Monday, February 04, 2013


When the Europeans discovered that the world was much larger than they had supposed, and having gained the deadly power of guns and cannonry, they chose to divide up the rest of the world as if it were a piece of pie. They murdered native people, stole the wealth and natural resources of these foreign lands, and enslaved millions to do the labor of extracting all the riches they could for themselves.

Did their morality make them hesitate? Did their religion give them second thoughts? The answer is, of course, no. And by this fact you can judge the importance of the values and civilization of “the West” when it came down to the most basic choices between good and evil, help and harm. Greed and narrow self-interest proved to be the real principles of civilization, and the contempt for people different than themselves trumped all ethics, all philosophy, all devotion to God in any form. In fact, these things were employed in the service of oppression. Religious convictions and high-minded rhetoric dressed the realities of murder and theft in the language of love and beneficent action for the good of mankind.

Eventually colonialism collapsed, and imperialism took more subtle forms. Now, looking at the chaos, poverty, and destruction in the “developing” world, the “enlightened” men of the West furrow their brows and wonder why. Here’s why. We are still suffering from a world hangover, the effects of the mean and short-sighted decisions of our ancestors. The same forces rule over us with a different name. Now they are the multinational corporations, but their goal is the same, to plunder every bit of wealth they can from this earth, and to hell with the masses.

The enemy is self-centered greed and its monumental power. It doesn’t matter that it happened to be Europe that did this. Anyone can catch this disease. The question is, what is the cure? All we know is that it is both spiritual—freedom from this principle of blind oppression—and political—organized resistance to this system of inhumanity which plagues us still.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


I've talked to many on the left who won't vote for Obama, some who won't vote at all. A great deal of this is due to the continued waging of imperialistic warfare in the Middle East. These folks are so enraged that they can't bring themselves to vote for Obama. I get that. I really get that. When it comes to foreign policy, we are a long way away from electing a President or a Congress that is not imperialist. And this election won't change that. There's also the argument that elections are a public spectacle that drain energy from potential grass roots action and resistance. I have to plead guilty to participating in the spectacle. My twitter feed has been largely taken up with satiric jabs at the Republican nominees. However, I don't find this argument very convincing. The apathy of the public towards political engagement is a larger systemic issue that may not change unless conditions starts affecting relatively well-off Americans more directly. I won't spend a lot of time making my case for voting for Obama. It's rather late in the game for that. But I would like to call your attention to these statements by Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky. Neither of these men are fans of Mr. Obama. Chomsky is about as anti-imperialist as you can be. Ellsberg has been tirelessly fighting against the persecution of Bradley Manning, and outspoken against Obama's foreign policy, and particularly the administration's anti-whistleblower actions, which are disgraceful. So why are they telling voters in swing states that they should vote for Obama? Simple. They understand the reality of practical politics today. The Republicans represent a much worse alternative, one that is significant enough to cause a great deal of suffering if they gain more power. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

I Got Nothin'

My creative energy seems to be inspired only by the short form (Twitter) or the book I'm writing. In the meantime, for those few who care, I apologize for the dormant nature of this blog.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Crime of Silence

It’s been a month since the attempted assassination of my Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson. Six people were murdered in the massacre, including a nine-year-old girl, and twelve others were wounded.

I have felt the desire to write at length about this many times in the past month, but the pain, sorrow, and anger made it impossible. I was actually surprised by how deeply it affected me. Giffords is a centrist Democrat, not even very liberal by my standards, and I’ve been critical of her in the past. Nevertheless, I voted for her last November. Her opponent was a “tea party” fanatic, a loud-mouth nobody, representing the ugliest and most reactionary aspects of Arizona politics. She barely squeaked by to a victory, which in itself is a cause for disgust if not despair. In any case, she is my representative in Washington, and by all accounts a very nice person. Somebody saw fit to shoot her in the head, and it felt like a ripping apart of the veneer of civilization in Tucson. If someone this moderate is at risk, then we are a lot closer to fascism than I thought.

Of course the rightists have spent a lot of time protesting that they had nothing to do with this. The shooter at least appears to be nuttier than a fruitcake, and in any case there is rarely a provable, direct cause and effect link from rhetoric to crime in cases like this. Even in incidents where a shooter was clearly influenced by right-wing rhetoric, such as with the guy who killed two people at a church in Tennessee in 2008, the rightists always deny any responsibility. After all, they say, who can tell what will set off a crazy person?

The crime is really an occasion to question the entire thrust of right-wing rhetoric, and to decry its effect on the atmosphere. Because, you see, a constant barrage of high-decibel lying and hate talk does have an effect on the atmosphere of public discourse. Fox News, for instance, works 24 hours a day spreading lies and fomenting anger and hatred about a multitude of mostly phony issues that they dream up for just that purpose. AM talk radio features one bellicose demagogue after another, always doing one thing—attacking liberals as dangerous enemies of America.

The rightists would have you believe that this has no effect on the atmosphere of the country. If that were true, it’s hard to imagine why they do it. There is no discussion involved, no exchange of ideas, no openness of any kind. Slogans, talking points, and fabrications are simply lobbed out into the airwaves in order to dominate and distort gullible minds.

There is a long list of despicable human beings who make a living dividing us into warring camps. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, Tammy Bruce, Erick Erickson, Megyn Kelly, Bernard Goldberg, Dick Morris, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and quite a few others comprise this shameless bunch of liars. They are not patriots. Their aim is not to disagree, but to destroy. They have no morals, no standards, no credibility. Yes, the Constitution protects their right to free speech. I also have the right to not buy products from companies that pay for these unscrupulous hucksters. I have the right to let other people know who sponsors them, and to let the companies know what they’re paying for as well.

Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s all political. Rush Limbaugh would shoot you in the head himself if he knew he could get away with it. We saw what right-wing hatred could do in the 20th century when it had total power and was unrestrained by law. And that’s what these people represent. Through the power of their media, their fascist rhetoric irradiates the land. The mentally unstable are especially prone to seduction by the paranoid fantasies, the sociopathic projections of fear, the unthinking xenophobia, misogyny, and racism. So when some nut starts believing all this crap like it was the word of God, he snaps and ends up shooting people. And scum like Hannity or Beck shrug and say, “Who me? I didn’t do anything.”

But I reserve my greatest contempt for those who should know better, the media establishment figures outside of the Fox News-AM radio nexus, who turn a blind eye to the destruction of our sociopolitical life, buying into the lies and the talking points, helping to push the phony narrative. People like George Stephanopoulos, David Gregory, Diane Sawyer, Tom Brokaw, Chuck Todd, Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, Brian Williams, and all the mainstream pundits on TV and in the newspapers who think that this is normal, that this kind of thing is business as usual and to be expected, and who always frame every issue through the right-wing prism provided them by the extremists. They abandoned journalism and took on an “objectivity” that doesn’t exist, in which one side gets to lie with impunity without any consequences, and the tenets of reactionary Republican doctrine are never seriously questioned. These are the cowards that watched the third estate die, and yawned over their martinis.

When you don’t speak out against evil, you assent to it. You allow it. The most shameful appeasement of our time is the media’s surrender of responsibility, its groveling before the rightists and the imperial state. They are the hollow men, the hollow women, the empty husks from which nothing can be hoped for and nothing can be believed.

When people of decency marched in the millions against the invasion of Iraq, let the record show that the American press and media ignored them, and marginalized their views. And let the record show that when a bogus “movement” of white resentment, paid for by right-wing operatives, staged a display of thuggery calling itself a “tea party,” the same press and media rolled over like little dogs.

So to you reporters, pundits, anchors, experts, and analysts I say: I will no longer listen to you. You have failed, and the answers to our problems will not come from you, but only from those people of conscience left unseduced by your lies. You will keep talking on and on into the empty air, but your time is over.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Nobodaddy's Last Stand

William Blake, a Christian himself, albeit a highly unconventional one, called the jealous, judgmental, anthropomorphic god of Western tradition “Nobodaddy,” surely one of the cleverest verbal constructions ever made. He is Nobody, because he is silent and invisible, and Daddy because he lords it over us as the first father of patriarchy.

I have written elsewhere of God as a metaphor for the “self” or “subject” of the world, and how this poetic identity between existence and experience validates the inherent necessity of conscious life, especially in the face of death—or rather the human awareness of death, which created that struggle for meaning unique to our species.

But this understanding of the metaphorical nature of theism has become practically irrelevant in terms of the social and political problems posed by god-based organized religions. The relationship of the soul to a personal god or gods has a purely subjective value. The supposed relationship of a personal god to the social order, on the other hand, has consequences that have everything to do with the wielding of power and almost nothing to do anymore with personal experience.

Nietzsche was the most important critic of Christianity, and of theism in general, because he evaluated it in historical, cultural and political terms. The rationalists of the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, Hume, and Thomas Paine, criticized Christianity primarily in terms of logic, disproving the logical arguments for a god and exposing the logical absurdities of scripture and church doctrine. The present-day leaders of atheist or skeptical thought, such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, seem to follow mostly in their footsteps rather than Nietzsche’s, defending reason and science from the irrationalism of religion. They often display a lack of interest in the complex phenomena of religion and spirituality, and talk as if merely demonstrating the illogic of theistic arguments will change people’s minds about God. They seem to think that religion is a mere superstition like being afraid of the number thirteen, or not walking under ladders.

Nietzsche attacked the Judeo-Christian God as a metaphor for a social order that hated nature and life, and that posited a second “other” world by which human beings would be effectively controlled. This potent critique has often been misrepresented or ignored. I don’t think it’s complete, and my view of the spiritual impulses within Christianity is more favorable in many respects. The important thing is that Nietzsche criticized theism from the standpoint of what it sought to accomplish in terms of social, cultural, and political power, rather than as a merely abstract thesis to be logically refuted.

Nobodaddy has many faces; too many to enumerate here. One of the most important is the all-seeing eye. God sees everything—not only everything you do, but everything you think and feel. It’s like having your father looking over your shoulder, forever. A sort of double consciousness is developed in which the person not only experiences life, but imagines another being, usually a male authority figure, observing him while he experiences life. Fear of this being, who has the power to punish and reward in this life and after death, will supposedly motivate you to behave morally, i.e. however morally is defined in your religion.

It’s not as if some group of evil priests got together and decided to propagate this belief in order to control people. The belief is very ancient, and it helped human beings work together in larger groups. The social order, including the priesthood, was gradually formed in alignment with it. When human consciousness was narrowly focused on the collective, the belief in the all-seeing god wasn’t that much different from the general belief in social cohesion itself. But as the human ego gradually developed, with a broader self-awareness that included a heightened awareness of private thoughts and feelings, the sense of being watched by an all-seeing god became more problematic and ultimately more oppressive. The contradiction between self-motivation and motivation through fear of authority became more acute, and that contradiction continues to cause problems down to the present day.

For one thing, Nobodaddy as watcher failed to create a moral society, because at some level people could not believe that any being could possess omniscience, and because the moral values propagated were so various and arbitrary. It turned out that Nobodaddy was only against killing in certain cases, but in other cases it was sanctioned. His negative attitude towards sexual behavior, as well as many other natural functions, tended to be both cruel and self-destructive. In mythical terms, the interest of the creator of all things in the petty concerns of human interaction came to seem more and more ridiculous. The personality of God, if you will, displayed the fussy and obsessively narrow concerns of his human acolytes, in a way that belied his supposedly divine and cosmic nature. In short, God’s nature as a projection of human thoughts and desires becomes more evident over time, even if only subliminally.

Theism has often purported to provide meaning for events and circumstances by saying that there is a divine plan. Although the higher levels of religious thought had long questioned this simplistic notion—even many centuries before the Book of Job—it has stubbornly maintained its popularity. Here we are confronted with the famous “problem of evil,” the solution to which always involves a contradiction, if one assumes an all-powerful and benevolent personal Being. The “divine plan” line of thought was part and parcel of the historical God, Nobodaddy as the architect of history. The apostle Paul’s rhetorical contortions explaining why Gentiles could inherit the promise of the chosen people is a striking example of the lengths that religious people can go to in trying to make sense of historical events in terms of a plan. Unfortunately, anyone can play this game, interpreting history in terms of prophecy or vision, and of course, anyone does. The simple truth staring us in the face—that history is an abstraction that only offers conditional lessons, and that injustice does not represent a mysterious higher good—is too painful to admit, since it removes all possibility of a divine plan and knocks down the house of cards set up by religion to justify whatever the social order might be.

We are left with ourselves, which is no contradiction for a mystic, but is outright treason to organized theism. The duality of self and other has been reified by religion into the duality of the mortal human being (a sinner) and the Being who created him, rules over him, and requires submission to his laws, as spelled out in the scriptures and interpreted by the religious leaders and experts.

As the social order has become more repressive in the modern age, political structures have brushed aside all but the most strictly authoritarian forms of religion. In the 20th century, the Nazis, Stalinists, and Maoists relied on submission to authority without reference to any metaphysical entity, at least not overtly. The democracies give lip service to religious principles while demonstrating their true allegiance, which is to capitalism and imperialism. Fundamentalist versions of Islam and Judaism gain greater influence in the Middle East, while the more liberal factions and sects are made ineffectual and irrelevant. Fundamentalist Christianity is encouraged by the American ruling class, and continues to struggle for dominance of the American sociocultural landscape through its political influence. Where are the liberal forms of Christianity in the current American political discourse? They are marginalized, partly because of their own integrity in refusing to breach the church-state wall of separation.

Fundamentalism is the doctrine of Nobodaddy stripped of almost all efforts towards the development of subjective spiritual experience. The fundamentalist is allowed to feel righteous and superior without any of the work involved in self-questioning or self-improving. Only adherence to the authoritarian rule book is required. The true expression of fundamentalism is not a relationship to God, but an antagonistic relationship to those outside of the fundamentalist group. The fundamentalist Nobodaddy spends all his time judging and condemning those who are different from the idealized standard of the core group, and he fumes and obsesses over those who, like homosexuals, deviate from the norm.

It is in this context that we must view controversies between theism and atheism, or religion and science. God has developed primarily into a tool of destruction. It is now simply a flag or banner for patriarchal domination. The atheist argument, then, is an argument against the principle of domination and its attendant violence and repression. The religious people of the world need to wake up and acknowledge that the authoritarian metaphors have failed and are invalid. God as king, God as punishing authority, must be repudiated. Meanwhile, Nobodaddy makes his last stand on the ramparts of fundamentalist hatred. The alternative, whether personalized or not, is a spirituality and ethos of non-violence and love.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Hasn't Been Tried

For the last two years, many of us who sincerely wanted Barack Obama to succeed have repeatedly called for the administration and the Democratic leadership to concentrate on rallying their liberal base. It is our belief that elections are won by getting your base to vote, not by taking it for granted and going after that elusive sliver of the electorate misleadingly referred to as “independents.”

In the run-up to the midterms, liberals tried to get the base to the polls by pointing out, quite correctly, what a disaster the Republicans represent for the future of our country. I believe that most of the liberal voters who are well-informed about what is going on in Washington realize the importance of voting. What many such liberals don’t understand is that a large percentage of the base are not particularly well-informed, and need to be rallied and courted in terms of their beliefs and interests in order to be persuaded to vote, especially in a non-Presidential race.

Obama and the Democratic leadership still cling to the Clinton-era strategy of aiming towards a supposed “center’ in order to win “moderates” and “independents” away from the Republicans. They conveniently forget that this strategy lost the Congress in 1994, made the 2000 election so close that it could be stolen, and continued to fail until the implosion of the Bush administration made the resurgence of 2006 possible, followed by Obama’s win in 2008.

Hillary Clinton ran a predictable hawkish, centrist, corporate-friendly campaign in 2008. Obama defeated her by running to her left. The fact that Obama was black was a volatile wild-card element in the primaries, and I think it made the latter stages closer than they might otherwise have been. Such is the sad truth about our country, which has been reinforced a thousandfold by the behavior of the Republicans since Obama’s victory.

Obama was never much more liberal than Clinton. But liberal voters propelled him to the White House. Once he was in there, to the dismay of those of us who are well-informed on these matters, he appointed centrists and Clintonites to almost all his major posts. He kept Bush’s defense secretary, and he even tried to appoint a right-wing Republican as his Commerce Secretary.

The President’s apparent conviction that he could work with Republicans proved false, as is now evident. I find it amazing that he didn't already know this. Eight years of Bush clearly showed the country that the Republicans were all about ruling absolutely, without compromise, and throwing red meat to their base. The Presidential campaign itself was a disgraceful display of racist code words and fear mongering, with Fox News leading the way in branding Obama a radical leftist, secret Muslim, black nationalist, and terrorist sympathizer. The empty suit McCain followed the script, and lost convincingly.

In the last two years, as the Democrats saw themselves losing the PR game to the 24-hour onslaught of Fox and its Republican parrots, the Obama team expressed frustration with the “left.” It seems that the left could never be satisfied, that they were ruining it for the Democrats, looking for perfection instead of progress, and so forth. Significantly, no one on Obama’s team would address substantive criticisms from the left concerning its war and anti-terror policies, which did not reverse the illegal actions of the Bush administration, but continued them and even reinforced them.

In any case, the “left” that the Obama administration complained about was a small group of columnists and bloggers who dared to think independently, and whose influence compared to the right wing noise machine was ludicrously overestimated. But in practice, what Obama did was exactly what Bill Clinton had done earlier—take his base for granted instead of wooing them. After all, the reasoning goes, where else do they have to go? This is, sad to say, very true, but what they don’t take into account is that the base becomes apathetic when its interests are taken for granted. Sure, it’s dumb and self-defeating for the base not to vote—nevertheless this is political reality. If you don’t stir up your base, it will become apathetic and you will lose.

The die-hard Clintonite centrists would of course dispute this point. And admittedly, there isn’t enough solid evidence to prove what I’m saying to be sound political advice. Why? Because it’s never really been tried. Not in the last forty years, at least. “Liberal” became a bad word, and the substance of liberalism was whittled away to nothing. The story of the push-over Democrat, the weak, wimpy, indecisive, cave-in Democrat, was tailored by the Reaganites, and then the Democrats tried the suit on themselves, and it fit.

Obama seems to be taking exactly the wrong lesson from the midterms. Rather than recognize the failure to rally his own base, he seems to believe that the voters are more conservative than he thought, and that he now has to kowtow to the right wing. It’s a spectacle profoundly depressing to witness.

To understand why the Democrats pursue their failed strategy over and over, instead of trying to be a liberal party as they must do in order to win, is not as difficult as it may seem. The simple truth is that they’re afraid of the corporate elites who wield such enormous power in this country. Most of them are tied to corporate money, and would never have been elected in the first place without those millions of dollars flowing into their campaigns. Most of the rich are conservative. It doesn’t matter that they are much more conservative than the majority of voters—their money and power offsets that fact. So the Democrats try to walk a tightrope between their need to appeal to an essentially liberal base and their need for corporate backing. The result is the appearance of constant gutlessness and waffling. The Republicans have no such conflict. The beliefs of their conservative base coincide for the most part with the demands of the corporate elites. So they don’t need to compromise or practice bipartisanship, and they don’t.

On a purely strategic level, the Clintonite strategy is a loser. When a party makes massive political gains as the Democrats did in 2008, they don’t evaporate in a mere two years unless the strategy is fatally flawed. The Democrats can’t rely on the awfulness of the Republicans to keep winning. Once the Democrats are in power, the Republicans can just blame everything on them, and the voters will fall for it. Why? Once again, because the liberal base is being taken for granted, ignored, discounted, and minimized. The Democrats don’t do this because they’re stupid, but because their alliance with the corporate elites makes it almost impossible to stand firmly and equivocally with their liberal base.

The true challenge facing the Democratic Party, then, is quite sobering. In order to win and keep winning, the Democrats will have to defy their corporate backers. They will have to campaign against corporate rule in all its aspects—Wall Street, the banking system, the military industrial complex, and the right-wing corporate noise machine. They will have to do this quite explicitly and without compromise. It might mean going “into the wilderness” as the conservatives did after being slaughtered in 1964, reemerging with a winning strategy in 1980. The alternative is to keep losing.

It seems highly unlikely that this will happen. It’s more likely that the Democrats will continue to try to play their wishy-washy centrist game. Which leaves the liberal base with a stark choice: form their own party, or actively work within the Democratic Party at every level from the grassroots on up to transform it into a truly liberal party. Both are very difficult challenges. But the only other choice, as I see it, is to be crushed by the right.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Springtime for Hitler

Hitler has made a comeback. Maybe you’ve noticed. The execrable tea baggers have made a habit of equating Obama with Hitler and the Holocaust. Their deranged pied piper Glenn Beck has indulged in this inflammatory rhetoric repeatedly, and more than a few Republican politicians have played the Nazi card as well. On the other side, anti-Bush protesters were not always above the occasional Bush = Hitler sign, and Naomi Wolf was only one of the more popular figures on the left warning against the coming of fascism, and using parallels with Germany to make their points. Dick Durbin compared torture at Gitmo to similar practices by the Nazis and others, which I thought was fair, but being a liberal Democrat he was forced to apologize soon after. You won’t hear Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann apologizing for their loose metaphors. Not in this lifetime.

The standard objection to all this is that it trivializes Hitler, Nazis, the Holocaust, World War II, and all the people who died during that terrible time. It’s a valid objection. Making such glib comparisons exposes you as an ignoramus, or at best a dilettante of history. It also arouses violent emotions without illuminating present issues and conditions. In most instances, it’s simply a way for a demagogue to manipulate a mob, and that is never a good thing.

However, I think it is important to examine why Hitler and the Nazis are such emotionally charged subjects, and why they would gain currency as rhetorical weapons at this point in our history.

In politics, historical events are always in danger of being turned into abstractions. Ideologues are adept at viewing human beings as objects of an impersonal process, but the rest of us are not immune from this distancing effect. History can become a series of markers or cues triggering a limited set of images and responses. Think “Holocaust” and you might picture a pile of dead bodies, or photos of emaciated prisoners in striped uniforms. Without connecting to the reality of historical events, we end up regarding them as symbols.

Yet the reality still affects us at a level well beneath our conscious mental strategies. One description of this reality as it affects us, for instance, might be that in living memory, in a modern world of cars and airplanes and movies, in a supposedly civilized world, a government of a modern country rounded people up by the millions and methodically slaughtered them like animals. The Holocaust taught us that a movement, gaining power as a state, could commit crimes of greater savagery and extent than was thought possible. Since then, of course, we have learned of mass murder in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and elsewhere, but the Nazis were our first awakening to the horror of what totalitarianism can do.

A common denial mechanism has been to focus on Germany as a special case, as if there were something peculiar to that country that made it capable of such enormous crimes. There were of course social and cultural factors special to Germany that have to be taken into account, but there were enthusiastic Nazis in other countries, including France and England, and even a few in the United States. In any case, an authoritarian ideology won’t necessarily look exactly like Nazism in a different country, but it might have very similar effects. Many Americans seem to think that there’s something magical about being American that will prevent us from succumbing to a dictatorship. This is pure childishness.

This terrible historical event, then, this trauma that occurred a mere sixty to seventy years ago, has cast a shadow over us ever since. To read about what happened to the victims of Nazism is to try to imagine, however inadequately, what it would feel like to have your own loved ones, your own family, and the very world you grew up in, be at the mercy of an overpowering and merciless evil. It happened to them. The fear, perhaps unspoken, is: could it happen to us?

The Cold War did little to allay such fears, but at least they were generally projected onto the other, the enemy. But after the Cold War, the United States has been the one preeminent military power. Since the invention of nuclear weapons, the state has means of destruction at its disposal that Hitler could only dream of. What, then, if a similar evil came to power in America? What could the world do to stop it?

The ever-increasing police powers of the modern state raise justifiable fears as well. Governments continue to push for more surveillance, wider abilities to tap into communications, more cameras, less privacy. After the September 11 attacks, the White House used the threat of terrorism in order to gain untrammeled powers for the executive, including imprisonment without trial, kidnapping, torture, and assassination. Antiwar and other protest movements saw themselves identified with terrorism so that the government could shut them down. The militarization of police forces is another ominous sign of authoritarian ideology suppressing dissent and other civil liberties.

Hitler comparisons are coming out into the open because of fear. As we see with the Tea Party, fear is easily exploited by reactionary political figures for their own ends. But as irrational as much of the fear that is expressed publicly can be, it has roots in reality. People feel insecure and powerless in the face of huge economic, political, and military interests that obviously have much more control of what happens than they do. And since the Nazis showed us that we cannot trust in a supposed inherent goodness of human nature to prevent the worst and most unimaginable crimes from occurring, they end up representing our insecurity and fear and powerlessness today.

“Godwin’s Law” is a humorous acknowledgment of an inevitable cliché: Nazism will be used to characterize something we don’t agree with. But the experience of Hitler, the Holocaust, and the war are still so central to the political dilemmas of modern history that we can’t simply rule it out of order. It is necessary to learn what we can from the history of the Nazis. We can make comparisons and contrasts between the actual political conditions of pre-war Europe and today. From this we can draw general conclusions about authoritarian ideology, racism, the mass psychology of crowds, the use of scapegoating as a political tool, militarism, the dangers of executive power, and many other things. These philosophical insights, and not superficial comparisons using imagery and symbolism, can help us avoid falling into barbarism again.