BY PAUL STREET
I’ve been thinking about how some social and political analogies work to some degree and then don’t. Here are some reflections on four political analogies that have been advanced to me in recent weeks.
Kyle Rittenhouse and the Grizzly Bear Exhibit
It can be useful I suppose to analogize Kyle Rittenhouse to a teenage idiot who brings an illegally possessed assault rifle to the zoo and jumps over a railing down into the Grizzly Bear exhibit. When a bear comes at him, snarling, he shoots it dead. When other bears come after him, he shoots another one, killing it, and shoots another, taking off part of one of its front legs. He then finds his way out of the exhibit and runs home only to be arrested later and to face significant criminal charges for his reckless and stupid actions. A trial date is set. What did the moron expect, jumping into a zoo exhibit with fearsome animals?
At one level, this is a useful analogy for the real-life Rittenhouse drama. Just as nobody should jump into a wild animal zoo pit with (or without) a weapon, the adolescent jackass Rittenhouse had no business stalking a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, wielding an assault rifle on the night of August 25, 2020. That his armed presence would spark a hostile reaction from protesters there was no less predictable than that Grizzlies would respond angrily to him in their zoo den. The tragic deaths of the animals would never have occurred, and he would have been free of legal jeopardy had he not undertaken this foolish and provocative action. Pathetically enough, he walked away, and went home without being stopped, from the scene of his crime, only to be arrested later.
Fine, but now for some big differences. The Black Lives Matter protesters that Rittenhouse slaughtered were anti-racist human beings acting freely on behalf of social justice and human rights in a purported democracy, not animals locked up for public exhibit in a zoo.
Kenosha Killer Kyle (KKK) came to his killing site in supposed defense of private property (used-car dealerships!), something he would of course never claim as a pretext for jumping into a bear exhibit.
KKK murdered and maimed members of his own species. Imaginary zoo-jumper Kyle murders sentient beings from another species.
KKK came to the BLM rally in Kenosha out of white-supremacist hatred whipped up by fascist politicos including the President of the United States at the time (Donald Trump). There is no right-wing political movement calling for the deepened oppression and repression of zoo animals.
Zoo jumper Kyle killed alone but KKK “protected private property” and menaced human and civil rights protesters along with dozens of other heavily armed racist idiots and real and wannabe fascist paramilitaries.
There would be no significant mass police or National Guard presence at a zoo, of course, but KKK killed and left the scene with heavily armed local and county police officers and National Guard troops all around his crime scene.
Zoo jumper Kyle would in real life be easily convicted by a jury or judge of trespassing, property (animal) destruction, and illegal arms possession. He would be widely mocked and reviled in the nation’s media-politics culture. He certainly would never be made into some kind of hero for any significant part of the US populace.
By chilling contrast, KKK was found not guilty of murder in a ridiculous trial overseen by a fellow racist and openly absurd, Republifascist judge. The judge saw to it that KKK wasn’t even charged with criminal underage possession of his fully loaded AR-15 assault weapon.
KKK has been lionized by a mass of demented Amerikaner white supremacists. He was recently a featured and honored guest on Tucker Carlson’s nightly Fatherland (FOX) News Hate Hour. He went down to Mar-a-Lago for a white nationalist luncheon with his political hero, the racist and pandemicist ex-president Donald Trump.
KKK is now a national right-wing celebrity because he killed two civil rights protesters and tried to kill a third one – a sickening claim to fame. Expect him to ink a multimillion-dollar book deal any day now.
Cold-, Coat-, and Covid-Denialism
Here’s another half-useful analogy sent my way. Imagine hospitals and ICUs filling up with people suffering from extreme frostbite because they refuse to wear coats, hats, and gloves in cold regions during the dead of winter. Many of these hospitalized “cold deniers” and “coast sceptics” think that sub-zero weather is a “hoax” or at least an extremely “exaggerated” threat. They view coats, hats, and gloves as an assault on their freedom as Americans. The defend their liberty identity against globalist and corporate Marxist winter garments.
The flood of anti-coat frostbite victims in US hospitals is so great that it prevents others from accessing urgently needed medical services. People who would never dream of going out for a hike without a coat on when it is five degrees below zero die because hospitals are full of people who thought they knew better than to fall prey to “cold panics” fanned by the “radical liberal” and “deep state coat conspiracy.”
The analogy with the unvaccinated and anti-mask covid patients currently pushing hospitals and medical staff to breaking points is clear. The un-vaccinated, anti-vaccine, unmasked, and anti-mask population is the main force behind current skyrocketing covid hospitalization and death numbers. These covid-, mask-, and vaccine-deniers are like people who refuse to wear coats outdoors during the dead of winter. They are a menace to others who don’t engage in that suicidal behavior but can’t receive proper care because the un-vaxxed are taking up too many medical resources.
It’s a decent analogy as far as it goes. It has five limits. First, frostbite is not contagious. A frostbite victim can’t spread frostbite to others by breathing on or around them. A covid carrier can and commonly does infect others in that way, like that denialist asshole Donald Trump did in late September and early October of 2020.
Second, cold does not mutate into new and different strains of cold requiring new forms of clothing for protection when people don’t wear winter garments here and around the world. Covid does mutate and the unvaccinated and unmasked help expand its ability to transform.
Third, covid threatens the whole world regardless of the local climates that people inhabit whereas some parts of the planet never get cold enough to inflict frostbite.
Fourth, cold has been part of the earth’s history for billions of years while covid is a zoonotic virus distinct to the contemporary global-capitalist era.
Fifth, there are no Donald Trumps or Robert F. Kennedy Juniors or other influential anti-science deniers of cold protection. There are no influential public figures who have murderously politicized the public health issue of winter clothing, spreading “skepticism” and denialism about whether cold threatens health and whether or coats provide protection against cold. No relevant media and political personalities or institutions are leading people to believe that cold is a dastardly hoax dreamed up by globalist clothing corporations and their tyrannical government allies to enslave humanity in the straitjacket of planetary parka-dominion.
Comet and Climate
I haven’t seen the movie “Don’t Look Up,” but I understand that it is a satire on climate denial in which scientists try to get the world’s corporate-dominated media and political cultures to take seriously the menace of a giant comet speeding to Earth, threatening mass extinction. Humanity has a chance to divert the comet but fails to do so because the rapidly approaching terrestrial body contains minerals the tech billionaires need. The oligarchs cook up a cockamamie scheme to break the comet up and retrieve the pieces. The scheme fails.
If that’s what’s going on in the movie, it’s a decent analogy to the current climate crisis. The climate catastrophe stands in the lead of numerous interrelated ecological rifts that raise the very real specter of human extinction. Our corporate-dominated media-politics culture of Manufactured Absurdity is keeping society in a state of idiotic denial and ignorance about the extent and imminence of this menace, the biggest issue of our or any time. Under the influence of the fossil fuel industry and fossil fuel-addicted capitalism (“fossil capitalism”), humanity is possibly squandering its last chance to avert environmental disaster because its ruling class is hooked on the relentless extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
Where the analogy might be thought to break down is that a speeding comet itself has nothing to do with human agency: it is an outcome of physics and astronomy devoid of a human footprint. Humanity’s footprint is all over climate change. Global warming is “anthropogenic,” the product of human activity – the excessive extraction and burning of fossil fuels, though here we should add the qualification that it is the product not of humanity in general but more particularly of capital or, if one prefers, humanity under the command of capital and the capitalist system, which is invested to the point of systemic addiction in fossil fuels and cannot survive without endless and inherently eco-cidal expansion. Still, “Don’t Look Up” rescues human agency and at least implicitly calls out fossil capitalism’s culpability by positing a final option for humanity to divert the comet and by suggesting that capital is blocking action to prevent the catastrophe out of its rapacious profit lust attached to exploiting commodified raw materials.
“Civil War” Then and Now
The Republifascist lunatic and Congressperson Marjorie Taylor-Greene (QANazi-GA) has recently called for a national “divorce,” in which the nation’s “red,” that is Republican-controlled, states secede from the Union. This (and much more) raises increasingly widespread analogies between the current US political situation with the American Civil War of 1861-65, which ensued after Southern US slave states seceded from the Union in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln, whose ascendancy the Confederacy interpreted as a grave menace to their racist slave system.
Civil War comparisons make a certain amount of sense in a time when the nation feels remarkably split in two on numerous interrelated and overlapping fronts: voting rights, educational curriculum, gun rights, racial justice, women’s reproductive rights, covid policy, environmental regulation, the fascist January 6 Capitol Riot, Donald Trump, political violence, and more. There is an undeniable territorial and jurisdictional dimension to this “two Americas” feeling, with the right-wing, white-nationalist, patriarchal, pandemicist, climate-denialist, and neofascist (“red”) side of these divisions holding dominant power in “red states” significantly concentrated in the former slave/Confederate South and “blue” (Democratic-run) states concentrated on the two coasts, in the northeast and northwest, and in parts of the upper Midwestern rustbelt. Also fueling the Civil War analogy, “red states” are passing measures and undertaking actions that defy, challenge, and subvert federal government authority.
The actual if failed coup attempt of January 6, 2021, and the considerable likelihood of a successful right-wing “red state” electoral coup in 2024-25 reinforce the sense of national implosion and splitting apart. Many of us on the actual left will abandon all remaining pretense of playing by normal bourgeois rule-of-law procedures and standard liberal pacifist norms if and when (as seems quite possible) the eco-exterminist and now fascist party of Trump take back the White House in 2024-25. At the point, if not before, the old “civil” ways will have been shown to be fully useless and the struggle will take on a new and desperate dimension.
But then the analogy breaks down in at least five ways. First, there’s too much capital and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the “blue states” for “red state” Republifascists to secede. The southern slaveowners of 1861 had at least some basis for thinking they might be able to forge an alliance with British and other foreign merchant and industrial capitalists that would allow them to sustain an independent nation based on cotton wealth and Black chattel slavery. And why should they leave when the “minority rule” US constitutional order and the underlying capitalist dictatorship is nicely suited to the “red” party’s vengeful return to full national power, especially with all the constitutional rigging currently underway and full of national implications in the “red states.”
Second, the “red-blue” divide today is much less territorially distinct than the North-South division before and during the Civil War. “Red” America includes the upper Midwestern and Great Plains states Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and both Dakotas along with the western states Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. The real red-blue spatial divide today is between blue metropolitan areas and red suburbia, exurbia, and hinterlands – divides that exist within both “red states” (home to bright blue metropolitan areas like Austin, Texas, Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri, and Iowa City-Cedar Rapids, Iowa to mention just four among dozens of possible examples) and “blue states” (home to bright red areas across their vast rural swaths). For what it’s worth, the January 6th marauders appear to have been disproportionately drawn from white men residing in blue suburban areas with rising nonwhite populations.
Third, the distribution of weapons was roughly even between northerners and southerners on the eve of the Civil War whereas today “red” (right-wing) US-Americans are far more heavily armed than blue (liberal, moderate, and left) US-Americans. And the most heavily armed people inside “blue,” metropolitan America today are the largely “red” and fascistic urban police forces. An actual shooting “civil war” between “red” and “blue” America today would likely be a one-sided slaughter more like a national pogrom than a fair fight.
Fourth, while both the US South and the North were part of the world capitalist system and the South’s cotton slave empire were bound up with northern and trans-Atlantic industrial and merchant capitalism, the two regions on either side of the Mason Dixon Line hosted different and opposed modes of production and society: quasi-feudal white supremacist Black chattel agricultural slavery (mainly in cotton) in the South vs. a combination of white freehold farming, wage-labor, and early industrial capitalism in the North. There was a striking material base for the notion of an irrepressible conflict between these two different regional economic and social formations – the so-called free labor North and the slave labor South. Nothing remotely like that underlying societal and productive informs the difference between “red” and “blue” US-America today.
Fifth, there was no imaginable socialist resolution of the Civil War. US capitalism was barely into its elementary school years in the 1860s. It still had huge “Great Evasion” room to enjoy and exploit in 1865. It’s territorial and subsequent “Open Door” world frontiers were still wide open. It was only getting started in its march to global empire and ultimately (after 1945) world capitalist hegemony. Today, whatever one thinks of the chances for socialism in the US, US-American and indeed world capitalism is in a very late and decrepit stage. It has generated a world full of capital, poison, misery, and carbon. It is poised for the potentially terminal environmental disaster that smart scientists and environmentalists were warning about in the 1960s and 1970s. The imperialist bourgeois social order is rapidly running out of new social and ecological frontiers. We have reached the choice posited early in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ Communist Manifesto: “the revolutionary reconstitution of society” or “the common ruin” of all. It’s socialism or ruin now.