Victimization Culture and Lesser Evilism

“…it rises up before raining down.”
~ rauldukeblog

Let us consider once again the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in, not only politically but culturally. What does this say about our society, both nationally and locally? What kind of social and political order do we live in? And what kind of mindset, what kind of values does it represent? We’ll begin with the national level in how it dominates the public mind. As we move toward yet another uninspiring election, we are offered the same old lesser evilism that has ruled our society for so long. Yet one can’t doubt that there is a certain appeal to the lesser evil when faced with the possibility of President Donald Trump being reelected and so leaving the American public to deal with another four years of his mental illness, some combination of psycopathy, narcissism, and dementia. Claims of a lesser evil sounds more reasonable and persuasive than ever before.

Then again, Joe Biden is a corporate whore with his own bigoted and creepy tendencies and what appears to be a far worse case of brain deterioration (Biden’s Corruption and Dementia) — Govert Schuller stated it well: “Joe Biden is so cognitively challenged that he can’t answer a question about whether he’s cognitively challenged without sounding profoundly cognitively challenged” (comment in response to interview). Not only is it a choice between two evils but two pathetic and depressing evils (Pick Your Poison). The absurdity of it causes one to laugh and then to immediately follow that up with a long sigh. Both men are so old and senile that it’s unclear that either could maintain even modest mental balance and political competence for the next four years. This means the actual election is between the two candidates competing to be vice president. It’s the vice president who will likely become the next president, eventually.

Be it presidents or vice presidents, one does not sense much excitement in the air about this election. Both parties seem halfhearted at best in their support for their respective candidates. It’s not clear that either side really wants to win all that much because maybe even to win would be to lose, to an even worse degree than last time. Besides the inferior quality of these two senile senior citizens, consider the immense problems of a dangerously declining empire that the next president or rather next vice president will inherit. One might add that it’s SNAFU, situation normal all fucked up, that is to say we’ve been in this societal tailspin for a long time… and it doesn’t look like there is going to be a Captain Sully to land us safely.

It’s not as if President Trump can be blamed for most of it. It was a mess when he came into the office. Sure, he has made absolutely everything worse and made America the laughingstock of the world, but it was going to get worse no matter what. That is because the ruling elite won’t allow anyone into power who could and would do anything to fundamentally lessen the dysfunction, much less implement positive change. Everything is working perfectly according to design and intention of those in power. We are living in a neoliberal utopia, the supposed best of all possible worlds — to use another acronym, TINA: “There is no alternative,” as Margaret Thatcher infamously put it. The likes of Trump and Biden are products of this neoliberal dominance. They are creatures of the swamp and their brains have become rather swampy at this point.

Still, one has to admit that, of the two, Trump is a special kind of crazy stupid. His degree of cognitive functioning, social behavior, and moral development is what one would expect of a below average elementary school child. He was born into immense wealth and basically has had a personal staff of nannies and butlers, assistants and attendants to babysit him since childhood. They take care of all his needs, solve his problems, protect him, eliminate or silence those who threaten him, and probably even dress him and wipe his butt or even jerk him off. The guy is at the special needs level of incompetence. If he were poor, he most likely would be dead, homeless, imprisoned, or otherwise institutionalized. Being filthy rich is the only thing that saves him from a horrible fate. He can cheat business partners, refuse to pay workers, lose money, go bankrupt, and have endless business failures… and yet his handlers ensure he always more money to play with.

The last election, of course, was a bit different. Whatever one thinks about Hillary Clinton, at the very least it has to be admitted that she is not senile nor is she an old white man, although an old white woman of the plutocracy is not necessarily better. Besides, she is not the sharpest crayon in the box, but she is a standard professional politician who still has a functioning brain. So, you have to give her credit for that much, not that it’s exactly a great accomplishment. If elected, she would’ve been guaranteed to have gotten the job done as president in the fashion expected of any other Clinton Democrat, but on the downside the job she would have gotten done was to further corporatocratic hegemony. It’s not exactly certain that would be a net gain for the country. Trump’s incompetent failure is, in a sense, an advantage since the damage he can do is limited, particularly as he motivates his opposition to organize and protest.

Criticism of Clinton Democrats aside, one has to question the moral and intellectual quality of those who supported Trump, voted for him, helped get him into power, and then cheered him on — and probably will vote for him a second time. Such people must be almost as mentally deranged as Trump himself. Let us consider a specific example, which brings us to the local level. The nearby town of West Branch has become a bedroom community of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, but it maintains many of the original families that have lived there for generations, including the so-called ‘Old Dinosaurs’ who ruled its government until quite recently. It’s the childhood hometown of President Herbert Hoover who was a decent man, if incompetent in his own way according to some. Though long past its heyday as a bustling railroad stop, West Branch still has the feeling of a pleasant rural community surrounded by bucolic farmland.

So, how do the residents vote? “Cedar County,” in which is located West Branch, “was once Republican turf, but the county voted for President Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Countywide nowadays, there is an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats holding office” (Jeff Zeleny, Iowa County Has Unique Result: A Tie). That was from 2000, but 12 years on Republicans regained their hold to a degree, at least locally. “Voters in Cedar County tend to be moderately conservative. The county generally votes for Republicans in local elections, but statewide races, and the presidential, are tossups” (Grace Wyler, These Eight Counties Will Decide The Presidential Election). It’s not a hardcore partisan population, but it appears to be slightly more conservative than Iowa in general. Although more often going to Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, Iowa was won by Trump with a decent margin of slightly less than a 10% lead. His margin of victory, however, was much larger in Cedar County at more than 18% (Politico, 2016 Iowa Presidential Election Results).

For most Iowans, the situation was probably more about Hillary Clinton having lost the election than Donald Trump having won, but in Cedar County it was a solid victory for Trump’s vision and rhetoric, Make America Great Again. What would cause this population to be so friendly to Trump’s bloviating and bad behavior? Iowans tend to favor more moderate politics, whereas Trump is the complete opposite of the stereotype of Iowa Nice. “The obvious explanation is that relative to the country, Iowa has a higher proportion of white residents without a college degree (Trump’s base). The same factors may explain why Iowa’s best bellwether county lost that status in 2016” (Bleeding Heartland blog, Iowa’s no bellwether anymore–and neither is Cedar County). This can be seen in the demographic details, as further described in that article:

“This year, Cedar County voters backed Trump over Clinton by 55.5 percent to 37.7 percent. That’s a larger victory for Trump than one would expect based on the latest voter registration numbers for the parties. On the other hand, non-Hispanic whites make up 96.0 percent of Cedar County’s population, compared to 86.7 percent of all Iowans, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. Approximately 20.8 percent of Cedar County adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For Iowa, the corresponding figure is 26.4 percent. Clinton’s vote share was higher among college-educated voters.Cedar County also has a slightly larger proportion of residents over age 65 than Iowa does, which probably worked in Trump’s favor.”

Mentioned above was the Old Dinosaurs, as they are known in West Branch. They are the aging white guys from the established families that have been there, in many cases, since the 1800s. They are the ruling patriarchy and for decades became a force of reactionary politics, in fighting against any and all progress, improvement, and outside influence. For example, they refused federal funding to fix sidewalks because there was a stipulation that made it impossible to direct that money to local business owners. They preferred to have decaying infrastructure than to pay a non-local company to fix it. The federal funds were lost and the broken sidewalks remained a public hazard, though some of them have been fixed since.

As an insular community, cronyism was how these guys were used to doing business and ensuring this cronyism was more important than all else. Basic public good like infrastructure maintenance didn’t inspire them. Yet they always could find money to buy expensive fire trucks and to build a new fire station (Old Forms of Power), a point of pride in having a shiny new truck for parades. This is because the volunteer fireman association is filled with members from the old families and one of the Old Dinosaurs, Dick Stoolman, held the paid position of fire chief. As an illegal demand in seeking retirement, he stated in reference to his son that, “I wouldn’t give it up unless he got it” (Gregory R. Norfleet, 40-year chief Stoolman stepping down July 1). Indeed, as goes the incestuous politics of a small town, his son did inherit the job. The new fire station has been used as a country club for this multi-generational local ruling elite, where they go to socialize and clean their personal vehicles, a situation that became a minor scandal. These aren’t people who put much stock in functioning democracy, especially as outsiders grew in their midst with liberal Iowa City a short drive away.

This xenophobia toward perceived outsiders is apparently not a new phenomenon. As I wrote elsewhere, “A longtime friend of mine grew up there for much of her early life and she recalls the racism that was common there. Loewen briefly discusses Cedar County in his discussion of presidential hometowns (as Hoover lived in West Branch as a child). West Branch did and does have a large Quaker presence and the Quakers sought to help blacks after the Civil War. According to the census data, there were 37 black residents of Cedar County in 1890, but only 2 in 1930” (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). That disappearance of blacks is typical of sundown towns, although in this case it is unknown what happened. For whatever reasons, most of the black population suddenly decided it was best not to remain there, likely because of some violent action or threat, such as a mob or a burning cross.

The census data certainly fits the profile of a sundown town, according to similar examples across the Midwest. At a later date, I talked to that same friend about the case of the disappearing blacks. “I told her that Loewen had no evidence of West Branch being a sundown town, even though it used to have something like 5 black families. She told me that it probably wasn’t an accident that the blacks left. She had many negative experiences in that town. People weren’t accepting of those who were different. Back then, there was two minority families with children, one black and the other Asian. She says they were treated badly and both families left. That is one way to get rid of minorities. You don’t need a sundown sign, threatening cops, mob violence, arson, or anything so crude. You just have to make people’s lives difficult and unhappy, bully their children and ostracize them” (comment at Spirit of ’76).

This friend personally experienced the bullying and abuse, as her family was relatively new to West Branch. She did grow up there as a child, but her parents had not. Although she is white, she was considered an outsider and so worthy of being targeted. The other kids in town could be cruel, of course. The thing is that the kids were often following the lead of respected authority figures, one man in particular. She was living there in the early to mid-80s. It was in 1983 that James “Butch” Pedersen — born and raised in West Branch as a son of one of the old farm families — was hired as the replacement for the position of head football coach and he quickly gained a reputation for winning games. Some of his former players have gone on to play in college and professional football or else now work as coaches themselves. There is no doubt that he is a great coach. Obviously, he has inspired and continues to inspire many people.

He has become well known and widely respected far beyond that dinky town, such as having been “recognized for his lifetime commitment to coaching when he was named 2017 National Football Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association” (A Coaching Legend: Iowa’s Butch Pedersen). At the University of Iowa in nearby Iowa City, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz offered praise: “Butch has done such a great job. Our state is, in my mind, really rich in coaches like that. They’re doing it because they really love kids and they love coaching. They’re not doing it because they’re trying to be whatever. But all those guys, in my mind, are legends, and Butch is certainly in that category. Those guys are rare people” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). Why would a Big 10 coach even know a high school coach from a small town? It turns out the influence is personal —- Ferentz explains that, “Butch was one of my grade school teachers, junior high track coach and HS football coach and one of the bigger influences on my life” (Hawkeye Nation, tweet).

For decades, he has made many residents proud of their town and so that has made him untouchable, above reproach. He began his West Branch career as a coach and teacher in 1975 when he was only 25 years old, and he was focused in this direction prior to that: “When he finished his degree, he already was a volunteer assistant coach at West Branch” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). As such, besides coaching football and along with helping coach basketball, he also worked as a teacher in the local schools and so came in contact with students who weren’t athletes. His career began in that town and has continued there ever since. That is a 45 year stretch spent entirely in his hometown. It was in this latter capacity as a teacher that my friend was exposed to what she experienced as a sadistic streak. She was in early elementary school at the time where she was placed in one of his classes.

Let’s consider some background, so as to give a sense of this individual’s character. Butch, as he is known in West Branch, is an old school manly man. “Football is a tough sport that is played by tough people,” he said in explaining his football philosophy (Bears Football, Butch Pedersen). “Not everyone is tough enough to play it.” In describing a former player of his went onto college football, he said that, even though he was forced to play in positions he didn’t prefer, “he never bawled about it” (Marc Morehouse, No crying in linebacking – Bo Bower’s return). That is because real men don’t cry. They just take it, suck it up, and do what they’re told. Being a hard-ass coach is part of his reputation and he has expected his players to meet his high standards. He does not like weakness and the other side of his reputation, according to some, is that he is known for attacking the weak — that is to say those who can’t fight back.

My friend remembers how Coach Butch would pick out the kids who had few friends, specifically those who weren’t members of one of the old families of intermarried solidarity. As a lifelong resident of West Branch, he knew who to victimize and who to leave alone. This often meant his going after poor kids or anyone else considered an outsider to the community. She was such a kid and so she often got the brunt of his abuse. He had a variety of methods, two of which stood out in her memory. One of the worst things he’d do was to mock and shame his favorite victims. He’d do so in front of the whole class and encourage the other students to join in on the bullying. For example, he would line up all the kids around the edge of the classroom and then make the victim run the gauntlet as the other kids threw stuff at them. She only experienced this on occasion, she recalled, whereas some even less fortunate classmates of hers were tormented in this manner on a weekly basis. Another aspect of this was that he’d make up cruel names for these particular kids and use the names in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the kids would copy his behavior in using these demeaning nicknames.

In one incident, my friend had the entire lunchroom full of kids chanting the name of abuse he had given her. Coach Butch along with other adults stood by as it happened and they did nothing (although on a happy and inspiring note, as her childhood self passed by him, she sought to exact revenge by having punched him in the balls). That is the thing, his abusive behavior was known by the other school staff and people in town. Maybe it was expected. Coaches were supposed to be tough and toughening kids up was considered a good thing back then, especially in a conservative small town in farm country. His harsh ‘disciplinarian’ approach seems to have been an open secret, but I guess no one talked much about it, as it was normalized as part of the local culture. The art teacher who happened to be a lesbian tried to protect my friend, but this lady was also new to the town and may have found herself targeted as well, considering she didn’t last long before she was fired. * The school counselor also tried to offer protection and my friend had the sense that she may have tried to intervene at one point but, if she did, she was forced to back down. Coach Butch was golden and so he got a free pass. No one would be allowed to challenge his authority or smear his reputation, as he had friends in high places. He was part of the old boys network, what would later become known as the Old Dinosaurs.

This is relevant to Trump for obvious reasons, considering Trump is also a bully and an abuser. What does this say about our society? Here is another thing to consider. West Branch is a conservative town and yet there are Democrats who live there. My friends’ parents are Clinton Democrats and, in fact, her mother worked at the local school with Coach Butch. Her mother knew what was happening and she was friends with the art teacher who tried to help, but her mother never did anything to challenge the coach or stop the abuse. Her mother couldn’t find the moral courage to face the reality of her child being traumatized partly because she was married to an abusive man. She had learned to rationalize abuse by focusing on the positive, as my friend told it to me, based on a faith in humanity that placed hope in the potential for people changing for the better, apparently even when the bad actors in question showed no remorse. This is how even good liberals with good intentions can become complicit in authoritarian and patriarchal systems.

Many years later when my friend was an adult, her mother who was still working as a teacher at the time insisted that Coach Butch had changed and she’d create situations where my friend would have to interact with this guy who was her childhood tormentor. It could be interpreted as a form of gaslighting, in that my friend wanted to trust her mother and believe what she was told, that he really was a different person now. However, it seems that this was all bullshit, a rationalization her mother had invented to make herself feel better in knowing she had betrayed her daughter’s trust in allowing so much harm to have been done when she was younger. My friend still struggles with that childhood trauma. The sad part is that, going by such accounts, it sounds like she was just one among many kids who were hurt by Coach Butch and almost a half century later he is still coach in West Branch, he is still treated like a local hero.

I know another family with children presently living in West Branch. The daughter attends high school where Coach Butch is currently employed. This young girl was talking about him and I suddenly remembered my friend’s experience from the 1980s. I told this high schooler about my friend’s sad childhood in West Branch and she said nothing has changed. This guy still has a reputation as abusive and is still targeting weak loners who can’t fight back. Later on when I told my friend about this, it hit her hard because of her mother having lied to her. To think of how many generations of kids have been hurt by this one guy. She speculated that the psychiatric costs incurred from his sadism probably amounts at least to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then after some thought, she expressed surprise that none of his victims have yet committed suicide or become school shooters, although maybe some of them have had sad endings without anyone connecting it to the original cause of trauma. She made me promise to warn this other family about how dangerous is Coach Butch, in her opinion, as their youngest child fits the description of his preferred targets (she knows this family). And she said if a legal case ever comes up, she would gladly testify.

As another example of Coach Butch’s less than optimal behavior, the high schooler said that if one of his players quits the team he will emotionally cut them off and treat them like they no longer exist. A child’s value in his eyes, one might suspect, is largely about whether they can help him win another championship or otherwise boost his social identity as coach, or else maybe if that child is a member of one of the old families, part of his community as ‘us’ and so not an outsider. It is his hard-nosed approach that has won him not only so many victories but, more importantly, so much support and praise among those who share this identity of ‘us’. He apparently knows what he can get away with and so rarely steps across the line. A rare case happened last year, according to the aforementioned student, when he was kicked out of a game for shoving one of the high school players. That didn’t tarnish his reputation in the slightest and he is still beloved or so the local media reports — the question being about the news stories not published, the statements left unquoted, the allegations never allowed to be heard, the investigations that never saw the light of day.

It’s not that he has necessarily ever done anything illegal. Even his worse abusive behavior my friend describes from the 1980s may have been considered perfectly allowable by the standards of the time or even commendable by the other respected authority figures in town. The police might have known about it without any concern. That was simply the rough nature of a rural community, as many of the older generation like Butch grew up with a hard life on farms. It’s only been in recent years that most schools have concerned themselves with curtailing abuse and bullying, whether from children or adults. The kinds of behavior teachers and coaches used to get away with in many places is amazing by today’s standards (for a truly extreme example, watch the Netflix documentary The Keepers). That is to say Coach Butch wasn’t unusual, even if his ‘tough love’ was a bit more harsh than average.

It’s not to pick on this one guy as evil incarnate or even particularly horrific, in the big scheme of things. No bad intentions are required since bad actors can remain unconscious of the bad consequences of their actions. The most depressing part and the key point being made here is how normal this is in our society, specifically among the older generations — since as a typical product a post-war 1950s childhood in rural America, Butch embraced the identity of hyper-masculinity and patriarchy. The purpose of this post is not to bring him down low by shitting on the happy memories of many who have known this truly great coach, but it is to remind people that not everyone’s memories were happy. It’s not that the unhappy are more worthy of being heard than the happy, that we should only listen to the critics and naysayers. Still, maybe they should be given an opportunity to be heard, at the very least. What stands out is that the local media has completely shut out anyone who has a different opinion or else they’ve certainly not sought them out, as if they don’t exist and as if what they experienced never happened — the silence is deafening.

This exclusion is salt on the wound of trauma. According to these accounts, it has been those who are isolated who get targeted and, indeed, the feeling of being isolated is very much real. To have the other students mimic this bad behavior modeled by them, to have other authority figures condone it by default of ignoring it, and then on top of that to have the local media constantly praise this man who did so much harm to you and so much harm to others you’ve witnessed — all of that would make one feel all the more isolated. It would feel further traumatizing and, as mentioned before, it would have the effect of gaslighting in a collective denial of what you know is real in your experience. When insanity becomes the social norm that is enforced, those who fall outside the demands of conformity can come to the false belief that they are the crazy ones.

It could cause someone to doubt their own experience, their own sense of reality… and that is the most damaging result of all. Once you no longer trust yourself and the world around you, that can lead to blaming yourself for what happened and so to think you are at fault, that you are the problem, that there is something wrong with you. In a highly conformist society, this is how dysfunctional authoritarianism takes over, as everyone fears becoming one of the excluded and targeted. The targeted victims are not only scapegoats but are used to set an example. Others quickly learn to not be like those victims and so they all the more make sure to do what they are told and do what is expected. Fear is a motivating force and for good reason, but when part of a dysfunctional culture it becomes highly destructive to the human soul.

If we want to judge a society, look to the least among us. Look to the poor, the weak, the sick, the lonely. See how society treats those people and then you’ll know the moral quality of the culture, community, and leadership. Don’t attack the victims of oppression for speaking out, for protesting, and for defending themselves. In an oppressive society where the Dark Tetrad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism) holds sway, it takes amazing courage to challenge the powerful and their defenders who will close ranks. The reaction of power to the powerless can get brutal and it often doesn’t end well because few want to hear. But that is all the more reason we should also have the moral courage to listen to those voices that make us uncomfortable, that tell us things we’d rather not know. Look to the outsiders, the minorities, and the downtrodden — take seriously their suffering.

Let’s get straight to the point. What kind of values does Butch Pedersen represent? Someone doesn’t gain that much power, authority, and respect by not embodying something important within a community. In one article, he is described as “continually molding and shaping a family atmosphere full of people eager to help in any way possible” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). “No matter the role,” this journalist of a local newspaper concludes, “those who’ve been part of Pedersen’s run have a unified message: The dean of West Branch football has made their lives better.” Sounds great! Kevin Braddock, a former player now on Butch’s staff, is quoted as saying, “You’re talking hundreds of kids, thousands of kids that he’s impacted.” The question is what exactly has been the impact not only on certain individuals who found his favor as a coach but the greater impact on the atmosphere created in that community, the culture of silence and silencing as Derrick Jensen would describe it. Not everyone’s lives were made better and the consequences extend beyond a few victims as lone voices.

“Butch can be kind of scary, especially when you’re a freshman or sophomore,” adds John Hierseman, another former player and present staffer. His victims would likely agree with that assessment, if in a way not intended. The coach himself is not shy about admitting to his behavior, as he takes it as a point of pride. “Sometimes in today’s society, people are afraid of discipline and tough love. I’m not afraid to do that,” he said. “Some people think we’re too tough. I don’t think that all. I think a lot of other people are too soft. And I think that’s society in general.” Well, my friend would be among those who thinks he is “too tough” and that would be an understatement. “Football,” as Coach Butch said, “is a tough sport that is played by tough people.” But apparently this applies to life in general. Kids needed to be toughened up. If some of them can’t take it and are broken and scarred instead, he can’t be blamed for their inferiority and weakness, at least according to his own view apparently shared by others who support and defend him.

He goes on to say that, “You can’t always be the nice guy. Sometimes, you have to get a little tough with them. And in the long run, they’re going to come back and say thank you. I can’t tell you the number of kids who’ve gone on to the military and said basic training is really similar to some of our camps at the beginning of the year. You break them down mentally, but you always love them to death. Then you bring them back strong.” If a fraction of the observations and criticisms heard about him are true, one suspects that more than a few who have experienced his tough love have not always been made better by the experience. How many have been harmed? Will we ever know? Will they ever be heard?

Southard quotes the coach one last time — “It’s not me. It’s all of us together.” — and says, “That’s just how West Branch rolls.” Maybe so and that might not be such a good thing. He talks a lot about ‘we’ and ‘us’, and he obviously loves his community as his community loves him, though not all of his community. He comes across as the real deal, a true community leader as once was far more common. As he told it, “I wanted this to be a community tradition. I wanted to have as many people involved in the football program as possible. If you go to the homecoming ceremony, and they ask all the people involved in the football program to come down on the field, there’s no one left in the bleachers” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). Yet the “all of us together” might be far more exclusionary as is all too often found in small town life. The shadow side of ‘us’ is ‘them’, those who are othered.

That is how Donald Trump came to power. He has attacked the weak and targeted perceived outsiders as scapegoats, like he did in ridiculing a reporter with a disability at one of his rallies. And similar to Coach Butch, Trump has a talent for coming up with names to mock people, as he did with Biden in calling him ‘Sleepy Joe’. With all of this in mind, it is maybe expected that someone of Trump’s character would also be so popular in Cedar County (to be fair, a significant minority did not vote for him; it would be interesting and probably telling to find out if those who voted for Trump correlate to those who most strongly support Coach Butch). That patriarchal abusiveness may simply be part of the social fabric. The moral degradation of our society has been going on for a long time. Those like Coach Butch and President Trump don’t come out of nowhere. And there is a reason they are revered by many, a reason they are able to gain power and get away with behavior that one can easily argue is reprehensible and inexcusable. From small towns in the Heartland to Washington D.C., it’s part of the victimization culture that so darkens our society, that corrupts the American soul.

The deeper problem is this. Where are the numerous victims in our society going to turn to in the hope of fighting back against powerful and respected victimizers? As with the bullied and abused students in many American communities and minorities in the oppressive racial order, as with the perceived outsiders and members of the permanent underclass, those harmed rarely feel confident in turning to authority figures for help, as the system of authority defends and rationalizes away the problem. That is what has motivated recent years of moral outrage and civic unrest — from the Me Too movement to the Black Lives Matter protests. For certain, none of the ruling elite of either major political party is a friend to the oppressed and disenfranchised. Lesser evil voting ends up feeling light on the ‘lesser’ and heavy on the ‘evil’. Here is the rub. Why do so many tolerate people like Butch and Trump? What do they hope to gain?

It’s simple. These social dominators know how to play the game of success and their old white male status gives them immense privilege, albeit often oblivious and belligerent privilege. Such people grasp, consciously or not, the power of the role they inhabit and they wield that power to great effect. In return, they offer their supporters and co-conspirators the opportunity to be on the winning side, to be part of ‘us’ — and the rhetorical narrative can sometimes be quite inspiring, especially when the ‘us’ symbolizes your own community, your own people. If you are one of Coach Butch’s favorites or when President Trump directs his schmoozing toward you, I’m sure to be the recipient of such glowing paternalism can feel like being on top of the world. That is what Coach Butch gave West Branch, a town otherwise in decline from its former glory as a bustling economic center. He gave them a sense of being winners again, specifically during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. President Trump has attempted to do the same thing on a grander scale, to take a declining America and promise to make it great again, a post-Reagan revival declaring that it’s Morning in America.

On the other side, the moral cost of this deal with the Devil is immense. But once the deal has been made, it’s near impossible to renegotiate and remedy. Hidden behind the sense of shared pride is an ever looming shadow of collective shame. It takes much effort and constant vigilance to keep such dark secrets forever a secret, even when they’re open secrets, to hide what is really going on and what it means for a community and for society. Complicity in a culture of victimization creates a culture of silence. We can point out President Trump’s buffoonery, but what is much harder is to admit that his behavior has long been normalized, if often in less obvious ways. This authoritarian streak in American culture goes back centuries. And it will continue until we face this moral failure. Until then, victimizers will continue to rise into power and the rest of us will go on enabling them.

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* About ‘us’ vs ‘them’, one wonders about what happened to that lesbian art teacher who was fired. Small towns are known for being harsh, to say the least, toward those who are different, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender. To demonstrate this, the West Branch Times newspaper published an article by Gregory R. Norfleet, Soapbox Philosophy: A desire within, and a choice, to which one commenter responded: “I love how his column mixes worship of a high school football coach with a fear of homosexuals. It’s just so small-town Iowa” (from Another letter to the West Branch Times at the DailyDisgust blog).

42 thoughts on “Victimization Culture and Lesser Evilism

  1. Regarding “Butch” – Fascism is almost always portrayed as a top down event, at least in US mythology. In Europe and a few other places there is also recognition that tyranny begins in the mind of the individual, the family, etc.

    And that it rises up before raining down.

    The Butch goons of the world and their collaborators are as much to blame as the national freaks screaming about “them” being out to get “us”

    Last night and early this morning there was semi-organized “looting” in some of the more affluent areas of downtown Chicago.

    The reactionary response is to attach “looting” to the “left” and “Biden” (as if he’s a leftist).

    Of course, it was/is looting.

    What goes missing is that the entire system is looting because capitalism is organized and semi-organized crime.

    The power to frame a narrative and those who repeat narrative frames (without being aware of it) create an environment in which “Butch” thrives and can cause damage that can last for decades.

    As I said to a friend in Baltimore who was commenting on “crime on the south side of Chicago” – oh there’s plenty of crime on the north side. It’s just conducted indoors on computers.

    • It was strange writing this piece. It created a sense of disconnection. There are the people I personally know and their personal experience of Butch. Then there is the image and narrative about Coach Butch in the local news media. It’s kind of jarring how different are those two people, both named Butch and both living in that town, apparently both even inhabiting the same body.

      This guy is respected, loved, and adored. Those who are his friends, fans, and such see him as the greatest thing that has ever happened to that small community. I almost felt bad for criticizing him. Who the fuck am I to take on such a great and successful man? What kind of pathetic loser I must be with my bad attitude, as if my opinions matter at all. If this post got attention from people in that community, I would be attacked because my criticisms would be (rightly?) taken as a criticism of their whole town.

      There is no way this affront could be tolerated. The motivation would be genuine fear. I suspect there are many others like those I know who have had very bad experiences of Butch. The moment that allegations came out there would be many others joining in to share their experiences. A halfway decent journalist might be able to quickly dig up all kinds of dirt that had been swept under the rug over the decades, possibly even earlier investigations that were shut down.

      It is extremely important what it represents. And you get the point I was making, if maybe it could’be been made more explicit. As you say, “it rises up before raining down.” That might be a better title for this piece. I think I’ll throw that at the top as a quote with credit to you. Yep, it’s all about the narrative. I guess that is what stood out the most to me. The news media, as much in a small town as nationally, is powerful in how it controls public perception.

      • Feel free to use the line.

        Hannah Arendt famously said, after returning to Europe post war, and being told over and over again, nope, didn’t notice; didn’t see anything – it would require a near criminal imagination to be true.

        Part of tyrannies success is that it is curated as a large scale event – Stalin, Mao, “Orwellian” etc but it all starts out as a small issue. There are some European writers who have addressed this and filmmakers, etc.

        The dislocation you describe makes perfect sense in that there is a powerful atmosphere of banality (the banality of evil) of the ordinary and to say the emperor has no clothes or is a sadistic rat fucker is to seriously kick the hornet’s nest of complacency and delusional attachment.

        But Coach Butch is a perfect example. A petty tyrant who is holding a town hostage but they (or most of them) want to be held hostage.

    • Let me reply a bit more now that I have the time. There was a storm in Iowa that knocked out the power, cable, and internet in much of the Eastern part of the state. For the past couple of days, I only had access to the University internet when I was at work. But now we are back in business with everything running again in this neighborhood. I am glad you commented and, in particular, emphasized the first point you made. “Fascism is almost always portrayed as a top down event, at least in US mythology.” When Americans think of fascism specifically or authoritarianism more generally, most automatically imagine Nazi stormtroopers goosestepping in the streets. It’s an image of something being enforced from up on high.

      That simply isn’t how it begins, how it takes hold. “In Europe and a few other places there is also recognition that tyranny begins in the mind of the individual, the family, etc.” This factor reminds me of two things. The part people often miss about Thatcher’s declaration that there is no such thing as society is that, in her authoritarian vision of moral hierarchy, she saw the foundation of power and authority to be in the individual and family. The other thing is an observation made by Anu Partanen in her book The Nordic Theory of Everything. I’ve written about it in posts from some years ago. She noted that for all the claims of individualism in American society it’s actually the Scandinavian model that gives the greatest freedom to the individual.

      She refers to the data in support of this argument, from greater socioeconomic mobility to greater small business ownership. Or consider how the legal system and welfare system makes it easier for an abused person to leave their spouse without fear of poverty and homelessness, not to mention easier for a poor child to have equal opportunity to go to college even if his parents were unable or unwilling to financially support his education. In the American social order, individualism is merely invoked to impose authoritarianism. It is individualism idealized as isolated heroic figure, individualism as mythical being, such as was the case in Nazi Germany. Actual individuals are irrelevant or rather only certain individuals who conform to social norms matter. It’s about being the right kind of individual who subordinates themselves to the hierarchical system. It’s about knowing your place.

      That is the role of the football player in West Branch, under Coach Butch’s domineering vision of his community. That is the thing that caught my attention. This guy freaking loves “his community” and damn straight it’s his community. The people I know don’t belong, as they aren’t part of one of the old families, and so it’s not their community. They have no right to have an opinion or to have any influence. This community focus fits perfectly into the authoritarian order. In fact, such patriarchal and paternalistic community leadership is the bedrock of authoritarianism. Yet taken at face value, it seems so innocent. How could anyone complain about concern for community? How could anyone criticize community leadership? Just listen to Butch speak about his town, his neighbors, and his team. There is nothing but love in his voice, but it’s a very specific kind of love — the ‘us’ vs ‘them’. That is why a team sport ends up being the pillar upon which the entire community depends for its collective identity. It’s a black-and-white vision of winners and losers, and as long as Coach Butch is in charge West Branchers are on the winning side.

      “The power to frame a narrative and those who repeat narrative frames (without being aware of it) create an environment in which “Butch” thrives and can cause damage that can last for decades.” It really does come down to narrative. Besides those who create and control the narrative such as the media, there is the way narratives are internalized and repeated in becoming a part of everyday life and shaping what feels like ‘private’ thought and ‘personal’ experience. Authoritarianism becomes enmeshed within one’s identity and one’s relationships. The master narrative shapes an ongoing commentary in the background of lived experience, the conversations and gossip that so casually and thoughtlessly flows through a community.

    • Let me touch upon something related to our email discussion. In the reactionary imaginary, it’s a black-and-white worldview in so many ways. Sometimes, I get the sense that the only two options they see are between Nazism and Stalinism, a forced choice with democracy simply not a real possibility. It’s not only capitalist realism but authoritarianian realism; as I said, authoritarianism along with the reactionary is an ideology in its own right.

      It’s authoritarian team sports, closely related to lesser evilism. Consumer-citizens as imperial subjects are allowed to choose between pre-selected candidates of one authoritarian party or the other authoritarian party, one authoritarian ideology or another authoritarian ideology, Pepsi or Coke. In either case, it is assumed that authoritarianism is the dominant framework and the inevitable result, the game within which both ‘sides’ are allowed to play. But you can shift the players around a bit or whatever and it remains the same authoritarianism that rules. No matter who wins, the authoritarians always win.

      This puts those demanding democracy in an impossible situation, as their demands are proclaimed as impossible by default, excluded from the frame of public debate or rather corporatist-controlled debate. To be a leftist protester is to be portrayed as an anarchist, looter, thug, and secret commie seeking to overthrow the government, take over everything, and watch the world burn. The other ways leftists get portrayed is as Stalinists and elite vanguard conspiring in government, universities, media, and the tech industry — all of it aligned with the corporatist Democrats.

      The demands for democracy are ignored, dismissed, and attacked… or else they are spoken of as false and deceptive. One way or another, the water is muddied. What can never be allowed is actual discussion about, much less action taken toward, democratic reform. Yet the societal failure caused by the refusal of democratic reform gets blamed on those demanding democratic reform. To make it worse, the authoritarians project their authoritarian visions onto those simply wanting democracy and so democracy gets made into authoritarianism, either as mobocracy or liberal paternalism. The average American and the silenced majority simply wanting basic rights and freedoms is excluded.

      This returns us to the example of West Branch. It all begins at the local level. As democracy must form from the bottom up, so does authoritarianism. It is the local where the real battles are fought. This is also where the public mind and social identity is shaped. This is why local leadership arguably might create the conditions where enough of the local population will support national leadership like Trump who aspires to authoritarianism. If an even stronger, more effective and successful authoritarian leader comes along, they will support him as well. Their minds have been primed for authoritarianism, as it has become familiar and normalized in their everyday lives.

      James Loewen writes about sundown towns, of which West Branch likely was at one time with the disappearance of blacks in the census records. One thing that Loewen describes in his book is the research that shows how sundown towns and other non-diverse environments create a socially conservative and conformist mentality that carries into adulthood. A key individual example is that Bill O’Reilly was born and raised in the most infamous sundown suburb, Levitttown. Interestingly, another Fox News figure, Jimmy Failla, is also from Levittown. That is no accident. It’s from racist communities like Levittown that authoritarians draw their leaders, demagogues, propagandists, goons, etc.

    • Here is another thing that has been on my mind for a long time. I’ve mentioned a distant cousin of mine. He is the one who has identified as a libertarian for decades. Yet for all his libertarian pretense and rhetoric, in response to the protests, he basically said he’d become a Nazi in an instant if it meant that there would be law and order. He represents the typical right-winger libertarian. It’s not that such libertarianism is a pose but the reality right-libertarianism is itself authoritarian.

      The only difference is right-libertarians want corporations to replace governments as authoritarian rulers, which simply makes them privatized governments and not necessarily any less oppressive or violent. The problem with government authoritarianism, to a right-libertarian, isn’t that it’s authoritarian but that it’s ineffective authoritarianism. That is the eternal complaint of the reactionary.

      The failure of the French monarchy, for example, wasn’t that it was too oppressive. Rather, it failed because it couldn’t properly oppress those who needed oppressing, specifically the radicals and revolutionaries, populists and peasants. That is where the reactionary Jacobins stepped in, not to implement democratic reform but to rebuild a new authoritarian hierarchy to do a better job of what the monarchy failed to do.

      That is what we are facing with the political right complains against protesters of police brutality, mostly from Republicans and ‘libertarians’ but also some of the more corporatist Democrats and comfortable liberal class. The problem they see with the police is not that they aren’t beholden to democracy but that the authoritarian system has allowed protesters to demand the police be beholden to democracy. A successful authoritarian system would never let it get to this point in the first place.

      The only solution, in the reactionary mind, to a failure of authoritarian law-and-order is new and improved authoritarian law-and-order. More cowbell!

    • What always really burns me is how authoritarians will declare that our present ruling authoritarianism is actually democracy and so therefore that means democracy is authoritarian and all of the failures of authoritarianism are really failures of democracy. Oh God! That utter bullshit is so demoralizing and it never ends, but I’m just repeating myself. I did have a partly new thought to add, though.

      As reactionaries love to fantasize about violence and conflict, they also love aggressive competition like team sports and war, the same difference in the reactionary mind taken to its authoritarian extreme. War is one of the reactionary mind’s favorite models for understanding the world. It’s not only a model but a an applied system. This is why we have war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror, etc. The last one, war on terror, is a war on an emotion or an abstraction which is really taken things to a new level. This rhetoric is not a metaphor, as these wars shape the reactionary and authoritarian perception of reality.

      These are literally wars on people, often on the American people. And the battlefield is often the United States, not a foreign country. This is how poor and minority communities end up treated like occupied territory and the police are turned into a military force. That the police become sociopathic oppressors and violent goons is not an unintended side effect. The shadow side of this authoritarian law-and-order is lawlessness. It is the fundamental destruction of democracy and so destruction of any moral justification for law-and-order. The legal proceduralism idealized in liberalism is reduced to simply an authoritarian demand to do what authoritarian tells you to do. Inequality and injustice become the norm and the rule, not the exception.

      This is why reactionary authoritarians can complain about non-state actors looting and killing when the state and its adjuncts of power regularly loot and kill with far higher victim counts. A few businesses are damaged a few people killed in some social unrest in the US, while the government goes out destroying entire countries and killing millions, not to mention the oppression at home of the largest prison population in the world with more blacks incarcerated than were enslaved during the height of slavery. The chaos the reactionary conservatives cause in their demented “law-and-order” inevitably leads to more chaos, as that is what they want. Reactionary authoritarianism thrives in chaos and so requires it.

      The inconsistency and ad hoc nature of the rhetoric hides the fundamental principled position of absolute power itself and privilege too. It’s the power and privilege to make up bullshit that makes no sense while distracting from the reality. Blaming leftists and pro-democracy protesters for gangsters, looters, and such that take advantage of the chaos is like blaming Iraqis for the gangsters, looting, etc that emerged from the total destruction the US military brought down upon the Iraqi people, under false claims and false pretenses. That is essentially what we are experiencing right now, a low level war being committed by the US government against the American people, and it’s a war that has been going on for a long time but has been ignored because it has mostly targeted the powerless.

      The public mood is shifting for various reasons. Larger numbers of Americans are realizing what is really going on. They were slow to wake up, but now awake it will be hard to put them back to sleep again.

  2. Something keeps nagging me. I realize it’s a sticking point in even comprehending what we are talking about here. Most West Branch residents would simply see this post as sour grapes, partisan politics, or something along these lines. When I criticize Coach Butch, I would be perceived as attacking all of West Branch, as attacking them and their families, friends, and neighbors.

    Generally, most Americans are unable to identify real world authoritarianism, similar to why so few know what is democracy. None of us this taught to us in our education system or reported on in the corporate news (by the way, most ‘public’ media is mostly privately funded, much of it from corporations). In the public imagination, the authoritarian ideological worldview is conflated with the experience and values of community and family. This relates to how the reactionary mind can and will co-opt anything for its own purposes, from traditional culture to left-wing rhetoric.

    So, it isn’t only that we lack the intellectual defenses and psychological resources to protect ourselves from the authoritarianism that is ever present and ever creeping. More deeply, we have no visceral sense of the reactionary mind, as opposed to a strong culture of trust. We mistake conformity for trust, strength for morality, winning for worth. This is why it doesn’t require completely evil people with consciously bad intentions conspiring to dominate. Coach Butch can simultaneously care about his community and be a dangerous authoritarian, can simultaneously inspire some and traumatize others.

    This is also why some older Germans to this day can have fond memories of Hitler. If Hitler had died immediately after rebuilding the infrastructure and resurrecting the economy, had died before the war, foreign invasions and the Holocaust, he would be widely remembered as a great man even by many in the Western world. The Nazis, among other fascists, early on were quite popular in numerous Western countries. After all, the Nazis inherited much of their segregationist and eugenics practices from what they observed, learned, and copied from Britain and the United States.

    Authoritarians are capable of being inspiring and achieving, to a greater extent than almost any other type of person. It can be quite the force when the power of the authoritarian impulse is combined with the cleverness of the reactionary mind and the persuasion of a charismatic personality. Coach Butch is simply a milder and smaller scale example of this phenomenon. This creates positive feelings for many and it’s why authoritarianism is able to gain so much support, even when the immorality and suffering it commits should be evident to anyone paying attention.

    None of this is to attack or devalue community values and community leadership. I’m one of the first to defend the importance of community. That is precisely why I am differentiating healthy community from authoritarian community. In the end, authoritarianism corrupts what is good in a community and, if it is allowed to take hold, can entirely destroy communities. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Coach Butch is a minor figure and President Trump is a failed tyrant, but one of these days the United States will experience it’s own rise of a Hitler-like demagogue. What we allow and support in our communities in the present will determine the fate of our society in the future.

  3. There’s a lot here. I agree with almost all of it and probably at most might quibble over a few minor points and then not to say you’re wrong but to refine the issue a bit more.

    but yes, the revolution of the mind is first said Andre Breton.

    But usually we get the revolution of the fist and the gun and the tyrant.

    Left and right.

    It’s such an obvious thing (and is ignored and elided) but when we string together the critiques of the system we find a murderer’s row of smart people saying what you’re saying – Thoreu to ginsberg to Dylan to Marcuse, etc etc etc – all saying, the system is rhetorically foul, upside down, alienated and alienating, ginns up rage and is itself a ginned up product designed to enrage and stupify and within that cauldron you get rage beats like Trump and coach Butch and future dictators.

    But the system with its vested interests, its lack of depth (all by design) keeps itself treading water by ignoring the evidence. You’ll never see an Adorno or some similar type on the news for an extended discussion because they would make the talking heads look like idiots and it would be bad for ratings.

    Which then is a race to the bottom and that is a viral thing – it creates and grows a kind of dull enveloping mist where any nuance or criticism sounds “crazy” and in a sense really does sound odd – but of course because “normal” is so atrophied.

    Obviously the Fox gang are what we’d expect but of course so are the liberals. for a while over the summer the establishment liberals (MSNBC and CNN) had Cornel West on and it amused me to listen to him preach about John coltrane as an example of spiritual awakening and revolutionary energy (true about JC) but the amusement was in looking at the media goons who probably know the name but have no clue what West was talking about.

    And even if they did what of it?

    The language required is both internal (to understand the spoken signifier “Coltrane”) and internal – to have a grasp of the web of connections and meanings inherent in “Coltrane” as a focal point in history and the narrative frame.

    The system elevates these idiots as voices of external authority (sic!;-)) but they are hollow.

    Lacking any authentic knowledge they not only repeat banalities but wouldn’t have a clue if someone went off script – which is what happened with West even as they paid lip service and performed the rituals of “woke.”

    In such an environment it becomes almost impossible to deconstruct or highlight the nature of a Coach Butch and the how and why of his tyranny and how he is a template for large scale monsters.

    The language required is all but dead.

    A sign of that is that to speak it sounds “weird.”

    A reactionary like Evelyn Waugh wrote at length about it – he had a character in one of his novels, named Hooper – and he spoke of the age of Hooper – the uneducated fool who was so lacking in understanding…

    Waugh of course had the solution – a kind of tyranny.

    More emotionally generous types have their Hoopers as well but, who reads?

    And even if more people than not read, the system, precisely in its liberalism – wont allow them to speak because of all of the above.

    The result is a pitched battle between two sides of the same coin.

    There’s more but I’ll leave off here and ponder your comments.

    • I’m not sure what were your quibbles. I didn’t notice anything of particular disagreement in your comment. It may be true that we “usually we get the revolution of the fist and the gun and the tyrant. Left and right.” But in American history, the reactionary and authoritarian have often spread in more subtle ways.

      As for left and right, I often have no clue what those mean. Many consider the Jacobins to be ‘Left’, but I don’t know why when the even more radical Thomas Paine was literally sitting on the right side with the moderates. It would appear democratic leftism of that variety has far more in common with moderate liberalism than with reactionaries, no matter what rhetoric particular reactionaries use or co-opt.

      Political leftism feels impotent in the US and that has been true for my entire life. The idea of a radical left-wing that is powerful, influential, and relevant is hard for most Americans to imagine. What goes for the political left most of the time is that of Clinton Democrats with moderates like Nader and Sanders treated as so far left as to be practically Stalinists. Yet when looking at public opinion, the views of this supposed far left fringe is smack in the middle of majority public opinion.

      Left of what exactly? Are we defining left and right according to reactionary authoritarianism as being the measure of what is defined as ‘center’, ‘moderate’, and ‘normal’? Are we really just debating how far over the edge of insanity we are willing to go? In this context, does being a left-winger simply mean you don’t fit into the status quo of the demented and depraved. Yet, of course, even left-wingers get infected with the mind virus, something I often think about.

      Conservatism and liberalism is another thing. As you know, I’ve come to see them, as you say, two sides of the same coin. Even so, I’d like to think that there is something of worth to be salvaged from the ruins of the Enlightenment project with its roots of universalizing values going back to the Axial Age prophets. But all that is just more noise to get lost in the machinery of the social order that grinds everything down to the level of idiocy.

      What is interesting is this. There are those people who have known this other side of Coach Butch. There surely have been at least dozens, if not hundreds, of victims under his half century of coaching and teaching in West Branch. That doesn’t count all the people who witnessed and otherwise know about what has been going on for decades. There had to have been formal complaints and investigations over that time period.

      Yet it has all remained hushed up and contained. That is amazing, when you give it much thought. The victims, in being silenced, are taught to maintain the silence. My friend said she would speak up if others brought forward a case. Many others might do the same thing. But if everyone is waiting for someone else to do something and no one else ever does anything, then it will never be forced into public awareness.

      No one wants to be the first to speak and hence the first to be attacked and scapegoated. They know how vicious these people can be and to what extent they will close ranks and destroy any common enemy. Their wariness is perfectly understandable. Yet this wariness is part of the dysfunction of the system, what keeps it going.

      • The whole angle about the culture of silence has preoccupied me since first reading Derrick Jensen in the mid-to-late 1990s. It’s not only about who silences but who allows themselves to be silenced and becomes complicit.

        This is the victimization cycle. Jensen powerfully explains the relationship of authoritarian systems at the small scale such as families and how that creates the foundation for a devastatingly sick society that destroys everything it comes into contact with.

        But a key element are the victims who allow themselves to be silenced, as none of it would be possible without them. The system of trauma extends far beyond the overt abusers and dominators by making even the victims complicit in the continuing trauma of others. That is the saddest part.

        My friend had to be trained to be silent. She now realizes this and she sees how she came to internalize it. Like her mother, she ended up in a marriage to an abusive man, the trauma of her childhood obviously unresolved. It’s only in recent years that she has begun to understand the pattern she has been repeating.

        Here is another thing. Her traumatized childhood toughened her up and given her an identity of a survivor. In some ways, that is also a sad result. She has become highly self-reliant and so the authoritarian culture succeeded in making her into a good individual with rigid ego boundaries. She now does well in our society.

        That is what the system does. Whether victim or victimizer, it ensures we are made to fit the system. We expend all of our energy and resources on surviving that there is nothing left to fight the system, to organizing for something entirely different. We are kept constantly busy and tired, anxious and stressed — barely treading water.

  4. LOL Not sure myself what I’d quibble about so no worries. Might have been a passing thought.

    As to “left and right” – we’d have to distinguish between technical usage and the ways in which various reactionaries throw them around as a weapon of narrative control.

    A surgeon marks a difference between a knife and a scalpel but both are blades.

    Political commentators and people yaking would just talk about cutting.

    Good old Lobster man, Peterson has risen to fame and authority (an external voice of bicammeral command) by being compoletely without percision, often paraphrasing people he’s denouncing.

    And the “paper of record” called him the most important public intellectual of our time – without irony;-)

    In such an environment imposed silence and silence imposed by individuals upon themselves, becomes the norm.

    And in that atmosphere, speaking out and against, is increasingly dangerous.

    Have you seen anything about Terrence Malick’s latest film, A Secret Life?

    It was released about 9 months ago but as he’s “difficult” and what with the plague, etc, it got less hype than usual.

    The coach Butch’es of the world thrive in an atmosphere of simplicity backed by both indirect and direct threats of violence or the domestic terrorism of a system that says it might make you homeless, etc.

    As the Butche’s gain power they add to their circle of authority by maintaining increasingly silent followers and gorw their power by dumbing everyone and everything down.

    Notice that none of the anti-Trump rhetoric ever discusses how Trump is exactly what you should expect from capitalism. Instead as with all the other fascists, Trump is an aberration and “not normal” and that allows them to position themselves as “normal” and absolve themselves of any responsibility in creating Trump.

    Criticism of them is then immediately defined as “pro Trump” which is a constant feature of social media.

    The idea that one might attack “alternative media” (round up the usual suspects) from the left, is too nuanced and dismissed.

    This is an echo of your point about T. Paine, etc.

    The NY Times ran an article a few weeks ago in which, with a straight journalistic face, they called Sanders a “radical left wing revolutionary”

    Hilarious but also sinister.

    • Presumably, you’re referring to Malick’s film “A Hidden Life”. I hadn’t heard about it, until you mentioned it. But I looked up some reviews of it. It sounds like something I’d appreciate. It could be depressing as well because I’d end up identifying with the protagonist. I’ve long had the suspicion that my fate would be similar under such circumstances, not heroic but a sacrifice as banal as the evil it is in response to. I just don’t think I could help myself. I’m not much of a fighter, but I have a contrarian impulse that sometimes disallows me from being ‘reasonable’.

      I might flatter myself by seeing this as principled righteousness or moral strength. But in the end, it’s maybe a more basic level of personality, a psychological obstinance and anti-social belligerence. I inherited a stubbornness from my mother, even if for her it expresses in far different ways. One way or another, under an authoritarian regime, I’d do or say the wrong thing. I wouldn’t be ‘smart’ in a self-interested way. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I lack a certain cautiousness that would otherwise serve me well. If I was more concerned about long term consequences, I might not write much of what ends up in this blog.

      I’ve already written plenty that could be used against me, if and when authoritarians come to power. For example, I’ve openly said that I’d join the revolution when it comes which, to the authoritarian mind, is as good as admitting guilt to treason — even to think such a thing is thought crime. I’m careless with my words and such carelessness would likely doom me in less forgiving times. Yet, through years of severe depression, I’ve honestly earned a attitude of depressive realism, along with a bit of fatalism. I yam what I yam. And at this point, I doubt I can be anything else. Maybe character really is fate, but none of us really controls our own character. We don’t know why we are the way we are. We simply play out the cards we were dealt.

      That is the mystery of being human. None of us knows what we are doing. We are impelled by forces beyond us. The narratives we tell ourselves, either in terms of ideology or ego, fall short. That might not be an overly inspiring view of the world. There is a morality lesson in it, though. We should be careful about what we become aligned with, what we allow ourselves to become possessed by. There is a subtlety to the choices we make. We aren’t in control so much as we can assent or deny what is before us. We choose what we focus upon, what narratives we allow ourselves to be drawn into and pulled along by. It’s maybe a bit of an existentialist take on radical freedom. The trick to a moral life is to find what feels true and stick to it, even if that simply means opposing blatant evil.

      In the end, resistance to oppression, as with compassion to suffering or urgency for change, is never a rational decision. There is no complicated secret to such a moral stance, even as those who rationalize their passivity and complicity would like to over-complicate it. Either one feels it on a gut level or not. Such a moral feeling apparently is rare and can’t be forced upon others. But the actions and examples of others might inspire in us what we might not otherwise feel. Malick’s film is about one such person, Franz Jägerstätter, who followed the example of another, Franz Reinisch. That is the power of defying silence. Others might hear one’s voice. And in a voice, there is power. Therein resides the the threat of a culture of silence in suppressing the greatest moral force, all the more reason to defy this oppressive silencing.

      “The reason others lack faith and obligation is not because Franz possesses a special sort of courage, but because those around him refuse to do the most banal act possible — to think. Hannah Arendt profiled Adolf Eichmann, who managed the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps, as a man who was unexceptional in his politics and attitudes. He committed serious evil, but the evil that he did was “banal” in the sense that it came on the heels of what we would think of as normal beliefs and motivations — like deference to power, or a desire for career advancement — rather than, say, from an unadulterated hatred of Jews. Eichmann, Arendt claimed, lacked “intentions” in the sense that we think of them. He denied the activity of thought in favor of blind obedience. She highlights Eichmann’s claim to have followed Kant’s first categorical imperative, the supreme moral principle only to act from maxims that could be universally willed, in implementing the Final Solution. “This was outrageous, on the face of it, and also incomprehensible, since Kant’s moral philosophy is so closely bound up with man’s faculty of judgment, which rules out blind obedience,” she writes.

      “It was remarkable and frightening to Arendt how the Third Reich could make blind obedience the default state, and their success in purging thought had worrisome effects for our own moral makeup. As her profile suggests, where the path of least resistance is paved with evil — that is, where courage demands real, permanent sacrifice — a good man is hard to find. For without the workings of thought and judgment, courage becomes as rare and precious as a diamond. That is the issue with Denis Johnson’s private too, who falls on a grenade with some reluctance, in front of his superiors. He shows courage and does good, but behind his actions are an unthinking, blind obedience that just so happens here, thank god, to produce the right outcome.

      “Malick complicates that picture by showing how ordinary it can be to exercise courage in the face of injustice. The sacrifice that Franz makes is, at one and the same time, exceptional and banal. Most, including those who have misgivings, follow the Third Reich’s orders. Even the local clergy bends its faith to fit Hitler’s vision. For that reason, standing on top of faith and moral obligation reveals a courage that most are not willing to call forward, making Franz’s sacrifice the exception to the rule. At the same time, there’s no “special” trait or character or extra variable to the courage he exercises. Franz’s beliefs and feelings are no different from the ones most of us have. Dying for a cause is not on his list of demands. He wants to lead a good, simple life. He wants to see his children — to be there for them and to be there for his wife and to live the love that he feels. It’s those desires that feed his spirit, especially while imprisoned. But, unlike the private and Eichmann, Franz is guided by the activity of thought. Not by thoughts belonging to genius or heroism, but instead by the simplest, most accessible moral thought possible, that participating in the killing of innocent people is wrong.

      “That thought is as public and sharable as it gets. What Malick suggests is that we all have it in us to make the same judgment and sacrifice that Franz makes, and, in fact, we often do, in how any response to moral obligation requires courage. It’s in this sense that his courage is banal. Franz’s decision to be led by one’s own beliefs — by truth and obligation — is dangerous and remarkable, for sure. Yet, once one has chosen to be led by moral judgment, the courage that emerges is not like finding a diamond in the rough but instead like searching for water in a plentiful well. “If God gives us free will,” Franz says to the bishop, “We’re responsible for what we do.” The courage of taking moral responsibility belongs to the courage of making moral judgments. It springs forth from an existential need to be whole, to be integrated, and to be, once and for all, human.”

      “To these laborious realities Malick adds a grace of family joy; Franz and Franziska interrupt their haying to toss straw at each other playfully or join their three little girls in a fond frolic. But their family’s fate follows a downward arc, as the reality of war impinges on St. Radegund and the men of the village dutifully submit to conscription. Malick depicts this dutifulness as less a matter of Nazi conviction than anxious conformity (the burgermeister, for instance, worries about his reputation). But conformity has its dreary force, and as Jägerstätter makes clear his intention to be a Verweigerer—a refusenik—his fellow villagers subject him and his family to shunning and scorn. Jägerstätter remains resolute. “We’re killing innocent people,” he insists. “We’re preying on the weak.”

      “A few villagers quietly commiserate, but advise Jägerstätter to drop his resistance. How can he, one man, hope to make any difference? Nor does the church provide a moral or ethical foothold. The village priest, while sympathetic, warns of the consequences for Jägerstätter’s family. “Your sacrifice would benefit no one,” he says. An appointment with the bishop proves more disappointing still. “If our leaders are evil, what does one do?” Jägerstätter earnestly beseeches the man—only to be answered with a citation of Romans on the necessity of submitting to the authorities. “You have a duty to the Fatherland,” the bishop intones. “The Church tells us so.” Jägerstätter, reporting the conversation to his wife afterward, surmises that the bishop “probably was afraid that I am a spy.” What other explanation could there be for why an exalted man of the church would not recommend Christ’s love as moral guidance? Meanwhile, Fascist moral and ethical perversity is everywhere. “Conscience makes a man cowardly,” one Nazi interrogator lectures Jägerstätter; “the anti-Christ confuses you, and turns your virtue into weakness.”

      “The last third of the film relies on letters between Franz and Franziska—read in voice-overs that reverberate with tender poignancy—to chronicle Franz’s months in prison, where he is subjected to casual sadism by guards while being repeatedly offered the chance to have his sentence reversed, if he will simply take the Hitler oath. He refuses, and remains largely silent about why. The silence seems to reflect decisions he himself can’t entirely explain. “I have this feeling,” he tells a sympathetic Nazi officer who presides over his trial, and who wants to let him off. “If God gives us free will, we’re responsible for what we do—and what we fail to do. I cannot do what I believe is wrong.”

      “The drama around Jägerstätter raises the vexing question faced by generations of postwar Germans: How did a whole nation go so terribly astray? And how broadly culpable, how complicit in evil, was Jedermann, the German Everyman? Over the decades, an exculpatory set of arguments has held, somewhat contradictorily, that: 1) people acquiesced out of fear for their lives; 2) the overwhelming majority of Germans had no idea of the scope of Nazi atrocity; 3) in a society led astray by evil leaders it is the leaders who are to blame, and not the followers; and 4) Nazi evil effectively became normalized, and thus the paucity of German resistors and the huge preponderance of Mitgeher—literally, those who go along.

      “And yet, as any visitor to Berlin’s remarkable German Resistance Memorial Center (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand) will learn, there was a resistance, led in piecemeal fashion by scores of Germans—clergymen, writers, officers, left-leaning politicians and intellectuals, young students, and common citizens—many of whom, like Franz Jägerstätter, paid with their lives. Ineffectual at the time, the resistance has had an important legacy; its witness and the courageous sacrifices it entailed have proved crucial to establishing a kind of ex post facto moral compass, reminding Germans—rather in the way that the witness of passionate nineteenth-century abolitionists reminds Americans regarding slavery—that a point of moral sanity was in fact visible to some, and thus available to all.

      “Malick has explored war’s horrors before, in The Thin Red Line (1998), his most acclaimed film. A single battlefield assault takes up at least half of that film, with soldier voiceovers creating a polyphony of dread and pain. Where The Thin Red Line sought to convey the confusion of war, A Hidden Life is all about clarity—specifically, the moral clarity informing Jägerstätter’s decision to renounce his life, and all he loves, in order not to be complicit in Nazi evil. […]

      “In The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke investigated the question, What kind of childhood created Nazis? His answer hewed to a psycho-historical interpretation linking Nazi murderousness to the cruelty of an upbringing within a rigidly patriarchal society. Malick’s own portrayal of rural village life might be said to pose the opposite question: What creates a martyr? Here the answer, perhaps necessarily, is more mysterious. Has Malick committed a sentimental simplification, or a moving tribute to the making of a saint? While A Hidden Life offers us the poetry of sainthood, some viewers might want more of the politics and psychology of it.

      “Malick isn’t interested. Luminous, brimming with an elusive and poignant ecstasy, his film leans heavily on image and mood, while shrinking dialogue to a minimum—as if to mirror the reality of things, like faith itself, that in basic ways can’t be articulated as much as experienced. The film speaks stirringly on behalf of sacrifice, and is itself a vindication. “Do you think your defiance will change the course of things?” a prison interrogator taunts Jägerstätter. “No one will ever know what happens to you in here.””

      “Franz Jägerstätter was an Austrian farmer who became a conscientious objector during World War II and refused to swear the oath of loyalty to Hitler; he was ultimately executed by the Nazis. The Catholic Church has since beatified him. He is the kind of figure many Christians and Christian films would profess to identify with. Look at how Dinesh D’Souza’s conservative agitprop documentary Death of a Nation despicably invokes the story of Sophie Scholl as part of its argument that actually fascism is a left-wing phenomenon. Part of the mechanism of fascism is to convince an empowered group that they are in fact embattled and endangered. That true history is deployed this way in the service of fighting progress is perverse.

      “But Jägerstätter’s faith was not the fulcrum of the state cracking down on him; rather, it was the staunchly political act his convictions pushed him toward. His refusal to fight for the Nazis was the logical outgrowth of his religious beliefs, and yet despite the fact that these were beliefs allegedly held by the majority of the population, only a small minority took the sort of action he did. That contradiction (a more strident observer might call it hypocrisy, couldn’t be me) is at the core of A Hidden Life, which fleshes out the turmoil which plays out both within Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and between him and his community in the isolated village of Sankt Radegund. Malick teases out how faith can play into the hands of fascism, whether through eager collaborators (such as the leadership of Radegund) or passive acquiescence (like a bishop who advises Jägerstätter to keep his head down). That this happens mostly wordlessly, through physical gestures in lieu of lengthy debate, does not diminish the film’s intellectual heft.

      “The film’s vision of a better faith (Edenic, even) is nearly as compelling. It reclaims iconography that is often the cornerstone of much fascist rhetoric: the home and hearth. It revels in Jägerstätter’s domestic life with his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) and their three daughters. Malick is one of the best directors at portraying the sheer joy of physical affection — not just in tender embraces and play, but also in the way Franz and Franziska thresh a field of wheat together, swinging scythes in concert. The filmmaker is best-known, though, for capturing natural beauty like no one else, and that is on full display here, with Jörg Widmer’s camera drinking in the majesty of the fields and mountains. And then, whenever the Nazis or their influence rear their heads, it is an incursion, a disruption. Fascists always contend that they seek to maintain the purity of a homeland, but A Hidden Life is having none of that, portraying theirs as an unnatural presence. This is, of course, self-evident information, but filmmakers tend to favor more brusque techniques to depict this (in the case of Nazis, movies too often love to revel in their sadism, titillating viewers with outrage). There is of course violence here, but contextualized within that wider social milieu.

      “A Hidden Life is a rare film dealing with Nazi atrocity in that it doesn’t incorporate any of the groups well-known for being targeted by them (Jews, Roma, queer people, communists, Poles, the disabled, and so on). Rather than present a victim story formula that’s by now familiar to moviegoers (particularly as Oscar bait), it has a thornier concern. It’s about someone who could very well have lived his life unmolested, if only he had conformed to society around him as it grew more and more evil, but who instead asserted himself and was killed for it. That is unsettling, because it implicates all those of us who now live in relative comfort but don’t act against rising fascism in our own time. It is an even more pointed confrontation for any conservative Christian who may watch it. They like to imagine they’d be Corrie ten Boom; Malick contends that they’d more likely be Jägerstätter’s jailer.

      “In one scene, Franz talks to a church artist who is guilt-ridden for his (small) kowtowing to the Nazis. “I paint their comfortable Christ, with a halo on his head,” he says. He longs to someday paint “the true Christ,” the one who suffered and died rather than accept society as it was. A Hidden Life is a damning indictment of comfortable religion. Rather than luxuriate in the perceived glory of martyrdom like a good Christian film might, it presents Franz Jägerstätter simply as one decent voice in a cacophony of wickedness.”

      • Almost a decade ago, there was published a diary of a German who recorded the events and atrocities under the Nazis: Friedrich Kellner’s “‘All Minds Blurred and Darkened’ Diaries 1939-1945”.

        He wasn’t anyone with any special position, resources, or intelligence. He was simply a guy who saw the Nazis for what they are. He gained all his info simply by talking to people, listening to rumors, and reading newspapers — the exact same info all other Germans had access to. Yet he knew about all the horrific things the Nazis were doing, thus proving that Germans denying knowledge were lying.

        I got into a meaningless debate on Facebook. I try to avoid that these days, but sometimes I can’t help myself. This guy apparently is a mainstream liberal. He believes in liberal proceduralism, political civility, and following proper debate protocol.

        Basically, he believes that the Nazis could have been defeated by critical thinking skills and fair debate, as long as you didn’t call them Nazis because that would be ad hominem and therefore in bad form. He literally is arguing that actual Nazis shouldn’t be called Nazis because it is impolite and somehow a logical fallacy.

        Instead, the specific points of Nazism should be rationally debated. That is how democracy will win against the forces of authoritarianism. Good Lord! I increasingly lose faith in humanity.

    • I’ve repeated that historical detail about Paine many times over the years, in posts and comments. It sticks out to me because it was a pivotal moment. It began with the chosen seating location in the French National Assembly, in which the supporters of the king sat to the president’s right. This continued in the later Legislative Assembly where constitutionalists sat on the right, as opposed to the supposed ‘innovators’.

      There is a bit of complication to this right from the beginning. Of course, the entire National Assembly represented authoritarian power. So, both left and right were just variations on authoritarianism. This obviously shifted a bit with the French Revolution, but even then the new revolutionary elite were still elitist. This probably put a working class radical like Paine in an odd position in his advocating fairness and equality, compassion and justice. As liberal democrat, he was for a democratic constitution and so sided with the constitutionalists. And in opposing violent retribution, he argued against beheading the king.

      This put Paine on the political right. Yet politically, he was far to the left of those sitting on the left. The reality is that those on the left were reactionary authoritarians, far more akin to Nazis and Stalinists than to even the most leftist of social democrats and democratic socialists. The opposition, in that case, was maybe less between liberals and conservatives than between reactionary extremists and everyone else. Liberals, whether moderate or radical, were in some cases more likely to sit on the right side. The reactionaries on the left had no tolerance for liberal proceduralism, much less democratic constitutionalism.

      This has muddied the meaning of left and right ever since. Maybe I should start calling myself a Thomas Paine right-winger. He was one of the strongest opponents to the French revolutionary left who were seeking to impose a new patriarchal and paternalistic hierarchy of a ruling elite. The fact of the matter is if, the present American political ‘right’ were transported back in time, many of them would find themselves more comfortable sitting on the political left of the Legislative Assembly.

      Reactionaries who are most potent on the American right were back then most strongly position on the French left. As such, maybe left and right instead should be defined by whether one is a reactionary or not, rather than whether one is a liberal or not. This would force moderate conservatives to choose sides, either in favor or opposition to reactionaries.

  5. one has to question the moral and intellectual quality of those who supported Trump, voted for him, helped get him into power, and then cheered him on — and probably will vote for him a second time. Such people must be almost as mentally deranged as Trump himself.

    Aside from the “alt-right” lunatics, neo-nazis and self-professed “patriot militia” groups the so-called “Left” and the mainstream press — perhaps, even unwittingly at the behest of the mainstream press and, even, academia — like to pick out of the crowd, especially on the Internet, to represent everyone who voted for Trump, the vast majority of Trump voters are definitely not “mentally deranged” and their “moral and intellectual quality” is beyond reproach. They just happen to have been subject to the same historical conditioning as have we all and this is something we all must overcome.

    Most I personally know who voted for Trump simply saw Trump as a way to shake things up and/or pop the bubble of Washington insiders. In fact, for the most part, most I personally know very likely would have voted for Sanders had Sanders remained in the running. The others simply weren’t and aren’t paying attention and probably never will.

    This is the last time I’ll issue a warning about it, but if “the Left” doesn’t get off its high horse; stop talking down to these people; and meet them where they are; “the Left” deserves everything it has coming to it, in the enantiodromiatic sense of the phrase.

    Hell of it is, of course, we’ll all remain stuck in this seemingly interminable nightmare of a quagmire regardless who is President until all of us, as they say, engage in some serious shadow work and integrate our own dark and light (“unconscious” and “conscious,” etc.) aspects rather than projecting them on everyone else.

    • Fair enough. But I doubt this will be the last time I warn BOTH the right AND the left… or rather what goes for the ‘left’. Keep in mind that, on many major issues, most political elite in both parties are to the right of the American public, according to diverse polling. Most Americans supported same sex marriage even before Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ever stated support for it. Most Americans have long wanted healthcare reform far to the left of Obamacare.

      The two-headed corporatist party system is right-wing. As for a genuine left that is completely silence and disenfranchised, they’ve already known about your warning for many generations. In fact, they are the ones who have been doing most of the warning for longer than either of us have been alive. Still, I get that by ‘left’ you’re referring to the Clinton Democrats. Let’s ignore for a moment that they are to the right of the American public. Your warning is valid, as far as it goes. But my point in this post and many others is to warn both sides who align themselves with either variety of authoritarianism.

      I wrote that, “If elected, she would’ve been guaranteed to have gotten the job done as president in the fashion expected of any other Clinton Democrat, but on the downside the job she would have gotten done was to further corporatocratic hegemony.” And further down I added that, “For certain, none of the ruling elite of either major political party is a friend to the oppressed and disenfranchised. Lesser evil voting ends up feeling light on the ‘lesser’ and heavy on the ‘evil’.” I’m not exactly taking sides on which evil I prefer.

      You might notice in reading this post that I warn the Clinton Democrats, under present conditions, are a greater threat than Trump. So, when I speak of moral depravity, the obvious implication is that the whole system is morally depraved. And the only way to not be implicit in it is to not participate in it and support it. That was a key element. I used a personal example, my friend’s mother, to make an important point. She is a lifelong Clinton Democrat of the liberal class, albeit not overly well-off as she was a public school teacher. I noted that she defended Coach Butch. Authoritarianism is so entrenched in American culture and the American psyche that it transcends simplistic notions of partisan politics.

      I’m not speaking in partisan groupthink, disconnected abstractions, dogmatic rhetoric, or mean-spirited judgment. Remember that I spent much of my early life in South Carolina and North Carolina. Also, remember I have conservative Republican parents and still have plenty of family in Indiana. I personally know people who voted for Trump in the past and will vote for him again or, like my parents, didn’t vote for him last time but probably will this time. But I also know many Clinton Democrats as well. I know what motivates people and I know people mean well. Then again, most Germans in Nazi Germany meant well even when they were complicit in evil. It’s easy to be pulled into moral depravity. That isn’t to pick on one group. If you want to read harsh criticisms of the danger and depravity of Clinton Democrats, I have other posts that go into great about that.

      This post, however, is focused on Trump supporters. It might be useful to note that my friend who was terrorized and traumatized by Coach Butch is, like me, a non-partisan who won’t vote for either main party this election. Yet her mother who defended Coach Butch will certainly vote for Biden. My purpose in writing this was to explain the culture of authoritarianism and how it takes hold. As noted by radulkeblog, others studying the history of authoritarianism have observed that it always begins at the level of culture, often at the level of family. We become accustomed to authoritarianism as it is normalized. And so we become complicit in it before it even fully takes form as a political system. Like a mind virus, it spreads.

      One thing no one honestly can say about me is that I don’t know who are Trump supporters and don’t understand what motivates many of them. Some thorough analyses of Trump supporters and the white working class (the two not necessarily being identical, as the data shows) are to be found on this blog. Not only that but some of them are extremely sympathetic to what drove certain people to Trump. Also, my motivations are quite personal, I must admit. I’m not above any of this, as I too can get pulled into the outrage machine and it doesn’t bring out the best in me. That is why my warnings are so strident. I’m tired of the divisiveness and how it is used to manipulate people. That is why I stopped paying attention to the news media and why I’m avoiding social media.

      As I said, I know many Trump supporters, some of them being family members. Two are cousins of mine, one a second cousin and the other further removed. The second cousin I know fairly well. He has called himself a libertarian in the past. When I told him I was a left-libertarian, he found it uncomprehending that such a thing was possible, as the US public education system failed to teach him that libertarianism originated from the European left-wing workers movement. His libertarianism, maybe unsurprisingly, was more superficial than he wanted to admit to himself. Recently, in response to the Black Lives Matters protests, he said that he now supports authoritarian law-and-order and wants the police to violently oppress left-wingers. He specifically invoked authoritarianism by name and he wasn’t joking, but I understood he was being rash with his words. Still, I don’t take such admissions lightly, in how he betrayed everything he claimed to believe in.

      The more distant cousin I know from family reunions and we got along great in person. He is a very poor white guy living in Southern Indiana. He is on disability and takes care of his sick father. It would be accurate to say life has been rough on him and I’m sure he has an acute sense of the unfairness of our society. I sympathize, as I lived for many years below the poverty line and spent decades crippled by depression. Even now, I’m not that far above poverty, even if my job does offer more security and benefits. This guy and I share many interests, from psychedelics to William S. Burroughs. Yet he unfriended me on Facebook because I said something positive about the Black Lives Matter protests. He has been pulled into white identity politics and partisan politics. So, his mind has become darkened with an us-vs-them mentality and I’m now one of ‘them’. He is choosing to value a mainstream narrative that he has internalized over his own family.

      Yet, I know both of these people are kind people and don’t mean harm. But their minds have gone to a very dark place. Then again, the same is true of many Democrats and some independents I know who have been overtaken by fear-mongering. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an clueless defense of Clinton Democrats or a depressing soul-despairing argument for lesser evilism. Both sides justify supporting authoritarianism out of fear that the other side supports authoritarianism. And guess what? Both sides are right in this accusation. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Down this path no good can come.

    • On a basic level of common humanity, I do sympathize with everyone in this fucked up society. We are struggling with centuries of ongoing oppression and trauma. But it’s true that I can be overly harsh about the one-party state that pretends to be a two-party system. In the end, the Trumps and the Clintons are old cronies and close family friends. There is a reason that the melodrama remains at a superficial level. It’s hard to ignore that the elite in both parties will never go for the jugular, constantly dancing around and pulling their punches. It’s WWF wrestling. That is to say it’s entertainment, spectacle.

      Most of the scandals are “fake news”, whereas the actual scandals usually get little if any reporting. Some of the investigations turned up some of the most highly positioned political insiders in both parties working together which shows the corruption knows no party line. Also, when Trump was elected, he was free to re-open the investigation against Hilary Clinton but did not do so. Why? Because the elite ultimately don’t want to attack each other, no matter the show they put on for the viewing public. When it’s all over, the Trumps and Clintons will remain part of the establishment working to promote their shared plutocratic and corporatist interests.

      I utterly despise both parties. And I struggle to sympathize with anyone who votes either Democratic or Republican. To vote for any of these political elites is to admit defeat, is to declare that one has given up on all hope, is to be complicit in the destruction of what little trace of democracy is left remaining. I understand how fear and anxiety make people stupid and turn them into pawns of social dominators. But in the end, my greatest sympathy goes to the silenced majority who understands they can trust neither party. The minority of hardcore Clintonistas and radical Trumpsters given a megaphone by the corporate media are not part of this silenced majority.

      • I do sympathize with everyone in this fucked up society.

        You know, I used to do that, too. As a natural empath trained in the craft all my life, however, I’ve learned — occasionally the hard way — that it is imperative, especially now, to be certain I’m actually empathizing (i.e. imagining myself in others’ shoes) instead of sympathizing (i.e. feeling how others are feeling). When you stop to think about it: Who needs our sympathy anyway?

        You’ve heard the phrase, “chaotic emotion?” Well, an ocean of “chaotic emotion” is the definitive descriptor of the social sphere right about now, as far as I’m concerned. We have a supposed “President” today who was actually swept into office on a wave of unbridled rage. Perhaps needless to say, the President before him was actually swept into office on a wave of unbridled hope (in the emotional sense of the word).

        If nothing else, our present circumstances are certainly reminding us to be alert and vigilant as to whether we are ourselves reacting or responding to the imperatives of our time.

        Ever get around to reading any Rosenstock-Huessy, btw? That man most certainly knew the difference between reacting and responding. 🙂

        Speaking of “framing.” I’m noticing more and more references to “the range of thought allowed by our politics.” And, I’m thinking, “What ‘range’ of thought is that?” The “framing” of our “politics” expressly forbids ranging, i.e. allowing our imaginations to wander and wonder to their hearts’ content.

        Anyhoo…. Pleasure speaking with you again.

        • I don’t see sympathy as replacing or being in conflict with empathy. They are simply two authentic and valid human responses. I have this amazing capacity to both sympathize and empathize, sometimes simultaneously, even if my ability is imperfectly executed most of the time. Maybe this is a rare talent. I don’t know. I hadn’t given it much thought.

          I do think sympathy matters, not more than empathy but in its own right. I wouldn’t associate sympathy with the reactionary. Sympathy can be a consciously intentional way of responding, even of expressing empathy. Many people, in my opinion, need our sympathy. It demonstrates our humanity and acknowledges the humanity of another.

          One could empathize with another while not sympathizing. And in that case, one might come across as cold and detached, even hurtful… or else appear as emotionally self-centered, even if it doesn’t feel true to one’s own inner experience of empathy.

          Simply knowing another’s emotional experience is not necessarily helpful, kind, and compassionate. For empathy to be of benefit, it needs to be communicated, made known to the other. At its best, sympathy is when an experience of empathy is shared, is felt by both people.

          There are two kinds of empathy, affective and cognitive. It’s not the same distinction as sympathy and empathy but it’s related. The difference between them is starkly shown in two neurocognitive conditions.

          Those on the autistic spectrum tend to have heightened affective empathy and underdeveloped cognitive empathy. Their empathic ability can be off the charts. This allows them to easily pick up on the emotion of others but can make them emotionally reactive and socially dysfunctional. They aren’t as good at differentiating between their own emotions and that of others.

          On the other hand, psychopaths are deficient in affective empathy while they can be normal or well-developed in cognitive empathy. This might give them the ability to act as if they had sympathy, but they don’t really feel or understand emotion beyond how to manipulate it. They lack empathy, in the way the word is normally used.

          Here is the point. As cognitive empathy and affective empathy need to be balanced, so do sympathy and empathy (in its common meaning). But I understand that, for example, introverts and extraverts would emphasize one or the other. As an introvert myself, I’ve had the tendency to idealize empathy while ignoring sympathy. It’s taken me a while to appreciate the value of sympathy.

          I might have a better balance between these two now, sort of. But I definitely wasn’t always that way. I used to be extremely dismissive of sympathy and thought all that mattered was empathy, that everything would follow from affective right intention. Looking back on my old self, I realize there was much unaware self-centeredness involved. I avoided sympathy as to maintain distance, since I was so emotionally sensitive.

          Just earlier this year, I was arguing against sympathy with rauldukeblog, over in his blog. He was asserting the importance of sympathy in relation to others, even Donald Trump. I, instead, resisted the notion of offering sympathy, as empathy felt like the more correct response. Trump, of course, is an extreme example. Considering Trump supporters like my family members gets more to the point.

          Here is the thing. I don’t merely want to feel empathy with people I know but disagree with, if that empathy is maintained as a private and secretive experience of emotion. No, I want my cousins to know that I have empathy toward them, empathy with their life experience, their struggles and grievances. I want my empathy to be known, that is to say I want to offer sympathy.

          I want to go that extra step to ensure that what I’m feeling is understood by them. Otherwise, they’ll go by the mainstream narratives they internalized in believing I’m judging them. We can’t assume others know our empathy. And we can’t even assume we know our own empathy, until it’s fully expressed. Empathy, if nothing else, should be about right relationship, not merely right feeling.

          This is just a shift in my attitude as of recently. My thoughts on the matter aren’t entirely settled. I just know that I have a deep desire to relate differently, to relate better. The empathy I felt in the past, no matter how powerful on a personal level, simply was not enough.

          • I don’t see sympathy as replacing or being in conflict with empathy. They are simply two authentic and valid human responses.

            I am drawing a distinction between sympathy and empathy for the specific purpose of illustrating when and why sympathy and empathy, respectively, are appropriate and inappropriate social responses as well as to point out the rather obvious problems that can arise if and when we fail to make the important distinction between them.

            Kindly review the definitions of empathy and sympathy provided above. Would you agree that it is problematic to sympathize with the emotions of everyone in the world all at once? There are currents of fear; currents of hope; currents of love; currents of anger; currents of rage; etc. swirling about in our “ocean of bliss.” If we’re not mindful of the distinction between empathy and sympathy, we can easily become sympathetically caught up in these emotional currents and even wind up drowning in the whirlpool of “chaotic emotion” (aka, Charybdis) that is swirling all around us rather than empathically engaging with the sources of these emotions in such a way that we can remain in a state of equanimity ourselves and, therefore, able to respond appropriately to crises rather than reflexively react to them.

            I suspect the reason you are personally avoiding the news and social media may be simply to avoid being caught up by and drowned in Charybdis. Been there; done that. It’s just too much input for sensitive souls, but perhaps especially emotional empaths, to absorb and handle unless we know and remain fully aware of the difference between sympathy and empathy. In fact, the author of the article published at Tiny Buddha fails to make a distinction between empathy and sympathy. To her, empathy and sympathy are one and the same rather than one and the same, but different.

        • No. I haven’t read Rosenstock-Huessy, maybe beyond a few tidbits I perused online. I have so many worthy books to read.

          Interesting observation. I hadn’t noticed the whole “range of thought” thing. Then again, I’ve been staying away from news media lately.

        • This is one of my favorite topics. So, I’m glad you brought it up. I’ve been tussling with it for many years now. And others before me have been concerned with it going back centuries and millennia. It goes back to older arguments between integrity and ritual, as expressed in cultures of trust and cultures of honor.

          In our society, it has in the past taken the form of a conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism, and before that between Christianity and Paganism (a false dualism, of course). This has been expressed as inner experience vs outer forms, as the Word of God vs Church authority, as good intentions vs good works.

          Jesus taught to pray in secret. And in one parable, a man stops a ritual to seek forgiveness from his brother. Basically, this belief in a divided inner and outer came out of the Axial Age, although it’s sometimes mistakenly blamed on the Enlightenment such as with the idea of cartesian anxiety. Maybe it should be called Platonic anxiety.

          This sense of division has been central to my own life because of my upbringing. The church I was raised in was one of the most extreme forms of Protestantism around. The inner was emphasized to the sacrifice of the outer, the individual experience trumping the collective and social. This was combined with an intense idealism.

          I was brought up to be a touchy-feely guy. This exacerbated my already strong emotional sensitivity. And I was taught to prize empathy, as I was praised for it. Sympathy, if not dismissed, was not equally valued. The idea was that, if one was right within oneself, all else that was good would follow in one’s behavior and in the world.

          I’ve come to doubt this ideological worldview. Also, doubts have grown about the entire ego theory of mind it’s built upon, as formed out of the loss of the bicameral/bundled mind. That doesn’t make me any more sure what other mindset would be more advantageous. That is partly why I do my various experimentations, to explore other ways of being.

        • Of course, it’s always possible we are using these words in an entirely different way. That is what may have been the issue when I was debating sympathy with radulkeblog. We apparently had different meanings in mind.

          Even if we agreed on definition, it’s possible our life experience simply has been far different. You say you used to emphasize sympathy, whereas I was obsessed with empathy when younger.

          Going to the extreme of either one, in deficit of the other, might be problematic. That kind of imbalance is common in our society. This very idea of balance only gets so much attention for this reason.

    • Here is something to keep in mind.

      It’s true that some Trump supporters are poor whites and working class whites, such as my distant cousin or my uncle. But most Trump supporters aren’t poor or working class. And most poor or working class whites are not Trump supporters.

      The average Trump supporter is wealthier and more well educated than the average American. The largest segment of Trump supporters are lower middle class professionals. But being on the lower edge of middle class does make many of them feel precarious.

      A good example of such people are some friends of the family from my birthplace in a small factory town near the edge of Appalachian Ohio. These people are totally bonkers for Trump, more than anyone else I know.

      They aren’t wealthy, but they are college-educated professionals, although the woman grew up on a farm (then again, that is true of many middle class liberals I know in Iowa). The woman was a real estate agent and the guy used to be mayor and at one time was the personal driver of a senator.

      Their lifestyle is modest but comfortable. They aren’t financially struggling, although they are wasteful of their money and haven’t saved much money for retirement. Despite being the kind of person to attack minorities as welfare queens, this couple plans on relying on welfare in their old age.

      The reason they support Trump is not all that clear, as they aren’t intellectual people. They generally fall under the sway of the reactionary mind and somehow perceive Trump as representing them, in sticking it to those liberal elite or something.

    • I know I can be unfairly judgmental. Of course, that just makes me fit into this society perfectly. Democrats judge Republicans. Republicans judge Democrats. An independent like me then judges both. And they return the favor by judging me. We all agree that everyone else is wrong, stupid, and ignorant.

      I can’t say that makes me happy, though. And I doubt it makes anyone else happy either. So, I take your criticism to heart. It’s probably not helpful, certainly not compassionate, calling anyone morally depraved, however satisfying it might feel in the moment. Frustration can get the best of us.

      That has been on my mind a lot this past year. It’s a large reason my avoiding most media, as it can bring out a side of me that I don’t like. The simple truth is that, in my heart of hearts, I have no desire to hate upon anyone… not even partisans or authoritarians. Hate just brings on more hate.

      I’ve had a lot of thoughts rumbling around my skull-space. With the beginning of the pandemic ideological wars, I’ve been contemplating my way of being in the world, my way of relating to others. Part of this has been about focusing on what I can change, such as my own health. But it’s also involved experiments beyond diet or whatever.

      A main interest has been linguistic experimentation. I notice this issue even as I’m writing this comment. All of this self-referential language of first-person singular exacerbates a sense of disconnection. When I’m out for a walk, I’ve gotten into the habit of speaking instead in third-person plural: they. It completely shifts my perspective. It’s hard to be angry and cruel when speaking as ‘they’ and speaking of ‘they’.

      Imagine this post being rewritten with that language. Instead of us vs them or I vs them, what if there was just ‘them’ and ‘they’ are all of us. I got this idea from the research that showed greater confidence and ability when children speak in third person singular. Speaking this way is also a practice in some Eastern religions, such as Buddhism in being used by monks, entirely eschewing egotistic language.

      The only problem is, in our society, if one were to speak in third person, be it singular or plural, most others might think one is crazy. I try to limit my experiments in moments where strangers aren’t involved, although I’ll sometimes speak in third person plural when around a close friend of mine. I have thought of starting a new blog where everything is written that way. Now that would be an interesting experiment.

      I find that I’ve grown tired of constantly speaking of ‘I’. Even so, do you realize how difficult it is to never frame anything in such self-referential language? It can be done, but it often comes across as intellectual and cold. I’ll sometimes compromise in using the royal ‘we’ of the plural subjective case, along with the ‘us’ of the plural objective case and ‘ours’ of the plural possessive case.

      That works better in the main text of a post, though, than down in the comments section. If I answered your comment with reference to ‘we’, you might wonder who I’m talking about. You might be like, “What you mean ‘we’, Kemo Sabe?”

      • lol Yeppirs. I know exactly what you mean. Write or say “I” and you’re generally accused of being an irredeemable narcissist. Write or say “them” or “they” and you’re generally accused of being irresponsible and divisive. Write or say “we” and the accusation is, generally, just that: the “‘royal’ we”.

        Fortunately, “there are no accusers,” but perhaps the most important lesson we could be learning as a species right about now is this one:

        [W]hile spiritual teachings tell us that the events in the outer world are a reflection of changes taking place in the inner worlds, we appear to have little awareness of how this outer darkening is reflected within. — Darkening of the Light: Witnessing the End of an Era

        Coincidentally enough, an article was published on the 13th in Resilience on the subject: Who is “we”?

        • It really is appreciated that we have a mutual understanding on this point. Language matters so immensely, but few seem to grasp its significance on this level. I’m constantly playing around with ways of speaking and thinking, as language so dominates my mind. Such power of language is true for everyone, of course, if most aren’t aware of it. My father is a conservative Christian. There is a lot of disconnection between his proclaimed following of Jesus’ example and his support for plutocratic corporatism and military imperialism. The latter came up in a conversation a while back. When he spoke of what the US military does, he referred to these government actions as what ‘we’ do.

          That rubs me the wrong way. No, ‘we’ did not attack, invade, and occupy autonomous countries that did us no harm. No, ‘we’ did not drop atomic bombs on innocent civilians, operate torture prisons, overthrow democratic governments, support terrorist groups, and commit other war crimes and crimes against humanity. Specific people in power made those decisions and specific military personnel enacted those decisions. We may argue about our complicity in that, in not fighting back and not stopping them, we arguably allow them to act in our name in using our tax money to commit such horrors of moral depravity. But, no, it wasn’t ‘we’ who did these things.

          Likewise, it’s not ‘we’ who are enforcing a police state, betraying democracy, terrorizing minorities, oppressing the poor, polluting the environment, destroying ecosystems, causing mass extinction, and on and on. Such vague pluralistic language dismisses the real culpability of the guilty actors. It creates a rhetorical fog in the public mind and undermines public debate. Someone like Jesus or Buddha would never speak of a collective ‘we’ in this fashion. Certainly, Jesus would never have referred to the Roman Empire’s oppressions with the language identifying himself with those atrocities. For example, Jesus clearly stated, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” Caesar is not ‘we’.

          This is personal to me. I’m not part of the plutocracy. Heck, I’m not even part of the middle class. I’m only slightly above poverty. I don’t own a house or a car. I pay higher rent to live close to downtown in order to be able to walk. My job and bank are a few blocks from my apartment, as are the stores I shop at, public library I visit, etc. I’ve only been on an airplane a few times in my life and that was decades ago. I buy as much as I can afford that is locally-sourced, regeneratively-farmed, and pasture-raised.

          Having been born a white male in the American Empire, I had many unfair advantages and unearned privileges. But I never served in the military, never killed innocent foreigners, never dumped toxins into a river, never traveled the world in a private jet, etc. I have attempted to take moral actions within my limited power and resources. I refuse to shop at Walmart and Amazon precisely because of the harm I perceive them as causing to this community, to the larger society, and to the world.

          Sure, I’m enmeshed in a highly destructive economic system and society. Like it or not, I surely don’t do enough to take action and sacrifice for some ideal of a greater good. Still, I’m not part of any ‘we’ that is holds ultimate power and responsibility. Like Jesus or the homeless guy sleeping under the bridge, I’m simply doing the best I’m able under an oppressive regime, however short I might fall of Jesus’ example.

          We are all imperfect. But if most people made the smallest of changes toward harm reduction, moral concern, and public good, the world would vastly improve over night. Even at our present high population levels, we could sustainably raise food without environmental degradation, soil erosion, and chemical usage. That probably would require ending industrial agriculture and returning toward a more traditional animal-based food system, but it could be done under present conditions and in purely practical terms would not be hard to accomplish.

          None of this would require changing human nature, although it would necessitate eliminating the present power structure and revolutionizing our society. Yet the change involved would not be any greater than numerous other societal changes that have happened over the millennia. Humans have proven themselves, again and again, of transitioning into entirely new kinds of social orders, economic systems, and political structures. Of course, that usually only happens when conditions force change. One might argue that such conditions are already developing.

          If it happens, it will do so because of a revolution of the mind. We will feel differently motivated as we perceive the world according to new identities and ideologies, visions and values, concerns and choices. A new and better society, assuming it will come to pass, won’t necessarily be planned out in advance but will develop organically out of multiple factors and forces. As the article concludes, what this could involve is a shift in our collective sense, our interconnectivity. We might act and choose differently because we might come to feel, think, perceive, and relate differently.

          That is how large-scale transformation happened in the past. There is no reason to assume it can’t happen again. But more than anything else, maybe the most powerful thing we can do is simply to explore a new sense of self. And that might begin with the language we use. The simplest of changes might have profound long-term consequences. Language is far more powerful than we give it credit for. Some argue that our introspective individualism was built on linguistic developments: written language, alphabets, bound books, punctuation, moveable type printing presses, novels, and literacy.

          Who are ‘we’? And who do ‘we’ want to be?

    • Here is the quote for the day that fits my mood, in response to the reactionaries on both sides who demand reaction to each new moment of fear, anxiety, and outrage:

      “Politics is a protracted war. Do not be in a hurry. Try to see things far in advance, and know how to wait, today. Don’t live in terms of subjective urgency. Know, too, how to put your defeats to use.”

        • I’ve had this kind of thought for a long time. And I’ve explained it many times. But it’s interesting that I’ve yet to meet anyone who immediately groks what I’m saying. As with you, they almost always assume violence. I suppose it’s because we live in a violent society and violence is the default.

          Revolution is not war, not by any means. First and foremost, all revolutions are of the mind. There have been numerous revolutions of the mind throughout history, mostly without violence. The only time there is violence is when there is resistance. Change is inevitable.

          In situations like this, the greatest deciding factor is the response of the powerful. We are already in the middle of the revolution of mind. It’s happening and will continue to happen. And the inevitable result will be a change in society and politics. But if the ruling elite decide to violently oppose and oppress it, then they will have chosen violence.

          That is the thing. It’s a choice, not a foreordained conclusion. But it is fascinating that so few people, at least Americans, can imagine the possibility of peaceful revolution. We assume change is always attended with violence. And admittedly, American history bears out the truth of this assumption for American society.

          Still, even if Americans do have a collective habit of violence, it doesn’t follow that we must continue on that path. That is easier said than done. The American elite simply have never allowed peaceful change. Even when Americans sought change through pacifism such as the Civil Rights movement, it was only after violence was committed that change was allowed by the state.

          So, the question is whether we are able and willing to imagine something different. But imagining nonviolence itself might require a revolution of the mind.

        • I wasn’t advocating war. I would’ve thought that was obvious from the context of my comments here. I shared the quote because I agreed with the message, not the metaphor.

          If you prefer, change the metaphor: “Politics is a protracted game of checkers.” “Politics is protracted financial investing.” “Politics is protracted marriage counseling.” “Politics is protracted dog training.”

          The basic message remains: “Do not be in a hurry. Try to see things far in advance, and know how to wait, today. Don’t live in terms of subjective urgency. Know, too, how to put your defeats to use.”

          Simply put, don’t be a reactionary and don’t get pulled into the machinations and manipulations of reactionaries. Don’t react to each new crisis, outrage, or whatever. Be calm, patient, observe, and wait for the right opportunity.

        • I should clarify. I agree with your response, in a general sense. And I agree with the article you linked. I’m not one prone to use ‘war’ as a metaphor. But there is a reason it is so often used in this way, as opposed to dog training and marriage counseling. War is the ultimate or most obvious expression of conflict on the large-scale.

          There is no denying war is conflict. And one cannot doubt that the history of politics, sadly, has been a history of conflict. That might be something built into our culture, as most people lack the knowledge and training to deal with conflict resolution before it gets to the level of frustration, anger, hatred, and eventually violence.

          But I tend to look to the elite in what creates these conditions, as they have outsized power and influence over courses of action and their outcome in the larger society. They have the wealth and resources in their control, including the military and police who operate primarily on their behalf.

          Most of the elite do seem to think of politics as war, even if they wouldn’t necessarily admit it and state it this way. This is why the elite, at least the American elite, choose to not only promote endless wars and military conflicts but also war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror, and on and on. It’s the worldview they live in.

          As for the rest of us, we have little choice in the matter. The elite enforce this metaphor of war upon us. That is to say it is not merely a metaphor. The war on poverty and drugs involved very real world violence (police brutality, imprisonment, and death) for millions of Americans. Even when Americans choose pacifism as with the Civil Rights movement, the response was violence since the elite perceive any challenge as a threat and so justification for war.

          The metaphor of war is far more than a metaphor and has been that way for a long time. That creates a challenge for those of us who would prefer it otherwise. The one time I will use the metaphor of war is in speaking of class conflict, as it genuinely has been made into a war in our society. War on poverty and drugs was always a war of those in the comfortable classes against everyone else — literally, not metaphorically.

          What do we do when dealing with people who genuinely mean to do us harm? Changing our metaphors doesn’t necessarily make a difference. That isn’t to say language doesn’t matter, as I know its power from studying linguistic relativity and from my own linguistic experimentation. But the power of language is a lot more subtle and complex than overt metaphors.

          It poses a tricky challenge. You are right to point it out as an important concern.

        • To get at a different way of thinking about politics, below is the conclusion to a piece by Corey Robin. He does offer a different response to politics as war, although it focuses on an example that is still framed in a larger context of war. Also, one might question if the metaphor of politics as a concentration camp is much of an improvement. LOL

          “It would be foolish to understate the obstacles to democracy in America at the moment or to overstate these attempts to overcome those obstacles. The United States has seldom been an easy place to make change. It took the French an afternoon to storm the Bastille; it took American workers a hundred years to get a weekend. Yet it’s also true that solidarity, the connections that are created and sustain democracy, is often a story of surprise. Its most potent moments come, almost always, after a long and terrible night.

          “On one such night, that of January 18, 1945, the Germans evacuated Auschwitz, leaving behind only those too sick and diseased to be forced to march. Primo Levi was one of them. On January 20, Levi and two men managed to lift themselves from their cots, go outside, and salvage a heating stove, fuel, and two sacks of potatoes. They took their treasure back to the hut that passed for an infirmary. The men in the hut decided to award Levi and his mates each a slice of bread.

          “It was an unthinkable act of cooperation. The camps allowed no room for fellow feeling, much less sharing. According to Levi, “The law of the Lager said: ‘eat your own bread, and if you can, that of your neighbor.’” Politics begins the moment such laws, which have the force of nature, are suspended—and democracy, when they are suspended in egalitarian acknowledgment of the contribution of each to the social production of all. When that bread was shared, says Levi, he realized that a new and unexpected bond, born of gratitude, had been created among the prisoners. “It really meant that the Lager was dead.” ”

  6. Here is some interesting stuff about the working class. It reminds me of how the working class was scrubbed from mainstream reporting and debate for some decades. In place of it, politicians talked about some vague notion of a ‘middle class’ as if everyone was middle class, whereas no one was working class or poor, at least not as an identity.

    Then all of a sudden in recent years, there was talk of a working class again. But this time, it was claimed all white working class people were reactionary right-wingers and to be blamed for every bad impulse of American society, including Trump’s election. The elite in both parties and in all of the media agreed upon this narrative, despite it contradicting the evidence. Most Americans of the lower classes, white or otherwise, aren’t particularly reactionary or overly politicized, much less politically involved. The majority of the lower classes don’t vote in most elections.

    The reactionary working class is an old narrative. It goes back at least to the 1960s. The protest movements back then were portrayed as divided by class, as if all activists were bourgeois. But the reality is even most college students were born into the working class. And polls back then showed that most people who opposed the Vietnam War came from working class communities, the places that had their children dying in a pointless and immoral war. This class framing has been resurrected, but in this distorted form its designed to hide the true class war going on between the elite and the rest of us.

    “THIS IS a stereotype, of course, and one with a long history. Fink invokes a distorted view of the working class–“Archie Bunker and his like-minded descendants”–that was an invention of the ruling class and mass media when it arose in the 1960s as part of an ideological counter to the growing influence of the 1960s social movements.

    “As International Socialist Review contributor Joe Allen has written, “In the late 1960s, the U.S. media and political establishment ‘rediscovered’ the working class, though not the real working class–which was white, Black, Latino and increasingly made up of women…The working class that they claim to have discovered was really a middle-class stereotype that portrayed the working class as white men who were in rebellion against the civil rights and antiwar movements and liberalism in general.”

    “Images of workers in hard hats attacking activists were broadcast to in an attempt to show that “hard-working” Americans rejected “ungrateful” and “privileged” antiwar students. But surveys in the late 1960s and early 1970s showed that manual workers opposed the Vietnam War in similar numbers to the youths who made up the student antiwar movement and the GI resistance. […]

    “In the working-class city of Dearborn, Mich., for example, a 1968 referendum calling for immediate withdrawal passed with 57 percent of the vote. By 1971, union households along with minority households (which overlapped greatly) were among the most consistent opponents of the war in national polls.

    “Although racism continued to pervade every aspect of U.S. life–as was famously demonstrated when a white mob attacked Martin Luther King Jr. when he attempted to take the civil rights struggle north to Chicago–working-class and poor whites generally tended to be more sympathetic to Black workers than the “more well to do.” One 1966 study showed that “the higher one’s class or origin of class or class destination, the more likely that one prefers to exclude Negroes from one’s neighborhood.”

    “As a result of the continual impact of the Black liberation struggle on consciousness, by 1970, a majority of white Americans favored affirmative action, including quotas, to redress the impact of current and past racist injustices.

    “This isn’t to say that racism didn’t influence white workers. It did, as evidenced by some working-class support–including in the north–for George Wallace’s 1968 “state’s rights” presidential campaign, and in the busing struggles that continued throughout the 1970s.

    “However, the working class was not, as many depict it today, a homogenous bastion of racism and reaction.”

    “The issue for Fisher was that many of our elite cultural and academic institutions have erased class from their considerations for too long. The focus of Fisher’s critique was, of course, the left — partly why the essay was so controversial — but this was for good reason. The UK left’s blind spot around class in the twenty-first century — a hangover from the New Labour years — was a leak hole within which its opponents were establishing an enemy within. The left had suffered from decades of neoliberalisation and, as a result, had found itself, at least at the level of mainstream discourse, to be a mirror image of its opponents. This was only obvious to the majority in the UK following the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, but that moment was arguably prefigured by the likes of Mark Fisher and Owen Jones, who repeatedly attempted to re-energise this waning class consciousness during the first decade of the new millennium.

    “In response, we have seen a re-treading of right-wing tactics from the 1960s and ’70s. Just as the working class had broadly been forgotten about and demonised and effectively erased from (inter)national consciousness since the 1970s, the left’s attempts to reverse this in the 2000s were met with a repeat of the right’s cajoling of a reactionary working class. This process has had a detrimental effect on the left, as it suggests that, Yes, okay, if you insist, there are working class people but they’re not leftists — all leftists are bourgeois. The right holds a mirror up to its opponents and whilst, in most circumstances, this would be a fickle and easily-sidestepped manoeuvre, as we reach the end of the long game of neoliberalism we find ourselves unfortunately confounded, because as superficial as their retorts are, there is now some truth in them. The left has indeed been infected by a kind of bourgeois subjectivity — a subject position made the default by neoliberalism’s war on class consciousness. Therein lies our chicken/egg scenario.

    “Fisher got taken to the cleaners for this suggestion a few years ago, and his essay has since been appropriated by those on the right as an early essay written in their reactionary favour, but in the fervour of disagreement the actual argument is buried time and again. What Fisher deemed necessary was a new drive “to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent — and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement.”

    “Any nuance is smashed out of this argument by the right themselves”

    • Many have pointed out that it’s the middle class that is the most reactionary. This is seen with the rise of authoritarianism in modern countries. Authoritarians almost always come to power with the support of the bourgeoisie. Not only the business owners and aspiring capitalists but also the professionals and intelligentsia.

      But it’s become a popular hobby among the more respectable classes to project their reactionary tendencies on to the lower classes who conveniently have no voice in the public platforms controlled by the middle and upper classes. The silenced and disenfranchised make a convenient scapegoat. It’s also advantageous to divide the lower classes in the hope they don’t find out they have shared grievances and common cause.

      The corporate media owned and controlled by the upper classes are used for this purpose, along with the corporatist politicians who get heard on corporate media. They constantly spin narratives of this sort. And they get repeated ad nauseum. Sadly, they often eventually get taken as truth and most people forget the actual history, which was the entire purpose.

      An example from a half century ago was the myth of hippies and war protesters spitting on soldiers and veterans. Stories about this were repeated in the media and in politics, but there was never a single documented case of this happening. It’s like the welfare queen driving a brand new Cadillac that Ronald Reagan pulled out of his ass.

      Meanwhile, many in the real working class were working across racial lines to fight injustice and oppression. This was seen in the Rainbow Coalition led by the Black Panthers that successfully united feminists, Native Americans, and poor whites. It was so threatening to power that it became one of the main targets of the FBI’s COINTELPRO.

      I wish I could get people to know American history. It gets tiresome that we have to keep repeating it.

      • [I]t’s become a popular hobby among the more respectable classes to project their reactionary tendencies on to the lower classes who conveniently have no voice in the public platforms controlled by the middle and upper classes. The silenced and disenfranchised make a convenient scapegoat. It’s also advantageous to divide the lower classes in the hope they don’t find out they have shared grievances and common cause.

        Interesting article on the subject by Richard Eskow published in Common Dreams today: The Sunset Gun: One Nation, Under the Influence of Hate

        • That’s a good article. It captures my own mood.

          It’s not uncommon for such thoughts to cross my mind: “Either I am right and a catastrophe will occur, or it won’t and I’m crazy. In either case the outlook is not so good.” But one suspects both are true and that it’s not the sanity of an individual at stake, that catastrophe will occur precisely because craziness has become the norm.

          This then leads one to “wonder if this isn’t just a prelude, to “wonder when the Big One will arrive, and what form it will take.” I can’t recall how often I’ve expressed such sentiments or when I first started thinking that way. Having grown up on the post-apocalyptic movies of the 1980s, I maybe was prone to such dark thoughts from a young age.

          The framing of hate and violence as an addiction is perfect. Addiction as a key factor has made sense to me for many years. And my sense is that psychological addictions are inseparable from substance addictions, including dietary addictions. I’m willing to bet that those addicted to outrage and dehumanization are more likely to be on unhealthy high-carb diets.

          Only one part of the article I might have written differently. The author writes that, “It’s true that many Trump voters are well-off, even prosperous, as professionals and business people.” That is no minor point. It’s not merely that many Trump voters aren’t poor. The fact is only a minority of Trump voters that is poor, not to dismiss those that are.

          There is absolutely zero evidence that more poor whites are voting for Trump than are voting for Biden or not voting at all. Implying otherwise does a disservice to the actual poor, including the typically ignored non-whites who are disproportionately impoverished, who are economically segregated, isolated, abandoned, and ghettoized to a extreme degree.

          It’s also not clear that “liberal contempt and hatred seems to be reserved for the impoverished.” That is true of some liberals, but I don’t know it’s true of most liberals. The fact of the matter is most liberals are not wealthy. In many states, the majority of those identifying as liberal and/or holding liberal views are working class. Conflating all liberals with the DNC-aligned political and media elites is not helpful. This is yet another disconnected caricature that dismisses the lived reality of the average American.

          That said, the basic message is true and valid: “Some of those Trump voters are experiencing a level suffering that is unimaginable to outsiders. Opioid addiction is devastating (I have lost a close family member to it). The opioid and meth epidemics have devastated many rural communities, just as other addictions have devastated urban communities for decades.” But that is just one part of the whole picture.

          In following the media, even much of the ‘alternative’ media, it’s easy to forget that some of those Biden voters are also experiencing a level of suffering, including devastating drug epidemics, that is unimaginable to outsiders. And it’s easy to forget that large populations of non-whites (Native Americans, Hispanics, Blacks, etc) remain in rural areas. The mainstream narrative that all poor rural people are white is yet another disconnection and dismissal. In some regions, the majority of rural residents are not white.

          Shouldn’t we at least acknowledge the existence of these people, as if they matter? Why is it that all of the obsessive attention from both sides is narrowly focused only on poor rural whites? It makes no sense considering that even most poor whites live in urban areas, primarily big cities, metropolises, and other areas of concentrated populations. Why don’t poor urban whites matter? And what about the invisible poor whites, like poor minorities, stuck in deindustrialized inner cities? Don’t they count?

          That aside, let me make a quick note. He writes that, “Centrism is the failed political philosophy of those “despised elites.” Centrism gave us Trump.” I sort of agree, but we shouldn’t call it centrism. That is a false and deceptive label. This may be the ‘center’ of the corporatist elite in Washington DC, Wall Street, and Hollywood. But it is far to the right of most Americans, the silenced majority. Let’s be absolutely clear about that basic fact and never forget it. Centrism didn’t give us Trump. Rather, lies about ‘centrism’ gave us Trump. Referring to this right-wing capitalist realism as the ‘center’ is gaslighting.

          Now I really liked the following bit: “A 2018 political science study concluded that growing numbers of marginalized people felt “extreme discontent” with “disliked elites,” and were spreading “fake news” for reasons the authors described in striking terms: to “unleash chaos,” to ‘‘burn down’ the entire established political order,” to “disrupt the entire established democratic ‘cosmos’ and start anew.” […] The authors claim that up to 40 percent of Americans share these feelings.”

          That is exactly what I was saying during Trump’s first presidential campaign and in the early years of his administration. I may have written about this in comments earlier on, but the first time I put these thoughts down in a post apparently was in 2017 where I wrote the following, a good note to end on:

          “This is similar to Karen Armstrong’s interpretation of Islamic jihadis. She has pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists seemed to intentionally flout Islamic law, as if they were demanding Allah’s attention and forcing the Divine Hand to intervene. They were trying to call down apocalypse, not unlike American evangelicals hoping to incite violent attack on Israel as they believe must happen prior to the Second Coming. It isn’t mere nihilism.

          “Some would argue that a similar attitude is held by Trump supporters. Not even those who voted for him, according to polls, thought he would do what he promised. But the one thing that he could accomplish was to destroy a corrupt system. Electing Donald Trump as president was like lobbing a grenade into a bunker. It may be an act of desperation, although it makes perfect sense as an all too human motivation. Studies have shown that individuals are willing to punish perceived wrongdoers even at great costs to themselves. It is what morality becomes when morality has been denied for too long.

          “In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth describes the Joker in saying, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” But that isn’t quite right. In his own words, the Joker explains himself: “Introduce a little anarchy – upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos – it’s fair.” Exactly! It’s fair. Death and destruction is the last refuge of fairness, what is necessary to bring on justice, even if it is the justice of a mad man’s chaos. The slate must be wiped clean. Then something new can emerge from the ashes. An apocalypse is a revelation.”

        • I was thinking about the distorting lens of the corporate media. Even when alternative media responds to it, much of the false framing goes unchallenged and uncorrected. That is because the public intellectuals on alternative media are not necessarily all that different from their counterparts on corporate media, often the same people in fact.

          Consider Richard Hofstadter, an influential public intellectual during the mid-20th century. He wrote The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which was published in 1964. He portrayed the earlier Populist Era as right-wing and reactionary, presumably in response to the mainstream debate that was capturing the attention of the intelligentsia during the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War protests.

          The basic problem is this portrayal was factually incorrect. The first populist movement, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, was a broad mix of ideologies. Besides the expected groups on the political right, the populism back then was also found among social liberals, social democrats, progressive reformers, labor organizers, left-libertarians, anarchists, anarchosyndicalists, Marxists, socialists, communists, Fabians, feminists, etc.

          That false portrayal created a false understanding in the 1960s and ever since. Those proclaiming populist views weren’t only those who believed in white supremacy, folk religiosity, and volk nationalism. As I said, most Americans, including most whites, came around to opposing Jim Crow and the Vietnam War. If populism means what is popular, why was mass opinion so distorted in the accounts of intellectuals like Hofstadter and remains distorted to this day?

          Why do even liberal intellectuals and academics ignore minorities and most poor whites when focusing on a narrow segment of radicalized whites as representing all of populism? These intellectuals and academics have access to all kinds of info and so why do they repeatedly get it so wrong? Good info is not always hard to find. In a few minutes of a Google search, I could pull up polls showing how far left is the American public, including the poor of all races.

          Why does the myth continue? Why is it so important to be treated as true? What makes it so powerful as propaganda and mind virus, as ideological realism and reality tunnel? What would happen if there was mainstream acknowledgment of and public debate about the left-wing populism of the silenced majority? Is the supposedly ‘liberal’ and ‘centrist’ intelligentsia more right-wing and reactionary than they realize?

    • Below is another section from the Socialist Worker piece. It shows how far left is not only the American public in general but specifically the lower classes. That is what my cousins, like so many others, have been duped about. They have been pulled into identity politics that distracts not only from class war but also how popular are progressive, liberal, and left-wing views.

      But the thing is that people don’t like to stand out. So, when the media and all of the political elite keep telling you that almost everyone around you is conservative, you tend to keep your real opinions to yourself. And when opinions don’t get voiced and instead repressed, people don’t even realize themselves how far left they are or, if they do know, they pretend to be otherwise.

      Also, all the mainstream media and political narratives have a way of getting into one’s head and distorting one’s thoughts, even one’s opinions. Keep telling the working class that they are reactionary, right-wing authoritarians and they might come to believe it themselves, contrary to how far left their views actually are. Such ability to create mental divides and dissociation, sadly, is common to the human psyche.

      This won’t last forever. Someday, a moment will come when most Americans realize not only how left they are compared to the elite but also that they are part of a majority. The silenced majority will find both a voice and an identity. The majority in hiding will suddenly come out into the open and realize there are more of them than there are of the right-wing elite. It will be an mass awakening of hundreds of millions of Americans that will burst into a populist wildfire.

      The conditions are already set in place for this revolution of mind and identity. And as with the American revolution, a political revolution would follow from it, whether peaceful or violent. In light of the topic covered in this post, it would be a good case study to explore the opinions held in private by the citizens of West Branch.

      Cruel social dominators aside, popular as they may be, what kind of politics do such common Americans actually hold and keep secret from their family, friends, and neighbors — not realizing that others around them share their views? Would traumatizers like Coach Butch lose power if the progressive nature of the common people ever came to public awareness and emerged in the communal identity?

      Maybe many West Branchers already on some level know about what I’ve written here and are all afraid to be the first to speak out. In that case, it only takes a few people to speak out to unleash the whole thing. Is that true? One suspects it is, as shown in the polling of how amazingly left are so many people:

      “TODAY, THE working-class that the mainstream media have “rediscovered” may include women, but it is still viewed as white and presented as holding generally conservative views.

      “As in the 1960s, this picture has little connection to reality. Most polls show that the U.S. population as a whole–and the working class in particular–has become more progressive on most social and economic issues.

      “Nowhere is this clearer than on the question of racism. In 1954, only 4 percent of those surveyed responded that they approved of marriage between “white and colored people.” In 2007, 79 percent told a Gallup poll that they approved of interracial marriages.

      “In fact, unlike much of the media establishment, most people think racism is a problem in the here and now, not a thing of the past. A majority in a CNN/Essence magazine poll–including whites–said they believed racism to be a “serious problem.” Eighty-five percent of Americans said they are “completely comfortable” voting for a Black presidential candidate.

      “To be clear, there are still large numbers of people who have racist ideas–who aren’t “comfortable” voting for a Black candidate, who disapprove of interracial marriage and who don’t think racism is a problem. And there are also contradictions in people’s thinking about the pervasiveness and effects of racism. For example, the CNN/Essence poll found that a majority of both whites and Blacks said they didn’t think racial discrimination was the reason why Blacks tend to have lower incomes and worse housing.

      “However, it can be said, in contrast to the media stereotype, that the working class–which, for the record, includes tens of millions of Blacks and Latinos, as well as whites, and tens of millions of people who did go to college–tends toward more progressive ideas on a whole series of political questions than the rich and the middle class.

      “Current polls show, for example, that 51 percent of Americans–the highest number since the 1930s Great Depression–support the longstanding socialist demand of taxing the rich specifically to redistribute wealth. A 2006 poll showed that 59 percent of people support trade unions–with support jumping to 68 percent among those who earn less than $30,000 a year.

      “But this isn’t merely a question of economic issues.

      “A majority of citizens and permanent residents responded in a 2006 survey that they believed immigration to be “a good thing.” Nearly 90 percent of Americans said they thought gays and lesbians should have equal rights at work. Support for gay marriage has grown by 19 percent since 1996, and opposition has declined by 15 percent. Even on abortion–one of the few areas where the right wing has gained ground ideologically–a majority of people still holds a favorable view of Roe v. Wade itself.

      “Also, in contrast to the picture of a fundamentalist hinterland existing between the coasts, polls also show that Americans are becoming less religious, that the religious are less consistent in attending church, and even that the younger generation of fundamentalist Christians are somewhat more left wing on some social justice issues.”

    • Here is the conclusion to another piece of Corey Robin’s:

      “We are at a strange moment in American history. On the one hand, the country has never been more interested in, and desperate to know, what the majority wants. As the rise of data geeks like the two Nates—Silver of and Cohn of The New York Times—and outlets like Vox show, our appetite for polling is ravenous; our capacity to digest the results, prodigious. On the other hand, we have an electoral system that makes it ever more difficult to determine the will of the majority, and a political system that makes that will ever more difficult to enact. Something’s gotta give.

      “Or not. In her 1997 collection of critical essays The End of the Novel of Love, Vivian Gornick remarks on that “climactic moment” in a John Cheever story “when the husband realizes his wife holds him in contempt, or the wife knows the husband is committing adultery.” With mounting dread, the reader wonders how either character can go on after this moment of truth. What makes the story truly “large, awesome, terrible,” however, is when the reader realizes that the characters do “go on like this.” That moment of truth leaves the reader “staring into space, the void opening at her feet.” ”

    • Yet another insightful piece from the prolific Corey Robin. Oone might question some assumptions, though. The majority in the past probably never was as conservative and right-wing as it was portrayed in corporate media and corporatist politics. Also, it’s probably been a long time since the Republican Party represented a populist impulse to represent the majority, maybe not central to the GOP since Abraham Lincoln’s election. The main point, as Robin makes clear, is that the constitutional order always was anti-majoritarian authoritarianism and, as one might emphasize, both parties have depended on that system of power to maintain their elite rule.

      “Even so, the three-legged stool expressed an understanding of the conservative movement as a political coalition, an electoral operation whose power lay in the interests and values of a majority of voters and the ability of the Republican Party to mobilize them. With that majority, conservatives created a decades-long hegemony, in which liberals and Democrats were forced to accept, as a condition of governance, many of the premises of Republican rule, much as Eisenhower and Nixon had once had to accommodate parts of the New Deal.

      “As we head toward November, the three-legged stool of conservatism looks vastly different. Though its electoral base and concerns remain similar, conservatism is no longer a movement in ascendancy. Nor is it much of a party in power: even when it controlled all the elected branches of government, from 2016 to 2018, the GOP wasn’t able to push many parts of its agenda through Congress (the tax cuts were the notable exception). Conservatism has ceased to be a political project capable of creating hegemony through majoritarian means. If once the goal was a mass politics of the right “suitable to governing a modern democracy,” in the words of Irving Kristol, conservatism has since reverted to what Toryism was before the Reform Act: a relic of ancient institutions, an artifact of minority rule. […]

      “There’s a considerable irony in the fact that this is now the three-legged stool of American conservatism. However dubious their democratic credentials, the Electoral College, the Senate, and the judiciary are impeccably constitutional institutions. In the American mind, the Constitution is associated with all things good and democratic, but a central purpose of the document is to check majoritarian government, giving a small group of elites the power to thwart the will of the democratic majority. That is precisely what the Republicans now are doing.

      “Over the last several years, liberals and Democrats have characterized the power (and the threat) of the GOP in a particular way: Trump and the Republicans are seen as lawless enemies of the Constitution who rely on a combination of rabid rhetoric and mobilized masses to wreak havoc upon established institutions. It’s true that Trump’s tweets are toxic; the thrum of his rallies is ominous; the violence and possibility of more violence are unnerving. But that’s not, in the main, where Trump’s power, or the Republican Party’s, lies. The unsettling fact of the current regime is that it depends, ultimately, not upon these bogeymen of democracy—not on demagoguery, populism, or the masses—but upon the constitutional mainstays we learned about in high-school civics. The most potent source of the GOP’s power is neither fascism nor authoritarianism; it is gonzo constitutionalism.”

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