Oakland, California

How To Be Hopeless

“Dealing with fascism is an inevitable part of living alongside other people,” Carlos Maza argues in this excellent video called How To Be Hopeless.

Maza compares fascism to a plague:

This is what it means to fight a plague: it's rage, exhaustion, and more often than not, it's mourning. Not just for the way things are, but all the ways things could've been.

This video broke me this morning. It puts words to something that I’ve tried to over and over again. Carlos has me thinking about potential and loss again. But...also regret.

My greatest regret is that I didn’t fight Brexit. I didn't go to any protests. I didn't help at all. Heck, I didn't even vote against it. I was so thoroughly consumed with my own ego that I believed something so utterly batshit could never happen.

And so I chose to ignore the plague.

But then I watched it roll into my hometown and by then it was too late. My family was consumed whole by racist propaganda; my mom, my dad, my brother. Fascist ideology took hold of their minds until today I barely recognize them.

For years I would call my family. I would pace around my apartment in the middle of the night whilst screaming and wailing and pleading with them. I read everything I could about Brexit and tried to figure out which arguments worked best. Nothing worked.

It seemed so futile, like a virus without a cure. Yet I believed I could purge these fascist sympathies from my family through sheer force of will. Through sheer stubbornness. And love.

Since then I keep coming back to this piece by Dorothy Thompson from 1941 called Who Goes Nazi? She wrote:

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.

[...] It’s fun—a macabre sort of fun—this parlor game of “Who Goes Nazi?” And it simplifies things—asking the question in regard to specific personalities.

Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi.[...] But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.

Dorothy is describing the same plague, and 71 years later we’re still fighting this thing. In Carlos’s video he makes a startling argument: we’ll always be fighting this plague, fascism isn’t something that ever goes away. The problems within our society are buried so deep that it’s impossible to ever fully uproot this thing. But that doesn’t mean we should give up.

How do we fight it? Carlos quotes Albert Camus with perhaps the only good answer we have:

The only means of fighting a plague is common decency.

I don’t find much solace in this, but I do like it. It reminds me of Invisible Cities where Italo Calvino describes how we must fight the inferno:

...the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

And then hold on tight.

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