Fascisms: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2022

Jeremy was a dandy. At a time when young men were going hippie—growing their hair long, wearing faded, ripped blue jeans with western or tie-dyed shirts, buckskin or Edwardian vests and sandals or cowboy boots—Jeremy wore sharply pressed pleated dark slacks, pastel dress shirts with smart cardigan sweaters highlighted by the occasional ascot, and black or brown wingtips. This was 1970 and I was just such a wannabe hippie when I boarded the local Ventura city bus to sit down next to Jeremy. He sniffed in disdain at my unruly appearance and went back to writing in his notebook.

“I’m on the Prom Committee,” he said, holding his pen in the air between thumb and forefinger. “We’re developing the theme for this year’s Prom. What do you think about ‘a taste of bittersweet’?”

I had no school spirit nor had I plans to attend my high school prom so I simply shrugged. Jeremy was a walking contradiction. Everybody knew he was gay even though he was not out. He was overtly Catholic however and always wore a silver crucifix with a finely tooled image of the bloodied Jesus around his neck. Michael boarded the bus the next stop and sauntered back to where we sat. Michael was a year older and now a freshman at UC Santa Barbara where he had participated in the Isla Vista student riots that burned down the Bank of America. He wasn’t just a shaggy hippie but also a burgeoning New Leftist like myself. Michael and Jeremy despised each other. So while Michael and I chatted, Jeremy and Michael ignored each other. Then Michael happened to mention he “planned to hitchhike around Europe in the summer.”

“Spain is quite lovely, although a tad hot in the summertime,” Jeremy feigned a casual air. “I visited Spain last summer for an Opus Dei retreat and I had such a wonderful time.”

“I ain’t going anywhere near fascist Spain,” Michael snarled. “You ever hear about Guernica? Franco is a mass murdering Fascist war criminal.”

“Oh, please!” Jeremy scoffed. “Franco is not a fascist, he’s a Traditionalist. Under Franco, Spain nationalized the oil industry. But it has a mixed economy little different from other Western European countries, with a thriving free market sector.”

“Franco is a fucking dictator,” Michael said. “And you’re a fucking moron.”

“And you sir are a dupe of Communist propaganda, a shill for Moscow, a useful idiot.” Jeremy finished their conversation and went back to designing his Prom invitation.

Last column I started on Fascism’s[1] logic as the OG of Third Positionism that claimed to go beyond Left and Right; using Gabriele d’Annunzio’s militaristic Italian irredentism and his Fiume Arditi putsch as examples. D’Annunzio invented all the main fascist tropes (plebiscites, adoring rallies, ranting balcony speeches, the Roman salute, a cult of personality). His and Alceste de Ambris’s Charter of Carnaro promised a mishmash of city-state idylls (ancient Athenian democracy, the medieval Italian commune, the Venetian Republic), socio-economic chimeras  (national syndicalism, corporatist socialism), and calculated absurdities (a syndical corporation devoted to “the mysterious forces of progress and adventure,” music as a governing principle). D’Annunzio’s fascist “utopia” never made the leap from words to action. There has never been the attempted realization of any utopian Fascist society anywhere.[2]

Gleichschaltung—the “meshing of gears,” the coordination of every aspect of German society (federal states, churches, trade associations, media, private clubs, et al) and their synchronization to the will of the Nazi party and its Führer—simply infected all of German society with the power struggles within the party and its competing bureaucracies. The “left-fascist” Italian Social Republic, the insipid Republic of Salò that was a puppet of the occupying German military, drew its inspiration from the equally bogus 1943 Manifesto of Verona. Verona called for the abolition of the monarchy, the establishment of a balanced centralized/decentralized republican government,  a sovereign Constituent Assembly, an independent judiciary, freedom of press, syndical associations and factory commissions in industry that were pro-labor in orientation meant to constrain the capitalist class, the transformation of badly managed businesses into parasyndical and parastatal cooperatives, the expropriation of uncultivated lands and their redistribution to poor farm workers. This vast array of promises never existed beyond words on paper.

In 1979 Christian Bouchet’s “left-fascist” Mouvement Nationaliste Révolutionnaire (MNR) proposed a second French Revolution, a united Europe independent of the American and Soviet power blocs, opposition to “Yankee imperialism,” nationalization of monopolies and expropriation of multinational corporations, “abolition of bourgeois privileges,” taxation of capital, national syndicalism within economic corporatism, a Mediterranean-centered foreign policy, working alliances with Third World national liberation struggles, and the establishment of a strong yet decentralized state. To these quasi-leftist propositions, the MNR also combined far right demands for a defense of French and European civilization and the termination of unskilled immigrant labor.

When Bouchet transitioned his MNR into Nouvelle Résistance (NR) in 1991 an organizing strategy reminiscent of the New Left was adapted. It called for creating a “counterpower” of “liberated zones” and “concrete utopias” within the established order; a “counter-society” of cooperatives, small businesses, agricultural communes, alternative media, and artisanal enterprises as a decentralized network of alternative institutions to achieve economic self-sufficiency, subvert the legitimacy and authority of “the system,” and facilitate a unified anti-system resistance. Ultimately, Bouchet abandoned much of his so-called Leftism to join with Le Pen’s National Front under the slogan of “Less Leftism! More Fascism!”[3]

Much has been made in academic circles of the contrast between “right-fascism” and “left-fascism,” which is truly a difference without a distinction. Nazis and fascists claiming to be “leftwing” have made various excuses as to why they never achieved their fascist “utopias,” starting with the vacillating personal dictatorship of Gabriele d’Annunzio in Fiume. The Nazi “leftwing” of Ernst Röhm  and the Strasser brothers, who called for a faux anti-capitalist “second revolution,” were purged by Hitler and the Nazi “rightwing” during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Between 1929 and 1943, Italian fascists blamed the failure to fully realize Mussolini’s totalitarian fascist program (creation of the “new man” within the fascist corporate state and a unified Italy) because the authoritarian National Fascist Party had to share power with the Catholic Church and the Italian monarchy. The rump Salò Republic after 1943 was controlled by the Third Reich, so Mussolini then blamed the need to prosecute the war against the Allies for his failures to move left. And the scores of neo-Nazi/fascist “leftwing” groupuscules that emerged after the end of WWII succumbed to constant sectarian infighting and culled regroupment, not to mention a general lack of popular appeal, long before the nonexistence of their varied “left-fascist” programmatic “utopias” became apparent.

But the real reason for the failure of “left-fascism” ever being realized is because there is no true utopia possible within fascism. “Left-fascist utopia” is an oxymoron, and the difference between “right-fascism” and “left-fascism” is bullshit. There can be a rebirth or re-creation of the nation or race, what Roger Griffin called generic fascism’s palingenetic core, but this is a harkening back to a mythic Golden Age, not the desire for some future leftist utopia.

In “The Concept of the Left,” Leszek Kołakowski wrote: “Social revolutions are a compromise between utopia and historical reality.  The tool of the revolution is utopia, and the material is the social reality on which one wants to impose a new form.  And the tool must to some degree fit the substance if the results are not to become ludicrous.” Further along, he wrote: “[T]he Left cannot do without a utopia.  The Left gives forth utopias just as the pancreas discharges insulin – by virtue of an innate law.  Utopia is the striving for changes which ‘realistically’ cannot be brought about by immediate action, which lie beyond the foreseeable future and defy planning.  Still, utopia is a tool of action upon reality and of planning social activity.” Utopia is thus integral to the Left, whether Leninist, left communist, anarchist, or even social democratic. Utopia was the raison d’être for the Russian 1917 Revolution and the 1936-39 Spanish civil war. Little wonder that the generic socialist utopia of a stateless, classless, global human community of liberty, equality and solidarity has such resonance. Fascism has no comparable relationship with utopia. In Russia efforts to enforce Bolshevik policies through military means were known as war communism. A similar attempt to enforce the CNT-FAI’s policies through military means in Spain could be called war anarchism. But without a fascist utopianism there can be no war fascism. Only war.

The bombing of Guernica by the Condor Legion and Aviazione Legionaria was intended to demonstrate the effect of total war. Fascism romanticizes hardened, hierarchical warrior societies like Sparta (which Frank Frost described as “an experiment in elitist communism”) and prefers a state of constant, low-level warfare. Young men are continuously conscripted into the crucible of battle, to be forged into soldiers where the weak are purged and the strong are made stronger. Returning to Roger Griffin’s insight, if utopia is replaced by rebirth, re-creation, or recapitulation, there is also genocidal war. The “liquidation-of-the-Slavic-untermenschen-to-make-room-for-the-Germanic-volk” palingenesis of Hitler’s lebensraum type of genocidal war. To paraphrase Randolph Bourne’s famous quote: “War is the health of Fascism.”

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Manifesto of Verona (1943)
“The Concept of the Left” by Leszek Kołakowski, Toward a Marxist Humanism (1968)
“Fascist Ideology” by Zeev Sternhell, Fascism, A Reader’s Guide: Analyses, Interpretations, Bibliography ed. by Walter Laqueur (1976); “Crisis in Fin-de-siècle Thought” by Zeev Sternhell, International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus ed. by Roger Griffin (1998)
Greek Society by Frank L. Frost (1987)
Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International by Kevin Coogan (1999)
“The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology” by Roger Griffin, Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerca ed. by A. Campi (2003)
The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism by Richard Wolin (2004)
Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013)
“Neo-fascist mobilization in contemporary Italy. Ideology and repertoire of action of CasaPound Italia” by Castelli Gattinara & Froio, Journal for Deradicalization (2015)
Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism by Steve Wright (2017)
CasaPound Italia Platform (2017)
“How ‘Hobbit Camps’ Rebirthed Italian Fascism” by John Last, Atlas Obscura (10-3-2017)
“The fascist movement that has brought Mussolini back to the Mainstream” by Tobias Jones, The Guardian (2-22-2018)
The Darkest Sides of Politics, I: Postwar Fascism, Covert Operations, and Terrorism by Jeffrey M. Bale (2018)
“CasaPound Italy: The Sui Generis Fascists of the New Millennium” by Bulent Kenes, European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) (2021)
“Hobbits and the Hard Right: How Fantasy Inspires Italy’s Potential New Leader” by Jason Horowitz, NY Times (9-21-2022)

FOOTNOTES:
[1] Fascism derives from the Latin word fasces and the Italian word fasci for a bundle of sticks. During the 1800s fasci also came to signify a political union, group, band or league of individuals, with most fasci being leftwing, democratic, socialist and revolutionary. The most famous of these were the Fasci Siciliani dei Lavoratori (Sicilian Workers Leagues). But in 1914 the Italian syndicalist Alceste de Ambris channeled revolutionary syndicalism into an anti-German, pro-war national syndicalist direction. This split Italian syndicalism with the founding of the Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria Internazionalista—the manifesto of which influenced Benito Mussolini who joined the group. He then fused it with Mussolini’s own Fasci autonomi d’azione rivoluzionaria into the Fasci d’azione rivoluzionaria. Mussolini reconstituted the latter into the decentralized Fasci italiani di combattimento (Italian league of combatants), which he later transformed into the centralized Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party, PNF).

As a sidenote de Ambris, ever the national syndicalist, fell out with Mussolini and his PNF. He then briefly associated himself with the leftist anti-fascist Arditi del Popolo (The People’s Daring Ones) to oppose the PNF, Mussolini and the violence of their Blackshirt (squadristi) paramilitaries.

[2] Fascism is often portrayed as having a chameleon-like ideology, a mystical synthesis of countless influences, a syncretic movement changing form to suit a variety of political circumstances. Hence the daunting task even to formulate a Fascist Minimum. Last column I settled on ultra nationalism + populist socialism + palingenesis = fascism as my Fascist Minimum. Fascism’s claim to be more nationalist than conservative nationalism and more revolutionary than revolutionary socialism gives us National Socialism, National Syndicalism, National Bolshevism, National Autonomism, National Anarchism, ad nauseam. Right away the problem arises of how to characterize military dictatorships like the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) in Peru or Pinochet’s Chile. Can they be considered fascist? Roger Griffin defined such regimes as populist ultra-nationalist which lack a central myth of national rebirth. The MNR led the leftist Bolivian National Revolution, then turned right. With Chile under Pinochet there is the added difficulty that the dictatorship embraced Milton Friedman’s laissez-faire capitalism. Whereas classic fascism (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) was big on state-controlled and nationalized sectors and corporate/state coordination, Pinochet’s Chile was a business-friendly authoritarian model that saddled Chileans with little government support and expensive private sector services.

In contrast “right-fascism” (Salazar’s Portugal, Franco’s Spain) was a combination of conservatism, corporatism and extreme nationalism in defense of traditionalist Catholicism. This “right-fascism” championed palingenetic national regeneration (Salazar’s “New State,” Franco’s “New Spain”) in alliance with bourgeois conservatism and theocratic clericalism.

[3] Generic Third Positionist “left fascism” is fond of lengthy baroque manifestos, platforms and programs which don’t amount to shit IRL. Bouchet’s MNR/NR “left-fascist” program was typical of the nationalist-revolutionary movement in its schematic appropriation of capital nationalization and expropriation from the social democratic/Leninist Old Left and the alternative institutions and dual power from the countercultural/autonomist New Left. Under the rubric of far right nationalist revolution the MNR/NR failed to realize any of its flights of fantasy as a wannabe “armed party.”  Nor does attempting a Third Positionist neo-fascist social movement in the programmatic mold of the MNR/NR fare much better.

Consider CasaPound Italia (CPI). CasaPound (House of Ezra Pound) started as a right-wing youth-based squatters movement in a piss-poor imitation of the left-wing social centers created by Italian workerist/autonomist/squatters movements since the 1960s. A group of young neo-fascists occupied an abandoned state-owned building in the Esquilino neighborhood in Rome in December of 2003. Located in a run-down immigrant area—Rome’s “Chinatown”—and serving as a provocation, the squat called itself Casa Pound, styled itself a social center, and reportedly housed 23 families with a total of 82 individuals in 2010. It offered various social services (free medical checkups, food pantry, cafe, etc) available only to native-born Italian citizens. Squats followed in Rome’s Area 19, Latina and other locations across Italy, some of which have been legalized and others evicted. As a social movement initially based in street protests and demonstrations (which frequently devolved into violent street fighting) promoting right-wing alternative institutions and cultural activities (including an “alternative rock” band), CPI took pains to emphasize that it was not an extra-parliamentary movement. CPI tried to establish a political party in 2013 in order to run in the Italian and European Parliamentary elections, and when that failed it became a legally recognized “association for social promotion.” CPI has well under 10,000 members nationally, many of whom have aged out of their youthful aspirations, resulting in the founding of an affiliated “Students’ Block.” Calling itself “extreme, high center” instead of Fascist, CPI touts it’s “beyond Left and Right” Third Positionist ideology as being influenced by “Mazzini, Corridoni, D’Annunzio, Gentile, Pavolini and Mussolini” as well as Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, and “the great anarchist singer-songwriters Rino Gaetano and Fabrizio De André.” Its interminable 18-point platform (each point with scores of sub-points) is the usual mongrel mixture of leftist populism and reactionary neo-fascism. Or as CPI itself describes its “main political struggles”: “Struggles for the recovery of national, economic and monetary sovereignty with the exit from the Euro and the EU. Struggles against immigration, against the installation of reception centers in neighborhoods, for national preference in the rankings for kindergartens and social housing. Struggles for home ownership (“Social Mortgage”) and birth support (“National Birth Income”).”

The CPI is portrayed as hipster neo-fascists who’ve learned the lessons of Fascism’s disastrous past to adapt fascism to the present. “Never before has Italy seen an explicitly neo-fascist group enjoying strategic viability that CasaPound today enjoys,” writes Bulent Kenes. “Although CasaPound remains marginal from an electoral point of view, its visibility in the Italian system is symptomatic of the ability of the extreme right to assimilate populist and alternative agendas in order to increase the attractiveness of their policies.” Yet the CPI is a pimple on the ass of Italian fascism compared to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party and the Tolkienization of the hard right.

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A commie punk walks into a bar…: “What’s Left?” September 2015, MRR #388

I first visited New York City in the fall of 1988. I walked all day, everywhere, for weeks straight until I had blisters on my feet and I’d developed a crick in my neck from looking up at all the tall buildings. It was glorious.

The anarcho/ultra milieu was jumping at the time. Folks from WBAI, many from the old Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade, the Libertarian Book Club, Anarchist Black Cross, THRUSH, Neither East Nor West, and that was just the politics. Probably the least interesting encounter I had was with Hakim Bey aka Peter Lamborn Wilson, while the most impressive was with Joey Homicides aka Bob McGlynn. Libertarian things were popping all over because the Warsaw Pact had just crumbled, and the old Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse.

Then there was all the touristy stuff I wanted to do, first time in The City. I spent a whole day at the Museum of Modern Art, making a beeline for Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” then walking around the rest of the building in utter rapture. I turned a corner, aimlessly, only to stumble upon Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.” I was floored. The oversized painting had its own room, and it wasn’t in the best of shape. Cracked, peeling, warped, the somber black and white canvas made the hairs stand up on the back of my head.

Picasso is one of those people who elicits wide, often violent opinions. If you look at his drawings and paintings from before he went Cubist, during his Blue Period for instance, you can well understand why he was considered a brilliant artist. His politics were a bit more dodgy. Apparently, Picasso had entrusted “Guernica” to the MoMA after his death to keep until such time that the return of democracy to Spain allowed for the painting’s return. As I stood in the MoMA gazing at what I thought was an anti-fascist icon, a deal had been cut with the museum to return the original “Guernica” in 1981, despite the fact that Spain was a constitutional monarchy and not a democracy. I realized many years later that what I had seen in 1988 was not “Guernica” but the related masterpiece “The Charnel House,” so similar in style and power. Picasso was a member of the Communist Party, which meant he was an apologist for Stalin and his crimes, including the crimes committed by the Spanish CP during the Spanish Civil War. And he was a complete asshole, personally, when it came to women. Of his wives, lovers, and mistresses, two killed themselves and two went mad associating with a man who said: “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.”

“Loyal, generous and affectionate when it suited him, Picasso could be astoundingly brutal, to friends, lovers, even complete strangers,” wrote Mark Hudson. Lots of artist types turn out to be brilliant at their art, and thus publicly praised, while their private lives often reveal profound personal and moral failings. Of course, this disassociation between the public and the private goes both ways, with a common if mundane observation being that Hitler, arguably the world’s most brutal dictator, loved dogs and children and was loyal to Eva Braun. It’s easy to come up with a list of 15 or 20 great artists who were nasty people, but not so easy to name even 5 people generally considered evil who have also done demonstrable good. The idea of the brilliant genius artist who is simultaneously a monumental jerk is so frequent as to have become a trope. And when genius and asshole reside in the same individual, dispassionately evaluating famous people and their contributions can be tricky.

It becomes immensely more so when passion is involved. Gregory, the youngest son of Ernest Hemingway, wrote to his father spelling out the pros and cons from his traumatized perspective: “When it’s all added up, papa, it will be: he wrote a few good stories, had a novel and fresh approach to reality and he destroyed five persons – Hadley, Pauline, Marty, Patrick, and possibly myself. Which do you think is the most important, your self-centered shit, the stories or the people?” To someone who loves Hemingway’s writing, or who admires good literature in general, any evaluation of the worth and cost/benefit of the man and his work might be substantially different, bringing to mind Tolstoy’s famous quote that “[a]ll happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Evaluating merit is not much easier when we switch from the life and work of an individual, whether famous or not, to gauging the merit of our not-so-personal relationships, with the organizations and movements we belong to or support. I wrote a column some time ago about how I experimented with every drug in the book during the 1960s, and only alcohol managed to kick my ass. I was more or less a daily drinker, not heavy but strong and steady, for 30 years up until January 1, 2010. It was all just maintenance at that point. My habit was fucking with me, my relationships, my pancreas, and to my mind the costs of my regular alcohol intake far outweighed the benefits. So, I decided to quit, and I did so through the Chemical Dependency and Recovery Program at Kaiser, of which I am a member. CDRP provided me with regular professional counseling, access to a shrink who could also prescribe drugs in case my withdrawal symptoms got too heavy, classes on the science of dependency and withdrawal, and lots and lots of meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, LifeRing meetings, harm reduction meetings, I went to every meeting and every class and every counseling session for 90 days until I no longer had a problem staying sober. The scientific knowledge alone—of what your mind and body go through 30, 60, and 90 days after withdrawal—was worth the price of admission.

Of course, AA was and is ubiquitous, as the oldest and best known absolutely free recovery program around. But AA impressed me as a cult from the very first chanted call-and-response. I freely admit to having cherry-picked different principles from different programs to get the recovery that works for me—among them the notions of surrender and forgiveness from AA, the ideas of secularity and self-help from LifeRing, and the medical use of prescribed drugs when necessary to help with withdrawal from harm reduction. Still, virtually everybody around me was in AA, working an AA program, so I accepted the validity and efficacy of AA in going about not drinking. I started sitting zazen at the San Francisco Zen Center, with its meditation in recovery meetings being my anchor for five years. But over those years the focus of those meetings, equal parts Buddhism and 12-step recovery, has grown thin, not because of the zen but because of the steps.

Whether or not there is a god has absolutely nothing to do with the existence, nature, and solution to suffering. That’s basic Buddhism, whose founder cautioned: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” I’ve been pretty much an atheist after giving up Catholicism for Lent at 13. Buddhism is about as non theistic, and zen as atheistic, as you can get and still call it a spiritual practice.

I never saw or felt the need for a god to help me stop drinking, and no matter how much AA papers over it, some concept of god is required for their program to work. Court-ordered AA participation is thus a direct violation of the basic Constitutional right to religious liberty, in this case the freedom to not have a religion. All that “your ‘higher power’ can be anything, even a doorknob” AA bullshit I find theologically imbecilic, spiritually vacuous, and personally insulting. Surrendering to a “higher power” isn’t necessary to experience the need to forgive and be forgiven, or to simply surrender and ask for help. Whether or not a god exists has absolutely nothing to do with stopping drinking and staying sober.

The debate over whether alcohol abuse is a disease or a choice is not resolved, although more and more scientists are supporting the disease model. Prolonged alcohol abuse chemically restructures the alcoholic’s body and brain and causes the difficulties in withdrawal, according to current scientific research, and there is much evidence that certain individuals are born with a proclivity for addiction to alcohol. AA’s main problem is that its central metaphor of “alcoholism as disease” clashes with various other aspects of AA’s program. If alcoholism is a disease, then why blame the alcoholic for the moral failure of not staying sober? If alcoholism is a disease, then why does AA resist the use of drugs like naltrexone to lessen the desire to drink? If I had a disease like cancer I would do everything in my power—prescription drugs, radiation, chemotherapy, surgery—to control or eliminate that disease. I certainly wouldn’t sit around making a “fearless moral inventory” of my personal failings, asking for forgiveness for my moral shortcomings, then seeking moral support from a god that doesn’t exist when cold, hard science is crucial to my cure. Or, as Gabrielle Glaser wrote in her recent Atlantic Monthly article “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous”: “Why do we assume they [alcoholics] failed the program, rather than that the program failed them?”

Aside from Glaser’s excellent article there is a whole website (orange-papers.org) devoted to systematically and thoroughly debunking AA—its history, program, and claims. AA is ranked 38th out of 48 common alcohol treatment methods, not very effective at all. Given that it is “anonymous,” recovery statistics for AA are hard to come by and even harder to verify. The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry by Lance Dodes puts the actual success rate for AA somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. Every disease has a spontaneous remission rate, and Harvard Medical School calculated that the annual rate of spontaneous remission in alcoholics is around 5 percent. Which means that AA’s track record is at, or at most just 3 percent higher than the spontaneous remission rate for alcoholics. Hardly worth all the hoopla surrounding AA’s supposed successes.

But even one recovered alcoholic is success enough, many in AA would argue. Combine the abysmally low rate of recovery with other problems in AA such as 13th Stepping and AA’s cons far outweigh the pros. Thirteenth Stepping is when individuals, oftentimes mandated by law to attend AA meetings, take advantage of AA’s horizontal and relatively leaderless organization in general, and its unsupervised sponsor/sponsee structure in particular, to prey upon and sexually exploit newbies, most often young naïve girls. CBS’s 60 Minutes did an entire segment, “The Sober Truth,” that, along with The 13th Step Film by Monica Richardson, exposed the underreported realities of 13th Stepping. But the rampant problem of 13th Stepping is not even acknowledged, let alone addressed, by AA’s national/international organization.

When I was running around NYC back in 1988, I hung around a crew of friends and comrades, many of whom were heavy drinkers. And since it was a vacation for me, I was drinking more than my usual. One of my companions at the time wisecracked: “The liver is a muscle that must be exercised.” Well, the brain is also a muscle, and our capacity for analysis and coming to reasoned conclusions needs to be exercised as well. My judgment is still out on whether Picasso’s or Hemingway’s art was worth the human damage those artists inflicted. Not so with AA, where its paltry success rate is not offset by it problems, everything from its moralizing guilt tripping to 13th Stepping. There are lots of evidence-based non 12-step recovery and support programs out there, including a promising Buddhist-based one pioneered by Noah Levine called Refuge Recovery. As for AA?

Don’t believe the hype!

(Copy editing by K Raketz.)

Evidence-based Recovery and Support Groups

Secular
SMART: Self Management And Recovery Training
Women for Sobriety
Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves/SOS
LifeRing Secular Recovery/LSR
Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support/HAMS
Moderation Management
Rational Recovery
Naltrexone/Sinclair Method

Buddhist
Refuge Recovery

Western Civilization in Recline: “What’s Left?” November 2011, MRR #342

The jukebox was playing rock—music for civilizations to decline by, man.

Ross Macdonald, The Ferguson Affair (1960)

Steve Allen used to do this bit on his show in the early ‘60s where he would recite the lyrics to rock’n’roll songs as if they were serious poetry. Just imagine The Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” treated thusly to realize how vapid the words to most rock music are. Allen was the liberal side of the attack on rock music in those days. He personally despised rock’n’roll, considered it juvenile and untalented, and thought it beneath contempt as music. Rock wasn’t art, nor would it endure the test of time. Yet this was a far cry from the conservative perspective that saw rock’n’roll as immoral, evil, and a threat to the fabric of society. Rock’s overt association with sex and drugs were a particular anathema; an explicit attack on American civilization born of the devil.

Today, of course, rock blares from fundamentalist Christian churches, and family values politicians illegally appropriate rock songs for their electoral campaigns, until sued by the musicians who created them. Roberto “Tax” Farano, guitarist for Negazione, wrote music for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, and The Clash’s “London Calling” is now the official jingle for the 2012 London Olympics. Not only is rock no longer a threat to the social fabric, punk rock has become, not representative of “the decline and fall of western civilization,” but a stellar example of its commercial success.

Me, I used to take pride in being a “barbarian at the gates” in the days of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and anarchy in the streets. I would have seconded John Sinclair’s contention that rock was the weapon of a thoroughgoing cultural revolution, if only to throw the fear of god-knows-what into my elders. Emotionally, I resonated with nihilism, which proclaimed the need to “annihilate the idea of God, or there can be no freedom; annihilate the idea of right, which is only might; annihilate civilization, property, marriage, morality, and justice; let your own happiness be your only law.”

I’ve grown up a bit since then, and I’ve come to appreciate many things about the American society I call home, as well as to respect much bestowed upon the world by the Dead White European Males held responsible for Western Civilization. Yes, I understand the sentiment of Gandhi who, when asked what he thought about western civilization, answered: “I think it would be a good idea.” After all western civilization is based upon rape, plunder, devastation and genocide. Show me a civilization that isn’t. But as for Buenaventura Durruti’s famous quote:
We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall. We will know how to accommodate ourselves for a while. For you must not forget that we can also build. It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute.
I have come to take his nonchalant attitude toward such wholesale destruction with several grains of salt.

I have no interest in seeing Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, or Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or Rodin’s The Kiss, or Joyce’s Ulysses, or Welles’ Citizen Kane, or the Chrysler Building obliterated, even if their destruction would herald the arrival of a stateless, classless, communist paradise. Images of Mao’s Red Guards rampaging during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, gleefully smashing the precious artifacts of China’s past, now sicken me no less than news footage of Afghanistan’s Taliban solemnly dynamiting the Bamiyan Buddhas. That existence is emptiness means that everything is interconnected and mutually dependent. That life is meaningless demands that we create its meaning. Death and destruction are incredibly easy. Anything else is painful and hard.

An SF movie that I like is Cuarón’s Children of Men, based on the P.D. James novel of the same name. It’s 2027, and no children have been born anywhere for almost two decades. In the face of humanity’s impending extinction, the world is fast collapsing into riot, terrorism, and environmental catastrophe. Britain alone survives, a bastion of stability, but at the cost of having become a police state that rounds up and imprisons immigrants seeking asylum. Nigel, the cousin of the film’s protagonist, Theo Faron, is a minister in the British government who is obsessed with collecting as many of humanity’s great artworks as possible, despite the fact that in less than a century, no one will be around to enjoy them. Michelangelo’s David stands in his foyer, with one leg shattered and splinted because Nigel was unable to snatch it before rioters attacked it. Nigel and Theo dine beneath Picasso’s Guernica. And out a window, amidst a landscape of industrial smokestacks, floats one of Pink Floyd’s inflatable flying pink pigs.

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