J’accuse!

Our accusations define us.

The things we treat as insults broadcast who we are, what we’re anxious about, and what we don’t understand well.  It’s hard to reduce anything you’re not afraid of, and really understand into an insult.  Give it a shot.  It’s harder than it sounds.  One particular one comes to mind, that I’ve always felt illustrates this well.

Sooner or later, if you spend enough time on comment threads, you’re going to run across the phrase “Virtue-Signaling.”

It’ll be used as an insult, in the vein of a dismissal.

The underlying accusation is about hypocrisy –
“You’re all talk,” it implies, “You’re just doing this for the attention.”

to which a proper Orc says, “try me.”

But there’s a deeper level to that one. A subconscious self-reassurance that requires people of conscience be written-off as lunatics, or soft, or hypocritical, or all-talk, or complicit.

Fundamentally, that’s what the mockery of giving a crap about things centers on. “People who care about things MUST be no better than me, and nothing CAN be worth getting riled up over. Otherwise treating problems I’m not interested in fixing as Important, and accepting that people who talk about them are in Earnest, paints me as the wastrel that I am, for failing to give a crap about people who aren’t like me, and situations that don’t impact my own bubble.”

Further, “If there is no virtue, my lack of compassion is not vice, it’s just honesty, while those who signal virtue are just liars chasing positive reputations,” goes the thinking.

In practice, it’s a bellwether for moral cowardice on the part of the accuser.

And they’re sensitive about it.

True or False

Ok, so the president isn’t lying. He’s skimming headlines and cable news, only-half-paying-attention, and then assuming all the things that what he’s skimmed made him THINK OF, are also true, and that he got those takeaways from reputable sources, which he then accuses of lying every time he’s handed a microphone. So what we have here is not an honesty problem. It’s a reading-comprehension problem, a persecution complex, and a case of good ol’ Dunning Kruger syndrome.

TIME just had a sit-down with DearLeader to ask a series of questions about his relationship with the truth, and his track record of saying something demonstrably false, standing by it, and then when something later happens that’s kind of like it, claiming that the thing that happened after he said it was what he had been talking about.  Which tells me that his hands are SO small that he’s operating in a quantum realm where Effect occasionally precedes Cause.  Of course, most of the untrue things he says are just untrue, and never get even that degree of later vindication.  All jokes aside, though.  Reading the unedited transcript of the interview, it’s clear as day that all you have here is a man who desperately wants approval, doesn’t understand what’s expected of the office that he holds, and lives in a world constructed to rationalize away the inconvenient and the unflattering. All of which would be a lot less dangerous if he was more attentive, more literate, or more self-aware.

This is our president, ladies and gentlemen. The “leader of the free world.” Unable to critically engage with anything in smaller print than the headline. The chair is empty. It only looks occupied. It’s as if the oval office has been rented out to a youtube comment thread. Never in my life have I felt such a deep and personal sense of national shame. According to several people I spoke with yesterday, none of this matters, because he’s going to get rid of all the immigrants and the freeloaders and the terrorists, so we shouldn’t be ashamed. We should just get out of his way and let him work. I suppose I ought to contribute to the war effort and buy him a box of crayons.

But why listen to me? Let’s give DearLeader the last word, huh?

“Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody OK?”

Public Health

How do you treat an invisible disease that’s so stigmatized nobody can engage with the idea that they might have it?

A disease you can get away with thinking only Other People get; bad people far away, that doesn’t hurt the infected population, but instead makes their breath and sweat and skin oils toxic to a segment of the population with the right genetic markers. This toxicity is rarely fatal, though those reactions happen, and so far we have no way of really knowing or predicting which host-bystander combinations will produce lethal responses. That only makes it harder to get infected people to seek treatment. Everyone is so convinced that only morally deficient people far away can even contract it, that the idea that certain cases are benign and others fatal gives infected victims cover to believe that even if they had a case it won’t hurt anybody. They mostly stay away from vulnerable populations anyway. Now and then, when high profile third party deaths happen, there’s a backlash against anyone who looks like they’re diseased.

Since everyone’s both scared of being accused that they might have it, and convinced they really don’t, they get resentful and take solace in being unsympathetic when third-party victims die. “They should have known to stay away from places the infected gather.”  To blunt the shock and tragedy of deaths and serious medical reactions, narratives emerge that range from saying, “Maybe the disease is not the problem, but instead the genes that make exposure to infected people dangerous,” to saying, “This reaction wasn’t the disease’s fault!  Sometimes people just die or get a skin rash.  Why make everything about this damn disease?”  This, too is just fear of the stigma being turned in their direction. And it’s natural.

Nobody wants to feel like a pariah. Especially when they feel fine and are sure they’re not infected.

After all, most times, reactions that infected people cause are pretty mild, and it’s only the summation of a heap of those reactions in a day that make it hard for those third-party groups to navigate in public. After all, they may just get the chills or flu-like symptoms or a rash. But cross the path of half a dozen like-encounters in a day and it’s a little more than some petty annoyance, especially when there’s no way to predict if this reaction or the next one might prove fatal. It’s a rotten way to live. And so the public health community is challenged – both to get infected people to seek treatment, and to let them know that testing is available and diagnosis doesn’t mean the end of a normal life. In a lot of ways, although treatment isn’t comfortable, it means the start of one.

More here than anywhere else, the help of the infected population will be key to bringing this disease, and the public health crisis it’s dumped on us, to an end.  We can’t cure this thing without their mass-participation, and the only real alternative to treatment is wholesale euthanasia – too repellent to contemplate. While the harm the infected do is staggering, both socially and economically, these are our brothers and our sisters, and we need to get them help, not just make sure they feel ashamed about contracting it.

Infection is more widespread than a lot of people realize, and it needs to be made clear to the community at-large that stigma ought to be applied only in cases where a person, on diagnosis, consciously refused to enter treatment. Otherwise we risk driving infected people into small communities of other shunned contagious carriers, where their case becomes harder to treat. There is some evidence that this can even worsen the reactions their infection tends to cause.

Nobody wins in that scenario.

The case is clear though; nobody should have to avoid going out in public or participating in a normal life just to guarantee they aren’t going to die or end up sick. There’s a cottage industry around crackpot preventatives to keep vulnerable people safe from having a reaction; things like smiling all the time and wearing ‘preventative clothing’ which show no real signs of working. This isn’t something that the at-risk populations can solve wholly on their own, without cooperation from people with a strong chance of infection. We can beat this thing together.

And yes, I’m talking about unconscious racism.

Form(s) Letter

When you hear the word Gender, really start thinking, “set of expectations about social role.” When someone tells you that their gender is something other than you figured it would be, understand that what they’re telling you is, “This is a more accurate set of expectations for you to have about me than the set that visuals alone might lead you to assign me.”

It’s not a weird sex thing. They’re not asking you to abandon your religion or your common sense or to make an exception. They’re giving you a piece of information that will help prevent confusion.

Let me open that one up.

We expect different behavior, tastes, conflict tolerance, habits, gestures, and even capabilities of men than we do of women. It’s not a stretch to say that when you think of Rugby, you picture a large muscular male body. When you think Woman, your prototype for that is probably not a flannel-wearing head-shaved, tattooed female former rugby champ who’s into shooting sports and shrugs off talk about her feelings. You would call her man-ish. You might even be using the term in a derogatory way, to indicate that who she is boils down to a failure to live up to expectations about what females should like.

But where exactly is the failure?

Is it in her for liking the wrong things, having the wrong aptitudes and strengths, wearing the wrong clothes – basically being bad at lining up with common ideas of what people whose bodies are able to make babies are supposed to also take for granted?

Or is it assumption, doing its thing, making asses…

A gender is a set of assumptions. How many times have you boiled down yourself or somebody else as “too feminine” or “not feminine enough,” or similarly for traits that “go with men?” That’s what we’re talking about here. Because we just assume that social expectations ALWAYS pair perfectly with what’s in our pants, as if a penis is required to play Rugby, but would get in the way in the process of learning how to dance… “Trevor, your form is excellent, and your timing is totally on-point, but your penis keeps throwing off your balance and knocking you over. Ballet really just isn’t for men.”

You can do your own Rugby example. I’m sure it’ll be more eyebrow-raising than anything I write here.

What if, just for a second, we entertained the notion that having only two one-size-fits-nobody-especially-well sets of social expectations to fit into, wasn’t good for anybody? What if – regardless of your feelings on other unrelated topics like whether men can marry men, or have a sex change operation – we entertained the thought that all the rugby-playing women who like beer and sports and don’t care about lipstick, aren’t actually bad at being women. What if we were holding them to the wrong set of expectations. No, that doesn’t mean we ought to think of men who rock a mean tap-dance as women. It means we might be oversimplifying something, along the way, and that there might be other totally viable sets of expectations for a human.

Unless you really think that bro-fella at the gym is really all there is to masculinity – the only kind, and the only way to be appropriate, if you were born with balls. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve got too attached to the idea that plumbing dictates tastes, and chores, and talents, and that liking the wrong stuff, or being even ‘failing’ to be shaped ‘right’ is a letdown or a sexual perversion. We’ve got 80 kinds of people, give or take, and only 2 that we deem valid for the plumbing that they have.

I think there’s more to life than emotionally-inarticulate quarterbacks and playmate head cheerleaders.

I think you probably don’t even know anybody who fits either of those concepts of what man or woman are “supposed” to be. Maybe we stop pretending everyone we know is some degree of failure based in deviation from Platonic Forms of male and female. But maybe there’s one more dimension to this that we don’t often admit. Maybe it’s about an obligation.

Do we owe it to ourselves and to the world, as some propose, to kill our natures in the service of a social duty to conform? Is the failure to like tanks or princesses, some kind of flouting of the basic social contract we all signed by being born? For this, we’re going to need to go to France. The term well-heeled is French-derived, and came about because the high-heeled shoe that we’re familiar with began in France, for men. Not as a deviance from manliness, but like a high-top sneaker in the 80’s in America – the way to show virility and style. Well-heeled still means someone who’s got an enviable income, but that used to be inseparable from men in high-heeled shoes. Now the same taste, across the Atlantic, is looked at as a dangerous perversion and a deviance from norms. So is it the tastes? Is it the shoe? Or is the crime of liking the wrong things really about failing to conform? So I ask again. If you couldn’t be manly in 1580’s France without high-heels and you couldn’t be manly in 1980’s America with them…

Then we have to accept that these expectations aren’t just cultural, but they’re also arbitrary.

So, somewhere along the line (thank Plato), we decided that of all the human types and nearly infinite configurations of traits, tastes, psyches and talents, that made humanity flexible, adaptable, and unstoppable across the ages, that only two constellations of interests and attributes, one for people with penises, and one for people without, can ever be viable at a time, thanks to the idea that there is a Form called Man and one called Woman, and all people based on plumbing are just failures to a great or lesser extent to live up to them absolutely. It should be noted here that the torch of rigid gender conformity is currently being carried by the Christian right, which starts to look pretty funny, given the way that Philosophers like Plato who originated the theory that underwrites them, were widely characterized as heretical and dangerous and wrong by earlier generations of the church. They even have their very own circle of hell in Dante. But hey, no one reads Plato anymore, and so his worst ideas need to live on through someone. Why not through the contemporary incarnation of his former critics?

 

Still… Every now and then, as centuries come and go, we have to stop and ask ourselves why we assume the things we take for granted are in any way authoritative. Especially when the way they’re shaped leaves everyone at one point or another – from the bro-types at the gym afraid to tell their friends they also enjoy cooking, to the middle school girls who’d rather watch the game than do their nails – feeling inadequate or weird or somehow broken for the ways they don’t conform. Mull it over.

One last thing. A common criticism of the current aimless-generation, who’s divorced themselves from social expectations, is that none of them are happy. That this freedom to express their inner beings hasn’t brought them any joy, and suicide rates bear out ugly consequences of a world where all the landmarks are removed. That isn’t wholly misguided. Of course, there’s two ways we can think about that, too. One is, not having any guideposts or clear roles makes it impossible to know if you’re succeeding or a failure. That anxiety is real and can’t be minimized at all. The solve for that is one I’m sure the right is going to hate. It’s not an end of gender roles that may deliver real-world satisfaction after all, but recognition that there’s more than one right way to have a penis. Or some other parts. You can name them all, I’m sure. What this might look like is heap of viable definitions, like the cliques in middle school, which in-and-of-themselves are just experiments with figuring out roles. A slew of ways to know that you’re not just bad at being a girl, but that you’re probably a hybrid of This set of expectations and That one, both of which are just fine to embody.

We’ve got a generation smart enough and brave enough to take some baby steps out of conformity, who still live in a culture built around strict gender norms. It makes the news when boys in Texas join the cheer squad. These kids live in a world where not only do they live without the safety net of easy definitions of what boy and girl should be, to measure themselves against, but also one that still insists that rigid definitions they will never themselves live up to still apply.

There is no social yardstick yet to measure them a Win, but they’ve got old folk telling them they’re losing at games they don’t even play.

There’s no social capital allotted yet to tell them if they’re acceptable versions of what they actually are.  We’ve still only got two identities that offer any rewards, and failing to be adequately subservient to them is still treated as a cause for penalty.  That guitar kid with the skinny jeans, who’s brave enough to try and like himself despite not being built for Rugby, and the girl who’s built for Rugby and is proud to tell her family that she’ll just never be the debutante who wants to be in pageants, still get told they’re failing miserably by everybody older. It’s a world built for two genders – two sets of social expectations – not just one built for two sexes.  The sexes are just the excuse.  It has no idea what to do with people it can’t stereotype and pidgeonhole based on their parts, besides compare them to the one ‘right’ Man or Woman, and score how badly they ‘fail.’  That world is us.  We’re both its victims and its agents.  And we’re the one thing we can change.

We can crush kids for their courage, and demand they feel like shit for questioning Plato on the idea that there’s only Two ideals and that the cliffnotes to which one they’re failing to live up to can be found inside their pants, or maybe not. Maybe we’ve learned a thing or two in twenty-five hundred years about the human experience that one smart dude in Greece might just have missed.

This blog post brought to you by the very confused woman at the pancake house overheard mocking a stranger for having pink hair, starting with, “And you just know she’s got a Gender or something…”

World’s Greatest

I’m going to leave you with these words tonight:
 
 
You’re joking, right?  These are the words of a child writing a book report, not a U.S. legislator. And that child isn’t even doing well in middle school.
 
Following up, after reading the text of said bill, I can assure you that child is also failing Health class.
Once more for the Congressmen in the back – HealthSavingsAccounts are only a viable option for Americans with a significant amount of disposable income… y’know, people who can already afford health insurance.  And before you start to whine at me that nobody’s your problem, the preventative care that access to affordable access to the healthcare system makes available Saves Taxpayer Dollars hand-over-fist in Medicaid and mandatory E.R. services when those problems that would’ve cost a hundred bucks or so to catch and treat mature into five digit surgical and inpatient expenses… footed by, you guessed it – you.  Stinginess costs you money, kills your fellow Americans, and makes emergency room waits long enough to kill a high-risk patient.
 
Try again, kids. Try again. This one still kills too many people.

Dog Whistling

“You’ve been a bad bad girl,”

is different when it’s spoken to a dog, or to your three year old who’s just filled up the Playstation with glue, or to a pornstar in a grown-up kind of movie that you’re all too good and noble to’ve seen…  Thing is, unless you know who a given piece of Content was inscribed for, and until you understand them really well, you can’t really get the thing it’s meant to say.

 

When you hear someone say Dog Whistling, what they’re pointing at is content that’s designed to mean an innocuous thing to the general public, and a Very Very Specific Other Thing to one particular group of people that it’s aimed to send a tribe-specific message to in plain sight.  It’s the cultural equivalent of cold war spies taking out personal ads or submitting obituaries to the newspaper.  Everybody else sees platitudes about a dear departed aunt Gertie who died on 7/27, lived in Hollywood and spent time at the park walking her dalmatian.  The intended recipient, codenamed Gertie would read that, and every obit for someone called Gertie, and understand that they were to be at the intersection of Hollywood and Park at 7:27, to meet a contact who was wearing black and white.

It’s a time-honored tradition to use broad-reach communications to conceal the sending and receiving of a message.  If you wrote it down in code and mailed it right to where you wanted it to go, not only would your mailing list compromise all your agents in the field, but it would also look suspicious if it were ever intercepted.  By hiding it in plain sight, there for everyone to read, and just relying on your audience to know where to be watching and to have the key to understand its meaning from the innocent thing it was pretending to be.  You can send a coded message without giving away anything at all, and make the people who do stumble into the ability to translate, just look crazy when they tell people about it.  “You’re a paranoid alarmist,” is exactly how you want the folks who break your clever code to be received.

Outside of spycraft, in the world of politics, this one gets interesting fast.

Say ‘immigration’ at a MAGA rally, it’s an understood the word means ‘bad, invaders, globalism, porous borders, danger.’ Say it in a classroom filled with first-generation english-language-learners, and it’s understood the word means ‘opportunity and safety and escape from persecution gangs and war.  The same one word gets starkly different reactions – it’s whole implication changes – based on all the ‘givens’ that the audience brings to it, often without realizing there’s any other way it could be taken.  Keep in mind that in a silo-media culture, there’s always a different way to process every buzzword, be it racism or defense contractor, coal mine or peacekeeper.  If you want to understand a given Message, learn to hear it through the ears of who the Content was built for.  Otherwise, you’ll take away one thing, they’ll take another, and the way that it gets processed by one will seem crazy to the other.  Most importantly, to anyone who’s not paying attention, you can send a perfect message of intent to your supporters, so long as you know what they’ll read-in to the message or your choice of words, but nobody will see the smoking gun.  Because on its own, your message is inert.  The missing pieces that only your target tribe possess would be required for activation.

As an aside, by way of shoring up the importance of context to a the meaning of a message, this is where interpretation of religious texts sometimes goes a little off the rails.   What good are metaphors about shepherds to an audience that’s never herded sheep?  The short answer is, to an audience that’s almost guaranteed to lack the context that a shepherd would’ve brought to it, you’ve got only a crayon drawing of the understanding actual shepherds in the bronze age would’ve brought to how to understand the Content written for them might have applied.  Same goes for any text sufficiently old.  You need a sense of what the audience is expected to take for granted, and to write that in the margins, to really get what any message, new or old, is really saying.

Without the context that understanding the intended audience brings to the words, you’re looking at the clothes folded up in a drawer.  If you want to understand the outfit, you need to see it on the model that they’re fit for.   The differences are drastic, based on what you’re bringing to the table.  The same joke about you, at the bar among your friends, would hit you differently if you’d just lost your job or been divorced, than if the group was celebrating.  Stoner comedy, The Interview played very differently in North Korea than it did in the U.S.  Talk about a muslim ban, or stigmatizing gays, means something different to you if you’re in those groups, than if you’re someone in a suburb who will never be impacted.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the nation?  Well that depends on what and who you think the nation is.  Who matters?  Who counts as important to consider?  That is largely going to depend less on morals than on who the listener is.  If they’ve got a family stuck in immigration-limbo, or a cousin in transition, things are likely to sound much less black and white, since the Americans they know are going to matter more to them than they Americans they don’t, and a lot more than some abstract concepts about preserving monocultures or the benefits and flaws of open-door exchange of people between far-diverging cultures.

Next time you see somebody blow a whistle, all the dogs go nuts, but you don’t hear a sound, just remember that it isn’t just for dogs.  There are messages that pass you by in politicians statements all the time.  If you aren’t who they’re pandering to, they hope that you don’t notice.  Happy hunting.

Healthcare Orconomics

Let’s talk a second about healthcare economics, since the congress has, this week, proposed its first replacement plan.

One of their cornerstones has been a perennial favorite of the kind of congressmen who best define “The Swamp” for some years now, Health Savings Accounts. HSA’s are a mechanism that helps people who have plenty of money, but aren’t great at managing it, put some aside at a reduced or tax-free rate, by earmarking it as future healthcare spending.
What they don’t do is reduce healthcare costs, combat the wildcat inflation that has dogged the healthcare markets, or address the fact that factors 1 and 2 have placed participation in the healthcare system, as a whole, outside the price range of 2/3rds of the American public without some sort of assistance from Employer-Purchased Insurance or the Government stepping in to buy it for them.
And the Cost end is the problem. Those are rising every year. Unless you’re bad at math, a core inflation rate of 2.27% against a healthcare inflation rate of 3.86% and annual wage growth of a U.S. worker growing only at 2.50% a year on average paints a very simple picture. Whether you currently can afford your healthcare now or not, its costs are growing faster than your wages do, which means that year by year, and industry by industry, inflation of those costs is going to outpace what you make at some point. Enter the Affordable Care Act, which reduced the pace of healthcare cost inflation by somewhere around 1%. Good start, but not enough to start bringing costs DOWN. It’s hard to make the argument that “without this, it would have been worse” to people who it didn’t help in ways they noticed.
The ACA had problems. It was a band-aid that approached both of those problems the wrong way, and so did nowhere near enough to actually solve them. It instead worked to address the most egregious ways insurers took advantage of their clients, leaving lots of people dead. That was a start, but it left intact all the basic cost-spiral problems.
Here’s the thing. Whenever you remove the Cost end of equations from supply&demand forces, the Free Market can’t create pro-social outcomes anymore.
If the one doing the paying for your treatment has far deeper pockets than you do, and you don’t even know what the treatment options you’re selecting cost, but you and your doctors are making these choices in a void of information about what services cost, because your insurance company is picking up the bill, your hospital can set the fees arbitrarily, divorcing it from needing to constrain itself to finding ways to treat the public’s ailments that’s within the public’s means to pay for. A car company makes cars. They need to find a way to make those cars cheaply enough that enough Americans can afford to buy them, otherwise, they don’t sell cars. They have to control costs or they can’t make their money. We’ve insisted thus-far on “Free Market solutions” to spiraling healthcare prices, but have yet to properly admit that healthcare in the U.S. hasn’t ever been subject to Market forces in the way that other commodities are. That’s both because of the 3rd-party-financing distortion on the Cost end of the spectrum, and this –
The other problem is, Free Markets on the whole work well in areas where customers are free to choose between competing options OR OPT OUT. Medicine isn’t like that. Love the Free Market or don’t, Life-Or-Death-Needs is not an area that markets create optimal outcomes, and the POINT of Markets is the creation of optimal outcomes wiser than individual top-down decisions could. They’re an example of Emergent Calculation – where no one knows what beans should cost, and so a Market finds the answer in the crowd. The beans are worth the price that somebody will pay. And that’s the right tool to decide the price of beans, or cellphone plans, or tanks, or orange juice futures. But Markets don’t tend to create undistorted wiser-than-a-single-human outcomes when the people who are depending on those outcomes also LIVE on the scale. In practice that’s because a person’s estimation of the value of living, rather than deciding to die on purpose, doesn’t obey cost-benefit analysis. The benefit of remaining alive is nearly always going to outweigh other factors on the scale of things like money, to the point where Markets don’t know what to do with “INFINITE” as input.
SINCE
people value their own survival to a degree approaching infinity.
AND
Those people do not have infinite money.
THEN
The Market Value of survival will be tabulated to exceed, eventually, what anyone can afford.
So the Free Market is the wrong tool for survival calculations to begin with.
In debates about healthcare economics, it can be easy to just say “I’m a Liberal, so I hold my nose and support the ACA because it helps people in ways that doing nothing doesn’t.” or “I’m a Conservative. Obama’s basically the devil. Kenyan Muslims.” Fuck it, I don’t know what you people think anymore in the age of Trump. I kid, I kid. I know that the Conservative position is that taxpayers can’t afford to carry the burden of paying the rate the Free Market’s decided being healthy in America should cost. And the thing is, you’re both right.

The problem is, and always has been, that we’re using the wrong tool to do the job.

How to Cost More and Get Less

The ACA was not a good law. It had some positives, but it was riddled with problems.
 
I had some hope for what the congress would conceive as its replacement. Not, y’know, a lot of hope, but there it is.
 
The things that made the ACA a bad law are each universally worse under Congress’s currently-propsed alternative.
 
Someone. Someone please. Just once when you’re writing legislation, speak to at least some economists that aren’t insurance industry-supplied consultants. Otherwise, you’re basically admitting that cost control was never on your radar, and you don’t really have a stake in fixing healthcare cost-spiral problems.
 
In the meantime, I suggest a strict regiment of prayer to whatever republican gods will listen, that you never contract anything that takes you past your newly-returned Lifetime Limit on Care. I’d advise avoiding Cancer, Hepatitis C, or basically anything chronic… Also, try not to be disabled in a way that costs you money, or at some point you’re just going to end up penniless, then dead.
 
#ThanksObama… oh wait, no, I mean #ThanksCongress.
 
This one’s all on you.

Wabbit Season

The prominent Swedish Nazi, ex Waffen SS soldier and founder of the “Sweden Democrats” Gustav Ekström in 1988 said: “Förneka alltid att ni är nazister. Men var trogna Ledaren.” (Always deny that you are nazis. But be faithful to the Leader)

There was a time when knowing that was trivia.

These days though, it shines a little light on something that’s worth hearing.

Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethno-nationalism, is the idea that the “nation” is defined in terms of ethnicity rather than geographic borders or by constitutional law.  Beginning with the creation of the European Union, far right movements rose in opposition to the perceived threat to national identities that sharing open borders across Europe represented.  What made Italy Italian, or Sweden Swedish, if Italians could move to Sweden in droves, in search of opportunity, not speaking or looking Swedish and making meatballs wrong.  What would being Swedish mean if it was not predominantly populated by ethnic Swedes?  In Germany, and Hungary, and much of Scandanavia, these questions prompted anxiety among their Ethnic Nationalist parties.  By the turn of the millennium, these worries coincided with a sharp uptick in migrant labor across Europe as refugees fled famine and civil wars in Africa and the U.S. War on Terror sent further waves of immigrants in from the middle east.  Now, the immigrants who were arriving made Italians seem familiar by comparison.  Did these people even “share our values?”  For the first time in generations, the ideological descendants of the Nazi diaspora, scattered after World War II, found receptive new recruits for their ideas, in far-right immigrant-suspicious movements all across Northern and Eastern Europe.

In the course of reaching out to new demographics, and in the face of a public that was strongly opposed to the word Nazi, but had mostly forgotten what – besides a flair for invading Poland and gassing captive gays and Jews and Roma – had made the Nazis oh-so-special.  They put years into rebranding, re-contextualizing their ideas as Western Traditionalism, European Nationalism, NeoReaction, and a dozen other not-quite-Nazi brands.  They all diverged in one or two key ways from Nazism, proper, so they each got to deny association and look down on anyone who made comparisons between them.

It had everything.  Deniability, some ideological cover, and a host of brands that rotated which Nazi-derived ideas each one omitted.  This allowed these groups to mainstream parts of the entire package, without asking each individual recruit to love all parts of Nazi doctrine.  Don’t like the racism, but love the Law&Order talk?  They have a brand for you, that’s especially suspicious of the dangers of mob-rule and strong on national border enforcement because a disrespect for authority is disloyal.  If you’re not a racist, but the idea of the U.S.A. ceasing to become a WASP-majority nation still makes you uncomfortable, try Ethno-Nationalism, that merely begs the question, “Should the people of a nation not be able to decide who is and isn’t allowed in?”  How about people who don’t love the fact that institutions more powerful than them control their destiny and shape the world they live in – the world they’re currently not massively successful in, despite being told by leftists that they have it even easier than other ethnic groups due to some problems they don’t face to the same degrees as their minority countrymen…  For those people, they’d need the infiltration of the groups those people already identify with.  They would need to seed ideas of theirs into American Far Right “patriot” groups, who have outsized online engagement, widely brand themselves as more orthodox Right by the Republicans at large, and find areas of common interest.  Hate the idea of the government telling people what who they need to tolerate and work with, and legally mandate equal rights for minorities and “deviants” no matter what the business owner believes?  Brand it as “Cultural Marxism,” let them google back to all the other sites that use that verbiage to figure out what it means.  Build a campaign of multi-layered interlocking individually-palatable ideologies, and aim them at a country.

Then, after giving those ideas the chance to accrete communities around them, provide them all a common enemy, a straw-man of the Left, that wants to Undermine national identity, Promote minority interests over whites, End the cultural hegemony of whites ‘who built this country,’ Eradicate the morals that had made the country great in favor of some nebulous wishy-washy weakling ideology of tolerance, while behaving intolerantly only toward whites and whiteness, and either Sell the nation out to foreign powers, or so-weaken it that foreign enemies can out-compete it with superior tolerance to do the ruthless things that need doing in order to keep a nation strong, united, and ethnically pure.  You saw where that bit went right at the end.  They never say that part.  Not outside of the spaces all these feeder-groups link back to, if you find things there you like and follow further down the holes.  If you don’t?  Hey you still vote with them, so in the end you’re helping.  Plus, what this technique has given them is the greatest gift of all.  Strong voting blocks in a dozen nations, passionately supportive of their view of what a nation-state should look like, who don’t even know or understand themselves as being on the team.

They’ve got people who’ve been radicalized against state institutions that could stand as checks and balances against the things they’ll someday want to do in their host-nations.

They’ve got other people still who have been radicalized to see defenders of the poor and marginalized as enemies of the state, who’ll tirelessly work to tear down the people who’ll vote in political opposition to them when they eventually come out in the open.

They’ve built a human shield of normal folks around them who are innocent of everything they guard, who’re only frustrated like 1930’s Germans about lacks of opportunity, they’ve taught to blame the state and different scapegoats, all depending on the human shields in question.

They don’t need you to be Nazis.  Not by name.  They only need you to be people who will make the nation ready, in your own individual ways, and make your country unwilling or unable to oppose them when they step into the light.  They’ve tried to weaponize your disenfranchisement and use your own legitimate anxieties to build a population frustrated and desperate for a savior; feeling cornered and upset by an encroaching threatening world, structures of power that outgun them, and domestic traitors living right next door.  They’ve painted quite a picture, sampled from colors and motifs already present in the world.  They’ve only tweaked their minor details so that people will respond to them in more convenient ways.

Here’s where I fit into this picture.

If you’re reading this and saying, “Yeah I’ve seen this!  This is awful.”  You’re not wrong.  The fact is, brilliant people with a track record of stellar propaganda have made a hash of what the Right in Western countries used to be.  They’ve taken ideas like promoting values central to the Christians, and turned them toward a cultural war against enemies of the faith.  Crusader iconography is all over a number of their brands.  They’re not trying to take countries now.  They’re trying to erode the institutions that can stop them when they rise.  That means ideological poison, turning good things into bad, that tie deep into your intrinsic sense of self and who you are.  And if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a victim of their ploy, but I would be that you each know people who are.

There is another kind of Nazi currently active on the board.  They’re the folks I mentioned way back at the top, who lurk among us wearing smug denials like a badge, and think the rest of us don’t notice.  They’re the ones who frame the message that their innocent recruits distribute for them.  They know that you’ll reject them if they admit what they are.  They know you’re actually Americans, and no amount of tribalism, scapegoating or PR can make you sign up for an arm-band of your own.  They only sell you the components of the virus.  Just inert bits that are dormant ’til they meet the rest online.  These guys:

“Förneka alltid att ni är nazister. Men var trogna Ledaren.”

And for them I have a message.
You can call attempts to root you out, from among your human shields, a witch hunt all you want. I call it a duck hunt. And anything that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck is duck-like enough for me that it doesn’t need a swastika on the armband of its heil-saluting arm for me to recognize an ethno-nationalist antisemitic antidemocratic platform when it’s right there in front of me. These things have definitions. It’s not a slur. The words are in the dictionary. It’s not a witch-hunt to say “waitaminute, your entire facebook timeline basically describes this bit from Websters on the Reich.” Your lack of armbands isn’t fooling anybody. You must think we’re all morons if you guessed we wouldn’t notice that for all your “I’m no Nazi” protestations, you espouse the lion’s share of what the furher’s boys were selling, with a different coat of paint.
So sure – you’re not a Nazi. You just happen to share with them 83% of what makes Nazis something humans shouldn’t be. You haven’t technically begun the ethnic cleansing program yet, though facebook leads me to believe you wouldn’t mind it if it happened, so I’m giving you that one for now.
Just don’t ask me to mince words about the issue.  Or stop walking like a duck.

Unclaimed Dialogue

Author’s Note:  Periodically, my head will throw me dialog my story has no use for.  So I write it down and file it away until a time when I can find out what it belongs to.  Here and there, I’ll post those entries on the blog in case one of these intercepts from the ether strikes a tone with anyone.  They may or may not ever find a home, and so this way at least they’ll get their due attention.  One such orphan conversation sits below:

 

“What are they going to do when they realize the problem is that they have more people than they need to accomplish the shrinking amount of labor that needs performing to maintain the same productive output over time?”

“How so?”

“It used to take a thousand men to build a bridge.  Now it takes less than a hundred, and some tools.  What’s more, they’re running out of places to put bridges.  It’s the same with every other thing they do.  They get by, basically, for now, by trying to manufacture demand for goods and services to keep the money moving, but the fact is, over time though more and more people are born, their world needs less and less human labor to sustain it.  Still, despite this, they’ve held fast to the idea that only through time spent in labor, should the means to go on living be provided.  You see the problem.  Their culture’s values aren’t caught up with all the problems that they’ve solved, so they’re not getting to enjoy it.  What do you predict they’ll do?”

“Starve, I would imagine.  Or riot, then starve.”

“You don’t believe there’s a chance that they’ll redress their excesses in time?”

“As you say, It goes against their own momentum.  Some of the ‘Have-Nots’ are understandably perturbed with the way that resources are divided, with so few having so large of a share when there would be plenty to go around if the fruits of mankind’s production were shared more equally.  But there are plenty more, who have the next best thing to nothing, but are living on the fantasy that they too may eventually join the Owning-class and leave their peers behind, so their identities are tied to the existence of a class to escape into, that has more than all the rest.

The ‘Haves’ meanwhile cleave to  a deep love of the idea that their prosperity is the outgrowth of a functioning meritocracy, and clutch their pearls at anything that looks like a hand-out on the grounds that it may become a slippery slope to the encouragement of mediocrity.  The ‘Have-Nots’ are becoming aware now of the wealth gap – BUT – because one of the things they Have-Not is sufficient education, the nearest means they’ll have at hand to address those feelings will be violence.  They’re woefully outgunned though, so they’ll still starve in the end.”

“So you see where this is going.”

“They’ve built an entire society on the idea of striving for betterment.  The betterment is mostly a myth at this point, but try telling that to the few who’ve managed it.  Due to a quirk of human psychology, no one really believes themselves to be exceptional, and so they’ll insist that if they did it, so could anyone who tried hard enough, ignoring the larger contributions of circumstance and dumb luck to their biographies.  Flattering pictures are hard to let go of, and this one allows the ‘Haves’ to conceive of themselves as Normal, and of the truly normal individuals as Lazy, satisfying three deeply ingrained psychological needs at once.

One, is the need to feel normative thereby feeling secure in one’s place in the herd, the need to look down on others in less desirable circumstances in order to feel safe from ever ending up there oneself.

The other is, the need to explain the suffering of the less fortunate in a way that compels neither guilt nor action.

In short, these are not a people who are prepared to embrace the notion that all life is one, and that each member of the species is merely one cell in the body, no more or less valuable than any other, despite their apparent differences in function.  They are not having an honest conversation about what they value and award access to resources for.  Until they do, there can be no solution to the challenges they face from the new world they have not yet acknowledged they are living in.”

“That’s a very daunting picture.”

“Yes, yes it is.  That’s why they aren’t going to make it.”