The Alt-Right Playbook: Always a Bigger Fish
♫”All for the Best” from the musical “Godspell”♫ (Yes it’s all for the…)
♫”All for the Best” from the musical “Godspell”♫ All your wrongs will be redressed!
♫”All for the Best” from the musical “Godspell”♫ (Yes it’s all for the…)
♫”All for the Best” from the musical “Godspell”♫ Someone’s got to be oppressed!
♫”All for the Best” from the musical “Godspell”♫ (Yes it’s all for…the…best!)
♫”All for the Best” from the musical “Godspell”♫ Say, for the sake of argument, you’ve got this friend. You know, that one friend? You were buddies in high school, but don’t really see each other anymore except online? And you used to argue about politics for fun when you were teenagers, but as you’ve gotten older you’ve drifted further left and he’s gone sharply right? And your arguments…don’t feel so frivolous anymore. And maybe you’ve agreed that it’s better for your friendship to stop getting into it with each other. But you’ve just posted on Facebook about how
“College in America should be free and all student loans forgiven.” And your friend has left a comment he’s not supposed to leave. And you’re not supposed to respond, but you REALLY want to respond, so after a moment’s hesitation you shoot him a DM. Why do you care how we’d afford free tuition? Wars are a lot more expensive than education, but you never seem to care how we pay for those. We just go into debt and you’re fine with it. Anyway, aren’t you the party that says deficits don’t matter? Yeah, but you’re Democrats. You’re not going to run a deficit, you’re going to raise taxes, aren’t you? Taxes are generally how governments pay for things. Spoken like a proper socialist. No socialist would call that socialism. Only you, and only when we pay for things you don’t like. But when we build roads, or subsidize corn, well then you just call it government. Those are things we can’t pay for without governments! But we can pay for college ourselves. We’ve been doing it since forever. Well, I hate to tell you this, but it’s not the 1950’s anymore. Time was, you didn’t need a degree to get a good job. Now you do. And you could pay for college waiting tables, but now you can’t. Nowadays college is a necessity, and people can’t afford it. Why do liberals make excuses for people? If you want to go to college and don’t have the money, then you study and work hard and get a scholarship. You earn it instead of complaining until somebody gives it to you. Do you think people aren’t doing that? Do you think there’s millions of unclaimed scholarships just lying around waiting for someone to apply for them? There is nowhere near enough financial aid to get everyone to college who needs to go. That’s not my problem! They can crowdfund. Or get a loan. Or, whatever, go on Oprah. The government doesn’t owe you an education on my dime. It’s not gonna be your dime! You don’t make that much. No one’s talking about raising your taxes. If some billionaire you’ll never meet gets taxed to put some kid you’ll never meet through school, why should you even care? If someone robs a bank that isn’t my bank, I’m still opposed to robbery. I have a problem with taking money someone earned to give someone a degree they aren’t owed. Why is what happens to poor people “not your problem,” but what happens to rich people is? You think you’re gonna be rich someday? Oh please. You’re the one who thinks they’re gonna be rich. [Incredulous laugh] I assure you I do not. But then he says something that blows your mind a little bit, something that makes you think you’ve been going about this the wrong way, something that makes all the seeming contradictions of Republican thought maybe make some kind of sense. He says, Yes, you do. Democrats think they’re going to take the money from billionaires and spread it around. Give it to a bunch of poor people so they can go to college. And everyone gets a degree and everyone gets a good job and healthcare is free and minimum wage is eighty bucks an hour. And everyone’s saving lots of money, so what then? Everyone’s rich. Everyone works in tech. Everyone moves to New York and California. And nobody’s a billionaire, and nobody’s broke, and everyone’s great at their job because all they needed was the right opportunity, and no one’s better than anyone at anything. It’s a fantasy and we shouldn’t have to pay you to LARP it. You think you can make everyone the same, but you can’t. There’s always a bigger fish. You say, Did you just quote The Fantom Phucking Menace at me? And he says, I guess I did, lol. And that’s as good a time as any to drop it. But, the conversation sticks with you. See, when you talk to your conservative friend, you operate as though you have the same base assumptions: belief in democracy, do onto others, etc etc. If you didn’t believe your friend shared these assumptions, you’d basically be calling him a fascist or a sadist, and you conclude that, if you believe in democracy, you must believe in equality. And if you believe in equality, you must believe in equal access to education, and must conclude that governments should help pay tuition. And so you give your friend the benefit of the doubt that if he doesn’t understand this very simple logical progression, he either hasn’t had it properly explained to him, or has, at some point, been lied to. Because no one could believe in “all citizens are equal” AND “always a bigger fish” at the same time. But by this thinking, you’re treating most conservatives as people who want in their hearts to be liberals, but have so far failed. And, maybe that’s why they think liberals are condescending? What if he doesn’t have the same base assumptions as you? Or, what if he does, but has other assumptions you aren’t aware of, that lead him to different conclusions? He is, often, misinformed, but what if that isn’t the problem? What if he actually believes something else? We’ve been circling around this one for a while. We’ve talked about what liberals believe, we’ve talked about what fascists believe, we’ve talked about what nihilists believe, or rather, what they don’t believe, or, rather, why they aren’t actually nihilists. But, this is a tough one. What do conservatives believe? Oh God, I’m gonna get yelled at so much for this one. The United States, like much of the Western world, is a capitalist democracy. That’s what we’re raised in, that’s what seems normal to us. And, in our normal lives, democracy and capitalism seem to coexist easily. Voting doesn’t feel like a violation of capitalism; buying a bagel doesn’t seem like a violation of democracy. But sometimes, they come into tension with one another. And speaking REALLY broadly, when a choice between them has to be made, a liberal is someone who tends to think democratically, and a conservative is someone who tends to think like a capitalist. The operative word here is “tend.” Liberals are still capitalists and conservatives still stand for democracy, and the preference for one or the other may be very slight. Nevertheless, which way a person leans reveals their priorities. The democratic framework, or at least A democratic framework, is: one citizen, one vote. No matter who you are, you are born with certain in-, or possibly unalienable rights, and any system that doesn’t guarantee you those rights is a tyranny. Freedom, agency, and a hand on the scriptures that govern you, everyone is entitled to these things. It’s an egalitarian mindset. People gain power by electoral process, i.e., when it is granted TO them by the masses, with whom the true power resides, and whom the Constitution guarantees the right to take that power away from an electee. Rather than powerful, the elected official is, in a sense, an employee with millions of bosses, all of whom have equal authority. This is the IDEA of democracy, with the history of democracy being riddled with failures to live up to this ideal. But part of the project of liberalism has been about making the government more closely resemble its ideology. The capitalist framework, by contrast, is that of businesses and markets, where big fish eat the little ones. If two people start businesses in the same field and one makes more profit than the other, that person can make more investments, open more locations, undercut their competitors’ prices. The more money you have, the more money you can make. So advantage compounds where even small failures often mean getting muscled out of the field. Now with some creativity, a novel cost-saving practice or a new delivery method the underdog can still thrive, and this is part of what conservatives like about the market: that it demands this creativity in a live-ammo environment. But most will not beat the odds. That’s how odds work. Since there will always be more failures than successes, the general trajectory of unregulated capitalism is money pooling into fewer and fewer hands. Things naturally sort themselves into a hierarchy with sharks at the top, a million minnows at the bottom. Since we live with both of these frameworks in our minds, and most of the things we do in our daily lives can be justified by either one, we don’t often notice the contradictions between them, and it’s easy to imagine whichever one tends to be OUR default is everyone else’s default as well. But issues like poverty, taxation, and education are areas where the contradictions matter, and we are sometimes shocked by how different the world looks to our conservative friends. In conservative thinking, this hierarchy is humanity’s natural state. The American Dream is: here, anyone can make it. No matter who you are or what you start with, YOU can become a billionaire. But a necessary component of this is: anyone CAN, but EVERYONE can’t. We’re not all gonna be billionaires. There’s a finite amount of money in this country. For any one person to have so, so much more than they need there must, mathematically, be thousands of people with less. Your conservative friend is often baffled as to what you’re even trying to say when you point out there’s not enough high-paying jobs or affordable health plans for everyone. There’s not supposed to be. The system requires an underclass. Someone’s gotta clean the toilets. Capitalism, then, is a proving ground: it’s how you demonstrate where in the hierarchy you deserve to be. Do you have more than you need, or less? Anything you’ve got, you beat someone else to it. How resourceful were you? How well did you play? The field is by no means level, but any disadvantage just means you have to WORK harder. We know people who start with nothing can win big. If you’re a shark, you will make your way to the top because that’s where you belong. Anyone complaining how stacked the deck is against them is making excuses for not being better at the game. So disadvantage itself is not a problem so long as it’s, quote unquote, natural. What’s necessary is that advantage and disadvantage be imposed from without: free tuition, a high minimum wage, taxes on the wealthy, or any other kind of government meddling, these things must be opposed. Because with them, people would end up in the wrong places. Power has to be earned. If it isn’t earned, it won’t be properly wielded, and then society ends up a mess. Conservatives generally feel what’s wrong with the world today can be chalked up to people not being where they should be in the social order. They used to be where they belonged but then LIBERALS gummed everything up with their government handouts and forced representation. When, exactly, things were the way they should be is a bit of a moving target. Nowadays they act like it was the 80’s, in the 80’s it was the 50’s, and in the 50’s it was sometime before the New Deal, so following the nostalgia cycle it’s usually about thirty years ago. Conservatives are distrustful of any effort to make society more equal because, deep down they don’t believe equal societies are real. Obviously, “all citizens created equal” needs to be the government’s position, cause you can’t trust the government to know where to put people. So it has to treat everyone the same, but this is a legal fiction, like corporate personhood. It just means, the government leaves the market alone so the hierarchy can reveal itself. You’re not supposed to BELIEVE in an equal distribution of power. What are you, 7? This is just the way the world is. Look at alpha wolves. Silverbacks. Consider the lobster. You are one single individual within a system, and it is your job to rise or fall within it on the sweat of your own back. you don’t CHANGE the system. Society’s problems come from the rules being too weakly enforced. The answer’s always more discipline. Your conservative friend thinks you’re naïve for thinking the system even CAN be changed, and his is the charitable interpretation. Many conservatives assume liberals, at least, the smart liberals, KNOW that the hierarchy is eternal, that there will always be people at the top and people at the bottom. So any claim towards making things equal must be a Trojan horse for something that benefits them. Why would they assume that? Because that’s what they do. The REAL liberal agenda is to put people in the wrong places on purpose, boost liberal allies, hold back liberal opposition. You don’t want to break up the pyramid. You’re just trying to sneak someone else to the top. A lot of conservative contradictions start to make sense through this lens. Of any issue, simply ask: does this distribute power, or consolidate it? If power flows up the hierarchy they’re for it; if it flows down, they’re against it. How can conservatives say 15 an hour is too much for flipping burgers but somehow 11.5 million an hour isn’t too much to run Amazon? Because if you’re flipping burgers, you’re a minnow, and you don’t need 15 an hour to be a minnow. But sharks? They deserve all they can get, because they know what to do with it. They use it to give us Amazon. Don’t you want Amazon? We keep assuming conservatives defend the rich because they think they’ll be rich someday and, sure, they would love to be. But it’s more nuanced than that. They defend the rich because they believe the rest of us need the rich. We’d be lost without them. There should be no shame in being beneath the rich, not if the right people are rich. No shame in being a cog in the machine so long as the machine produces something beautiful. There is a real fear that everyone filling their prescribed role is the only thing keeping us from complete and total not the fun kind of anarchy. There’s honor in being in your place and doing your best with it, most especially if your place isn’t at the very bottom. The thing about hierarchies is they’re self similar on many scales. If you’re in the middle, then you serve the king. Valar dohaeris. But to everyone beneath you, you ARE the king. You’ve got a good job and a good wage, that gives you some power over people who don’t. And getting pissed at those above implies that those below have a right to be pissed at you. And there’s a real anxiety that liberals want to make room for those people in the middle by putting conservatives at the bottom. And that those people will treat conservatives the way conservatives treated them. Freedom, respect, and empathy are looked on as finite resources in a competitive market, just like jobs and scholarships. Also, most conservatives are white men, and so are most billionaires. So, but for the wealth, they actually have a lot in common, which makes it easy to empathize with billionaires and to feel empowered by seeing people like oneself do so well. And white men at the top influence policy in ways that serve people like them which materially benefits white men in the middle. The well being of the white billionaire becomes a metonym for the well being of all white men. A slight on them is a slight on all of us. White men want to believe that these billionaires earned their station, and not that their gender or race got them preferential treatment, because that would imply their own treatment may have also been biased in their favor, and maybe it’s not the liberals giving people power they don’t deserve. No matter how much a conservative believes in earning one’s place, they have always in the back of their mind an image of what society “should” look like. And any discrepancy between imagination and observation must mean foul play. This feminist is too respected. This black superhero is too popular. Can’t be because they’re worthy. Someone must have put their hand on the scales. Someone got a freebie, or played the race card, or faked a scandal. This means even though they claim the hierarchy is natural, what they will or won’t accept as legitimate is a gut feeling. If they like what they see, they take credit for it. If they don’t, it’s the left’s fault. And what does it say about them that they see a bunch of white male sharks and think, “yeah, that’s authentic.” The innate authenticity of wealth and power is the starting point. Like, ok, bear with me. You know when they open the door to Kingdom Hearts? And on the other side there’s Mickey with his shirt off and you’re like, why would Mickey with his shirt off be on the other side of that door? And the answer is, I don’t know, we’ll figure it out in like, seven games? Rich people believing “it’s good for everyone that I’m rich” is the starting assumption. That’s Mickey with his shirt off. And conservatism is the pile of games where they make up reasons why that might be true after the fact. It’s a retcon. This hierarchy is not democratic. It’s Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. Savvy viewers may be remembering another political philosophy that is hierarchical, undemocratic, built on nostalgia, and that likes to cloak its policies in progressive camouflage, and that’s the one from two videos ago: fascism. [long sigh] Golly Now, I am not calling conservatives “fascists.” There are distinctions. Under fascism, the hierarchy is much, much less meritocratic, and the nostalgia is much, much older. However. Conservative thinking is, at the very least, one that fascism maps more cleanly onto. Fascists appeal to this hierarchical mindset by portraying all of history as struggles between ethnic groups over who gets to be where. Someone’s got to be at the bottom, white man. We’ll make sure it isn’t you. You’ll find throughout history that fascist movements, though they often pick up dissidents from all over the political spectrum – the Third Position, for instance, is fascism for anti-capitalists – when they find purchase in a political party it’s pretty much always the conservative party. Look at France, look at Brazil, look at here. Whether you want to interpret that as conservatism being uniquely susceptible to fascists, or diet fascism being another name for conservatism, I leave that up to you. Fascism, and to an extent libertarianism, are roided-up extrapolations of the hierarchical mindset, in the same way socialism and anarchy are extrapolations of the egalitarian one. We can see conservatism as a kind of compromise between fascism and democracy, and liberalism as a kind of compromise between capitalism and socialism. They are two different attempts to solve the tensions between these ways of thinking without giving either one up. You can just as easily claim that liberalism is watered-down ineffectual socialism. A lot of the left would balk at that, but not me, pinko scum that I am. The most important thing to understand is that you cannot communicate with, nor anticipate the behaviors of, a conservative if you don’t understand what they believe. Which is hard, because they’re often in denial. You will never convince them to compromise on any attempt to break up the hierarchy, because even incremental change strikes them as revolutionary, and they feel they’ve made too many concessions already. You will never get them, of their own free will, to agree to government regulation, because the government, as a democratic institution, is inherently unnatural. If you don’t like what a business is doing, you don’t regulate it. You take your money elsewhere. You should favor the capitalist solution, not the democratic one. Also, when you vote with your dollar, people with more dollars get more votes. They will never be on board with aiding the poor in any systemic way and will instead champion charity and crowdfunding because minnows getting to eat should always be framed as a gift rather than a right. You may get individual conservatives to come around on some of these, but, as a body, they will never consent to any of it unless they can work it to their advantage, or if you have leverage over them. They will sign on when denying progressivism costs them something. Because few things terrify them more than slipping down the hierarchy. And what’s insidious is that most of us have this thinking ingrained in our own minds as well, myself included. We’re all raised in the same culture. This is why they’re able to control the conversation: because they can, with some priming, get us thinking in their terms. A nice upshot is our thinking is also ingrained in their minds, though they’re a little bit better at fighting it. But as long as you’re trying to meet this mentality in the middle, you are leaving the door open for fascists. Conservatism is, and always will be, vulnerable to them. A good defense against fascism is to consciously, intentionally, think and act in democratic terms. Because newsflash: we’re not actually lobsters! Neither of these systems is natural. They are choices we can make. I recommend this one, because egalitarian thinking is one thing Nazis are bad at infiltrating. If you want to fight fascism, move left.