I remember guffawing back when Tim Robbins was talking (and talking, and talking and talking) about the “chill wind” blowing through America thanks to Bushitler and the Nazi Neo-Cons who were going to shut down free-speech-as-we-knew-it in America. You must have heard about it. He went on all the talk shows and yakked about how he couldn’t speak freely in America. Wrote plays about it, etc, oblivious to irony…
The reason I guffawed while he carried on so was because to me the drivel he dribbled as he spouted off seemed like classic projection – that he and his leftist friends were wringing their hands about the perils of censorship even though they had spent the better part of the last 3-4 decades telling others precisely what they could or could-not say, on pain of being labeled as a “racist,” “homophobe,” “bigot,” or “divisive hater.” I left the left because they seemed to be spinning away on a narrow-minded trajectory of groupthink and goose-stepping which precluded individual thought, dissent, debate or reason. I left the left when it became clear that I was only permitted to think one way – their way – or be marginalized and cast-off. I left the left because I couldn’t stand how overpopulated it had become with reactionary purists, those quick to relentlessly punish anyone who dared step outside their noble groupthink huddle. When some of my co-ideologues began to remind me of nothing so much as Madame DeFarge, crying “guillotine! Guillotine!” against any who dared dissent, and others began to remind me of Puritan prudes anxiously readying their scarlet A’s for any available Hester Prynnes, I left the left.
I never wanted to use the word “fascism” for the troubling conformity of mind and manner which was driving me from the left, because it is such an ugly word, fraught with so much dreadful recent history. But then, fascism is not really a 20th century phenomenon, is it? It is a mindset as old as sin itself, and any group of people – on the left or the right – can fall into a habit of conformity which mutates into an expectation of particulars and standards which may then be exploited. Fall out of step with “der party” and you can suddenly find your fortunes reversed. Criticize the wrong person, and you may “never work in this town again.” Fascism is really not about right or left – it is about suppression of individual thought and the stomping on of singular expression. It is about stripping the humanity from the “other side,” both by labeling them and by shunning them, until they will do anything to belong “somewhere.”
I see it on the left in internet political forums which delete any message which does not conform to the group-hate, or when certain politicians are reckoned “beyond criticism” and go untouched and unscathed by circumstances and history. I see it on the right, too, when I watch conservatives move “beyond” real and reasonable criticism, to actively throwing their own president under a bus because he is not conforming enough to the group-think; I see it when those conservatives seem on the brink of saying to many of their co-ideologues, “just let us do the thinking here, you rubes.”
The dangerous slide into fascism is something every movement needs to guard against. It can happen so easily, and so imperceptibly. First there is an idea, and people gather around it. Then some people embrace it with fervor. Then some clutch it to their breasts and pretend it fills a deep gash within them, an aching void. Zealots begin to move the idea left or right, and they always have their followers, for whom “the idea’s” progression into exclusivity and regimentation seems “only natural.” For them, “the idea” becomes a religion. For some, it becomes a goddess. For all too many, an idea is not merely a thought and a thing, it is a malleable, amorphous catch-all which can consume any matter, distort it and regurgitate it into something altogether different, and still call it “the idea.”
Hence, a classical liberal “idea” of human rights, personal dignity, open-mindedness and respectfulness has been consumed and distorted, and it is regurgitated 40 years later into something still called “liberal,” which looks nothing like the name. In fact it resembles another, very different, much less noble “idea,” one which we keep trying to battle back.
Fascism exists wherever people lose sight of other people as people, and begin to think of them as “them,” as “votes,” as “bodies,” as “numbers,” as “the people who do not count,” or (as Rob Reiner once declared about conservatives) as ones who “deserve to be marginalized, because they’re so wrong.”
Fascism can be take hold in a country or a church, or even in a neighborhood. It is the curse of every race, the scourge of every creed, no matter how sincere, it is the dementor of every movement.
The irony is this: fascism can only live in a group, and it can only be defeated by the individual. In order to shrivel the first buds of fascism in our social and political institutions, we need to look inward – each of us, alone – and strike at its roots within ourselves.
Tim Robbins’ “chill wind” is perhaps nothing more or less than the hollow caves of our own consciences, our egos and our graspings. In which case we would do well to recognise it.
We need to put aside the notion that fascism requires a bizarre mustache, or pageantry, or pronouncements. All it ever requires, really, is any idea set too-loose and denied boundaries and accountabilities. Like a child given too much freedom for too long, who is thus unable to rein herself in, an idea never tested nor questioned nor constrained by reason, will self-destruct. And what it becomes destroys the rest.
For example: the movement against racial profiling was a decent notion, an idea to stop the capricious and arbitrary harassment of one group by another, saving black men from being pulled over by unscrupulous cops for the sin of “driving while black.”
But it was an idea without boundaries – it became sullied by political exploiters and others who never questioned it, or demanded review or restrictions, leading to experiences like this one, emailed to me by a friend:
I’ve been re-thinking my own notions on profiling. Something I always thought was abhorent and devilish and too often racist.
But then this weekend, flying back from Louisville, I saw a spindly little Kentuckian in his 60’s wheeling through security his father, an equally spindly Kentuckian in his 80s, with the enfeebled matriarch of this aging brood bringing up the rear. The youngster in the group, who must have been hitting 65, had to suffer the indignity of shoe removal and wand-ing, and then put his father through that, too. The father, whose white sneakers were kept on his feet by velcro closures — sneakers that were, I noticed, virtually unscuffed, because I imagine the old guy doesn’t walk around in them too much. Watching this was slow and difficult and embarrassing. And unseemly. And, I think, unnecessary.
Indeed. A good idea, left to grow without boundaries, has mutated into something stupid and wasteful, touching us all.
With that in mind, I offer you two articles for your consideration:
Rod Liddle, writing in the UK Times Online, talks about the devolution of an idea:
Some 22 years ago Ray Honeyford, the previously obscure headmaster of Drummond middle school in Bradford, suggested, in the low-circulation right-wing periodical The Salisbury Review, that his Asian pupils should really be better integrated into British society.
They should learn English, for a start, and a bit of British history and a sense of what the country is about; further, Asian (Muslim) girls should be allowed to learn to swim despite the objections of their parents (who did not like them stripping down even in front of each other). Muslim kids should be treated like every other pupil, in other words.
For these mild contentions, Honeyford was investigated by the government, vilified as a racist by the press, ridiculed every day by leftie demonstrators outside his office and was eventually hounded from his job. He has not worked since.
Perhaps it will be a consolation to him, as he sits idly in his neat, small, semi-detached house in Bury, Lancashire, that he has now been comprehensively outflanked on the far right by a whole bunch of Labour politicians, including at least one minister, and indeed the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.
In another – somewhat boilerplate, but factually accurate – article, Kevin McCullogh writes:
Liberals are actively undermining first amendment rights to free speech by trying to crush opposing views.
Growing ever bolder in their naked grab for power they are leaving scorched earth behind those who disagree with them. This is why Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, and Zell Miller no longer find themselves included in the modern Democratic Party. What is left over for the Democrats are wildly anti-American, anti-God, and anti-biblical leftists who are now bragging about their use of brute force to crush the voices of those who disagree with them.
Perhaps that’s why this week in one of the boldest moves yet by a sitting liberal, Democrat Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez proclaimed, “The real purpose of SB 1437 is to outlaw traditional perspectives on marriage and family in the state school system.”
He continued, “The way you correct a wrong (perspective) is by outlawing.’Cause if you don’t outlaw it, then people’s biases tend to take over and dominate the perspective and the point of view.”
Nunez’s solution to the people he disagrees with is to outlaw their ability to disagree with him.
UPDATE: The Democrats are really into this idea of ideological purity – post Lieberman, they’re going after another. I know there are some on the right who want “purity” as well…but it’s a rampant movement on the left.
WELCOME: WELCOME: readers of The Corner and Closed Cafeteria. While you’re here, please look around. Today we’re also talking about how Bush Hatred May Have Just Jumped the Shark, the staggering Incuriosity of the Press, how the word “fascist” is only objectionable when used by the right and we appreciate President Bush at Mass.
UPDATE: I think I was pretty clear that I very much dislike the tone of McCullough’s piece (notice, I refered to it as “boilerplate”) but I include it here because his quotes are correct. Please see comment #3 in the comments section for my extended thoughts on SB 1437, it’s latest amendments and how it is being promoted – my comment includes links to other articles wherein some on the left admit that they are engaging in social engineering, all of which is relevent to the crux of my post, which is that “an idea” even a “good” one can run amok, and that fascism is always a danger when people are not permitted to espouse or even discuss an opposing view. Please note right now: I will NOT get into an extended brouhaha with folks on the merits or weaknesses of a bill in the California State Senate. That’s not really what this post is about, and I’d like to stick to the subject.