In short, we are living through the fall of a great power. With it will go a unique way of organizing the world. The symbolism of president Trump cowering in an underground bunker beneath the White House in late May couldn’t be plainer.
Changing times are calling for more radical approaches to social work. COVID-19 is teaching us that resilient social networks are local. After the pandemic broke out in my community, opportunities for resource sharing and communication opened up. Mutual aid support networks emerged, where neighbors post what they need help with, and what they have to offer. I am seeing brilliance, generosity, and creativity. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) backyard garden projects. Mask making and distribution. Bed and breakfasts converted into shelters. Meals for the unhoused. Most of these organizers are not “social workers,” but perhaps this is an indication of the direction social work should be going.
What Happens When (Enough of) a Democracy Doesn’t Want to Be One Anymore — and Never Really Did?
There’s a simple fact that I don’t think Americans are reckoning with. That Americans are maybe even capable of reckoning with. It’s this. They’re living in what’s becoming a fascist society. And that fact raises the simple question: how do you live in a fascist society?
Defying evil cannot be rationally defended. It makes a leap into the moral, which is beyond rational thought. It refuses to place a monetary value on human life or the natural world. It refuses to see anyone as superfluous. It acknowledges human life, indeed all life, as sacred. And this is why, as Arendt points out, the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t do this.”
As I have said many times, for me it matters because how collapse unfolds is just as important as the fact that it unfolds. A fascist dictatorship in any country will cause collapse to unfold in unique ways. My work has always been about educating and fortifying others emotionally and spiritually to cope with collapse more resiliently than we might without specific psycho-spiritual tools. The tools we need to navigate the protracted degradation and destruction of the natural environment where there is little authoritarian repression are different than the tools we need to live in a society where food and water might be rationed or we are imprisoned in a work camp or we are living in a constant state of domestic terror.
Why is it that the average American can’t say the word “fascism” to describe a country of concentration camps, gestapos, kids in cages, organized supremacist political wings controlling government…and now political terrorism? One obvious answer is that they’re scared. And one obvious candidate for what’s scared Americans into submission — into being incapable of saying the word “fascism”…is fascist terrorism. Increasing right wing violence has caused a kind of chilling effect. The worse the fascists do…the less likely Americans are to call it fascism. Don’t you think that’s baffling? Upside down? The world does. I do. Only Americans don’t. And yet there must be a cause.
America’s not just in danger of having a fascist collapse. It’s having one. It’s bang in the middle of one. It’s not in the early phases — but in fact, beginning the later ones. The ones where concentration camps rise, and hatred spews from the head of a state, and papers are checked on public transport. How much more obvious could it get? How many more data points do you need? If this isn’t enough…what could be?
The institutions of bona fide fascism are rising in America. But what else did you think the fascists would do, except use their newfound power, money, and resources, to build them?
Maybe some of the answers you’ve come up with are things like: terrible people, moral weaklings, disgraces, and so on. Moral answers, in other words. That’s a start — and yet there’s a much simpler and more straightforward answer, that some part of you is still defending against, preventing you from saying or thinking. That answer is this. What kinds of people build camps and commit torture and genocide? Fascists do.