Sunday 21 January 2018

Warnings from past and present - Declan Lynch on the rise of fascism

Corporate culture now dominates the world; its executives lavishly remunerated, its orders obeyed by governments big and small. But with one of the ultimate corporate warriors running for the US Presidency, amid increasing mention of words such as fascism, to Declan Lynch, it seems the rest of us aren't doing very well out of this deal

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters during a campaign rally
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters during a campaign rally
Nigel Farage is seen by some commentators as a kind of walking, talking warning from history
When Enda Kenny is trying to decide whether he should abase himself before a supa-national political entitity such as the EU, or the Apple corporation, there is no contest - Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Apple's CEO Tim Cook visit Apple's campus in Cork, in 2014
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Bruce Springsteen's sideman 'Miami Steve' Van Zandt was asked recently by a fan if record companies in the 1960s and 1970s cared about the artists on the label, or only about making money - a foolish question, it would seem, to which the obvious answer was the one provided by Miami Steve, that "it was always about the money".

Then he added a very important nuance - "but it was better. Businessmen knew they didn't get it. Now zombie accountants run the world".

Businessmen knew they didn't get it.

What a wonderful world it must have been, back then, this civilisation that has vanished from the face of the Earth. Just try to imagine a time when these mythical 'businessmen', or what we now call the corporate class, had a certain place in the order of things, when their voice was quite important in the great scheme, but it was not the only voice.

Nigel Farage is seen by some commentators as a kind of walking, talking warning from history
Nigel Farage is seen by some commentators as a kind of walking, talking warning from history

Try to imagine that time - and I know I'm stretching it here - when such people knew their place. Which was admittedly a pretty good place, and might even entitle them to the better seats on an aeroplane, but still . . . they were happy enough there, making their money out of those creative types like Miami Steve, maybe even making some money for him if they were feeling adventurous, but not really wanting to involve themselves in all those things that they knew they didn't 'get'; not actually running the world like the 'zombie accountants' are doing.

Try to imagine . . .

You can't imagine it, obviously, because this thing we call corporate culture has gobbled up just about every other culture we thought we had; it stands there alone, omnipotent. It is akin to a major world religion, so that when Enda Kenny, who knows his place as the mere leader of a country, is trying to decide whether he should abase himself before a supranational political entity such as the EU, or the Apple corporation, there is no contest.

It is a culture not just of the mind and the heart, but one given physical manifestation in many ways, so that it is now unthinkable that, say, a sports stadium will be constructed without the best seats being allocated to this ruling class, whole tiers dedicated to their elevation above the common herd. In large organisations such as the Health Service - in any large organisation, indeed - there is this great regiment of executives who are lavishly remunerated for whatever it is they do, indeed along with their special status in life they even have special words for these absurd amounts of money they receive so that they are not 'paid' like anyone else, they are 'remunerated', or even 'compensated'.

Like they are doing you a favour, just by agreeing to accept these emoluments.

But then we know all this, right? We know that it is their world and the rest of us just live in it. We are able to recognise the dominant culture of the age when it is standing in front of us, telling us that there are 18-year-olds in Bangladesh who will be doing our jobs from now on, that nothing other than the welfare of the corporation is of any value.

When Enda Kenny is trying to decide whether he should abase himself before a supa-national political entitity such as the EU, or the Apple corporation, there is no contest - Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Apple's CEO Tim Cook visit Apple's campus in Cork, in 2014
When Enda Kenny is trying to decide whether he should abase himself before a supa-national political entitity such as the EU, or the Apple corporation, there is no contest - Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Apple's CEO Tim Cook visit Apple's campus in Cork, in 2014

We know that hardly anyone outside of this protected species has a proper job any more, and there doesn't seem to be anything that anyone can do about it, or wants to do about it. We are familiar with the psychopathic energies of the money men, the lack of empathy which enables them to incinerate the economies of nations and to feel fine about it. We also know that most of us would be quite willing to go along with all this, if we thought it was somehow working, or even that it might work some day. We know that it's nothing personal, in any sense. It's strictly business.

What we don't know is where this prevailing culture is taking us eventually, though we strongly suspect that it is not a good place.

For example, it has come to our attention, that in relation to the government of the great western powers of the United Kingdom and the United States, and a few of the smaller powers too, the word 'fascism' is being used quite a lot these days.

Mainly it has been used in relation to Donald Trump, though there are 'populist' agitators knocking around in most of the civilised countries these days, in Britain and France and even, dear Lord, in Germany, where Angela Merkel's party was defeated in a recent state election by an outfit called Alternative for Germany.

But Trump wasn't coming from the bierkellers, he arrived down an escalator from the top of his corporate tower. And much though they have been disturbed by the vileness of his attitudes, the chaps in the executive lounges could hardly deny him as one of their own, or dispute that he had been indeed the epitome of the corporate warrior - "You're fired!" - for whom life is a constant struggle against the forces of empathy and subtlety and complexity.

You make the killing and then you move on. Long before he ever thought of becoming CEO of America, this was the one idea in Trump's head, and he pursued it with such relish he couldn't even be bothered to learn the language of corporate bullshit which has been constructed with such care to prettify these crude arrangements.

Indeed, this hatred of complexity is probably one of the main reasons why the old 'f' word started to be used again by some highly responsible commentators, who took down the checklist from the attic where it has lain since about 1933, and noted that very high on that list is the notion that very complicated things are actually very simple.

And while I know that no intelligent person would use the word 'fascist' lightly, I feel that if anything, it diverts attention from the true nature of these monstrosities.

What we've been looking at here, with Trump or with Nigel Farage, may or may not be some form of fascism. But really, even an apparent extremist such as Farage is more a creature of the mainstream than the mainstream would like to admit. Such men just want to run their countries the way that many businesses are being run - getting rid of various people who are deemed surplus to requirements, cutting all the 'nonsense'. Slashing and burning and talking a great load of cobblers while they are at it.

Farage and his Brexiteers, in an odd way, are even more in tune with the ways of the corporate classes than Trump, who was such an unmitigated asshole from the start, that he gave the game away.

The Republican party took fright at the fact that he was such an obviously disgraceful human being, that he actually said all those terrible things out loud, yet, for years, they had been encouraging many of the psychopathic views of society which Trump endorses - they just preferred to do it with a little more finesse; they liked to pretend that they weren't the bad people which they so demonstrably are.

Farage, though, managed to put some distance between his political persona and the place it's coming from - the fact that he started out as a trader in the City of London, with the sort of people he once characterised in a TV documentary as being paragons of what he calls "common sense".

He got quite sentimental as he spoke of meeting his old chums down the pub, and all the common sense they'd talk, on their way home, one presumes, from another hard day's graft representing the best interests of the ordinary decent people of England on the floor of the stock exchange.

And when they gathered in the Dog & Duck, you can be sure that their views of the EU would be full of that common sense, of which we hear so much from the money men, railing against the fact that the Eurocrats are killing everything with "all their facking rules and regulations". Because leaving aside for a moment the destruction of all the economies of the western world, everything had been going so well without the facking rules, hadn't it?

So while Farage is seen by some commentators as a kind of a walking, talking warning from history, in truth, many of his views are the sort of bog-standard lines you'd hear on any business programme, uttered by the buccaneering entrepreneur who just wants to cut all the red tape and to let men roam free in the marketplace as nature intended.

Certainly Farage is as much one of them, as he is some benighted creature with a totalitarian vision. It's just that sometimes these days, it can be hard to tell the difference.

As for Trump, he was savagely criticised throughout his campaign by just about every sentient being on Earth for an extraordinary variety of offences against taste and decency and truth and decorum, as if somehow he became even more monstrous when he moved away from business for a while. It doesn't seem to have occurred even to his most fervent opponents to point out that maybe this is what you get when you let the ultimate American CEO loose in the real world. That, in his corporate activities, he had been no less terrible a person, it's just that nobody is bothered about that.

Trump had been regarded as an exceptionally vainglorious businessman, but any disorder in his personality was seen as more a form of laughable eccentricity than any kind of a danger to our civilisation. Which suggests an acceptance that, in pursuit of corporate success, you can more or less do what you want, or say what you want, to anyone who displeases you - that anything is all right, as long as you're in charge.

He endorsed Putin's style of dictatorship as well as his own; he was openly abusive towards all sorts of individuals, and yet so complete is the triumph of corporatism, even his most fervent opponents will be wary of suggesting that maybe the executive lounge is not the right place, these days, to be looking for leadership.

It should be obvious, really, that the lads who prosper in that culture should never be allowed near the running of a democratic country, that being an egomaniacal psycho may be an advantage if you want to get stonkingly rich, but for running a nation-state it is a bit too, shall we say, one-dimensional.

Then again, whatever Trump was doing in business, it was working, right?

Ah now, that is another story. Probably if they spent a thousand years probing the anatomy of every Trump enterprise, the ones that flew and the ones that crashed, and the ones that seem to have done a bit of both, they still couldn't figure out if he was ahead or behind - by one calculation, he would have done far better financially if he had simply banked the money he inherited from his father, and gone off to play golf for the last 40 years.

Which brings us even deeper into the heart of the matter, this one overriding justification for the worship of such men as gods, the fact that, ultimately, they get the results.

Well, they get the results for themselves, to be sure.

If the world has been arranged so that about 50 people have most of the money, and you happen to be one of the 50, you can certainly deem everything a great success. And since it is the custom of the corporate world to reward failure just as extravagantly - if not more - you've got yourself a pretty good deal there.

But what of the other people? What about them, the poor unfortunate devils on their zero-hours contracts, and all the other zeroes that they have to be looking at, in their lives? What about the 'new poor', carrying the never-ending responsibility to come up with the money for vital public services such as 'corporate welfare', to provide for the needs of those more fortunate than themselves?

Ridiculous, I know, to be even mentioning them, but at some point we probably need to ask, just to take the bare look off it: how the hell are they doing in all this?

Not that it matters, in the great scheme of things, how any individual might be faring, but there was something deeply evocative about a recent tweet from the American writer Lauren Duca, who put it like this:"Being an adult is just haemorrhaging money for shitty nonsense like going to the doctor or moving, and then you die".

Just haemorrhaging money for shitty nonsense - this would accurately describe the lives of so many individuals, or at least those who have any money to haemorrhage. Something, it would seem, is not working for them.

But their plight has been noticed, the terrible struggles of the ordinary person and their alienation from their governments and from the 'elites' has come to the attention of leaders who are standing up to these forces of mundane oppression, and two of the most prominent of these leaders are. . . eh . . . Nigel Farage, late of the City of London, and . . . eh . . . Donald Trump, of the Trump Tower.

So when we ponder this increasing usage of the word 'fascism', as indeed we must, we might look to the ideas of Martin Amis in the novel Zone Of Interest, in which he put forward the notion that the German version was not all about stormtroopers and Panzer divisions, it could also seem like a story of put-upon middle managers and the institutionalised insanity which was their daily grind.

And if you gathered them together, the 'ordinary people' - the fellows with PhDs who are delivering pizzas now and probably for the rest of their lives; the 30-year olds who hardly even have a concept of what a proper job might look like; the musicians who are too good to get a record deal in today's music business and who can survive only by playing Eye Of The Tiger at corporate functions; anyone who has the misfortune to have to ring a call centre to get something fixed; those who actually work in the health service who have to look at others trousering six-figure salaries for some 'role' that has no useful purpose; and, of course, the ones haemorrhaging money on shitty nonsense - if you told them that a lot of serious people were starting to talk about the 1930s, about these being very dangerous times, to warn that the conditions had been created for the growth of this dehumanising ideology, of grossly dysfunctional systems, they might consider these future threats with a collective sense of bafflement, and eventually one of them might quote that line from Sondheim's Send In The Clowns.

Don't bother, they're here.

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