According to this article from Business Insider, Trump has become subdued. He’s not tweeting about “Rocket Man” or making racist comments on the Internet. This is the new standard.
Let’s say that Trump stops acting like a clown, learns to control himself, and “becomes a president”. Or even just an adult. Then, this is when the dangerous times start.
Trump is not very good at fascism. I don’t think he possesses a coherent ideology or could be called a fascist. He is an opportunist and a person of low character who has re-invented some of the fascist’s tools. Whether he has advanced or humiliated the fascist cause, it is too early to tell. My view is that he has done both.
Seven Years Of Struggle
I experienced fascism years ahead of everyone else. It started in the Peak Weimar year of 2011, when the apparent threat of a full-blown fascist takeover of the United States was nonexistent. Even when I was personally fighting fascists, I had little cognizance of why I was in battle, or what their objectives were. I have resolved some of that, and I’ll discuss it here.
Why is my story relevant to such a broad-spectrum topic as fascism? We are now in times of such potential for extremity that individual stories, while failing to meet expectations of scientific data, are something we must rely on. Thus, my seven years of personal struggle against an emerging fascist adversary, which probably does not know yet that it is fascist, become relevant to the whole society.
Before we can have that discussion, I’ll have to discuss what fascism is, and why it’s already here. Donald Trump didn’t bring it. In fact, as I’ll discuss, Mr. Trump isn’t very good at the fascism thing and he’s largely a distraction from the deeper threat that has been building up over decades. Donald Trump’s rise to power is more of an expression of damage than a cause of it.
What Is Fascism?
Write down a 20-word description of what you think fascism is.
If you wrote nationalism or racism or sexist down, scratch those words out for now. Fascism’s nature dooms it to take a nationalistic, racist, and sexist course. However, it does not need to be racist or sexist. It only is nationalistic, at its root, in that it is often deployed as a strategy to govern a nation. It is harder to deploy fascism in a corporation that people enter and leave constantly. In fact, the fascist element of corporate capitalism lives not in the corporation, meaning a single company, but in the overstructure that now connects the fleet of them.
If you wrote down right-wing, scratch that out as well. Fascism is not overly concerned with economic notions of “left” or “right” and will use tools from the whole spectrum. It will be populist and elitism at the same time with no fear of self-contradiction. Nazis called themselves “national socialists“. Fascism is two-faced and will talk out of both sides of its mouth. It often becomes a company union for a nation’s people, pretending to offer egalitarianism to the strong ethnic majority of the country, while consolidating meaningful power in a small number of people.
If you wrote down oligarchy, you’re getting warmer. But most societies tend toward oligarchy. For example, most monarchies become oligarchies, because one person cannot govern a complex society. Democracies become oligarchies because most people aren’t interested in most issues; representative democracy (controlled oligarchy) is one tool that addressees this. So, is fascism oligarchic? Yes, but not all oligarchies are fascist.
Here’s how I would put it, in a sentence: fascism encourages power to congeal while the people are divided against each other.
It’s the dual opposite of democracy. Democracy encourages us, in our capacity as citizens, to cooperate. In the ideal, we’re all working toward the same goals: we want high-quality infrastructure, a fair legal environment, and not to go to war unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, those who wish to hold or acquire administrative power must compete. The burden of competition is an equalizing force. If those in power serve the people poorly, they can be fired in a nonviolent, impersonal revolution called an election.
Voting, in truth, isn’t only about deciding who gets jobs. Statistically speaking, a single vote almost never has that effect. Rather, it’s about holding the people in those jobs accountable for doing them well. A narrow win is more threatening to the winner’s political future than a decisive one. An incumbent’s loss not only removes the loser from office, but sends a message about the will of the people.
Democracy establishes competition for and within power, in order to prevent unaccountable monopolies. It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t need to be in order to be democratic. In the long term, democracy makes more good calls than bad. It took way too long, but the U.S. eventually realized that slavery was morally wrong and that mistreating people because of skin pigmentation is unacceptable.
Fascism is the dual opposite of democracy: power unifies, but the people compete. Corporate, political, social, cultural, and religious power merge and become an unyielding fasces – these elements cannot be asked to compete and it is treasonous to try– while the people are divided against each other in endless competition. It’s no coincidence that Nineteen Eighty-Four has Winston Smith perform calisthenics in front of a telescreen: people jostle for rank in such a society, even when it is meaningless.
Fascism, then, inverts democracy’s noble goal of demanding that power serve people, and replaces it with a dual-opposite evil one of holding people accountable to power.
“Holding people accountable.” Remember those words for a second. Doesn’t it sound… exactly like a familiar workplace euphemism?
I’ve described fascism in the abstract. We’ll get to the concrete, dismal artifacts that come out of it, soon. In any case, democracy’s weakness is that it’s slow and careful. It wants to destroy the persistent power relationships and feedback loops (e.g. “money makes money”) that exist in human organizations. Over time, democracy allows the natural human dislike for injustice– not as powerful a force as greed or fear, but a noble drive that exists in us– to drive change. In contrast, fascism wants to speed feedback loops up. It wants to move fast and break things, while at the same time managing society tightly enough that those in power experience no real risk of losing it.
So where do fascism’s racism and jingoism come from? As defined here, fascism’s initial focus is largely on domestic affairs: those in power want to keep it, at any cost. Race, national identity, and foreign aggression need not emerge just yet. Not only should the domestic fascist have no interest in war, but he should find its risks unpalatable. So why does fascism turn toward conquest?
Simply put, people won’t tolerate endless competition, especially if it’s a pointless ‘rat race’ to serve those in power, unless certain conditions are imposed. Fear of a made-up enemy can work for some time. Bordering nations and ethnic minorities can be demonized and blamed for the fascist society’s stagnation or decline. Walls that serve no purpose can be built. Over time, however, people wise up to the distractions. Their resistance grows.
Fascism, in its endgame, realizes the improbability of domestic self-repair. Every circumstance that will make the people tolerate endless competition is tried, except one: conquest. So, a narrative of national or racial superiority must be used. If the people believe themselves superior to everyone else, they might clamor for permission to spill out in to the world at large (Lebensraum; Hakkō ichiu; arguably, Manifest Destiny) and plunder. In this case, people will tolerate domestic authoritarianism.
The United States in the 19th century was not fascist– the mechanisms of fascism rely on broadcast technologies that didn’t exist then– but the fascists learned lessons from that era. When the slave-holding elements of society started to lose their moral battles on the nation’s eastern coast, and failed to gain any sympathy in the country’s increasingly important lake-blessed central-north, they brought us into war with our southern neighbor, Mexico. Since Mexico’s heartland has never been its desert north, it had less interest in holding these then-sparse territories, and the U.S. was victorious. This delayed the brewing conflict, in the U.S., for a few years. The vast majority of Southern whites, then called “clay eaters” or “white trash”, were badly served by the existing system; but, the prospect of westward expansion and the more aggressive (and probably impractical) imperial aims of the traitors’ new government, which intended to conquer South America after becoming independent of its mother nation, gave these unfortunate people a sense of stake.
People tolerate endless competition, given its atrocious effects on the poor and weak, and its basic inhumanity, if and only if they have a racial or national predestination myth that sits in their favor. Fascism doesn’t make trains more timely, but it creates so many distractions that people accept a prohibition on calling late trains “late”. Domestic malfunctions seem so unimportant compared to foreign threats and opportunity. When convinced that an authoritarian government is righting the wrong that is the supposed oppression of their superior race, nation, or culture, people lose interest in timekeeping over trivial matters.
“We have a better culture here.” Is that a nation, or a tech company? “We’re so much better than those idiots, we’ll IPO in three years.” Ah, the destiny is manifest.
Fascism, like democracy, is more like an oligarchy than it wishes to admit, and oligarchies (unlike their differently dysfunctional, conservative cousins, aristocracies) always have irregular, loosely-defined borders. There isn’t a clear separation between “those in power” and “the governed”; there are tiers of hierarchy, inner parties and outer parties, and organizations that pretend to be one thing but are another (e.g. Hitler Youth). While the high divide the low against each other, the high also compete against each other. It’s inevitable. The impulse to fight, encouraged in the low, can’t be restrained in the high. Therefore, there is, in fact, plenty of competition for position and influence within a fascist society. Just as corporate managers fight over turf and influence, lieutenants scrap for rank. In fact, the higher prefer to pit the merely-high against other merely-high, and the highest do the same to the only-higher. The competition is not disallowed. Does this refute my claim that, under fascism, power colludes and unifies?
No. Key is that the within-elite competition must happen in secret, behind a social barrier. Power can scrap against itself, but it must show a unified front. It is more important to be strong than to be right; ergo, debate and division (although they exist in secret, even up to the highest ranks) cannot be shown. The low must never see the reticence or in-fighting among the high. It may exist; it must be hidden.
Fascism in 2018
So, what is Corporate America?
Most people, when they find themselves under managerial adversity, mistakenly believe they can go over the boss’s head to the boss’s boss, or to the HR department, or seek transfer to another team. How often does that work? Almost never. What usually happens? The employee gets herself fired faster. Whether the manager was at fault rarely matters. The aggressive move must be punished. An example must be made.
Like police in a corrupt regime, managers are encouraged by most companies to protect their own. A manager who accepts a transfer candidate, if that employee is under managerial adversity elsewhere, invalidates the other manager’s judgment, and thereby breaks the expectations placed upon rank. So, it almost never happens.
To make it creepier, managers protect their own across companies, even when those companies are supposed to be in competition.
Consider the importance of reference checking in a person’s career: it shows us that a manager takes the word of a manager at a competing company over the account of the person who lived through something. If we expect competition (in this case, for labor) among employers, this is paradoxical. If we view corporate management as a nebulous, still-forming fascist party, this makes sense.
Middle managers are the outer party– the Winston Smiths, who hold belief most fervently in the system, because to lose it is traumatic and life-altering. Above them, the paradoxically brutal but preening– a synthesis of the worst masculine and the worst feminine traits– faux-mandarins called executives are the inner party.
An employee under managerial adversity rarely gets another chance: another manager, or a higher manager, or an executive, or an HR “professional”, is unlikely to contradict the word of a manager. The Party must endure for a thousand years, and nothing else matters. It cannot show division.
Corporate America is a one-party system: the managerial hierarchy never shows its debates to anyone below. While there are debates among managers over how things should be handled, they ought not be visible to the managed.
Wait. Surely I couldn’t mean…?
Yes, I do.
Corporate America is not “like” fascism. It is not “somewhat” fascist. I do not participate in the left’s annoying tendency to disparage regular conservatives with the label of fascism, but Corporate America is not conservative. Instead, it is nihilistic, radical, and abusive. It is as anti-conservative as were the left-authoritarian nightmares that blighted the 20th century in the name of communism.
Corporate America is fascist.
It has gone Stage IV and its metastases are all over our culture and politics, redirecting the blood supply and devouring healthy tissue. Notions of truth and decorum have been some of the first cultural organs to fail– now, we have a president using a term, “fake news”, that rightfully applied to internet tabloids, to disparage critical, legitimate coverage– and they won’t be the last ones to break down.
To wit: Donald Trump, a bullying birther Boomer billionaire businessman, successfully ran against decades of damage done by… bullying birther Boomer billionaire businessmen. Fascism is consistent in its dishonesty. Donald Trump is the corporate “turnaround expert” who is, in truth, a con artist.
On that, note that corporate turnarounds usually speed up the company’s demise. Why do they tend to make things worse? Often, a corporate board’s solution to the failures caused by executives is… not to turn the company over to the workers who have been failed, because that would be socialist!… but to hire new executives from the same toxic social elite. No one is truly accountable, nothing changes, and improvement is impossible.
The Capitalist Party is not especially capitalist, any more than the left-authoritarian disasters that called themselves Communist Parties were devoted to communism. The contemporary Capitalist Party is averse to capitalistic competition it cannot control, and will crush competitors even at an economic loss to the acting organization, because the Party must endure. Rather than being capitalistic in any meaningful sense, it’s a social elite, defined (like any other) by connections and corruption more than wealth, that finds democracy and even libertarian capitalism to be too volatile and has decided that the collapse of the American nation– politically, culturally, soon economically– is a fair price to pay for its own continued dominance.
Are we screwed? Well, we might be. There’s still time. Perhaps we’re five years away from the “fireside catch-up sync” meetings and ten years away from inconvenient minorities and intellectuals being sent to “performance improvement” camps. (“Meeting expectations will set you free.”) It is not too late to defuse the conflict. We must first acknowledge that it exists.
Make no mistake on this, though: we will finally solve our corporate problem or it will finally solve us. The difference is in the likely numbers: over the next 50 years, 50,000 of the elite, or 50 million of us. If these numbers seem ridiculously high, consider that the U.S. Healthcare Dead number about one million.
I can’t predict how this conflict will play out. Right up until the moment when it starts in earnest, it will seem like a distant threat or even an impossibility. Moreover, it’s going to involve quite a large number of countries. The fight against injustice and fascism is a global one. Though I am an economic populist, I cannot tolerate the racism of the Trumpist movement, and I find anti-globalism to be ridiculous. (I’m a writer and, as a creative person, I’m a globalist. The majority of the audience I want to reach is outside of my country.) Like technological automation, globalism is inevitable and too important to ignore. It must be done right.
“May you live in interesting times.” We do.
I hesitate to call the present time, at any time, the most dangerous or difficult year. It is like the persistent bias humans have toward calling their own point in life the hardest one. This said, I find 2018 to be a dangerous year. We have lived for a year under Trump and, not only have no nuclear weapons been used, but our stock market’s in record high territory. We even have low unemployment if imprisoned African-Americans– and a person with a felony conviction might leave incarceration but, having to disclose the fact on job applications, never escapes the imprisonment of imposed social and economic disability– are not counted. Things feel sorta-okay, if you’re white and cisgendered and not under 30 and live 50 feet above sea level and (most importantly) are not paying attention. Things are not okay.
Our guard is at risk of fatigue. We are so exhausted by our president’s insane, racist, idiotic antics that many of us fail to notice: the government shutdowns; the declining American life expectancy; the unaffordable welfare checks– sorry, “tax relief”, as I forgot that welfare meant “those people”– for the rich; leftist complicity in a casual-sex culture that commoditizes human affection and alienates the young; the technology companies that mask layoffs as firings for performance; the 68 microkelvins of global warming per day; the re-emergence of racist tendencies that don’t belong in this century (and didn’t belong then); and so much more that a complete list would double the length of what I’m writing here. All these real misbehaviors, failures, and issues go ignored while Donald Trump shoots 140-character wads into the Kleenex of the Internet. Regular corporate evil, which at least accedes to the weird (and also too complicated for one essay) doctrine called political correctness, seems utterly moderate now.
Actually, let me say one thing about political correctness (“PC”) for one reason: the hatred directed at this straw dog helped elect Trump. PC is a form of divisive class warfare that (1) uses historical evils like sexism and racism as a bludgeon against the lower classes, by pumping up the pretense that our poor are the sole source of continuing prejudice,s and (2) creates the impression among the lower classes that the left-leaning upper-middle classes are the aggressors. In fact, it’s extremely rare for a person to be fired over a stray dick joke– as opposed to say, a persistent pattern of predatory behavior (actual sexual harassment) that merits far more than the loss of a job– but most people in Trump country think it’s commonplace. They feel surveilled and threatened.
PC lets the rich blame racism and sexism on the poor– to say that racism is a “redneck” or “Southern” problem rather than an American problem– and thereby convince us that we must accept these ills, unless we’re willing to kill the poor, presumed to be incorrigible. (That many women and non-whites are part of the working class is ignored.) PC is the corporate solution of saying the right thing but doing nothing, e.g., failing to pay and promote women fairly, but firing some low-status man for saying “bitch” on a Tuesday. Though it remains extremely rare that people are actually fired for stray dick jokes, PC has taken the the smugness of my native social class (left-leaning, upper-middle-class, highly educated and therefore culturally conservative) and presented it as a cudgel that threatens peoples’ jobs. We must correct the record on this. No person with a heart can tolerate actual sexual (or racial) harassment, but no person with a brain wants someone to get fired over a stray joke.
In truth, the enemy isn’t the straw dog of political correctness. Rather, it’s a culture of so-called “performance” surveillance that workers face. Almost no one gets fired over a stray joke or swear word; but people do get fired when employer-owned weapons of war detect that they’re only delivering 9.99 packages per hour. Like Trump, PC and the rage it inspires are distractions.
Trump Trumps Trump
I am not especially worried about Donald J. Trump, himself. He seems lazy, and I don’t think he could pull fascism off.
A fascist leader must appear sacrificial. Adolf Hitler remained a bachelor and presented himself as celibate; he claimed that he was married to Germany. The dictator must appear godlike, mechanically inevitable, and infallible, but also stoic and not the least bit self-indulgent. He can’t be seen to enjoy his wealth and power, any more than (to crib an apt quote from a terrible man) he can be seen in a bathing suit.
Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is a decaying narcissist, ridiculed and despised even by those around him, who uses crass antics to make up for his glaring lack of charisma. Is he dangerous? Absolutely; he is a powerful man who appears to be deranged. One cannot rest easy while this is the case. There’s a lot of random damage he can do, that may or may not be correlated to a fascist ideology that he doesn’t seem to understand well enough to possess; but, is Trump a credible risk, in terms of a fascist takeover? I would say “No”. A long-term national crisis, or even another 9/11, he would handle too incompetently for that. He could do a lot of harm through incompetence and petty malevolence, but he would trip over himself and be set aside before he could become the next Hitler.
Currently, the main element of Trump’s damage seems to be making his weird, self-involved proto-fascism seem less deranged and less harmful than it actually is. This has created a situation in which regular, corporate fascism might be able to sneak in undetected.
I don’t worry about Trump. Rather, I worry about some 39-year-old Silicon Valley tech founder– today, he might be a non-entity who hasn’t even raised a Series B yet– who will come after Trump. He will present himself as the face of moderation. Like Trump, he will use personality (but, in his case, an apparent bipartisan competence) to mask his lack of meaningful apparent ideology, knowing that his actual ideology cannot be revealed until he has gained power. And what ideology will he be hiding? I doubt, in his first year as president, he will conceive of himself as fascist. He will simply continue to live by the might-makes-right doctrine that corporate executives have held for decades. He may never form an ideological commitment to fascism; the tendency toward belligerent authoritarianism, inherited from his time as an executive when the stakes were jobs rather than lives, might forever go unexamined by him. It won’t matter.
When Hitler rose to power, Germany had a massive prison population due to long periods of poverty. It wasn’t the Nazis, nor Hitler, who first came up with the idea for an “innovative” (and, if it were invented today, it would be called “disruptive”) new prison layout: an open-air “re-education camp”. The German population knew of these camps, but did not associate them with genocide, since that wasn’t their original purpose. They existed for years as regular prisons– and were popular at the time, being held to improve the performance of industrial society– until they were transformed into weapons of war and, later, extermination.
It didn’t happen overnight. If it happens again, expect the same: a gradual relaxation of morality that delivers us to unanticipated calamity.
The Battles I Fought
Unfortunately, I know Silicon Valley. Therefore I know, with more precision than most, how the next generation of fascists are likely to operate. The breadth and scope of their tool kit would require at least 100,000 words to cover in detail; neither I nor my reader have the time for that.
I cannot predict the future. I do not know how strong their zeal for wealth, power, relevance, and immortality will be, and how long it will stay strong. I experienced a “zero-to-one” variety of Silicon Valley industrial fascism. What their “one-to-10,000,000” phase will look like, that’s unclear.
Let me give a small subset of my personal experiences in the fight against fascism.
Before Battle: up to November 10, 2011.
I had a six-month, unpleasant stint at Google. No, this wasn’t fascism– just poor management. The fascism part doesn’t come into play until after I left Google. But hang tight.
This manager had, at least, a 5-year track record of using phony performance problems to tease out peoples’ health problems, which he’d then use to mess with them. I believe he eventually got fired for doing this (long after I left) and is now in a regular-engineer role at a less prestigious company than Google. However, judging from his rank and tenure at Google, he probably doesn’t have to work, so the fact that he got fired isn’t much consolation.
As of 2011, at Google the only thing that mattered was your “Perf Score”, a numerical measure of whether you were working hard enough to be set free of present demands and control structures. At a 4.0, you become promotable and transferrable around the company. Below 3.0, you’re untermenschen, and transfer to a project or team that might be a better fit becomes impossible. So, I asked my boss what Perf Score I’d receive if I took on a certain risky project that he wanted me to do (and that I couldn’t say no to). He promised me that, in 2011’s Perfing, I’d get a 3.4. He instead inserted, without lubrication or consent, a 2.8 into my file.
I exposed his dishonesty on a mailing list with thousands of subscribers. People found this to be, and I am not making this word up, “un-Googley”.
That wasn’t fascism. It was a regular old scrap between an abusive manager and an employee who refused to take shit. The fascism comes later– like I said, it started in earnest after I left Google.
People have asked me what I think about James Damore’s “diversity memo”. I don’t. I tried to read one of the myriad versions and couldn’t get through it. If I want to read about ethics, I’d rather read a philosopher than a corporate executive; the executive’s expertise relates only to the question of how an offender evades detection. If I want “self-help”, I’d rather read a psychologist or a Buddhist monk who has meditated for thirty years, in order to get real insight into the mind, than read a rich white male who got hit by a car and had to walk on crutches for two years. By analogy, if I want to learn more about gender, a software engineer at a company is about the last person I’m going to offer hours of reading time, much less give any real authority.
It wasn’t PC leftist “social justice warrior” fascism (which doesn’t have much power) that got Damore fired. It was regular executive cowardice. Google claims to value internal dissent and largely does, insofar as internal dissent is almost always ineffectual. When that dissent has effects and executives take notice, that person usually gets fired. I’ve been in Corporate America for long to know that private-sector managers don’t fire “low performers”. They don’t fire high performers, either. Being lazy creatures, they rarely know the difference. They fire whoever costs them time.
There’s a lot of organizational dysfunction to pick apart here, but none of this stuff is fascist. Yet.
November 11, 2011
I was not fired by Google. I found another job, and I left.
Somehow, my name ended up on one of those “suspected unionist” lists that gets passed around Silicon Valley. These are highly illegal, but Silicon Valley people do not follow laws. They “disrupt” them. It is not useful here and now to suspect how my name ended up on such a list.
My intended next employer called me on November 11, to tell me that they’d rescinded the offer. Why? Someone from Google had called a hit. Beyond that, it took me years of private investigation to get the whole picture.
Was Google, the company itself or its executives, hell-bent on enforcing fascism? I highly doubt it. That’s the scary thing about fascism. The dictator doesn’t need to do all that work. He likely doesn’t know that you (or I, in this case) exist, and he probably doesn’t. There are plenty of brownshirts who will do the ground work for him. The person responsible for the November 2011 was not an executive at Google and I would bet that no Google executives took part.
This wasn’t the only time I lost an opportunity because of an ex-Googler grinding an axe against my exposure of managerial misconduct. It was my first skirmish with brownshirts of the American fascist movement. It wouldn’t be the last. As for corporate fascists everywhere, their numbers increase, they cover more targets, and while Google itself has been on good behavior since I left it, I am sure that my name is on numerous “union risk” lists. There was a period in which I couldn’t travel to San Francisco because it wasn’t safe,
February 20, 2013
I interviewed for a job at a large investment bank on February 20, 2013. I didn’t get it. That’s not surprising. I’ve not-gotten plenty of jobs, often for valid reasons like… someone else did… or that the job required experience and skills that I lacked… or just that my interview performance wasn’t the best. It is not fascist when I do not get a job I don’t deserve. It’s what should happen.
In fact, noting the date of the interview and the state I was in, I am astonished that I got as far as I did. This was 17 days after my mother died. It would not have surprised me to have learned that I’d performed poorly in that interview, given the timing, and someone’s poor interview performance is a perfectly non-fascist reason to deny him the job. I went on the interview, despite the timing, because powering through these things is what a person does. I did not expect to succeed; I was not at my best.
I found out, several months later, that I had passed the interview. Perhaps I had even done quite well. Like I said, I was shocked. I learned that all but one of the interviewers wanted to hire me, and the one dissenter did not object based on interview performance, but because I had opposed the interests– “bad-mouthing”, and harmless bad-mouthing, because Google’s doing just fine– of a previous employer.
Fascism draws near! (F)ight, (R)un, (S)pell, or (I)tem?
Were it not for that one tip, from a close friend of the hiring manager, I wouldn’t have known that fascist interference had been a factor. I would have readily believed, concerning any date in February 2013, that my interview performance was poor and that I had been denied the job for just reasons. In fact, it was what I said about Google that led to an unjust denial. That’s scary, to me. The acts of a fascist are rarely detected. When a fascist moves, one rarely knows. How can we fight an enemy whose weapons are lies, secrecy, and confusion?
The “never bad-mouth a former employer” rule is imposed not because it harms companies for employees to discuss them honestly– an individual disgruntled employee sharing truth does hardly any damage at all, unless the truth is so severe in its nature that the company deserves to die– but because our fascist elements believe that even the most harmless dissent must be punished with isolation, starvation, and violence.
Fascism, fascism, fascism. No exaggeration. Fascism, fascism, fascism. Not “like fascism”. Not “right-of-center, legitimate political activity that I am wrongly using the fascist epithet to disparage.” Fascism, fascism, fascism. Actual fascism. It’s not “coming”. It’s here and it has been here for a while. There are people who believe that someone who speaks truthfully about a prior manager, ever, deserves to be permanently unemployed. We must finally solve these people, before they finally solve us.
Why would a manager at an investment bank care that I had said something, two years ago, about a manager at Google? What connection is there between investment banking and web search? None. It is managers protecting their own across companies, because companies no longer compete in any meaningful way, and they haven’t done so for years. The Capitalist Party is more than one company, and it must protect its own high officers.
If the Capitalist Party were not planning harm to their own country, this would not have been an issue that I ever faced. And these are not the only opportunities where I lost an opportunity, thanks to fascists.
In 2018, the corporate fascist’s most powerful tool is the threat of negative reference. What should be the legal status of job references, that’s complicated and there’s a lot to unpack. At the least, just as New York City nobly banned questions about salary history, we need a law that requires, any time a job is denied based on a negative reference, the afflicted candidate to know exactly what was said and by whom, as well as a public fund for appropriate legal action. We must deny fascists every tool they will use to divide workers against each other.
It does not matter that I was turned down for one job at one company for an illegitimate reason. The pattern matters. The fight matters.
The fascists’ fight is just getting started, and we seem not to have started at all. That’s a problem.
September 4, 2015
I did a stupid thing. By 2015, I knew that Silicon Valley was corrupt, but in my mind I still made exceptions. I put hundreds of hours into, and invested my reputation in, a questions-and-answers website called Quora. Though Quora is a venture-funded startup, I didn’t believe that they could all be bad, right? And what are they going to do to me, as a user?
I’m not exactly talentless as a writer. High-quality answers on Quora enabled me to bring my reputation closer into line with my actual character and competence.
Quora has faded from importance and no one really cares about it now. It’s shocking how quickly things like that change. But between 2013 and 2015, everyone in Silicon Valley seemed to read it. I was one of Quora’s top writers, frequently published on sites like Time and BBC (online, not print) that had partnerships with Quora, and had one of the largest follower counts for a non-celebrity.
Y Combinator bought Quora, in order to gain control of it. Paul Graham disliked me, falsely believing a 2013 blog post to be about him. Not much later, Quora banned me on false, libelous pretenses. It punished people who defended me. For some time, it erased my profile page. That I received its “Top Writer” distinction– which is, in fact, given out rather liberally, including to people I considered only average writers– has been scrubbed from the record, and so has my publication on partner sites. As in the Soviet Union, the picture was forever altered, with inconvenient people like me erased from history.
I am far from the only person to have been affected by Quora’s corruption. Feminists who live in India and China are often banned, not because Quora itself has an issue with what they say, but because it tires of fielding complaints about them from users in their countries. The site has chosen to align with anti-feminism out of economic convenience, not by ideology. In fascism’s nebulous state, there is no ideological consistency, but only an increasing preponderance of convenience that favors corruption and conglomeration of power.
This is a lot of words for… a website ban. It sounds so ridiculous, doesn’t it? Indeed, it does. Why on earth would a person care about such a silly thing? Quora is a silly thing, but in the technology industry, it mattered once. I was actually denied job interviews because I had been banned on Quora. I hadn’t said a thing on Quora that merited a ban, but the fact that the ban existed wrecked my employability in my own industry. I have records of absurd conversations that prove it.
The Quora ban wasn’t driven by a desire to get a troublesome contributor off a website, because I wasn’t troublesome. It was an attempt, likely driven by Y Combinator, to wreck my reputation. That such things happen is important to everyone who relies on his reputation (read: the 99.9%) to survive. Fascism, when it arrives, won’t declare that it is here. Instead, it will wreck the reputations of people it deems threatening to it. By doing this, it will seem competent and inevitable. It is neither.
February 4, 2018
My scuffles with fascism appear to have ended. Have I won or lost? I’d say that I lost. My career isn’t what it would have been, had I not fought. Not much has changed in my wake. Really, what have I achieved? Have I staved off a threat? Please let me know if I have, because it’s not what I see.
To me, it looks like, by provoking fascists and letting them wreck my career, I’ve been made into an example. This is one reason why I don’t like to talk about my past experiences in the corporate world. I don’t mind the embarrassment. If something is good for the world, I’ll accept embarrassment. Yet to suffer in public only vindicates the power of the emerging fascist movement.
I’m not bitter about the lack of success I had at Google. Looking back on 2011, I see pretty clearly what mistakes I made, and I know why I made them.
However, I’m disgusted by the fact that, even quite recently, I’ve lost job opportunities and consulting clients due to things that happened at Google, and relatively mild things that I’ve said about my time there. The perpetuation of the corporate state– the health of the Capitalist Party, the stiffness of the fasces– is more important than an individual’s right to express truthfully what he has experienced.
People who believe that a person should be blacklisted for breaking the “no badmouthing” rule are nothing but moral filth. We have to fight moral filth. The methods we use will be selected in response to their methods. There is a space here that I don’t want to project my mind into, unless and until we are actually there.
I won’t belabor my own struggles. They took a long time to live through; why give it more time?
Here are some insights about fascism worth taking note.
It won’t call itself fascism.
It did once, in one time: Italian Fascism gave the name to this more generic concept. Still, fascist is such a charged term that modern fascists will almost certainly avoid it.
German Nazis called themselves national socialists. Japanese and German fascists during the 1940s each believed in their own racial and ideological superiority, but managed to work together. Fascism will use leftist and rightist regalia in order to present itself as new, innovative, and effective. It is anti-liberal as much as it is anti-conservative, as it believes the traditional political spectrum to be anachronistic.
In the United States, fascism will first present itself as moderate, competent. and pragmatic.
Though dishonest, it mirrors the society in which it lives.
If fascism came to the United States in 2000, it would have undoubtably incorporated religion into itself. Yet, 2018’s fascists lack a consistent religious thrust. The “alt right” has extreme homophobic elements, but it also has gay elements. It has religious and anti-religious elements.
Fascism cares so little about traditional morality that it will either support or destroy a society’s cherished positions, depending on which confers more benefit: the safe adherence to a widely held belief, or the perceived (and false) courage of blind iconoclasm.
When playing from behind, fascists test the waters with a variety of approaches, discarding the failed ones (and the people associated with them) and doubling down on the ones that work– much like Silicon Valley’s venture capital business model, and much like Donald Trump’s belittling (but effective) nicknames for its opponents.
It will make itself seem inevitable.
Corporate employment used to be different. If you followed the rules and did some nonzero amount of work, you’d get promoted. The main thing to fight over was how fast it happened. This explains the era in which people bought first homes at 24 and retired at 49. Performance reviews were a formality in which people were rated “Excellent” and got 5 percent raises, or “Outstanding” and got 10 percent raises, and five years of merely “Excellent” was a sign that you might want to consider a less demanding firm for your next leadership role. It isn’t like that anymore.
On what date did the corporate world change into the surveillance-obsessed hellhole it is today? May 4, 1992? November 17, 1995? No one can say. It was gradual, taking place over decades, and no one noticed because each incremental change seemed inevitable. It has been said, over and over, that corporations are legally responsible to maximize the short-term value captured by shareholders and that all the corporate excesses and crimes follow from this legal mandate. It isn’t true, but it makes the dismantling of what decency once existed in capitalism seem as if it could not have been prevented, because no other options existed.
When it’s playing from behind, fascism doesn’t draw attention to itself. It does its first bit of work under the pretense that there are no other options, and its boldest moves unfurl so slowly (and after so much damage has been done) that they cannot be debated. Fascism moves slow or quick– never at the moderate speed that might enable discussion.
Italian Fascism never did get the trains to run on time, but banning people from calling late trains “late” made the country’s evolution seem efficient, inevitable, and expressive of the nation’s power.
Destruction of the Feminine
This one’s tricky. It’s not limited to fascist societies, and it deserves its own essay.
Is fascism doomed to sexism? It’s hard to say. It’s impractical for any society to hate women, yet most fascist societies mistreat them. Fascism has no hatred for what is female, yet it seeks to obliterate what it perceives as feminine.
To note the distinction (and why these calls are so hard to make) consider that cats are no more female than dogs– sex ratios are about even in both animal– and yet cats are perceived as feminine (rebellious, avoidant, useless) and dogs are masculine (loyal, courageous, stoic). I don’t know whether innate traits of either species play into these characterizations, and I highly doubt that “masculine virtues” are correlated with gender in humans. In the real world, courageous, stoic women are too numerous to count. Within-gender variation is so much greater than the between-genders differences in real humans that notions of what is masculine and feminine, within a society, are nearly useless.
Yet, fascist societies seem to crush all they perceive as weak– what is vulnerable, cautious, artistic, spontaneous, or nurturing. (No attempt shall be made to characterize these virtues, though stereotypically feminine, as female in any way.) For a concrete example in most corporations, managers who value mentorship, employee development, and internal social justice are derided for doing “female work” or “womanaging”, whereas abusive “tough” managers are often promoted. Blood and iron, profits and loss; only those matter. Everything else is an object, either to be cast away and discarded, or made into a weapon.
Fascism does not destroy all that is female, of course. It needs women to cast aside their “useless” femininity and become production workers: soldier factories on two legs.
The Destruction of the Feminine is not a women-only issue. Innately, men and women aren’t very different. We overlap far more than we diverge. I doubt that humans have significant innate psychological dimorphism at all; I suspect that our species’s race to become smart and versatile (e.g. large heads, opposable thumbs) forced it to put useful code in both men and women. In any case, a typical man might be 53% masculine and 47% feminine; a typical woman might be the other way around. Toxic (hyper-)masculinity and fascism destroy the man’s feminine part with the same disgust and militancy that it destroys the woman’s femininity.
It will isolate, before it acts.
Difficult circumstances can bring people together, or they can separate, isolate, and exclude people. People react to adversity in a variety of different ways, some more noble than others. Fascism manipulates circumstances so that positive and negative trends benefit its own power and divides the people. A boon proves the people’s strength and validates the leader. A failure or calamity needs an individual scapegoat. “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.”
No matter how improbable the connection of fault, the worst events are always the results of manufactured saboteurs. The communists, the un-Googley, one or another ethnic minority, did it. Fascist leadership’s purported infallibility requires the continuing selection and isolation of perceived enemies.
This achieves two things for the fascist. For one thing, an outnumbered adversary (and, worth note, an adversary chosen in part because it is outnumbered) can easily be defeated. Secondly, by isolating and then destroying a targeted set of people, the fascist society shows its strength. People do not fear death or injury, which cannot in the long run be avoided, one-tenth as much as they fear social rejection and abandonment.
This hasn’t been an easy essay to write. The topic is depressing.
I end with good news: there’s a decent chance that fascism doesn’t get much further in the United States. I am not saying, “Fascism is here and it will soon take us over”; but if I were, I’d hope to be wrong. No one can predict the future, and I will not claim exceptionality. We can learn from the past and assess the present. We can choose the best actions as we struggle in time and place. We don’t get to know what will actually happen until it happens.
The bad news is: fascism might also win.
How likely is it that our nation’s Fourth Turning involves a fascist takeover of the U.S. government, leading to domestic barbarity and foreign aggression, as we saw in the European 1940s? I’d put it between 5 and 15 percent. Those are higher numbers than I’d like to see, but below 50 percent. I think we’ll step back from this cliff. But in November 2015, I gave Trump a 1-in-250 chance of becoming President (1-in-10 primary; 1-in-25 general) when most people had him at zero.
Fascism is a funnel: if the adversary wins, options and liberties close. In that case, the best time to fight is now, when we have the most choices. If the adversary begins losing, nothing is lost by joining the battle before dawn. Either way, it is better to fight fascists now than to wait. When civilization and humanity come under threat, little else matters. Making “Executive Vice President” can be deferred for a few years.
I do not hold a simple political ideology. In the United States, I’m a liberal if not an outright leftist. If I lived in Sweden, I’d be considered conservative. I would rather fix capitalism than scrap it, and I am hawkish in my aversion to complexity and unintended consequences. I find value in ideas from both the traditional left and right. I am, however, aggressively and unapologetically antifascist.
The fight is important.
People have asked me, in the wake of the Google-related events describe above, if I think Google is a fascist company. Of course, no. I don’t think that Google is any worse (or any better) than any other large technology company. The boldest thing I will say is that there are fascists, and many more of them than we think. It was not Google but fascists at Google who attempted to damage my reputation because I issued mild criticism of the company. It was not Google but fascists not at Google, in other firms, who attempted to blacklist me because I had “bad mouthed” a company in a dispute that did not concern them. The enemy is not one company. It isn’t even capitalism. It’s not the political right or left. It is fascism, plain and simple, and we must destroy it.
This is a privileged moment. We know where the next attack will come from. We know a few things about the adversary and what methods they are likely to use. My experience tells us what techniques they’re likely to use in their quest to discredit their adversaries. Five years ago, the nature of the Fourth Turning enemy was still anyone’s guess. On the other hand, we can still avert disaster. We can still take our country back from plutocrats, bullying psychopaths, and fascists. Five years hence, will that still be an option?
We do not ask that; we do not answer it; we fight, now.