Friday, August 18, 2017

Charlottesville, Cows and Fascism

On Saturday, August 12 2017, there was to be a rally in Charlottesville (Virginia) to protest the removal of the statue of Robert E Lee, a confederate General during the American civil war.  Many right-wing groups were expected to be there.  Many of these groups are advocates of White nationalism and are extreme right wingers.  They generally denounce immigration and diversity, and are stridently against multiculturalism.

On the other side, extreme left wingers were expected to protest this rally.  Some of these left-wingers have a history of disrupting meetings, speeches and to indulge in violence against police and right-wing personalities.

Because of my interest in identity politics in US, I went there as an observer.  I, of course, am an Indian immigrant to United States.  But I thereby have no special sympathy for the left-wingers and diversity advocates.

Having witnessed countless protests and rallies in India, I was curious about how the day was going to turn out.  Violence was expected.  Heavily armed citizens in military fatigues were there as neutral peacekeepers.  There was a sizable police presence.  Barricades had been installed on certain streets and around the Lee park.

Aware that vandalism and violence was a possibility, I parked my car about a half-mile away from the scene.  I walked to the park and was there at 10am.  The rally was supposed to start at noon.

The right-wing protesters started arriving in groups and gathered inside the barricaded park.  The noisy counter-protesters with loudspeakers, drums and chants gathered on the street facing the park.

Water bottles were flying to and fro.  There were minor skirmishes and pushing and shoving, but nothing remarkable to my eye.  I had witnessed much more intense protests in India where houses and shops were burnt, people were stoned and chased, and the army had to be called in.

Pretty soon, in addition to the water bottles, harmless smoke canisters were being thrown by one side at the other.  And I discovered that many of the water bottles contained pepper spray liquid, urine and I don't know what else.  I stayed at a safe distance.

There were many reasonable folks among the spectators in my vicinity and I talked to some of them, including to one militia-man who explained that he was neutral to both viewpoints and was there to ensure the lawful assembly ended peacefully. All local citizens were just anxious for the day to be over because their downtown had been converted into a fortress.  They didn't want any violence.

The counter-protesters, the left-wingers, had placards and signs which were full of expletives and provocative insults, while the right-wingers were carrying their flags and holding their shields to protect against things thrown at them.

The police was passively watching and did not move a finger to keep the two groups from each other.  If the groups had been separated by even fifty feet, it would have been much safer for both sides.

Suddenly, a tear gas canister landed in a parking lot just opposite the park and the very next minute, the police announced that the rally had been declared an "unlawful assembly" and everybody should disperse.  The right-wingers dispersed but the left-wingers continued to be there, chanting their slogans and marching in the streets.

I thought maybe the rally might happen at another venue (McIntre Park), but I saw some twitter updates that the rally was unlawful to hold anywhere at all.  That was disappointing to me.  I had expected that there would be some tension but the police would act to let the rally be held in peace.

The rally was subjected to the hecklers' veto.

I left soon after.  In the afternoon, a car ran over the still-marching left-wing protesters many of who then tried to destroy the car and the driver.  The driver quickly reversed but was arrested that afternoon itself.  One woman died in that accident.  Then, tragically, a police helicopter crashed at a golf club, in which two cops were killed.

After that day, the mainstream media went into a hysterical overdrive.  The rally was soundly condemned as being violent and reprehensible.  Anyone who came to the defense of the rally-goers (they had secured a permit to peacefully assemble in the park) was labeled a sympathizer.

The President denounced the violence, but the media pounced on him because he did not explicitly condemn the right-wing groups.  He then released a statement naming them explicitly (which I thought was a weak, pandering gesture to calm the howling wolves in the mainstream media), but the media was still shrill and thirsty for more.

Then the next day, the President condemned the violent baddies on both sides, emphasizing that the left-wingers also were to blame and strangely nobody was talking about them.  It sounded eminently sensible to me.  And all hell broke loose.  CEOs left his councils, the Republicans started saying there was no "moral equivalence" between the two groups, and suchlike.

It was an insightful series of events to me.  The events confirmed to me that

1. The mainstream and the engineered feeds on social media in the United States are there to milk every little story to create controversy and hysteria.  There was no discussion about the statue of Robert E Lee and the issue at hand.  All they talked about was the white nationalists and that we should all hate them and anyone who sides with even their right to hold the rally is despicable.

2. There are vested interests driving the narratives on social media, helped by the left-leaning, liberal, politically correct bias of those platforms.  Most of these platforms earn their advertising dollars from the urbanites with disposable incomes.  These urban folks have been given a steady dose of brainwashing by the very same social media and television, and want their echo chambers to be protected.  Anyone saying something disagreeable is to be censored, banned or fired from his job.  No nuance, no discussion, just "repeat what I say, or you're dead to me."  (ref the recent incidents involving James Damore at Google, the Dailystomer website de-registration by GoDaddy and Google and CloudFlare, and the ever-increasing banning of accounts and discussion groups by Twitter, Facebook and Reddit).  Just today, Google took down the Gab social media app from its app store.

3. America has one of the most remarkable constitutional documents in its Bill of Rights, which protects free speech, whether it be considered offensive, blasphemous or seditious.  Most social media participants, media personalities, politicians and commentators (even educated ones) show little to no understanding of this central tenet of American constitution.  They do not understand, or at least willfully ignore, that to censor disagreeable voices is to advocate a fascist, police state.  They act as emotional infants who cannot bear to hear something that they dislike.  Even more alarmingly, they show little understanding of democracy and want their ideological and political opponents to be jailed or silenced.

4. The internet platforms, originally to foster freedom, enlightenment and dialogue, are now owned by private corporations.  These corporations have no interest in fostering free dialogue (ref the Google discontinuation of Google Reader, the IMDb discontinuation of its discussion boards).  Their primary interest is to hold their audience captive for advertising dollars.  The industry magnates, afraid of public opinion and wanting social media popularity, increasingly tend to virtue-signal and side with the mob.  If the media says personality X is bad, a celebrity or CEO can disagree only at his peril.

I firmly believe that, in this country, at this time, the right-wing voice is the one in minority and the vast majority of media is left-wing.  That in part is because statistically, right-wingers are relatively uneducated, technically not as adept, and inarticulate and have little to no voice on the mainstream media.  This is a grave phenomenon deserving of the highest attention.  If this silencing escalates, we can expect only resentment and ultimately, violence.  A suppressed voice finds its expression in explosive action.  This has ramifications not just in society, but in a family, a corporate office or a place of worship.

5. In United States, I believe that the left is awash with intolerant, authoritarian and fascist tendencies, wanting to violently disrupt, silence, hurt, impoverish and jail those that it disagrees with.  It is emboldened in its tactics and supported by the mainstream media.

For those who say that the current President has "emboldened" the hateful right-wingers to come out of hiding, I find it astonishing that they would consider it healthy that somebody with different, even hateful, views stayed hidden and afraid.  Why were they not coming out of hiding before?  What were they afraid of?  Isn't it laudable that people who were earlier afraid to express themselves are now less afraid to speak up?  Is their coming out of their "hiding" a bad thing?  Engaging someone in discussion openly, with them free to speak according to their conscience, is far more likely than suppression to yield common ground and mutual understanding.

What does all this have to do with cows in the title of this essay?

This.

Fascism is not about one's ideology per se.  It is about the tactics and power to enforce that ideology on others.  I consider Hitler, Stalin and Mao to be equally fascist.  It does not matter that Stalin fought against Hitler.  It does not matter that Hitler was a right-wing nationalist while Stalin was a communist.  They did not allow divergent opinions to be heard, and dissidents to live.

With this understanding, it is consistent to consider the left-wing as fascist in the United States, while in India, the right-wingers (the cow vigilantes, the nationalistic "bhakts" etc.) are similarly intolerant and fascist.

Since I consider fascism as evil, and I hope you do too,  my sympathies are with the protection of the rights of the "silent majority" in the US, and of the "silent minorities" in India.  They are both victims of fascism.

In the US, the majority ideologies (from a media standpoint) are: third-wave feminism, diversity, globalization, immigration, climate change, restriction of gun-rights.  The minority voices are for men's rights, strong borders, nationalism, free speech, and those against Islam as a religion of terror.

In India, the minority opinions which are routinely suppressed are: criticism of India as a nation-state, heretical opinions about religions, godmen and politicians, criticism of gender-biased laws, etc.

I may not agree with them, in fact I may vehemently disagree with them, but that is irrelevant to how much I want them to be free to express themselves and how much I condemn those that would seek to silence and suppress them.

Some profound essays on the freedom of expression:

Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression (Chomsky)

Censorship more dangerous than hate speech (Glenn Greenwald)

I end this essay with this quote:

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

(John Milton, 1644 in Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicens'd Printing, to the Parliament of England) 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

When we are trying to create equality from a past dominated by inequity, would "free speech" be conditional upon those forces that gave rise to those inequities in the past? Left or right, race/gender supremacists cannot have "free speech" as a part of lessons learnt? Thoughts? - Zrini.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@zrini, that is VERY dangerous. Trying to enforce equality backfires massively. It is a form of market intervention in society.

As for free speech, I am with the US constitution in that it requires an extremely strong, non-ideological, reason for any instance of its curbing. Say, somebody making a credible threat of imminent violence is not free speech, it is a threat of violence and should be treated accordingly.

Deepak Sharma said...

I you haven't read, I suggest you do read "The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution" by Ayn Rand, which is a compilation of her articles in "The Objectivist". Particularly enlightening in the present context is the first article - "The New Left" which analyzes the university riots of Berkley in the sixties. -Deepak