Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Time and Politics 7: How to Recognize Political Horror

Hallucination (December 2004). Image Source: Coloribus.

The blogger at Ghost Hunting Theories, Sharon Day, wanted a few bloggers to do horror-related posts today, in the name of what she calls April Ghoul's Day to publicize a book she has published, Zombie Housewives of the Apocalypse. Congratulations to Sharon and her co-author, Julie Ferguson! Please check the links at the bottom of this post to go to other blogs supporting Sharon's event.

On ghouls and zombies: most of my posts on an unsettled afterlife or immortality deal with ghosts, superstitions, the paranormal, and horror, not to mention M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and the Illuminati; and the image above answers Sharon's topic. It is an example of ambient marketing from Ogilvy Brasil agency in Brazil; it was posted in public washrooms in 2004-2005 to raise awareness about hallucinations experienced by sufferers of Schizophrenia.

But this ambient image actually made me think of horror in real life, especially the current hallucinatory state of politics. Political divisions are growing, not diminishing. It is difficult to separate fact from opinion. Political biases have seeped into every imaginable aspect of public and private life, enwrapping everything with illusions of 'right,' 'wrong,' and 'left.' Politicians, political gurus and those who generally engage in politicized debates are so sure of their views that they probably would not recognize tyranny if it arrived, full-blown, and squatted before them.

To understand illusion in politics, we have to go from our Great Recession back to the Great Depression (which, as our crisis deepens, we have been doing over the past few years: again, and again, and again), and look on the Dirty Thirties with new, and increasingly familiar, eyes.

 Luccock's statement on recognizing fascism. New York Times (12 September 1938). Image Source: Technoccult.

In the mid-2000s, right-wing commentators accused their critics of this blindness. They quoted Louisiana's 1928-1932 populist Democrat (ironically-anti-conservative) governor, Huey Long, whose term as a US Senator ended in assassination in 1935: "When Fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-Fascism." Variations of that quotation are attributed to Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." According to Wiki, there are two origins of this saying, now so popular, which are leveled equally by the right at the left, and the left at the right:
  • "Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin are the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any 'shirt' movement, nor with an 'insignia,' but it will probably be 'wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.' (The Christian Century, Volume 53, Feb 5, 1936, p 245)"
  • "Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled "made in Germany"; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, "Americanism."
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked about Lewis: 'Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can't Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling The Star Spangled Banner.'" (The Many Americas Shall Be One, Harrison Evans Salisbury. Published by W. W. Norton, 1971, p 29)
The seeds of doubt about clear political vision were sown at the very beginning of America's birth as a revolutionary, independent state. Some claim that James Madison (1751-1836), known as the 'Father of the American Constitution,' co-author of the Federalist Papers, stated: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." The origins of this citation are unclear.

In the democratic nations, there is a long-standing fear of that window of political blindness, where power could run amok until it might become uncontrolled political evil, as happened in Germany in the twentieth century. But while the statement which expresses this fear, particularly in America, is ubiquitous, its origins are ironically obscure. And the fear has become politicized, hence nearly guaranteeing that the fear will be realized.

It will be realized because the window of political certainty is the window of political blindness. There can be no refuge in monolithic political 'truths,' and their claims on social and economic virtues. If we think we know what 'political evil' is, we are probably completely wrong. Being politically certain puts one in great danger of not being able to recognize the actual political reality at all. Our problem, in the simplest possible terms, is that we don't know how to line up objective truth (let alone subjective truth) with reality, although we are certain we do.

How do we separate political reality from political illusion? In a mass-media-driven culture, where facts can be stretched, compounded and infinitely contextualized, how can we recognize the arrival and rise of tyranny? I recently re-read George Orwell's piece, "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1942). He gives a clear definition of how to recognize the arrival of tyranny. It is the point at which there is no objective truth left about events in the past or present. It is the point at which reality can be made and remade like so much clay, with the power to erase anything that contradicts the newly-made political simulacra.

In the late 20th century and up to the mid-2000s, this plastic definition of reality comes from post-WWII Postmodernism, which in turn grew out of Kierkegaard's example of 'subjective truth.' The Postmodern challenge to 'objective truths' ultimately questioned whether reality could objectively exist at all. A Post-Postmodernist counterpush now challenges Postmodernism; Post-Postmodernism acknowledges that complete objectivity is unattainable. But there is such a thing as social consensus about events. Most people can agree, for example, that World War I happened, even if we don't fully agree on how it happened.

During his time fighting in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War, Orwell witnessed the endgame that follows from the abandonment of attempts to find objective truth in history. Events which never happened were discussed as though they were 'real.' This observation provided the kernel of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four:
I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, 'History stopped in 1936', at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various 'party lines'. ...

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable--even so, how is a true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth.

I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history COULD be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that 'facts' existed and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost everyone. ... It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as 'the truth' exists. ... The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but THE PAST. If the Leader says of such and such an event, 'It never happened'--well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five--well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs--and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.
Orwell also discussed the Spanish Civil War in Homage to Catalonia (1938), which you can read for free online, here.

How do we find near-objective consensus about what is happening in the world? At its inception, the Internet promised to become a news medium which might offer some semi-unbiased views of reality. With its opening up of sources, libraries and archives - the freedom of information, combined with the freedom of choice - it had the potential to pick up the thread of history which Orwell and Koestler agreed had halted in 1936.  Part of the cachet still enjoyed by hackers is that of the whistle-blower who exposes military-industrial and governmental secrets. They expose the real, 'objective' truth behind corporate lies and hype.

On the other hand, as the algorithmic grooming of Facebook and filtering of Google search results has shown, the Internet does not necessarily offer a basis for consensus about reality. It increasingly evilly offers a tailor-made reality, showing us only what Web corps think we want to see, based on personal information harvests. Thus, the Internet arguably merely extends the media's problem with truth-bending, while Web leaders build empires in the window of trust the new medium inspired. And so, the goal posts for finding a world of consensus about reality move, and move again; and with that moving target comes more political illusion - and the threat of tyranny.

Ghost Hunting Theories' April Ghoul's Day Bloggers:

See all my posts on Time and Politics.

If you're not reading this post on Histories of Things to Come, the content has been scraped and republished without the original author's permission. Please let me know by following this link and leaving me a comment. Thank you.


  1. You have a lot to say... I have learned plenty.

    Happy April Ghoul's Day!
    Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
    Visit The Madness:

  2. Very interesting blog. I love content that makes me think!

    Happy April Ghoul's Day!

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys; I enjoyed your blog posts for this event as well.

  4. Funny thing; no matter which side is in charge, government keeps getting bigger. -J