So now this appears to be happening: several users out in the Twitter-verse apparently are crowing about the repeal of Obamacare while defiantly bragging about keeping their insurance through the ACA. Again, to all appearances, these people are real. Meanwhile, racist Trump designee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, questions whether women and LGBTQ people face any serious discrimination in the world. Examples could readily be multiplied. This is because fascism is a movement that does not center on any sort of intellectual framework, while its appeal is to persons of an authoritarian mindset that rigidly compartmentalizes concepts and experiences so that genuine intelligence can never get a foothold on the person’s thinking. Under such circumstances, exercising reason – genuine reason – becomes itself a revolutionary act.
But beyond that quip, what more can be said about the matter? Isn’t that a bit like dismissing Trump’s followers as being stupid? Even if this was true, would it really be an effective approach to dealing with the current consolidation of power by the fascists? In response, I would encourage people to read the above linked posts on the authoritarian mindset, but I’ll have a few more words to say about the nature of genuine intelligence below the fold. But mostly I want to think about the revolutionary aspects of reason around the topics of memory, logic, and leadership.
As I pointed out in my piece on compartmentalization (linked to above), people with an authoritarian mindset can be very well schooled, and yet refuse to permit all that schooling to develop into genuine education and intelligence. Thus, Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history and Monica Crowley, Trump’s serial plagiarizing choice for communications director, has a Ph.D. in international relations. But because of their authoritarian mindsets, what these people (and other like them) exemplify is not intelligence but mere schooling and narrowly focused training. Genuine intelligence is not just expansive, it is ever expanding; it is driven by inquiry, rather than by answers. By this token, real education (which may not involve a school at all) is the disciplined cultivation of intelligence. Insofar, one might also describe real education as the civilizing of intellect, because it joins a person with others in a community of inquiry, rather than just a wedge in a bloc of “answers.”
With respect to memory, as Dewey frequently pointed out, reason and intelligence always begin with antecedently prepared materials. Even if the very first reasoning creature on this planet was an emergence that simply appeared like a comet in the sky, it was still a creature, and came equipped with the cumulative experiences of over a billion years of life with which to forge its initial inquiries into its newly acquired environment. “Memory,” in this instance, is a blanket term that covers both the fact of those antecedent materials, and our urgent need to carry that fact forward into our immediate attention. Among the things we need to remember – and certainly one of the most revolutionary acts of memory we can carry with us – is the recollection that we have been here before, and that it has been (in many ways) much worse than it is now.
It is hardly new to the United States, much less the world, to find the light of democracy being strangled by wealth driven plutocratic power mongers; nor is it all that unusual to find that governance is reduced to a “kakitocracy” (government of the worst) since wealth only accidentally travels in the same shoes as real competence. (Most rich people were born that way, and those that weren’t generally achieved their wealth through only the narrowest applications of thought driven by an unparalleled level of self-absorbed greed. Obviously there are exceptions, but they are the ones that prove the rule.) So government of the richest and government of the worst are among the commonest of co-travelers.
So remember the fights that took place for basic respect for the working class at the beginning of the 20th century (and for this I recommend the work of France Fox Piven), and the American civil rights movement in the ’50’s and ’60’s (too many excellent sources for me to even try to narrow down the list.) Remember also the many resources that have accrued from those dreadful experiences, those wonderful triumphs, those terrible failures. We need to be clear-eyed about the fact that this is never a fight that is ever simply “won.”
With respect to logic, one of the ironies of our contemporary world is that the conservatives who so thoroughly disdained left-wing thinkers for their supposed relativism are the ones who have so completely mastered that relativism as an instrument of unlimited power. The cutesy phrase that is currently bandied about, that we are in a “post-truth” society, is simply a soft-porn attempt at normalizing what is in fact the emergence of an Orwellian nightmare. (Please note copyright issues relating to the previous URL.) The revolutionary act in such a situation is ruthless, unmerciful (notice I do not say merciless) logic. Recall, once again, that “logic” here always means the general theory of inquiry, and is an integral part of the quadrivium of logic, principles, evidence, and facts. Those who would deny reason, those who would deny truth, must be fought with those very things, else we become no better than that which we oppose. We do well to recall Nietzsche’s aphorism from Beyond Good and Evil:
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
Which brings us to leadership, a quality that I am as singularly lacking in as the capacity to sprout wings and fly. The two names that spring to mind from the American Civil Rights movement are Dr. King and Malcolm X, both of whom were assassinated. There were, however, a great many other leaders from that period, some of whom are still alive, and unlike the Butthurt Baby in Chief, actually spent their own blood in the defense of justice. The only thing Butthurt Baby ever served was himself.
During the Civil Rights movement, leadership generally accrued to those persons who found their voice and spoke to others. Of the two different kinds of voices, we find ourselves once again in the company of Dr. King and Malcolm X. Both of these leaders were outstanding exemplars of the previously mentioned virtues of “memory” and “logic,” as those terms are used here. Despite their (sometimes sharply worded) disagreements early on, both thinkers demonstrated a rapprochement to the other’s position as time went on. But both were always resolute in their commitment to confront power with truth. It remains to be seen what voices will emerge in this dark hour for democracy, and how they will align themselves along the axes that have manifested themselves in the past. But the failure to incorporate memory and logic with those voices will entail an absolute failure of leadership.
Having said as much it is finally worth reminding ourselves of the extent to which the current situation is genuinely unparalleled. While money and authoritarian tendencies have frequently elevated themselves into high ranking positions of government, they have never combined in such a way as to manifest overt fascism. This is the task we now face. Here again, memory and logic serve us, because we can see the kinds of mistakes earlier resistances made, in permitting fascism to consolidate its power into an unbreakable hegemony, and the even more disastrous mistake of engaging in violent confrontation: in order to consolidate its power, fascism requires violent actions that manufacture the appearance of threats both from inside the society and from without. And this is why reason is a revolutionary act: they cannot fight it, they cannot suppress it, and they cannot address it on any terms other than those that show the fascists for weak minded fools.
Vive la Révolution!