attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)
[personal profile] attackfish
If we’re going to be humanizing Hitler and the Nazis, okay, let’s do that. Let’s talk about how they had friends, and families, and flirted, and didn’t stop doing all the things humans do just because they started becoming monsters. Okay, that’s nice. Let’s talk about how when it was all over, they managed to put all that death and murder, and hate, and cruelty back in a box and keep doing all those nice human things. Let’s talk about how many of them were nice to their kids and loved their families. Let’s talk about how entire nations grew up telling themselves: “not my parents. Yes my dad was a member of the party, but he didn’t know. My mom worked for a company that used slave labor, but she didn’t know. Not my aunt, not my uncle, not the people who I love and love me. They didn’t know.” Let’s talk about how “no one” knew. Let’s talk about how that is absolute bullshit. Let’s talk about the lies that people have been telling themselves for thousands of years, that they are still telling themselves, that made this possible, about the greedy parasitic Jew, and the thieving, cheating dirty G*psy. Let’s talk about how at the start of WWII, more Americans were worried about how much power Jews had than how much power Hitler had, while Jews didn’t even have the power to keep themselves alive. Let’s talk about how antisemitism and anti-Romani racism are alive and well in Europe and the Americas today. Let’s talk about how maybe, just maybe you should look at your mother’s favorite great uncle, and your grandmother who made you cookies, and your friends’ grandparents and the way they look so human, and ask yourself: “Did they really not know?”

And maybe then we can talk about all those dead human beings they “didn’t know” about.

 

Date: 2015-04-18 08:25 am (UTC)
ljlee: bam bam (headdesk)
From: [personal profile] ljlee
Oh good, you've put it here too. Humanizing killers and onlookers is all well and good, but my problem is that these stories tell an incomplete and therefore misleading truth. In my mind a good humanizing story should be, "Look at these people who are totally not monsters but people who could be you. And look at the awful things they did to these other people who are also all too human, just like you. See? You are not immune. You, too, have the capacity for evil within you." A proper villain-humanization story should make people uncomfortable, it should make people examine what they believe and what they do.

Instead, all too often the story is "Look at these people who are totally not monsters but people who could be you. And look at the awful things they did to... oh, these interchangeable stereotypes that are totally not like you. Why are we so hard on these poor dears, anyway? They're just people, not monsters! The evil must have happened like a flash flood or an earthquake, who knows. But let's not blame these totally-people for what happened to these not-quite-people, because that's awful to call people bad names like Nazis." These stories soothe where they should sting, and uphold the status quo while giving creators and viewers alike a totally undeserved sense that they are somehow brave and moral.

Humanization should mean acknowledging that humans, all humans, are capable of evil. Instead it's often used as a device to cut out the evil from the wrongdoers' lives while dehumanizing the victims, as though there's only so much humanity to go around. And guess which kind of story sells better and gets more acclaims. Sometimes I hate people.

Date: 2015-04-18 04:33 pm (UTC)
ljlee: (jz_glasses)
From: [personal profile] ljlee
Oh, I meant here as well as Tumblr. I considered replying there, but I hate reblogging text for discussion.

Not only do we have to guard against our own potential to do evil, which is the easiest task here really, but we have to learn not to look away when other people do evil, just because they look like us, and they are nice to us.

Excellent point! I consider "evil by omission" to be totally evil, and the thing is too many Germans were not only passive bystanders but active supporters of the regime.

Is it really that hard to empathize with dying children?

I think it is psychologically hard. Sympathize, sure, as in "Oh you poor things," and I do mean things--objects to be gawked at, to be pitied, to be saved. But to empathize--to enter into their stories and lives, even to acknowledge that they had lives and stories of their own, to feel what they felt, to realize that this could have been you, that is painful and it makes the world feel less safe.

Obviously it is moral cowardice not to take this conceptual leap of empathy. To withhold empathy is to cling to a fantasy of safety at the cost of disregarding and perpetuating oppression. I know that temptation as someone who has always been in the majority or at least a tolerated minority, the temptation to hold myself aloof from the oppressed and tell myself it could never be me and they must be less human or must have done something wrong. I can see why others give in to it, which does not make it any less inexcusable or wrong.

I am reminded of James Baldwin's words from Stranger in the Village: "People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster." Innocence becomes monstrous, willful ignorance when maintained for the purpose of shielding one's self from the discomfort of reality. I agree it is very much the logic of abuse and the enabling of abuse: Your personhood matters less than my momentary comfort. I will deny your humanity for as long as I can just so I can feel safe.

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