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"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over
Fascism very much could be alive and well in America in today's toxic political climate. After all, the appeal of fascism breeds in unhealthy democracies. We can’t be too careful, says political expert Rob Riemen.
Rob Riemen is the Founder, President, and CEO of the Nexus Institute, a leading international center for intellectual reflection to inspire the Western cultural and philosophical debate. Mr. Riemen is also the editor of the essay journal "Nexus."
He is the author of Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal (2008), which has been translated into eighteen languages, and the new international bestseller To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism (2018)
Rob Rieman: Why is it difficult to identify fascism?
Well the first, the main reason I think, is that it’s bad news. And with bad news, with inconvenient truths the natural response is denial, right?
The most famous form of denial related to inconvenient truth was the report of the Club of Rome in 1972 limits to the growth, which was the first scientific report to make clear for the whole world that an ongoing economic growth in a industrial society will have devastating consequences for the planet. And the denial was enormous for decades. Now the denial is no longer possible and, you know, governments try to do what they do, and Greenpeace and other organizations—But imagine how the world, how the planet would have looked like if at that time people would have realized yes, it’s an inconvenient truth but they are right. We wasted time.
So the first part and to say look, the return of fascism is an inconvenient truth.
The second thing is… it’s very embarrassing, you know. After World War II, especially in my part of the world where fascism came from, Europe, at our commemoration day we will say, “never again”. That’s what we said all the time: “Never again.”
And so the whole idea that this terrible, terrible thing of fascism could be back was, you know, out of the question.
The third element is the phenomenon of we do not know our history anymore. There is a kind of political amnesia.
And so we are, we have forgotten some extremely important warnings which the warnings did not come from the political scientists. The warnings came from important artists. Novelists like Albert Camus and Thomas Mann, two great artists who lived through the era of fascism.
And in 1947, independent of each other, said “Don’t make the mistake. World War II is over but fascism did not disappear.”
Camus even wrote a very important novel about it, La Peste, The Plague, trying to explain “Look, this phenomenon of fascism is there to stay because it’s the dark side of every democracy. In every democracy it is possible that at the very moment the spirit of democracy is gone then you’ll get a society (which we now call a mass society) which is no longer cultivating the high ideals of a democracy, but you get the kind of society which is dominated by our lowest instincts – greed, fear, resentment, hatred, propaganda, stupidity. And that’s where the demagogues and the populists will move in and they will present their own version of fascism.
But we don’t recognize it, again because the idea is – well we know fascism is a bad thing, but in our, you know, media, Hollywood-oriented visual culture... look, in a visual culture, evil has to be very visible.
Look at Batman, right? Batman, handsome guy. And who’s the evil guy? The Joker, and you immediately see that is an evil man, right?
And James Bond, you immediately recognize who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. So we think that if there’s evil in our society you have to be able to immediately see it, right?
And so when it comes to fascism probably we’ll have swastikas and black uniforms and silly gestures. Now of course on the fringe there are always those lunatics who like to present themselves “Oh we are fascist” or “we are Nazis” or whatever. That’s the fringe. We can ignore, I mean, those idiots are always there.
But the fascism in our time will present itself in forms of our time.
So we have to look at the characteristics because the characteristics will be the same.
You and I—everybody who looks at this—will be different next year and five years from now, okay, because of time. At the same time we’re still the same, because our characteristics are still the same.
And so what are the characteristics of a fascist culture? In a fascist culture you’ll always have, and again, you know, the terrible examples of Mussolini, Franco and Hitler—they tell us: The fascist leader will always come forward in a time of crisis.
He—most of the time it’s a he—will present himself as the anti-political leader who will cure society of all social evils. A kind of new messiah. It's a cult figure. It will always be a form of extreme nationalism, you know, to “make the country great again”. That’s a very old phrase every fascist will use. Deprived of any positive idea, not even interested in it, because those fascist leaders are completely obsessed by self-interest. It’s all about them, them, them, them—them and nothing else.
They know they have to use all kinds of propaganda to captivate and brainwash and manipulate people. Again this is also an old story. I mean interestingly—enough the focuses of Sigmund Freud—Mr. Bernays, came here to American in the twenties and he wrote a small essay which is still available, entitled Propaganda.
And Bernays became the godfather of marketing and he became also very rich because he was one of those people who at that time managed to make women smoke. And he also could use the techniques of his uncle Sigmund Freud. But anyway in his essay Propaganda he in a very honest way said look, of course America is a democracy and Washington was the president and the congress.
He said, “but beyond that is an invisible government. And that’s us. Because we can control the mind of the people by marketing, by propaganda, by advertisement, a whole commercial culture is like this, right?”
So interestingly enough when the Nazis came to power in the thirties he got in touch with the White House and said look, you know, I know those people. Not personally but I know that Goebbels because I know their techniques. Probably I can help you because we will have the war of propaganda.
So anyway, propaganda. The other thing is all fascists will be and have to be: pathological liars. It will always be lies, lies, lies, lies, lies.
And a very telling example is that one of my intellectual heroes, Thomas Mann, who came to America in 1938, in 1948 he gave a lecture in L.A. And he said at that time, “if fascism should come to America it will come in the name of freedom.” And interesting enough so many of those fascist parties are parties for freedom including my country, the Netherlands, is the Party for Freedom. Of course this is a lie.
(Unintelligible) Okay, so there was this thing of and the demand of complete loyalty.
Then because the crisis is there so we always are in need of a scapegoat. The Jews or the Mexicans or the black people or people from Poland or wherever. They always are in need of a scapegoat. They are always in need of new enemies. And so the thing is that fascism is a political expression of our lowest human instincts. And with a leader who knows how to use it, you’ll get a very corrosive process in your democracy.
What we should never forget – two things about this.
We should never forget that Hitler could come into power through a democratic process. It was a democratic process. And even more telling than that: he lost the popular vote. He had 11 million votes, and 22 million voters did not vote for him. But the political parties, the power elite at that time thought well, you know, we can use the guy, we can control him. We give him this responsibility then people will understand what kind of failure he is, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, so many things as we’re seeing here right now.
And then there is this terrible blind spot.
So even one of the great heroes of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, on February 1933 – so Hitler was already in power. He gave a speech for the League Against Socialism—because as a real conservative, for Churchill, socialism was one of the terrible things and he immediately related it to Bolshevism, et cetera. In this lecture he gave there he says, he says quote-unquote, “In Italy it was Mussolini. Mussolini is the Italian genius of law and his fascism might be the strategy for our future.” Churchill in 1933. I mean it took him even a couple of more years to realize what the connection is between Mussolini and Hitler.
So if even if Churchill, you know, can make this mistake, and he was not the only one—I mean even Freud in the thirties dedicated one of his books to Mussolini. And with a whole line up of hundreds of intellectuals who wanted to see Mussolini. He wasn’t only a politician but he also was a poet, he wrote plays, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So anyway fascism always comes with a huge temptation.
This is also the reason why so many intellectuals and so many artists on the one hand they could go off to Stalin and, you know, Stalin is the new messiah. But they also felt, you know, temptation to fascism. So if you put all these things together we realize that again in moments of crisis when people are losing trust in their own political system—which is happening—when the democratic spirit is going out a new anti-democratic spirit will come in.
And if we have bad luck—and we are now having a lot of bad luck in Europe, and here—and here the risk is a leader with a fascist mindset.
Rob Riemen — founder and president of the Nexus Institute — posits that the type and level of toxicity in today's political climate is a breeding ground for fascism. He argues that most people in fully democratic Germany in the early 1930s didn't think that by decade's end they'd be a fully fascist country, and goes further to say that perhaps history will look back on the 2016 American election in the same way. Is he correct? You be the judge. Rob Riemen's latest book is To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.