Deradicalizing Fascists, Teenage Warfare, Quantifying Moral Superiority, And Searching For Meaning In A Time Of Three Billion Wandering Uteruses.
Hysteria is a terrible word. It means, colloquially at least, some form of madness, delusion, delirium or mania, or some other break from reality, particularly one with an overt social dimension; a condition sweeping through a given population without a clearly defined cause, and varied effects. It’s a compelling word, I could just call people crazy to convey a similar message, but the word hysteria brings with it some romantic gravity, some sense of archaic propriety that is more likely to convince you to listen to me, because I’m obviously real smart and I use really good words. It also seems to imply something simultaneously both more and less than regular craziness. Setting aside the problematic nature of the word crazy itself, hysteria just seems like a better word to use in this situation. Crazy is a word I’d use while telling my brother about the lady at Panera the other day, the one who harangued me for grabbing my food after she’d cut to the front of the line and I sidestepped her to just get the flickety-flomb outta there while she berated the undeserving teenager at the counter for forgetting her extra tzatziki. Hysteria sounds like the flowery language we use to describe the social phenomenon that is all these knitting club grandmas and largemouth bass-fisherman grandpas to do things like this. There are of course problems with labels in general, I personally stand on the morally bankrupt postmodern side of the question with the belief that all things are contingent on other things and seeking absolute objectivity is foolish and will lead one down the path of this shaky new solipsism that has captivated the contemporary right with figures like Ben Papeepoo and Jordan Wienerson spreading an even less coherent version of Objectivism; and that one would both be better served and would better serve the society around them by adopting something like a super-subjective point of view; in which one incorporates the history and context of a thing into their understanding of it. But, there is indeed utility in using labels, as long as one is willing to admit and accept the fact that we’re all playing the language game, and that the rules of that game and their interpretations are always subject to change. Hysteria is a particularly good example of a bad word used as a bad label for a bad concept we don’t actually understand, yet use to further categorize and otherize our fellow human beings and deny them the rights and dignity we demand for ourselves.
Hysteria is an outdated, misogynistic conception of mental unwellness with an impossible transmissibility; those hens get ta’cluckin’ and they lose their gul’dern minds, am I right JoeBob! The word itself comes to us from the Greek word for womb, hystera, but the concept isn’t peculiar to any one culture. You see, when powerful men came together and created the social institutions on which history stands, they decided that anyone who behaved in a way far enough outside their presupposed norms should be labelled mad, and ostracized. They then decided that madness itself was the progeny of the eternal Chaotic Dragon of Femininity, while sanity and wholesomeness were that of the stolid, stoic Masculine Archon. The learned men, charged with determining social properness and acceptability, came to the conclusion that women were prone to suffering a particularly pernicious, conspicuously contagious, form of mental break brought on not by external stressors or internal pressures, but by nothing more than a wandering uterus, and that men who came down with similar mental or emotional conditions were often simply lacking in masculinity. The concept stuck around, and has presented itself over and over again throughout history, and the unfounded connection between femininity and mental unsoundness was cemented in our collective unconscious (which is itself a bunk concept, but it gets the job done here). Hysteria, the term and the concept, have always been bullshit, but for some strange reason they persist. I think it might have something to do with the fact that they fit so nicely into the narrative of those who have held the power, and in order to fit in and be a productive member of their societies, one must accept their rules and play their games. The idea remains so popular, in fact, that the phrase Mass Hysteria can be found wherever someone is trying to convey a message of widespread madness or insanity or senselessness, and trying to sound impressive or authoritative.
Like a good little Internet Leftist, I’ve just spent several hundred words explaining and apologizing for the title of a blog post, and then I’ve gone ahead and changed it because I didn’t think it was worth using that gross language, but I’ve left this overlong explanation because I want you all to know that I thought really hard about the words I’m using, now give me points! And that is why The Left™ is seen as a joke. But, if you’re still here after all that, I’d like to thank you and apologize for sending this correspondence to you from the inside of my own asshole, though in case you were wondering it’s quite cozy in here. Now I’ll ask you to stick around so we can actually get on to what I intended to write about. You can legitimately skip to the second-to-last paragraph and you’ll get the point, by the way, I know I ramble too much.
I remember being in like seventh grade and thinking that Fascism absolutely had to have something to do with Fashion. I didn’t think it was because conformity to an approved ideal is the primary operant through which the social order required for fascism to flourish is achieved, or even because using aesthetics to elevate the State and its figures to something approaching The Divine is like the key feature of fascism; I thought it was because the words sounded like each other; and words that sound alike have to mean similar things, right? Writing about fascism is never easy, if you want to say anything worthwhile you’ll wind up rambling on and on, reaching only very few people, and satisfying even fewer. If you want to satisfy a whole bunch of people, all you have to do is point to some old Italian philosopher’s semiotic analysis of fascism and confuse it for a checklist you can use to define fascism, rather than an exploration of its causes, effects, symptoms, and implications (Umberto Eco is dope as fuck and Ur-Fascism is an amazing essay that, if you have ten minutes, you should be reading instead of anything I’ve ever written, but if you’ve got twenty you should come back here and finish this. I’m just trying to be edgy to get cool-points). Fascism is hard to define, I don’t even know where to begin. I guess it’s like pornography, I know it when I see it. I fucking hate leaving it at that, but I really don’t think I’m the guy to try and lay out a definition, and I honestly remain unconvinced that a single definition can be found. Rather than waste time indulging in Platonism, I think we can accomplish important things if we agree to focus on the real world, where the effects of these ideas are felt. If I were pressed I would probably say fascism is just an accelerated capitalism that managed to eradicate all class consciousness, inward imperialism, mask-off neoliberalism; and then I’d get frustrated and give up and we wouldn’t get much done because you’d totally disagree with me. So, I’m not going to try, fuck it, I know it when I see it.
Now, don’t think I’m saying that definitions are worthless, or that nothing bad can come from such a flippant position as words don’t matter, “No, child, don’t worry about these confusing things, let me explain it for you so you don’t have to deal with the tedium of figuring things out for yourself.” Words do indeed matter, but usage matters more, and if we can agree that authoritarianism, oppression and exploitation, genocide, institutional bigotry and all those other yucky things are bad, then it doesn’t matter if we have a nice little label for it or not. It occurs to me that authoritarians are the ones who want to impose strict labels on everything, and the loyal, willing plebs love having all their labeling done for them by a beatified authority. Let’s remember to never confuse the words we are using for the things we’re using them to describe.
When I was a kid, a couple buddies and I would hop on our skateboards and ride up the road to go write graffiti and pick fights with the Nazi kids from Glendale and Peoria. Sometimes they’d come to our part of town and do the same to us. I don’t think any of us really knew much about the real-world issues we claimed to be fighting over. We knew that we had to defend ourselves and our neighborhoods from these dickhead Nazi assholes, but I don’t think any of us could’ve satisfactorily articulated why. And the dickhead Nazi kids couldn’t have explained what they felt they were defending the white race from, or whatever they thought they were doing, either. I once had a teacher claim the big anarchy Circle A I had drawn on my homemade super cool punk rock t-shirt was a white supremacist symbol. Upon later reflection I realized he was testing me, to see if I really knew what was up or if I was just trying to be cool. I was obviously just trying to be cool, because rather than refute him and demonstrate my puritan anarchist principles I just said “fuck you, man!” or some dumb shit. The Nazi Punks Fuck Off patches we wore and the stupid fights we got in were all for show, we ultimately only cared about the aesthetics of it all. I mean, we knew Nazis were bad, and that racism was for pussies, and that misogyny was for idiots, and that ableism was for cucks, and that kink-shaming was for assholes, and all the other forms of bigotry and prejudice were just straight up wack. But we didn’t know anything about any of it, it was all just observational opinions and kids imitating the people they looked up to. I am not entirely certain that I wouldn’t have been one of those little Nazi hoes, had I been brought up that way. Now, that’s not to excuse those fuckers, they grew up largely on the same streets we did, and we figured a lot of this out on our own, I’m simply emphasizing the fact that all of the choices we make are influenced by the world around us, and more of ourselves, our selfs, are shaped by our conditions than we’d like to admit.
There has been this debate over the years, one that recently seems to’ve picked up some internet steam, about whether or not we should make the effort to deradicalize those who have become extremists, or fascists, or Nazis, or whatever you want to call them. People can’t even decide whether or not those who have become extremists are even redeemable, whether or not they’ll ever adequately atone for their sins and be welcome among the rest of us again, let alone whether or not they can be deradicalized. Before I start to ramble on and contradict myself seventeen times, I should lay out the most important part of this. Fuck Nazis, if you see a group of them in your neighborhood, throw bricks at them, fight them, push them out of your area, shit on them as thoroughly as you can, because if we keep accepting them on our streets they will only become more bold and more popular and more powerful. Fascism is a very slippery slope; it’s romantic, it proffers sweeping solutions to overwhelming problems and frees people from the meaninglessness of modern-daily life, it comfortingly places the blame for all the world’s problems right where the potential fasherino would have it placed. Everything sucks for you? Have no fear, this charismatic man who happens to be leading a movement that glorifies all the things that, thanks to the indoctrination of the state and status quo, you already accept as proper, is going to eradicate the dirty Others who are the source of all that is evil. The compelling force of fascism sets it apart from regular capitalist exploitation and oppression, even if the end results are essentially the same. The religious fervor of fascism is deliberately cultivated to co-opt any progressive sentiment in a given population. There’s a burgeoning working class solidarity in your state? Just plug and play our patented Strongman® and you’ll have an army of angry testosterone-fueled young goons ready to defeat those queer commies in no time! Don’t forget to conflate God and The State, and create a mythological heritage linking your ideal citizen to a fictitious historical golden age to keep the proles emotionally invested and in line! Remember, don’t worry about the specifics, fascism really is just an empty shell, there is no concreticity here, make up your own pantheon and your own scapegoats and apply them to this one-size-fits-all framework!
I guess this is where I get a bit confused trying to define fascism, and I start to wonder if we should just stop trying. I see fascism as a tactic, or collection of them that Capital, with a capital K, uses to further enrich, reinforce, grow, or defend itself at home, rather than just abroad. We don’t have concentration camps here in the US, but we do have the second highest imprisonment rate in the world, and the highest overall prison population, and have for some time, and pay no attention to the countless operations, police actions, retaliations, strikes, coups and puppet states behind that red, white and blue curtain. If anything, the blatant horrors of fascist regimes highlight their crimes, while the milquetoast civility of non-fascist, neoliberal states is an attempt to cover them up, but it doesn’t really add up to much in the scale of things. I really do hate to be that guy, calling everyone a Nazi, and everything fascist, robs these words of their power, it renders us unable to differentiate between a grumpy restaurateur who won’t sell us soup and an actual brown shirt, or a regular working class guy who got a job as a cop because he genuinely believes, if mistakenly, that he can make the world a better place, or at least his neighborhood, and a bitch made Proud Boy-loving hog who’s fully bought in to whatever grand narrative is in vogue and thinks he is the flaming sword of divine justice. The distinction between fascism and non-fascism, I guess, would have to be that fervor I mentioned above. Though there may not be too much difference in terms of global human cost, and I won’t even stand behind that claim because it might only muddy the waters too much, there is absolutely a difference between a nation of docile, disenfranchised workers supporting the status quo because they don’t believe there is a better way, or have never had the time to ponder whether there even is; and a nation, or a sizeable portion of one, of violent, would-be vigilante, hate-mongering, paranoid, bigoted paramilitary assholes with compounds, rifles, pipe bombs, and worrying ties to law enforcement agencies.
Fighting Nazis in the street, countering their influence online, or destroying them in the freemarketplace of ideas, doesn’t depend on the definition of fascism, or shouldn’t anyway. If we allow fascism, or right-extremism under any label, to come into our communities and operate on our friends and families and neighbors, and even ourselves, it has a good chance of supplanting any work we’ve done toward building the working class solidarity we so desperately need with cancerous ideology. People like Cucker Schwans-Tarleson, Charlize Kuck, Steve Bananannon, and all the other far right butt nuggets trying to spearhead this movement, use idealistic, faux-populist identitarian language to cryptically promote their supremacist ideology. This is what makes right-extremism so dangerous. I personally know quite a few people who have been hoodwinked by these demons, and none of them are bad people, none of them are Nazis, none of them are white nationalists, none of them are deliberate white supremacists; they are all victims of the same structures that imprison, oppress, exploit and generally sap the life out of everyone of us. We, the people of the internet, need to do a better job thinking about these things, we need to acknowledge and embrace the difference between Proud Boys and regular proud, working class assholes. We are all subject to the same material conditions, and we are all aware, at least deep down, that things aren’t what they seem, nor are they what they could and should be; and rather than getting carried away with the revolutionary LARP, letting the status quo control the discourse and spending all our time reacting to far right bullshit, we need to counter their propaganda by creating our own, better propaganda, we need to get out ahead of it. And we could do so, by presenting an effective Left; one that isn’t eating itself from the inside out, spending all its time accusing discrete parts of itself of being counter-revolutionary (especially when those doing the accusing think praxis is livestreaming protests on the weekends and drinking fair trade vegan chai latte at the local Marxist bookstore that employs twenty minimum wage staff), arguing about buying houses and entertaining horseshoe politics and trying to score the most Marx points. It fucking kills me that we could handily accomplish our goals, if only we were willing to get over our own bullshit, willing to accept the fact that old books don’t hold all the answers, and new books won’t either, if we’re willing to accept that our personal favorite thinkers are sometimes wrong about some things, if we’re willing to accept the fact that people can and do change and that sometimes good ideas come from bad brains and that the inverse of that is true as well, if we understand that there are some things we’re going to have to compromise on; and, as much as I like to think I’m super fuckin smart and I know what I’m talking about, we need to really come to terms with the fact that sometimes we will be wrong ourselves and understand that our strength comes from diversity of thought and experience, not mindless devotion to dead authoritarians or perverted philosophers or dusty old books.
Again, fascism isn’t one specific thing but a tendency, or a collection of tendencies, toward a uniform society and authoritarian control. Fascists achieve their goals by inundating the population with carefully crafted, especially effective propaganda. The owners, rulers, coordinators, state actors, bourgeois, corpocrats, whatever you call them, benefit from a unified bloc of angry goons held together not by class interest or solidarity, but by identitarianism based on arbitrary characteristics. The left is fighting for, ostensibly at least, emancipation. That’s all, that’s the end of it. We want freedom, an end to exploitation, no more oppression, no more believing any human is better than any other human, no more blaming your own personal bullshit on other people, no more kings or queens or dictators, no gods or managers or masters, not even slaves! I actually find it difficult to explain, as it so deeply contradicts the bulk of the history of humankind, but once it clicks it’s not possible to see the world any other way. People on the right have bought in to the messaging of those at the top of the dogpile, who are neither right or left on any issues but simply in charge. Everything else flows from there. Those of us who believe there is a better way and are willing to believe in something bigger than ourselves generally find ourselves somewhere on the left. Those of us who don’t think there is, or could be, a better way or are unwilling to concede that they are not inherently better than any other individual gravitate to the right. And that’s my expert analysis, folks, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk, that’ll be seven hundred dollars, goodnight.
I have had some very small success deradicalizing people, bringing them over to the left, or at least helping them see the value in thinking for themselves and rejecting the narrative of the status quo. I have had some spectacular failure as well, it really sucks to watch a person you care about degenerate and become something you don’t even recognize, especially when that particular story ends in suicide and guilt and a shitload of regret. Deradicalizing extremists is hard, largely ineffective, and definitely inefficient, the cost is too much for an individual or even a small organization to bear. We’ve all heard the romantic story of the talented jazz musician, Daryl Davis, who spent over two decades collecting Klan robes, but nobody wants to listen to the part of that story where several of his converts recidivate in spectacular fashion. We all want to believe in the generous, pastoral black man going around and showing these poor, ignorant, white sinners the light, it warms the cockles and all, but in reality it just isn’t feasible or effective. Deradicalizing Nazis is possible, I’ve seen it happen. But, it’s just not an effective use of anybody’s time. We can build organizations geared toward this, and maybe if we had them alongside a strong social welfare system they’d make enough of a difference to justify the cost, but as it stands we can be much more effective by working to preempt them, preradicalizing the proletariat, building radical class consciousness, politically potent organizations that act rather than react.
I don’t want to waste time arguing whether or not we should be going around trying to deradicalize Nazis. The answer is no, you’re not the guy. Honestly, I feel much the same about trying to define fascism. These are just stupid conversations that do nothing but make us feel better about ourselves, pretending we are the ultimate arbiters of theory and praxis, and that we alone have all the answers. Get the fuck outta here, dude, the world doesn’t work that way. There is, however, a way we can fight against the rapid growth of the right, and the consequent growth of Capital’s power and influence, and that is to know what the fuck is actually going on, to be humble and willing to work with people who are fighting the good fight no matter their background or education or particular persuasion, to not get full of yourself and think you’re the second coming of Trotsky, to not spend all your time online asserting yourself as Communis Prime. If we can build a viable left we can counter not just the right-extremist messaging, but the mainstream status quo propaganda as well; but I sometimes fear too many of us are too infatuated with infighting and drama and internet points to really give a shit about the consequences, and I wonder if we are fucked. The horrific, terrifying, evil things happening everyday take a backseat to personal drama and aesthetic bullshit too often, we continue to fragment into millions of disparate spectaclemachines all vying for the throne when we should be working, together, to infect the masses with the need for emancipation and the knowledge to achieve it.
Fascism, right-extremism, racism, misogyny, bigotry itself, these matter so much only because they support and embolden the systems of power that created them, or at least crafted them into the potent forces they are today. And yes, they are the very same systems of power that exist outside of fascist, or far right, states. They are so dangerous because a fascist population will support violent imperialism abroad and horrendous abuse at home. Non-fascist states at least have to figure out how to hide their crimes, which in theory should mean less, and they won’t openly engage in pogroms against their own citizens. If we take away the oppressive structures that enable this gross violence, the individual bad ideas will lose their teeth. If we forge a society that no longer incentivizes and rewards antipathic, solipsistic beliefs and behavior, those beliefs will fall away from the individuals in that society, like so much dead foliage. I mean, that’s kinda part of our whole thing, at least that’s how I’ve read it; once there is no reward for being a fucking terrible shitbag, people won’t be terrible shitbags, or will at least try to temper their shitbaggery. The exploitation and alienation we face under capitalism leave us all particularly vulnerable to the development of a wandering uterus, the people steering the ship then take advantage of this to create artificial resentment among the working class and build power structures that reinforce the ship itself. Sink the bitch.
I was going to write about the SHARPs movement I was a part of as a teenager, Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice; but I figured that would just add more confusion and unnecessary length to this already muddled, overlong whatever the hell this is. At this point I don’t even know what I’m writing, or why I’m even writing it. I’m tired of the performative leftism of the internet, and I’m complaining about it because, no matter how much I hate it, I still believe it’s important and can be effective, and I still think of it as a home. We’re wasting a lot of our time arguing over silly shit and we’re making ourselves look like shit by flinging shit at each other while the world goes up in flames around us; that wouldn’t matter if we were just a bunch of music fans or art critics, but we’re legitimately trying to save humanity from the demons we’ve unleashed, and if you think this leftist shit is nothing more than a fan base or an RP group or a fucking exercise in creativity you should fuck off right back to your coffee shops and record stores and farm-to-table vegan fine dining experiences.
Anyway, thanks for your time and attention, I really do appreciate you spending some of the only valuable resource you have at your discretion with me, and I hope something of what I was trying to say came through.