by Umair Haque
of Playing Dumb
while the House
Some things in life, my friends, are unpredictable:
The weather. True
love. The stock market...
But some things are
entirely, utterly, and almost boringly predictable, too.
And strangely, those
aren't small things. Sometimes, they're big things. One of the most
predictable things of all is fascism, the classical sequence of a
Don't believe me? Let's think about.
It goes something like
a falling middle class, a rising demagogue, who scapegoats and
demonizes minorities, blaming the troubles of the many on the
few and the different.
Soon enough, something
like this follows:
formed, parallel judiciaries, law enforcement, and citizenship
are created, camps rise, apartheid laws begin, minorities are
expropriated of savings, homes, and assets (which are
redistributed to the pure of blood, because, remember, the
economy is stagnant), forced exile, ghettoization, enslavement,
and finally, extermination.
The lying press! Enemies
of the people! Vermin! Animals...!
We know how this goes,
Where would you saw we are in that sequence of ruin? Judge for
yourself. But the fact that you can judge also says: you're familiar
with this sequence, intuitively. Maybe not intimate with it in a
textbook fashion. But you know its broad outlines.
That makes it
We - you and I - have
seen it happen in society after society. Not just Nazi Germany, but
Russia, Cambodia, and Rwanda, too, to name just a few.
That's why we all have an
intuitive, almost unconscious knowledge of how fascist collapses
And yet, every single day, day after day, like a broken record, my
timeline is full of Americans crying out in surprise.
How - for
Pete's sake - can anyone be surprised by any of this, at
If every adult
human being on Planet Earth, more or less, is familiar, in
rough terms, with the points in the sequence above by now,
then why are Americans still professing surprise, every
Are they acting?
Are they really
read a book about the Holocaust?
Seen a single
movie about it?
Let met give you an
example to make the point.
"Why didn't they
wash that poor kid for 80 days?!"
I saw a noted
columnist asking, about a neglected, abused kid who was returned
from a camp, infested with lice.
Hmm, let's think about it. There are exactly three possible
There was a sudden national shortage of water, soap,
pipes, and bathtubs.
Or maybe everybody
was time-warped back to the middle ages, where no one bathed at
all, including the guards.
Or (wait for it) the guards are
exactly what people who put little kids in camps need to be, to
do it in the first place: fascists.
People who don't
think that kid who's already a filthy subhuman needs to bathe.
Which one is the most plausible? I'm being facetious
- and yet, you still don't know it, I'd bet.
There's only one reason
no one would wash a kid in the 21st century. The guards
were showering every day, weren't they?
If you were taking care
of a kid, and the showers at school or daycare were broken, for
months, wouldn't you just finally take him home, and give the poor
kid a bath?
The only reason none of
the above would or could happen is that if child's guardians believe
he is inherently dirty, that no water and soap can clean him
anyways, so what's the point, that he's impure.
It is as clear a line of
evidence of fascism as human history has ever seen.
And yet we have a noted columnist who can't make draw simple logical
conclusions. But it's not just the columnist. It's every single
American I know. Meet. Read. See. Hear from...
Every single one appears
to be living in a parallel reality where they are perpetually
surprised by what they already know.
How can that be? It's baffling, bizarre, and a little gruesome,
It leaves us with two
are really this dumb, that they don't what all this
genuinely is when they see it
Let's take them one by
Are Americans really
To be that dumb,
you'd have to have never, ever, like I said above, seen a single
movie, read a single book, or taken a single class about any
kind of atrocity or genocide in history, from the Holocaust to
the Armenian genocide to North Korean camps.
Does that sound
plausible to you?
I'm pretty sure most
Americans have seen
Schindler's List. I'm fairly certain they
know who Hitler was and what happened in Auschwitz.
So forgive me, but I
don't think Americans are actually too dumb to understand
what's going on before their very eyes. I think they're playing
Which is a much more
interesting question, isn't it?
Why would an
entire nation play dumb - when the fascists arrive?
motivate them to commit something so cowardly, so foolish,
so unbelievable that it's actually the stuff of black
After all, that's what
playing dumb really is, isn't it? A form of cowardice, if
we're a little less polite, and a little more honest.
So why would a whole nation play dumb?
I think the answer - the
only answer - goes something like this.
Americans are willing
to give the moral benefit of the doubt to people they think are
"real" Americans, and deny the benefit of the very same doubt to
those they don't think are "real" Americans.
The camp guards, the
agencies, the managers, the contractors - all these people,
whatever they are, are at least "real" Americans.
Ah, but you see something genuinely interesting happens now.
Americans have made a very foolish mistake. The same one the Germans
did, too, with their own Nazis...
They are giving people who acting in bad faith the benefit of the
Hasn't it been well
established by now that "they" - and we all know
they are by
now - are operating with something like modern history's most
profound bad faith?
They're always ready to,
Aren't the tactics
they use - twisting reality, calling up down, denying what's
in front of everyone's eyes - all example of bad faith?
Isn't a head of state
who's a renowned liar the ultimate example of bad faith?
Now that I point out the
mistake to you, I'm sure you see how foolish it is.
Playing dumb with people
who are acting in bad faith is like grinning happily and playing
Russian roulette with someone who asks you to go first - after
loading all six chambers of the revolver.
Playing dumb with people
acting in bad faith is a recipe to be dominated, disempowered, and
shattered. Just ask anyone who's ever had an abusive relationship -
which is what fascism really is.
Now... we haven't yet answered the deeper question.
Why are Americans
playing dumb, at precisely the time they must wise up?
Why are they
expressing shock, day after day, when fascism is more
predictable than the weather?
When we all know
exactly what happens when the fascists arrive,
demonization, scapegoating, camps, apartheid laws,
ghettoes, expropriation, and worse, in roughly that order?
I think the answer's
play dumb about everything, don't they?
They strike a pose of
coyness. It seems to be what passes for cleverness, now -
pretending that the answers are out there in space "somewhere"...
Asking questions we all
know the answers to.
I'll give you a few
examples - imaginary conversations between pundits.
"Why, James, is life
"I don't know,
And yet we all know the
the healthcare system
is profoundly broken.
"George, I think
it's terrible, millennials can't afford to move out and have
families! Why is that?"
"Well, Bob, I
But we all know the
capitalism has failed massively
as a system of social organization.
And Americans do that
these days because collapsing societies are something like voids.
They collapse because old
ideologies fail - but societies only collapse because people clung
to those ideologies in the first place. And so, clinging to badly
failed ideologies, people can't seem to see what's right in front of
their own eyes.
The only way out is to
That can't really be what
it seems to be, can it? No, no - it can't be! Those aren't
fascists! Those are good and fine people. They just don't bathe kids
Let me give bad faith every last shred of the benefit of the doubt.
In other words, the intersection of folly, privilege, arrogance, and
That's how you end up
with pundits asking:
"why did nobody
wash a kid for 80 days?!"
Gee, Bob. I don't
Maybe the entire
nation ran out of water. Maybe it time-warped back to the dark
ages, where no one bathed.
Or maybe, just maybe,
the Nazis think those filthy, dirty kids are sub-humans, whom
even water is wasted upon.
Which is exactly what
they keep saying to you - if only your deaf ears and your broken
mind was capable of listening...