Collective narcissism is a bad solution to modern anxiety

I’ve been reading Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and it’s synthesizing a few things together for me in new ways — prime among them the realization that collective narcissism is the shared root ideology of both Christian nationalism and Nazism. First off, I’d recommend it:

Next, I’d like to thank it for reminding me about the insidious dangers of Calvinism and the Protestant Work Ethic, as described in sociologist Max Weber‘s most cited work in the history of the field. Beyond the problematic authoritarianism of John Calvin as a person himself, the ideology of predestination coupled with a paradoxical obsessive compulsion with working yourself ragged is a noxious brew that fed the Protestant extrusion of American capitalism as well as the murderous violence of its Manifest Destiny.

Reformation Ideologies

Calvin — like Luther before him — was reacting to the social and economic upheavals of his day which, during the Reformation, were all about the middle class emerging from the security and certainty of feudalism into a far more dynamic world of competition, isolation, and aloneness. It held promise but also peril — hope along with, inescapably, fear.

During the Middle Ages, humankind had retreated from the aspirational virtuousness of the Greek and Roman civilizations and descended into almost 1000 years of darkness, as compared to the dazzling intellectual brilliance of the millennium before it. Those who would prefer cultish cowering in self-righteous ignorance over the humility of fallible science and critical thinking managed to topple a glittering civilization and scatter it to the wolves. It was a return to cruel and arbitrary happenstance, a horrifying Hobbesian world of pestilence and pathology.

And yet, it held a certain Stockholm Syndrome quality for the serfs and apprentices and artisans who did not have to struggle to find gainful employment or a ready-made place in the social milieu. If nothing else, a complete inability to ever fundamentally alter one’s station in life provided a kind of grim certainty, of a hum-drum life there for the taking if one only wished to fall into it — perhaps pockmarked by the occasional inexplicable trauma.

When Luther nailed those 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg churches in 1517, no one understood at the time that he would change the world. He merely leveraged the power of the printing press to propagate his idea of antipathy to the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, and in so doing managed to revolutionize both information and religion as well as society and politics.

Luther had advanced the concept of predestination first advocated by St. Augustine, and soon John Calvin would push it further still: “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death” he wrote in 1564. Calvin’s image of a callously inscrutable God torturing His creation by forcing them to run a meaningless gauntlet of life that bore no relation to the status of their salvation snuffed out the idea of a compassionate, loving creator altogether. As Max Weber would later say, Calvin had eliminated magic from the world.

Collective narcissism as soothing salve

After destroying any possibility of good vibes for humanity as Luther had before him, Calvin needed a way to quell the resulting anxiety and sense of depression at the thought of man’s utter hopelessness. If his theology were true, then all of life feels like a cruel joke played upon the powerless by a sadistic master. If Calvin is right, then nothing you can ever think, say, or do will ever matter to your salvation. So what’s the point?!

To solve the fundamental despair of the uncertainty of never being able to know if you will be saved, Calvin and his followers simply decided to cultivate conviction in themselves as having been Chosen. For no particular reason and without any offered evidence, the Calvinists just decided they deserved to be Chosen and would behave accordingly, to reflect their belief in their highest status. This initial act of collective narcissism sparked centuries of other ego-based groups both in and outside of religious circles.

Feeling better than everyone else is a kind of lying to oneself to take the edge off — a soothing psychological bedtime story that helps you sleep at night, but festers as doubt and hostility compressed into anger, lying just under the surface until it reacts with a catalyst. The ideology of “we’re the best and everyone else is worthless” cannot be sustained in a civil society, particularly a Constitutional republic that requires compromise and forbearance. It is an ideology with conflict and self-loathing at its core — a belief system that is self-evidently suspicious for the lack of peaceful bearing exhibited by its adherents.

Mindlessness is next to Godliness

Calvin differentiated himself from Luther with a stronger emphasis on a required behavioral trait for his followers: mindless unceasing activity. He taught that although human effort cannot change the outcome of one’s salvation, being able to demonstrate that one is capable of making this effort is a sign that one must belong to the elite group of Chosen. If it sounds like this prescription is merely a cheap distraction ploy, then you are in good company with Fromm, who called Calvin’s ideology of workaholism a “desperate escape from anxiety.”

This endlessly frantic activity was required to “outrun” the doubts that would naturally creep in from this spiritual strategy of self-deception and overinflation of one’s worth through the magic of magical thinking. It was clever in a diabolical Machiavellian way and, of course, would be powerful enough to resonate strongly all the way through to the American politics of today, in which we are still grappling with arguments over the basic fundament of society: shall we treat all men equally, or not?

It certainly resonated with Max Weber, widely known as the Prometheus of sociology, whose idea of the Protestant work ethic analyzed how Calvin’s deeply influential theology sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and extruded itself into American capitalism over the next ~500 years. The idea of the rat race comes from a Weberian root — it is the quintessence of that feeling of being in the capricious gauntlet whose terminus is unknowable to you and thus inspirational of much internal turmoil. It’s that nagging, creeping sense that the harder you struggle, the faster you’re getting fixed in the ointment.

Humanity needs hope

Calvin’s worldview of humankind as weak, wicked, and utterly unsalvageable except for the random grace of a sociopathic all-powerful being is a pessimistic one, to say the least. His ideology seems truly to turn the miracle of Jesus’ birth on its head, wiping away the compassionate messages of love, brotherhood, and peace. Calvinism seems to fixate on the very worst of the human spirit, thus deepening the emerging modern angst felt during the Reformation and replacing it with a sort of mindless scurrying around by which to forget about the sinking depression gnawing at your core.

These ideas have held sway for so long. They have helped animate the creation of what we think of as “Western civilization,” and certainly of American capitalism, which is largely global capitalism. I believe the pessimistic, dehumanizing ideology of predestined inequality and Christian nationalist supremacy is a poisonous doctrine which must be dethroned. It is long past time to overthrow dogma of all stripes in general — and the Calvinist form of collective narcissism is prime among them. So too the other well-known dehumanizing mythologies, including Nazism, Putinism, Christian nationalism, Evangelicism, white supremacy, misogyny, racism, and all other -isms and forms of bigotry: they are personae non gratae here. They do not belong.

The GOP is 3 Cults in a Trenchcoat

One of two major parties in our American first-past-the-post voting system of dual-party reality, the Republican Party, has evolved into a full-throated authoritarian movement seeking to overthrow our democracy, The Constitution, and the rule of law in order to establish a fascist regime in the United States. It’s been a not-so-secret fever dream on the right for decades and even centuries — and the old guard reflexively senses their time is coming to an end. The GOP is 3 cults in a trenchcoat, having been hollowed out and twisted to the point of trying desperately to hold it together for another election cycle in which they can try to capture power forever — or at least long enough to erase the evidence of their criminal behavior during the Trump years culminating in a coup attempt on January 6, 2021.

The 3 Republican cults are as follows:

  1. The Wealth Cult — led by Charles Koch, among others
  2. The Christian Nationalist Cult — led by Mike Pence, and by Mike Flynn and the Council for National Policy
  3. The White Nationalist Cult — led by Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, with a parallel intertwined branch led by Peter Thiel and the Dark Enlightenment neo-Reactionaries

The Wealth Cult

Led by Charles Koch et al, the mostly aging, Boomer crowd who controls much of the US government either directly or indirectly as a donor or operative is starting to panic for one reason or another: the fear of death looming, existential worries about thwarted or unmet ambition, economic turn of the wheel starting to leave their fortunes in decline. Much of this crowd inherited the free market ideological zeal from their fathers along with their trust fund fortunes that some have squandered (Trump), tread water with (Coors, Scaife), or grown (Koch, DeVos).

This group tends to be extremely zealous about free market favorites Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and other Libertarian and extreme conservative economists. It has funded an enormous system of think tanks parallel to the liberal think tank establishment that peddle free market ideology, trickle down economics, low taxes, and low regulation — not from a scholarly academic process, but from a PR process of motivated reasoning and laundering political messages into the academy. It has also funded numerous candidates, parties, campaigns, and, post-Citizens United, have succeeded on capturing the American Congress almost in total.

Related Resources:

The Christian Nationalist Cult

Then there are the religious zealots, who see every generation as being the last — with the Rapture always right around the corner to punish the wicked left. Evangelicals in particular are extremely bigoted, but they are also completely blind to their bigotry and quite defensive about it. Some might say they protect their bigotry like a sort of treasure. They tend to be authoritarian as a core personality trait, but again, many are completely unaware of it and are deeply lacking in self-reflection more generally.

Paul Weyrich was the right-wing operative who “activated” the religious right for political duty as footsoldiers for the Republican Army, starting heavily in the 1970s. That work was joined and has been carried on by Jerry Falwell Sr. & Jr., Pat Robertson, numerous televangelists in the dustbin of sex scandal history, Newt Gingrich, and other fundamentalist lawmakers and operatives throughout the 80s, 90s, and up through today.

Today’s Christian nationalist movement is largely led by two groups: The Council for National Policy (CNP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Mike Pence, Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Betsy DeVos & Erik Prince, and many many more familiar shady names are leading, primary donors and/or founders of, or otherwise tightly connected with CNP and ALEC.

Related Resources:

The White Nationalist Cult

This country is no stranger to white nationalist cults — they’ve been here since the beginning, in the form of colonialism, conquest, manifest destiny, chattel slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, the KKK, white power militias, neo-Nazis, and other groups in the basket of aptly-named “deplorables.” What Trump, Bannon, Stephen Miller, and others did was further inflame some tensions that have plagued this nation for a long time — to stoke the choking fires of bigotry that’s always burning underground. They brought it back to the surface and into popular discourse.

Bannon, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and their plutocratic backers from around the world want to profiteer off of hate, destruction, and anarcho-capitalism as they seek “destruction of the administrative state” or to “drown it in the bathtub” and relegate American government to a Night Watchman primarily concerned with (surprise, surprise!) protecting their property. In other words, they want the US government to protect their assets, while they avoid paying taxes on their wealth, shirk laws, and obscure their trail with an elaborate hall of mirrors propaganda machine pumping out nothing but nonsense 24/7/365.

And unsurprisingly, they adore Vladimir Putin

Thanks to hundreds of years of head starting, white males own the vast majority of property in America. They believe fervently in their own transcendent, Ayn Randian gifts with which to tackle any challenge — even though a sizable percentage of them are trust fund brats living inside their own delusions of imagined self-made success. The oligarch demographic within the white nationalist cult ropes in the “average” aka formerly middle class aka “poor masses” the same way they always have: by ruthlessly exploiting their bigotry, and letting them get away with (often literal) murder. It’s the same old story from the Lost Cause Religion: supremacist conspiracy about how whites are superior to Blacks, how the Bible totally justified slavery (it did not), and only the gallant white man can bear the terrible burden of making decisions for everybody else.

Peter Thiel’s crossover cultists

With a Venn diagram whose electron probabilities hover somewhere between the white nationalists and the wealth cultists, the Peter Thiel strain of white power fancies itself the “intellectual” wing of the New Right. Both Bannon and Thiel exploited the long-latent racism of young men on the internet to build their political movements, but Thiel’s sect is more Silicon Valley-flavored and self-identified as more highbrow.

The Dark Enlightenment acolytes seem to worship the eccentric billionaire and member of the Paypal Mafia as well as another of its brethren, Elon Musk. They believe in an ideology of technological accelerationism, in which advances in technology will continue to speed up to the point of overthrowing all concept of government and replacing it with gigantically powerful and militarily-armed corporate feudal states. Thiel, a German immigrant who made his fortune in large part from government largesse (like Musk), nevertheless spends his war chest relentlessly on funding authoritarian candidates like JD Vance (OH) and Blake Masters (AZ), both Republican candidates for Senate in 2022.

What should we do?

I’m glad you asked! I’m working on this problem continuously myself. I have some ideas about how to save democracy, how to get into Democratic activism (they make it easy! hop in and talk to voters!), and how to cultivate a mindset of mental self-defense for the current and coming Information Wars. All of these are a work in progress and I’ll be updating them as constantly as I can.

More resources:

Ukraine War and Russia resources πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦

Some of us have been boning up on this topic for about 6 years already, while others are just tuning in now based on the horrors of recent events. It can be overwhelming to come in cold, so here — don’t go it alone! Take this:

Putin’s war against the west

President Biden “declassified” an intelligence analysis many of us had arrived at some time ago: Russian president Vladimir Putin is a cruel revanchist leader who will stop at nothing to claw out a larger legacy before he dies. His goal is nothing less than reconstituting the former Soviet Union and restoring the “glory” of the Russian empire of yesteryear. And for some reason he thinks the world community is going to let him get away with his delusional fever dreams of conquest — as if fever dreams of Mongol domination are still de rigueur.

The attacks on the 2016 election and on the American Capitol in 2021 are related — both are Russian hybrid warfare operations. Russia also is the cold beating heart of the right-wing authoritarianism movement around the world, via financial, political, psychological, economic, and other means of government and regulatory capture.

Putin has hated democracy for a long time — since before the Berlin Wall fell where he was stationed in East Berlin as a young KGB agent, taking the news hard. Now, he has many fifth column confederates aiding and abetting him from within the United States — a number of them brazenly, and openly. It is getting harder and harder for those treasonous types to “hide out” in the folds of disinformation, misinformation, and plausible deniability. The play is being called — and everyone will need to decide if they’re for democracy or authoritarianism.

Further reading:

Media Resources

Twitter Lists

Why do people believe conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories are not new. The specific group of theories known as QAnon may be new, but conspiracy theories themselves are a tale(s) as old as time — or at least time as we know it, from the start of recorded history.

A large body of psychological research has shown that there are some deep cognitive reasons that conspiracy theories tend to resonate with us, and especially in particular types of people, or people in certain types of circumstances.

We are fundamentally wired to be storytellers. It’s intuitive why this ability might be hard-coded into our brains, as it so clearly relates to survival, self-preservation, and our ability to navigate and succeed in a complex world. We need to be able to understand cause and effect in an environment of many rapidly shifting variables, and storytelling is a framework for weaving coherent narratives that reduce our anxiety about the great uncertainties in the environment around us.

Conspiracy theories tap into psychological needs

Conspiratorial thinking is far more common than we think, and can ebb and flow in populations based on prevailing conditions. Our ability to see patterns in randomness and dissemble stories on the spot, along with numerous other cognitive and psychological biases, make us vulnerable to belief in conspiracy theories.

All of the following common human desires make us vulnerable to believing in conspiracies:

  • Desire for simple solutions
  • Desire for relief from the anxiety of uncertainty
  • Desire for understanding and certainty
  • Desire for control
  • Desire for safety and security
  • Desire for a positive self-image
  • Desire for a positive group image
  • Desire for belonging
  • Desire to offload responsibility to others

Structural properties of conspiracy theories

These persistent myths have different narratives, but structurally and linguistically they have elements in common. All conspiracy theory narratives include:

  • The Villains: Target a specific group that is supposedly conspiring in secret to deceive or do harm to society (The Outgroup)
  • The Heroes: A separate group of people, the believers, who are clued in to the conspiracy theory and heroically trying to expose it (The Ingroup)
  • Emotional storytelling: The language and narratives are loaded with trigger words and grand concepts in an attempt to elicit an emotional response from the readers or listener. This is used as a way of bypassing the rational, logical cognition mechanisms that would otherwise tend to raise a red flag at the outlandishness of the claims.

For more on the language and terminology of these addictive belief systems, check out the conspiracy theory dictionary.

Who is vulnerable to conspiracy theories?

There are certain types of people who are likely to essentially always be susceptible to conspiracy theories, and some types of circumstances that might make someone of a less prone personality type temporarily more vulnerable to conspiratorial messaging.

Traits that increase vulnerability to conspiracy thinking

  • Narcissism — individuals with a narcissistic and extreme need for uniqueness tend to be drawn in by the idea of gaining immediate and secret access to the “green room” of all the world’s events.
  • Intolerance — people who have a low tolerance for uncertainty will naturally gravitate towards ready-made solutions that seem simple and feel good. They will seek cognitive closure more strongly than individuals who can tolerate ambiguity, or take interest in it. Conspiracy theories are one way of providing “off the shelf” cognitive closure, by offering a complete explanatory system that removes all the uncertainty. They squeeze out any anxiety about not knowing what is going to happen in the future. Put another way — bigotry and conspiracy go hand in hand.

Circumstances that increase almost anybody’s vulnerability to conspiratorial messaging

  • Challenging times of great uncertainty and instability
  • Times of loss — a recent breakup, a death in the family, loss of a job, or other major life event could leave one open to appeals from a whole new belief system.
  • Feelings of anxiety and powerlessness
  • Being on the losing side of a political contest

Why are conspiracy theories so ‘sticky’?

Why is it so hard to pierce through the solipsistic “logic” of a conspiracy theory and get someone to evaluate falsifying information again? Why do people often seem to cling harder and go deeper down their rabbit holes each time disconfirming events transpire?

Conspiracy theory can seem a lot more “fun” than the sometimes harsh light of actual reality. Escapism is one of many appeals, as well as an easily-memorable picture of what’s going on that others around you in your tribe seem to share — bringing you closer together in a way that feels intoxicating. Some of the uncertainty of daily life seems bolstered by these clear, simple messages and stories that seem to explain everything in a neat and tidy way.

Some other reasons conspiracy theory is so sticky include:

  • people bolster their social identity with them (white supremacy, e.g.)
  • people use them to assert uniqueness in a “conformist” society
  • it’s a common human habit to put down reason and rational thought just for the sake of doing what feels good
  • Simplicity is seductive
  • Emotion is a key component to our most important memories. It’s our ancient brain’s “hack” for dealing with the reality of limited storage, by triaging the most intense experiences and deprioritizing the rest.
  • Storytelling literally syncs our brainwaves with our social group, forming a kind of psychological bond.
  • Listening to a story can change our neurochemical processes, and are some of the most powerful mechanisms we know of to motivate people to change beliefs and to act on a large scale.
  • Their mechanisms can be neurochemically seductive — and even potentially addictive — in that they valorize the self and one’s in-group while scapegoating and projecting all negativity onto The Other and the out-group, where it can be excised and/or exterminated.

How to protect yourself

  • be skeptical, but not too skeptical
  • gauge your emotions upon reading a piece of news, and be aware of how bias may creep in as a result
  • fact check anything new, ideally in at least 3 independent sources
  • learn more about conspiracy theories, cults, and thought reform

Famous conspiracies throughout history

If we’re likely to believe in one conspiracy, we are also more than likely prone to belief in others. Even before the QAnon surge made the widespread nature of conspiracy theories obvious by putting them front and center in our politics, up to half of all US citizens professed belief in one or more of these viral myths.

Conspiracy cults like QAnon can be a way to declare loyalty to a group and seek inclusion and social reciprocity from other members — without having to espouse any particular ideology. For the followers, there is instant gratification and very little intellectual effort to be done to begin to reap the rewards. For the elites promulgating it, this makes for a glorious tabula rasa or blank slate in which conspiracy proprietors can write whatever they wish and count on the zealotry of the followers to latch on.

  • QAnon
  • Blood libel
  • global cabal
  • Lost Gospel of Philip — 3rd century rumour that Jesus and Mary Magdalen were married. Later echoed in The Da Vinci Code.
  • Slave insurrection rumours
  • The Illuminati
  • Jewish global economic denomination / global cabal theory — these conspiracy theories flourished for hundreds of years before erupting violently in the Nazi regime and World War II. Numerous white supremacists in the U.S. still believe this today.
  • JFK assassination and the Warren Report
  • NASA faked the Moon landing
  • Supposed death of Paul McCartney
  • the government is controlled by Lizard People — everyone knows this one is true, obv
  • Holocaust deniers
  • political correctness and “cultural Marxism
  • New World Order
  • 9/11 Trutherism
  • Zionist Occupational Government (ZOG)
  • Anti-vaxxers — cluster of beliefs around vaccines being harmful
  • climate change denialism
  • Birtherism
  • celebrities still alive — Elvis, Tupac, etc.
  • Flat Earthers
  • coronavirus denial
  • the deep state
  • Antifa

Legitimate political discourse? πŸ€”

The Republican National Committee, in perhaps the most stunningly stupid self-own in the history of modern politics certainly in my lifetime, finally said the quietest part out loud: that in their official pronouncement, the events at the Capitol on January 6 constituted “legitimate political discourse.” Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were censured by the RNC in the statement as well, for their role on the January 6 Committee and their investigation into these “legitimate” events involving a murderous attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

Yale historian Joanne Freeman had this to say about the RNC statement:

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism is on the ballot in 2022

If there’s any upside to the dark situation we’re in, it’s these gifts Republicans keep on giving — further debasing themselves each time you think they can’t possibly stoop any morally lower — that we can use to our advantage to turn out our base in record numbers in these upcoming midterms. We did it in 2018, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it now. Trump’s support is waning, not growing — and the fractures within the GOP are widening, not tightening. Plus, we’ll have 8 million new 18-year-old eligible voters we can potentially reach — the vast majority of whom statistically speaking, are going to be progressive Democrats.

None of the other policy questions or culture wars will matter if we cannot solve the most fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: do we still believe in the ideals of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the vision of a self-governing people shared by the Founders? Or do we want to hand over the keys to the nation to the erstwhile billionaires, old money heirs, and trust fund playboys who want to drag us back to some perverted nostalgic fantasyland that’s part Leave It To Beaver, part wild west, and part Silence of the Lambs?

Do we want democracy, or authoritarianism?

Do we want to choose our leaders, as citizens — or do we want politicians to choose our leaders?

It’s the only question in 2022.

January 6 Attack: A “dagger at the throat of America”

President Biden and Vice President Harris commemorated the 1 year anniversary of the January 6 attack on our democracy with morning speeches and a day of remembrance inside the Capitol rotunda with Representatives and Senators giving a number of moving speeches in their respective chambers. The tone on TV news and blue check Twitter was somber and reflective. The President referred to the violent events of Jan 6, 2021 as a terrorist attack on our democracy, and said that the threat was not yet over — that the perpetrators of that event still hold a “dagger at the throat of America.”

Only two Republicans were present in chambers when the moment of silence was held for the nation’s traumatic experience one year ago — Representative Liz Cheney and her father, Dick Cheney, the former VP and evil villain of the George W. Bush years. That this man — a cartoonish devil from my formative years as a young activist — was, along with his steel-spined force of nature daughter, one half of the lone pair that remained of the pathetic tatters of the once great party of Lincoln.

What do you do if you’re in a 2-party system and one of the parties is just sitting on the sidelines, heckling (and worse!?)? How do you restore confidence in a system that so many people love to hate, to the point of obsession? Will we be able to re-establish a sense of fair play, as Biden called on us to do today in his speech?

The Big Lie is about rewriting history

We don’t need to spend a ton of time peering deeply into discerning motive with seditionists — we can instead understand that for all of them, serving the Big Lie serves a function for them in their lives. It binds them to their tribe, it signals a piece of their “identity,” and it signals loyalty within a tight hierarchy that rewards it — all while managing to serve their highest goal of all: to annoy and intimidate liberals. Like all bullies, their primary animating drive is a self-righteous conviction that “I am RIGHT!” at all times and about all things, and that disagreement is largely punishable by death or, in lieu of that, dark twisted fantasies of death passed off lamely and pathetically as “just joking, coworker!”

For both the populist right-wing base and the plutocratic political class, the Big Lie functions as a “narrative reversal” device. It rewrites the actual story of what happened into its opposite: recasting Trump as the innocent victim of leftist Antifa operatives who wanted to… stop the guy they voted for from being certified the winner?! It makes no sense in the rewrite but it doesn’t matter, because the whole thing is just a prop — a kind of rhetorical Trojan Horse that lets them skate by on a thin veneer of plausible deniability for their nefarious intentions, while continuing to pursue “revenge” for invented crimes that they “make real” through a propaganda engine on a scale that would make Joseph Goebbels weep.

Propaganda is just gaslighting, scaled up — and you can manufacture it cheaply and amplify it cheaply these days on Facebook. It also gains potency through recycling — the oldest conspiracy theories like the antisemitic Blood Libel and the white supremacist Lost Cause mythology have a kind of built-in resonance because they’ve endured for decades and centuries already. They’re deep in the blood and bones of collective memory of certain groups, almost waiting to be activated. It’s like having built-in marketing juice, or pre-existing search engine ranking — it’s easier to piggyback on them because the “recalcitrant” conservative pockets of society still cling fervently to them as simple, soothing stories about the world that sound like a cross between a fairy tale and a Greek myth.

The truth shall make us free

Lies can be so powerful, because they embody our deepest darkest desires — the ones that we daresn’t name except in encrypted chatrooms. Powerful people have a way of weaving lies into myths, by blowing enough hot air into them that they seem to take flight of their own accord. But ultimately the Big Lie is a gossamer dirigible that cannot withstand the flames of Congressional investigation forever. And there is still a chance that the national sentiment could keep shifting in favor of the reality-based rendition of historical events — perhaps rapidly so given the gravity of even the tiniest dangles offered so far by the Jan 6 Committee, which seem to indicate to myself as well as to a number of professional natsec-type folks that Liz Cheney & co. have the proverbial goods on Trump and his merry band of Confederates.

The “dagger at the throat of America” is not hyperbole or exaggeration — Biden is referring to the ongoing effort to cling to the former president’s lies and throw the nation out with the bathwater of butthurt. He’s talking about the continued and amplified efforts at the state level to put laws in place that would allow Republican simple majority legislatures to override the will of the voters and install partisan candidates of their choice, up and down the ballot. The President is talking about the coup continuing in plain sight by an unscrupulous array of bad actors from elected officials at all levels to local power brokers, lobbyists, cynical political operatives, and leeches to power of all kinds. He names a continued threat and his commitment to looking it squarely in the eyes, as leaders should do. As we should do too.

Another resonant historical voice spoke to the power of narrative on Rachel Maddow tonight: Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has both studied and lived history over the past half century and counting, described how the repetition of the authentic story has an inherent power to counter the false narratives currently filling the void of public knowledge. There is so much we yet don’t know about the stories behind the January 6 attack (front of House) and the coup plotting over the course of 2 months (back of House) that was undertaken instead of participating in a peaceful transition — a devastating blow to national security far greater than the breach that had occurred following the Bush v. Gore contest, in which the delay to begin the transition was later named as a key structural weakness in the chain of events leading up to the September 11 attacks in 2001.

It was only 8 months in to the Lesser But Longer Bush’s rein at the beginning of the new millennium, and even though the “lights were blinking red,” everyone at first failed to act and then later dramatically overreacted, in part to try and cover up the earlier hubris of nazel-gazing dereliction. They dragged us hastily into a series of Middle East swagger war quagmires we would not be able to extract ourselves from for another 20 years — until Joe Biden came to town and had no more fucks to give.

We citizens have an important part to play in this narrative war we find ourselves unwittingly cast in: to bear witness. To pay attention, to care about our democracy, understand its fragility, and work diligently and at times urgently to preserve it, recast it, and renew it for each new turn of the wheel. We’re at an inflection point in history, as Biden noted earlier today, and we can ask not what our country can do for us by faithfully telling its story — the true story; the “God’s truth about January 6th, 2021.” He inked a fair bit of this fair history into the historical record via his remarks this day — they carry the most weight of any single individual in this nation or indeed this world. We shouldn’t deify our leaders, but we should hold in some awe, a reverence for the mighty powers they wield. Those powers are only legitimate when they represent the will of the people — no taxation without representation, as the Tea Partyers used to say (having fallen strangely quiet of late).

Let we the people exercise our collective will, and let it be known our intentions and patriotism and adherence to the rule of law. Let us learn to handle our careworn democracy like a treasure that is more than a mere Treasury; as a collection not of mere stories but a rich integrated history; as an unbroken chain of ideals instead of a schizophrenic tennis match between aristocracy and democracy.

Let us tell the truth honestly of our past, and speak directly about where we want to go in the future, as a collective nation. We must agree on a set of rules for playing the game that disallow trying to move the goalposts after the match is over. We must change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation, or it’s all for nought — and this ~250-year experiment in self-governance will come to a bitter end.

Change the filibuster to save democracy

Majority Leader Schumer is right to come around to the idea that the filibuster must be changed in order to pass voting rights and save our democratic republic from the forces of authoritarianism.

The filibuster is an archaic rule that was at first only there by accident, then whittled into a sharp blade of minority rule by Southern plantation owner John C. Calhoun — a man credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War.

The South Carolina plutocrat strategized on behalf of wealthy aristocratic ambitions in the 1820s and 30s. Dubbed the “Marx of the master class” by historian Richard Hofstadter, Calhoun consumed himself with an obsession over how to establish permanent rule by his 1% brethren. He was an early proponent of property over people — the original “just business” kind of cold calculating supremacist that would come to typify the darker southern shadow culture of America.

Calhoun came to the conclusion that the Founders had made a grave mistake when creating the nation, and had put in too much democracy and too little property protection. He had a conviction that collective governance ought to be rolled back, because it “exploited” the wealthy planter class such as himself. During his time in the Senate he engineered a number of clever devices for the minority to rule over the collective will of the public — dubbed a “set of constitutional gadgets” for restricting the operations of a democratic government by a top political scientist at the time.

Public choice theory and Charles Koch

Slaveholding Senator John C. Calhoun inspired a series of men in the future to take up the torch of minority rule and its apparatus. James McGill Buchanan combined ideas from F. A. Hayek with fascist strains of Calhoun’s ministrations in the Senate to pack a conservative economic punch with public choice theory.

A young Charles Koch was exposed to Buchanan’s re-interpretation of Calhoun’s re-intepretation of the founders’ intentions, and embarked on a lifelong mission to indoctrinate the world in the religion of hyper-libertarian Ayn Randian fiscal austerity.

New lie, same as the old lie. The old lie is that America was never intended to be a democracy — which is doublespeak nonsense. But “conservatives” have been fighting fervently for this original Big Lie since time immemorial.

So: Charles Koch is the new John C. Calhoun. He and his vast navel-gazing empire of “think tanks” and other organs of self-regurgitation have managed to brainwash enough people and operate enough bots to make it almost a coin toss whether the average citizen believes the nation was founded as a democratic republic or an authoritarian theocracy.

The filibuster is one of the strongest minority rule tools in their toolbox.

We must bust the filibuster.

Repression causes authoritarianism

Research has shown that emotional repression is causative of authoritarianism (Altemeyer, Adorno, Stenner et al). Fundamentalist religious groups favor the most repression, culturally — ergo, fundamentalist groups are at the highest risk for nurturing authoritarian traits.

Emotional repression is the keystone of fundamentalist parenting. The strict application of “Biblical law” as cherry-picked by extremists is inherently contradictory & hypocritical, stunting emotional and psychological growth through corporal punishment and capricious applications of anger for sometimes opaque reasons.

When trusted caregivers apply physical violence to a developing mind, seeds of deep distrust and paranoia are planted. Children learn to “obey” by repressing negative parts of themselves so deeply they fall out of conscious awareness altogether & rule the personality “from below.”

The abused child learns “splitting” as a psychological defense mechanism, which later in adulthood is considered a “superpower” — they present a saccharine but False Self in their outer aspect to the tribe, and sequester negative id impulses deep down into an “inner sociopath.”

Repression creates divided minds

Never being given the required emotional support to transcend the paradoxical human project of reconciling the positive & negative aspects inherent in all people, they become “arrested” at a moment of obsession with punishment as the only solution to every problem. They see the world in very black and white terms — the classic “you’re either with us or against us” zero-sum worldview in which everybody who doesn’t agree with you must be delegitimized and eradicated completely.

To borrow from an apt phrase of common wisdom: all they have is a hammer. Or even more pointedly, all they ARE is a hammer: a paranoid, psychologically dissociated fragile shell of a self — easily set off by observations of non-familiar things & behaviors in their environment.

To again paraphrase Bob Altemeyer’s research on authoritarians: they are like little bubbling volcanos walking around ready to blow at the slightest inconvenience. They are fundamentally creatures of war walking around in search of excuses to unleash the deep primal pains inside.

The political organization of authoritarian footsoldiers

The right-wing political technology machine targets these groups of “pre-made” authoritarians both directly (CNP, ALEC) & indirectly (ML/AI).

The largest bloc of fundamentalist political strength in America are the Evangelicals (~75 million), w/Southern Baptists still the majority within that group. Ironically Baptists were the sect that first DEMANDED the separation of church & state: having been persecuted in Europe.

Now it’s the Baptists slavering & champing at the bit to install their version of theocracy as a replacement for secular government — demanding the right to wield religious persecution against others. Full circle.

Confederates too are running a “payback” program for Civil War.

The global rise of authoritarianism

On the other side of the globe, Putin is running a revanchist playbook to rebuild the Russian empire — reflecting psychological arrested development since 1989/91. Meanwhile, the ousted demagogue Trump praises Viktor Orban, in a way eerily similar to William Randolph Hearst’s transatlantic flirtation with Hitler in the 1930s.

What if history is just the long cyclical looping of revenge grudges on the part of groups who can’t get over it?

What if our failure to advance emotionally and developmentally beyond the adolescent stage is our undoing?

Koup Klux Klan: Who is trying to take over America?

It may have seemed like the election of 2016 came out nowhere, and the January 6, 2021 attempted coup event was another deep gash to the fabric of assumption — but in reality, the movement to dismantle America has been working diligently for a long time. Depending on how you count, the current war against the government began in the 1970s after Roe v. Wade, or in the 1960s after the Civil Rights Act, or in the 1950s with the John Birch Society, or in the 1930s with the American fascists, or in the 1870s with the Redemption and Lost Cause Religion, or in the 1840s with the Southern Baptist split, or in the 1790s when we emerged from the Articles of Confederation.

We are facing an unprecedented crisis of democracy under attack by the most current roster of these extremists, hardliners, theocrats, plutocrats, and others of their ilk. The following mind map diagrams the suspects and perpetrators of the Jan 6 coup as we know so far — including the Council for National Policy, the Koch network, Trump and his merry band of organized criminals, the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and other right-wing militia groups, rioters who have been arrested in the January 6th probe, persons of interest who have been subpoena’d by the January 6 Committee in the House, and anyone or anything else connected to the ongoing plot to kill America whether near or far in relation. Below the map is a short guide to the basic factions at work in the confusing melodrama of American politics.

Mind map of the sedition diaspora

I’ll be continuing to work on this as information comes out of the various investigations and inquiries into the attempted coup to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, from the January 6 Committee to Merrick’s DOJ, the GA district attorney, NY district attorney, various civil suits, and probably more we don’t even know about yet. You can navigate the full mind map as it grows here:

Geo Coup View

This is the same data set, but visualized by geographic location:

McCarthy’s speech stunt gives gift of Democratic midterm slogans

Bootlicker Kevin McCarthy showboated his way through an evening of scorn and ridicule for his audience of one: Herr Trump. His sad evening comedy routine for the “just joking!” crowd was an act of political theater given no votes in his caucus were ever in danger of voting for the bill, thus no need to persuade them. McCarthy’s speech sparked jeers and heckles from the chamber itself as well as the wider outside world, as tweets poured forth from inside and out of the Capitol.

Fortunately, the GOP Leader failed to stop Biden’s Build Back Better plan while gifting the Democrats with a healthy dose of both comedy gold and some irresistable mid-term slogans:

Kevin’s nuts roasting on an open fire

The Twitter Blue Check crowd was scathing all night — just raking McCarthy deservedly over the coals for the stench of rank hypocrisy from the chamber this evening:

Democratic green room was lit

Even Congressional Democrats got in on the act, while in the act:

Inside the 4th Wall

House Democrats heckled back from the floor as McCarthy droned on:

What is Mr McCarthy going to say to his constituents in Bakersfield and Lancaster now? Is he going to have the gall to still claim credit for the money flowing in to his district? The hills this man wants to die on are paid parental leave, free pre-K, $35/mo insulin, teacher recruitment and training, Medicare out-of-pocket caps, replacing lead pipes, updating VA facilities, elder care, and expanded vaccine production among much else. It is going to be easy to skewer him and the House Republicans in general in 2022, given his imprimatur on a cross between a toddler’s tantrum and an Oscar-winning performance by the Minority Leader tonight.

Property vs. People, all the way down

Or capital vs. labor, oligarchs vs. plebes, plutocrats vs. proles, rich vs. poor — however you want to narrate it, the property vs. people struggle continues on in new and old ways, each and ere day.

Here in America, the plutocrats have devised many clever methods of hiding the class struggle behind a race war smokescreen, that is both real and manufactured — instigated, exacerbated, agitated by the likes of schlubby wife abusers like Sloppy Steve Bannon, wrinkly old Palpatines like Rupert Murdoch, and shady kleptocrats like Trump and Putin.

The United States has nursed an underground Confederacy slow burning for centuries, for sociopathic demagogues to tap into and rekindle for cheap and dangerous political power. Like The Terminator, racist and supremacist troglodytes seem always to reconstitute themselves into strange and twisted new forms, from slavery to the Black Codes to sharecropping to convict leasing to Jim Crow to Jim Crow 2.0 — the psychopaths want their homeland.

The political left loves people, and our extremists for the most part destroy capital or property that insurance companies will pay to make shiny and new again — unlike the right wing extremists who bomb federal buildings, killing hundreds of people and costing taxpayers’ money to replace.

Meanwhile, the right wing claims to be the righteous party for its extreme fixation on life before birth, yet its regulation-allergic capitalists destroy people and the natural world more broadly, from factory farming to deforestation, the destruction of habitats, strip-mining and other toxic extraction practices, and on into climate change itself. Being in fact the chief architects of manmade atmospheric devastation, they have managed to make themselves invisible from the deed by simply (wink wink!) denying it exists.

WWJD?!

Certainly, not anything the Republican Party is up to. Jesus would be sad.

What’s in the bipartisan infrastructure bill?

Another big legislative win crossed the line for Biden’s agenda late this Friday night: the $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill passed the House with 6 Democrats dissenting and a whopping 13 Republicans joining to finally bring Infrastructure Week to the American people. Still to come is the other partner to the twin bills circulating in Congress, the Build Back Better reconciliation bill that would add another $2T to the most Keynesian U.S. budget in decades.

Nevertheless, the bill is largely paid for via various means including adding significantly to economic growth and GDP over the next 10 years. The Biden infrastructure bill will not raise taxes on any families making less than $400,000, a campaign promise the president consistently made and has now delivered upon.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill is the second significant piece of legislation passed under Biden’s tenure in the White House, following the $1.9T American Rescue Plan back in March to successfully tame the covid-19 pandemic.

Infrastructure Bill 2021: Breakdown

What’s in the bill? A slate of sorely needed national funds to modernize our transportation, energy, and broadband systems, including provisions for increasing renewables and lowering emissions on a large scale to combat climate change. Here’s a list of what’s included in the largest single infrastructure investment in American history:

  • $110B for roads, bridges, & other infra
  • $11B for transportation safety
  • $39B to modernize public transit, including replacing 1000s of vehicles with zero-emission models
  • $66B to modernize passenger and freight rail
  • $12B for high-speed rail
  • largest federal investment in public transit in history
  • $65B in broadband
  • $42B in airports and ports, including emissions reduction and low-carbon technologies
  • $7.5B for 0- and low-emissions buses (including school buses) and ferries
  • $7.5B for national network of EV chargers
  • $65B to rebuild the electric grid
  • $55B to upgrade water infrastructure
  • $50B to critical infrastructure cybersecurity
  • $21B to clean up toxic waste

Freedom produces diversity

Freedom means the right to make choices. When you have a large population, that means many different kinds of people are making many kinds of different choices for different reasons. That means, mathematically speaking, a broad distribution graph of options chosen over time. Freedom produces diversity, as a direct consequence of its own laissez-faire philosophy.

The Founders knew this. James Madison was an intellectual of his day, and a polymathic student of the great ideas of his time. It is hard not to see the influence of exposure to Condorcet’s theory about decision-making in Madison’s later ideas about diffusing the flames of factions by essentially dousing them in the large numbers of people spreading out within the growing nation. He believed that ideas and interests that were actively opposing each other would be a good way to preserve enough vigor to sustain an active self-governing democracy.

Regardless of the origin, Madison clearly himself was advocating for the power of diversity to preserve the very republic. He believed that this diversity of views in fact provided the structure that would help prevent singular demagogues from rising up too far and destroying democracy forever in their quest for unlimited power. The founders shared this foresight — that giving Americans the freedom to live as they may would lead to a healthy democracy, through the promulgation of different ideas and knowledge as well as through vigorous debate.

You can’t have freedom without diversity

Many who cite Freedom as their patriotic raison d’Γͺtre do not seem to tolerate well the exercise of freedom by others, particularly others they disagree with or do not like. But as the great Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” She had the insight that if her rights could be taken away from her, then no one else’s rights would be safe in this nation either.

America has always struggled to live up to its founding ideals — but it seems like if we want to truly honor their memories, we would continue to take that vision at face value and continue to carry the light of the torch of equality, perhaps upwards to the crest of a hill from whence we may shine once again.

Neoliberalism Explained: Why it must be dismantled

Or: How Milton Friedman destroyed Western civilization, the neolliberalism story.

An economic ideology first theorized in the 40s and 50s by scholars, it was brought to popular attention in the 1970s by the works of economist Milton Friedman and novelist Ayn Rand among others. It grew in popularity and became widely adopted in U.S. economic policy beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 80s.

The essential heart of neoliberalism is the idea of the rich as top performers and job creators, driving the economy forward through their achievements and innovations; and that societies work best with little government regulation and where citizens are shaped to work according to market principles. Its adoption as a major driver of policy effectively undid many of the gains to middle class opportunity created by the New Deal, FDR’s ambitious public works project that pulled the nation out from the grips of the Great Depression following the 1929 crash on Wall Street.

Neoliberalism is the dominant economic orthodoxy in the modern era. It is both a political and a financial ideology, with the following extremist beliefs:

  • Antigovernment sentiment — Their pitch is that all governments, including democratic ones, threaten individual liberty and must be stopped (or “drowned in the bathtub,” in the words of anti-tax zealots and movement conservatives).
  • Free markets should conquer governments — They claim, absurdly, that the toppling of self-governance would improve both economies and individual liberties.
  • The victory of markets is inevitable and there is nothing you can do about it — The fall of the Soviet Union was deemed the “end of history” by neoliberals, who believed that laissez-faire free market capitalism would inevitably triumph over all other forms of economic and political systems.
  • Economies work best when governments don’t intervene — Neoliberals want to prevent the powers of government from interfering with their ability to cut corners, dump industrial waste, pay fair wages, offer benefits, adhere to safety standards, engage in deceptive advertising, commit tax evasion, and so on — while continuing to supply them a steady stream of the public’s money via unpaid for tax cuts that balloon holes in the deficit. They fight against regulation tooth and nail, and try to claim that markets operate “naturally” as if under something akin to laws of physics — while failing to mention that there are no markets without regulation, without standards of fairness, without a justice system to enforce contracts and do its best to ensure a relatively equal business playing field.
  • The alchemy of neoliberalism will transmute greed into gold for everyone — The neoliberal promise is about spreading wealth, freedom, and democracy around the world — at the barrel of a gun, missile, or drone if necessary. Neoliberals consider greed to be the essence of human nature, and have modeled an entire societal system around this most base of human instincts. They claim, improbably — and surely many are True Believers — that narcissism and the aggressive pursuit of power and wealth will somehow magically create peace, happiness, and riches for everyone.

The insistence that governments and self-rule should be subordinated to the ultra-rich, to the oligarchs — that, to me, is the core essence of why this framework is evil. The staggeringly dissonant conviction about transforming sociopathy into global peace is a very close second.

Since the 1970s and accelerating with Reagan years, wealthy elites in the right wing have been spending gobs of their ill-earned wealth on creating a conservative movement echo chamber of think tanks, talk radio, literature, televangelists, YouTube streamers, and more — it is the vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary Clinton warned us about. It most certainly exists, and it most certainly is aggressively pursuing its political aims to disenfranchise the American people as fully as possible, so as to better walk away with an absurdly unjust share of the mutually created wealth by the wealth of intelligent and diligent labor here in the United States.

Common whites

It appeals to the MAGA crowd because it allows them to vicariously tag along with the rich and powerful right-wing bigots who flaunt and dangle their wealth in front of the plebes by which to entice them to open up their wallets and send in a meagre donation for this or that white victimhood fund that does nothing but enrich the scam artists who run it as a hollow shell. It validates their hardcore white supremacy and casual racism alike, provides the sadistic satisfaction of attacking their enemies (symbolically and/or literally), gives them something to do and believe in, and keeps them entertained while their pockets are being fleeced in broad daylight.

Neoliberalism has succeeded in undermining some of the last shreds of democratic infrastructure and civic goodwill in society at this point in American political history. The defenses brilliantly architected by the Founders to ensure checks and balances would manage the power games in Washington to within workable levels have frayed even further under 4 years of Trump, and the vitriol of the January 6 coup attempt and insurrection that’s fueled further right-wing Big Lie entrenchment and domestic terrorist extremism.

Democracy is in crisis, and neoliberalism the culprit of this hostage story.

At least Joe Biden is correct in his analysis of the solution: we should tax the rich.

Fascists became conservatives in the 1920s and 30s

(notes / draft) Who were the early conservatives? Former fascists and Nazi sympathizers in the US.

1930s opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal

3 main right-wing factions then:

  1. libertarians — right-wing economics faction led by Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, & Friedrich Hayek
  2. traditionalists — William F. Buckley, National Review (1955), Barry Goldwater
  3. anti-communists and Nazi sympathizers — John Birch Society, Robert Welch, Fred Koch, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, McCarthyites

After the Allies won World War II, a number of the early Hitler sympathizers “hid out” in anti-communist circles, allowing them to cloak their underlying fascism inside of the American Cold War project and give it a semi-presentable face in conservatism.

In the 1970s, 2 more conservative groups emerged for a total of 5 main sects:

4. neoconservatives — Ronald Reagan

5. the religious right — the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell Sr. & Jr., Jimmy Swaggart, Jim & Tammy Fae Baker, Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Paul Weyrich, Paul Regnery, William Rusher, prosperity gospel

Conservatives became fascists again in 2016

The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States gave permission to all the closet fascists practicing ketman as conservatives to come right on out and let their freak bigotry flags fly.

All the little white power sleeper cells and now networked anti-government militia groups were let off the chain and invited to take a swing at our national sovereignty and see if they could steal the American government for him. Thanks to the strength and integrity of numerous civil servants and others they did not succeed — however, the festering mass of fascism isn’t going anywhere much just yet.

Other topics

will be fleshing out further:

  • neoliberals & theocons — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and others who led us into forever wars in the Middle East
  • MAGA
  • white supremacists & Lost Cause religion
  • right-wing anti-government violence
    • domestic violent extremism
  • conservative ideology
    • a form of totalism