No, this is not a Bill Clinton or “should do” page. There is another more-dangerous form of sensual politics, one that potentially can grab any of us that needs airing—but first a bit of background. It endangers our very democracy.
Just as the earliest animals began to evolve through selection of the most-fit individuals, so also animal groups and, ultimately, society itself evolves. To understand how life and and all that came about, it is helpful to not only understand the three DNA domains of life, Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya, but the several lower orders of life classification: Phylum, Class. Order, Family, Tribe, Genus and species. Each level recognizes ever finer distinctions. Ability to move, locomotion, in other words, is just one example. Sensing light, sound, touch and odors each evolved in their own times. Neural systems accomplished the five systems gradually over time. Eventually, evolution added memory and higher thought processes such intuitive insights, that may be unconscious, and logic at the conscious level. Ultimately, a Great ape employed these latter to become the dominant species on earth.
With movement, means for survival reached a new high by enabling physical competition within and among species. In other words, dominance became the first of the five pillars we now live with as our means for survival. Fortunately, other traits have evolved that enable and temper our behavior and ability to form stable societies in the first place. It is the latter that can be our salvation as a species. Channeling our trait for dominance into more useful behavior is the challenge of our times.
We owe what follows to Robert O Paxton, and we comment on some very brief passages from the introduction in his book: The Anatomy of Fascism. Excerpts follow with eye on today and how fascism fits developments on this website. Four quotes from Paxton’s book are presented and commented on.
- Paxton: “Fascism rested not upon the truth, but upon the leader’s mystical union with the historic destiny of his people, a notion related to romanticist ideas of national historic flowering of individual artistic or spiritual genius, though fascism denied romanticism’s exaltation of unfettered personal creativity. The fascist leader wanted to bring his people into a higher realm of politics that they would experience sensually: the warmth of belonging to a race fully aware of its identity, historic destiny, and power; the excitement of participating in a vast collective enterprise; the gratification of submerging oneself in wave of shared feelings, and sacrificing one’s petty concerns for the group’s good; and the thrill of domination. Fascism’s deliberate replacement of reasoned debate with immediate sensual experiences transformed politics, as the exiled German cultural critic Walter Benjamin was the first to point out, into aesthetics. And the ultimate fascist aesthetic experience, Benjamin warned in 1936, was war.”
Shades of Mr. Bush in responding to the decision to go to war with Iraq: “It feels good.” And his statement earlier, “… it would be easier if this were a dictatorship.
- Paxton: “Fascist attitudes toward liberals: With their hands off government, their trust in open discussion, their weak hold over the mass opinion, and their reluctance to use force, liberals were in fascist eyes culpably incompetent guardians of the nation against class warfare waged by the socialists.”
Shades of GOP rhetoric in 2012 against Obama, even though he is anything but a socialist! Those seeking dominance find it easy to demonize their opposition, and that is a prominent attitude exuded by the exalted Rush Limbaugh, though not at all unique to him. Abraham, Teddy, Ike and even Barry would turn over in their graves to see what the modern GOP has fragmented into.
- Paxton: “As for the beleaguered middle-class liberals themselves, fearful of a rising Left, lacking the secret of mass appeal, facing the unpalatable choices offered them by the twentieth century, they have sometimes been as ready as the conservatives to cooperate with fascists.”
Shades of our modern middle-class? Looks like it. We went a way down that road in 2000 and again in 2004. To be sure, it was not the radical Left that we feared, it was much more nebulous, with almost as many reasons as there were voters disenfranchised in Florida in 2000. Many were real and valid concerns, but many were not. The media picked up on what was most sensational, a feature that plays into the arms of fascism, by tilting our votes toward sensualism instead of the considered thoughtfulness responsible voting requires.
- Paxton: “Conservatives wanted order, calm, and the inherited hierarchies of wealth and birth. They shrank both from fascist mass enthusiasm and from the sort of total power fascists grasped for. They wanted obedience and deference, not dangerous popular mobilization, and they wanted to limit the state to the functions of a ‘night watchman’ who would keep order while the traditional elites ruled through property, churches, armies, and inherited social influence.”
Shades of Stanley Milgram! See his book on Obedience. We are all too ready to march on the flimsiest of excuses. The deeper problem is that this is just human nature. It is in fact one of the pillars of our individual personalities playing out for better or worse collectively in our society. Many of us also want a night watchman for a government, one to look the other way while the elite become enriched at society’s expense. Even that attitude, as strange as it may seem, is almost surely as rooted in our genes as obedience is. For example, how many among us would want power? Most? Probably. Dominance, like obedience, is one of the five pillars of our individual and collective societies. America was birthed by a revolution against empire. At a later date, we turned around to become the most-powerful empire to ever exist on earth. The Zionist response to WWII was similar. After winning statehood, Israel now dominates Palestine. And beyond that, Israel is threatening a war that will surely be well beyond their (or even our) means to control as hostilities play out. Such a war would doubtless plant seeds for future wars as they usually have throughout history. The religious polarization in the Middle East only adds fuel to the fire.
Our best, perhaps only realistic hope for peace is to mend our mind sets to emphasize parenting and altruistic love, another two pillars of our psyches. But it remains: How on earth can we accomplish that? There is no immediate or pat answer. But we do have a fifth pillar. We call it cooperation, but it could also be termed our ego and rational selves. Take the best of each of the five pillars, and harmonize them into a safe and secure attitude, or self image, where we call a spade a spade, and do not rely on mythology. From then on, by trying this or that approach and tracking related normalized violence rates, we can surely select those that work and build on them.
The challenge is to find ringmasters. They are plural, for no one individual can do all things in all societies. A gentle and natural hierarchy might work. The threat from the psycho-sociopathic quarter must be guarded against, so maybe the place to start would be how well we shepherd our children to develop along these lines. There is no end of possibilities here.
To summarize and codify the five pillars, consider:
1 Parenting is the beginning of life, and any species failing here quickly becomes extinct. Indeed it is instinctive in many, if not most, animal life forms.
2 Altruism is a common occurrence in animals and is observed in fish, reptiles, mammals, birds, and insects. Altruism seems to be at the core of herding and aids the survival of the many, in ant colonies, caribou, birds, or wolf packs, for example. At the human levels of family, settlement, city and nation, altruism enhances survival of groups and societies in both modern and primitive jungles and savannas. And this instinct enhances survival. Parenting and altruism offer the highest hopes for peaceful living in all of humanity.
3 Cooperation, like altruism, permeates many advanced species and their societies. It is as manifest in many species as herding or cooperative hunting, but those are not the only expressions.
4 Obedience seems to be a necessary element as it creates effective organizations whose members survive better than those who practice disobedience in chaotic savagery.
5 Dominance whether manifest as muscle or mind, corrals and channels the obedient and cooperative folks into a cohesive group whose common purpose is to expand in territory. Those with the most resources are best able to survive onslaught from nature or neighbors.
These five pillars coexist in each of our psyches. We cannot escape them. Just because unbridled human nature is violent, does not mean there is no hope. Nurture matters. See Nature Nurture and Nature's Response: Hope I and its follow-on pages.
Our behavior has so much in common with other species, that it simply must be governed by our genetic heritage. The differences among species are astonishingly slight. E O Wilson the premier entomologist on earth today finds some two-dozen traits humans and ants share of the 50 or so he identified. Differences among the great apes are trifling in comparison. Wilson expands on all this in his classic: "On Human Nature."
For an overview of why we have come to the five pillars, see the links in Peace Via Nature’s Way. More detail can be found on Browser’s Hub.
Posted by RoadToPeace on Friday, March 30, 2012.