Depression Is an Unlikely Advantage in the Fight Against Fascism

CULTURE
Life under the yoke of depression is frighteningly similar to life in Trump’s America, and knowing one can teach you how to approach the other.

Blurred photo of sad man in his room
Photo Credit: Atlantis Images/Shutterstock

If you’re one of the more than 16 million human adults in America affected by depression, and the current advent of fascism feels like a one-way ticket to hell, know that you’re not alone.

Watching the country I now call home unravel one headline at a time knocked me off my feet for most of January, threatening to undo my attempts to rebuild my life after I spent more than three years incapacitated by major depressive disorder.

The fog has only intensified since Inauguration Day, smothering America in a thick blanket of bizarre language and threats—doled out in “presidential” tweets and surrogate TV interviews alike—all the better to conceal laying the foundation for dismantling the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the night, among innumerable other heinous policies.

Now, when I can get to sleep at all, I wake up aghast at how quickly the new regime is pushing through executive orders and taking apart democracy.

Much of the time, things feel desperately hopeless.

It mirrors the pain of depression; when it’s become so debilitating that you collapse further into yourself, sometimes the energy required to get out of bed is all you’ve got — never mind getting out in the street — and you end up feeling completely bereft, like you’re somehow failing at being human.

Well, you’re not.

Instead, you’re being defiantly alive in the face of an illness that has the power to kill you.

Amid the rampant confusion of our current times, it’s easy to overlook how similar depression and fascism are. If you understand the mental illness, you understand the political ailment because you already have firsthand experience of living under a dictatorship of lies.

What’s more, if you’re already resisting depression, then you’re automatically equipped to resist fascism — so even if you feel far from well, safe, or strong right now, take heart… because you’ve got this.

Both depression and fascism thrive on fear and terrorizing their host — be it your mind or your country — until you systematically question what your eyes, ears, and heart are reporting back to you; until you no longer trust your senses and either endorse the agenda of that which seeks to destroy you, or just give up.

For its part, depression gradually injects doubt into every aspect of personhood. It may undermine a once competent professional until their skills appear worthless and unemployability certain, or shred someone’s self-esteem until they believe a romantic relationship can only exist out of pity rather than love, or put the kibosh on one’s dreams — because, let’s face it, what future is there for someone who’s such an incapable and unlovable waste of space?

At its most virulent, depression corrodes your sense of self and erodes your identity, and the parasite feeds until only the physical representation of the host remains.

Our fascist leader is having the same effect on America that depression has on an individual. And he’s doing it the same way: by distorting reality, strafing journalists and citizens alike with falsehoods.

In both cases, the aim is for lies to supplant reality altogether.

If the farce endures in its grotesque glory, it’s because it takes initiative, courage, and knowing exactly who you are in order to stand against what you’re being told to accept as the norm, whether by your mind or the new White House occupier.

To the unsuspecting onlooker, when I was in the throes of deepest depression, I looked as I always had. But whenever I opened my mouth, it was clear that it wasn’t me speaking, but depression—through pained, inarticulate self-doubt.

To the unsuspecting onlooker, America still mostly looks like it always has. But whenever our leader opens his mouth, it’s clear it isn’t democracy speaking, but fascism, through absurd sentences almost entirely devoid of syntax or meaning.

Similarly, just as I remember a different life before depression flattened me, many of us remember a different life before our current political regime began normalizing hate.

Now that white supremacists are in charge, they believe that order can be restored by returning anyone who doesn’t fit their norm to their respective sub-human category, ranging from most similar and tolerable (healthy, able-bodied straight American-born Christian white women) to most different and undesirable (anyone else). Plainly put, many of us are now regarded as inferior, as lesser than, based on national origin, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, skin tone, reproductive choices, physical and mental abilities, etc.

Our leadership would like us to believe that this hierarchy is “normal” — but it is not.

That we should have the audacity to define our own identities and demand equality — because America was founded on the basis of all people being created equal— is to invite shaming, if not mockery.

With depression, too, shaming wields great destructive power.

When depression became larger than life itself, it bullied me into identifying with it. The illness kept me under house arrest, stewing in shame because I couldn’t work, and therefore I couldn’t afford to consume health care and get well enough to work, a conundrum familiar to many sick Americans.

In the eyes of a staunchly individualistic society like ours, in which we’re always supposed to win, to achieve, I didn’t pass muster. I failed to measure up, I was weak, a “ridiculous loser.” Depression also built a wall around me to keep out other humans, chipping away at my self-esteem and declaring isolation as the new normal.

Under such conditions, staying alive — that is to say, performing the most basic human functions required to do so — becomes the greatest act of resistance you’re capable of.

Trite though it may sound, “While there’s life, there’s hope,” and your making it through each brand new day is proof of this.

In America, we’ve now got a Muslim ban, and soon we’ll even have a border wall to keep out other fellow humans. Those of us who refuse to fall in line with the regime are constantly being othered, divided, derided, debased — and yet we keep coming together regardless because we remember life before.

Do not ever discount the hope of better days buried deep inside you. As the intellectual ability to envisage alternatives to what is, hope is one of the most powerful weapons of all.

The modus operandi of the illness and that of the new regime are one and the same: to break you down little by little by destroying your critical faculties until you no longer protest, until you abdicate your own agency and trust them to do what’s in your best interests.

Like protecting you.

Like providing for you.

For the record, here’s what depression did for me — for over three years, it took away my ability to think and write so I could no longer earn a living, convincing me I’d become unemployable and forcing innumerable hardships onto my household.

My downfall was gradual and contradicted everything in my life at the time. On the surface, everything was great — love, marriage, immigration to a new country, a fresh start — but depression took hold regardless because deflecting torrents of abuse and lies is unsustainable in the long run.

It’s exhausting, and it wears you down.

Whether the lies are manufactured by your own mind or your own government, the desired end result is the same: capitulation.

The enemy thrives on confusion.

But remember that the impact of depression can be lessened, as can that of a fascist regime, so long as you resist them.

Your one job is to keep yourself — and the hope contained within you — alive, which has the added benefit of inconveniencing those fascism enablers who may bully you for being a “snowflake.” If you feel up to it or just fancy a laugh, remind them that one of the collective nouns for snowflakes is an avalanche.

Little do they know that depression has made you a veteran of resistance.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273-TALK

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Make America Ungovernable

Posted on Feb 5, 2017

By Chris Hedges


Donald Trump’s regime is rapidly reconfiguring the United States into an authoritarian state. All forms of dissent will soon be criminalized. Civil liberties will no longer exist. Corporate exploitation, through the abolition of regulations and laws, will be unimpeded. Global warming will accelerate. A repugnant nationalism, amplified by government propaganda, will promote bigotry and racism. Hate crimes will explode. New wars will be launched or expanded.

And, as this happens, those Americans who remain passive will be complicit.

“We don’t have much time,” Kali Akuno, the co-director of Cooperation Jackson and an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, told me when I reached him by phone in Jackson, Miss. “We are talking two to three months before this whole [reactionary] initiative is firmly consolidated. And that’s with massive resistance.”

Flurries of executive orders and memorandums are being issued to demolish the anemic remnants of our bankrupt democracy. Those being placed in power—such as Betsy DeVos, who if confirmed as secretary of education will defund our system of public education and expand schools run by the Christian right, and Scott Pruitt, who if confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency will dismantle it—are agents of destruction. In the eyes of the Christian fascists, generals, billionaires and conspiracy theorists around Trump, the laws, the courts and legislative bodies exist only to silence opponents and swell corporate profits. It is impossible to know how long this transformation will take—it may be longer than the two or three months Akuno fears—but unless we mobilize quickly to stop the Trump regime the end result is certain.

“The forces around Trump have a plan to roll this [attack on democracy] out,” said Akuno, who was the coordinator of special projects and external funding for the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson. “They have a strategy. They have a timeline. They know whom they need to divide and whom they need to recruit. They are consolidating their base. Those who try and chalk this up to Trump’s pathology miss the intentionality, the strategic aims and the objectives. We will do ourselves a great disservice if we underestimate this regime and where it is going.”

Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief counselor, was behind the ban on Muslims entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries—a ban you can expect to see extended if the Trump administration is successful in removing a stay issued by a district court. He was behind the order to the Department of Homeland Security to draw up lists of Muslim organizations and individuals in the United States that, in the language of the executive action, have been “radicalized” and have “provided material support to terrorism-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States.” Such lists will be used to criminalize Muslim leaders and the institutions and organizations they built. Then, once the Muslims are dealt with domestically, there will be new Homeland Security lists that will allow the government to target the press, activists, labor leaders, dissident intellectuals and the left. It is the beginning of a fascist version of Leon Trotsky’s “permanent revolution.”

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too,” Bannon told writer Ronald Radosh in 2013. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

The Trump regime’s demented project of social engineering, which will come wrapped in a Christianized fascism, can be implemented only if it quickly seizes control of the bureaucratic mechanisms, an action that Max Weber pointed out is the prerequisite for exercising power in industrial and technocratic societies. Once what the historian Guglielmo Ferrero calls the “silken threads” of habit, tradition and legality are gone, the “iron chains” of dictatorship will impose social cohesion.

“This problem is not going to be solved in the 2018 elections,” warned Akuno, the author of the organizing handbook “Let Your Motto Be Resistance” and the former executive director of the New Orleans-based People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. “That hope is an illusion. The democratic apparatus will be completely gutted by then. We have to look beyond Trump. We have to look at the consolidation on the state level of these reactionary forces. They are near the threshold of being able to call for a constitutional convention because of the number of governorships and state legislatures where they hold both chambers. They can totally reorder the Constitution, if they even continue to abide by it, which they may not. We are facing a serious crisis. I don’t think people grasp the depth of this because they are focused on the president and not the broader strategy of these reactionary forces.”

“We have to encourage a broad noncompliance strategy of ungovernablity,” Akuno said. “Not complying. Not consenting. We have to struggle on every front. We have to expect that the courts will not protect us. We are going to get less and less protection from the police. The slightest act of civil disobedience will mean jail. We have to mentally prepare for that. We have to build serious organizations, drawing upon the examples of forces that fought authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Europe. Either we submit to not having any protection as workers, women, queers, blacks, Latinos or indigenous or we fight back. These forces [arrayed against us] are not willing to compromise. I hope it does not come to violence, but we know the proclivities of the society and the forces that run it.”

If nonviolent protest is met with violence, we must never respond with violence. The use of violence, including property destruction, and taunting the police are gifts to the security and surveillance state. It allows the state to demonize and isolate a mass movement. It drives away the bulk of the population. Violence against the state is used by the authorities to justify greater forms of control and repression. The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. This is a game the government will always win and we will always lose. If we are perceived as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob that embraces violence, we will be easily crushed.

We can succeed only if we win the hearts and minds of the wider public and ultimately many of those within the structures of power, including the police. When violence is used against nonviolent protesters demanding basic forms of justice it exposes the weakness of the state. It delegitimizes those in power. It prompts a passive population to respond with active support for the protesters. It creates internal divisions within the structures of power that, as I witnessed during the revolutions in Eastern Europe, paralyze and defeat those in authority. Martin Luther King Jr. held marches in Birmingham, Ala., rather than Albany, Ga., because he knew Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor would overreact and discredit the city’s racist structures.

The Trump regime is populated with blind fanatics. They believe in one truth, which is whatever they proclaim at the moment (any such declaration may contradict what they said a few hours before). They are possessed with one idea—conflict. They venerate a demented hypermasculinity that includes a sacralization of violence, misogyny, a disdain for empathy, and the self-appointed right to engage in bouts of frenzied rage. These characteristics, they believe, are a sign of masculinity. The highest aesthetic is militarism, violence and war. Without conflict, without enemies real or imagined, their ideological structures and racism collapse into a heap of contradictions and absurdities. They will attempt to thwart nonviolent, nationwide resistance with force. And they will attempt to stoke counterviolence, including through the use of agents provocateurs, as a response. If we speak back to them in the language of violence, we will fail. We will be transformed into the monsters we seek to defeat.

Bannon and his followers on the “alt-right,” self-declared intellectuals, ferret out facts and formulas that buttress their peculiar worldview and discard truths that contradict their messianic delusions. They mouth a few clichés and quote a few philosophers to justify bigotry, chauvinism and governmental repression. It is propaganda masquerading as ideology. These pseudo-intellectuals are singularly incurious. They are linguistically, culturally and historically illiterate about the Muslim world, and about most other foreign cultures, yet blithely write off one-fifth of the world’s population—Muslims—as irredeemable.

The inability of white supremacists like Trump and Bannon to recognize the humanity of others springs from their spiritual impoverishment. They mistake bigotry for honesty and ignorance for innocence. They cannot separate fantasy from reality. Such people are, as author James Baldwin said, “moral monsters.”

Evil, for them, is embodied in the dehumanized other. Once the human personification of evil is eradicated, evil itself is supposed to disappear. Except, of course, that as soon as one group of human beings is annihilated, another human embodiment of evil rises to take its place. The Nazis began with Jews. Our fanatics are beginning with Muslims. History has shown where they will go from here.

“The nationalist is by definition an ignoramus,” the Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis said. “Nationalism is the line of least resistance, the easy way. The nationalist is untroubled, he knows or thinks he knows what his values are, his, that’s to say national, that’s to say the values of the nation he belongs to, ethical and political; he is not interested in others, they are no concern of his, hell—it’s other people (other nations, another tribe). They don’t even need investigating. The nationalist sees other people in his own images—as nationalists.”

Like all utopian dreamers they believe their authoritarianism is being implemented for our benefit. They are like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who oversaw the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake and who argued that eradicating heretics does them a favor because it saves them from their own damnation. It is impossible to have a rational dialogue with people who view reality through the binary lens of black and white—us and them. They do not recognize the right of dissent. Dissent is at best obstruction and probably treason. Fanatics, in power, always become inquisitors.

The acts of resistance—including the massive street protests the day after the inauguration and later the demonstrations that grew out of the ban on Muslims, the Department of Energy’s refusal to give the Trump administration a list of employees that worked on climate change, acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ refusal to enforce the travel ban and hundreds of State Department staff members’ signing of a memo opposing the immigration restrictions—terrify those around Trump. These reactionaries do not trust the old elites and their bureaucrats and courtiers, including the press, which Bannon has called “the opposition party.”

Akuno, who supports the appeal for nationwide general strikes, cautioned that such a call might be premature “because unions don’t know if a general strike is called how many members would comply, given how many voted for Trump.” He also noted that because the Trump regime is carrying out assaults on so many fronts, resistance will tax the resources of the left.

“This shotgun assault effectively divides the left,” he said. “Do I defend Chicago if, as Trump says, he puts tanks in the streets or do I go to Standing Rock if I am black? These are the kinds of choices we will be forced to make.”

“We are going to have to bring this society to a standstill,” he said. “We are going to have to disrupt the flow of commerce. We are going to have to disrupt the nodal points of distribution. We will not only have to figure out how to get on the highways, but disrupt Amazon.com and UPS. We have to get workers there, even though they are not unionized, to see these acts as in their long-term interests. And we have to build strong, fortified bases locally and link them together.”

Trump loyalists are counting on enough support from the police, the military, private contractors and the organs of internal security such as Homeland Security and the FBI, along with newly empowered white vigilante groups, to physically crush those who defy them. They will attempt to use fear and even terror to paralyze the population into acquiescence.

“It is not accidental that the Trump regime immediately went after the water protectors at Standing Rock,” Akuno said. “Standing Rock forced the wider society to look at itself, its history and its origins. It raised serious questions. Do we want human civilization to survive? Are we willing to destroy ourselves for short-term profit? Standing Rock exposed the U.S. colonial project and challenged capitalist logic. It showed us that we have to make a choice between oil and water. It asked us which will take priority for human beings.”

We have the power to make the country ungovernable. But we do not have much time. The regime will make it harder and harder to organize, get into the streets and carry out the nationwide strikes, including within the federal bureaucracy. Resistance alone, however, is not enough. It must be accompanied by an alternative vision of a socialist and anti-capitalist society. It must reject the Democratic Party’s attempt to ride anti-Trump sentiment back into power. The enemy is, in the end, not Trump or Bannon, but the corporate state. If we do not dismantle corporate power we will never stop fascism’s seduction of the white working class and unemployed.

“The evil which you fear becomes a certainty by what you do,” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in his play “Egmont.”

Now is the time not to cooperate. Now is the time to shut down the systems of power. Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance. The fanatics are moving with lightning speed. So should we.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/make_america_ungovernable_20170205

The Psychology of Fascism

Fear of Father and Fear of Freedom

We  suppose that fascism is a product of a poisoned heart, of hate. That is not really true. Fascism is a product of mind. Immature and stunted mind, that can’t find a way to grow. The fascist mind, I will suggest, is caught in a trap — between fear of a father figure and fear of freedom.

Our first thought is “I”. As we grow, we learn this is a table, this is a chair, and so on. This first requires the thought: I am not that. We learn to separate the world into subject and object.

But not all objects are created equal: some are desirable, prizes, and some are undesirable, threats. As we mature, we become able to to learn the relationship of the “I” to the elements of the world. We think this is appropriate, that is not appropriate, this is desirable, that is undesirable, and so on. For most of us, maturity ends here. We are safe — but now lack meaning in our lives because we never take the next, and most significant step: learning to outgrow the “I” altogether. When we learn to become selfless — not in a small way, but in a real one. Not with little acts of charity, but to feel our emotions and express our feelings, so we can have genuine relationships, give and contribute to the world whole-heartedly, and so on. Genuine maturity is learning that “I” is a limiting way of being in the world.

Now let us come back to fascism. What happens in fascism? The “I” never fully develops at all. Instead of growing into and then through the “I”, the fascist identifies with a father figure. He subsumes his identity, his emotions, his needs, his appetites — everything — in that father figure.

Why does he need to? Because the fascist is profoundly insecure. He is afraid, somehow, of the act of living, of freedom itself. There is a threat out there, a menace, a poison, which outweighs freedom itself. No mind can abide that kind of all pervading insecurity. He must either bury it, which takes constant work and energy. Or he can simply alleviate it through obedience to the father figure. If father says it, then we must do it — that is how everything will be alright again.

That brings us to the first conclusion. You will never convince fascists that they are wrong. Not with reason, facts, logic, or evidence. You cannot. They have replaced inner morality with obedience to begin with. There is no right and wrong for the immature mind of a fascist — there is only obedience and disobedience, only safety and danger. Hence, “fake news” being so credulously spread. Obedience is how they maintain their sense of security, and more importantly, sanity. They have sacrificed their moral and intellectual agency, so how can you appeal to it?

The fascist’s bond with the father figure is the bond of the child with the parent. In many ways, it is even greater — the child ougrows the parent, he learns and plays and rebels. But the fascist doesn’t. The fascist has identified with the father figure to the point that the father figure is the fascist — his spirit, his heart, his will.

That brings me to my second conclusion. The bond between a fascist and a father figure is even stronger than that of a parent with a child. It is not a superficial bond, like the bond of, say, a coach and an athlete, or a patient and a shrink. It is a bond that is too powerful. The fascist, throughout history, has been obedient to a point that it is incomprehensible to us. He will sacrifice himself — the Kamikazes. He will offer up his family — the Nazis. He will destroy everything that a sane person holds sacred, simply for the soothing caress of the father. Most of us would not do these things if our parents asked us, would we?

Why not? Because our moral agency, our consciences — and at last, our instincts for self-preservation — would kick in. Those do not exist in fascists. That is what a fear of freedom really means: you are willing even to give up on self preservation, which, of course, is an essential part of being a self. That is my second conclusion.

Where did they go? Remember the “I”? Our greatest drive in this life isn’t to satisfy the I. But to extinguish it. That’s why chase sex, money, power, and so on. How does the fascist extinguish the “I”? Through the “we”. The fascist loses the boundaries of the self by identifying his whole being with the father figure. That is how he satisfies his drive for transcendence. That is why the bond between the fascist and the father figure is so strong that it defies reason, logic, facts, evidence, argument. How strong is it? So strong that it has broken even the instinct for self-preservation in the fascist.

A mature mind does none of this. It seeks healthy ways to extinguish the I. Healthy means: ways that do not damage any life, including the thinker’s. What are some healthy ways? You commune with nature, you have a child, you read great books, you rise and fall and laugh, and so on. In these ways, we mature by learning the limits of the “I”. As we gain empathy, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, imagination, so we learn how to love. In that way, maturity is the constant act of becoming a more loving person.

But the fascist is stuck. He has regressed to an infantile state, and there he stays. His immature mind does not learn how to become a more loving person. It refuses and rejects the challenge. It simply transfers its anxiety and fear to the father figure, who, in exchange, soothes and calms it. The price is obedience, not freedom, which is the precondition of love.

Father can always withdraw that soothing. The existential fear can return at a moment’s notice. And so father has total control over the fascist. The fascists is caught in a trap — between fear of father, and fear of freedom.

Now the question is: why does all this come to be? Why doesn’t the fascist mature? That is the greatest question of all. Let me answer this in an oblique way.

The presentation of logic and facts seems to have the opposite effect that we intend, doesn’t it? It causes the fascist to grow more attached to the father figure, not less. But that much is obvious: if I come along and tell you, a child, that your parents, the source of your strength and safety, are bad people, you will instantly despise me, and cling to them all the more. Why? I am a threat to the very safety that you value.

That holds a very deep truth about fascism, which is my third conclusion. The fascist is traumatized, and that is why he cannot mature. Only if you were traumatized would you be willing to give up your whole being for safety. Why? Because the threat you are afraid of must be existential, absolute, total. It must be worse than hell if you are willing to give up living. The fascist has regressed to an infantile state — and that infant is himself stunted. He is not just “child-like”. In all the ways that count, the fascist is like a traumatized child. He is ever playing back in his head the reel, real or imaginary, of an existential injury, whichis leaving him paralyzed, enraged, broken, stuck.

The fascist does not mature because he is like a traumatized child who is constantly guarding against the threat of reliving his greatest fear, through obedience to the father figure. Remember, the fascist has no self-preservation instinct. He will sacrifice everything for the father. He is willing to give up the limits of his possibility for a moment of safety. Only the thought of an injury of the deepest kind could produce that fruitless exchange. Hence, when the father figure comes along and offers to soothe it, the fascist desperately sacrifices his whole self for that.

But the flip side is also true, which is my fourth conclusion. There has never been a way in which the fascist has learned to see the “I” in anyone else. The faculties of empathy, curiosity, creativity, compassion have never developed, because the threat of insecurity is total. That is what sacrificing safety for possibility really means: the fascist has never grown as a person, is stuck in the mode of a traumatized child, and as long as the bond between the fascist and the father is the truest thing in his life, he never can.

That brings us my last conclusion. To truly undo fascism, a society must unravel the bond between the fascist and the father figure. Unravel — not break. You can’t break such a bond. If someone comes along and hurts your father, you will only hate them for it. So trying to forcibly sever the bond between fascist and father is an oxymoron. Even if it succeeds, the fascist will stay a fascist, even more susceptible to another father figure.

There is only one way, in the end. Somehow, a society must offer the fascists the safety they are really seeking. No, of course: that doesn’t mean “be nice to fascists”. But it does mean that trying to break the bond of the parent with the hurt child is a waste of time. The only thing that can really break is it, if there is anything at all, another parent. A better one. One that offers not just safety for obedience, at the price of possibility. But who can offer safety from such a desperate need for safety in the first place.

Umair
February 2017

https://umairhaque.com/the-psychology-of-fascism-118c6e7d60fc#.k5ikdxdzy

2017 Isn’t ‘1984’—It’s Stranger Than Orwell Imagined

NEWS & POLITICS
Orwell could not have imagined the internet and its role in distributing alternative facts.

Photo Credit: Jason Ilagan / Flickr

A week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s “1984” is the best-selling book on Amazon.com.

The hearts of a thousand English teachers must be warmed as people flock to a novel published in 1949 for ways to think about their present moment.

Orwell set his story in Oceania, one of three blocs or mega-states fighting over the globe in 1984. There has been a nuclear exchange, and the blocs seem to have agreed to perpetual conventional war, probably because constant warfare serves their shared interests in domestic control.

Oceania demands total subservience. It is a police state, with helicopters monitoring people’s activities, even watching through their windows. But Orwell emphasizes it is the “ThinkPol,” the Thought Police, who really monitor the “Proles,” the lowest 85 percent of the population outside the party elite. The ThinkPol move invisibly among society seeking out, even encouraging, thoughtcrimes so they can make the perpetrators disappear for reprogramming.

The other main way the party elite, symbolized in the mustached figurehead Big Brother, encourage and police correct thought is through the technology of the Telescreen. These “metal plaques” transmit things like frightening video of enemy armies and of course the wisdom of Big Brother. But the Telescreen can see you, too. During mandatory morning exercise, the Telescreen not only shows a young, wiry trainer leading cardio, it can see if you are keeping up. Telescreens are everywhere: They are in every room of people’s homes. At the office, people use them to do their jobs.

The story revolves around Winston Smith and Julia, who try to resist their government’s overwhelming control over facts. Their act of rebellion? Trying to discover “unofficial” truth about the past, and recording unauthorized information in a diary. Winston works at the colossal Ministry of Truth, on which is emblazoned IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. His job is to erase politically inconvenient data from the public record. A party member falls out of favor? She never existed. Big Brother made a promise he could not fulfill? It never happened.

Because his job calls on him to research old newspapers and other records for the facts he has to “unfact,” Winston is especially adept at “doublethink.” Winston calls it being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies… consciously to induce unconsciousness.”

Oceania: The product of Orwell’s experience

Orwell’s setting in “1984” is inspired by the way he foresaw the Cold War – a phrase he coined in 1945 – playing out. He wrote it just a few years after watching Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin carve up the world at the Tehran and Yalta conferences. The book is remarkably prescient about aspects of the Stalinist Soviet Union, East Germany and Maoist China.

Orwell was a socialist. “1984” in part describes his fear that the democratic socialism in which he believed would be hijacked by authoritarian Stalinism. The novel grew out of his sharp observations of his world and the fact that Stalinists tried to kill him.

In 1936, a fascist-supported military coup threatened the democratically elected socialist majority in Spain. Orwell and other committed socialists from around the world, including Ernest Hemingway, volunteered to fight against the rightist rebels. Meanwhile, Hitler lent the rightists his air power while Stalin tried to take over the leftist Republican resistance. When Orwell and other volunteers defied these Stalinists, they moved to crush the opposition. Hunted, Orwell and his wife had to flee for their lives from Spain in 1937.

George Orwell at the BBC.

Back in London during World War II, Orwell saw for himself how a liberal democracy and individuals committed to freedom could find themselves on a path toward Big Brother. He worked for the BBC writing what can only be described as “propaganda” aimed at an Indian audience. What he wrote was not exactly doublethink, but it was news and commentary with a slant to serve a political purpose. Orwell sought to convince Indians that their sons and resources were serving the greater good in the war. Having written things he believed were untrue, he quit the job after two years, disgusted with himself.

Imperialism itself disgusted him. As a young man in the 1920s, Orwell had served as a colonial police officer in Burma. In a distant foreshadowing of Big Brother’s world, Orwell reviled the arbitrary and brutish role he took on in a colonial system. “I hated it bitterly,” he wrote. “In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the gray, cowed faces of the long-term convicts…”

Oceania was a prescient product of a particular biography and particular moment when the Cold War was beginning. Naturally, then, today’s world of “alternative facts” is quite different in ways that Orwell could not have imagined.

Big Brother not required

Orwell described a single-party system in which a tiny core of oligarchs, Oceania’s “inner party,” control all information. This is their chief means of controlling power. In the U.S. today, information is wide open to those who can access the internet, at least 84 percent of Americans. And while the U.S. arguably might be an oligarchy, power exists somewhere in a scrum including the electorate, constitution, the courts, bureaucracies and, inevitably, money. In other words, unlike in Oceania, both information and power are diffuse in 2017 America.

Those who study the decline in standards of evidence and reasoning in the U.S. electorate chiefly blame politicians’ concerted efforts from the 1970s to discredit expertise, degrade trust in Congress and its members, even question the legitimacy of government itself. With those leaders, institutions and expertise delegitimized, the strategy has been to replace them with alternative authorities and realities.

In 2004, a senior White House adviser suggested a reporter belonged to the “reality-based community,” a sort of quaint minority of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.… That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”

Orwell could not have imagined the internet and its role in distributing alternative facts, nor that people would carry around Telescreens in their pockets in the form of smartphones. There is no Ministry of Truth distributing and policing information, and in a way everyone is Big Brother.

It seems less a situation that people are incapable of seeing through Big Brother’s big lies, than they embrace “alternative facts.” Some researchers have found that when some people begin with a certain worldview – for example, that scientific experts and public officials are untrustworthy – they believe their misperceptions more strongly when given accurate conflicting information. In other words, arguing with facts can backfire. Having already decided what is more essentially true than the facts reported by experts or journalists, they seek confirmation in alternative facts and distribute them themselves via Facebook, no Big Brother required.

In Orwell’s Oceania, there is no freedom to speak facts except those that are official. In 2017 America, at least among many of the powerful minority who selected its president, the more official the fact, the more dubious. For Winston, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” For this powerful minority, freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make five.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working

Credit: Edel Rodriguez

IN BRIEF

  • Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  • It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.
  • This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.

CONTINUED:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/

Trump’s Agenda Is a Threat to Protections the LGBTQ Community Has Spent Decades Fighting For

The incoming administration is already targeting laws protecting basic civil rights.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr

Many are called but few are chosen during any presidential transition. That’s why it’s illuminating to consider who Donald Trump has chosen from the parade of possibilities for his transition team and senior administration appointments so far— and what they may portend for LGBTQ people.

The Christian Right, with few exceptions, backed the Trump ticket, with over 80 percent of White evangelicals voting for him, and now they’re being rewarded with traditional forms of political patronage. They’re scoring major appointments and have won a say in personnel and policy decisions on a scale far surpassing anything seen since the movement first arrived in Washington with the Reagan administration in 1980.

Since Trump himself has never held the kinds of values or displayed the kind of personal behavior prized by conservative Christians—and barely passes as any kind of a Christian at all—he and his backers needed a theological rationale for the Christian Right’s support. They found justification in biblical examples of God-anointed leaders who were ungodly themselves but who nevertheless delivered for God’s people. Christian Right leaders presented Trump in this way, it was broadly accepted by their followers, and Trump is now evidently making good on the deal.

Let’s look first at two early warnings from which all the rest flows.

The first is an important campaign promise affecting LGBTQ people. In November 2016, Trump told 60 Minutes that he was “fine” with gay marriage; at the Republican National Convention he described himself as “a supporter” of the LGBTQ community, and said he considers marriage equality a “settled” matter. But none of those statements amount to promises to LGBTQ people, to whom he is sending mixed messages He has also promised the Christian Right he would consider appointing justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Secondly, Trump has also positioned himself in the camp of establishing dangerously broad religious exemptions from all laws aimed at ensuring LGBTQ civil rights. He promised he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) if it reached his desk. FADA, which was first introduced in 2015 and now has substantial support in both houses of Congress, would legalize discrimination in the name of “religious belief or moral conviction,” requiring nothing more than someone’s say so. The scope of the Act appears to primarily affect government departments and agencies, and federal contractors and grantees, including entities that may require federal accreditation or licensing, such as universities and hospitals. And maybe more.

Under FADA, denial of service could take many forms beyond matters of wedding cakes, flowers, and photographers, to include allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people (or their children), businesses to refuse health benefits to a same-sex partner, and child welfare workers to keep a child in foster care as opposed to placing them with a loving and qualified same-sex couple. If that’s not enough, FADA exempts non-profit organizations and businesses from non-discrimination standards. The proposal’s implications go well beyond issues of direct discrimination. FADA might allow federal employees to refuse being involved in processing federal benefits and rights claims to which they conscientiously object, such as any involving married same-sex couples. The bill exempts “any person regardless of religious affiliation, including corporations and other entities regardless of for-profit or nonprofit status” from following non-discrimination codes on the basis of religious beliefs.

If this is the benchmark approach to policy (regardless of the immediate future of the legislation itself) the federal government will be leading efforts to reverse historic gains of recent decades—attacking the basis for LGBTQ freedom and the dignity and rights of everyone else for whom a religious justification for denying service can be made.

But there’s more.

Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his vice president was a transformational moment in the campaign, and arguably in American history. Pence may be best known for his theocratic political identity, proudly explaining at the 2010 Values Voter Summit in 2010, for example, that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Donald Trump, via his son Donald Jr., reportedly called an aide to his first choice for veep, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and told him that a president Trump would put Kasich in charge of both foreign and domestic policy, while the president himself would be in charge of “making America great again.” Pence hasn’t said whether he got the same deal, but his role as chair of the transition team suggests that he is already among the most powerful vice presidents in American history.

This does not bode well.

Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana was marked by his signing a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that would make discrimination against same-sex couples legally defensible. Pence signed the Act in the company of his state’s Christian Right leadership, marking him as a movement leader himself. Following national outcry, the legislature passed an amendment that explicitly stated that such discrimination was not the intent of the law.

Unsurprisingly, given both Trump and Pence’s history and views, much of the Christian Right agenda, particularly with regards to anything that affects LGBTQ people, will probably come wrapped in the flag of religious freedom. Some leading indicators of the direction the administration will take in this regard are visible in the transition team that’s proposing staff for the new administration and the appointments and nominations that have resulted from their work so far.

Ken Blackwell heads domestic issues for the transition team. A longtime Christian Right pol from Ohio, he is Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council, the leading Christian Right lobby in Washington, D.C. Blackwell also serves on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Christian Right legal group that promotes religion based exemptions from the law.

Ed Meese leads the transition team for the Office of Management and Budget. He is one of the architects of FADA and served as Attorney General in the Reagan administration. He is joined by Kay Cole James, the former dean of the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a former head of the federal Office of Personnel Management. These figures know how the federal government works and how to ensure their people are well represented among the 4,000 positions that need to be filled in the West Wing of the White House, and throughout the federal government over the course of the Trump administration and beyond.

Ken Klukowski serves on the part of the transition team focusing on executive authority, responsible for “protecting constitutional rights.” He is the senior counsel for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute (formerly the Liberty Institute), a leading Christian Right legal group focused on religious exemptions from the law, especially LGBTQ rights. He is also the senior legal editor for Breitbart News.

Dr. Ben Carson is one of twelve vice-chairs of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson is a Christian Right leader and anti-LGBTQ ideologue known for harsh rhetoric in support of his beliefs. Carson has associated being LGBTQ with polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality. He thinks that transgender people are “the height of absurdity” and he claims that marriage equality is a Marxist plot that may lead the country to go the way of the Roman Empire. He has characterized the kind of public housing he would oversee at HUD as “communism” and as Secretary he could undermine if not reverse the Obama administration’s efforts to curb discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is a vice-chair of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions is also a co-sponsor of FADA. The Huffington Postheadlined an article about his nomination, “Pick Any LGBTQ Rights Issue. Jeff Sessions Has Voted Against It.” His Senate chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, is the executive director of the transition team.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is nominated to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price’s House voting record received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He is a co-sponsor of FADA and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, is a longtime financier of Christian Right projects, particularly in the area of school privatization. Politico reports that DeVos has said her work in education is intended to “advance God’s kingdom.” She and her family, heirs to the Amway corporate fortune, have a long record of underwriting Christian Right and anti-LGBTQ projects and organizations for the same reason. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that believe in “conversion therapy”; they are major backers of Focus on the Family, whose founder, James Dobson, called the battle against LGBTQ rights a “second civil war.” (Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who steadfastly supported Trump through the campaign, was Trump’s first choice for secretary. Falwell said he declined in order to attend to other obligations.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and top level appointments should be taken as clear indicators of the direction of the Trump administration with regard to the dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ people. And if past is prologue, what Mr. Trump says may not be nearly as important as what he does. Continued vigilance regarding what his appointees do in his name will be vital.

 

Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates and a member of the Public Eye editorial board. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, and the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.

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