Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ignorance As Capital

Trump has shown us that ignorance is a kind of capital.  The Penguin Dictionary of Economics defines "capital" as:  "Assests which are capable of generating income and which have themselves been produced."  Is ignorance produced?  Belief systems that embrace ignorance are constantly being disseminated, inculcated and reinforced.  One example is the incessant social recreation of sexism in our institutions, communities, habits, and thoughts.  It need not be, and usually isn't, blatant, of course.  It is frequently subtle, subliminal, insinuative.

The other part of the definition concerns money.  How does ignorance generate income?  The basic answer is that ignorance brings power.  And power, of course, can generate income.  Any successful demagogue can gain revenue via donations, perks, connections and corruptions. 

However, the power of a President or politician is much more than a revenue magnet.  Such power can directly affect human behavior on a tremendous scale.  It orchestrates what sociologists call 'swarm behavior.'  National behavior. 

So, ignorance as capital can be lucrative and transformative in striking ways, to understate the matter. 

Such capital, we are seeing, more than ever, is reliable, trustworthy, stable.  Recent events have shown that this is true,  even in a democracy, where free speech allows access to all sides of an argument with considerably clarity.  Ignorance, properly maintained, is as structural as a factory or mobilization of engines, producing power for its owner.   Today in American, at the very top, the owner is Donald Trump. 

Again, from the Dictionary :  "All capital is ... the product of labour and raw materials."  What is the labor here, in terms of producing ignorance?  It is rhetorical persuasion.  The ability to pitch.  A labor of rhetoric is, in part, a labor of ideas--in the form of bigotries, fallacies, sophistries, flourishes, insinuations, paranoias and hate-strategies--working on the raw minds of the masses.  Charisma is essential, body language and tone.  Trump has a genius for convincing people that he is 'like them,' 'understands them' and is 'on their side.'  A salesman's guile. 

The raw material, then, for the capital of ignorance, is no less than the malleable human mind.

Republicans are starting to catch on.  They are, at some level, beginning to realize the extraordinary value of ignorance as capital.  They knew something about it before.  They are like minor snake oil sellers, now learning from a master deceiver. 

At the start of his Presidential campaign, everyone on both sides laughed at Trump.  He is absurd, he is preposterous.  A clown.  He blatantly lies.  He is rude and offensive.  The joke, though, is on us.  Masses of blue collar Americans were sick of traitorous politicians, exemplified by the economic collapse of 2008.   Trump went to work on them to build his capital of ignorance.  His approval rating climbed, even as he led the pack of GOP candidates early on. 

And then it turned out that he could say almost anything, no matter how implausible, and his followers would nod or even cheer.

Thousands of Muslims celebrating 9/11on the rooftops of New York.  No problem.  Calling a war hero, who is also a Republican Senator, a coward.  Easy.  Dissing a gold star father whose military son was slain in the call of duty.  Why not?  Mock a disabled reporter with crude gestures?  Great.  Embrace the dictator Putin and liken America to Russia in terms of its injustices?  Yeah. 

And on and on.

Trump even said, ominously, that he could shoot someone in the street and his followers would lie down for him.  Just yesterday, Trump did in effect shoot, launching missiles at the Syria government.  With so much ignorance on his side, churning out power for him, he can, it seems, 'shoot' anywhere he wants. 

Here's Trump getting his followers to blindly raise their hands in a quite recognizable gesture:

What about hideous and disgusting sexist remarks ("just grab 'em by the pussy") and racist remarks ("rapists and criminals")?  These strengthen Trump's anti-virtuous assets in the profitable realm of ignorance.  The machinery of ignorance. after all, runs on nasty things.   An oil of hate, a grease of fear, gears and sprockets that chew up specific scapegoats.

"Make America Great Again" translates into "Make America White , with Male Leadership, Again." This commercial-worthy trick is obvious from a marketer's perspective.  There are so many dog whistles and clues in Trump's speeches, tweets and style. 

But, one of the 'great' things about investing in ignorance is that it becomes self-justifying.  "Logic Immune" is taped on the side of ignorance's packaging.  As I said, the capital of ignorance is very stable.  More than any of us thought it could be, at least in America, not so long ago.

Over and over, I have heard pundits say that Trump is unpredictable.  This is totally wrong.  His underlying message is steeped in a consistent white nationalism.  There are many fascist elements.  These include militarism, industrialization, protectionism, jingoism, divinity (perfect leader), the ideal of a purified people, a lost golden era (righteous nostalgia), authoritarianism, patriarchy, and surely more that I've missed.

To the extent that Trump is unpredictable , it can work for him.  As a diversionary tactic.  As a way to test what works best.  As a means to cement loyalty and trust.   If a follower cannot rationally justify the bizarre behavior of a leader, they will do so, instead, with emotion--emotion that rises to whatever level of intensity is necessary.  Indeed, the option of true discernment, of real consideration, gets shut down and forgotten. 

What else is great about ignorance as capital, as a way to produce power?  We've seen that it is stable.  That it generates income.  That it moves minds and bodies on a mass scale.   How strong is this people- control?  I have said that ignorance undercuts reason.  Actually, it co-opts reason.  When that happens, even the most intelligent people will spin arguments to fit their prejudice.  In psychological jargon:  confirmation bias.

Taped on the side of the packaging of ignorance:  "Logic Immune" and "Smart Ignorance (c)"

So, yes, ignorance can be very smart.  Even brilliant in service to its owner.  It can facilitate its own spread.  That is another tremendous plus, hard to overestimate.

Is that all?  Is there more?  What else can this mind-control aspect of ignorance achieve?  The answer is:  major parasitism.  A demagogue who has amassed enough ignorance can siphon followers' money, even make them poor, sacrifice their health, rob them of opportunity, dignity and benefits.  

"Logic Immune"  "Smart Ignorance (c)"  "Self-Spreading" "Improved Parasite Grip (c)"

It is a trick long known to Republicans.  The strategy:  (a) appeal to deep social values to capture your audience, then (b) once elected, pass economic policies that hurt them.   It started with Nixon's Southern Strategy, a successful move to harness racism. 

Important to emphasize;  the capital of ignorance is not about eliminating, diminishing or criticizing racism or other entrenched unfairness; it is, rather, about stoking unfairness to generate power.  Until the collapse of 2008, this worked well enough for Republicans.  Then Trump came along and took the rhetoric to a new, extreme level.

What did we learn from Trump's extreme (which is now the new norm)?  In the language of gamers, an 'exploit' was discovered in human psychology.  Trump's crass clown show proved that the Emperor could indeed wear no clothes.  Trump accomplished this in a wealthy nation, where people were relatively well-off, healthy and getting by, at least compared to most countries. 

We have an exploit in our mental systems, one that, once employed, turns us into fawning followers.

In the fairytale version, the Emperor is exposed when one person stands up to the conformity.  And maybe Republicans were afraid of something like this, at first. Some child standing on her seat in a croweded Trump rally and saying, with innocent candor, "You're lying."

But there is no such child.  And it wouldn't matter.  Ignorance is a reliable, strong, smart, parasitic form of capital.  The duplicitous, denying Donald, inaugurated now as the face of American success, has shown this.  And now, Republicans are circling like investment sharks to get a chunk of the mind-control pie. 

It is repugnant.  It is atrocious.  It is beyond venal.  Witnessing Trump's incredible level of sin, who could not have stood up and spoken in defense of cherished ideals, such as equality and freedom to pursue happiness for all?

The answer is:  about half the leadership of the USA.  The right wing is eager to sell out our country for a chance to own a stake in the capital of ignorance. 

We have, then, an utter disregard for virtue and ethics, replaced by a worldview whose lens is crudely economic.  Greed is good.  Wealth is the standard of virtue.  Everything, and everybody, is a number in a vanity competition of "resources," "consumption," "exploitation," "acquisition," commodification."

Ego-tripping Trump is the paragon of it all.  A billionaire without a conscience who competes with callous, ruthless, narcissistic obsession.  A master of persuasion and the shell game--an agile thimblerigger--who convinces tens of millions of Christians to suffer for him, even as he brings out traits condemned in the Bible, firing up greed, envy, pride, cruelty, pugnacity, pettiness, deception, bigotry, infidelity, hate.

Short-sightedly, slaveringly, the Republican leadership is going for it.

Invest!  Invest in the capital of ignorance, now!  Before it's too late!



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Some Observations On the Rising Tyranny

Anyone who thought Trump was going to 'lighten up' or retreat into familiar politics should by now recognize the truth:  it is only going to get worse.  He is a lot like a drug dealer, one who sells designer hate to a sizeable audience vulnerable to his wares.  The recent ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries is a starter dose.  Trump darkly nurtures his blood-boiled base.  As a charismatic narcissist, he also needs increasing amounts of his own drug:  adulation.  Although he only mimicks a drug dealer, he is, in fact, a real abuser.  As such, he employs mind control techniques that twist reality backwards.

In both Trump and followers, the subconscious reigns.  Unacknowledged insecurity yokes Trump to his course.  He is never wrong in his eyes (on rare occasions, out of tactical necessity, he might say that he is wrong).  Similarly, his core followers do not admit anything wrong or contradictory in their own behavior, even though it is overtly and grossly destructive.  They blame others for anything bad on the level of national or international strife.

This is a lot like the imploding alcoholic who denies they have a problem.  Reality is not real for them.  Critical thinking is ineffective.

Trump sends dog whistles to his followers and the followers cheer.  They cheer especially loud and long if Trump hits the right mental chords.  There is, then, a feedback loop.  Stimulus/response.   Give me what I want, and I will praise you.  A dark gravity takes hold, a malign back-and-forth of innuendo that moves ominously toward abyss.

In terms of depth psychology, the followers basically indicate to Trump:

Just make America white again.  If you do this, you can be our king.

This Id-like, taboo-ish statement is shocking to vocalize.  Indeed, that is why people repress it.  But there it is.  The unspoken, seditious core.

It is that serious.

Some will object to my argument:  the economy and jobs are what concern Trump's followers. 

No.  Trump has masterfully welded the trope of jobs to fear.  Fear of the 'other'; of the outgroup of Muslims, blacks, liberals, feminists, LGBT, intellectuals...

'Economy and jobs' is symbolic.  Money represents food and shelter.  Trump to followers:  your food and shelter are being threatened.  And not just by anyone:  by an encroaching, disgusting horde.  The dark foe.  I, Champion Trump, shall lead you to victory.

Why delve into the painful intricacies of self-doubt when Good v. Evil is simpler?

By the way, this sort of psychological sketch that I am giving is pretty much useless in terms of reaching Trump's followers.  Months ago, Trump himself pointed out that he could shoot someone in the street, and his masses would not desert him.  Fear and hate take root below the cerebral cortex.

Confront the unrepentant addict and see what happens.  You get nowhere.  Mass addiction by a populist is worse, in a sense, than an isolated addict--because the populist provides ready-made scapegoats and denialisms.  Those buying hate from the hate-peddler don't even have to come up with their own deflections.

So, what to do in terms of reaching out?  Building bridges that take us out of the us-or-them trap?

First of all, I want to say that activism is essential.  Protest is vital.  Maybe protest alone is enough to defeat Trumpism, if it is intense and forceful.  However, if it tilts into violence, (a) that is egregious in itself, and (b) we might see irreparable harm.  Violence could meet defeat at the hands of a militarized resistance (the new Trump-driven police state).  Violence could also transform us into the very thing we despise.

I suggest the route of the Civil Rights movement.  Satyagraha is the approach most likely to build bridges, preserve the union, and draw support from the undecided.

Below are some points that move us in the direction of holism, not dualism.  First, though, I want to emphasize how frustrating it is that Trump won the election; that he now proceeds to dismantle what made America great in the name of making America great.  It is Orwellian.  It is tragic.  Globally, it could be the end of the Enlightenment era and the beginning of the Totalitarian.

Maybe Trump will alienate enough people to lose the next election.  Maybe he will foment a tremendous backlash that stifles his thrust.  Maybe.  But history shows that hatred feeds off the masses to escalate.

Trump is not making people racist.  He augments a bias already there.  It started long ago:  in the 60's with Goldwater; the victory of Reagan in the 80's; George HW Bush's racist commercials, and so on. 

Indeed, all the stuff about "State's Rights" goes back to the Civil War, the bitterness of the slavery-defending South.  The collective consciousness of the USA still bears that primal scar.

Unless we heal the divide, we are going down fast.  As part of my activism, I want to try and reach out across the chasm.  Yes, it is scary.  MLK was assassinated, after all.

Anyway, here are some bridge-building points, for what they are worth. 

(1)  Stop calling Trump stupid.  He is a genius at what he does.  His followers think he is smart, and they are right.  Just admit it.  However, his followers are turned off by him, too.  Seek out commonalities.

(2) Insults don't help.  They hand entrenched minds a bigger shovel.  Outraged chanting, while cathartic and necessary, might make Trumpsters gleeful--in the same sense that liberals become gleeful when right-wingers are upset.  It is important to vent anger and frustration--but find hate-defusing ways to protest as well. 

(3)  Projecting superiority is a kind of insult.  It is true, those of us not trapped on an accelerating treadwheel of racist rancor are superior, in some important fashion.  However, humans are complex, society is complex and there are many ways to praise or condemn people--all people.

I guess what I'm saying is:  humility.  Assertive tactics, always, but married to humility.  The more you threaten, the less they listen.

(4) Rational arguments about racism, narcissism, and so on, won't work.  If you hammer on someone's denial, even using heavy logic, it only sinks them deeper. 

(5) I read a great article today by an educated man who suffered under Cesar Chavez's populist dictatorship.  I strongly recommend this piece.  Here is one point:

In Venezuela, we fell into this trap in a bad way. We wrote again and again about principles, about separation of powers, civil liberties, the role of the military in politics, corruption and economic policy. But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real. This is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.

            (6)  The enemy is Hatred and Fear, not people.  The more you use hate and fear--or related anger--you play into the worsening gyre.

            (7) Validate Trump's followers.  Like everyone, they have suffered immensely.  Like everyone, they tread life's difficult paths.  They feel.  They struggle.  They sacrifice.  They belief in higher Good.  They have passions.  They love.  They are smart, accomplished, capable.  They are you and me.

            (8)  If someone challenges you, by saying, "You think you're better than us!" then perhaps a decent response is honesty:  "I think you're wrong about certain things, yes; but I admit I am often wrong about things.  None of us is perfect."

            (9) Develop patience.  Patience is almost ultimate.  Trump is patient in his own dark way.  He expresses anger with precision.

            (10)  Trump thrives on conflict and chaos.  Violence works for him.  It is like an injection of fear straight to his followers'  femoral arteries.  He wants violence.  When it happens, people are afraid.  They give up freedom for (perceived) security.  Higher thought ceases.  Read Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism.

(11)  Again, Trump wants chaos.  If you refute him by saying, "You're sowing chaos!" he responds in way that ups the ante.  Chaos is his anvil.  It will help him forge his 'law and order' police state.

(12) Keep aware of what is at stake.  Trump craves more praise and power.  Soon, the only route to these will be open fascism.   White, misogynous fascism.