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November 7

An Anarchist and Antifascist Guide to Debunking Racist Alt-Right Pseudoscience

The following is an excerpt of the new zine You Just Call Everyone You Don’t Like a Fascist by Mike Isaacson, a researcher of fascism and neo-fascism. The zine reviews the decades of attempts at defining fascism and important considerations to take into account when researching or reporting on the phenomenon. The following excerpt reviews countervailing evidence to common neo-fascist lies that often goes unchecked when reporters or researchers explore neo-fascist beliefs.

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Fascism lays bare the process by which facts are produced. Its manner of argumentation starts not with analyzing facts, but by analyzing the people who posit them. Fascists seek to discredit ideas by calling into question their sources rather than their veracity, substituting skepticism for reason. And like with all skepticism, its aim is never universal. Fascists seek to discredit certain sources in order to bolster their otherwise debunked sources.

Fascists have built an ever-expanding canon of debunked sources that reinforces their world view. These sources intentionally disregard countervailing evidence, which is denounced in various ways with conspiracy theories about academia and the media. Despite their preferred facts’ obvious falsehood, it is often difficult to find sources to contradict fascist claims since the topics fascists often harp on are very obscure and much of the opposing literature is behind pay walls.

Fascists create a pipeline of self-indoctrination through the creation of intellectual rabbit holes. They are very particular about the terminology that they use, so attempts to search for their concepts land on their sources. Thus, fascists engage in a form of search engine optimization that predates search engines. Fascists have created institutions to produce fascist facts that operate largely separate from institutions that would contradict them so that their lies appear as fact. Hence, when dealing with fascists, it is best to be in the business of lie-checking rather than fact-checking.

Lie-checking means researching to determine if the theory, rather than its individual parts, is a lie. Although this is a less rigorous form of determining truth value, it is less time consuming and can often lead you to sources that have done the fact-checking job for you. To understand the importance of lie-checking, I’m going to fact-check three fascist lies to demonstrate the breadth of knowledge needed to fact-check their lies.

Human Biodiversity

One such lie is a form of racism going by the name of “human biodiversity.” This fits well within their professed “eco-fascism.” Human biodiversity purports to be based on biodiversity in environmental science. In environmental science, biodiversity is generally considered to be beneficial for a given environment and indicative of its growth.
The way neo-fascists tell it, this theory can be applied to groups of human races. This is their first error. Biodiversity applies to genes, species, symbiotic relationships, and ecosystems. The neo-fascists assert a long since debunked claim that race is genetic. Even if we were to take their theory of genetic race, their theory of human biodiversity does not hold up to its second point: in order to preserve human biodiversity, races must be kept separate. Contrary to this belief, biodiversity maintains a genotype, species, symbiotic relationship, or ecosystem by encouraging a great deal of mixing. This is perhaps illustrated best by way of example.

In England, there is a species of moth known as the peppered moth that has two predominant phenotypes, one white with black spots, and one that is all black. Originally, the white moth prospered while the black moth was undiscovered. Then, during the industrial revolution, the black moths came to predominate. As air pollution was mitigated, the white moths once again predominated.

This is because these moths primarily landed on trees. Prior to the industrial revolution, trees provided camouflage to the white moths. During the industrial revolution, when pollution turned the trees black, the black moths were more easily able to blend in and avoid predators. When air pollution subsided, the white moths were once again selected for by the environment.

What would have happened if the phenotypes had been kept genetically or geographically separate? In the instance of geography, the white moths would have died off in the industrial revolution leaving those regions barren of moths, and the black ones would have died off during its clean-up, and there would be no moths left. In the instance of genetics, the white moths would have died off in the industrial revolution, and with no white genetic phenotype, would have died out with its clean-up. Thus, even if the genetic or species metaphor to race were scientifically valid, the neo-fascist theory of biodiversity doesn’t hold up to how biodiversity actually works.

Eugenics

Eugenics is the belief that we can and should genetically select for intelligence on the basis of race. This assertion requires layers of lies in order to hold. Steven J. Gould does an excellent job debunking this web of lies in The Mismeasure of Man (pdf), and his book is the definitive source for the debunking of eugenics and related theories.
The way neo-fascists tell it, IQ is an inherently socially desirable and genetically inherited trait that should be selected for. IQ is presented by neo-fascists as inherently predictive of the quality of an individual in the social sphere. By virtue of IQ tests correlated with self-reported race, neo-fascists argue that race and IQ are genetically linked, and that races with lower average IQs ought to be culled for the sake of society.

The difficulty here comes not only with the spurious race-gene lie, but also a complex lie about IQ. First, for the fascist lie to work, all forms of human intellectual acumen can be reduced to a single metric, IQ. There are no math people. There are no lit people. There are no science people. There are no people’s people. There are only IQ people.

Second, this fascist lie falls apart when it comes to whether IQ has social meaning. As just implied, there are a variety of different intelligences that individuals have varying capacities for. So too are there a variety of outcomes for “social desirability.” The eugenicist IQ theory posits that these socially desirable outcomes can also be ranked linearly so as to be compared against IQ in order to claim a link between the two. The firefighter, the artist, the teacher, the CEO, can all be placed into a neat hierarchy to reduce people to simply “better” or “worse.”

Third, this fascist lie requires IQ to be genetically heritable. One of eugenicists favorite sources to justify this lie is the Minnesota Twin Family Study, a study financially backed by the Pioneer Fund conducted by eugenicist Thomas Bouchard in 1979. Bouchard purported to show that identical twins separated at birth through the adoption system ended up to have, on average, similar IQ scores. Critics however have pointed out significant shortcomings with Bouchard’s findings. These criticisms are summarized neatly by psychologist Jay Joseph:

These problems include (a) the doubtful “separation” of twins, who frequently grew up together and had contact over much of their lives, (b) similarity bias in the methods of MZA identification and recruitment, (c) the questionable status of “intelligence” and “personality” as valid and quantifiable constructs, (d) the failure of the MISTRA researchers to publish or share raw data and life history information for the twins under study, and (e) the impact that the researchers’ bias in favor of genetic interpretations may have had on their results and conclusions.

This leads to the fourth pillar this fascist lie rests upon which is that IQ is unchangeable. This is commonly confused with heritability, but glasses make you see better and ladders make you taller. With IQ as well, it appears that it can be boosted. Over the course of their use, IQ tests have gotten increasingly difficult, despite the average score being fixed at 100. This gradual increase was dubbed the Flynn effect after James R. Flynn who worked to popularize knowledge of its existence. Further, it also appears that IQ test results can be increased by practicing memory exercises.

All of these lies are tied together with an explanation that intelligence and race are determined not only genetically, but by the same gene. Despite the proliferation of twin studies, IQ tests, and racial categorization schemes, eugenicists have been unable to identify, or even attempt to identify, such a gene or even a cluster of genes.

Survival of the Fittest

An exceedingly common mistaken belief that feeds fascist ideology is the competitive model of “survival of the fittest.” Although often attributed to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, the phrase actually originated with Herbert Spencer who might be today be considered an amateur sociobiologist, having never held a research position in what he preached. Spencer did, however, get inspired for his theory of survival of the fittest from Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

It is common to think that evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest describe the same phenomenon, but they do not. Evolution merely describes the fact that species’ traits change over time. Natural selection posits that those changes are progressive with respect to surviving an environment. And survival of the fittest attempts to describe the same phenomenon not with respect to traits, but with respect to individuals.

Herbert Spencer’s classical liberal approach is quite akin to that of neo-fascists. Like Darwin, Spencer believed that natural selection, and consequently his own “survival of the fittest,” happened at the level of “race” which would today be understood as encompassing not only race as we understand it today, but all varieties of traits in any being, plant or animal. Spencer was very partial to applying his reasoning to the plight of the poor. And like Darwin, Spencer believed that it was competition that drove natural selection and, hence, evolution.

For neo-fascists, this means that races, as we understand them today, are locked in a perpetual battle against each other. In this battle, according to the neo-fascists, different races are equipped with different abilities and behavioral traits. The distribution of these traits, the neo-fascists argue, gives rise to the structure of the world as they see it–an army of dull witted but physically strong people of color and their race-traitor white allies ruled by the intelligent but deceptive Jews to eradicate white people and destroy all cultures.

A refutation of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory would be too long to produce here and has already been done extensively by organizations such as the Jewish Virtual Library. What I instead intend to contest is the belief that competition drives evolution. Although from the vantage point of capitalist society, it would seem that competition drives daily life, a look into the history of human society and of the animal kingdom demonstrates that this story is questionable at best.

Peter Kropotkin was among the first to articulate this view of evolution in his book, originally published between 1890 and 1896 as a series of essays, Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution. In it, he draws examples from the behaviors of creatures throughout the animal kingdom demonstrating the ways that mutual support and mutual defense of all members of the species ensures the species’s survival. He extends this to humanity to show that the foundation of human society is cooperation. He shows not only how early humans lived in non-competitive bands and tribes, but also other stages of human development showing how farming communities, guilds, and unions all exemplify the cooperation necessary for the survival of the species.

Taken to its logical conclusion, a war of each against all, as described by Spencer, would wipe out a species. Further, allowing certain traits to disappear simply because they aren’t advantageous in the present environment would lead to vulnerability to environmental changes as in the case with the peppered moth.

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