Fascism is designed to place its promoters and adherents in control of our perception of reality. It is a lie that refers to something real in history or nature in order to provide it with superficial credibility; it is a fake culture that depends on the absence of contradiction. It prevents us from knowing who we are while providing an alternate reality that, as long as it goes unchallenged, can be held as true.
I have been spending the week in Inverness, with its empty interior streets and lovely trees unlike my adopted Marshall, whose smooth hills refer to my grandfather’s homeland, County Kerry. But this morning, looking through the trees at Black Mountain, I was reminded of Obersalzburg, the beautiful Alpine retreat of the Nazi elite that has more to do with my other grandfather, about whose wartime service the less said, the better. It is also the place where the “Sound of Music” was filmed.
The mood came from a conversation the night before. A friend had told me, over a bottle of organic champagne, that 3 million women were killed as witches in medieval Europe. In fact, her source had claimed that number was 9 million, but it was also based on a ludicrous calculation by a late 18th-century writer. Historians today accept a number closer to 50,000.
But not the Nazis—they loved the 9 million figure and claimed it was evidence of a Christian, and therefore originally Jewish, attempt to exterminate Aryan womanhood. The number utterly distorts history, but it conforms to a certain self-satisfied view of eternal victimhood at the hands of patriarchy. It has to be true, or we might cease to be pure victims. We might find that we are also victimizers.
In the leafy climbs of Inverness, Eastern religion feeds this illusion. A funny man once told me that sea-level rise in Inverness was actually caused by the collective weight of Asian statuary forcing the peninsula into the ocean. Another acquaintance, in defense of the practice of uprooting the cultural heritage of Asian peoples to adorn our gardens, called it an act of preservation—ah, the “British Museum” argument.
Heinrich Himmler, the summit of fascist pseudo-culture and history, carried with him at all times the Bhagavad Gita, which he called an “high Aryan canto.” He preached the gospel of detachment, claimed Hitler was an incarnation of Krishna and cast himself in the role of Arjuna, whose example he encouraged the SS to take. The murder even of one’s own kin might not touch one’s inner self, one’s soul, since the victims are already dead.
Or take the example of D.T. Suzuki, a supporter of Japanese militarism, who could claim in the shadow of the Rape of Nanking that the Chinese were naughty children in need of discipline. He too believed that the true samurai never murders: he merely waves his sword in the air and his opponent makes himself a victim upon it.
This separation of one’s actions and how one thinks of oneself holds true in the United States. Think of the millions of people that the American empire has killed in the last 70 years. Hard to tally them all, but, between Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, it must be very close to 6 million.
In our spiritualized resignation to alienated performances and wage slavery, we use Eastern religion to wipe out our past and sublimate our feelings of disembodiment into a supposed virtue: detachment.
Well, I don’t want to be detached. I want to know who I am and what we’re all involved in, up to our necks, in this empire of trade and war. Change for the better isn’t going to happen if we are living in a cult of curated fantasies. It is a kind of evil not to know.
So put away your Eastern regalia, and while you’re at it, given the scope of American imperial history, take down that dream-catcher from your rear-view mirror as well. Time now more than ever, as Trump follows Obama’s policy of expanding our nuclear arsenal, to contemplate Hiroshima rather than nothing – to look at our own history, not pretend we can hide in our victims’ religion.
Fascist culture, like President Donald Trump, is not inevitable. It comes from an absence of self-criticism, from none having the minimal moral courage to say the emperor has no clothes. Well this is our empire and paradoxically the great hope of America: we can abolish it.
In 1938, Himmler sent an SS expedition to Tibet to discover if there was an unknown high-Aryan civilization to be discovered there. But that sad revelation had to wait several decades—until the vogue took hold of privileged Westerners tramping around that country in search of that special kind of anti-enlightenment in which declining empires indulge.
If Himmler was the pioneer of fascist religion and history, today we walk in his footsteps, unaware of our past. Walking, climbing and, of course, collecting souvenirs. Is that a king tide, or is Inverness sinking?
Charles Schultz is currently tending goats in Mendocino County on a ranch without electricity. While reading Nietzsche, he was inspired to plagiarize one of his quotes: “If a joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling, then West Marin cultural feelings are an epigram on the death of a joke.”