Why the World Imploded Into Fascism: How a Perfect Storm of

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Why the World Imploded Into Fascism: How a Perfect Storm of

Postby admin » Sat Nov 03, 2018 12:39 am

Why the World Imploded Into Fascism: How a Perfect Storm of Technology and Capitalism Tore Democracy and Freedom Apart
by umair haque
October 30, 2018



An earthquake is rippling across the globe, toppling nations like dominos. You don’t look very hard, or very far, these days, to see a grim truth. The world is collapsing into fascism. There’s Brazil, electing a man who cheers torture and mass killing. There’s America, so far down the spiral that neo-fascist violence is now becoming normalized. There’s Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and so on. Even in Western Europe, neofascists are rising — barely kept at bay, with varying degrees of success (or failure).

What happened to the world? There many reasons fascism rose — but to my mind, two forces stand out in particular, which combined to create something like a perfect storm.

Let me start with the most visible one. Technology — and social media in particular. Now, it’s obvious to say that Jack and Zuck seem never to have met a fascist they didn’t seem to secretly want to be BFFs with. What’s less obvious — and what I think we’ve done a poor job of understanding — is just how dangerous social media is to democracy, how corrosive it is to the project of civilization. Let me explain.

What happens when we spend time on social media — a place we are at most of the day, in this era? Well, we see caricatures of people, which mostly reflect our own fears, biases, and prejudices. Where there is a living, breathing human being, social media flattens them, and reduces them to a husk, a shell, a target. In this flatland, there are no people — there are just profiles, numbers, likes, and shares. There are allies and enemies, rivals in ideology, adversaries for attention. Do you see what I’m trying to say? The problem isn’t just “filter bubbles” — people seeking reinforcing information. It’s much, much worse than that.

There is no greater mechanism for dehumanization that has been yet devised than social media. Fascism is exploding today because the more time that we spend on social media, the more capable we are of vicious, terrible forms of dehumanization. And then we become radicalized — or some of us do. We go from rhetorical violence to real world violence. We go from feeling frustrated and disappointed, to believing in delusional propaganda, to demonizing and scapegoating those below us, to imagining they are monster we must destroy before they destroy us — to laughing and celebrating when they are hurt, harmed, or maybe even killed.

You can see it very clearly, if you look — just take the examples of the recent wave of right-wing terrorists, all radicalized by social media. But it isn’t just them we should be worried by — it’s the average person, who’s on the same path. What happens when a whole society — or enough of it — becomes radicalized? That is what social media is doing to us, my friends. It is radicalizing enough of us that societies already destabilized by capitalism are imploding at light speed into fascism.

There is no faster vehicle to spread propaganda. There is no better way to make the delusional seem credible, by creating the illusion people already believe in it. There is no better way to hide behind a GIF, and goad, taunt, mock, and preen — modelling the behaviour of a demagogue. There is no more efficient way to imagine that those dirty, filthy beings are, just like the demagogue says, your enemies, fearsome monsters, vicious predators, and bloodsucking parasites — not human beings at all.

In other words, if you want me to put in economic terms, social media is wreaking havoc on democracy. It drops the economic cost of propaganda to zero. It drops the social cost of abuse and victimization to less than zero — now your fascist friends will cheer you on, whereas on the street, people might stop you when you abused strangers. It drops the psychological cost of paranoid delusion to zero — the lies soothe and mollify your rage and frustration. And it drops the cost of demagoguery to zero, too — now the aspiring tyrant can just send out a few tweets to tell a Big Lie. It is the most efficient mechanism of dehumanization ever made.

But there is an added catch, too — which amplifies all the above: social media is a drug. It’s deeply, fundamentally, and inescapably addictive. We compulsively check our phones for updates, like lab rats conditioned to seek a reward — that’s not an analogy, that’s an explanation. Tap, click, whoosh! There comes the dopamine rush. Another like, fan, friend — maybe you complimented someone. But you can earn that, too, from abusing and hating someone — because now we feel a sense of status, power, and control. Which one is it more likely to be — scorn and spite, or kindness and gentleness, fuelling this dopamine addiction? Since social media dehumanizes inherently, rather than humanizes, we are much more likely to choose scorn, abuse, and hate over intimacy, understanding, and connection.

So social media is addictive — that much you know. What you don’t, maybe, is that it has addicted many of us to hate. We live in a time of systems crashing and collapsing, when people feel powerless, helpless, thwarted, frustrated, failed — a point I’ll return to — for now, just imagine the sense of power, the pleasure, the intense dopamine rush, that comes from having someone to blame, attack, vilify, demonize, scapegoat.

Wham! Do you see the problem here? People feeling an intense sense of dread and rage at failing systems find an addictive technology that rewards them with a dopamine hit every time they dehumanize someone. A magical machine that delivers pleasure, and only asks that they pull the lever of hate. Can a democracy survive that? The psychological dynamics, I think, are much the same, I think, as the pleasure of the good German beating people up on the street, or seeing Jews wear yellow stars, or shouting at dirty, filthy immigrants, in the 1930s.

Social media is grooming people, if you ask me — it is creating social, cultural, and psychological structures and systems of dehumanization. Grooming people for what? To become fascists. And by that I don’t just mean the obvious candidates, but people who probably wouldn’t have become what we think of today as neofascists otherwise. How many people wouldn’t be part of this wave of demagogues and hate if they didn’t spend hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, and Snap? I’d bet the answer is: more than enough to have stopped it.

Now. What is feeding the hate machine of social media? Why do people need to feel such a sense of dominance, control, and power that they seek it compulsively the way lab rats press levers for cocaine? After all, such a burning need implies that they feel helpless, powerless, and thwarted. The answer is failed economies. Fascism is always an economic phenomenon — as much as American intellectuals want to imagine the opposite. They have been wrong all along — so why pay much attention to them at this grim juncture? I don’t. There is not a single example in history of fascism striking prosperous societies. Instead, fascism is the implosion at the end of capitalism’s natural tendency to collapse. And today, that is exactly what is happening — fascism is rising worst and fastest and hardest in societies which are plagued by combinations of ills like spiking inequality, shrinking middle classes, stagnant incomes, absent savings, and poor social support systems — lives lived at the edge, if you like. Why is that? The reason is subtler than you think.

Fascism is a middle class, or a lower middle class, phenomenon. We don’t often see those at the very bottom of the social hierarchy turning fascist — instead, it’s the downwardly mobile ones. In Marxist terms, it is the frustrated, aspirational prole, whom capitalism has promised a bourgeois lifestyle — riches, power, status. What is capitalism really promising the prole who aspires to upwards mobility — rather than solidarity? That one day, he will have someone to exploit, too, just as the capitalist exploits him. That is the dream capitalism gives the prole — at least the one foolish enough to believe in capitalism.

The problem is that capitalism has no intention of ever giving the aspirational prole anything but subsistence wages — less money, for more work, with less security, and a destroyed social contract, to boot. Why would capital take any of its income and share it with labour? And so, in America, for example, it didn’t: over the last fifty years, labour’s income share has fallen, while capital’s income share has exploded. Wham! A classic setup for a fascist collapse. (How sad, then, that American economists don’t seem to know their subject well, or at all, really.) Why? Because the prole was promised a glittering dream of exploitation — being above someone else, being better than someone else, living off someone else’s labour, all the very same things the capitalist does to him. But precisely because capitalism promises what it can’t deliver, it implodes into fascism. Given enough stagnation, the prole’s thwarted aspiration simmers in a cauldron of resentment, and then boils over into rage.

Now along comes a demagogue. The demagogue says: “They are the reason you don’t have the money, power, and status you were promised! Those dirty, filthy subhumans!” See how neatly this all works? The prole does not have to change his expectations, beliefs, dreams, ideals, or values. He has been seeking someone to exploit — to abuse, just as capitalism abuses him — and now the demagogue offers him just such a target. It is the one who is even more powerless than him — the one at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The immigrant, refugee, Mexican, Jew, and so on. Bang! This is the spark of collapse.

Now, instead of challenging capitalism upwards, reforming their society so it’s genuinely more prosperous, free, just, and stable, the frustrated, aspirational middle class begins to punch downwards. They demonize and scapegoat those lower than them. They avenge their imaginary wrongs at their hands, perhaps by murdering them in broad daylight.

Do you see how all these things are linked? Let me make it clearer. Capitalism collapses into fascism by placing a middle class at the edge of subsistence — no matter how “rich” a society may be financially — and such a middle class then begins to wreak vengeance on those lower down than it. They become subhumans, predators, parasites. Babies become monsters with the fearsome power to infect and contaminate everyone. Now a society is a place which must be cleansed and purified. Snap! Fascism has arrived.

This was, of course, the story of the 1930s. What makes today different is the pace and speed of the storm. Why did it happen so fast? So much so that in just two years, America, for example, has bans, trials for infants, camps, and mass political murder?

The hate machine of social media is why. When a downwardly mobile middle class, already full of bitter rage, frustration, and disappointment, meets a magical machine that rewards them with pleasure every time they click the hate button — bang!! They’ll be conditioned to spite, scorn, and abuse, a little more and more viciously, every day. What happens when such a class has been told to wish to exploit others, and they meet a magical machine that delivers them a dopamine rush, every time they abuse, shout at, demean, or dehumanize someone? Tap, tap, tap. They’ll hate faster, harder, and more violently every day — what else is there to live, really? What happens when there’s a demagogue modelling how to press the hate button hardest — how to abuse, hurt, and vilify people the most? They’ll follow his lead — like mindless automatons, imitating and copying his behaviour, attitudes, words, beliefs.

The hate machine of social media rewards people in pretty intense psychological turmoil and pain — suffering the trauma, grief, and shock of social collapse — with endless pleasure, dopamine, relief. But the price is a a social tsunami of hate — because such technologies are history’s greatest engines of dehumanization. The more the hate lever is pulled, the more people are conditioned and groomed to become fascists — to see the world in rigid hierarchies of humanity, with themselves, eternal victims, at the top, and the hated, feared, and despised subhumans at the bottom.

When the perfect hate machine of social media met the searing precarity of capitalism’s frustrated, aspirational proles, told to look for someone to exploit, the world imploded into fascism, my friends. There are other reasons, to be sure. And I am not saying, of course, that old racial and tribal divisions don’t exist — of course not: I’m saying the above amplify them, especially in societies which haven’t done a very good job of really healing them. The question before us now, then, is this — what are we to do about these twin forces tearing the world apart?

October 2018
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