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!