What does it mean to be anti-fascist?
It’s December 2016 and America has elected an authoritarian with explicitly anti-democratic ideals to the office of President. This makes me deeply, desperately, poisonously, angry. Even though it follows a pattern that closer examination suggests has not accelerated particularly in the last couple months, it feels like a break.
There is a great deal of accommodation going on at the moment. There is an ongoing effort to normalize the extreme rightwing worldview that underpins Trump’s message; the message that just won the support of enough Americans that we are now expected to use the shorthand “won the support of America”, and indeed, apply that contraction to how we think about America. The overton window is shifting to the right, and the contraction is being applied to how America thinks about itself.
This is profoundly depressing. I am firmly “anti-” this. But I’m a white middle aged cisgender straight man who has benefited widely from the way things are. I am a systemic racist, if you will.
So what does it mean to be anti-racist, when you benefit daily from systemic racism? What is a modern anti-fascist?
We’re not suddenly seeing the rebirth of the Partito Nazionale Fascista. To fixate on the minutae of individual implementations of authoritarianism is to nitpick oneself into an early grave (or worse, provide grist for the propaganda mill). I highly recommend that everyone read Umberto Eco’s essay from 1995, Eternal or Ur-Fascism (or the less paywalled archive.org version of the article). Do yourself a favour and make an appointment with yourself to re-read this every Monday morning.
Fascism is sometimes underpinned by ideology, but it does not depend on any particular ideology. Eco identifies a number of meta-characteristics which are useful for placing fascistic movements in a larger context and helping us set aside distractions. Seriously, read the article, and come back to it each time you feel overwhelmed by the firehose. That feeling, when you suddenly realize that you’re dealing with people who have disconnected the notion of truth from reality — truth is that which serves the cause, whatever that is — that feeling, is Eco calling you back to read the essay again. If it does not serve the cause, it is not true. When you realize that is an identity relationship, you begin to understand the true nature of the problem.
Eco identifies fascism as the eternal disease, manifest in its many often mutually hostile and contradictory implementations. It’s the disease I hate, and it’s the disease we must address, because you can’t win the individual arguments. I would go so far as to say that demanding the individual arguments be addressed directly is a memetic assault, leveraging the victim’s intellectual honesty to create an effective denial of service.
What does /anti-/ mean?
Now you know why it’s fascism I’m talking about, and not some other, perhaps less provocative, incendiary-sounding concept. But what can you actually do?
Not sure yet. I think Sarah Kendzior might know.