Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Eternal Specter of Fascism

Since I’ve recently been accused of being a fascist (and not for the first time), I did a little self-reflection and concluded that, yes, I probably am that.  And so, I suspect, are you, if you are honest with yourself and possess any degree of self-awareness.  Allow me to explain...

Ever since adolescence I have been acutely aware that our glorious species is, for the most part, a vast troop of self-deluding monkeys who, despite our overgrown neocortexes, are still largely driven by hundred million year old lizard brain impulses.  Perhaps I had an advantage over others in perceiving this fact, in that for medical reasons I did not hit puberty until I was 21 and a junior in collegean age at which I was presumably a bit more self-aware than most adolescents.  During my accelerated transformation from boy to man, the change in consciousness which testosterone triggered in me made my true nature frighteningly clear, and by extension, I understood the frightening nature of all men.

Modern civilizations have created an elaborate apparatus to moderate, harness and control our primal energies, but it remains a rather thin layer atop a dark sea of prehuman imperatives.  Sigmund Freud called this sea the “Id”, which is in a constant battle with the ego and super-ego for cognitive control.  Aldous Huxley pointed out that every human being is both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, owing to our brain’s evolutionary trifurcation into the lower reptilian and limbic complexes and the higher neocortex.  Each of us is in a very real physiological sense a split personality, and our conscious, rational mind is just one of these personalities, scarcely aware of what the other ones are doing.

What does all this have to do with fascism?  Everything!  For what is politics, after all, but an expression of collective human psychology?  Using Huxley’s Jekyll and Hyde model, what we might call “rational liberalism” is essentially the political expression of our cerebral Dr. Jekyll minds.  This part of ourselves finds political expression in the ideals of the Enlightenment, in notions of democracy, equality, the rule of law and progress.  It is the politics of such modern cerebral rationalists as David Brin and Barack Obama.

On the other hand, our reptilian Mr. Hyde minds express themselves politically in war, racism, slavery, xenophobia and genocide – all the old evils that the progressives have been so hard at work trying to eradicate in recent centuries.  The poster child for modern reptilian politics is, of course, Adolph Hitler.  Notice an interesting correlation here: just as our reptilian brains are much older than our cerebral brains, so too are the political institutions of war and tribalism much older than our recent regime of democracy and the rule of law.  Progressive politics, like the cerebral cortex, is a thin layer that sits atop a deep ocean of violent and regressive political instincts.

That this political layer is very thin should be obvious from recent historical examples.  The outbreak of fascism and Nazism in the 1930’s in the heart of Europe – home of the most advanced civilizations in the world at the time – was nothing more than a resurfacing of our reptilian impulses en masse.  War, eugenics, racism and genocide became state policy in many places for a decade or more, giving us a brief glimpse of what Mr. Hyde politics looks like in a 20th century setting.  The results were devastating for everyone involved, but the reptilian fascists were eventually defeated.  The cerebral progressives breathed a huge sigh of relief, then set about creating institutions which would ensure that such an outbreak never again plagued mankind.

What I find both amusing and disturbing is to hear modern progressives trying to dismiss the phenomenon of 20th century fascism with smug moralization or shallow rationalization.  By doing so, they are trivializing what is a very deep and seductive tendency within us all.  Human beings did not get where we are today merely by cooperating with our fellow man for the common good; we are the heirs of a legacy of tribal genocide, conquest and rape that stretches back to the dawn of proto-humanity.  This is who we are, at the deepest psychological level.  When you strip away our liberal conditioning, each of us has an inner fascist looking for any opportunity to break free and start cracking heads with a femur club.  There is no changing this fact, short of re-engineering ourselves chemically or genetically.  In an evolutionary sense it may even be a losing battle, in that the fascist thugs will probably always out-breed the progressive nerds.

Liberals today are therefore engaged in a never ending campaign to contain our fascist impulses via the powerful indoctrination tools of mass media, education and popular culture.  So our world grows ever more artificial and engineered, a Brave New World of electronic soma administered from birth to neuter the beast called man.  But if this Matrix should ever fail as it did in the 1930's and as it is threatening to do today in the face of economic collapse, climate change, peak oil and other Malthusian afflictions – then the fascists who are currently languishing in the prisons of politically correct civilization will take advantage of the chaos to break their chains, and like Tamerlane and Genghis Khan of old, they will rampage across the earth, leaving razed cities, piles of skulls and impregnated women in their wake.
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.” –Robert E. Howard, Beyond the Black River