My Facebook Memories for November 18th

Here’s something a little less serious and maybe a little more humorous. My Facebook memories for November 18th from 2012 through to 2017.

Edified by My Cat
Edified by my cat. She was banging at the deck door where the neighbor’s cat stood mocking her silently. My kitty was banging the door in an attempt to tear it off its hinges. The other cat just sat there all Charlie Chaplin-like. So I ran to the deck with a toy light saber in hand, opened the door, and chased the interloper away. My cat followed me out peering defiantly in to the darkness in a posture akin to one held by someone saying to themselves, “That’s what I thought.” She followed me back in. I sat down with my laptop to continue working. Then she jumped up on my computer, looked at the deck door, looked at me, back at the deck door and then hissed. She snuggled me a minute as if to say “You done good” (my cat has terrible grammar).

Strange Dreams

I had the weirdest dream last night. Picture this, Mr. Freud. A subtle, in so far as I can tell, unwritten Radiohead song (strong acoustic and drum presence) playing in the background. I am a female, East-Indian physics student at a university during the Apocalypse, e.g. riots, chaos, etc. During one of the stranger conversations I had with my female colleagues I quoted some fictitious physicist saying, “Purity in the theories of physics is not limited by physics but by our DNA.”

Is that what it’s like for females all of the time?

Losing My Religion
Teaching my kids catechism tonight. My son Alec observes the following during the group conversation:

Alec: dad.
Me: yes Alec?
Alec: [alluding to a previous discussion we had concerning the uncertainty of “Heaven’s direction” (90 degrees up from wherever you happen to be standing on Earth) making the direction of Heaven to an Australian the complete opposite to that of a Canadian] you know how all our “ups” are different but everyone’s “down” leads to the same place?
Me: yes?
Alec: we at least know where one place is…


Amazon: Cage to Play Aragorn

Following a bidding war between media streaming giants Netflix and Amazon, it was announced earlier this week Amazon had purchased the global rights to J. R. R. Tolkien’s hit fantasy series for some $329 million and would be turning it into a television series. The Tolkien Estate and Trust ultimately decided going with Amazon because of the online merchandising giant’s superior streaming infrastructure, corporate stability and, of course, on account of it being a global purveyor of books and literature.

The announcement to develop a television-based prequel to the Lord of the Rings was received with mixed reaction by fans. Fans, for instance, of the blockbuster trilogy produced by Peter Jackson in the early 2000s have had reactions ranging from ecstasy on the one hand to righteous self-indignation on the other. Literary purists have also repeatedly brought up the fact J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, opposed the idea of ever bringing his Middle Earth epic to television.

Nonetheless, the television show will include new storylines preceding the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. Amazon has committed upwards of 1.3 billion dollars to a five season run. The deal also includes the rights for a potential additional spin-off season, depending of course on the success of the show.

“The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen,” Sharon Tal Yguado, Head of Scripted Series, Amazon Studies, said.

“We are honoured to be working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line on this exciting collaboration for television and are thrilled to be taking The Lord fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”

Disclaimer: this article is entirely satirical. I was curious to see how many visitors would fully think about and read the article versus jumping to conclusions based upon reading the title alone. There’s no way in hell Nicholas Cage should ever be cast as Aragorn. 

The World According to John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck made a pretty nifty observation: he said socialism never took root in America because the poor never saw themselves as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. I suppose this is why so many of them oppose progressive tax reforms that would be in their interest to support.

American culture is so hostile to the idea of limits, i.e. Marx was surely right when he called capitalism a “machine for demolishing limits”. It does a pretty bang-up job of demolishing planets, as well.

And now for the obligatory cat picture.


Quit Watching the Train Wreck

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Republican nomination.

Yoda Kennedy

Take the Trump test. Turn to CNN and see whether or not they’re discussing the controversial Republican presidential candidate right now.

I’ll wait.

My family’s been taking the “test” for several months now and 98% of the time, there he is, the “Donald” in all his orange glory being discussed; it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night. There he is (inescapable like gravity). By comparison the coverage Clinton’s campaign receives is negligible. You hear the odd thing about emails, secret speeches given to Wall Street, or the magic word “Benghazi” creep up now and again, etc. but other than that you don’t hear a lot about her.

Why does Trump get so much coverage and Clinton so little?

Click bait. If it bleeds, it leads. Trump is strangely alluring—sort of like a car crash where you just want to see the burning wreck for its own sake; and his campaign, arguably, has been one car wreck after the next, e.g. calling Latinos rapists, saying he’ll ban Muslims, cajoling war heroes, picking fights with parents of Muslim American war veterans, refusing to make his tax returns public, encouraging the beating of critics attending his rallies, impulsive tweet after tweet after tweet, his “locker room” conversation with “Access Hollywood’s” Billy Bush about a certain inability to control himself around beautiful women, and then his recent promise to sue 11 “beautiful women” who came out saying he’d groped them—just like he said he couldn’t help from doing; nevertheless, we keep watching and waiting to see if the latest controversy is the final one…and it never is.

I can’t seem to look away; and that’s the problem with Trump and why he won’t just go away—we keep looking, we keep listening; the fire is too pretty; my Freudian Thanatos impulse too strong. Mr. Trump gets stronger every time we watch the, to borrow one of his very, very favorite words, “disaster.” This reminds me of the god Aries as portrayed in an animated “Wonder Woman” movie. When people fight Aries, the god of war, he gets stronger; once people quit fighting and seek peace he gets weaker. Trump is like Aries: the more we watch the stronger he and his brand becomes.

I looked at November 8th as a sort of emancipation day. Even Canadians support him; they tend to be of the conservative variety; and the liberals I know vilify him. I’m tired of hearing Canadians and Americans talk about the guy. For my part I think I’ve written about six articles looking at the Trump phenomenon. I’m done. This is the final one. I’m moving on to bashing Trudeau or giving my qualified support to Saskatchewan’s premier, Brad Wall. Wall is the only one of the three civic leaders I’ve actually met. I took a class to the Regina Legislature a number of years ago and he took time out of his busy day to meet with us. He was magnanimous, funny and friendly. I have never actually voted for the guy but I know he has the province’s best interests in mind. I just wish he was a little closer to the center is all.

So, Trump is going to lose the election. I have little doubt of that. But he isn’t going to go away. He’ll keep pushing forward the idea he lost—not because of his many personal defects—but because the election was rigged. I think he’s going to lose the election more because of his “busy hands” and impulsive nature than anything else. Nevertheless, he isn’t going anywhere after November 8th.  He’s going to rile his followers up in an effort to build his brand out of the wreckage he’s left behind on the democratic and political landscape of the United States. Worse still there’s talk about him starting his own television channel after the election. I thought Oprah’s channel was bad, Trump’s will be worse.

Even though he’s not going anywhere, there’s a solution: quit watching. Turn away. Tune out. I’m not advising people remain fundamentally ignorant of the goings-on in the world. Just remain ignorant of Trump is all. Ignore him and don’t give into the temptation to look at the burning wreck. When you quit watching, just like when you quit fighting Aries, he loses his power and his capacity to influence.

Elections 101: Kang and Kodos on Clinton and Trump

The year is 1996 and it’s an election year: aliens have kidnapped presidential hopefuls Bob Dole (Republican) and Bill Clinton (Democrat). Aliens Kang and Kodos take on the human forms of the candidates and run for the presidency themselves; these tentacled creatures have not come in peace but to take advantage of America’s two-party system where voters have no choice but to vote for either the Democratic or Republican party in the upcoming election. Yet, before the coup d’état is complete, Homer Simpson arrives in a stolen UFO smashing into the Capitol building. Homer reveals to the crowd they’ve been duped into supporting alien overlords. With their cover blown, Kang and Kodos abandon their human forms revealing themselves as hideous, single-eyed, green, tentacled monsters. The conspiracy uncovered, the aliens don’t attempt to escape. Instead, they confidently communicate to a crowd of spectators that they have no choice but to vote for either Kodos or Kang. After all, America has a two-party system and it’s too late to select new candidates; also, the aliens caution the crowd from being so foolish as to throw away their vote by supporting a third-party candidate like Ross Perot.

Art imitates life or, in the case of the Simpson’s, satirizes it. Clinton and Trump’s approval ratings are about the same as Kang’s and Kodos’. Clinton like Kang before her is viewed as an untrustworthy opportunist seeking the presidency out of personal ambition as opposed to a desire to serve. The insomniac Trump, just like Kodos, is believed lacking in the intelligence, judgement or the temperament required to be president; and as was the case with the voters in 1996 the electorate in 2016 are a free people captive to an unresponsive two-party system where the only option available is to choose between the lesser of two evils.

This November 8thAmericans head to the polls to elect the 45th president in what many regard as the most important election in generations; it is important because America is stuck with a dysfunctional two-party political system offering voters little hope for meaningful change. There are third party candidates and parties yet these alternatives aren’t really options at all: the Green Party’s Jill Stein has little understanding of economics; she believes quantitative easing is the appropriate tool to pay for social programs or free university, etc. She has zero appreciation for the negative effects of pursuing such a dangerous fiscal policy in the long-term; then there’s the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson who an American friend of mine aptly describes as an “asshat.” Johnson is essentially a stoned Donald Trump—he is chill, likes to “partake,” and doesn’t know much about anything in particular. So, the Americans limp towards the next election like lame ducks.

Political theorists argue two-party systems are actually supposed to prevent parties from becoming too polarized—the competition for popular support (at least in principle) keeps party policy somewhere in the middle. This clearly is not happening in America. The dysfunction in the Congress we’ve seen over (at least) the last eight years and the lack of civility when it comes dialogue in the public sphere, e.g. conservatives labeling progressives as not “true Americans” and liberals accusing conservatives of being a bunch of Luddite racists, etc. take us anywhere except along a middle course. You could not have a more divided polity right now.

Since I’m lacking any direct experience with the American system, I asked Kang and Kodos if they would answer some questions I have about the two-party system, the Electoral College, and the overall significance of the 2016 election.


Rick: Kang you obviously did your homework before attempting to take the presidency in 1996. You were the Republican nominee. Kang was the Democratic nominee. Has there only ever been two political parties in the history of the United States?

Kang: glad to be here. I trust there will be no need for a bloodbath. To answer your question there have been plenty of other political parties. They just come and go. For example, there were the Federalists (1790-1820), National Republicans (1825-1833), Whigs (1833-1854) and Democratic-Republicans (1800-1820s).

Rick: Kodos how long have the Republicans and Democrats been the only real options available to Americans?

Kodos: why do you recoil so? My culture has learnt all it can from human anal probing. Rest assured you have nothing to fear from me. Kang, well, that is another story. Since 1852 only candidates from either the Republican or Democrat parties have placed first or second in a presidential election. There was one exception: in 1912 Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive third-party candidate. He came in second to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

Rick: I took a gander at the Constitution (1787) and there’s nothing in there saying American has to have a two-party system. This is just a convention that developed over time. Kang why did the two-party system develop in the first place?

Kang: [polishing his anal probe] some of your human balding white political scientists argue two-party systems are the natural result of using a winner-takes-all voting system.

Rick: [looking around for all the available exits] some of my readers might not know what this winner-takes-all voting system is. Could you explain further?

Kang: [drooling] why yes, most certainly. In such a system, the candidate receiving the most votes compared to the others wins the district. You don’t need to win a majority or receive 50% plus one of the votes. You win by just getting more votes than the person in second place. Candidates who come in third, fourth, etc. don’t matter whatsoever. The winner could receive as little as 15% of the votes assuming the second place finisher received 14% and so on and so forth.

Rick: a person can win an election by receiving so little of the popular vote?

Kang:  baha, oh my. The main problem with winner-takes-all is there’s a real chance the wishes of the majority of voters in any given electoral district are not reflected at all in the final results.

Rick: what system do you use on Rigel 5?

Kodos: [interjecting] we’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

Rick: yes…

Kodos: but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting.

Rick: yes, I see.

Kodos: by a simple majority, in the case of purely internal affairs.

Rick: yes, yes, I see.

Kodos: But by a two-thirds majority, in the case of more major—

Rick: let’s bring our attention back to earth shall we? There is one genuine alternative to winner-takes-all. This is called the proportional representation system like Australia uses.

Kang: Australia an interesting place. We avoid probing its animal life: everything there seems to want to kill you.

Rick: could you describe the proportional representation system used in Australia…?

Kang: in the proportional system if 25% of the electorate vote for one political party then that party receives one-quarter of the seats available in the legislature. All parties receive a proportion of seats in the legislature based on how well they performed in the last election. But proportional representation isn’t possible when a country is divided into single-member districts like in Canada or the United States. In Canada you call these districts “ridings” I believe. Speaking of ridings: Kodos and I were in Sydney just the other day and we overheard a conversation between an Aussie and an American. The American asked the Australian if all Aussies rode kangaroos. Then the Australian responded by asking the Yank if all Americans rode fat people.

Kodos: I don’t get it.

Rick: lost in the idiom I suppose. So to be clear in a single-member situation each district can only send one representative to the legislature?

Kodos: yes, yes. And this makes it all but certain that third party candidates and parties, and the people who support them, are not represented in either the Congress or your fancy-smancy Parliament.

Rick: there are exceptions though. Sometimes third party candidates or independents win elections.

Kang: [unibrow moving up and down] yes, but it is as rare as a redneck who doesn’t like a good probing.

Rick: I think since 1939 of the 535 people elected to the Congress only two have been independents. The most noteworthy independent to win is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Kodos: feel the burn.

Kang: au contraire, feel the probe.

Rick: okay, turning our attention to the presidential election and the Electoral College. Which one of you can explain this best for our readers?

Kodos: I think I’m a little more well-rounded than Kang.

Kang: we’re both round.

Rick: Kodos how about you explain?

Kodos: [puts thesaurus down] interestingly, there are 50 states in America. With the exception of two states—Nebraska and Maine—every state has a specific number of electors. Some states have more than others. The strange thing, and this is coming from someone from Rigel 5, is when someone votes in a presidential election they aren’t really voting directly for the president.

Rick: could you elaborate? What do you mean voters don’t vote directly for the president?

Kodos: let’s ignore Jill Stein of the Green Party and the Libertarian Gary Johnson for the moment. Let’s say there are only two candidates on the ticket—one a Democrat and the other a Republican—people can vote for. You cast your vote on election day, November 8th.

Rick: it would’ve been hilarious if the election took place on the 5th of November…

Kodos: I’m not sure what you mean.

Rick: sorry. Keep explaining.

Kodos: California has a total of 55 electors. Following the results of the election all of the electors by convention pledge to support either the Republican or Democratic candidate.

Rick: all?

Kodos: all of California’s electoral votes go to the winner of the state-wide election, even if the margin of victory is only 50.1% to 49.9%. All of the votes go to the winner.

Rick: so if, let’s say, Donald Trump receives 60% of votes from California he receives all 55 electors. Clinton doesn’t receive 40% of the electors.

Kodos: no. This is a winner-takes-all approach. [Puts thesaurus down, again] There’s no room for nuance.

Kang: [proud of himself] this winner-takes-all approach contributes to a situation where voters choose between the lesser of two evils. Whoever wins 270 of the available 538 electoral votes becomes president.

Rick: so the election is decided by electoral votes and not the popular vote?

Kang & Kodos: that is correct.

Kang: [punches Kodos on the shoulder]—Jinx! You owe me a soda!

Rick: this is what happened during the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Bush received less of the popular vote than Gore while Bush received the majority of the electoral votes. Bush won because he carried states which had proportionately more electoral votes. This seems odd that in a democracy someone could become president without actually receiving the greater proportion of the popular vote.

Kodos: the system was designed to [makes air quote gesture with tentacles] mitigate the problems with giving the American People themselves too much decision-making power.

Kang: this is true. We did the same thing on our planet. There’s a strong tradition dating all the way back to Adams and Hamilton in the early days of the Republic where the elite of your country feared what they called a mobocracy or the [makes air quote gesture] rule by the mob. Electors make sure democracy doesn’t get too democratic.

Rick: what if neither candidate receives 270 of the electors? What happens then?

Kodos: in that case according to the 12th Amendment of the Constitution the House of Representatives determines the next president.

Rick: you know for a couple of aliens you know quite a bit about political systems. Thanks guys.

Kang: it was our pleasure.

Kodos: I would run if I were you.

The leading theory why countries with genuinely free elections evolve into two-party states is called Duverger’s Law. This law, one of the few established in the field of political science, states that two parties are a natural result of a winner-take-all voting system. In principle the winner-take-all system is supposed to keep the parties running for election in the middle when it comes to platforms and values. However, theories are only as good as the most recent data. The law was formulated a long time ago and the data has definitely changed.

When the French political scientist Maurice Duverger first began articulating this “law” in his essays in the 1950s, the political situation was very different then in the United States compared to now. Specifically, the political left and progressivism (social reform) had been on the ascendant in the United States since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed through his “New Deal” through a combination of compromise and executive orders during the 1930s.

Since the Great Depression, and even before the Stock Market Crash in 1929, a significant proportion of the American polity actually distrusted capitalists. This is one of the reasons why otherwise reasonable people supported more radical political movements like the American fascist and communist parties in the 1930s. Through the New Deal, the United States developed into one of the more socially responsible and responsive societies in the world (a process reaching its nadir during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon in the 1970s).

After Nixon the political right began a concerted effort to deregulate the economy, deregulate ecological oversight, deregulate social services, increase military spending, and sell the American public the idea that socialist policies (or regulating anything) was some sort of social evil or anti-American. The naked pursuit of wealth and defeating the Soviets during the Cold War was all that mattered. In the intervening decades, from the 1970s to the present, governments at the behest of conservative politicians and corporations clawed back social programs; conservatives gained more and more control of both state and federal level government. This corporate influence reached its apogee in America with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010. This court decision removed any limits on how much a corporation/billionaire could spend to support a particular candidate running for political office. This decision benefited both Democrats and Republicans; and it also compromised the independence of the Congress. The members of the House of Representatives and the Senate pay back billionaires for their support through the granting of political favors. This is why Donald Trump is correct when he observes the “system is rigged.”

The political system is rigged making this presidential election an important one: the two parties are so clearly bought and paid for, and the decision-making process so clearly partisan, the American electorate is willing to support anyone (even a man as unsuitable to lead as Donald Trump) to change things up. Both Trump and Sanders offered alternatives to the status-quo. Regrettably, Sanders never had a chance to win the nomination for the Democrats because of in-party intrigues; and equally regrettable is the fact Hillary Clinton, if she wins the presidency, will likely be nothing more than a caretaker president.  Considering the alternative—like Trump becoming the leader of the Free World—the best outcome in the short-term is to support Clinton and the status-quo. There have been third party choices—Libertarians Ross Period (1996) and Ralph Nader (2000)—but at the end of the day people vote for the major party candidates. So don’t expect much from either Johnson or Stein in 2016.

Americans appear to like a divided government, e.g. in 38 of the last 60 years presidents have had to work with legislatures controlled by the opposing party. If this is the case, then it is likely Clinton will be declared the 45th president of the United States. Yet, the emergence of the Tea Party movement, the recent importance placed on populist leaders like Obama, Sanders, and Trump, etc. seems to point to a future where people are more interested in grass roots, anti-systemic movements. The Democrats and Republicans will have to change things up significantly if they want to avoid a challenge to their traditional influence (like Sanders and Trump presented).

If you thought the 2016 election was historic, or even just a little volatile, just wait for 2020. If nothing significant changes in the intervening years, and if the economy happens to go into another major recession (which is being predicted by many economists based on the new financial instruments introduced by Wall Street using risky car loans), the 2020 election will be a hell storm by comparison. People will look back at 2015-2016 with fondness saying “those were the good ol’ days. Where’s the anal probe at?”

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might be interested in related stories or podcasts. Explore the list below:

Part 1: Donald Trump: The Problem of Relying on Men Instead of Principles
Part 2: Donald Trump: Why Reasonable People Vote for Him
Part 3: Donald Trump: Where’s It All Heading
Elections 101: Kang and Kodos on Clinton and Trump
Trump Makes Promises He Can’t Keep
Podcast (audio): Why You Should Vote for Trump

Are You Smarter than Jonathan Bernier?

Reporters ask questions. That’s what they do. Sometimes they ask meaningful and tough questions; sometimes not so much. The answers people give are frequently insightful or, as the case may be, sometimes strange.

In December of 2014 Jonathan Bernier, a goalie playing for the Maple Leafs, was asked his opinion on the importance of Nelson Mandela:

Reporter: Just wanted to ask you, I mean, obviously Nelson Mandela [was] one of the most significant historical figures of the twentieth century. What knowledge or awareness did you have of him growing up or when did you learn of him?

Bernier: Well, obviously, growing up, you uh, he’s one of the most known athletes, uh, in the world and, uh, lot of impact in any kind of sport that he did, and uh…that I, you know, even playing hockey, everyone knows him from being the type of person he was off the ice and on the ice and so, it’s unfortunate that he passed away a year ago, but, um, he changed a lot while he was with us and he’s a tremendous guy.

Here’s a link to the interview:


After watching the interview I felt sorry for Bernier…and then I started feeling sorry for society. We are surrounded by a lot of misinformed and ignorant people. In this case, the reporter exposed one of Bernier’s blind spots (and to be fair we all have them). Some blind spots are harmless but others are problematic, i.e. in order to preserve democracy citizens need to be informed and educated.

We’ve all seen it on television: reporters asking people random questions on the street testing the public’s knowledge about particular topics. In 2008 I recall watching television interviews of reporters asking people their opinion about President Obama. Obama was accused by critics of being a fascist and by others a communist. People were asked to explain what fascism was and nobody could. Likewise people were asked to explain what communism was. Again, nobody could provide a cogent answer.

The answer from one person was telling: “I don’t know what fascism is I just know it’s bad and it’s what Obama is.” Such is the power of the meme: for this reason I wrote this article. I wanted to provide the public with information related to the context, principles and nuances of communism and fascism. If for no other reason, people can read this article, learn a few technical terms, and then cast more philosophically accurate aspersions at politicians.

What is Fascism?
Fascism emerged formally as an ideology in the early 19th century. Fascism is more or less a response of conservative thinkers to the perceived excesses of the Enlightenment.  The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason (1650-1800), placed all traditional understanding of life, morality and the world in to question; to that end thinkers like France’s Voltaire, England’s John Locke, and Scotland’s David Hume, all encouraged people to possess a questioning attitude (especially towards power). The result of this promotion was both an intellectual revolution and two political revolutions—the American (1776) and the French (1789)—sweeping away traditional authority.

Nineteenth century conservative thinkers like France’s Joseph de Maistre responded to the Enlightenment by doing two things: firstly, he used his significant skill as a writer to oppose democracy because representative systems of government gave power to people who neither deserved it nor understood how to wield it. The only people worthy of ruling, argued de Maistre, was the elite—an aristocratic and educated one. Secondly, de Maistre was a proto-fascist: as such he, like all fascists from Gabriele d’Annunzio to Benito Mussolini or from Houston Stewart Chamberlain to Adolf Hitler, held an idealized view of the past: the present was chaotic and disorderly while the past was a simple and pure time.

Taken at face value simplicity and purity appear to be virtues; however, in their 20th century expression simplicity took the form of anti-intellectualism (think Nuremberg rallies and book burnings) and purity took the form of master race theory being taught in German classrooms giving birth to a generation of mass murderers (think Holocaust). Lastly, fascists did not embrace skepticism or the questioning attitude promoted by the vast majority of the Enlightenment’s philosophers; on the contrary, proto-fascists and fascists alike hated the disorder resulting from a society unwilling to give unqualified support of its elites while likewise despising the intellectual and cultural disorder unleashed by the Age of Reason.

Fascism & Mass Movements
Fascism is always tied to a mass movement. In 1933 Germany was ruled by the National Socialists (Nazis). The Nazi movement stressed the glorification of the state and the importance of racial purity. For this reason the Nazis sought to control every aspect of German society—education, politics, the arts, the media and, of course, the economy. Reinforcing the Nazi’s hold over the minds of Germans was the pseudo-science of ethnology. Ethnologists borrowed H. S. Chamberlain’s term “Aryan” to refer to the German people—a mythologized group of apparently genetically superior people originally from Northern India who eventually migrated and settled, as coincidence would have it, in Central Europe (aka Germany).

Not all fascists are racists like the Nazis. For example, Italian fascists in the 1920s were more or less ultra-nationalists wanting to establish law and order in Italy. Italy became a country in 1861 and from its inception suffered from constant political division. There were so many political parties—some representing a Catholic bloc, some socialist, others fascist, and still others a liberal worldview—that no party could establish a majority in the Parliament of Italy.  Italy actually continues to suffer from a similar problem with plurality in the present day. Again, Italian fascists, far from being racists or promoters of silly master race theories, simply wanted to rein in the divisive forces unleashed by democracy in order to make Italy strong again.

Fascism & Freedom
Although fascists are not democratic they typically allow people a small measure of freedom; that is, a citizen is free so long as freedom does not interfere with the greater aims of the state. For example, in Germany Aryans could marry anyone who was an Aryan but they were forbidden to marry a non-Aryan (to preserve racial purity).

(By the way “racial purity” is not a scientific concept whatsoever. There is no such thing as “pure genes” either; moreover, race doesn’t exist objectively; rather, it is a historically conditioned and created idea. In the case of genes: there simply exists genetic variation suggesting no particular group of people is better or superior or weaker or inferior than another; every person belongs to a single human genome. In modern biology, some scientists argue there’s no human genome but a universal genome to which all life on earth belongs. This is a minority view but it is gaining more and more adherents as our understanding of genetics improves over time. I digress.)

In the context of the 21st century, some political theorists like Sheldon Wolin argue the control corporations exercise over the political decision making process in the United States is proof positive of America being a fascist state (an expression of so-called “inverted totalitarianism”). Although counter-intuitive at a certain level, Wolin argues freedom can co-exist with fascism provided citizens remain incapable of effectively challenging the power of either the government or the corporations. For this reason fascism can be an insidious thing; you can evolve in to it. When it comes to communism, historically speaking, it is born out of something more obvious: violent revolution.

Fascism & the Individual
In the case of fascist Italy or Germany, individuals do not own themselves but exist as indistinguishable from the state. In this sense, fascism owes a lot of its inspiration from the Catholic Church: the Church likewise treated the faithful as a “corporate whole” who belonged to one body and who were required to unquestioningly accept Rome’s authority; that is not to say the Catholic Church was fascist; however, fascists like Church authorities desired to recreate an orderly past, a time before democracy (or a time before The Fall)—a period when the people were one and did not challenge either the Church or the king (or in the case of the Church, God).

In reality no such period ever existed. Kings like Henry II (1133-1189 AD) of England successfully challenged Rome by pressuring the Vatican to appoint the bishops he wanted; moreover, Peter Abelard (1079-1142 AD) a French thinker wrote Sic et Non (literally “Yes or No”) effectively placing in to question the wisdom of unquestioningly accepting a number of the Church’s best-established doctrines. Yet, fascists do not fret over whether or not their view of the past is accurate; they are worried about creating a view of the past that supports their narrative in the present which justifies future action. For this reason businessman turned politician Donald Trump appeals to many people (forming the basis of a mass movement in the United States). Trump argues America “doesn’t win any more” implying America always won (a quick study of the War of 1812 should disabuse the Americans of this view); and he promises that if he’s made president he’ll solve all the country’s problems which, interestingly, have a lot to do with America’s longstanding racial issues.

Fascism & Authoritarianism
Fascist governments are authoritarian by nature: decisions are not made through consensus building or parliamentary debates. Rather, fascist states dictate to the people what can or cannot be done. The assumption is the average person doesn’t know what is good for them. Therefore, people need a benevolent (infallible) leader to make important decisions for them. Fascists by and large hate the disorder perceived to be inherent in democracies. In particular, the Nazis rejected any notions of entertaining pluralism (that there’s more than one valid way of looking at the world)—a situation where minorities maintain their unique identity independent of the majority. To the Nazis all of the people must agree both in their thinking and in their genes for order to be preserved.

Fascism & the Internal Threat
Another feature common to most fascist states—from Germany, Italy, “Communist” China or even to the United States—the greatest threat to society comes from within the country. Thus, fascist states seek to create and promote national unity at all costs. In Germany, this meant purging “undesirable” or “racially questionable” elements from the body politic. In the case of fascists in Italy, they sought to bring order to a country paralyzed by political disorder by sweeping away democracy altogether and establishing a dictatorship. In China it means rejecting any notion of electing anyone outside of the Communist Party to a position of meaningful influence; and in the United States, a softer, subtler form of fascism has led to the creation of identity cards for Hispanics in the state of Arizona, a concerted effort to deny gay people legal equality, and to the passage of the most intrusive piece of legislation passed by any government—democratic or otherwise— in history: the Patriot Act. An act designed to give the government unfettered access to the digital communications of Americans. This act also suspends habeaus corpus among other rights.


What is Communism?
During the Industrial Revolution (1750-1900 AD), a new industrial society emerged generating enormous wealth. Wealth, unsurprisingly, was not distributed equitably or enjoyed equally. Those who owned businesses profited significantly while laborers received low wages, lived in squalor and eked out a miserable existence in growing, overcrowded cities.

Karl Marx, the father of communist theory, developed the political philosophy of communism in response to the social, economic and political problems he believed were created by the Industrial Revolution. With exception most communists are motivated by ending the exploitation of workers by the business class. In order to end the exploitation, every citizen must be made economically (and therefore politically) equal by eliminating social class. According to Marx history was best understood as a conflict between classes (or those that have versus those that have not). In the Communist Manifesto Marx describes a struggle between the Proletariat (workers) and the Bourgeoisie (business class). Marx sought to end this perpetual conflict by establishing a “classless society” based upon the common ownership of the “means of production.”

In a communist state, the government abolishes the ownership of private property. Marx believed if no single person possessed more property than another—but shared everything in common—then no one would have the power to exploit others. Marx considered capitalism a great social evil: the business class exploited the fact workers needed money in order to live; and since thousands of workers competed for the same jobs the employer could pay workers whatever they wanted (contributing to exploitation).

Compounding the problem was the fact workers, not employers, were the ones who did all the actual work while employers reaped all of the benefits. With that said, Marx did not adequately take in to account the relative risk run by entrepreneurs when setting up a business, i.e. if a business failed the investor lost everything. Yet, in the aggregate, there were more workers than there were capitalists; and, as such, the risk assumed by an individual entrepreneur or that entrepreneur’s right to make a profit from his business did not outweigh the injustice of that same entrepreneur exploiting vulnerable workers.

Marx believed communism was a genuine political alternative to representative democracy. According to Marx there were at least two problems with representative institutions: the first problem was they pitted the different social classes against one another (as exemplified by the situation of both Italy’s Parliament in the 1910-20s or the Congress of the United States in the 2000s). According to Marx competing demands meant the needs of the people as a whole were never met. Instead, elites would continue to exploit the resultant division to maintain the status-quo.

The second problem was the fact that in democracies, monarchies, etc. the wealthy elite, though small in number, exercised a disproportionate amount of influence over the decision making process. In a communist society (at least in theory), decision-making is supposed to be genuinely democratic; that is, there is no elite (there isn’t even a central government or legislature). Instead, decisions are made at the local or regional level through workers councils (called soviets in the Russian context); and membership on these councils wasn’t based on education or class but was rotational—everyone was given a turn to shape the decision making process. A good idea…until it’s Jonathan Bernier’s turn to chair meetings. I digress, again.

Also, Marx had little confidence in the capacity of democracies like Britain or the United States to truly represent the interests of the people as a whole. The elites of these two countries used their economic (and therefore political) influence to push for the invasion of other countries, etc. in pursuit of profit for their social class. For example, Great Britain required soldiers (“wage earners”) from Canada to fight the Boers in 1899 for control of gold mines discovered in the Transvaal State; and in 2003, the United States invaded Iraq to guarantee its strategic access to Iraqi oil.

In both cases, the 99% fought, bled and died for the 1%. Communist states, in principle, do not go to war with one another over profit. On the contrary, they make common cause with one another because a worker in Germany is a brother to a worker in France, Britain, Canada or the United States. For this reason Karl Marx famously exclaimed, “Workers of the world unite!  You have nothing to lose but your chains!” With that said, the Soviet Union invaded all sorts of countries, e.g. Afghanistan, Hungary, Poland, etc. etc.

So much for principles…


In the second part of the article, I provide a technical and detailed contrast of fascism with communism.

1. Ultra-Nationalism
Communists are “international” in their outlook while fascists are “nationalist,” e.g. Nazi Germany was aggressive to neighboring states like Poland because the Germans believed themselves a “master nation” entitled to rule over so-called “slave states.”

Communist states, like the Soviet Union (Russia), were in principle governed by the working class (a class transcending borders, language or ethnicity). Communists were “international” in their outlook because regardless of the country where the working class was located they all shared the same experience of being exploited and the need to overthrow the capitalists. In short, workers from every country shared a common cause: defeat the Bourgeoisie.

Fascists aim at exclusion not inclusion, e.g. German fascists excluded those who did not belong to the “master race.” Italian fascists excluded non-Italians because Mussolini was attempting to reinvent the Roman Empire. Simply stated fascists tend to look inwards to protect their local community from corrupting influences. However, communists from country to country to country are joined by a common sentiment: the enemy are not workers from other countries but capitalist exploiters outside of the communist’s borders. In other words, communists look outside to find their enemies.

2. Authoritarianism
Both fascism and communism are authoritarian, e.g. decision-making power is not shared but centralized around a dictator; that is, Hitler ruling Germany and Stalin ruling the Soviet Union. People not belonging to either the Nazi or Communist governing parties had no decision-making power. However, members of these two ruling parties received benefits/privileges non-members did not. In the communist context, class was supposed to be abolished; yet, members of the Communist Party definitely enjoyed material benefits the “average Vlad” did not.

Fascists want to build a strong state. In Germany, this was accomplished by ruling the people through the Führerprinzip or “leadership principle.” The Führer’s word was regarded “above all written law.” Basically, whatever Hitler said had to be obeyed. Therefore, all government policies, decisions, ministries, etc. operated in complete and absolute obedience to Hitler.

By contrast authority in a communist society is supposed to be decentralized (democratic). In theory, authority was exercised by a collection of workers councils from all around the country. In practice, however, authority in both the Soviet Union and Communist China was exercised in basically the same way it was in Germany: decisions were centralized, made by a dictator, and enforced by a ruling party through a combination of the military and secret police. The average citizen had no say in decisions directly affecting them.

3. Economics
Economically speaking, fascist states allow citizens freedoms unavailable to those living under communism. For instance, in Nazi Germany you could own your own home, factory or land. In the Soviet Union, the government abolished the practice of private ownership of property.  The government owned everything. Taken at face value fascism would appear to offer opportunities unavailable to communists; however, upon closer inspection the appearance of freedom in Germany is deceiving, e.g. while you could own a factory and even keep profits for yourself the Nazi Party told you what to produce, how much to produce, when to produce, how much to pay workers, etc. In the Soviet Union, the government did the exact same thing—telling people what to produce, etc.—but all profits went directly to the Communist Party before being distributed, in principle, to the people.

4. The State
Fascist states typically glorify war; therefore, a strong government is considered necessary to produce a strong, disciplined people. There is no room for catering to a plurality of public needs in a fascist society. In principle, authoritarianism in a communist system is considered a necessary but short-term evil, e.g. while fascists make a point of permanently establishing a strong state by comparison communists actually want the central government to eventually “wither away” and society run ultimately be managed by a series of workers councils.

The problem with communism, or any ideology for that matter, is it reflects an idealized version of reality. Marx’s claim the state would eventually disappear spontaneously out of the goodness of the people is not only without historical precedent, it also ignores the realities of human nature: human beings are selfish, egocentric, ambitious, etc. and anyone who is in a position of power will, if not limited by either law or police, will not only allow the state to disappear but they will also do whatever they can to continue benefiting as an individual from their position of privilege, e.g. In the Soviet Union, communists overthrew the tsar (1917) to establish the ideal workers society Marx envisioned; yet, the Communist Party far from establishing a classless society simply became the new ruling class; that is, the exploitation of the Proletariat by the capitalists ended and a new exploitative relationship emerged, an ironic one, with the Communist Party’s members exploitation of the Russian worker.

5. Ideological Issues
Both fascism and communism are ideologies. An ideology is a philosophical and systematic way of looking at the world. As worldviews go, neither fascism nor communism actually reflect how the world actually works, how people think, or how they behave.

This is a problem.

Specifically, communists and fascists attempt to build new societies based on how the world ought to be or how people ought to behave instead of on how the world actually works. For instance, communists assume people are either capable of cooperation or competition but never both. In reality, people are capable of doing both when and if reason and not fear/intimidation forms the basis of consensus building. For his part Marx did not anticipate elites in Canada, Britain or the United States would voluntarily share their wealth or weaken their control by allowing the passage of legislation protecting workers, giving people universal healthcare, or providing workers with unemployment insurance. Marx did not anticipate this because his ideology blinded him to the possibility of a change in attitudes over time. The reality is people are complex and capable of both cooperation, competition, and everything in between (see the work of Peter Kropotkin for more on the cooperation-competition dichotomy). Ideologies which fail to take complexity in to account—and this includes the world’s most dominant ideology, free market fundamentalism—are doomed to fail because they encourage the development of an incomplete understanding of the world and humankind.

Those ideologies or systems which take an accurate view of human nature’s complexity in to account are longer lasting, e.g. the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy has existed uninterrupted since 1689. Democracies, unlike fascist or communist states, encourage citizens to practice toleration, compromise, consensus building and pluralism; citizens are also involved in decision making which means the public views decisions coming from government as legitimate; moreover, democratic governments do not try to stamp out differences of opinion or force people to agree with one another. Instead, the role of the government is simply to preserve the peace; that is, democratic governments try to constructively manage disagreement making sure parties involved respect the peace and the rule of law. By contrast communists and fascists make extensive use of a secret police, concentration camps, intimidation, murder, and terror, etc. to force their citizens to “behave” and “agree” with official party policies and principles.

6. Anti-Democratic Sentiments
Fascists attack other organizations or groups attempting to influence the country’s affairs. Fascists despise unions because the labor movement influences a country’s economic and political life without being subordinate (obedient) to the aims of the state; this means labor unions can, in principle, provide a healthy counter-balance to governments which tend over time to become dominated by the political right (especially so if the right is left unchecked). In Nazi Germany, the individual was simply expected to obey—disagreement, disobedience, freedom, etc. were considered contrary to the principle of building the perfect society. Thus, fascists sacrifice liberalism and freedom in order to achieve goals like “racial purity” or the “conquest” of weak neighboring countries.

In principle, communist countries are supposed to be democratic. Yet, in practice they tend to be anti-democratic, e.g. you do not build the perfect society through parliamentary debates. You build it through terror, fear and intimidation. The problem confronting any authoritarian-minded political party is most people genuinely prefer living in freedom to living under a dictatorship (if given the choice). Therefore, in a fascist society it is believed necessary to rule the people by decree and remove (or kill) those elements of society who oppose destiny. In the context of communism, Karl Marx assures us once the enemies of the movement are destroyed the government mystically “withers away.”

 7. Racism & Xenophobia
Fascists believe their country is in crisis or “rotting from within” because of the presence of “impure” people/groups. To address this crisis fascists attack enemies of the country’s “true identity” (usually members of an ethnic, racial or religious minority). The current rash of xenophobia in Canada towards Muslims (2015), Syrians in particular, demonstrates the sobering prospect that fascism (however latent) exists in many of us and is never far from the surface. Also, fascists consider any citizen who speaks out against attacks on minorities as enemies. For this reason people who support the humanitarian aims of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada are wrongly labelled as either sympathetic or active “supporters of terrorism.” (People are just so intellectually lazy sometimes.) Fascists feel a sense of urgency when it comes to purifying society; it cannot be achieved fast enough.

Communists likewise desire purity; yet, the purity they are after isn’t racial. Instead, they want citizens to be ideologically pure. In other words, the Communist Party in Russia wanted the “thinking” of their citizens to perfectly line up with the teachings of communist theorists like Marx or Vladimir Lenin. Perhaps the greatest expression of this pathological desire for ideological purity came when the Soviet Union liberated its soldiers from prisoner of war camps in Germany during World War II. Instead of being freed and joining their comrades in the Red Army, these former prisoners were sent to new prisons in Russia, i.e. they could not be trusted because they had seen what it was like out of the Soviet Union and they might spread heretical ideas in the USSR. Communists, like fascists, do not tolerate criticism of the government. Individuals do not have the right to freedom of speech or even freedom of conscience. You are expected to give yourself entirely over to the communist cause (a cause which requires great sacrifice now with promises to pay off at some indeterminate time in the future—a future that never seems to arrive by the way).

Fascists view minorities as the enemy. Communists, on the other hand, insist “big business” and capitalism are the real enemy. Fascists deal with minorities in one of the following ways, e.g. they’ll expel them; if this doesn’t work they’ll imprison them (the current “for profit” prison system in America conveniently deals with the disenfranchised African American population); and if imprisonment doesn’t work you can always kill them. Communists, Marx in particular, argued the extermination of the Bourgeoisie might be necessary; however, communists do not have to kill the Bourgeoisie in order to establish communism. Instead, the wealthy as a distinct class can be destroyed by simply taking their businesses from them and abolishing private property. In short, communists seek to turn the wealthy elite (and middle class) into “wage earners” like everyone else.

In principle fascism focuses on what a person intrinsically is or is not while communism focuses its attention simply on a person’s social role. Both communism and fascism have some serious drawbacks (yeah think?); but at least it can be said of communism that one doesn’t have to resort to mass murder to “purify” society (although Josef Stalin did frequently resort to this, e.g. Holodomor (1932-1933), the Great Purge (1937-1939) or the Katyn Massacre (1941)). Again, in principle (so many principles), you can change a person’s social role without having to first destroy the person. The difference between fascism and communism is fundamental: communism seeks to develop everyone while fascism excludes or eliminates all who don’t belong to the “ideal.”

Well that was quite a mouth full. I wonder at what point a reporter asking me a question like “what is fascism” would leave? So next time a reporter asks you a question about either fascism or democracy or communism, maybe you’ll sound a little smarter than a goalie or probably anyone playing for (or supporting) the Maple Leafs.


Episode 7: Talking Tolkien & Hope

Peasants & Emperors is a podcast presenting topics related to democracy, science, culture, women’s issues, current events and critical thinking. A new podcast is produced and available for listening/download approximately every two weeks.

In episode seven, the Hooligans discuss whether or not fantasy as a literary genre is still relevant to the 21st century: can we learn anything about our own world by dwelling in imaginary ones?

Episode 7: Talking Tolkien & Hope

Click on the hyperlink above to download and listen to the podcast. Feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below. One of the cast members will respond.

Thanks in advance for listening and check back regularly for updates to the site and podcast.

Notes & Clarifications
1). Eucatastrophe in fantasy is a literary term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien referring to a sudden turn of events at the end of a story ensuring the protagonist does not meet some untimely end.

2). We just wanted to point out Jessica’s pronunciation of the word “damned” as “damn-ed” was awesome.

3). Thank you to WingNut Films and New Line Cinema for graciously allowing us to use two audio clips from Peter’s Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.