Fashionable Fascism

So, it started with this video.

Video: The fascist philosopher behind Vladimir Putin’s information warfare — Tim Snyder

I’d never heard of Ivan Ilyin, so the entirety of my knowledge derives from whatever Tim Snyder conveys in this clip. The risk is that he may misrepresent Ilyin’s message, much like Stephen Hicks misrepresents Postmodernism in his work. So, if you’ve got a deeper understanding of Ilyin, apologies in advance, but I am only reacting to this clip without much intention of reading his published work not performing additional second-hand research. Sue me.

Snyder raises three ‘important ideas’ from Ilyin:

/1/ Social advancement is impossible

Each person is like a cell in a body, each having it’s defined function or purpose. So, freedom means knowing one’s place, which function to perform.

/2/ Democracy is a ritual

People vote, but they only vote to affirm their collective support for a leader. The leader is not legitimated or chosen by votes. Voting is just a ritual by which people people endorse a leader every few years.

/3/ The factual world doesn’t count

The manifest world is not real. It’s a mishmash of facts, which have no intrinsic value, but these facts cannot be unified into some larger whole.

Nothing is real, or what is real isn’t important. The only things that really matter are preferences and biases.

Through this, Ilyin surmises that the only true thing is Russian Nationalism and its role as saviour to bring order back to the world.

Of course, this conclusion is precisely the one to which the US arrived except that its American Nationalism is the correct version.

. . .

As to points 1 and 2, I can’t disagree with the base statements. Social advancement is impossible because we’ve got nothing to measure it against. As I’ve said before, we move recognise change and a sense of movement, but movement is not progress.

As I’ve already admitted, I don’t enough about Ilyid, so I am taking Snyder’s statement at face-value, but it does not follow that because social advancement is impossible, we need to adopt some deontological position that freedom means knowing one’s place. It’s a bit of a forced non sequitur.

Democracy is a ritual. It’s a failed experiment, and the only thing that remains is the shell of an empty promise. I do think that the voting serves to legitimise the representative figurehead. There are persons who debate the legitimacy of, say, Bush-43 or Trump-45—or perhaps just their competencies—but this is a twenty-first century phenomenon, as US politics have become more and more divisive.

That the factual world doesn’t count is difficult for me to buy into. In many ways, it is easy enough to manipulate people with non-facts masquerading as facts, but I am not convinced that this contingent is large enough to gain critical mass in the long run. I understand history well enough that these anti-fact forces have run roughshod over entire civilisations, whether the Inquisitions or witch-burning or current religious organisations and other snake oil hawkers.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Like the characters in Orwell’s 1984 or Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there is still resistance. I’m not even trying to make the claim that my vision of a world absent of superstition is the true world or the right vision. I am only claiming that my vision of a world without it is more pleasant to me.

But, then again, that just confirm’s Ilyid’s point that the only thing that matters is preference, and there is no separating bias from preference.

What Still Remains

I haven’t done any film reviews, and I’m not about to start now. I’ve just watched What Still Remains on Netflix.

People become their own kind of monster.

What Still Remains Film Trailer

This is decent post-apocalyptic fare, some catalyst, societies, competing factions, good versus evil, at least in the eyes of the devout. But that’s not what I am going to be writing about.

What still remains contains good writing and strong character development. It does over-employ tropes, but this seems to be the norm these days: modular writing; rearranging the Lego pieces to make something that appears fresh. So what do I have to say?

Spoiler Alert: Proceed with caution…

This is a perfect depiction of the problems with property rights and social contract theory. There are apparently 3 factions—4 if you count independents.

Anna

Initially, there were the Changed, never seen on screen and perhaps not even contemporaneous to the current period, though they may reside in the unseen cities. Anna, the protagonist, and her family are among the independent. Peter, a preacher from the ordained, holier than thou faction. In the realm of ‘if you’re not with me (and our God), you’re against me, thence evil’, they are the arbiters of all that is good. And then there are the Berserkers, as named by the Ordained. To the Ordained, Berserkers aspire to be Changed, but the Berserkers view themselves more along the line of Spartans: Pain is good.

Peter

All scenes are shot in the wilderness, but the various factions have staked property claims with wide perimeters. The penalty for trespass appears to usually involve death of the offending party—or at least a hefty fee. This is Hobbes’ ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ life outside of society quip, though he didn’t exactly account for a class of societies despite this being common in his day.

Berserker

So, these factions don’t actually have property rights; what they have is a notion of property, and they defend it with violence, as is a necessary condition for all property. In so-called modern societies, the violence is obfuscated much in the same manner that supermarkets obscure the carnage behind the meat. It’s still there; it’s just at arm’s length. Violate one of these ‘rights’, and you’ll see the violence inherent in the system.

And then there’s social contract theory—or the gaping flaw in the logic. Anna is an independent, but one can only be as independent as the ability to defend their independence. It’s sort of like contract law. If you can afford to defend a contract, you are entitled to having it enforced.

Redact intellectual property rant.

Anna doesn’t particularly want to belong to either faction, who have divided their world into two pieces in the same manner that, say, Britain and Scotland might have. If you happen to be born there through some loin lottery, you pretty much have to choose a side. Given Sartre’s no excuses policy, you can choose neither; it just won’t bode well for you. You’ve got no real choice.

Social Choice Theory

In Anna’s eyes, upon the death of her mother and brother, she is persuaded with reluctance to return with Peter to his community, a God-fearing bunch. Her mum had indoctrinated her into this cult of God through bible readings, so she was primed for the eventuality. Some independent interlopers attempted to block their return journey by claiming trespass, so Peter summarily offed them rather than paying their ransom—a fee Anna has been willing to tender.

When the two finally reached the sanctuary, Anna quickly realised that she had no say in the matter: she was either a (good) member or (an evil) dead. To reiterate, this is an underlying problem with social contract theory. There is no exit clause.

Side Bar: Some have argued that the cost of coerced—though they’d never use this term—participation and compliance is owed to the greater good. There is no reason given why this is preferred or across which dimensions better is being assessed—or good for that matter—, so don’t ask. Long live Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill with a hat tip to David Hume.

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.

From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau each approached social contracts from their own perspectives, but it may be interesting to note that each was a privileged white male of his day. Sure, Hobbes was a monarchist, and Rousseau was the Thoreau of his day, a nostalgist, but he like the others were beneficiaries of the status quo, save perhaps at the margins.

Anna thought she had sovereignty over her choices. In the end, the plot line prevailed, but then again, this was just a movie, so even her choices were scripted.

Calvin & Hobbes