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May 23, 2004

Our future. Being right won’t save us.

(Shorter David Neiwert: We can forgive those who have wronged us; we cannot forgive those whom we have wronged. That’s where fascism comes from.) [11:30 PM]

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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Our future.:

Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 12:25 AM:

Before making any judgements on the highschool censorship issue, check what the Volokh Conspiracy has to say about it

Something about that story smelled wrong the first time I read about it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 12:42 AM:

First, I'm more interested in what Neiwert has to say about the roots of fascism than I am in the specifics of any high-school censorship case.

Second, I have pretty much no respect for the "Volokh Conspiracy," a web site that (it seems to me) exists solely in order to provide a veneer of legitimacy for monstrousness.

See, unlike the courtesans of Volokh, I was actually a subject of Southwestern petty-tyrant school administrators. So I know what I think of people who go out of their way to justify the unjustifiable. Hope they enjoy their kneepads.

Yeah, I'm unfair. Also, a bastard. And I'm rotten to Texans, too. I'm on my way to hell, for sure.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 12:59 AM:

It doesn’t look to me like the Volokhs are justifying anything; they’re passing along the claim that the incident has been falsely reported. One of the letters they’re quoting seems to be from Courtney Butler, the author of “Revolution X”, the poem that’s supposed to have caused Nevins’s firing.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:07 AM:

Clearly, the question of where fascism comes from rides on the issue of what happened in a New Mexico high school.

By an amazing coincidence, the ever-so-reasonable "Volokhs" most frequently manage to report facts that tend to show that those in power are right to be in power, and those who criticize power are wrong to do so.

I wouldn't have guessed that Avram Grumer would join them in their celebrations, but hey, you never know.

Power is awfully attractive. And the big issue is exactly what happened in a particular high school. Indeed, every point David Neiwert might have made rides on this! Thanks to Avram Grumer for clarifying this.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:11 AM:

By the way, just to get back to the actual subject at hand: BEING RIGHT WON'T SAVE US. Fascism is all about getting even with people like us. As David Neiwert pointed out.

Of course, David Neiwert might have been wrong about one or another tiny point, which means he's wrong about everything. Hey, just ask Avram Grumer.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:19 AM:

Power? I get power for this? Does it come with henchmen?

Varia ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:19 AM:

It seems as though it goes from democracy to tyranny of the majority to fascism, in two easy steps. I'm not sure how you draw the line between those stages, but it's probably an irrelevant question. We are still somewhere in the middle, but even the teetering is frightening.

The KKK parallel is an apt one. In both cases you have a comfortable majority being led to believe that their comfort is under dire threat, on the basis of spurious evidence. Whether the leadership of that majority believes the evidence, or is simply making use of it, I haven't figured out yet. Well, actually, I lean towards the latter explanation, at least recently. Our government's attitude of faith-above-mere-evidence, and apparent ease with dishonesty, fits much better with cynical manipulation than pure-minded zealotry.

Varia ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:24 AM:

Also, is it that we cannot forgive those we wrong? Or that we are simply terrified of them?

Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:39 AM:


Firstly, prior to this discussion, I had never heard of Avram Grumer or the Volokh Conspiracy. So perhaps it is a clever deception that leads me to think that they are being reasonable, and PNH is acting insane.

I don't think that pointing out a potential weakness in the primary illustration of a powerful point is the same as saying the point itself is wrong. And presenting the opposition's view point is far from unfair--it is necessary, as most any debater will tell you, to understanding the issue, whatever side you take.

In fact, viciously attacking others merely for presenting an opposing view seems, to me at at least, somewhat fascist.

David Neiwert ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 03:07 AM:

Well, in sifting through the various accounts -- which differed in detials -- I spotted the obvious holes in the News-Herald version, several of which are detailed by the school district's denial.

But the district's denial doesn't in fact negate the core facts of the story, most of which I tried to sift out in the post. It was clear, for instance, that the "shut your face" remark was spoken by the person reading the counter-poem, not by the principal. That doesn't excuse Principal Tripp's behavior in clearly condoning both the sentiment and the purpose of the ceremony.

Note also that the district's denial does not refute other core facts: the poetry club was shut down, other students faced retaliation, the fact that all these actions came after the military liaison officer complained, and the clear fact that Bill Nevin's attempts to move to another district were held up by school officials (though whether it was incompetence or maliciousness is something that will probably be determined in court).

Neither, it must be noted, does the student poet's letter refute any of these facts. She is simply upset (understandably so) at the invasion of her privacy by people interested in the case, and the hijacking of her poem.

Some of the facts do remain unclear, and I expect they'll sift out. In the meantime, I simply thought that regardless of the district's defense, the core facts of the Nevin case were difficult to refute. It was an example of the suppressive behavior that I think is actually fairly widespread, particularly in the context of the current war, engaged in by people in all kinds of official capacities in small ways, that often go completely uncovered. It's the real-life extension of the "stab in the back" and "liberal treason" memes, played out on the local level.

By the way, thanks for the link, Patrick.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 05:37 AM:

That's from one of the romans, isn't it, about forgiving those we've wronged?

julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 05:57 AM:

Hey, twofer: at the bottom of this article about the censorship controversy (by a reporter who knows the fired teacher, and he doesn't seem to be all that conflicted about what happened) there's this:

Writers and editors who have spent years translating essays, films, poems, scientific articles and books by Iranian, North Korean and Sudanese authors have been warned not to do so by the U.S. Treasury Department under penalty of fine and imprisonment. Publishers and film producers are not allowed to edit works authored by writers in those nations. The Bush administration contends doing so has the effect of trading with the enemy, despite a 1988 law that exempts published materials from sanction under trade rules.

Robert Bovenschulte, president of the American Chemical Society, is challenging the rule interpretation by violating it to edit into English several scientific papers from Iran.

oh, and also this, more on point:
Meanwhile, Nevins applied for a teaching post in another school and was offered the job but he can't go to work until Rio Rancho's principal sends the new school Nevins' credentials. The principal has refused to do so, and that adds yet another issue to the lawsuit, which is awaiting a trial date.

I can't think of any excuse for the principal to deny this teacher a livelihood.

bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 05:58 AM:

Dave, I've been (trying to) send you readers since I started blogging a couple weeks ago; your post about journalists not wanting to think about skinhead gun nut hate groups in the recent past helped crystalize my response to why (as opposed to the general antipathy I have to shutting down discussion on any topic) I think the whole "Godwin's Law" phenomenon, in RL as well as VR, was such a bad idea and helped land us here.

Recently I said somewhere that the reason the "respectable" Rightists won't disavow "cranks" like Limbaugh and Coulter and Savage is that they're not the crazy fringhe, they *are* the vanguard, the avant guarde of the Party, the edge that makes everyone else bleed.

One other thing I've noticed about them is that, by and large, civilized people are too civilized to deal with them (getting back to your theme)or rather too afraid of looking silly, ie "descending to their level" by "taking them seriously" and so they've been allowed to spew venom - and I think it is real venom, in the sense of poisoning the land - unchecked until recently, when all we online cranks started rolling up our sleeves and engaging in verbal (and visiual) street brawls with these mouthpieces of the PTB.

And look how little they can take being dished back - but they were never very good at it. (Nash vs Taft.) Hollow men all. Why couldn't the massmedia do it? In the really bad times, only satirists - Jesters - tell the truth to control freaks. Up with Coyote!

But the silencing of discussion on fascism in the public sphere is what enabled them to rise this time as last. Being too "nice" i the old fashioned sense, too dainty to look at their vomitous lies, let alone try to clean up the mess.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 08:02 AM:

Julia: No, actually, it's a reference to a remark by La Rochefoucauld, who said everything first.

ElizabethVomMarlo ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 10:48 AM:

I have been thinking a lot about pride and Germany after WWI. Hitler eventually had a ton of popular support, and I think a lot of it had to do with restoring pride to a very beaten Germany.

After 9/11, we took a very different direction as a nation. And now we've screwed up publicly, a lot, with the Iraq war, the war on terror, the torture, everything, even the disastrous economy. I see a lot of hurt pride.

What I see isn't just a loss of material goods, like affordable gas, but emotional goods.

What I see in fascism is an artificially created pride that has to (or chooses to) silence disagreement because it rests so much on belief/faith/lies/intangibles. I don't know. But I wonder if fascism seems like a reasonable option because fixings our screwups (restoring our national pride in a real way) seems impossible?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 11:07 AM:

That's what I'm worried about. I think we're beginning to see it already.

The danger of real fascism hasn't peaked yet; it will peak after the inevitable failure of the imperial adventure.

BSD ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 11:37 AM:

Exactly, Mr. Nielsen Hayden. As the reasons for shame increase, the need to counteract shame with pride increases, and those who have invested their personal pride and value in the success and rightness of this group will cling ever harder to that which defends their worldview, and fight ever harder to silence that which attacks it.

I'm reading Lord of Light right now, largely on Avram's recommednation, and the parallel is not exactly unobvious.

Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 11:48 AM:
But I wonder if fascism seems like a reasonable option because fixings our screwups (restoring our national pride in a real way) seems impossible?

I think that's what leads people to embrace it - it doesn't require any work. It doesn't require you to fix anything, or even make the painful acknowledgement that you (your country, your government, etc.) has done something wrong. It just reassures you that everything is just fine, and as a corollary that anyone who says that things aren't just fine is wrong and must be punished.

I'm thinking that there is a parallel here to the sort of religious belief that Teresa has mentioned recently, the sort that doesn't require you to do anything difficult.

On a unrelated note, am I the only one who wonders why a high school has a military liasion officer? Is this a Rio Rancho district thing? Is this a Southwestern thing? Is it a since-I-graduated-high-school (1985) thing? Is it just the person who runs ROTC and they have a funny name for it?

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 12:47 PM:

I would like to remind folks just tuning in of David Neiwert's article from 2003: Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis. It has a long discussion of the nature and origins of fasism. I found it helpful. I recommend reading through to the end where Mr. Neiwert explains how he learned why we should remain alert for a possible return of fascism to America.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 12:49 PM:

s /fasism/fascism

The will of the people demands spell checking in web browsers.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 01:57 PM:

I think that's right, that covers the historical cases pretty well (Pisistratus as well as those he cites), and yes, things are looking bleak -- not beyond hope, but bleak.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Heresiarch: You misjudge the tone. Patrick & Avi know one another personally. A lot of the people who post here know one another. That was friendly sarcasm, not invective aimed at AG.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 09:08 PM:

TomB: Dinna fash yersel'...

Hmm. I, too, wonder what'll happen if/when the Gops lose. I see them as not-un-sore heads, proud of their might yet feeling powerless.

Look away now. Keep your eyes on the larger issue, but I just wanted to use the line, "Shut your truth-holes, ya freedom-loving little freaks!"

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 09:19 PM:

My blog post on the article notes that the school is also being sued for suspending a girl who had a small Swiss Army knife on her keychain when school policy on the matter was unclear. And if, as the letter in Volokh indicates, the matter took place in another school and is easily found in the newspaper why didn't they link to it?

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 10:34 PM:

"This is a peculiar blind spot, because in fact fascism is only possible as an outgrowth -- a metastasis, if you will -- of democracy."

I don't think I agree. It's more an outgrowth of half-democracy. 1930s Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan: these were all countries less than a century removed from aristocratic political forms. In those countries reactionary authoritarianism--"fascism" (a word whose generalization I dislike)--emerged out of the shock of social change in new and shaky democracies. Looking at US history, prior to 1960 we had enormous numbers of people forbidden basic freedoms by law and custom. Numerous other liberalizations occurred in the period 1960-80 and I think it likely that our current authoritarian movement emerges, exactly, from reaction to those changes.

The more I look at the US political system, the more I come to believe it is often much less democratic than our dominant cultural mythology makes it. The history appears now to me to alternate liberal periods with periods of elite dominance. The most recent liberal period, I think, was 1960-80--but the system is very prone to manipulation by an elite (like the current ruling coaltion) and once an elite has come into power, they reorder the system to sustain their power.

It seems to me likely that the current crop of reactionaries have overreached, and will lose power in less than six years, but they have already done much damage, are likely to do more, and there is the possibility that they will cement their authority for longer.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 11:24 PM:

I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to describe the era of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon as particularly liberal, if that's contrasted with rule by a largely self-selecting elite acting with little reference to popular concern except when it came to symbolic acts. All three administrations included massive deception and manipulation of public opinion. All three also depended on vote fraud to get their power in the first place, in ways that (as nearly as I know, which means I'm willing to take correction) Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton did not. It's just that their particular elites were so much more competent than this bunch.

jennie ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 11:56 PM:

I second the request for an explanation of what the begumba a Military Liaison Officer does at a secondary school. We don't have those up here, I don't think. Do they recruit kids for the military? Supervise cadets? What sort of "liaison" takes place between a school and the military? How can the military have any say with regard to what an after school club does? The very idea chills my heart, and I haven't the foggiest where to go looking for an explanation of this bizarre concept.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 01:00 AM:

Re military liaison: My googling showed they had a Junior ROTC program (Marines). I suspect that the liaison is the instructor or sponsor or whatever for that group. Why he gets a say in school policy or curriculum is not explicable.


Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 01:43 AM:

"I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to describe the era of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon as particularly liberal, if that's contrasted with rule by a largely self-selecting elite acting with little reference to popular concern except when it came to symbolic acts."

By liberal I was thinking of the granting of basic legal rights to, at last, all adult citizens and of the various legal and social restrictions that were cast aside at that time. It was also a time in which the government, despite all failings, was unusually responsive to the public. I do agree it was not perfection; our system of government has, it seems to me, some deeply anti-democratic structural elements. On balance, though, the period 1960-80 saw enormous victories for freedom and democracy within the United States.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 02:44 AM:

Re; Military Liaison

Another explanation I've seen is that they're essentially recruiting officers, and there are laws which give them pretty sweeping access to school records and stuff so they can pick out potential recruits.

Which doesn't sound good...

The account I saw described the system as a counter to post-Vietnam reactions which kept the military recruiting out of schools.

I've mixed feelings; I recall a lot of ignorant careers advice from school staff, but correcting ignorance doesn't excuse what sounds like partisan politics.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 07:03 AM:

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2004, 09:08 PM:

"Hmm. I, too, wonder what'll happen if/when the Gops lose. I see them as not-un-sore heads, proud of their might yet feeling powerless. "

The pattern has already been developed - take Clinton-bashing, and do the same on Kerry. Expect a wave of denunciations of Kerry, a complete reversal of the present 'to criticize the president is unpatriotic' theme, and (the GOP) Congress suddenly finding out that they have constitutional powers.

alan ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 12:05 PM:

We must never misunderestimate how devious neo-conservatives think they are. They really think they're really hip to deviousness.

Even the neoconservatives couldn't help noting that Ahmed Chalabi was transparently a crook and everyone who ever met him thought so.

So they plainly kept him around because of his transparent crookedness. So they planted him in Baghdad with a roll of money so he could act like flypaper for every crooked thing in Iraq. So they could arrest him or turn against him a month before the 'transition'. So they could dump everything that goes wrong in Iraq on him because even if he didn't do it it'll stick like flypaper, because he's like an octopus made of flypaper for every crooked thing in town.

They obviously didn't count on anything like Abu Ghraib turning up, but even this they are likely to try to fob off on him by claiming some of the civilian contract torturers were employed by one of his companies. Which people will never be produced because they will be said to have gone into hiding in some country like Iran from whence they cannot be retrieved. And that it was all Chalabi will just out there twisting in the wind for all eternity, 'believed' in by Republicans everywhere, and uncontradicted by anything on the news until maybe twenty years from now.

And that's exactly what's going to happen.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 01:30 PM:

Aha! Found it...

It is human to hate those whom we have injured. –Tacitus, Life of Agricola

but it's not quite the same

Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 03:22 PM:

I re-confirmed my unwanted gift as a Cassandra on 9/11 by saying, "I hope this isn't our Reichstag fire." Whether it was is still an open question.

I recommend Wilhelm Reich, Communist and psychoanalyst, who was there, and wrote _The Mass Psychology of Fascism_. (Germanic professorial style-warning) Re-reading it clarified a lot of things for me, but, alas, didn't give me any (hoped-for) countering tactics.

If Reich is obscure to you: he's the only person I know of whose books were burned (bonfires and incinerators, not rhetorical flourish) by the Communists, the Fascists, and the United States government. He had at least his share of warts, but is still indispensible.

Josh ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 04:28 PM:

Of course, David Neiwert might have been wrong about one or another tiny point, which means he's wrong about everything.

Well, for me, whether or not he's wrong on one or another tiny point is irrelevant; I think his history of fascism is bunk.

But I have to say I'm surprised to see you channeling Steven Den Beste, Patrick.

Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2004, 06:36 PM:

I'll add Karl Popper's The Open Society And Its Enemies to Neil's recommendation.

binggo550 ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2004, 04:12 AM:

the germans will never forgive the jews for auschwitz. someone said that, so i won't take credit for it being original to me. but it just seems appropriate for the discussion.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Hannah Arendt, I think.