An entire generation of Germans, Italians, and Spaniards are aging into their twilight years right now wishing they’d had such imagination in the early 1930s.
As I write this article, the Trump regime wants to add one simple question to the census – Are you a US Citizen. What harm can there be in answering this simple question – if you are living here legally? If you are a citizen? I would like to rephrase the question. For me the questions is: What are the potential dangers in asking such a question, in separating people into categories based on citizenship – especially under a regime that has repeatedly shown itself as hostile to everything it deems “foreign” (generally non-European in origin)?
In 2016, Andrew Harvey and I published Savage Grace: Living Resiliently In The Dark Night of The Globe. In Chapter 1 of the book, we forecasted essentially what is happening in this moment in terms of the demise of the last vestiges of democracy and human rights on this planet. We chose the image of Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction as the symbol of our current global predicament. Two years later, we are witnessing a virulent, worldwide embrace of white nationalist, authoritarian rule. Ultimately, Kali seeks to transform the human ego and rational mind and bring us into a more permanent residence in the heart, but the process is often excruciating. Might she also want to transform the image a country or a community has of itself? “This is not who we are.”—Or is it? How shall awake human beings respond? What is our work? What is our calling? How do we reconnect with the authentic sources of meaning in our lives and the web of life itself as totalitarian rule is poised to dominate our consciousness and our countries as we stand on the threshold of the potential extinction of all life on Earth as a result of catastrophic climate change? We will be posting portions of Savage Grace in the coming weeks because it is proving itself to be prescient and empowering in this very dark time.
I have been writing about collapse for more than a decade, and perhaps you have been reading about it for even longer. While I know that it is inevitable and that in tandem with climate catastrophe it will be even more horrific than seasoned students of collapse anticipated, it matters to me how it unfolds. Throughout history, the collapse of societies has played out in a manner unique to each one. How this collapse plays out matters to me. It is poised to be violent, and my intention has always been to minimize the brutality. The first step in that project is to name what is so at this moment in time and to stop minimizing it by pointing to the myriad evils the Unites States has perpetrated on other countries in the past. Indeed, the chickens have come home to roost, and now it is our turn to deal with them.
So the fascist society — which can’t be a democracy, remember — becomes one giant authoritarian exercise is seeing just who these people that are “born better” really are. Who among them is the most cunning, vicious, and ruthless predators of all, the Nietzschean uberman, who can dominate the weak the most savagely? It usually begins like this: can they exploit the weak, the alien, the immigrant, the foreigner, the disabled? Take their wealth and belongings? Kick and punch them down? But it’s a contest now. Who will go further? Soon enough, there is someone willing to put the weak in ghettoes. Then to split up families. Then to put children in camps. And then the unthinkable happens.
It’s easy to blame the racist rants of leaders who loudly denigrate the “others, but if leaders weren’t supported by a large number of people, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. A leader and a large number of people and their shadow/hatred/fear of the “other”- spurred on by the silence of those may not agree but are afraid to speak up – encourage their hatred to feed upon one another.
After the coup, everything seems crazy, the news is overwhelming, and some try to cope by withdrawing or pretending that things are normal. Others are overwhelmed and distraught. I’m afflicted by a kind of hypervigilance of the news, a daily obsession to watch what’s going on that is partly a quest for sense in what seems so senseless. At least I’ve been able to find the patterns and understand who the key players are, but to see the logic behind the chaos brings you face to face with how deep the trouble is.
We still have an enormous capacity to resist the administration, not least by mass civil disobedience and other forms of noncooperation. Sweeping the November elections wouldn’t hurt either, if that results in candidates we hold accountable afterward. Or both. I don’t know if there’s a point at which it will be too late, though every week more regulations, administrators, and norms crash and burn—but we are long past the point at which it is too soon.
A continued exploration of my family history and how the past can guide us through turbulent and dangerous times.
Shortly after Trump’s election, Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder (whose focus of study is Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust) published a book titled On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. The first lesson is Do Not Obey in Advance. Sometimes footprints from the past can point the way forward through a perilous and uncertain future.