Saturday, 4 June 2016

Trump, nazis, Muslims and pushback - What the hell is going on?

I

The articles are no longer unusual or feature strictly in marginal websites. Even mainstream media is asking the same question - especially mainstream media. Think tanks, policy wonks and officials in public speeches are all scratching their heads over the same thing.

The question is simple: what is happening to the nice parts of the world? Why are people so angry?

It’s a US election year, so there’s little surprise the question focuses on the person of Donald Trump – a property magnate, reality TV star and presidential candidate – who could be five months away from brandishing the big red nuclear button (I like to think it’s red). On the other side, a Nordic-loving “New Dealer” socialist almost broke Hillary Clinton’s campaign race. And meanwhile tertiary institutes are ground-zero for a vicious and slightly ridiculous social justice debate that just won’t go away. That’s just in the US, and it most certainly isn’t exhaustive.

Elsewhere in this global “coming anarchy,” as historian Robert D Kaplan warned of back in the early 2000s, that same bewildered media informs us that many countries are being drawn frighteningly towards authoritarianism and becoming less free as a result. It sends us news of terrorist groups advocating austere religious interpretations taking advantage of failing and failed states while their followers expand inside developed Western states using a form of invasion without weapons – otherwise known as mass, unrestricted immigration. And a far-right political party – some even called “neo-Nazi” – almost secured power in Austria last month, which should surely ring alarm bells for history majors.

Actually, that word Nazi (interchangeable these days with fascism, hate, racism, etc) appears in many of those articles written by the dumbfounded thinkers and journalists. After half a century of indoctrination and propaganda, those words have become so loaded with forced and unreal meaning that they’ve become the simplest way to silence any opposition. But yelling those phrases doesn’t help dissect what might be causing this … what should I call it? Reaction.

I’ll return to Mr Trump shortly, because his emergence is a clear and loud example of what might be described as the no-longer dormant feeling among influential middle-class people, especially males, that enough is enough. Enough of what, exactly? Well, I have a few tentative ideas that might help explain what’s behind all this seeming craziness.

II

Firstly, the “neo-Nazi” term needs to be addressed because it seems to be thrown around far too willingly these days. Doing so helps no one, is hate-speech in itself and completely fails to describe what almost happened in Austria and what could very well occur in multiple European countries over the next two years. It’s crucial to put the May election near-upset in the correct context or the whole framework for even approaching the solar system containing an explanation for this widespread reaction will fall apart.

Start with the nomenclature. Calling the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria) “neo-Nazi” would require the same description applied to Magyar Polgári Szövetség of Hungary (Hungarian Civic Alliance), Prawo i Sprawiedliwość of Poland (Law and Justice Party) and even the Smer–sociálna demokracia of Slovakia (Direction-Social Democracy Party). These parties aren’t fascist, in fact they are better described as left-wing nationalists.

Their political goals are almost identical: national self-determination over EU sovereignty, increased social equality, strengthening the traditional family, direct democracy, increasing taxes on foreign-owned corporations and anti-immigration. They also include progressive elements such as support for same-sex marriage and gender equality, but their economic policies are heavily skewed to corporatism.

Aside from the usual left/right politicking, there is an understandable and visceral reason such parties are rising across Europe, including the National Front in France. After decades of “social change” and permanent revolution along the model of American progressivism, voters think traditional left-wings parties have sold the average worker out to ideals of progressivism.

One of those ideals is unlimited immigration which, for the progressive, is hoped to eventually lead to a world without borders or national identities where everyone believes the same thing and old traditional hierarchies are finally torn down and the glowing power spread as widely and thinly across society as possible. The reaction observed in Austria could be a long-suppressed dissent for progressive policies and ideology being displayed through democratic processes – the only way Westerners know how to dissent. Whatever one thinks about immigration it must be acknowledged that a sudden influx of culturally different individuals will have momentary, and sometimes chronic, effects on a previously stable and relatively homogenous society such as Europe. This is obvious to many in the continent, although progressives appear to be willfully blind.

Native Europeans are being silenced and told to clear out while, they say, millions of illiberal immigrants flood their countries and disrupt orderly functions. Telling people who would rather avoid the crime and poverty associated with unlimited immigration to shut up because of invented claims of hatred, xenophobia and bigotry isn’t helping, but is the standard reply of officials who are in cahoots with social networking sites to crush free speech across the continent. People’s concerns should be acknowledged as legitimate and mitigated as best they can rather than dismissed altogether. The near-election of a far-right politician in Austria should be a serious wake-up call that either these officials will be ousted via democratic means or the frustrated masses will replace the defunct structure with a new one. The latter will require a lot more blood than the former but the way things are going, officials may desire that pain due to their own existential and selfish fears.

III

I realise the following is an anecdote – and the plural of anecdote is not data – but the European citizen who reached out to explain her story (under condition of anonymity, so I’ll call her Chasya) is worth mentioning here. I also realise that mentioning the person is a woman and a Jew might alienate some readers, however the fact that she and her family are choosing now to leave their home in Europe and live in New Zealand is instructive. It shows perhaps that Europe is struggling to cope and that New Zealand is for the most part sheltered from similar upheaval. Chasya reports from The Netherlands:

“The situation in Europe and The Netherlands is changing rapidly. In my perspective this is mainly because of an ever growing influence of the Muslim community. This increased influence can only exist in a society without a sense of pride or patriotism and which keeps shifting the line. 
“Let me give you an example. In several public schools our kid’s Easter brunch had to be renamed the ‘Spring’ brunch because Muslim parents took offence. Many high schools have ceased to teach about the Holocaust because they can’t control the angry outbursts from Muslim kids. Those same kids applaud when bombs go off in Belgium or Paris. Whilst these examples are clearly unacceptable, they have become the norm and nobody seems to be speaking out against it,” says Chasya. 
“Now I realise how racist this sounds and let me be very clear: this is obviously not true for all Muslims in Europe or The Netherlands. Unfortunately, it is true for a large part of their community. Fuelled by their background, upbringing, religion and community they are anti-Western at best, violent and isolated from Western society at worst. Whilst only a fraction of this group is potentially violent or dangerous, a large set celebrates the actions of terrorists and a majority silently allow and ‘understand’ it. 
“This group, these views and outbursts, can only exist in a society where there’s a) no boundaries and b) there’s the power of numbers. Now this is where the refugee situation comes in. This immense influx of refugees has upped those numbers drastically. 
“The situation in The Netherlands is getting more tense and polarised by the day. My children go to Hebrew School on Sundays. When most people are dropping off their children at soccer practice, I’m dropping them in a bunker secured by military police armed to the teeth. Personally, I feel I cannot offer my children a safe and carefree upbringing here and as a mother I am obliged to explore better options, thus our move to New Zealand,” explains Chasya.

Anti-immigration is too broad a definition for the sentiment Chasya and an increasing number of Europeans are describing. A better term might be “anti-Islam” or “anti-brute.” And unfortunately I have to point out the obvious: this is not racism because Islam is not a race. Nevertheless, Chasya’s story reflects actual data gathered by a recent Swedish study demonstrating European natives will tolerate foreigners from other European countries but tend to move out of neighbourhoods when an influx of non-Europeans reaches a threshold not much higher than 5% saturation. This is what is happening in Vienna, Austria, where residents say the 10th and 11th districts are increasingly becoming the immigrant ghetto.

IV

One fascinating detail is that many advanced countries in the international community are built on and by the American ideology of progressivism, but not all countries consider unlimited immigration to be such a fundamental goal. In Germany, there is clearly an inability among the general psyche to overcome their forefathers’ actions in WWII and expiate the guilt. This leads to irrational decisions such as allowing millions of Eurasian and North African immigrants into the EU bloc to avoid appearing racist or xenophobic. This is simply pseudo-ethical virtue signalling on a nationwide level.

But consider the counterexample of Japan, which also was defeated by the US in WWII and whose entire culture was forcibly purged of traditional thoughts and replaced with modern progressivism. Perhaps, though, because the country is an island means it managed to retain some of its more deeply rooted ideas and unlimited immigration hasn’t “stuck” as it did in Europe. Yet even Japan’s disastrously low fertility rate and rapidly aging population hasn’t caused anger. By most measures Japan should be a collapsing society. Modern Japanese do less hard labour, have no enthusiasm for war and aren’t having much sex. Yet, none of this has lead to Japanese voting for anti-establishment parties.

The social dynamics separating Japan from Germany today are striking. While the two are deeply progressive, Japanese aren’t being displaced like the Germans feel they are. Many know if they manage to have grandchildren within Japan’s 1.4 fertility rate, those children will be Japanese who will speak Japanese under a Japanese government in a Japanese cultural environment. The Japanese are known to irrationally take their frustration out with a vengeance in anti-foreigner prejudice, for example, against the tiny Korean minority – an action Japan’s leaders largely accommodate or conveniently ignore.

Many young Japanese men are in the same situation as their German or Western counterparts (sometimes called NEETs in Japan – an English loanword of the acronym Not in Education, Employment or Training). These men don’t vote because there are no anti-establishment choices available and they are already disconnected. They work odd jobs, play video games and live with their parents for as long as possible.

Now imagine if Japan was importing millions of Indonesians with a grudge against Japan, a much higher fertility rate, tendency to commit occasional religiously-motivated terrorism and who are encouraged to retain their culture rather than assimilating into Japan’s. It would be surprising if there wasn’t resistance against in such a reality. This is a basic description of Chasya’s Europe.

V

But while her observations are useful, I think she has identified a symptom of a broader malaise which sinks much deeper. This might be summed up in one word: pushback. A core assumption for the past 50 years among progressives is that every societal change has been “for the better.” So any trend away from this utopia is called regressive. Any resistance is considered an uprising and should be met in cultural (or actual) battle with the entire weight of the progressive establishment (whatever that is). Elites who write these dumfounded articles can’t seem to understand what’s wrong with the people who don’t agree that better is…better.

This has to do with the progressive’s never ending pursuit of the next problem to solve, the “permanent revolution” mind-set they adopted from 20th century social justice. Everything is the new Civil Rights Movement, even small or trivial issues. This alienates a lot of people, especially white, middle-class men, because no one can be sure they won’t be attacked next.

Men have never been reliable agents of “progress” because most men (and a large number of women) are living anachronisms and atavisms: they put greater trust in the past over any non-existent future promised to introduce changes in which they have no faith and no commitment. This might accurately be deemed “the repudiation of progress” or the “rejection of modernity” (and rejection of the political avant-garde class credited with creating this post-modern, progressive chaos).

British philosopher John Gray says the idea of progress is a post-Christian religious myth sponsored by modernity which preaches that everybody already lives – and incontestably so – in an irreversible “better” future promised by its idealogues. He clarifies that in science and technology progress certainly isn’t a myth, and in these endeavours humans are progressing in a marvellously cumulative way which is unlikely to be lost.

But in ethics, politics and civilisation progress is verifiably and obviously a myth. Things that were recently unthinkable in modern civilisation, such as torture, begin to recur in advanced society. Even if terrors don't arise in the same form (for instance, slavery) they will continue elsewhere, or return in a different form (human trafficking). Groundless assumptions of temporal inevitability and historic irreversibility are being challenged strenuously and seriously today. Progress is widely seen as an idea invented by humans to justify modern civilization and help its citizens feel as though they are better off. But are they? It depends on how one defines better off.

This upheaval in Western societies is evidence the progressive “better” might not be better for large groups of important and energetic people. So perhaps this is a moment to ponder not what’s wrong with Austrians or men (or even Austrian men) but to ask what’s wrong with progressivism – either in outcome or method – that causes it to fail. Asking that question, of course, is dangerous because it threatens the whole structure of progressive thought, theory, and the facts used to justify that this new world truly is better.

Pushback against progressivism may explain the sudden eruption of minority passions and nationalist fervor that have coincided with – but are not the same as – the revolt of a large number of males across the Western world. Although it is a factor, it isn’t a reaction merely against the feminisation of a traditionally and predominantly masculine culture. Rather the reaction is against the willful and state-sanctioned subordination of majorities to favour ever smaller minorities. Large groups are being forced into subservience, and any resistance is labeled hatred, bigotry, or privilege.

In such an environment, is it unreasonable to expect the needs and wants of the majority be appreciated as much without lamenting that some people can’t adjust to “better”? Since progressivism is a modern, secular interpretation of Christ’s declaration that the meek will inherit the earth, then it is just a matter of time before the meek will surely conquer the earth with the help of well-meaning authorities if necessary. People don’t like this. The eruption of passions isn’t limited to white people or Westerners. Everyone seems agitated, and it doesn’t take an active imagination to find a common thread between the threads.

VI

While it might feel good to dismiss beleaguered males as angry incompetents with half a functioning brain, the problem is not a matter of disaffection with the excesses of feminism, but a simpler matter of temporal disorientation.

Social institutions are becoming a sinister towards men. Sure, men have become averse to insulting women (that’s a good thing), but society has no such aversion to insulting men which is why the bumbling father/competent mother TV trope is so common. It’s the only socially acceptable way to introduce the conflicting archetypes of knowledge versus foolishness into a family dynamic. It’s also now a truism that “women have the right to choose,” and yet men who choose careers are told they are doing something inappropriate if those choices result in out-earning women.

Men are asked to feel guilty for their successes since any achievement is presumed to be predicated on oppression, systemic or otherwise, rather than effort. Intersectionality implies that marginalised individuals deserve to be heard because they speak authentically about their experience (also a good thing), but many men are not considered individuals, and their unique experiences are somehow so well understood, that they are given no voice. Men are expected to be allies for women, but women are under little obligation to reciprocate.

Institutions are establishing floors for women as it replaces men’s floors with eggshells. Safe harbors and protections are afforded to everyone but white men. This has led to a growing imbalance where those who have the misfortune of growing up male and poor, or the misfortune of taking a career in an industry which is now obsolete, have fewer resources on which to fall back.

There are too many of these people for the explanation to be: “angry, incompetent men.” If 80% of the male population is pushing back, then those words lose meaning. Austrian voters and Trump supporters are normal males, and Chasya is a female. Competition between groups is eternal and many men feel the competition is increasingly being rigged. That is what they are protesting, both through voting patterns and also in how they conduct their lives – marriage, community involvement, work etc.

There is a lot of uncertainty for men. How are they to treat women, especially in the workplace? They certainly can’t treat them like other men, because that’s sexist, and they can’t go on treating them like women, because that’s sexist too. They’re forced to compete with women by feminised standards, but in that game women hold all the cards. Equality, it turns out, involves everyone treating everyone else like women. This is not an equality that many men (and a not-insignificant set of women) are ever going to be comfortable with.

The high-risk, high-reward strategies sought by many men are increasingly costly to initiate and maintain – and are filled with paperwork. If a new unexplored continent rose from the sea, perhaps the following land-rush would attract many of these depressed men. Seeking glory within a small, local domain is less satisfying in an age where global winners are visible everywhere on the internet.

Western civilization – and especially the American culture with its creation myth of the Wild West – is in desperate need of an empty frontier. Everywhere is full of preexisting people, and under progressivism it is unthinkable to rip out and replace those people; instead they should be preserved. But in such a world, if someone doesn’t fit in or appreciate the local culture or its regulations, and globalisation and progressivism have eaten the entire world, where does a disaffected person go? As Jean Baudrillard wrote, there is no outside the system. In heaven, one cannot die because there is no place to die to.

VII

And no institution has made any serious effort to address the declining economic prospects of uneducated or unintelligent men who are willing and able to do hard physical labour. Policy makers don’t have to be communists to adopt a more communitarian outlook towards workers who are on the nasty receiving end of economic development, and help them avoid bearing the costs of cheaper goods and services and better job prospects for more skilled workers.

Jobs that don’t involve sitting quietly behind a computer screen are declining. The economic prospects of blue collar men have been stagnant for forty years while women and white collar men are comparatively economically prospering. This trend has made blue collar men less marriageable and their marriages unstable spawning misguided scapegoating meant to remedy a decline in family values that is mostly a matter of economics. Some of this is inevitable and irreversible in a society where technology makes brains more economically important and brawn less economically important.

The shift hasn’t been exclusively at the bottom of the socio-economic heap either. For example, the number of medical doctors produced each year has increased slowly while the demographic pool from which medical school applicants are drawn has increased dramatically. Many white men who would have made it into medical school in 1970 now have no chance in 2016. For these individuals at the high end of the socio-economic scale, conditions are felt to be worse.

Economic prospects for men who lack intelligence, but are able bodied and hard working, are worse today despite the progressive promise because a) technology makes jobs more efficient and which requires skill, b) many jobs are outsourced and if they aren’t outsourced, c) the low end of skilled jobs are being given to immigrant workers. Also, while women have aggressively sought places in historically male dominated professions, few less-skilled men have sought places in historically female dominated professions (nursing, food service, child care, early-childhood education). All of which they are qualified or could become qualified to operate within, often for reasons of social stigma rather than economics.

Of course, as smart feminists will point out, the reason men aren’t filling such jobs is actually an artifact of an age where men enforced gender roles which led to the creation of “women-only” jobs such as nursing and childcare. This fact alone goes a long way in explaining much of today’s social dislocation in Western society as sexual equality continues to develop and, dare I say it, progress

Marvin Harris predicted the consequences of job disappearing prospects in the 1980s in his book “America Now.” It chronicled the post-WWII decline of male participation in manufacturing, and the rise of female participation in the service and information economy. Aided by effective fertility control, women were freed to enter the workforce, fueling the expansion of the middle class (which needed the additional income from working women to fund consumerism).

Then there was a piece of fiction from 1952 called “Player Piano,” the first novel by Kurt Vonnegut. It depicts a dystopia of automation, describing the deterioration it may cause to quality of life. The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanised, eliminating the need for human labourers. This widespread mechanisation creates conflict between the wealthy upper class — the engineers and managers who keep society running — and the lower class, whose skills and purpose have been replaced and dispelled by machines.

VIII

And so Donald Trump emerges, not as a cause of all this displacement sentiment and anti-progressivism pushback, but as a symptom of it. Something admirable about Trump is his shamelessness, in an age where shame has become weaponised. I do actually encounter on a… weekly? basis attempts to shame me for being male all across media and in the world of the real. I can handle ridicule – humans are absurd creatures, as is this life, and humor is an excellent survival tool – but the constant shaming gets tiring.

Attempting to shame someone for something they shouldn’t be ashamed of will always encourage an emotional response. The reaction doesn’t make lashing out morally right, but it makes it understandable. But I’d look at it slightly differently. Rather than saying some men are angrier than before, it’s perhaps more appropriate to say society’s structures are flatter and more transparent, which is a feature - not a bug - of progressivism.

Transparency means it is now more acceptable to show one’s thoughts and emotions in ways previous generations would have considered unacceptable. People today are more open about expressing fears or frustrations and translating them into politics. The internet and anonymity tore down barriers associated with speaking one’s mind and stripped away the thin veneer of sanity we previously believed covered everything. That means there’s less need to utilise ideology or political affiliation as a waystation to intermediate one’s thoughts and politics. It’s easier now to say “I don’t want Mexicans/Muslims/women/tanssexuals here, so let’s build a wall!” While this is freeing, it makes politics less formal, less diplomatic, less philosophical, more brutal, more emotional and more irrational.

Flatter means the will of progressive “elites” is less acceptable to legislate forcefully onto society than it once was. This applies to media, education, banks, religion and of course politics. All institutions which try to standardise and generate conformity are less able to do so than in the past. The psychological capture necessary to keep institutions such as media functioning is no longer robust. People are sceptical of the media and think truth doesn’t necessarily emerge from its inky pages, and so it is failing as an institution and the rise of blogging is helping to flatten it. The progressive psychological capture which moulded these institutions is losing its grip, and those who sense themselves near the bottom are less accepting of the status quo while those near the top sound shrill when demanding consensus.

This is consistent with Mr Trump, whose shtick is entirely about translating unfiltered thoughts into binary emotions and who dismisses all hierarchy between himself and voters for the simple reason that he doesn’t trust any institution to be an intermediary. It is also consistent with the idea that the world is getting “better,” safer and more peaceful (as Steven Pinker or Matt Ridley point out), or that people are becoming more moral (David Boaz and Michael Shermer).

And yet amongst all this progress a relict group of men who feel left behind lingers. Considering how terrible the past was for most people, it’s reasonable to say society is showing a lower level of hatred, prejudice and frustration but it is being expressed loudly and more readily and is less obstructed by social-conforming institutions.

IX

But the problem goes deeper still. People who don’t appreciate progressivism are tired of being called names and marginalised for mere political dissent. To question why immigration laws are not being enforced is not racist or xenophobic. To point out that Islamic radicals want to turn the world into rubble, or that Muslim nations have oppressive laws which treat women, Jews and gays as less than human, is not Islamophobia. It is fact. To question the highly politicised subject of climate change is not denial. All science should be open to question and scepticism, even if one is wrong to be sceptical. And that’s the main problem. Epithets and not reason are being used to cancel discussion on the most pressing issues of our time. Shove more and more people into corners like this for long enough, and pushback occurs.

Mr Trump is smashing those walls (no pun intended) like no other US presidential candidate can, and that is why he is winning. The reason progressive elites don’t understand this is that they have divorced themselves from the interests of ordinary voters. For decades, the desires and interests of elites and ordinary voters have diverged until Western society essentially created a caste system. These elites put their own boutique interests first which are of minor importance to normal folk, while ignoring the real desires of vast numbers of people. Since elites haven’t listened, the American people are looking for anyone who does.

Illegal immigration has been a major issue for a long time in the US. A pro-amnesty rally in the mid-2000s showed marchers waving Mexican flags and that alarmed many people. Measures to address the immigration rules already in place should have been organised then or at least enforced. But the elites didn’t care what the American people wanted because more progress was still to come. Most elites only care about virtue signalling to other elites their concern over illegals, or wanting the lower wages that illegal immigration drives.

At a time when crime rates are at an all-time low in most Western countries and women are the safest they’ve ever been, elites insist women are being raped on college campuses at levels consistent with the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is bad data that has been debunked repeatedly. Hate crime hoaxes and frauds have been reported again and again, but the media keeps pushing the frauds forward because they cannot grow past the idea of permanent revolution. There will always be another evil to stop and more power structures to attack. People are getting tired of this inanity.

In Europe, bureaucrats have ignored popular concern too. Many referenda votes are unpopular but local elites don’t listen and simply hold another referendum until the voters approve. Concerns about allowing Greece into the single currency were ignored. Romania and Bulgaria were admitted too early, despite lacking necessary reforms, simply because the French government wanted countries in the bloc that weren’t as pro-American as Poland. There are plenty of other examples.

Having ignored what people actually want for 20-25 years, it is no surprise people are willing to put their hope in leaders such as Mr Trump. There is a credibility gap among elites but they still remain oblivious. The dumfounded articles asking what’s going on exposes their ignorance. Instead of thinking, “What is wrong with the people?” perhaps they need to ask “What is wrong with our ideas that people no longer trust us?”

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