Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Universal Imbeciles

[F]or anglo-saxon countries as they are constituted today some modified form of fascism would probably be best. ... All the humbug of a democratic suffrage, all the imbecility that is so wastefully manufactured, will henceforth be spared this happy people. (Wyndham Lewis, "Fascism as an Alternative" in The Art of Being Ruled, 1926, pp. 320-1)

It is not the failure of social scientists to prevent the election of Donald Trump that should embarrass them, but their failure to predict it. Indeed, it is perhaps because they were too busy trying to prevent him that they didn't predict him. In that sense, they have now gotten the leader they deserve.

Like Mussolini, Trump has been rightly described as a bit of a buffoon, what Lewis called a "grimacing personage". It is worth considering the characterization in its context:

Mussolini is considered by many people as an unfortunately theatrical, grimacing personage, and is perhaps a little prejudicial to the régime of which he is the official figure-head. The power that he represents has, in its choice of figure-head, showed, perhaps bad taste. But in everything except taste it cannot be denied that it has chosen well.

Lewis went on to predict, in 1926, the demise, under fascism, of "all the boring and wasteful sham-sciences that have sprung up in support of the great pretences of democracy." The social sciences have certainly revealed some notable weaknesses in this election cycle. Perhaps, we can even say that they were misled by their "tastes". They simply lacked the nose that was required.

This election campaign certainly "manufactured", as Lewis puts it, a great deal of "imbecility". We should not forget that it was Lewis who taught Saul Bellow (who taught Martin Amis) to describe mass culture as a "moronic inferno". The science of how that fire behaves hasn't been much smarter. In fact, Lewis had a good sense of how it started, though even he assumed it wouldn't get far:

There is today a new reality; it is its first appearance in terrestrial life—the fact of political world-control. Today this may be said to be in existence, and tomorrow it will be still more of a fact. Neither can it be hidden—short of destroying everybody's sense of reality altogether. People could no doubt be persuaded that they did not see the sun and the moon: but the effort to assimilate this gigantic lie would destroy their brains altogether, and universal imbecility would ensue. (op. cit., p. 367)

I have very little sympathy for the frightened guild of intellectuals who spent the last few years building "safe spaces" for their tastes, while Hillary Clinton worked on her "foundation", i.e., her part in the fact of "political world-control". If the social sciences had not wasted our attention, and that of their students, with underpowered studies of "priming" and "bias", and had instead set itself to figuring out how power in the world actually works, this election cycle would have been less distressing for them. They would, at least, have an understanding of what was happening to them.

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