Compassionate Fascism



The Prophet of the Orange Line

Dowbrigade is lately a patron of the Boston Mass Transit system, being
between cars as it were, and the experience is invigorating and instructional. It
means leaving the house a bit earlier in the morning, but there are
compensatory advantages.

Not having to deal with traffic, which is simply an aggregator (and
aggravator) of brain-dead, hung-over Boston drivers interacting in
a closed system designed to produce maximum stress in a minimum distance, is
major plus.  And although I enjoy the actual act of driving, I don’t
miss the arcane rituals and devotions car ownership entails; buying
gas, checking fluids, using tire gauges and adjusting pressure, changing
oil and antifreeze and flat tires, getting Inspected by the State, rotating
tires or feeling pressure to wash the car once per season, whether it
needs it or not.

Not having to worry about parking is an added bonus.  However,
the one thing I do miss about the morning commute is the innane chatter
car radio.  Between the contrived idiocies of Howard Stern, the
right wing rants of Jay Severin and the knuckleheaded nonsequiturs of
the Bozos over on the sports stations, the sound track of my drive
was a real slice of
and kept me in tune with what was really on the mind of the man (or woman)
on the street.

Yesterday, however, on the Orange line into town, I was informed and
entertained by a public personality I would never have suspected existed
from the private universe of my car. I call him the Prophet.

About six feet tall, mid-30’s, long brown hair flowing down well past
his shoulders but blown and wild and twisting off in all directions. Between
the full
beard and moustache and the mirrored sunglasses it was hard to tell much
about his features except that they were all there and conventionally

He was dressed in patched and worn but reasonably clean clothes, many
pockets, straps, complicated pins and cables connecting parts of his
garb.  The overstuffed canvas backpack slung over one shoulder was
likewise covered with insignia, battle-patches, momentous and stitching.
He stood solidly near the door, feet spread, declaiming prophetically
to the assembled Orange Line faithful.

"Don’t worry," he assured us, "I work for the Department of Homeland
Security." No one seemed very relieved. "I am part of the Phoenix Program,
sent out among the population to maintain calm and help citizens prepare
for the coming crisis."

Most of the riders were assiduously avoiding the Prophet’s mirrored
gaze, ignoring him as if he didn’t exist.  Of course, any unusual
or out of the ordinary behavior could be threatening.  At the very
least paying attention to the prophet would interrupt their reading of
the Metro, ruminating on last night’s big score or debacle, trying
to ignore the nagging pain or inertia pulling them down, or simply
desperately gathering the strength to
haul their sorry asses back in to work on a Friday morning.

I looked him over a little closer.  Despite his disheveled appearance,
he was not obviously diseased or demented.  He didn’t smell of alcohol
or dope or stale functional fluids.  There were no twigs or insects
or gum in his hair or beard.  He saw me looking at him, the only
one not avoiding his gaze, and started addressing me, it seemed.

"I’m not affiliated with a bank, you know.  Absolutely not.  Those
places are crooked.  I am working for you." I gave a slight nod,
and he turned his attention back to the rest of his involuntary audience.  Perhaps
he thought I was also part of the Phoenix Program.

His rap was somewhat nonsequitorial, but far from incoherent.  The
more I listened, the more it hung together and took flight. "Don’t worry about
anything.  Your government has everything under control.  I
just had a meeting with John Ashcroft and I can assure you that this
is a regime that believes in Compassionate Fascism. This is the true
mission of the American government.  We will take care of you from
the cradle to the grave.  That is Compassionate Fascism."

An interesting concept that, and it rings as true as anything I’ve heard
from Jay Severin lately, or from Mr. Ashcroft himself for that matter.  The
train was pulling into Downtown Crossing, and people were gathering their
belongings, still pretending the Prophet wasn’t there, wasn’t preaching
to us.

"Do you all have cell phones with you?" the Prophet asked helpfully. "Make
sure to use them from time to time during the day. Please behave as though
everything is completely normal. We will communicate with you when the
time comes."

As I passed the Prophet on my way off the train I caught his eye and
softly said, "You make a lot of sense.  Keep preaching. Some
of us are listening." For an instant surprise and mistrust flashed across
what I could see of his face.  Then he broke into a smile and said,
"Thank you, brother." A second later the crush of the crowd swept me
off the train and into the station.

I doubt I’ll ever see the Prophet again, but his words will definitely
stay with me.  From now on, every time Ashcroft or Cheney or Ridge
smilingly take another enormous bite out of the Constitution in the name of National
Security I will be thinking, "Ah, Compassionate Fascism at work."


  1. Dennis Moser

    October 14, 2003 @ 10:42 am


    “Compassionate Fascism”!! I LOVE it! Much more compelling than mere “compassionate conservativism” which always makes me think of Iggy Pop and his song about being a conservative…

  2. Mike Walsh

    January 31, 2004 @ 5:26 pm



    Love this piece. I hope they allow you to continue your blog at Gitmo.

  3. Alden Loveshade

    May 12, 2005 @ 9:31 pm


    Even a madman can sometimes spout great wisdom in a font of foolishness. But it can take someone who’s wise to sift through it. Thanks for doing the sifting.