One of the consistent aspects of the prefabricated templates in predictable debates about fascism is always the question: How did it happen.
Usually this is in regards to Germany but it is employed in most places where prior to the advent of the thugs there had been at the very least some basic boilerplate about civil liberties and established democratic norms. In the case specifically of Germany there were more than the basics and there were, we are always told, examples of cultural achievement that were regarded as crown jewels from Beethoven to Goethe.
The problem comes in when the historians, economists, philosophers and psychologists take control of the debate and start looking for, and finding, logical reasons for the how and why. For example, one can read that the rise of fascism in Germany can be traced directly to the vile anti-Semitism of Martin Luther. Or, that the hyperinflation and post war moral wasteland of Weimar was to blame or that certain socio-economic realities within a historical dialectic were the alpha and omega. Of course all of these are factors that contributed to the calamity as did other issues and each has its champion and each has vast libraries available for consultation. Some of them are well written and clever and some are not but they all have their uses. Some intentional and other not so much.
However, outside of art, with its plasticity and inherent ability to examine moral ambiguity, and paradox, and above all, illogic, there really are no sufficient explanations. Precisely because characters in fiction are painted as being capable of holding mutually exclusive ideas while continuing to function it is always art that comes closest to explaining why people do the things they do including apocalyptically violent things. The dry sciences of historiography and psychology of course have their uses but what cripples them is the a priori insistence that there must be an answer and that the answers must conform to the hypothesis. Thus if you start with socio-economics as the prism through which you filter the facts then inevitably the facts will conform to the premise. This is true for psychology as well as any other of the deterministic systems. In other words they are, in sense, very clever versions of clickbait.
What sets art on a different path is that it starts with a paradox – that the premise is that the answer can be contradictory to the facts and vice versa. Or, as a brilliant crazy man put it: The facts and the truth seldom have anything to do with each other.
By way of proving the point through an example of failure consider Orwell’s dismissal of Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter which Orwell finds unbelievable. If, he says, the protagonist truly believed in original sin he would not violate his faith and, he certainly wouldn’t do it to please two neurotic women.
As we wrote in a different context obviously the historical record establishes Orwell as not just wrong but rather hilariously wrong on the first point and sadly wrong on the second leading anyone who is not writing propaganda, and/or a dilatant in regards to the habits of men as it relates to women (neurotic or otherwise) to conclude that our Georgie was not getting laid very much.
Art of course embraces contradiction and ambiguity and paradox. It lives in and for shades of grey while at the same time maintaining a moral certainty. Thus Stephen Dedalus can be (self) righteous, consumed with a fear of sin, and go to whore houses, and Marlow can condemn himself, and Kurtz and humanity while still being moral and certain and ambiguous and tell a lie in order to spare someone the truth. And so can Bruce Wayne and James T. Kirk and Sam Spade and annoyingly agitated Danish princes.
It’s mysterious and confounding but then that’s the point. Historians and psychologists and others like them can’t stomach that. This is one of the many reasons hardly anyone takes the arts seriously and why you won’t ever find a novelist explaining history by saying that, for example, the best book ever written about The Palestinians, was written at the beginning of the 20th century by a sixth grade dropout, and alcoholic mystic from Alabama and is called, Absalom! Absalom! It is also why you won’t find anyone at symposia on The Middle East saying that Hamlet is also a Palestinian and that is both a cornucopia of useful information and a tragic curse.
The truth is no one wants to hear it because it’s bad for business and in a sense boils down to: if you go around carrying pictures of Chairman Mao you’re not going to make it with anyone anyhow.
All of which brings us to Google Glass and why it failed.
Google Glass was you may recall an attempt to move the smartphone from the palm of your hand to a portable heads-up display and to begin to accelerate the merging of humans and technology. It was a failure for two reasons.
First because the sociopaths and assorted autism spectrum juvenile delinquents in Silicon Valley live in a bubble that keeps them hermetically safe from the facts of life and thus they were unaware of the extraordinary anxiety that was produced in the wake of the Edward Snowden story.
And secondly, because the people who were aware that the NSA and its malignant bureaucratic moral midget siblings were spying on everyone knew that it was safer to knock off someone’s glasses than to actually try and do something about government sponsored mass surveillance.
Thus, like Ishmael knocking off someone’s hat in the middle of the street, these outraged pseudo-citoyen could and did confront tech-drones in bars and such in San Francisco because the geeks wearing Google Glass didn’t work for the NSA or the Hoovers and didn’t carry guns and badges.
It’s that simple.
Not that there’s been a single piece anywhere that lays this case out because of course this is exactly what it looks like when societies become totalitarian, tyrannical, or fascist or step to the agitated edge of tyranny where this for example can be (self) published, read by three or four people, but (sigh) so what?
In such historical moments, contradictions, shades of grey and moral ambiguity vanish and are replaced by strident calls for strident calls for strident certainty. And the blowback from that expanding circle of social shrapnel rips apart nuance and without nuance art becomes dull propaganda of one sort or another. The “gotcha” spin cycles of 24/7 cable, the mile wide inch deep sham reporting of the media, the simplistic binary politics of faux debates, the insipid simplistic sham morality of most cinema and most of what is allowed to be published (versus what gets written but never sees the lights of day) all not only contribute to an increasingly narrow downward spiral of emotionally violent crap but is a reflection of the dominant system of control which demands obedience not only to specific jingoistic nativist displays of power and authority but also demands fealty to the ideas of obedience which in turn is nothing more than another spot along the spectrum of tyranny. Thus in place of a thriving culture, full of contradictions, you get an echo-chamber full of dull conformity.
And so, if anyone survives this, and if somewhere down the road there’s anyone left who reads and cares and they ask how did fascism come to America and someone starts to cough up boilerplate explanations full of yes that’s correct but a distinction without a difference examples, remember where you were when the lights went out and what you were doing when it happened.
There are, said a violently contradictory literary mystic, many who do not know they are fascists but, will discover it when the time comes.
Intel has learned from Google’s mistakes.
The same turd polished twice: