by Umair Haque
July 07, 2018
from Eudaimonia Website

Spanish version


The Fine Art

of Playing Dumb

while the House Burns Down...


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 proto-fascist collapse.

Don't believe me? Let's think about.


It goes something like this:

economic stagnation, 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:

paramilitaries are 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, don't we?

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 predictable...


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 proceed.

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 this point?


  • 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 single day?


  • Are they acting?


  • Are they really this dumb?


  • They've never read a book about the Holocaust?


  • Seen a single movie about it?


  • Ever...?

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 reasons.

  • 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, isn't it?


It leaves us with two possible outcomes:

  • either Americans are really this dumb, that they don't what all this genuinely is when they see it

  • or they're playing dumb...

Let's take them one by one.

Are Americans really this dumb?


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 dumb.


Which is a much more interesting question, isn't it?

  • Why would an entire nation play dumb - when the fascists arrive?


  • What would motivate them to commit something so cowardly, so foolish, so unbelievable that it's actually the stuff of black comedy?

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 doubt.

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,

  • shatter a norm

  • break a rule

  • treat society with deceit

  • never tell the truth...

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 simple.

Culturally, Americans 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 expectancy falling?"


"I don't know, Steve!"

And yet we all know the answer is:

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 don't know!"

But we all know the answer is:

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 play dumb.


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 for months.

Let me give bad faith every last shred of the benefit of the doubt. In other words, the intersection of folly, privilege, arrogance, and tribalism.


That's how you end up with pundits asking:

"why did nobody wash a kid for 80 days?!"

Gee, Bob. I don't know.


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...