(Please welcome Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot — jh)
Naomi Wolf is a familiar name to FDL readers due to the many posts she’s written for us, including some superb work on Blackwater. Her new work, which chronicles what happens to societies that pursue many of the same dangerous trends which we are doing right now, draws many apt analogies with totalitarian regimes whose anti-Democratic agendas the Bush administration is obviously in sympathy with.
It’s well-mined territory in both blogs and books at the moment for obvious reasons. And a lot of people are making the argument that the comparisons to Hitler and Stalin are overblown, largely because their own lives feel quite normal despite what they’re hearing on the news.
I thought this was one of the most interesting points that Naomi addressed:
At first, Nazi Germany would not have looked, on the surface, so unrecognizable to us: Germans still, for a time, saw an independent judiciary; lawyers — even human rights lawyers; working journalists — even political satirists; criticism of Nazis in cabarets and theatre; and professors still teaching critical thinking. There were hundreds of newspapers of all political colors; there were feminist organizations, ab ortion rights activists, sex education institutes, even gay rights organizations. These kinds of civil society organizations would become “co-ordinated” with Nazi ideology, or simply disemboweled – but as the shift was first taking place things looked in many ways, superficially, like an open modern society.
This is one of the reasons we get so indignant when well-funded advocacy groups like NARAL or the HRC start seeing their interests as aligned with the DC establishment when it comes into conflict with actually defending the causes they purport to espouse — it’s a very bad sign for a lot of reasons.
But there seems to be a general assumption that at a certain point, if things get really bad people will just openly revolt. That something will trigger certain instincts within a democratic society, and the populace at large will start to push back. But as one outrage after after another simply becomes acceptable, you have to wonder — when does this impulse kick in?
Consider the torture curve:
The Abu Ghraib photos emerged in April 2004. Americans were appalled. But in less than three years Americans went from being horrified by these photos to being accustomed enough o detainee abuse to let Congress pass the 2006 [Military Commissions Act] law. In less than three years, the White House went from rhetorically disavowing the use of torture to being confident enough openly to advance legislation to permit many cruel practices.
Naomi explains this acquiescence in terms of “mission creep,” where laws and tactics that abridge civil liberties are adopted to protect us from an “other” who suddenly becomes one’s self:
Early on this “mission creep” is seldom evident. There is a strong, if unconscious, psychological denial among citizens at this stage. Because there is now a two-caste system, and because most people are in the protected caste, a kind of magical thinking makes many people feel more secure as they witness “others” being sent into brutal detention. This is the regressive seduction of fascism — a “Daddy wouldn’t harm me” kind of thinking, a sense of privilege as Daddy’s state-sanctioned ire and even violence are directed at others outside the circle of safety. Then, if they are working in a democracy, leaders seeking a fascist shift acclimate citizens to an ever-lowered bar for the acceptance of stage torture. (The Fox TV show 24 depicts torture as entertainment. The producers recently noted that torture is no longer shocking, let alone news.)
But even though Americans seem to be unhappy with their government and don’t like what the Cheney administration is doing (nor do they like the Democrats who have failed in their 2006 mandate to stop them), Naomi argues (and I think rightly) that they are largely tone deaf to the potential danger:
Americans don’t get this at all, but other countries who have experienced dictatorships either near them or over them do get it: Journalists in Brazil and Argentina know what the difference is between publishing the same newspaper while looking over one’s shoulder. The fact that we are unaware that a dictatorship can be incremental leaves us terribly vulnerable right now.
Please welcome Naomi Wolf in the comments.