majority and Muslims one of the disadvantaged minorities. The two professors found that דan increase in per capita Muslim expenditures generates a large and significant increase in future religious conflict. An increase in Hindu expenditures has a negative or no effect.

That suggests revolution is not like the communist prophets of the nineteenth century believed it would be, with the underclass rising up against their oppressors. ItԒs sometimes the oppressors who revolt. In the case of India, according to Mitra and Rays research, riots start at the times and in the places when and where the Muslims are gaining the most relative to the Hindus. Violence protects status in a context of declining influence.

ғA very similar pattern of resentment can be seen in the US right now, Gates tells me. The white working-class community perceives its position in life as worsening. ԓAt the same time, he says, ԓthe Latino community and the black community have been improving their status, relative to where they were. In other words, white resentment doesnԒt necessarily reflect actual changes in financial well-being as much as frustration in the face of minorities making significant gains. And, as status dwindles, the odds of violence increase. Gates points to the bloody Charlottesville rally as the kind of flashpoint fuelled in part by a sense of aggrieved white diminishment.

We can track the destabilizing effect of threatened status in other conflicts around the world. A struggle between ethnic groups losing and gaining privilege contributed, in varying degrees, to the brutality between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1990s and to the earlier Biafran War in Nigeria.

There are deeper anxieties and more troubling visions for anyone whose job is to predict where America is headed. For the really scary stuff, you have to go to Robert McLeman, who studies migration patterns and climate change at Waterloos Wilfrid Laurier University. HeҒs got a kind of cheerful and upbeat way of describing the spread of total chaos thats disarming.

Climate change can bring about political chaos, in large part through migration. ғMilitary people call it a threat multiplier, McLeman tells me. Usually, migration is the last resort, a response to changes that are unpredictable and unexpected. So Bangladesh, to take an example, will typically not experience mass migration because of flood, because people in that region have been dealing with floods for thousands of years. But a drought could cause a serious crisis, causing waves of migration into India.

As its departure from the Paris climate agreement clarified, America is barely able to face the fact that climate change exists, never mind able to come up with effective strategies to accommodate itself to the reality it is already facing. In 2012, a hot and dry year in the US, soy bean, sorghum, and corn yields were down as much as 16 percent. And, because the country is a major producer of commodity crops, the drought pushed up food prices at home and globally. There are a lot more 2012s coming. And, of course, America is utterly unprepared for the vastly less predictable catastrophes of climate-change extremes, as New Orleans and Puerto Rico have both learned to their destruction.

Most worrying to McLeman is the fact that American populations are growing in the areas that are most vulnerable to unpredictable catastrophes. They include coastal New York, coastal New Jersey, Florida, coastal Louisiana, the Carolinas, the Valley of the Sun, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. Many Central Americans who were separated from their children at the American border were fleeing gangs and political instability, but they were also fleeing drought. ԓEnvironmentally related migration already happensweגre just seeing the thin edge of the wedge right now, McLeman says. Get used to refugees at the Canadian border. There may be more of them.

All right, you say, there are conditions that lead to civil war: hyperpartisanship, the reduction of politics to a zero-sum game, the devastation of law and national institutions in the context of environmentally caused mass migration, and the relative decline of a privileged group. Fine. But when you land at JFK and line up for Shake Shack, where are the insurgents? Then again, in other countries and in other times, itԒs never been clear, at least at first, whether a civil war is really underway. Confusion is a natural state at the beginning of any collapse. Who is a rebel and who is a bandit? Who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist? The line between criminality and revolution blurred in Mexico, in Cuba, and in Ireland. The technical definition of a civil war is 1,000 battle deaths a year. Armed conflict starts at twenty-five battle deaths a year. What if America is already in an armed conflict and we just haven’t noticed? What if we just haven’t noticed because were not used to uprisings happening in places where there’s Bed Bath & Beyond?

If there is an insurgency-in-waiting, it will likely be drawn from the hundreds of antigovernment groups across the country, many of which were readying for civil war in 2016 in the event of a Hillary Clinton presidency. One of the most extreme examples is an ideological subculture made up of “sovereign citizens,” who believe that citizens are the sole authority of law. Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been researching them for nearly eight years. Its been a terrifying eight years. A 2011 SPLC report pegged the number of the sovereign citizens, a mix of hard-core believers and sympathizers, at 300,000. The movement, Lenz believes, has grown significantly since then.

To put that in perspective, the Weather Underground was estimated to contain hundreds of members. Some guesses put the number of Black Panthers as high as 10,000, a debatable figure. Both the Underground and the Panthersҗwho talked a great deal about the justification for violence but managed to commit relatively littlecaused immense panic in the late sixties and seventies and massive responses from the FBI. Sovereign citizens, and antigovernment extremists as a whole, are part of a much larger movement, many are armed, they anticipate the government to fall in some capacity, and they are responsible for about a dozen killings a year. The FBI has addressed them, and their growing menace, as domestic terrorism. In 2014, a survey conducted with US officers in intelligence services across the country found sovereign citizens to be the countryגs top concern, even ahead of Islamic extremists, for law enforcement.

Theirs is a totalizing vision of absolute individual freedom and resistance to a state they believed is ruled by an unjust government. Rooted historically in racism and anti-Semitismthey hovered on the extreme fringes of American politics until the 2008 housing crisis and the election of Barack Obamaחsovereign citizens believe they are sovereign unto themselves and, therefore, can ignore any local, state, or federal laws and are not beholden to any law enforcement. According to the SPLC, the sovereign citizens believe that the federal government is an entity that operates outside the purview of the US Constitution for the purposes of holding citizens in slavery.

Understanding sovereign-citizenry ideology is like trying to map a crack that develops on your windshield after a pebble hits it. ItӒs a wild and chaotic mess, Lenz tells me. Ultimately, the movement boils down to a series of conspiracy theories justifying nonobedience to government agents. Sometimes it expresses itself as convoluted tax dodges, as in the case of the self-proclaimed president of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), James Timothy Turner, who was convicted of sending a $300 million fictitious bond in his own name and aiding and abetting others in sending fictitious bonds to the Treasury Department. Turner was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. Bruce A. Doucette, a self-appointed sovereign ԓjudge, received thirty-eight years in jail for influencing, extorting, and threatening public officials.

At other times, the spirit of disobedience expresses itself in straight violence, as in the case of Jerry and Joseph Kane, a father-son pair who, in 2010, killed two police officers at a routine traffic stop in West Memphis, Arkansas. Or in the case of Jerad and Amanda Miller who, in 2014, after killing two police officers at a CiCiԒs Pizza in Las Vegas, shouted to horrified onlookers that the revolution had begun.

he summers grow hotter, and the yields on corn and beans grow smaller. During the first drought, the declines are small. The year after is more serious. Food prices spike. Inflation rises, leading to a sharp jump in unemployment.

China, holding $1.18 trillion (US) of US government debt, dumps its bonds as a retaliatory measure against US tariffs. This causes every other country to panic and sell their holdings as well, bringing China closer to becoming the global reserve currency. With the US bond market routed, higher interest rates ripple through the economy, slowing it down.

The hardest hit are the farming communities dependent on commodity crops. The antigovernment movements in these areas swell and organize. They elect local politicians, particularly sheriffs. Pockets of the southern and midwestern states, under these sheriffs, believe that the federal government has no legitimate authority over them.

By this time, a Democratic president has come to power, with significantly more socialistic ideas than any president in history. She eventually passes legislation imposing national education and health care programs. The local authorities take these programs as illegitimate government interference and, in the heated rhetorical climate, claim the mantle of resistance, which is also taken up by armed insurgencies.

The National Guard swiftly imposes order. But the states consider themselves, and are considered by others, to be under occupation.

The borders of North America are, in their ways, as patchwork as those in the Middle East and as nonsensical. The French lost to the English. The British lost to the Americans. The Mexicans lost to the Americans. The South lost to the North. The alignments of any political unity are forced; they defy historical experience, geography, ethnicity, or political ideology. And that’s why it’s all so breakable, so fragile.

The antigovernment extremists know who they are. They see themselves as the true Americans. And who could deny there’s a certain justice in the claim? What could be more American than tax rebellion, the worship of violence as political salvation, a mangled misinterpretation of the Constitution, and a belief system derived sui generis that blurs passionate belief with straight hucksterism? The next American civil war will not look like the first American Civil War. It will not be between territories over resources and the right to self-determination. It will be a competition over distinct ideas of what America is. It will be a war fought over what America means. Is it a republic with checks and balances or a place that yields to the whims of a presidentҒs executive power? Is the United States a country of white settlers or a nation of immigrants? Its also possible, maybe probable, that the country will never get answers.

★★★

in canada, in the middle of the American collapse, the Queen dies. Charles III accedes to the throne. Despite the prospect of having his face on the money, there is no serious attempt to challenge the status quo. ItҒs a hard time to argue in favour of any dramatic political reordering. For the same reason, though Quebec separatism rises and falls as usual, a new referendum on independence is put away for a generation; theres enough instability in North America.

The refugee crisis at the border continues to grow, quickly outstripping the ability of border agencies to manage it effectively. CanadaҒs appetite for refugees withers as the tide swells. Calls for order grow louder. Asylum centres appear as in Germany and Denmark.

Despite restrictions on refugees from the United States, Canada remains scrupulously multicultural. When a visa applicant from India, hoping to work at Google, is separated from his daughter at the US border, and they are reconciled after a month, the worlds technological elite move to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. People who have young families and arenҒt white find the prospect of building a career in the United States too precarious.

The hunger among young Canadian talent for New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco naturally diminishes for the same reason. Innovators cannot just head south when they encounter the inertia which defines so much of Canadian life. The stolid cultural industries and the tech world lose their garrison mentality, at least somewhat.

To sum up: the US Congress is too paralyzed by anger to carry out even the most basic tasks of government. Americas legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government is in free fall. The president discredits the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system on a regular basis. Border guards place children in detention centres at the border. Antigovernment groups, some of which are armed militias, stand ready and prepared for a government collapse. All of this has already happened.

Breakdown of the American order has defined Canada at every stage of its history, contributing far more to the formation of Canada’s national identity than any internal logic or sense of shared purpose. In his book The Civil War Years, the historian Robin Winks describes a series of Canadian reactions to the early stages of the first American Civil War. In 1861, when the Union formed what was then one of the worlds largest standing armies, William Henry Seward, the secretary of state, presented Lincoln with a memorandum suggesting that the Union “send agents into Canada to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence.” Canadian support for the North withered, and panicked fantasies of imminent conquest flourished. After the First Battle of Bull Run, a humiliating defeat for the Union, two of John A. Macdonalds followers toasted the victory in the Canadian Legislative Assembly. The possibility of an American invasion spooked the French Canadian press, with one journal declaring there was nothing so much in horror as the thought of being conquered by the Yankees.

The first American Civil War led directly to Canadian Confederation. Whatever our differences, we’re quite sure we don’t want to be them.

How much longer before we realize that we need to disentangle Canadian life as much as possible from that of the United States? How much longer before our foreign policy, our economic policy, and our cultural policy accept that any reliance on American institutions is foolish? Insofar as such a separation is even possible, it will be painful. Already, certain national points of definition are emerging in the wake of Trump. We are, despite all our evident hypocrisies, generally in favour of multiculturalism, a rules-based international order, and freedom of trade. They are not just values; the collapsing of the United States reveals them to be integral to our survival as a country.

Northrop Frye once wrote that Canadians are Americans who reject the revolution. When the next revolution comes, we will need to be ready to reject it with everything we have and everything we are.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/31/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Sunday, October 07, 2018

True Evil Redux

greedy-exec.jpg

“What is the chief end of man?--to get rich. In what way?--dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”
- Mark Twain, 1871

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
- Edmund Burke

Studies involving money games show that upper-class subjects keep more for themselves, and U.S. surveys find that the rich give a smaller percentage of their income to charity than do the poor.
- Rich And Spoiled, Science Magazine, February, 2012

Did you see the Brett Kavanaugh SPECTACLE last week?

Can you believe he’s now a SUPREME COURT JUDGE?

Umair over at Eudamonia NAILED IT:

He flipped, in this strange, polarized, binary way, between extreme narcissistic rage - shouting, red-faced, about his many accomplishments, thundering how he’d been first in his class, and so on - and just as extreme unctuous self-pity, in great broken sobs “how can they have done this to me?”

Violence is the only language such men really understand

What was it that we saw Senators - at least the male conservative ones, who are part of these structures - doing in response to Kavanaugh’s classic pattern of borderline narcissistic flipping between extreme rage and extreme self-pity? A little pecking order of violence was being established, wasn’t it? In that very room, you saw the enactment and creation of the very social structure were talking about - the threat of violence, dominance, creating a little hierarchy. Senators at the bottom, Kavanaugh at the top. Through a kind of ritualistic gang violence - which was a double abuse, because it was conducted upon a woman who had already been assaulted - the group bonded, formed a tribe, and sorted itself into strongest and weakest, top, middle, and bottom, with the most vicious and threatening man at the top.

Why do American men of this kind, or men in these systems more generally, prey on people, so constantly, perpetually, relentlessly?

Good question.

The Kavanaugh appointment may be one small expression, but shines a light on the bigger picture of a society run by the PUREST OF EVIL:

Malignant narcissists are the personification of human evil. Well-known psychologist and author, Erich Fromm, coined the phrase “malignant narcissism” back in 1964 and characterized it as the “quintessence of evil.”

THESE PEOPLE:

have no boundaries, no sense of shame, no limits to what they are willing to do to get what they want.

Next time you see politicians or corporate CEOs conduct themselves, watch how they act and RECOGNIZE the patterns.

More:

TRUE EVIL

THE SCIENCE OF EVIL AND ITS USE FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES

THE POLITICS OF CRUELTY

BULLY ECONOMY

SPIRITUAL CRISIS

Posted by Elvis on 10/07/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Culture Of Cruelty

image: big bad boss

I had a panic attack of fear of the future a few years ago after an UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICE VISIT, but instead of throwing myself in front of a bus, went to a church and talked to a priest.  The man seemed friendly enough until he asked if I believed Jesus died for my sins.  I said “No.” He threw me out.  No different than those JEHOVAH WITNESSES.

A lady walked into the dentist with a child screaming in agony holding his hand next to his cheek.  The staff rushed him into the back as mom says she has no insurance.  Out in the waiting room we all heard the discussion that turned from helping the kid, to how is mom gonna pay.  A few minutes later they walked out with the kid still screaming.

On my first day AT THE CALL CENTER a few years ago, a manager yelled at me for missing an inbound call. This is three hours into day one. “I’m sorry I pressed the wrong button.” The verbal abuse didn’t stop. It led me to a psychologist from the company’s employee assistance program. The doctor said ”MAN UP and take it.”

AT LUCENT we weren’t allowed to discuss of grieve for our just-layed-off friends and workmates.

AT&T does the same these days.  They JUST LET YOU GO without even letting you SAY GOOD-BYE to anyone.

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The Terrible and Catastrophic Price of American Cruelty
What History Teaches Us About What Crueltys (Really) Worth

By Umair
Eudaimonia
Augist 29, 2018

You’re at Stanford. You’re depressed. You become suicidal. You go for counseling. And instead of support - you’re asked to leave class, your dorm room, your degree, and sent home, until you “accept blame.”

Shocked? I was. And yet, at the same time, its still somehow unsurprising. The above is a tiny but telling example of what America’s legendary for now - the world over -not freedom, justice, or truth, but a kind of weird, gruesome, and relentless cruelty.

The problem is that America’s fatally misjudged what cruelty’s worth. American thinking supposes that cruelty perfects human beings. No pain, no gain. But the truth is that cruelty isn’t an asset for a society, or a person. It is a liability. It leads a society to become something like a Ponzi scheme of the human spirit, each person preying on the next, and thus corrodes it from within - leaving it ever in the hands of Caesars and Caligulas, or Trumps and Bannons.

But let’s start at the beginning. American life is now one long exercise in cruelty - first learning to survive it, then learning to appreciate and admire it (as perverse as that sounds), then learning, in the end, to perform and enact it - thus, the cycle keeps going. Do I exaggerate? You go ahead and be the judge.

You’re born, you go to school. Active shooter drills. From an early age, you learn that life is divided, therefore, into predator and prey. You go to middle school, high school - it’s a uniquely awful, dispiriting experience, about being mean and nasty, bullying and submission, popularity and vanity and selfishness - and while you might think, “it’s like that everywhere!” my friends, it isn’t. Other nations don’t base their entire adolescent cultures on the trauma of just waking up and going to school. But Americans do, because that’s life. Hence, among disastrous effects, skyrocketing SUICIDE rates.

Those that do survive a culture of extreme cruelty from the day they’re born? Off you go go to college - and you’re hazed mercilessly to join a fraternity. What are you being trained for, really? Education, creativity, insight - or dominance, submission, and tribalism? Never mind. You graduate and go to work. And the workplace is one where bullying itself is called management, and every kind of abuse is normalized. No one else in the civilized world, really, puts up with bosses shouting at them and berating them and demeaning them, like feudal overlords. It just isn’t tolerated - its usually quite literally against the law. But America created a culture where overwork is work, where 80 hour weeks for shrinking pay are just fine, and you have to perform with a rictus smile of submission on your face. YouҒre not really “working” more than that, you’re performing a kind of flamboyant display of emotional and intellectual servitude, which proves what you really are, a social nobody. Better not make that capitalist mad - or is he your lord? Yet for Americans, all these are perfectly normal and acceptable.

You’re getting older now. Heaven forbid you get sick - better not tell your boss. He might fire you. Heaven forbid someone in your family needs to use the insurance. They might axe you for that, too. Don’t take a vacation, don’t use up those sick days, don’t be the first to leave the office, always be the first to arrive. Cruelty’s been internalized at this point - you’ve learned to “take responsibility for abusing yourself,” sadly, and call it “adulthood,” yet it’s anything but that: its the repression of the true adult in you, which is crying out for meaning, purpose, belonging, truth.

So you search for a partner, a spouse. Who do you want? The one that everyone else wants. Culture doesn’t tell you to be interested in a person for who they are, what they’ve been through, the secret suffering hidden in their heart - which is the one thing which might save you, too. It just tells you to date the hottest person with the highest attractiveness quotient, basically - swipe right. So you go on endless dates - but nothing seems to click, work out. You say there’s no spark, ruefully, to your friends - but what you can’t admit to yourself is you’re afraid they wouldn’t think, and you don’t think, the person you actually like or love or admire or need meets the strange and stupid standards - he’s got perfect abs, shes a perfect size zero, never mind the ego, self-absorption, vanity, greed, duplicity, and indifference, aww, they’re the American Dream - everyoneʒs learned from a culture of cruelty to admire and celebrate as universally attractive in the first place.

You have kids. What are their lives like? Not much different from yours - you learned to survive cruelty, then admire it, then enact it, finally. I could go on. But perhaps you see my point. American life is one long headpsinning exercise in cruelty - and Americans seem to revel in it, or at least to shrug, grin, and bear it, while not understanding that life elsewhere isn’t like this, because, well, people shudder at the thought.

What does it to do us, though? I think the Stanford example is much more illuminating than it might appear on first glance. So let’s think about it.

There’s the poor Stanford kid. About halfway through the lifecycle of cruelty I’ve described above. Except maybe he just cant take it anymore - the constant atmosphere of pervasive abuse, emotional violence, pressure, stress, trauma. He grows depressed, and then suicidal. Instead of support, what happens?

The first thing that happens is that support is withdrawn. That’s a very American pattern - and it happens because Americans see weakness as a dangerous, threatening liability. Something like parasitism - which will drain away their very lifeblood if they give an inch. What do we do with drug addicts? Instead of supporting them, we follow the crackpot “intervention” model, and withdraw our support. Tough Love, Tucker! Sorry, son - go sleep on the street! But that model hasn’t worked, not in America - have you seen the suicide rate skyrocketing - because it can’t. You can’t withdraw support at a time when people need it most - and hope for anything to result but further, often catastrophic, injury and hurt. Yet that is what American institutions are built to do. Need healthcare? Sorry, insurance wont cover that. Need a job? Sorry - you’re over, under, mis, unemployed. Need an education? Sorry - the only way you get one is to pay 10% interest forever. And so on.

The second thing that happens is that the suffering party is shunned and ostracized.Because Americans see weakness as contagious, they must step back - What if I get infected?!, appears to be the logic. But I want you to note how ignorant and foolish this is: weakness isn’t contagious - thatӒs something like medieval logic, isnt it? Yet this is a step beyond withdrawing support - the Stanford students don’t just get no counseling, they get kicked out. But that too follows the general pattern of American cruelty. Get sick - lose your job. Shes pregnant - fire her, just don’t tell anyone. They’re going through a rough patch - we don’t talk to them anymore. It’s so commonplace in America now to shun and ostracize the weak that we barely notice it at all. But what happens to us when we fall, then?

The third thing that happens is that people must never blame anyone else but themselves for weakness - and then they are institutionally legitimized again. They must never complain. In this case, Stanford students had to “accept blame,” and whatnot. But that’s the general rule. (Of course, here, by “weakness” and “legitimacy,” I emphatically don’t mean Louis CK doing stand-up comedy again - we’re not talking about people who hurt other, but people who are hurt). You can see this rule operating everywhere. “Hey, I was sick, but I beat it!” “Oh, stop whining and bitching! You’re always complaining! “Be positive!” The idea is simply the flipside of self-reliance - one must never broach the idea that one has been failed, only that one has failed.

Now, you might say, so what? The problem with all the above is very simple. You can have a society based on norms of extreme cruelty - or you can have a democratic, free, and prosperous one. But you cant have both. Cruelty like all the above makes people timid, afraid, and docile - of being the ones preyed on. It leaves them unimaginative, dull, empty, and ignorant - because they are too busy obeying order to question them. It makes conformists and braggarts and bullies of them - who hope to become flunkies, cronies, and enforcers, one day. But that is about the limit of their existential aspirations, and the edge of their moral horizons.

In this way, a society based upon cruelty is something like a house of cards - just waiting to collapse into authoritarianism, of one kind or another. The people in it are already meek and timid, servile and docile, when their superiors are watching, but vicious and abusive, violent and savage, to their underlings - yet all that is precisely the opposite of what a democracy needs, isn’t it?

Yet history tells us this story again and again. Rome degenerated not because it grew poor, feeble, or infirm - but because cruelty produced tyranny and obscenity, in the end. The French Revolutions noble, ambitious ideals were betrayed the moment it acceded to the cruelty of a Bonaparte. Germany’s romantic, bombastic nationalism didn’t lead to a noble empire - it led to the Nazis. The Soviets looked forward to a glorious future - and soon enough, an admiration for cruelty had produced a Stalin. And so on.

History is littered with the ruins of the cruel. Because todayגs cruelest are really just tomorrows dullest җ quicker to draw a gun or a sword than read or writea book. But a gun, unlike a book, has never once lit a spark in a mind, a fire in a heart, or held up a mirror to a soul, yet it is those things which prosperity is genuinely made of. That is why the cruel always fall from within  usually, without an enemy even needing to fire a shot. Societies built on cruelty above all else usually are too busy shooting themselves to need their enemies to do anything but gawp. For societies, just as for people, it is best to see cruelty as a kind of fatal ignorance ח about what the purpose of this life is, and how it is best lived. Not with cruelty. But with grace, authenticity, gentleness, and humility.

The price of cruelty, my friends, in the end, is us. What else could it be? That lesson, which is what history has taken so many long millennia to teach us, has always been lost on America  and still, it seems to me, is.

SOURCE

POLITICS OF CRUELTY

DEMOCRACY HOLLOWED OUT PART 27

Posted by Elvis on 08/29/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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