When the Far Right is Far Wrong

Dec 16, 2020 | Norm Reynolds | 3 comments

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In response to my recent blog post criticizing the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a child sex-trafficking ring from which only Donald Trump can save the world through a “Storm” of mass incarcerations, one Comox Valley reader (CVr)felt my analysis fell short of recognizing that individuals in the QAnon movement are “normal people, no worse than us.”

Apparently CVr had been reading Ethan Zuckerman ‘s lengthy analysis of QAnon and felt Zuckerman saw real merit in QAnon in that it compels all of us to see the consensual nature of society rather than society as a concrete reality. Well—actually—Zuckerman’s summary of his commentary succinctly states “…QAnon represents a hazardous new form of participatory civics and digital storytelling.”

While I laud CVr for his attempts to stretch human understanding to cover all others rather than allowing misunderstandings to divide us into warring camps, my readings on the rise of the Nazis convinces me that the Nazi’s hideous agenda would not have been possible without the lack of backbone on the part of the German ruling classes. Then even as the world could see Hitler’s repugnant intentions the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain decided that if the British could just be concessionary to Hitler on some fronts, the Nazi’s might view the British more favorably.  Well, we all now know how concessions to the Nazis only fueled their greed and malevolent intentions.

While I respect and honour CVr for his expansive perspectives on understanding those with whom we disagree, my concern is that, as with the rise of the Nazis, we have to see clearly where our tolerance of the intolerant is taking us.

In other times I would have fully agreed with CVr that we need to be looking for common ground in all—especially with those we disagree with. And even in these times I will hold CVr’s perspective in mind as one way of viewing QAnon. But I happen to be reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich–William Shirer’s exhaustive, comprehensive, historical account of the Nazi era in Europe. I find the parallels between the Nazi tactics and the socially vicious views of QAnon –frightening.

Yes, disenfranchisement fuels movements like QAnon and the Nazis. What worries me is that we are learning too late the impact of economic, social and political disenfranchisement. That horse has long since bolted. 

Appeasement of belligerent hate has not/does not placate antisocial behavior. It didn’t in 1930’s Germany and it won’t in the United States.  Even the FBI has warned that fringe conspiracy theories like QAnon pose a growing domestic terrorism threat.

Let’s leave the last word to Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges who notes in his most recent CommonDreams.org post  : “Trump and the Republican Party, along with the shrill incendiary voices on right-wing media, play the role the anti-Semitic parties played in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th century. The infusion of anti-Semitism into the political debate in Europe destroyed the political decorum and civility that is vital to maintaining a democracy. Racist tropes and hate speech, as in Weimar Germany, now poison our political discourse. Ridicule and cruel taunts are hurled back and forth. Lies are interchangeable with fact. Those who oppose us are demonized as human embodiments of evil.”

Hedges goes on to compare the rising right in the US to events leading to state terror during the war in El Salvador and cautions that “Those that resist as social unrest mounts will be attacked as agents of a foreign power and censored, as many already are being censored, including through algorithms and deplatforming on social media. The most ardent and successful dissidents, such as Julian Assange, will be criminalized.”

“We stand on the cusp of a frightening authoritarianism,” warns Hedges:

“Political dysfunction, a bankrupt and discredited liberal class, massive and growing social inequality, a grotesquely rich and tone-deaf oligarchic elite, the fragmentation of the public into warring tribes…” are, according to Hedges, equally true of 1930s Germany and 2020 America.

German Social Democrat Kurt Schumacher said in the 1930s that fascism  “is a constant appeal to the inner swine in human beings” and succeeds by “mobilizing human stupidity”—but he couldn’t have been more to the point today as hate filled rhetoric caters to “ the desperate desire for emotional catharsis, for renewed glory and prosperity and for acts of savage vengeance against the phantom enemies blamed for our national debacle.”

I am afraid that what we are seeing in Trump’s desperate efforts to stay in office mimic Hitler’s actions after becoming Chancellor when he simply passed a law ending civil liberties, enacting censorship and making himself dictator.  Given Trumps desperate electoral antics nothing is off the table yet. And he has these legions of QAnon already trained to take on the role of the Brown Shirts in the rise of the Nazi’s.

I wish, I wish, I wish that CVr was right: we can just go say some nice, inclusive things and all this will just go away: however, history just doesn’t offer much support for the ostrich effect in altering undesirable outcomes.  It certainly did not work in 1930s Germany. It is failing us today.

I don’t know how you legislate or ensure basic truth and civility in public discourse but I do know that social media is failing us–big time–in its self-imposed inability to demand civility and some degree of credibility in how we talk with each other. Every newspaper, even the far right ones, has some kind of code about minimal truth and decency in public communication.  Surely we can demand the same of social media!

Norm Reynolds

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This week’s “Conversation” is heavy. It needs—NEEDS! an introduction.

An introduction to the discussion of This Civilization IS FINISHED: Conversations on the end of Empire—and what lies beyond by Rupert Read and Samuel Alexander
You can read the whole argument at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340538684_This_civilization_is_finished_Time_to_build_an_ecological_civilization

Beyond the ALR

Beyond the ALR

You are warmly invited to join in CV Conversations which will be more—conversational; represent a diversity of perspectives on topics of interest to Comox Valley residents. We don’t know how this will turn out—It’s and experiment! We’re going to make up the rules as we go and we thoroughly hope that others will want to join the conversations and contribute new ideas as to how the conversations can evolve.

If you are interested in being part of CV Conversations for one issue or for all posts or have some thoughts on how this conversational blog could be even more relevant/interesting send me a note at nreynolds at shaw.ca. We, the founding members of CV Conversations, see this as a natural progression for a participator centred local community website.

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3 Comments

  1. Arthur Ralfs

    We seem to be at a critical juncture in the evolution of human civilization. We have to figure out our relationship to the Natural world but at the same time there’s a split in the collective psyche which has become particularly apparent under the Trump administration and now with the Covid pandemic. Personally I’m a hard core math science guy so I look at the stuff coming from the Trumpians ( we have them in Canada too, as do other countries) and my first reaction is that they’re stupid idiots. Unfortunately seventy odd million people voted for Trump so dismissing them as stupid, while maybe momentarily gratifying, is not in the least bit useful. I look at things from a Jungian perspective. In the later portion of his life Jung was primarily concerned with the problem of the unification of opposites. This doesn’t occur with one side winning or defeating the other but by some transcendent formation of a new unity which subsumes the opposites. How this happens will not be obvious to either of the opposites in the unification.

    Along the same Jungian lines I observe our mainstream culture is obsessed with heroes. Note all the proliferating comic heroes in mainstream culture. After the American election I listened to a pundit opine that we just have to wait for some new leaders to emerge, in other words wait for a hero to show up and save us. Good plan that. In Jung’s psychology the hero is an archetype associated with adolescence and the adolescent’s struggle for independence from the parents. Our obsession with heroes is, in my humble opinion, a direct expression of the adolescent nature of our mainstream culture. While the hero archetype has been somewhat useful to humanity historically I suspect that usefulness, also in line with my concept of hierarchical obsolescence, has run its course. The highly complex global civilization we have now is not amenable to heroes, or, in general, top down hierarchical solutions. We need a new archetype, or more bluntly, we need to grow up and act like adults.

    Reply
    • Norm

      Very well thought, well put argument, Arthur. I confess to an unrealistic hope for Obama and –all the more depressing when he failed so miserably to life up to even minimal hopes. And Trudeau, i had much less hopes for but I thought he would not immediately thumb his nose at his triumphal promise about electoral reform. I understand and largely agree that we have looked too much to heros, but I am hard put to conceptualize change that has happened without some kind of hero/focal point to catalyze the change.
      It is one thing to talk of the need for a new archetype, but any ideas on how we could catalyze the move to a new archetype or perhaps paradigm about social change.
      After covid I would love to put this to a group of interested people as fodder for discussion.

      Reply
  2. tony

    “No one and nothing can free you but your own understanding.”

    Ajahn Chah

    Some people only believe in certain ideas after they have seen a lot of credible evidence. Others seem to be vulnerable to any idea that seems to confirm their pre-existing biases. A lot of research has been done around what type of personality is vulnerable to conspiracy theories. This link gives some good, basic, information:

    https://psychcentral.com/blog/conspiracy-theory-disorder-understanding-why-people-believe

    It appears that people who are afraid and anxious are more vulnerable. There is ample evidence that the Nazis would not have been able to carry out their policies without the widespread support of ordinary Germans. Two good books on that topic are:

    “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust” by Daniel J. Goldhagen

    “Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans” by Eric A. Johnson

    Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not unique to Germany. There are far too many examples of individuals who strongly objected to being the victims of various atrocities, only to become the perpetrators once they later gained the upper hand.

    The solution is to have a well educated and informed electorate. Given what I hear in Canada about the pandemic being a hoax and vaccines being a government conspiracy, I am not very optimistic.

    Reply

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