In 1995, Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books on fascism.1 As part of the article, Eco listed 14 features of what he called Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. He began the list with this caveat:
These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
Here’s an abbreviated version of Eco’s list:
1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
8. The humiliation by the wealth and force of their enemies. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
I found this list via Paul Bausch, Blogger co-inventor and long-time MetaFilter developer, who writes:
You know, we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.
It difficult to look at Eco’s list and not see parallels between it and the incoming Trump administration.2 We must resist. Disagree. Be modern. Improve knowledge. Welcome outsiders. Protect the weak. Reject xenophobia. Welcome difference. At the end of his piece, Eco quotes Franklin Roosevelt saying during a radio address on the “need for continuous liberal government”:
I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.
And Eco himself adds: “Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”
One of the more thought-provoking pieces on Instagram’s billion dollar sale to Facebook is Matt Webb’s Instagram as an island economy. In it, he thinks about Instagram as a closed economy:
What is the labour encoded in Instagram? It’s easy to see. Every “user” of Instagram is a worker. There are some people who produce photos — this is valuable, it means there is something for people to look it. There are some people who only produce comments or “likes,” the virtual society equivalent of apes picking lice off other apes. This is valuable, because people like recognition and are more likely to produce photos. All workers are also marketers — some highly effective and some not at all. And there’s a general intellect which has been developed, a kind of community expertise and teaching of this expertise to produce photographs which are good at producing the valuable, attractive likes and comments (i.e., photographs which are especially pretty and provocative), and a somewhat competitive culture to become a better marketer.
There are also the workers who build the factory — the behaviour-structuring instrument/forum which is Instagram itself, both its infrastructure and it’s “interface:” the production lines on the factory floor, and the factory store. However these workers are only playing a role. Really they are owners.
All of those workers (the factory workers) receive a wage. They have not organised, so the wage is low, but it’s there. It’s invisible.
Like all good producers, the workers are also consumers. They immediately spend their entire wage, and their wages is only good in Instagram-town. What they buy is the likes and comments of the photos they produce (what? You think it’s free? Of course it’s not free, it feels good so you have to pay for it. And you did, by being a producer), and access to the public spaces of Instagram-town to communicate with other consumers. It’s not the first time that factory workers have been housed in factory homes and spent their money in factory stores.
Although he doesn’t use the term explictly, Webb is talking about a company town. Interestingly, Paul Bausch used this term in reference to Facebook a few weeks ago in a discussion about blogging:
The whole idea of [blog] comments is based on the assumption that most people reading won’t have their own platform to respond with. So you need to provide some temporary shanty town for these folks to take up residence for a day or two. And then if you’re like Matt — hanging out in dozens of shanty towns — you need some sort of communication mechanism to tie them together. That sucks.
So what’s an alternative? Facebook is sort of the alternative right now: company town.
Back to Webb, he says that making actual money with Instagram will be easy:
I will say that it’s simple to make money out of Instagram. People are already producing and consuming, so it’s a small step to introduce the dollar into this.
I’m not so sure about this…it’s too easy for people to pick up and move out of Instagram-town for other virtual towns, thereby creating a ghost town and a massively devalued economy. After all, the same real-world economic forces that allowed a dozen people to build a billion dollar service in two years means a dozen other people can build someplace other than Instagram for people to hang out in, spending their virtual Other-town dollars.
Also worth a read on Facebook/Instagram: Paul Ford’s piece for New York Magazine.
Facebook, a company with a potential market cap worth five or six moon landings, is spending one of its many billions of dollars to buy Instagram, a tiny company dedicated to helping Thai beauty queens share photos of their fingernails. Many people have critical opinions on this subject, ranging from “this will ruin Instagram” to “$1 billion is too much.” And for many Instagram users it’s discomfiting to see a giant company they distrust purchase a tiny company they adore - like if Coldplay acquired Dirty Projectors, or a Gang of Four reunion was sponsored by Foxconn.
So what’s going on here?
Paul notes that a lot of people and organizations are vowing to do things in the news these days. Here’s a current sampling from Google News:
Uganda: Museveni vows to fight corruption
Family vows to fight futile-care law
Blair vows smooth handover
Dumars vows to keep top defender Wallace in fold
Bush vows to boost efforts to end Darfur killings
Ontario vows full-time work for all nursing graduates
China Vows to Close Unsafe Coal Mines
Magician Vows to Complete Aquarium Stunt
Sutherland vows to keep making 24
Vodafone Vows to Slash Roaming Charges By 40%
China’s Pearl River Smells, but Mayor Vows to Swim
People are doing a lot of urging in the news too:
Prescott urges Labour to avoid “war”
China urges to repatriate “Eastern Turkistan” terrorist suspects
Brussels urges 2007 declaration to break EU constitution deadlock
Report urges support for parents with learning difficulties
Bush urges larger UN role in Darfur
Roche Urges Care Against Online Counterfeit Tamiflu
Day urges Canadians to stock up for crisis
Leave it to President Bush to both vow and urge in the same headline: “Bush urges UN role in peacekeeping and vows to expedite aid”.
Update: Nathaniel asks, where’s the slamming? Here it is:
Comptroller report slams health system, police and NII
Traffic chief slams taxi fare bungle
Bangla author slams Dhaka
Cardinal Slams ‘Da Vinci’ ‘Disrespect’
Navratilova slams Czech Pres. as anti-gay
UN slams attack on aid worker
Update: Matthew sends in word of “smacks” in the news:
Holliday smacks two homers to lead Rockies over St. Louis
SCOTUS smacks down anti-choicers
Warren Smacks Broadway
Venice smacks Seminole in region opener
Another Zero-Day Bug Smacks IE
Let’s be clear: Bypassing Bush smacks of stupidity
Cox’s recent Wal-Mart battle smacks of political posturing
Fish Jumps in Boat, Smacks Woman’s Face
And Chris offers “blasts” news:
Cameron blasts ‘sexy’ children’s clothes stores
Iran’s Leader Blasts US, Calls Democracy a Failure
Trade Group Blasts Massachusetts Call For Office Plug-In
McInally blasts new SFL play-offs
Dean McDermott’s Ex-Wife Blasts Him & Tori
Sheehan blasts war, Bush at Town Hall
Environmentalist blasts bug spray
Awaiting the invitable “vows urges blasts slams smacks” headline…
Paul tries to figure out why people review products at Amazon that have already been reviewed by several people. “What motivates someone to submit the 1,282nd review of The Poisonwood Bible to Amazon.com?”