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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Political Vertigo

The recent enormous Buzzfeed article describing the links between the Breitbart, and the larger world of rightist extremism was notable in how unsurprising it was. Everybody knew about these linkages, getting documentary proof seemed almost redundant.

Yet it can՚t be repeated too often, because it doesn՚t seem to quite register: we are living in a world where there is almost no distance between the most powerful office on earth and the fever swamps of white nationalism. I have to keep reminding myself of this fact, which simply doesn՚t square with my preexisting ontology, in which these things are supposed to occupy entirely different strata of reality.

I can՚t really imagine what it was like to be in my parent՚s generation, growing up in a Europe that was slowly losing its political mind to an ideology of murder aimed squarely at them. There՚s a vertiginous quality to current events these days – the feeling that the world is careening along a course that seems like it can՚t quite be real, like a nightmare that one can՚t awaken from, that no amount of reason or good sense or good intentions can affect the course of events – maybe this quality reflects a little bit of what it might have been like in the 1930s.

Back then there were plenty of arguments between those who thought it couldn՚t really get as bad as they feared – that reason would prevail, that people should just calm down and get on with their lives. Those voices were wrong back then, but maybe they aren՚t wrong now – who knows? Not me, not anybody – that՚s kind of the point I՚m trying to make. We don՚t know where this is going, and we don՚t know how to effectively oppose it. Because whatever is happening, it isn't going to be identical to what happened in Weimar Germany. We aren՚t going to have massed formations of stormtroopers marching down the boulevards. Nobody then knew what was coming, and neither do we, because the historical precedent is only a loose one. Every insane country goes insane in its own way.

Yes, it՚s not just that Trump himself suffers from obvious mental pathology – you don՚t need to be a professional to see that, although plenty of professionals have begun to go public with their diagnoses – it՚s that he is both a symptom and a cause of a larger derangement of society, a radical malfunction in our of our ability to function as a collective. Whether it՚s temporary or the damage is permanent is impossible to know at this stage.

When I was a kid we had an ever-present threat of nuclear incineration to worry about, not to mention race riots burning out urban centers and the Vietnam War – nothing like the US wars of the 21st century – back then there was a draft, and any male teenager knew that his life was at the disposal of the government. And a thug like Nixon in the White House. Those were turbulent, vertiginous times too!

Yet I don՚t remember it feeling like this. Back then, it was more like there were bad people in charge and we had to replace them with better (younger) people. Now it feels like nobody is in charge, like the machinery is spinning out of control and nobody is capable of fixing it. This isn՚t just Trump – it՚s Trump plus climate change, plus the collapse of the international order, plus the replacement of rational discourse with Facebook memes and Russian botnets. There՚s very little in the way of stable institutions to hold onto, and the culture as a whole seems to be experiencing violent dizziness and nausea.