Excellent articulation of what seems to be happening in the ether. There are men (mostly white) radicalizing each other a little more every day. A recent example: as part of the recent talk of "carnage" and crime, summary executions have begun to be a topic among rightwing podcasters like Steven Crowder and Matt Walsh. First they focus on a particular kind of criminal: "men who rape children should be hung in public." Or Trump praising the Chinese for supposedly executing drug dealers, without any real due process. And soon it becomes generalized talk about how there are just disposable lives, like Jordan Neely on the NYC subway, that can and should be eliminated as a public service, so the rest of "us" can live secure and decent lives.

None of these voices are expressly advocating Nazism or a particular political program. But they are fostering a political ethos that pivots on identifying and eliminating polluted, threatening life. To watch Elon Musk––someone I thought of mostly as a clown––begin participating in this mass conversion is pretty terrifying.

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If you want to be terrified even more, read the oeuvre of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.

His first major book was "Hitler's Willing Executioners," where he advanced the provocative idea that Germans, as a culture, became Nazis because it came naturally to them. It was so over the top, scholars believed Goldhagen was arguing that Germans were a preternaturally evil people. Goldhagen instead showed the antecedents to Nazism -- the antisemitism was always a feature of European life and had been for millennia; in addition to strands such as Otto von Bismarck's militarization of culture and the national project (the consolidation of Germanic nations into the modern nation-state of Germany); the aesthetics of Wagner's operas and Leni Riefenstahl's cinematic innovations ("Aryan" mythology is based upon Wagnerian themes, whom Hitler was an overenthusiastic fan of); and even the German idealistic philosophical tradition (in contrast to the empiricism of Latin and English cultures). The NSDAP was able to braid these strands and for a decade and a half, were in the driver's seat of history.

Goldhagen then became a scholar of genocide and noted that the Holocaust and mass-extermination all have a similar dynamic, and it unfolds in what we know as the Hate Pyramid. Sadly, genocides all are rooted in the bottom up. The originate in basic us-them group conflicts, in the sorting of groups and maintenance of differences. It escalates when political leaders enforce those differences and favor one group over the other, as well as when a society's elites either demand that action be taken or acquiesce to a genocidal project. When masses out of power realize that political elites give them permission, they will carry out genocide in an organized fashion.

Permission is the secret sauce of genocide. On the flip side, permission flips on the evil switch in humanity.

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A lot of historians really hate Goldhagen's account. But it's still an important book to read. The account stays with you and I feared we were going to see this against Muslims after 9/11 but it just seemed likely to happen here. Yet, as it is happening I am really surprised anyway at how easy it is for people to collude and ignore. I feel like it's not some deep evil as Goldhagen described but YES--permission. I see permission structures everywhere.

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You would know the history better than I would, but I do wonder the extent to which the fixation on organizations and such is a matter of jumping to the last stage. First a culture emerges, "subjective formation" as you put it; it is a *scene* rather than anything formal and structured. You can then at some point actually create the organizations because you've got the base the draw upon for it.

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insightful; thanks again. As part of this formation of the subject, what interests (and repels) me is something even more specific, which is the close identification with violent actors who carry out acts of social hygiene. Even more than bands of thugs like the Proud Boys, individual actors like Rittenhouse and Penny are to me alarming in their use of lethal force. This self-deputization in pursuit of undesirable social elements -- and even more, the collective reaction to it -- is a clear sign that we've passed some awful threshold. For unlike reading BAP or posting pepe memes, there's nothing even faintly transgressive or ironic about calling Penny a hero: even liberals and so-called progressives like Mayor Adams (lol) are doing it.

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An obscenely unequal and unjust society creates human beings which bother its conscience; the role of the vigilante in this order is to resolve the contradiction

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May 19, 2023·edited May 20, 2023

nice catch on the homoerotic titillation undertones of the 'frat boys egging each other on' dynamic

men approaching the point of no return in more senses than one

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May 24, 2023Liked by John Ganz

Thanks for this and other essays. They truly capture and explain the processes at play in the slow transformation I see in a cousin of mine, one I used to be very close with but am less so now. It started with occasional memes, and it's gotten progressively darker until he outright rejects democracy as workable with only the thinnest of caveats to that conclusion. The complete demonization or 'otherness' of liberals or progressives is terrifying.

I fear that he is just one of millions of young men who are on this path.

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Really great essay.

To put it another way, fascism relies on implied narratives that are intended to cause erosion and eventual rejection of the social contract as they become less and less encrypted, the aim of toppling the current order more explicit. These grant permission to embrace darker and darker, anti-social impulses, thought patterns and behaviors. The effective propagandist models (sometimes reluctant) thought processes to achieve the erosion and breakdown.

You’ve got on the one end, the true believer fascists cheering this on, but on the other, you’ve got more reluctant “base” veering towards fascism, led by propaganda and social pressures.

Whats scary is it looks really close to these groups converging, and that couldn’t be more dangerous.

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I think social pressures play a significant role, as we know from psychology. Propaganda plays a minor role.

Think about this. Fox News runs the most successful psyops in world history. We associate propaganda with far-right and far-left governments with heavy-handed government control. Fox News has to generate propaganda under the burdens of the First Amendment, a free-speech culture, competition from other media, competition from entertainment, competitive political elections, a highly literate and educated consumer base, democracy ...

And Fox News is king of the mountain. In open competition, it dominates the marketplace of ideas. It's consistently the No. 1 network in all 1,000+ plus channels of cable. Give people a choice, and they choose propaganda of their own free will in a free society that has looked down on propagandized societies with disdain.

The best summation of what Fox is, and why it is such a catastrophic success, comes from a YouTube music reviewer named Todd in the Shadows. He said it's television for people who like their thoughts repeated back at them.

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Thanks for the response but I disagree

The propaganda drives the march to extremism imo. Its not just Fox,

not by a long shot. Trump and his whole gang pump this stuff out, in conjunction with Fox for sure. But they lead the charge and without the constant stream of mass media messaging, I think the extremism would not sustain itself.

It doesn’t get enough attention but Michael Flynn is a psychological warfare specialist, that he has created in his words “a digital army” and is now on a real life road show with Roger Stone and others promoting Christofascism using all sorts of cult programming techniques.

I saw you mentioned memes below. I thought that was fascinating- a kind of tribal consciousness. I think thats close but not quite it - I think they are like mythology and they can be weaponized to alter cultural consciousness. I watched on /pol/ in 4chan trying to be a good elf opposed to the fascist trolls there in 2015 into 2016, powerpoint slides on information and psychological warfare being fed to the alt-right monster being stoked there. “Meme magic” is another way of saying propaganda can alter reality. And I’m convinced the ‘meme magic’ of

the alt-right has been central to this movement.

As I see it, many of these digital soldiers are now the true believer fascists, cheering on this acceleration, the decrypting, as JG points out. But there are so many more people getting dragged along into dangerous fascist turf step by step by this propaganda.

I feel like the social pressure is more the ‘Emperor wears no clothes’ effect. It does not cause people to become race warriors or violent partisans, rather it prevents them from complaining about it. At least thats the way I’m seeing it. Cheers

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Or to put it way more succinctly, propaganda moves the center of the herd while the social pressures keep the herd together and wrangle the stragglers.

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There's something you might not be considering.

The recipients of propaganda have agency.

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One definitely feels that the (mostly but not exclusively) male insecurities that underpin violent retribution fantasies are going to get worse before they get better. And every goddamn one of them can buy an assault rifle easier than they can buy weed.

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Do you think the Nazis produced and consumed their most vulgar and cartoonish anti-Semitic propaganda with a similar air of detached irony that these young conservatives have towards the groyper memes?

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some more intellectual ones yes

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The sincerity in their belief in memes is genuine. There's even a slogan, "Meme magic is real."

There was a formative period from 2014-16 where memes took on the life as we understand it. It burst into the mass consciousness with Gamergate, a phenomenon we should take more seriously because of the implications of what was at its root a sad, silly overreaction to a breakup. For the far right, it was a debutante ball.

Gamergate's comms and tactics were later adopted by the Trump campaign, in no small part because Steve Bannon was an early observer and organizer of the initial imbroglio. Because Trump won the presidency, and because pro-Trump memes dominated the internet and the news cycle, the right committed classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc thinking and believed memes caused Trump's victory.

Memes are a sine qua non of rightwing thinking and communications. Memes define the rightwing so much that a child slogan is "The left can't meme." This isn't so much a boast as it is a concession that they've pretty much rage-quit from the world of inquiry, intellectualism and persuasion because they are unable to even play the game anymore.

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I think everything you said is true and also coexists with the detached sense of irony. They simultaneously take memes seriously as a medium that allows them to feel like populists, while also detaching themselves from the content with a layer of ironic remove.

The two thoughts-

1. "Memes are an important part of our political project and we have great skill at them. This meme speaks to the people who are the core of our coalition."

2. "The content of this meme is vulgar and racist in an act of protest against our sanctimonious opponents, but does not reflect my literal beliefs. It's like, just a joke man."

Can pretty easily cohabitate in a single person's brain, I think. And I don't think it should be construed as an argument that these people are not "real racists." Rather, I think, a still extant disposition among them to not identify themselves as racists, at least not consistently and especially among the ones who fancy themselves as intellectuals.

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I agree with the first proposition about the intent of the messengers. Memes could be thought of as a form of tribal consciousness, a mode of knowledge distinct to the identity of the group creating the knowledge. (An equivalent to religion, language, music, or artwork.)

The intent of the second is more ambiguous, though.

To the extent that the far right can tell a joke, they appreciate humor to the extent of it being weaponized and no further. Jokes are smokescreens, tools to embarrass and discredit their accusers and to give plausible deniability to their darkest yearnings.

The problem for the racist is that letting the accusation stick is worse than the "crime" of racism itself. Racists intuitively understand the power dynamic involved. The problem isn't that racism requires conscious intent and identification; racism can perpetuate itself systemically and subconsciously. The problem for the racist comes from whether the person leveling the accusation has power over them. If not, like if it's a non-white accusing a white of racism, or a woman accusing a man of sexism, their mind shifts into zero-sum thinking and see accusation as a claim to power over them. If they let the label of "racist" stick, they will see the accuser has gained unearned power over them rather than as a moral affront.

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They'll find out the hard way what it means to be Moral Kevlar.

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I first heard of Ben Shapiro in 2016 because Breitbart's internet nazi readership ate him alive, and he seems to have learned nothing from the experience.

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John, this is another in a long line of great explanations in making sense of the menace of fascism.

In some ways, the early 2020s have parallels to the early 1930s. It's still in the "Springtime for Hitler" phase where there are still loosely organized movements of far-right ideologies, like there were in Europe in the interwar period until the mid-1930s when fascism consolidated into the most successful Hitler/Nazi, Mussolini/Italian and Franco/Spanish variants.

There are still distinctions and differences in the modern American fashoid right. They all just need a Great Man, right now Trump, to glom on to so as to not "dissonance their cognitives." Fascism has amagical coin, with one side being eclecticism and the other being syncretism.

Eclecticism explains the mass appeal of fascism, how existing classes and castes see a unifying entity as both transcending struggles and simultaneously fulfilling contradictory ends (antimodernists who seek a return to old social arrangements; theocrats who seek a religiously ordered life; futurists who want to break from established social orders; the working class who want a bigger boss to break the back of the big boss to deliver an egalitarian prosperity).

Syncretism is the mixing of fantasy and reality, myth and lived experience, and emotion and rationality. The contradictions serve as an escape hatch, when the latter forms of reality, experience and rationality intrude upon the former forms. The Tucker Carlson text shows how the process plays out. "This is now how white men fight" (an idealized, mythologized concept of whiteness and masculinity), empathizing with the victim (a conscientiousness resulting from reality, experience and rationality) yet deeming the victim undeserving of empathy and worried more about the optics of the mob reflecting poorly upon himself (the resolution of the two forms).

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A worthy analysis of the vulnerability of human minds to be warped by power seeking. The same vulnerabilities create Marxist hellholes. They are competing brands of the same foul psychic failings.

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Think the "just you wait" impulse here is often expressed through an invocation of the past in regards to Jim Crow and slavery. It's used both defensively, "things were/could be much worse" and for the edgiest of edge lords in an aspirational manner.

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This is true of any political movements in the invisible ellipse that's outside of the horseshoe.

The boogaloos are mirror images of the Bolsheviks. Trump simultaneously resembles Mussolini and Mao rather than any of the 44 U.S. presidents before him.

For extremists, they realize that society and culture can't be persuaded to their side so they envision an unraveling event that will drag society to their vision. You hear it in aphorisms like, "The worse, the better"; "Heighten the contradictions"; "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold", etc.

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Mussolini I can see. The mannerisms. But Mao? Mao was a soldier, a writer, a poet, a visionary. Not saying he was GOOD at these or for these but he was the architect of a revolution and a new society. Sure, a monster as a leader, a mass murderer. But this is very different than Trump. Trump is simply a psychopathic huckster using salesman language to channel dark emotions...A demagogue. He's a lot like the tyrant in Plato's Republic.

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Mao, like Trump, had a personality cult with the devotion of fanatics.

You can call the Trump era of the GOP the Cultural Reaction.

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"These types" Narendra Modi got his start with a paramilitary organization led by admirers of Hitler. The leadership of the BJP are all from the RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who dream of Hindu racial purity.


I'll admit that Yair Netanyahu can pass for white. Self-hatred is foundational for fascism—the pretentious term is "ressentiment"— and Ashkenazi self-hatred is nothing new. But I doubt Mauricio Garcia the Texas shooter with Nazi tattoos wanted the white man to rule over him.

"We were the first fascists". Marcus Garvey.

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This sounds a lot like what Deleuze and Guattari were trying to articulate in A Thousand Plateau’s on microfascism.

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This makes me think of the Neo-Confederates in the Reagan Administration.

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I have been saying this about sadism for a long time. I first noticed the sadistic aspect of the far right on reddit years ago. Every conversation would always devolve into a violent fantasy, a fantasy of dominance for oneself and pain for the other. At the time, I was so freaked out by this I used to mentally try to calculate in my head ‘how many sadists are there in society?’ because it was so clear that this recurring pleasure of violent fantasy was involved in the kinds of organizing online the right does. Unfortunately, I thought it was a lot lower than it is (I was hoping 5%!) because I didn’t consider that maybe a lot of people are would-be sadists if you can create a kind of internal tension in them where they feel frustrated or anxious and need that release.

I honestly find that pro-Ukraine accounts on Twitter can be sadistic. These seem to be sometimes men who vote Democrat who are enjoying the spectacle of watching ordinary Russian men be *actually killed* in a video, or interrogated and so on. So you can honestly see something disturbing about war, that it may satisfy certain people’s psychology as spectators. I don’t know so much about who is behind the accounts but it is sometimes people far away from the fighting. Are they enjoying the deaths because they enjoy any death if posited as ‘an enemy’ or is it that they blame Putin for what happened to the USA and this is vengeance (on ordinary Russians who have nothing to do with it). I guess I was a little bit relieved to see that one post of a Russian captive undergoing extreme fear or distress, or possibly some kind of withdrawal caused a lot of people to be also distressed and sympathize with him.) So when you can see someone’s face, maybe at least so far, not everyone is going to enjoy the spectacle. I had never considered this about war before. I knew that the keyboard warriors had some kind of inner fear or anger or sense of wounded pride after 9/11 that these extremely stupid wars alleviated (at least for awhile, before the US was bogged down and floundering. I hadn’t really thought that some of them were alleviating their uncomfortable emotions or getting pleasure from the suffering and death they were causing. Maybe I simply couldn’t face what that meant. I thought the torture was a false deterrent and not an interrogation tactic but what is more pleasing to the sadist than torture?

Primo Levi wrote something where he described the Nazis as ‘the torturers’ but unfortunately I cannot find it right now.

I merely mention this because I wonder whether that we’re dealing with a phenomenon that may not have a limit to obviously psychologically disordered people like the far right pundits, who always had sadistic fantasies--or at least I remember this after 9/11 when they would dream of doing horrible things to the liberals who were criticizing them--or the KKK or Nazis or ultra-racists who get enjoyment from killing or terrifying people. Or maybe the people who admire Daniel Penny. You can spread sadism, and you can spread it by creating a sense of threat or something which creates a tension in people. And then you can promise to relieve the tension with violence. So maybe this is the reason why we have this sense that we will have difficulty avoiding mass violence. It’s very easy to get people on the knife’s edge if you can cause a strong enough sense of threat combined with a sense of disorder or actual disorder. (There isn’t more disorder in the form of crime but this doesn’t seem to matter.) This is one of the causes of the sense of momentum, to build that sense of tension, to keep it moving all the time by making people fearful or by showing how you can elicit their reaction.

There must be a way to counter this collectively but I don’t know what it is.

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So very astute as always JG

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