The Upper Road

Concluding a taxonomy of supremacist bad faith, and the margins of permission (3 of 3).

The Upper Road

This is an essay I broke into three parts and released over three days. This is part three. Here’s part one and part two if you missed them. OK? OK. Now let’s make the donuts.

Say you have decided to live in a shared and observable reality, so you agree with the observable fact that that fascism is rising, and is unacceptable, and must be stopped.

Now say you meet somebody who agrees with you.

A decision tree showing the premise "Fascism is rising. We must stop it." leading to an upper branch labelled "It is! We should!"

There are a number of ways that the conversation might go. You’ll find people who have ideas for solutions to this problem you both agree is a problem. You might agree with some of those solutions, you might disagree with some. You might argue over the different solutions in order to promote the one you think best. You might convince people your solution is best. You might yourself be convinced that another solution is best. You might discover that some solutions are not mutually exclusive. But you all agree with the shared observable reality that fascism is rising, and you hold to shared principles and values aligned to the moral reality that fascism is unacceptable and must be stopped.

A decision tree that shows "It is! We should!" branching into a series of solutions labeled "Solution 1, Solution 2, etc."

Congratulations! This is where debate can and even should happen, where a shared reality gets proclaimed and normalized, along with the observable truth that fascism—supremacist in its assumptions, eliminationist in its intent—is on the rise, and the moral truths: that fascism is unacceptable and every person carries a duty to oppose it. The way you’ll know you’re dealing with good faith is that the “solution” never expands the margins of permission, or promotes and defends eliminationist intentions.

But more often than not you’ll find people who enter this debate with a different agenda; who claim to agree with you but never actually get around to agreeing, and instead try to talk about whether or not we have permission to solve the problem, and then define permission as regards solutions to abuse as something that belongs exclusively to the abusers.

You’ll find people who find the eliminationist perspective understandable, and think that the first solution is for all of us to understand that perspective.

These are people who say they are in your shared observable and moral reality but only ever advocate for a different one.

The same decision tree as before, this time showing a previously-unseen branch leading to a picture of the Simpsons character Poochie

That’s right; sometimes you’ll find Poochies.

I’m publishing a book of essays called Very Fine People: Confessions of an American Fool, and my readership is helping me do that. If you want the details on how you can get in on that and get a signed copy and my thanks in the acknowledgements section of the book, click this link.

You’re going to find permissionists, who know that debate creates structures of permission for the debate’s premises; who ensure that fascism and eliminationist intentions will always be given a debate—no matter how thoroughly those ideas have been rejected, and how right it was to reject them—and then make sure that the debate will be polite by ensuring that the debate goes well for fascism; who explain that we can’t pursue solutions until we get permission from the people who want the problems, and the only way we can secure that permission is to agree with them to not solve anything, or to allow them to harm some in order to protect others—as if a society that agrees to harm some in order to protect others won’t inevitably also harm the others, too.

You’re going to find civility fetishists, who claim that the problem of abuse isn’t the harm of abuse but polarization caused when people unite in solidarity against the abusers to prevent that harm. These are people who claim to agree with anti-eliminationist positions but never get around to actually arguing in favor of them. These are people who propose to debate eliminationists only to spend all their time finding common ground with them, until you have to start to wonder what the nature of their alleged opposition actually is.

You’ll find defeatists who put on a sad face in order to refuse to accept any solution, no matter how obvious, no matter how practical or necessary, simply because it won’t be allowed by those who want the problems; who point out the system is broken in order to make the case that it can’t be fixed; who ask for your plan for improvement in order to make the case that no plan can succeed; who ask how an improvement will be funded in order to insinuate that it should not be funded; who point out that the improvement would be disruptive or unprecedented in order to suggest that it is too dangerous or inconvenient to attempt; who insist that not only is nobody in power any good but that nobody ever could be, in order to suggest that using power to help is just as dangerous as using it to harm, and that people who want to fix what is broken shouldn’t seek the power to do so.

You’ll even find people who pretend to agree with you but disagree not from complacency but out of genuine malice—who claim to agree with you that problems should be solved, but refuse to even accept that the problems before us are actually problems, and who even smuggle in, from a supposedly anti-eliminationist position, the idea that eliminationist ideas would solve our problems, both in order to promote eliminationist ideas, and to tie the struggle for justice and liberation to the idea of violence and threat.

What this means is that you’ve just found another popular form of bad faith, probably the most insidious one—the kind that pretends to take an opposing position in order to create a normalizing debate for supremacy that it can’t find elsewhere.

Fascists are perfectly happy to pretend to be one of the helpers if doing so lets them sabotage the repair equipment and burn the plans, and to create a spectacle for complacent and unaware masses of two people debating, both of whom claim to oppose fascism but seem completely unable to do so, both of whom even fail to agree that opposing fascism is possible or allowed—or even that it ought to be done. This spectacle comforts people who seek complacency by telling them that complacency is the natural state of things even for those who claim to want justice This spectacle abets bad faith while posturing toward good intent, in order to make any attempt to improve appear to be a bad-faith effort, especially to people who aren’t paying attention.

And fascists are perfectly happy to pretend to be standing in opposition to fascism if it means they get to set up debates against themselves and then throw the fight in favor of the position they truly hold; to create a spectacle for complacent and unaware masses of two people contending over whether or not fascism even is fascism, specifically in order to conclude that it is not; who next contend over whether or not fascism should be opposed, specifically in order to conclude that it should not be; who next contend over whether or not fascism is actually a good thing, specifically in order to conclude that it is. This spectacle comforts people who seek a malicious complacency by telling them that complacency is a natural and normal posture toward fascism. This spectacle abets bad faith while posturing toward good intent, to make any attempt to oppose fascism appear to have already failed to those who aren’t paying attention.

And all of it expands the margins of permission.

I think it’s clear we’re living in an age of expanded permission for bullies with supremacist assumptions and eliminationist intentions, or at least one in which supremacist bullies believe the margins of permission as regards violence against those they’d like to eliminate will soon be greatly expanded. They seem to think this mostly because there is a political party out there led by a candidate who is promising exactly that.

So the question is, what do we do about it?

I’ve been thinking about how and when (and with whom) to engage in good faith, and how and when (and with whom) to engage even in bad faith.

This is going to involve knowing how to differentiate between bad faith and good faith, and then knowing what to do once you’ve done so.

I’ve started thinking about how to utilize a tool that made Martin Luther King Jr. openly despised by the Charlie Kirks of his world, and openly opposed by his era’s Poochies.

I’ve started thinking of ways to force hard conversations.

More on this in the coming weeks, hopefully.

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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and the upcoming essay collection Very Fine People, which you can learn about how to support right here. He is also co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He is born back ceaselessly into the past.