Essays, fascism, latest
Comments 42

The Rise of Fascism in a Brave New Digital World

by Jeff Einstein, via DigitalApostate

There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution Aldous Huxley

We are watching Huxley’s dystopian vision of a Brave New World controlled by state-sanctioned addiction unfold right before our eyes. And true to Huxley’s prescience, we rather enjoy it. The only surprise is that the operative pharmacological agents he warned against aren’t delivered in pill or liquid or other physical form, and we don’t call them soma or heroin or crystal meth or crack.  They’re delivered in bits and bytes instead, and we call them media.  Consider…

  • The average American household has only 2.75 people, but 3 TVs and 6 Internet devices.
  • The average American family spends more money each month on media consumption than on groceries or electricity.
  • The average American consumes 12-15 aggregate hours of digital media per day.
  • The average American child consumes more than 10 hours of digital media per day.
  • The average American smartphone is checked every 6-12 waking minutes.
  • 70% of Americans binge view.

The jury is in and the verdict is irrefutable: A pervasive and pernicious meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital has emerged over the past generation as the default condition of American life, the rule rather than the exception. We are born into and live our lives in a completely immersive screen culture whose primary directive is to search for, find and ingest media all day long — virtually every waking minute.

We carry pocket-size TV screens with us everywhere we go, and more screens of various sizes greet us wherever and whenever we pause: at home in our bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms. At work in elevators, reception areas and atop every desk. On the road in gas pumps, airline seats, taxis, airports and train stations. At play in bars and restaurants. In school, in the doctor’s office and just about everywhere else.

Our kids are hooked on media before they enter pre-school. Digital media shape and define our lives at every stage and in every possible way. We are, per media ecologist Neil Postman’s seminal title, Amusing Ourselves to Death, forever swapping electrons in a Brave New Digital World where none of us will soon be able to find or fashion context or meaning for our lives beyond the High-Definition bits and bytes we consume virtually nonstop through all our digital devices.

Our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital is passionately non-partisan and politically correct to a fault — but also perfectly attuned to protect and promote the interests of the corporate, government and academic power brokers who yield it so effectively. Like all late-stage addictions it moderates and controls almost all of our personal and social debates, and narrates virtually every facet of our lives.

Our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital extols personal empowerment while it compels us to work twice as hard and twice as long for half as much money. It preaches community values while it sells brute efficiencies of scale, destroys jobs and shifts trillions of dollars from middle-class neighborhoods and retirement accounts to gilded and gated enclaves. It preaches democracy and transparency and digital accountability while it sells power and influence to the highest bidders behind closed doors and buries culpability in the bottomless fine print of online user agreements and privacy statements. It preaches income equality and sharing economies while it converts entire industries into white-collar sweatshops where carefully crafted and legally vetted job descriptions translate into piecework for pennies with no benefits. It preaches retirement planning while it euphemizes blatant ageism and the eradication of job security as worker liberation and workplace flexibility.

Our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital celebrates, blames and balkanizes everyone — Republicans and Democrats and Independents and males and females and young and old and straight and gay and black and white and every shade in between — but is accountable to no one. It befriends, informs, comforts and amuses us without end while it steals our time and money and freedom — just like any other addiction to any other narcotic.

Meanwhile, thousands of highly educated and well-qualified financial experts tell us how to invest and protect our money. Thousands of highly educated and well-qualified health and nutrition experts tell us how to eat well and stay healthy. Thousands of highly educated and well-qualified lifestyle experts tell us how to manage and empower our lives. All of them tell us to stay tuned for more. Yet barely one generation into the digital era — with functionally limitless access to everything worth knowing about the secrets to financial success, the science of health and nutrition and the keys to personal empowerment — we find ourselves with less money and more debt, fatter and besieged by chronic lifestyle-related disease, time-starved, sleep-deprived and far more anxious and fearful than ever before. What’s wrong with this picture?

The same digital technologies of scale that created millions of jobs and powered the dot com boom of the late 1990s now destroy far more American jobs than they create. The same digital technologies of scale that gave rise to the Wall Street and digital media cultures now all but guarantee periodic financial calamity and the steady erosion of civil liberty. The same digital technologies of scale that promised utter accountability and transparency have turned forensic accounting into a growth industry, and are now common license for corporate, government and academic executives to rob us blind while they barricade themselves behind an opaque veil of impenetrable complexity and bureaucratic inertia.

Pushed to extreme, our digital tools of scale have started to push back and turn against us. Much of the opportunity that once defined the Great American Dream has quietly migrated en masse over the first digital generation to other parts of the world with cheaper labor and fewer regulatory constraints. And as opportunity leaves American shores for other parts of the world, the quality of life for middle-class Americans leaves with it.

Historically, the extreme polarization of wealth and the decline of opportunity are the classic pre-conditions for the ascent of secular Fascism. Such is increasingly the case in America today, just as such was the case in post-WWI Germany and Italy and such was the case also in pre-Communist Russia, China and Cuba.

Like the old Fascism, the new Fascism comes wrapped in the strident language of identity politics and tribalized victimhood. But this ain’t your daddy’s Fascism. The new Fascism is hip, stylish, thoroughly inclusive, immensely entertaining and powered by thousands of server farms and billions of microchips. I call it eFascism, and define it simply as the religion of the state in 21st-century digital America.

One common feature of secular Fascism (capitalist or socialist) is the early and ongoing suppression, marginalization and/or elimination of organized religion. Like its 20th-century analog counterparts, American eFascism doesn’t play well with competing gods, precisely why popular media have vilified and portrayed Western religion as the sworn enemy of all things progressive over the past generation (despite obvious and abundant evidence to the contrary). And precisely why secular Fascists like Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Castro all felt the same acute need to marginalize and eradicate clergy as prelude to their murderous regimes.

Where theocratic Fascism rises by the sword of imposed moral authority, the rise of secular Fascism demands the opposite: a moral vacuum filled by the cults of personality, celebrity, expertise and political correctness. Both forms reflect spiritual disorder and disease, but only secular Fascism promotes itself as our primary co-conspirator: friend not foe, partner not master.

Western religion and American clergy are the canaries in the secular Fascism coal mine of 21st-century America. This time, however, the real threat to organized religion and the quality of life comes not from the iron boot of Orwellian Fascism (at least not yet). It comes not from the things we fear and loathe. Rather, it comes from the Huxleyan things we love and trust and invite into our homes and lives. For most of us Big Brother isn’t some stranger who kicks our doors down and invades our homes under cover of darkness. Far more often we invite him like an honored guest into our living rooms and kitchens and dining rooms and bedrooms.

Turns out that the real threat to the quality of life in 21st-century America comes not from overt deprivation or outright oppression but from our meta-addiction to media-driven excess as de facto mandate on an immense institutional scale. eFascism is what emerges when powerful institutions (private and government alike) collude to wage protracted digital war against moderation — and win.

eFascism embraces and embodies the very essence of addicted excess, an institutionalized orgy-porgy of mass psychosis deliberately manufactured and invoked by the constant and relentless release of media-induced dopamine and endorphins in all of our brains almost all of the time. It’s no mistake that the rise of secular Fascism in the early 20th century coincided with the rise of electronic mass media.

Where democracy was the primary political bias of print media, fascism is the primary political bias of electronic media

Fade out, fade in: A century after the rise of secular Fascism we think it’s normal to consume electronic media almost every waking minute of every day because we’ve been told for decade after decade to stay tuned and because everyone around us now behaves the same way. We think it’s normal, but it’s the kind of normality that ensues only when the inmates — the biggest addicts — take over the asylum.

Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial. Meanwhile, the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit. — Aldous Huxley.

Those who would Occupy Wall Street or stage tea parties need look no further than their own smartphones and the cash reserves of Apple and Samsung and Google and Yahoo and Facebook and Twitter and Microsoft and Disney and Discovery and Comcast and Time Warner and Viacom and FOX and Verizon and AT&T and DISH and DirectTV and SiriusXM and Nintendo and Electronic Arts and Sony and Amazon and Netflix and Omnicom and WPP and Publicis and Interpublic and Dentsu to explain the accelerated polarization of wealth and the concomitant destruction of the middle class in 21st-century America. True, the big banks are happily and eagerly complicit, but the populist war against Wall Street — however justified — is a mere smoke screen for the real power brokers. Follow the money these days and it will lead you directly from your own smartphone, tablet, laptop and HDTV to the balance sheets of the biggest digital and media dealers and their obscenely compensated proxies in entertainment, academia and all levels of government.

Meanwhile our addiction tells us in no uncertain terms that the answers to all our problems can only be found in the consumption of still more media and still more digital devices. It wraps itself in the institutionalized sales language and imagery of personal empowerment, freedom and democracy. But personal empowerment and the digital democratization of media are the mythic golems of global media franchises, advertisers and professional spinmeisters with billion-dollar budgets — the glittering distractions of a default addiction narrative writ large and hidden in plain sight behind the soothing façade of a Potemkin global village fashioned on a Hollywood soundstage. The same digital and social media tools that we love to describe as liberating forces were manufactured by immense global corporations with big budgets and little tolerance (beyond that expressed in their own advertising, marketing and PR) for the feel-good platitudes and slogans of media-driven and induced pop culture. “Pay no attention,” they tell us, “to the man behind the curtain.”

The true bias of digital technology is neither personal empowerment nor freedom. The true bias of digital technology and eFascism is the efficient and accelerated consolidation of institutional power and wealth among those institutions — corporations and government agencies alike — already far too powerful and far too wealthy. The real bias of digital technology benefits most those massive corporations and government agencies that singly and together already manage and manipulate terabytes of data each and every day.

The result is more conspiracy by fiat than design these days as top government regulatory, industry lobby and university administration jobs are increasingly interchangeable and incestuous components of single ambitious careers. Big government agencies, their big corporate counterparts and major academic research institutions all emerge bigger, wealthier and more powerful as the primary bias of digital technology to consolidate additional power and wealth among those already too powerful and too wealthy asserts itself each and every time they sit down to negotiate with each other. Conspiracy by design is simply no longer necessary when conspiracy by fiat satisfies the same ends and — conveniently — offers plausible deniability to everyone and accountability to no one.

Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power — Benito Mussolini

What we call government regulation these days is in fact corporatism at work, little more than a tool-driven marriage of convenience among incestuous alumni of the same Ivy League MBA programs. Witness the fact that the financial institutions deemed too big to fail back in 2008 are — for the most part — twice the size and only half as accountable today, not in spite but precisely because of government regulation. Contrary to what the ruling elite of the Brave New Digital World tell us time and again, too big to fail isn’t just another unintended consequence of a bad plan. Too big to fail is the plan.

In the Carrollian world of default addiction to all things media and all things digital (where up is down and down is up), career politicians and corporate power brokers conspire by fiat with academic henchmen behind closed doors to manufacture periodic financial calamity, only to emerge at the 11th hour of each crisis to announce the latest rescue plan to save the economy and prevent the next manufactured calamity. The cast of characters and the industries they represent may change from crisis to crisis, but the rescue plan remains pretty much the same with each refrain: another obscene payday for those most responsible (and least accountable). Each manufactured calamity adds another three zeros to the national dialogue and debt (we can only hope that no one knows what to call a thousand trillions). And each manufactured calamity further indentures us as late-stage addicts to the service and whims of an insatiable oligarchy: an AllenCo cast of 21st-century robber barons fronted by an endless media-induced frenzy of dazzling digerati and glamorous glitterati.

In the Carrollian world of default addiction to all things media and all things digital (where down is up and up is down), big government is championed as the antidote to big business when in fact big government and big business are merely flip sides of the same corporatist coin — precisely why campaign finance reform remains forever fixed on where the money may or may not come from instead of where it always seems to wind up: in the very deep pockets of global media interests.

In the Carrollian world of default addiction to all things media and all things digital (where a cigar is never just a cigar), we hail Google and Apple — the world’s wealthiest corporations — as counter-culture icons and turn the War Against Drugs over to the media, the biggest dealers on the block.

Thus no surprise that the typical image of addiction-driven eFascism manifests not in a pair of iron boots but in a perfectly white smile and a paralyzing torrent of fatherly advice. It preaches freedom of choice but — like every other addiction to every other narcotic — obliterates the only real freedom: the freedom not to participate, the freedom to simply walk away.

The same eFascism is the driving meme of every grade level in just about every school and is baked into just about every job description. It comes from everywhere at once all of the time without respite, and it marginalizes or destroys anything else — like common sense, freedom, democracy and religion — that preaches moderation and restraint (the true enemies of both addiction and eFascism) as critical and indispensable components to the quality of life.

Meanwhile, our corporatist masters and oligarchs have quietly and efficiently amassed the world’s largest prison population, militarized our urban police and all but obliterated personal privacy in order to satisfy the insatiable appetites of Homeland Security and the digital media industry for more and more personal data. A perfect recipe for the rise and enforcement of a Fascist state via a perfect delivery system: a state-sanctioned meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital.

The battle cry for eFascism is the commercial entreaty to eat all we want. But the more we eat, the poorer, fatter, sicker, more fearful, more envious and more dependent we become. The more we eat, the more we enrich and empower our corporate, government and academic masters. The more we eat, the more time, money and freedom we surrender to them. The more we eat, the quicker we starve to death on an impoverished diet of spiritually empty calories. Soon enough, democracy — like everything else for sale on commercial TV — becomes just another perennial product category, like fast food and antacids. Still, the relentless electronic entreaty continues ever-amplified and unabated: “Eat all you want,” they tell us. “We’ll make more.”

Under eFascism, the self-serving scoundrels in corporate board rooms, the self-serving scoundrels in government and the self-serving scoundrels in academia are all the same self-serving scoundrels at different stages of their careers. They blame their own fiscal mismanagement on the unrestrained rise of entitlement programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security. But their definition of entitlement is shamefully transparent, because what the high priests and drug lords of the Brave New Digital World call entitlement programs are in fact nothing more than the table scraps left over from their own bottomless and rapacious gluttony.

Under eFascism, true and enduring entitlement begins and ends not with Food Stamps, but at the top in the hallowed halls of Congress, state legislatures and city councils, where Republicans and Democrats with 85-90% incumbency rates exempt themselves from the laws they pass for the rest of us, and stop selling influence as career politicians only to start buying it as highly paid lobbyists.

Under eFascism, true and enduring entitlement begins and ends not with Social Security, but at the top in the ivory towers of academia, where shameless administrators sit atop billion-dollar endowments and sports programs, and engorge themselves at the expense of middle-class parents whose children emerge with a lifetime of debt and few career prospects. All while students and tenured faculty champion diversity of everything except thought, and attack freedom of speech in tribal defense of some presumed and privileged right not to suffer the ignominious insult (real or perceived) of systemic micro-aggression and cultural appropriation.

Under eFascism, true and enduring entitlement begins and ends not with Medicare, but at the top in the opulent cabins of private jets and convoys of armored Cadillac Escalades en route to global warming conferences.

Under eFascism, true and enduring entitlement begins not with Medicaid, but at the top where the cult of celebrity deigns to inveigh against social injustice and income inequality while walking the red carpets of televised award ceremonies too numerous to count.

Under eFascism, Oscar Wilde’s definition of the cynic as the man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing will soon define us all.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. Hanna Arendt

Fifty years after Hanna Arendt published her seminal work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, we find the banality of evil invoked once again in the deliberate obliteration of critical thought on a massive institutional level. It hovers over us in the Brave New Digital World like a dark cloud of drones.

Indeed, our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital is the polar opposite of critical thought. Perhaps the revolution referenced by Aldous Huxley in the opening quote to this piece speaks less to the inevitable consolidation and victory of corporatist power over individual will and liberty and more to the fulfillment of our chemical destiny as a species wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain at a time in our technological evolution when the supply of affordable narcotics is suddenly universal and utterly relentless. Maybe addiction and eFascism are simple chemical destiny, what remains after the wholesale replacement of the meaningful rituals in our lives with digital convenience, entertainment and trivia.

Nothing is profane when everything is already rendered profane. Just as freedom is first and foremost a spiritual yearning, addiction and Fascism are first and foremost crises of spirit. Ironically, western religions are — for better or worse — the only remaining institutional voices of restraint and reflection in a nation driven mad by what many recovering addicts describe as self-will run riot.

The high priests and drug lords of the Brave New Digital World criticize and ridicule the great world religions as sheer superstition and wholesale surrender to irrational and misplaced faith. They caution us time and again not to invest our faith in things we cannot see or measure. Rather than the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, our faith has been reduced to something crass and commercial, something we can only buy instead. So we worship for hours and hours and hours each and every day at the high-tech temples of Apple and Google and Facebook and Amazon.com.

Yet there’s a reason why freedom of religion and freedom of speech are guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: it’s because one cannot exist in practice without the ethical and moral authority of the Other, and because everything else follows. Also because the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written in the Age of Reason, at the apogee of critical thought: a deliberate and rational process that always begins with a skeptical mind and an ethical question.

Accordingly, it’s time to step back and declare once again the sacred in our lives, right here and right now, before freedom of religion and freedom of speech are euphemized to death in the scintillating and politically correct juggernaut of the Brave New Digital World.

In the Brave New Digital World, we can no longer afford to begin each new endeavor with the practical question, “Can I?” Rather, we need to begin each new endeavor with the ethical question, “Should I?”

In conclusion I offer an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s Choruses From the Rock…

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.


42 Comments

  1. George says

    Hello Jeff,

    I don’t know if this has much relevance to your post but I was intrigued when you mentioned Neil Postman. I never read his “Amusing Ourselves to Death” but I did read his “Disappearance of Childhood”. His point there was that the phase of life we call childhood and take for granted was a phase that didn’t exist until the invention of the printing press.

    The basic idea is that, in every society, when the young have learned what they need to know as adults they, effectively, become adults. The learning period is a period of nurture where the young are shielded from information and experiences they are considered too immature for.

    Before the emergence of literacy, the age of transition was around 8. Thus there was nothing that we would call childhood. There was only infancy and then adulthood.

    The emergence of literacy created a much longer learning period – which meant a longer period in which secrets were kept until the deemed age of maturity. Postman’s point is that the rise of electronic media has removed the need for literacy. We now live in a thoroughly visual age. Through the use of the computer mouse and icons, children can have direct access to everything. Some may see this as liberating but Postman had deep fears. We seem to be on the verge of a new medievalism in which there are only infants and adults. And, perhaps as in the original medieval age, it may be difficult to tell the difference.

    • George, Maybe its because of the job I did, which involved keeping abreast of very rapid changes in technology, requiring constant relearning to maintain employment, or maybe the girl I met and married, which resulted in almost continuous exposure to young children for most of my life, including now, but I don’t think I have reached “the age of transition” yet. My wife is very much a child too. We are both over 60, not quite yet become adults, even if we are grandparents.

      I found the author’s essay very interesting, including his blog. I thought bevin’s comments were even better.

      Tony

    • Thank you for reading my essay, George. Yes, I’ve read Postman’s “Disappearance of Childhood”, and I sympathize with many of the fears he expresses. To me, however, the bigger problem is no longer the end of childhood. To me, the bigger problem is the opposite: the end of adulthood. The Brave New Digital World has largely eliminated the primary behavioral distinction between kids and adults: the desire and ability to defer gratification. Hence, kids grow up not to become adults, but to become older kids.

      While it’s understandable that we turn our attention to the welfare of our children, our meta-addiction to all things media and all things is digital is a top-down phenomenon. The problem didn’t start with our kids. Neither should the solution.

      Thanks again, George.

      • George says

        Thanks for your response. I didn’t feel my comment had a direct bearing on the discussion but I wanted to make it anyway. I did imply that the disappearance of childhood meant in fact the collapse of the distinction between children and adults.

        Tonyopmoc: I wasn’t talking about the matter of feeling like a child – which is frankly what we all want to feel i.e. that sense of wonder and enthusiasm for life. (Ironically – I feel I may never have had it. I was always introspective.) I was talking about the matter of knowledge and coping with responsibilty. The bit about deferring gratification is important – but it is precisely consumer capitalism that works unceasingly to destroy every last shred of restraint in its incessant drive to increase sales and maximise profits.

        • Thanks again, George. Mechanically, addiction breaks down the meaningful rituals in our lives (those that help us defer gratification among them) and replaces them with the rituals of the addiction.

          The fact that addiction became a design component deliberately deployed by the young wizards of the Silicon Valley with no hint of consideration for the lives of those who purchased and/or used their products is — of course — shameful, a shame compounded by their recent claims that the magnitude of the deleterious social consequences that ensued were somehow unintended — when nothing could be further than the truth.

          We don’t call it cradle-to-grave marketing for nothing…

          • Jeffrey, I really liked the essay on your blog, about addiction, for example when I was young, I used to be extremely addicted to racing extremely powerful motorcycles, but when I was 25, I looked myself in the mirror, and said to myself, if you don’t stop doing this, you ain’t going to make 30. So I gradually gave it up over a year, but I still drove my bike all over most of England, to go to Gliding Clubs – Learning To Fly (to go solo) (real gliders – not these dangerous kites that got in the way. I wanted to pull even more g – and did)

            I gave that up as well. My girlfriend was even more addictive. I even gave her up too when I met my wife. She is incredibly addictive and I’m still with her.

            How about you?

            http://digitalapostate.com/truth-about-addiction

            “Turns out that nothing we’ve been taught about addiction is true.”

            Tony

            • Thank you for sharing your experience with addiction, Tony, and I’m most gratified that you found some value in my essay on addiction.

              My definition of addiction as “…a largely self-correcting and perfectly normal lifestyle coping mechanism that sometimes goes awry” came after many years of personal experience with different narcotics and narcotic behaviors, not least among them, cigarettes, marijuana, sex and media. The same experience over several decades (supplemented by discussions with hundreds of addicts) led me to reject the shamefully self-serving addiction-as-disease model and conclude that addiction travels laterally in our lives as an essential component of who and what we are. Of my past addictions, only my addiction to all things media and all things digital persists and still requires vigilance and deliberate mitigation — so far.

              Per my essay, our brains are chemically compelled to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, so we are essentially wired to become addicts. Early social engineers realized this many thousands of years ago. In response, they fashioned systems — religions not least among them — designed to both mitigate and exploit the behavioral aspects of addiction that might harm us as individuals and societies at large, and/or enrich us as kings, queens and high priests.

              Hence, the central tenets of most religions tell us what not to do in order to live in harmony with our gods and each other. The Ten Commandments don’t tell us how to behave as much as they tell us how not to behave, just as the Bill of Rights doesn’t tell the government what it can do to citizens as much as it tells government what it can’t do. Indeed, civility and civil liberties are essential and well-codified exercises in both individual and social restraint.

              Over the millennia, religions and societies have imposed rituals designed to restrain our worst and most excessive tendencies. Worship, the family dinner table, the sabbath day of rest, afternoon naps, the town hall debates and other meaningful rituals instituted and adopted over the years were all designed to impose restraint and thus promote social balance, maintain harmony and yes, protect the interests of the status quo.

              We are now witness to what happens to civility, civil discourse, civil liberties and the general quality of life when addiction emerges as the default social condition, the rule rather than the exception.

              Like every other addiction to every other narcotic, our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital obliterates the meaningful rituals in our lives, and replaces them with the rituals of our addiction(s). In essence, it removes the very things that separate us from our own chemical destiny. En route it castrates restraint and labels it oppression — like petulant teenagers whose parents confiscate their smartphones. And like every other addiction to every other narcotic, it steals our time and money and freedom.

              We need to be exceedingly careful what we wish for…

              Thank you, Tony. Much indebted…

    • Thank you for reading my essay, Nerevar, and for the kind words.

      Both addiction and Fascism are — by definition — extreme and excessive, and the appropriate behavioral responses to both are humility (perspective), moderation and common sense.

      Humility is what we lose when we sacrifice our spirituality to arrogance, when we underestimate the power of our narcotics and overestimate our power to resist them. Arrogance and the lack of perspective are the dominant characteristics of all extreme social visions, utopian and dystopian alike. Wait an hour or two before you check your email or social media in the morning, and put your devices down for the night at least an hour before you retire. Start and end your day with prayers of supplication (to any power greater than yourself) and gratitude. Supplication and gratitude restore humility and perspective — the great healing agents of humankind.

      Moderation is a far better, far more effective response to addictive excess than abstention (just another form of extreme behavior). We needn’t travel from one polar extreme to the other to remedy excess and find balance. We only need to travel half way. Designate certain areas of your home — like your dining room and bedroom — as off limits to digital devices, and replace mindless screen time with regularly scheduled family, social and outdoor activities whenever and wherever possible.

      My experience suggests that the path to knowledge is additive but the path to wisdom is subtractive. Common sense is what remains (hopefully) when we subtract the excess borne by arrogance (best represented in the Brave New Digital World by the high-priest class of talking-head experts). Like truth, common sense is revelatory, and mindful subtraction of mindless screen time in small increments on a daily or weekly basis can change our lives dramatically. Resist the urge to know things right away and confine the time you spend within the toxic and utterly reactive environments of email and social media to one or two regularly scheduled hours per day.

      Humility and moderation and common sense combine to clear our hearts and minds and schedules for the wonder and miracle of serendipity — the most effective change agent in our lives. In the end, control is an illusion, and all addiction recovery — regardless of the narcotic — begins with a willingness to confront our pain…

      Thanks again for reading my article, Nerevar, and thanks for asking such a pertinent question.

  2. The Cad says

    Fascism is the state and the state is fascism. The article’s statistics generalise too far, millions of Americans don’t have the money for computers or the electricity to run them.

  3. Harry Stotle says

    ‘The true bias of digital technology and eFascism is the efficient and accelerated consolidation of institutional power and wealth among those institutions’ – true, in a very short space of time digital technology has accelerated this concentration of power, especially its pervasive reach, and the kind of all-seeing, all-knowing dynamic that arises once vast quanities of electronic data about our personal life is voluntarily surrendered to the mega-corporations.

    Information capture on a mass scale is undoubtedly a key driver although in this respect most of us have been willing authors of our own doom, perhaps because at some level we can’t help believing (without putting it into so many words) that Michel’s iron law of oligarchy will alway prevail.

    Where I differ from Jeff is the equation of human spirituality with religion – these are actually two seperate spherers in my opinion even if believers of different religions see spirituality as a central pillar in their belief system. In actual fact people are spiritual and kind for all sorts of complex reasons.

    ‘Life and fate’ is a monmental work by Vasily Grossman (set during the Nazi occupation of Russia) – in it he (or one of the characters) says, “I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”

    • Thank you for reading and commenting on my essay, Harry. A lovely response: from your lips to God’s ear.

      Just to clarify: I don’t equate spirituality with religion. I understand that the relationship of religion to spirituality is custodial, not proprietary. I understand further that the major religions have often proven themselves poor and unworthy custodians of such a precious charge.

      I read Life and Fate some years ago, and was very moved by it, particularly by the passage you quoted. Over the years I have taken it upon myself, as an exercise in faith, to invert conventional wisdom whenever and wherever I encounter it: that we don’t find love and inspiration and innovation nearly as much as they find us (assuming we can open our hearts and clear the weeds between our ears). That knowledge brings more misery than joy. That the path to knowledge may be accretive but the path to wisdom is subtractive. That reason and logic figure far down the list of things that motivate us. That our minds aren’t wired to pursue the truth; they’re wired to pursue the advantage. That Darwin had it right but backwards: we’re not evolving from apes, we’re evolving into apes (with any luck)…

      Thanks again for the lovely quote and reminder.

  4. Amazing, isn’t it? So much digital media, but its news component is solely MSM. Never real news (Orwell: “fake news”). Shame on the majority for their wilfil ignorance. When cities are flooding from climate change, it’ll be too late to stop it. And we’ll all be feeling sorry for ourselves.

    But all of this said, that there is a growing audience for alternative media is attested by the internet censorship drive now being spearheaded by FB and Google, a crucial omission in this article.

  5. bevin says

    A tsunami of metaphor signifying little more than a fascination with cell phones and computers.
    The daunting reality is that fascism, the form of government into which liberalism evolves under pressure by the exploited masses, is something that threatens us. The existence of this forum, and thousands more like it, however, suggests that critical thought and rigorous debate between ordinary people not only exists but has reached a level of intensity and excellence unprecedented in history. So the internet and e-technology are not entirely without their uses- the screens which Mr Einstein so deprecates have carried his ideas much further than they would have got in the past and incredibly more quickly too.

    Fascism is grounded not in disrespect for the allegedly sacred but in the fact that the age old business of milking the workers, and draining their blood for added nutrition, is under a challenge unprecedented in its breadth. The ideology of capitalism/cannibalism can no longer be sustained except by the cynical employment of force.
    The long line of casuists which, most recently featured Adam Smith, the Mills , pere et fils and Ricardo, has ended up with a thug of the kind Israel uses to put an end to discussion of Palestinian rights. That is what fascism is: the point at which the thieves, seeing that they have lost the argument, order the silencing of those calling out for justice. It is power crushing truth.

    As to the sacred, that is something that is need of investigation.
    What is sacred is not the mummery of organised ritual or the shallow bromides of the sanctimonious idler substituting himself for the prophet but the principles- common grounding for all religions before they separate themselves from reality rather than risk offending the taxman and the thug-the price religion pays for toleration by greedy power elites-the principles, which amount to simple socialism. These are rules that every community is built upon, all are equal, the weak must be protected, because we were all weak once and will be again, remedies must be shared and so on. Wherever humanity has existed it has strived to apply such principles. Now as we are close to forming one global community the need for social or communal co-operation is evidently the sole alternative to its opposite, total submission to power.
    And anyone who cannot see the difference between what Castro sought and fought for and what Hitler was about is actually a reminder that there are some disadvantages to our broadened forums and instant communications. And one of them is that not everyone thinks before writing and that there is a great deal of dross, nicely packaged and perfumed, being retailed as original honest thought.

    • Thank you, Bevin. I would begin my response to yours with the gentle suggestion that we shouldn’t conflate criticism with critical thought. The sheer volume of critical voices on both sides of the partisan aisle suggests that McLuhan was right on target when he first declared the medium as the message. As a medium, print promoted linear thought and reason. As a mass medium, it destroyed Western theocracies and gave rise to nation states, the Age of Reason, the American, French and Industrial Revolutions and the scientific method. By contrast, electronic media promote emotionalism and tribalism and corporatism (Fascism, by Mussolini’s definition). Electronic media simply don’t promote rational discourse, at least not very well. They do promote criticism and anger and emotional cravings. Commercially, they sell fear and envy by the boatload. Critical thought, not so much…

      Electronic media do indeed have their practical applications and benefits. But barely one generation into the digital lifestyle, the net effects of our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital are not the democratization of media, personal empowerment and institutional accountability — three of the four foundation myths promoted and sold as soft-power crowd control artifacts (the true and most durable legacy of the 1960s liberation movements) by the high priests and drug lords of the Church of the Brave New Digital World. The fourth — and perhaps most pernicious and destructive — is the entreaty to think globally and act locally, the quaint, immensely profitable and utterly fictional notion of the global community you (and hundreds of millions of others) seem to find in the reflection and volume of your own partisanship — a medium far too toxic to cultivate much critical thought.

      The fact that I included Castro on my short list of secular Fascists with Hitler, Mao and Stalin hardly suggests that I find no differences between them. Indeed, the differences are too numerous (and obvious) to cite. All I did was suggest a singular similarity. Apologies to you and others if doing so offended your partisan sensibilities, but it’s pretty hard these days to publish anything that doesn’t offend someone somewhere. That’s the medium as the message at work, not me.

      Hard to argue with your suggestion that my work has reached a far greater audience precisely because of the tools I deride because I simply can’t quantify how many good folks have read my writing over the years versus how many others I might have reached via other non-digital media. But the fact that the essay you first encountered today was first published a few years ago suggests that not very many people have seen or read it in the interim, not in spite of my digital tools but precisely because of them: precisely because my message challenges and upends so many of the universal myths held so dearly by partisans in concrete silos on both sides of the aisle. As a medium, digital tolerates very little meaningful dissent.

      The fact that I first published my hypothesis about our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital as the default social condition, the rule rather than the exception, way back in the spring of 2004 (some years before YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and smartphones ruled the world) hardly explains why you most likely never heard of me or read any of my work before today.

      Finally, you might want to check out my bio (http://digitalapostate.com/jeff-einstein) for a better understanding of where I come from and the costs I’ve incurred in my personal (and very deliberate) journey from digital media pioneer to Digital Apostate before you deign to lecture me further about the efficacy and benefits of digital.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment on my work.

  6. George Cornell says

    In an otherwise we’ll – written and thought-provoking article, the author’s categorization of Castro as having a fascist and murderous regime does suggest he is a victim of the very thing this article decries.

    • Thanks for reading my article, George. And many thanks for your comment re Castro. Not surprisingly, my criticism of Castro seems to be a call to action for many herein. While I’m not of the school that promotes the myth that the Castro regime murdered tens of thousands of dissidents and obliterated organized religion, I am willing to concede that several thousand anti-Castro dissidents were killed for their political beliefs. And while the Castro regime didn’t outlaw organized religion per se, it did codify atheism as a pre-requisite for membership in the Communist Party for several decades — long enough in effect to convert Cuba from a largely Catholic nation to a largely secular nation. In essence, it marginalized the practice of religion. I included Castro in my list of secular Fascists because his regime followed the same basic bellwether pattern of religious suppression as a defining characteristic of secular Fascism.

      Thanks again.

      • George Cornell says

        Jeff, you getting some stick for this because many remember the Batista days, where a corrupt American stooge was happy to sell the nation’s women into sexual slavery on behalf of the American gangsters and politicians who made Havana the world’s biggest whorehouse.

        Castro was opposed by what is now the Miami expat horde, most of whom were dispossessed by Castro but were Batista cronies, and the US government-funded forces who repeatedly tried to muder Castro.

        Castro restored dignity, gave them health care -their longevity equals that of the US, and for 1/10th the cost ! – and did a remarkable job despite the US embargo which led to starvation and nutritional blindness. Nothing illustrates the sheer capacity for malice by the US than that 6 decade shameless embargo of a poor struggling nation.

        • Thanks again, George. First things first: glad to hear that some on this page are old enough to remember Batista. Second, I won’t for a second argue Castro’s considerable achievements despite the shameful behavior of their neighbor to the north. I understand that my Castro comment constitutes what many on the left consider a cardinal sin, but I committed myself to a fiercely anti-partisan approach long ago as a means to clear my own head and stay focused. I understand also that almost every alternative website or publication — like off-guardian.org — is just as fiercely partisan, one way or another.

          Thank you for taking the time to ease my dilemma.

  7. bevin says

    I will comment when I’ve finished reading the article. Right now I’m trying to convince myself that the author of these lines
    “… secular Fascists like Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Castro all felt the same acute need to marginalize and eradicate clergy as prelude to their murderous regimes.”
    might be capable of producing thoughts of any merit.
    To put it very simply anyone who brackets Castro and Hitler together as ‘secular fascists’ is either an extremely dishonest demagogue, trawling the ignorant depths for applause; an ignoramus or a person so drunk on the fumes of hyperbole as to be incapable of thinking soberly.
    And the matter at issue requires sober, sensible and sincere thought, not adolescent exaggeration and historical libellling.

    • bevin says

      I might add that this collegiate introductory boilerplate
      “Yet there’s a reason why freedom of religion and freedom of speech are guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: it’s because one cannot exist in practice without the ethical and moral authority of the Other, and because everything else follows. Also because the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written in the Age of Reason, at the apogee of critical thought: a deliberate and rational process that always begins with a skeptical mind and an ethical question.”
      together with the references to Neil Postman and TS Eliot are a couple more indications of a mind newly minted on the peripheries of the Ivy League.

      • Thanks again, Bevin. Just to be clear: I’d be most happy to wake up one day and find my words enshrined in some fashion as introductory collegiate boilerplate — in part because I never attended college (too busy avoiding military conscription by two different armies in two different countries) and often describe my high school career as the best eight days of my life. You’ve also fulfilled my dream — inadvertently, I’m sure — to see myself mentioned alongside Neil Postman and TS Elliot. Finally, at my age, a newly minted anything is enough to make me smile…

  8. Big B says

    Fascinating article, with plenty to think about. I’m not sold on the diagnosis of eFascism: it seems to me that Jeff is taking the phenomena of commodity fetishism and applying it in isolation to our ‘Black Mirror’ tech commodities – when it can be equally applied to the entire process of commodification and materialism? Our devices make the bread and eCircus “Society of the Spectacle” more readily accessible, customisable and its consumption portable? As such, I’m with AP Wilberg below: are we not looking at the amplification and universalisation of lifestyle consumerism (a virtual commodity) of late ‘Empire’ stage capitalism – not (e)Fascism?

    As such; we are not looking at a new phenomena – but the logical progression into alienation of an age old phenomena – capitalism. One could then link in the real soma epidemic – of opioid addiction – that is concomitant with the tech hypnosis …not as separate manifestations of our underlying alienation and psychoses – but as causally linked? Then we are on our way to meaningful diagnosis – that these are both necessary components of the suppinification of the populace and market control …for the motive of profit?

    Marcuse wrote about the phenomena of “one dimension”; of the capture and control of discourse and culture (culture as consumerism); and the collapse of the “two-dimensional” (culture as critique) …so this is not a new phenomena: and not confined to the digital age. I’m in total agreement with referencing Hannah Arendt; but then Jeff veers into the moral absolutism of the “Other.” I would argue that it is precisely because of the Other that man has entered into a subservient and permanently morally immature relationship with authority. The appropriation and monopolisation of culture – that has developed into the uncritical acceptance of mass consumerism – was rooted in centuries of dominance based on the moral absolutism of the Church (the totalitarian manifestation of the Other)? So how can this be the ‘cure’: if that is what Jeff is proposing?

    “I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him” [Bakunin.]

    So if the answer is spirituality , which I believe it is – then it must come from within – and not be handed down “from above” (via the keepers of culture and authority). The necessary maturity and responsibility and morality are inherent in all …if we are not displaced from our true selves into permanent virtual distraction (the commodification of self, gender, identity, race, to the exclusion of all else?) Says me, through the ‘Black Mirror’ of my computer!

    [And I noted, but decided to let slip the remark about the “Fascist murderer” Castro!]

    • Thank you for reading my article, Big B, and for your thought-provoking comments. Yes, we are very much looking at the amplification and universalization of lifestyle consumerism. But that in fact corresponds with my definition of e-Fascism as the religion of the state in 21st-century America. My most profound concerns with the downsides of digital have less to do with its deliberately manufactured addictive qualities, and more to do with the institutional scale it compels. It’s not simply that consumerism is more accessible because of digital; it’s because the scale of digital in our lives has become so pervasive and so immersive that we can no longer walk away from it. Above and beyond its function as an extension of late-stage Capitalism, it has become, by any measure, the religion of the state.

      Also agree with you that the current opioid addiction is a reflection of the same root alienation and psychoses that drive our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital — and are driven by the same corporatist players and agendas. Nothing new per se in what I suggest, as the opening quote from Aldous Huxley testifies. Again, my primary concern is about the scale and power of the beast we’ve unleashed.

      Probably should have done a better job of defining the Other, rather than simply dropping it in juxtaposition to freedom of speech in the First Amendment. That said, freedom of religion in the First Amendment is not about protecting Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or any other organized religion. Freedom of religion is about YOUR individual freedom to worship any god YOU want without fear of state reprisal. And there can be no real freedom of speech unless or until YOU are free to find and define spirituality on your own terms first. I’m not proposing organized religion as a cure for anything, merely that it now represents the only remaining institutional voice of moderation and restraint in a world run riot. Organized religion is now the ONLY institutional sanctuary that implores us — by choice these days — to slow down, moderate our behavior, contemplate our relationship with the Other and examine our moral and ethical relationships with everything and everyone else. Apologies for not doing a better job.

      And yes, spirituality is the answer (for myriad reasons). Fortunately, organized religion — in this country at this time — is not in a position (for the most part) to force spirituality on anyone. It must come from within, just as true spirituality always has…

      Thanks again.

      • Big B says

        @Jeffrey: it looks as though we are broadly on the same page. And not just you and I: but the world’s financial elite. The theme for Davos [WEF18] is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” Even though your article is a “few years old”; it appears to capture the Zeitgeist – echoing the sentiments of the egalitarian global philanthropist George Soros (to be read as extreme sarcasm!) who obligingly quotes that FB and Google are establishing “a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.” My, my, Soros is concerned about monopoly control of the markets …obviously the wrong sort of monopoly? I wonder who could re-align these miscreant tech oligopolies? A civil society NGO funded by the Open Society Foundation perhaps? [End sarc!]

        To me, this highlights the dialectic antithesis of your thesis? Yes, eFascism is the religion of the State – but it could also foster the evolutionary-revolutionary trend toward emancipation? Something the market and thought-leaders are immensely scared of and seek to control? This is what is manifesting at Davos; and more broadly as the #FakeNews agenda …the capitalist ideologues need to re-adjust and re-align our beliefs toward their pre-approved script? Or put more cynically: to re-educate potential dissent and re-direct it toward eSolipsism and materialism?

        Micro-communities or forums, such as this one, are too atomised to be any real threat. But if our talking points were to go ‘viral’ …and ‘escape’ via social media into the virtual community consciousness – they could radicalise, revolutionise, and popularise debate? This is already the reality; judging by the counter-revolutionary reaction – highlighted at Davos? They want us all – or at least the inveighed majority – back inside our bubbles? Better to keep everyone occupied in a somnolent eSolipsistic echo-chamber; focused on trivia, hedonism and materialism? Best to let the hard thinking be done by the capitalist patriarchal ideologues like George?

        As to your primary concern about the scale and power of the beast we’ve unleashed? So yes, the internet tech revolution is a beast, but it has taken on a life of its own and is no longer controllable …not for all the money in Davos! Are you familiar with the ox-herding pictures of Zen? Though it would seem virtually impossible – given the dichotomy of the magnitude of influence those who seek to co-opt and appropriate culture to their own ends yield (Davos-mind?): and the soporific indifference of the many – but could not a ‘young boy’ (nascent evolutionary culture) capture and ride the beast? That would be the power of the Other?

        http://ordinaryzensangha.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/10-ox-herding-number-eight.jpg

        Both boy and beast transcended? Followed by “return to the source”; and “return to [yet to be envisaged spiritual-economic] society”?

        • Thanks so much for your well-considered response, Big B. Yes, seems you can’t throw a brick these days and not hit another confession or mea culpa from yet another Silicon Valley billionaire anxious to unload a guilty conscience and/or get out ahead of the inevitable class-action lawyers now waiting in the weeds.

          Re George Soros and the other oligarchs at Davos: the shared future they envision belongs exclusively to them. The fractured world part belongs to the rest of us.

          Despite my digital pedigree, I never drank my own Kool-Aid. Consequently, I invest little faith in digitally driven mirages like the Arab Spring or the Global Village. Both are byproducts of arrogance, modern Babels conceived and built by sheer hubris. For me, yesterday’s utopian plan always emerges as today’s dystopia.

          I’d rather invest my faith locally than globally any day on an actionable scale that’s more accountable to me and mine. I prefer the purely local and far more actionable news of the dinner table to the ersatz digital news and endless diversions designed to render me inert.

          Accordingly, I prefer the young boy and the ox. My guess is that the power of the Other will not overwhelm us in a digital flash. It will unfold over decades and centuries as it always has, and it will always be there for those who choose it. Meanwhile, resistance movements will come and go like the tyrants themselves. But they will always emerge first as some variation of the boy and the ox at our own dinner tables and in our own backyards.

          Back in the 1960s, Timothy Leary counseled us to turn on, tune in and drop out. We might be better counseled in the Brave New Digital World to turn off, tune out and drop in.

          Thanks again for your good time and energy, Big B.

    • @Marley. … and eFascism diverts our eyes from looking for thermite; and when a Professor of Metallurgy armed with his electron microscope finds thermite in the dust, eFascism suppresses our minds from asking the question: Whence came that thermite?

  9. mog says

    My young nephew was given ‘his own tablet’ when he was about two years old.
    I remember once he tried to swipe my face with the same action that one would use on a screen.

    His dad took away the screen after reading some of the research about the effects on early learning.

    My aging parents sit down to dinner with ‘alexa’ at the table, listening to every word.
    ……..

    Those (‘conspiracy theorists’) who predicted the rise of online media as a process of coralling opinion, were right. They foresaw a wholesale move onto the web where censorship became a simple matter of flicking a switch, shutting down links, removing from a list. It seems we are there.

    Maybe its time to get hold of an old printing press…?

    • Big B says

      Mog: astute observation …the printing press is an option – we could produce revolutionary samuzdat in pamphlets …so long as they were less than 140 characters each? ;-D

    • Thanks for reading my article, Mog. Yup. Probably just a matter of time before we actually will be able to swipe our faces. (Maybe folks will finally stop telling me that I’ve got a great face for radio…)

      On one of the two or three days I showed up on campus in my senior year in high school, I was elected student body president. My first official acts were to abolish the student legislature and seize the print shop — with two 1930s-vintage linotype machines!

  10. HP Wilberg says

    Yes, but Huxley was right about pharmaceuticals too – think of the mass consumption of antidepressants. And godless ‘fascism’ is a very poor word for what you write. Even National Socialism was experienced as a spiritual revival – and, no, unlike in the Soviet Union this ‘fascism’ did not go together with a suppression of the Church, let alone the wholesale destruction of Churches by the Bolsheviks. Some deeper and more balanced historical research would have benefitted this essay, which is about late-stage capitalism and suffers from today’s generalised and ill-defined use of the term ‘fascism’.

    • HPW. I take eFascism as equivalent to “Late stage Capitalism” and consequent cultural erosion; in the context of George Orwell’s prediction half a century ago, “There are no longer any Tories; only Liberals and Corporate Fascists”.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting on my essay, HP. I would never suggest that secular Fascism (socialistic, communistic or capitalistic) are anything except religious, merely that the gods they extoll don’t play well with other competing gods and religions. Of course, the Western theocracies of yesteryear and the Islamic and Jewish theocracies of today are hardly models of tolerance, either.

      There was certainly nothing unreligious about the young MBA evangelists of the dot com era, and their religion emerged as the religion of the state in the early 21st century.

      Thanks again, HP.

  11. Fair dinkum says

    All true Jeff, but there will be a spanner in the works:
    Climate cataclysm.
    It’s imminent.

Please note the opinions expressed in the comments do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or of OffG as a whole