Category Archives: The Sleep of Reason

Jordan Klepper Fingers the Conspiracies

 

On my regular walks in Arizona, I have enjoyed many interesting podcasts, including some  about the crazy things done by Trumpsters. One series of such podcasts were hosted by Jordan Klepper under the title “Jordan Klepper Fingers the Conspiracies.”  I have listened to a number of them.

On one of such walks through Johnson Ranch in San Tan Valley I learned about Trumpsters who believe that even though Trump lost the election he is still in charge. They believe he still leads the American armed forces.

Klepper specializes in attending Trump rallies for the Daily Show on television in order to interview Trumpsters. Often they are hilarious. All he has to do is ask them questions and they do the rest. But I loved one comment he made: “you can tell how these people really love America by the weapons they have bought to hurt other Americans.” For example, the Proud Boys, who are strong Trump supporters expect the American military to attack them so they must be prepared. In America that means they must be heavily armed.

Often crazy conspiracy theories have a hint of truth to them. For example, on January 6th of this year it was obvious that a number of military types still support Donald Trump. To them he is still the Commander-in-Chief. Nothing he can do will change that! They would die on the hill for Trump if he asked them to. Frankly, to me that is a little frightening.

Many of the Trumpsters are former members, or even current members, of the American military. And conspiracy theories gather around the military like iron filings collect around magnets. I believe the reason for this is the extraordinary level of fear among the theorists. A military of course is important to all of us. They are meant to protect us from some of our worst fears. As a result, conspiracy theories abound in and around the military. For example, there is a new theory in the United States that Donald Trump is still calling the shots for the military, even though he is no longer the president.

General Mike Flynn was Trump’s was the 24th U.S. National Security Advisor who was appointed by president Donald Trump and he lasted exactly 22 days of the Trump administration. He resigned after it was revealed he had lied to Mike Pence and others vetting Flynn for the advisor position.

Flynn held some whacky conspiracy views and it is disturbing that for 22 days he was so close to Commander-in-Chief of the United States. In some of his on-line posts he showed that he gave credence to conspiracy theories including the one that there was a plot to kill Navy Seals  involving current President Joe Biden who had been involved in the assassination of Osama bin Laden by the Seals.

Trump also endorsed such views when he re-tweeted some of those theories. Trump denied that re-tweeting constituted an endorsement of such theories, but what else could that mean? We also must remember that Donald Trump had about 50 million Twitter followers at the time, so re-posting such theories was a dangerous thing. Trump followers notoriously believe what Trump says and don’t require evidence to back up his claims. His proclamations are enough to convince them no matter how much contrary evidence is available.

Another on-going conspiracy theory—most of these never seem to end—was the call by Trumpsters to the Attorney-General to investigate reports that in Italy certain nefarious actors had hacked the voting machines in American election, even though they offered no evidence that this had happened. As Klepper commented, this theory had “as much substance as cotton candy that had been put through a clothes dryer.” These conspiracy theorists expected the authorities to pay attention to these wild and unsubstantiated claims.

Conspiracy theories aren’t getting more rational are they?

Credulity in America is a serious problem. This is one more sign of serious decline in American society. Having a president or national security advisor promulgating them can have serious consequences.

 

Thinking not dying

 

Can great literature lead to great societies?

There is no obvious and direct link between democratic societies and great literature. As Joseph Brodsky correctly pointed out, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were all very literate men. That did not help societies in the countries they led. But that does not mean there is no connection.

Democratic societies, it has often been observed, need good citizens. Citizens who have not forgotten how important freedom is and know that to protect a fragile democracy—and all democracies are fragile—an alert and informed citizenry is essential. Azar Nafisi explained how books like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were important as a consequence:

For this they need to know, to pause, to think, to question. It is this quality that we find in so many of America’s fictional heroes, from Huckleberry Finn to Mick Kelly in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. How can we protect ourselves from a country of manipulation, where tastes and flavors are re-created chemically in laboratories and given to us as natural food, where religion is packaged, televised, and tweeted and commercials influence us to such an extent that they dictate not only what we eat, wear, read, and want but what we know and dream. We need the pristine beauty of truth as revealed to us in fiction, poetry, music and the arts: we need to retrieve the third eye of the imagination.

Democracies can benefit from its citizens engaging in what Huck called “a long think.” Nothing is better for purpose than literature or art, or other works of the imagination. This is what Nafisi called “The Republic of the Imagination.” This is what allows us to live and avoid a smothery death.

In totalitarian societies people risk their lives to achieve this. The risks are clear and present. But even in democratic societies lives are at risk to, for smothered lives are not worth living.

People in totalitarian societies often appreciate the freedom to read much more acutely than citizens of democratic societies. But they are not the only ones. As Scout said in that wonderful book To Kill a Mockingbird, another classic, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”

In the Republic of the Imagination, as Nafisi says, “We must read, and we must continue to read the great subversive books, our own and others.”

And in my opinion there is no more subversive book than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That is why it is a great book. Perhaps the best novel of all time. That is a possibility.  It is my favourite novel.  That is a certainty.

Tom Sawyer, who appears in this book at the beginning and then returns to wreak havoc near the end of the book, is completely befuddled by what he has “learned” from reading books. It gets Tom into trouble and more importantly endangers the lives of others, such as the slave Jim. He keeps insisting how they must conform to the books no matter how absurd and no matter how little he understands of what those books actually say. Sawyer is continually barking up the wrong reality tree.

 

Tom asks Huck, “Do you want to go doing something different from what’s in the books and get things all muddled up?” Huck agreed, saying: “all kings is mostly rapscallions…You couldn’t tell them from the real kind.” Huck’s conclusion was a sound one: “Sometimes I wish we could hear  of a country that’s out of kings.” Huck would appreciate the wisdom of John Lennon.

We can think or we can die. That is the  choice.

We are Doomed

 

Not every one likes Bill Maher.  I know he is the worst interviewer on television.  Often he does not let his guests speak, but speaks up for them instead.  As well, when he lets them speak, he has some very interesting guests from all ends of the political spectrum from Steve Bannon to Nancy Pelosi.  And he sometimes makes some very interesting points.

For example, he was the first one to predict that Trump would never resign after he was elected president. He said that almost immediately after the election in 2016!  Now every one knows that. But not many said that in 2016. But Maher has also appreciated, as few others do, that this refusal now has important consequences.  Americans seem to be tolerating, if not encouraging,  this refusal even though the peaceful transfer of power has for long been considered the most important characteristic of democracy. It is what distinguishes democracy from autocracy.

And now millions of Americans have demonstrated clearly that they don’t think this element of democracy is important. They don’t care! I have found this astonishing. Many have not. Many shrug their shoulders as if it didn’t matter.

Maher said “Well we had a good run.”  On November 8, 2022 Americans had a chance to vote for democracy. As Joe Biden and many Democrats said, “Democracy is on the ballot.”  And they were right. And it didn’t matter to millions Americans. Inflation was more important than democracy. Bill Maher predicted this 4 days before the election as if it was a foregone conclusion. This is what he said,

“Tuesday is the election and I know I should tell you to vote in the most important election ever. So, O.K., yes. You should vote.  And it should be for the one party that still stands for democracy preservation. But it’s also a waste of breath because anyone who believes that is already voting and anybody who needs to learn that isn’t watching and no one in America can be persuaded about anything anymore anyway.”

On this point Maher is right.  No one will change their mind. Trump was right when he said he could stand in Times Square, murder someone and it wouldn’t make any difference to his supporters. They are that determined to vote for him no matter what he says or does. that gives him a lot of rope.  Look at the mountains of evidence revealing his nefarious deeds. Yet, his supporters are filled with religious devotion that cannot be altered. No one can be convinced out of a theological devotion. That in itself is enough to kill democracy.

Maher gave another pertinent example—the January 6th hearings. Those hearings provided Americans with an overwhelmingly convincing narrative that Donald Trump had no respect for democracy as he led the charge against democracy and his devoted followers followed. As Maher said,

“The January 6th hearings it turned out changed nobody’s mind. Democrat Jamie Raskin said the hearings “will tell a story that will really blow the roof off the House.”  No that was Hurricane Ian. Hearings roof not blown. The Committee did a masterful job laying out the case but we live in Partisan American now. So it’s a little like doing stand-up when half the crowd only speaks Mandarin. No matter how good the material is it’s not going to go over. After all the hearings the percentage of Americans who thought Trump did nothing wrong. Went up 3 points! That’s America now.”

 

Again, Maher is right. The truth did not matter! All that mattered was that millions of people are devoted to Trump and nothing—absolutely nothing—will turn them away from their religious leader. The overwhelming narrative is irrelevant.

I am a Canadian; I have no dog in this hunt. But I do. America is the leader of the modern world. Maybe not for much longer, but for now that is true. If America coughs the rest of the world catches a cold.

 I am posting this as the election is drawing to a close. I don’t know any results. I hope Maher is wrong; if fear he is right.

Are we doomed?  Let’s see what happens tonight.

Gender Affirming Care

 

According to my former personal physician, Dr. Darren Reimer, who spoke at an event in Steinbach, “There is lots of evidence that gender affirming care is helpful.” Yet sadly, gender affirming care has been viciously and relentlessly attacked by conservatives around the world–from Russia to the United States. Dr. Rimer  said that much of this evidence is clinical. That means it has been tried and has worked! According to Dr. Reimer, “gender affirming care is real and effective.” It reduces gender dysphoria.

Some people experience debilitating  gender dysphoria which is the acute and chronic distress some persons experience of living in a body that does not reflect one’s gender and the desire to have bodily characteristics of that gender. This is not something invented by the libs. It is real. It exists. Conservative hysteria won’t make it go away.

Yet, notwithstanding it’s general acceptance by the medical community, conservatives have attacked gender affirming care with relentless hostility. I think the reason is that conservatives fear liberals will take advantage of such care to impose their presumed agenda to get as many people as possible to change their identity. I don’t know why liberals would want to that, but conservatives seem to believe this is part of the liberal agenda. On the other hand, I believe that the conservative view is part of their hysteria about sexuality. Hysteria is their agenda. Many conservatives believe that the only permissible sex is that between men and women and then only when each maintains their birth sex and gender.

In part the problem here is the fact that this battle is being conducted in the world of the internet gone mad. As John Oliver said, “So much of the fear of and arguments against transgender people comes from misinformation and misunderstanding. And maybe the biggest and most dangerous area of ignorance comes from the concept of gender affirming care.”

In US four states have already scratched access to such care and 15 more are considering similar legislation. According to Oliver, “They have been fuelled by a lack of basic knowledge about what of gender affirming care actually consists.”

As Michael Knowles, the host of his own TV show: said If a child walked into a doctor’s office and said Doc I want you to cut my fingers off, the Doc would say ‘you’ve got some problems kid we need to refer you to a psychiatrist.’ If the child walked into the same doctor’s office and said, ‘Doc I want you to cut my uterus out, that Doctor would say, ‘Oh you’re a wonderful brave person. You’re right we do need to cut you uterus out as soon as possible. Let’s get this young lady over to the operating room.’

That of course is nonsense in hi def. Many conservatives believe that as soon as child declares that he or she is trans, an immediate irreversible decision is made  to make the surgery happen. That just  is not the  way these things work.

This is what I understand about gender affirming care: In young children gender affirming care consists mainly of things like a social transition where the child is allowed to use a new name ,with the parent’s consent, or have a new hair cut or wear new clothes. They might get psychological supports to help them to avoid bullying or harassment. When puberty is onset a child, with parental consent, might be given puberty blockers to delay puberty. This can buy time for the young person to make a decision when older about gender identity.

If that treatment is later suspended endogenous puberty will resume.  It is not irreversible. It just gives time to think about it.

The next medical intervention is usually hormone therapy which boosts levels of testosterone or estrogen as the case may be. Opponents of such treatment claim this is experimental medical treatment, but that is not true. Some falsely claim it sterilizes people. There are some specific rare risks to fertility in some cases but according to the Yale School of Medicine, the effect is anticipated to be reversible if medication is discontinued.

Nonetheless, as a result of conservative hysteria many states are making efforts to ban gender affirming care.

According to Heather Boerner, in her article in Scientific American, earlier this year,  “A decade of research shows such treatment reduces depression, suicidality and other devastating consequences of trans preteens and teens being forced to undergo puberty in the sex they were assigned at birth).” Scientific American also said this in an introduction to the her article:Laws that ban gender-affirming treatment ignore the wealth of research demonstrating its benefits for trans people’s health.”

As Michelle Forcier, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at Brown University, said,

The bills are based on “information that’s completely wrong…[Those laws] are absolutely, absolutely incorrect” about the science of gender-affirming care for young people. “[Inaccurate information] is there to create drama. It’s there to make people take a side.

 

 

Here is the truth according to Heather Boerner in her Scientific American article:

“The truth is that data from more than a dozen studies of more than 30,000 transgender and gender-diverse young people consistently show that access to gender-affirming care is associated with better mental health outcomes—and that lack of access to such care is associated with higher rates of suicidality, depression and self-harming behavior.”

 

This aligns nicely with what our own Steinbach physician Dr. Darren Reimer said. In other words, (these are my words now) the misinformation is part of a culture war, not a rational argument, and as we all know, in any war, even a cultural war, truth is the first casualty.

 

 

Transitioning to Cats and Dogs

 

Have you heard this crazy story that claims some schools are inundated with children now wanting to transition not to another gender but to another species? I first heard about this from a friend who said it was happening in the Bible belt of Manitoba. She claimed children in school were demanding kitty litter boxes in school because they were transitioning to cats and did not want to make a mess? They also insisted graduation be held outdoors, more befitting cats.

 

I was stunned when I heard this claim and have since learned it is a growing claim by conservatives whose fears have been stoked to such extremes in the current culture wars. There is nothing like a cultural war to generate massive amounts of hysteria.

Does anyone think this is happening? I rather think it is another example of hysteria causing people to believe the craziest things.

I believe everyone should be free to explore their own sexuality freely, at their own pace and at their own time. They should not be shoved into anything by elders, whether they be parents or liberals, or conservatives.

 

Hysteria is also being fueled by the Internet which is governed by algorithms that reward the extremes. In other words, the more extreme the story the more likely it is that it will be spread far and wide on the internet. Stories about gender transitioning are not extreme enough any more as they once were. Transitioning to cats on the other hand, now that is extreme. 

If children are exploring their sexual identity as conservatives claim, where is the harm? Who is harmed by that? Whose freedom is impinged by that? Only the freedom of those who want to impose their sexual ideology on others–i.e. the conservatives in some cases, and liberals in others. Conservatives seem to me to be the ones getting hysterical about this issue but both sides are guilty.

As John Oliver said, “Watching the conversation around this, it is hard not to feel that to the extent there is any social contagion here, it is among adults who whip themselves into such a frenzy that they find themselves repeating some humiliating nonsense.”

 Hysteria is the contagion. Nothing more.

Thoughtlessness

 Hannah Arendt also wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She used that famous expression “the banality of evil” to describe him and his kind.  He was a man who facilitated horrid acts of violence against the Jews.  But Arendt said what set him apart was his “thoughtlessness.” To her he looked and acted like a boring accountant.

She had been shocked by how glib he was in court. He talked about exterminating millions of Jews as if it was nothing. What was there for him to admit to, he asked. He suggested, as did Himmler, that they could be reconciled with the Jews.  They had a sense of elation when they considered this possibility. But the feelings were not real. It was, in Arendt’s phrase, “an outrageous cliché.”  She said, “it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those clichés by which people had lived for twelve years.”  As Carol Brightman said, “Clichés and conventional sentiments functioned as armor blocking the consciousness of the accused at just those painful junctures where painful intrusions of reality threatened.” These are some of the enemies of thought. In fact, during the trial Arendt had noticed how Eichmann was not perturbed by his starling contradictions. He was certainly not engaged in thinking. He was not stupid. He was just completely thoughtless.

Arendt was stunned that such horrific crimes could be committed without consciousness. She said she disagreed with Kant, who, according to her believed that stupidity was caused by a wicked heart. She contended instead that “absence of thought is not stupidity, it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause, it is probably the other way around, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought.”

According to her teaching assistant Kohn, Arendt believed, as I believe, that “thinking conditions people to resist evildoing.”  Most ethicists do not accept this, but I find it profoundly compelling. I believe, like the American novelist Henry James, that ethics is high reason. Where there is no reason there is no ethics. this is what the sleep of reason is all about.

Arendt was clear when she said that everyone could think. Of course, that does not mean that everyone will think. You didn’t have to have an education to think. She was not elitist.

Arendt got mad when Jews accused her of being self-hating and anti-Jewish as a result of her book on Eichmann. She said that all she wanted to do was to think about what he had done. She wanted to understand him and that was not the same as forgiving him or being soft on the Nazis. It was her job as a philosopher to think about these things. And she thought that was very important. In the film about her, Arendt summed up her thinking this way,

“Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness. It is my responsibility to try to understand. It is the responsibility of anyone who tries to put pen to paper on this subject. Since Socrates and Plato we have understood thinking to be a silent dialogue between me and myself. In refusing to be a person Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one had never seen before. It is true I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the mind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong; beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.  ”

 

For Hannah Arendt, what thinking meant was to train the mind to go wandering.  I love that concept. It brings me back to my concept of meandering.  I love to meander–physically and mentally. That is the essence of free thinking (and there is really no other kind) to meander through thoughts without regard to preconceived ideas, ideologies, or prejudices. Only the free mind can think. I said that. But that is a concept directly inspired by Arendt.

Arendt’s first major book was On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She thought there was something new or modern about totalitarianism. It was not like anything we had seen before. It presented profound change from everything that preceded it. It was much more than tyranny or dictatorship. It cut at individual will. It cut at our individual identity. In fact, according to one of Arendt’s most profound insights, totalitarianism cuts at our capacity to think.

As always, I ask myself how this is relevant to our times. There are not many totalitarian regimes around right now, but there are movements—various forms of populist movements—that tend in the same direction. I think often of the American near fascists—i.e. the Trumpsters, the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill that were looking to hang Mike Pence only because their leader told them that he had been betrayed by Pence.  That was enough to set off ordinary people looking to hang the vice-president of their country! Had they lost the capacity to think? To me it seemed that way.

Mutual Respect of Tyrants

 

 

To many it seems strange that Stalin and Hitler respected each other. One was a left-wing Communist, and the other supposedly a right wing fascist. They were mortal enemies weren’t they? Well yes, but also no. According to Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism,  the only man for whom Hitler had unqualified respect was ‘Stalin the genius.” She also pointed out, “Hitler recognized in the early twenties the affinity between the Nazi and the Communist movements: ‘In our movement the two extremes come together, the Communists from the left and the officers and students from the right.” Khrushchev in his speech before the twentieth Party Congress said  Stalin trusted only one man, Hitler.

Trump made it clear that the politicians he loved the most were the dictators around the world. He had little use for democratically elected leaders. Like likes like.

 

It is interesting that all 3, Stalin, Hitler, and Trump, found their supporters growing in the same fertile soil. Arendt described this as follows,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

 

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their numbers from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”

 

Isn’t this a perfect description of Trump’s supporters whom Hillary Clinton most unwisely dismissively called a “basket of deplorables” 60 years later? Dismissing these people is outlandishly unwise. It is from such soil that fanatical followers can be found, precisely what political leaders with totalitarian tendencies need. These were “people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”  They particularly despise elites like Hillary Clinton as we saw in the 2016 US presidential election. These are people who are ripe for a “strong man,” to whom they can give undying, fanatical and absolute, loyalty.

And therein lies the danger. Dismissing them is a big mistake.

 

The Attraction of Evil

 

The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” Arendt here quoted Franz Borkenau, who said the Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” It seemed to me I saw this attraction in the rioters on Capitol Hill.  They seemed to relish the evil.

One of the interesting facts about supporters that Trump has ditched is that they still usually remain loyal. The same thing happened in Russia in the time of Stalin. Few Trump supporters have turned against him even when they were dumped. The most famous case is Mike Pence, but there are many others. For example, the abject loyalty of Jeff Sessions after he was dismissed from Trump’s cabinet was shocking. Their loyalty is often astounding. This is not unusual for tyrannical leaders. This happened glaringly in Stalinist Russia when the Stalinists turned against their own comrades. Again, as Hannah Arendt said,

“The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents: it may be understandable that a Nazi or a Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed himself and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched.”

 

Membership in the group can be more important than life itself. At the insurrection in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 there were Trump supporters who carried signs saying they would die for him. I believe them.

The loyalty of the true believer is an impossible loyalty. No less real for that. There are other parallels between Trump and Stalin and Hitler that suggest he is a totalitarian or at least a ‘wanna be’ totalitarian.  Fortunately, he was not smart enough to achieve his nefarious goals. Or at least most of them.

What we really must fear is a new authoritarian leader who is a smarter Trump.

 

Evil can be attractive. Authoritarian leaders understand that. And that is a problem.

 

 

Desire for Cruelty

 

Because of their incredibly strong desire to separate themselves from respectable society—the establishment as 1960s rebels would call it—the true believers of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and following in Europe, inculcated a desire for cruelty. They were driven by a desire for cruelty. That desire fueled their passion.

Lately I have been rewatching the mob of Trumpsters on Capitol Hill on January 6th and have noticed the same phenomenon. The similarities to the older totalitarian mobs are astonishing. As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism in which she described the insurrectionists of the 1930s and 1940s:

“They read not Darwin but the Marquis de Sade.  If they believed at all in universal laws, they certainly did not particularly care to conform to them. To them, violence, power, cruelty, power, were the supreme capacities of men who definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”

 

That applied to Nazi mobs and Communist mobs. I think it also applied to modern American Trump inspired mobs.

Watching the rioters on Capitol Hill on January 6th of 2021 I was struck by how much fun they were having.  It was obviously a blast for them. Literally a blast. It was probably one of the most exciting days of their lives. Running down the corridors of the Capitol in search of Mike Pence chanting that they would hang him and  Nancy Pelosi was incredibly exciting for them. They were filled with passion. Arendt mentioned in her book how the older rebels has a “yearning for violence.” Arendt had said how the revolutionaries experienced

the self-willed immersion in the suprahuman forces of destruction seemed to be a salvation from the automatic identification with pre-established functions in society and their utter banality…”

They were finally loosed from the chains of mediocrity. As Arendt said about the older rebellions,

“What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one’s existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not be forgotten for centuries.”   

 

Many have been surprised by the fact that Donald Trump could attract support from elites as well as those who had been humbled by globalization. How was that possible?

First, as Hannah  Arendt said, “The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in past forced their way into it.” Next, Arendt also said this about earlier insurrectionists: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.” The elite wanted to see the cruelty of the mob in action. It was the same on January 6th 2021. The lust for cruelty can be surprising powerful.

Anyone who unleashes these powerful and uncontrollable emotions must be prepared for the unholy explosion that is likely to follow. Trump was prepared for that. Some of his followers were not, for they abandoned him. It is now being determined how many others are prepared to enjoy the train wreck too.

Yearning to Belong

 

Hannah Arendt commented on how early supporters of Hitler in Germany demonstrated astonishing selflessness. She described that this way:

“The peculiar selflessness of the mass man appeared here as a yearning for anonymity, for being just a number and functioning cog, for every transformation, in brief, which would wipe out the spurious identification with specific types of predetermined functions within society. War had been experienced as that “mightiest of all mass action” which obliterated individual differences so that even suffering, which traditionally had marked off individuals through unique unexchangeable destinies could now be interpreted as “an instrument of historical progress.”

 

This desire to be part of a movement—to belong to a group—is of course of vital significance. Humans have strong desires to be part of groups.  Groups are desired to heal feelings of alienation and isolation. They are exhilarating. If you have any doubt about this go to an American football game. You will be convinced.  The feeling is that this is “us” against “them” and the excitement is palpable. These feelings are beyond reason. Cheering for your team has nothing to do with reason.  That is what the rapture must feel like.

Bakunin, the Russian anarchist expressed this feeling deeply. He said, “I do not want to be I, I want to be We.”

To us from afar this seems insane. It is insane. But it was real for those members of the movement. Will it be the same for modern authoritarians and their followers such Donald Trump’s Trumpsters? We cannot know that in advance, no matter what Arendt has told us about earlier mass movements, but it certainly must make us consider what comes next?