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Neurobiology fights fascism? Trouble is, neurobiology has got its coordinates all wrong

In “The Neurobiology of Fascism” ( Committed Parent, October 30, 2011) Mark Brady reflects on how not to raise children as a fascist would:

Because of psychological defense mechanisms like denial and displacement, few fascists ever recognize themselves as such.

If I had absolute dictatorial power, and an army or police force to back me up, there would be little to keep me from having the offending person jailed and tortured, or simply “rendered” to Guantanamo or a hostile environment on another continent. By simply getting rid of the external source of the upset, I can then begin to feel much better in my narrow, rigid, righteous, insular world. Along the way I might also work to enlist others to help me in my attempts to feel better: we can all feel better together if we get rid of all the others in the world who upset us and do or say things that make us feel fearful. It’s a good thing I have so little absolute power in the world.

(A bunch of neuroscience stuff is thrown in.)

Well, full marks for honesty! The problem is, our author has a deficient understanding of what a fascist is. I wrote something on that some years ago:

At present, most people think fascism is simply “the way the Nazis behaved.” While there is no question that the Nazis were fascists, it is quite easy to be at the opposite end of the traditional political spectrum and also be a hard core fascist. And so far as I can see, there are currently more fascists in North America at the leftward end of the political spectrum than the rightward end.

Concretely, fascism is not about jackboots and jail. Those are the trappings of one type of fascism (and hardly the most successful type, historically). Another fascism’s symbols might be the “community harmony” police and the subsequent syringe.

Fascism is the belief that politics can redeem us, can make us something different. That includes communism, Nazism, Islamic fascism, and a host of exotic salvation-oriented political programs: The “new Soviet man” was a pretty clear instance from communist rule, with predictable results:

The new Soviet man treats things communal as if they belong to no one, or at least not to him. The continuous attempts to make people a-religious, not accepting God’s commandments and being unaware of them, led to a situation in which everyone tries to steal (and does) from his place of work, everything he can. And he does not consider himself a thief: both he and his friends do not consider this “stealing” but just “scrounging” something he needs. In the process of being made a new Soviet man, it was expected that he will work harder and harder, without regard to his material circumstances, time or health, driven on by his communal consciousness—-which all conscientious communists ceaselessly develop in themselves– the Soviet man becomes indifferent toward work, and by now not working on the job is considered the right thing to do. Everyone who manages to get away with it enjoys the reputation of being successful and business-like. Everyone envies them, everyone emulates them.

From a non-fascist perspective, such developments are predictable. These grand new schemes fail abjectly because they cannot really change human nature to conform to fascist goals. It’s worse than that: They cannot even create an ideologically correct reward system that their meat puppets can’t simply and quickly manipulate.

The forms of fascism that should be of greatest concern in North America today are the ones that are not culturally dissonant. For example, “The personal is political!” Resentful twenty-somethings love hearing and saying that because it gives them the opportunity to project their dissatisfactions onto the world at large. But what does it mean? It means that the enterprising power-seeker can turn any personal characteristic or grievance into a political issue and force changes that others can barely endure.

Similarly, the ever-popular “It takes a village to raise a child” means what exactly? Does it mean that children are not primarily their parents’ responsibility but the State’s? And do we have any reason to think that the children will be better raised as a result? Not if we go by the historical evidence. Here’s a test: Just ask. If you are immediately denounced for “asking the wrong question!”, well, it does mean that, I am afraid.

Another one: “Together, we can change the world!” (At what cost? With what level of consent from the world? At what point will high human cost and lack of consent begin to matter?)

Best wishes to Mark Brady in his desire not to be a neurobiological fascist. But the basic problems may lie with precisely the beliefs that he assumes are “not” fascist.

Here’s a non-fascist approach: Politics does not change human nature; it is only a stage on which human nature displays itself. Government can only restrain evil; it cannot, following some current brain (or any other) guru, implant virtue. There is no recipe, formula, or slogan that conjures virtue, public or private. It is learned by constant practice in a very hard school over a lifetime.

And people who want salvation should turn to God, the Way, or a Higher Power, according to what they best understand. The Transcendant has cornered the market and cut government out.

And this is yer religious jaw fer the week.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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