Tag Archives: Godwin’s Law

What if the order had been reversed…

This is an exercise in fantasy, relating to something that is for many reasons entirely impossible, but still worth thinking about. What if Donald Trump had been elected as president two generations before Adolf Hitler had won the election that made him chancellor of Germany? How much more guilty of civil carelessness would the minority of the German public who considered Hitler to have been “the lesser evil” be? And to what extent could they all be accused of being morally bad people because of this electoral decision?

adolf_hitler_appointed
Of course both Trump and Hitler are products of their own times, and could not realistically have risen in other eras of history and still been the same persons. Two generations before Hitler no conspicuously rich second generation immigrant without political experience but with a rare skill for gaining media attention; based in New York and representing all the evils that city is famous for, but drawing his primary support from the south and the “heartland”; building a campaign around all the things that white men lived in existential fear of; could have realistically took the White House. Something like Trump could only happen in the 21st century. Likewise Hitler could only have risen to power at a time when Germany was failing in its recovery from a world war, and it is highly unlikely that there would be enough left in the aftermath of any future world war for yet another Hitler to rise to power in. Thus it seems impossible to imagine another Hitler arising after Trump. Most impossible though is the idea that the path of influence between them could have been reversed: Trump read Hitler’s speeches and was clearly influenced by them, but it is unimaginable that Hitler would have turned to someone like Trump for inspiration.

But regardless of the impossibility of it, as an exercise in civil conversation between (even tacit) Trump supporters and those who see the sort of disaster that Trump’s sort of politics could portend, let’s imagine what the discussion between a Hitler supporter and an intense Hitler critic in post-Depression Germany would have been like in the time after Hitler had won his major election but before he had properly risen to power… if they furthermore would have had the advantage of looking at Trump’s election in hindsight.

Given the completely unrealistic premise this is based on, I want to try to give both sides a fair and realistic hearing on this. So let’s say that this is an open discussion between Dietrich, an avowed Social Democrat and anti-Hitler campaigner, and Reinhold, an independent who had chosen to vote for the Nazis in the recent election. Let’s randomly say that this discussion would have taken place on March 10, 1933.

D: As much as I respect you as a person, Reinhold, I still find it hard to believe that you could vote for that hemorrhoid Hitler. How could you honestly do such a thing!? Don’t you see what kind of danger you are putting our country into?

R: Dietrich, Dietrich, first of all the election is over a week ago already. Whether you like it or not, Hitler won. Why don’t you just relax and give him a chance to sort things out and see if he can fix the sort of mess that your Social Democrats and the rest of the corrupt old guard have got us into?

D: Why don’t I?! First of all because all of the hate-mongering that Hitler used to wheedle his way into power, and all of those psychotic brown shirts he’s got working for him stand a good chance of destroying everything that we hold dear about our German heritage! He practically makes Donald Trump look reasonable for crying out loud!

R: Ha ha! Heinz’s Law. You lose.

D: What?

R: You know: “As a political discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Trump approaches 1.” It goes with the same premise that whoever mentions Trump first automatically loses the debate.

D: That’s a stupid, ad hoc rule and you know it!

R: Is it really? Come on! You guys on the left have been calling every semi-competent center-right leader since the Bismarck “another Trump”. Face it: that’s a losing tactic.

D: OK, I’ll concede two things here: First of all there have been other elitist, populist hate-mongers since Trump’s time concerning whom Trump’s name has been thrown around a bit too freely. Secondly I admit that, whatever Hitler’s flaws, when it comes down to it no one can be another Trump.

R: Good… so why do I feel like there’s a “but” coming here?

D: There certainly is! The similarities in their campaign styles alone were big enough where the German people should have been able to learn something from the Americans’ mistakes back then!

R: That’s just ridiculous. First of all Trump had no connection at all with the people he was manipulating into voting for him. He was a spoiled little rich boy, not a committed patriot like Hitler. Secondly there really wasn’t any major crisis in the American economy back then. Production and markets were functioning just fine. There was a structural change going on regarding the sort of work that would need to be done in the future, and there was a need for the government to play a more active role in the changeover, but it wasn’t anything like Germany is today. We’ve got a real crisis, not one made up by opportunists to discredit their opposition! Beyond that the Mexicans and Muslims that Trump laid out as the enemies of the people were not in any position of power in their society, or in the world at large. Hitler’s point regarding the Jews is far better grounded. All in all they’re nothing alike!

D:  OK, another point I can grant you: Hitler does seem to be more sincere than Trump was overall. He does seem to have some sort of moral convictions rather than being pure con-artist to the core. But (yes, of course another “but”) that hasn’t stopped him from continuously changing his message to tell people what they want to here and push their particular panic buttons. And furthermore if you take the kind of hatemongering that brought Trump to office and combine it with a sense of sincere dogmatism of conviction about the matter that may make him even more dangerous than Trump. And even though the target of Hitler’s hatred is more thoroughly rationalized, it’s still the same sort of nastiness against other people that Trump was selling. Those Brown Shirts are really in no way morally better than the “Alt-Right” folks who supported Trump.
Now I know that you’re not the sort of person who believes in attacking Jews just because they happen to be born Jewish. I’m not accusing you of being that particular kind of deplorable. What I’m saying is that you really should know better than saying with your vote that you find that sort of policy to be morally acceptable and politically supportable!

R: You seem to be equivocating on whether my voting for Hitler makes me a bad person or not. I guess I’ll just have to live with that. Our country is pretty seriously divided right now, not only from this rather nasty recent election, but from all of the ways that your Social Democrats have been screwing things up over the past 15 years. Of course Hitler was not my first choice, and of course I don’t believe in attacking all Jews for the evils that a small minority of them are doing. But given how screwed up things have become, for basic working people in particular, you can’t really say that leaving the old guard in place or letting Otto Wels and Ernst Thälmann turn this country into some sort of Marxist nightmare would have been viable solutions. Hitler was clearly the lesser evil here.
All that being said, whether you and your leftist friends like it or not, Hitler is now our chancellor. The people have spoken and your leftists lost. So now you really should give him a chance to see if he can follow through on his promises to make Germany great again. Or are you going to join all those putzes who promised to move to Switzerland if the Nazis won? (Good riddance if they do go!)

D: As you know, as was the case with Trump, Hitler and his cronies still got less than a majority of the popular vote. I won’t deny it though: I’m still stunned that they got as much as they did. I honestly thought and hoped that the German people were smarter and more civilized than that; you included. All I can say at this point is that if Hitler gets what he wants then moving to Switzerland could turn out to be an excellent decision.

R: Come on now, Diet! We still have a system of checks and balances in this country. Old man Hindenburg is still in place trying to insure some resemblance of sanity in the system. Hitler and his boys still need to convince the other 2/3 of the Reichstag to go along with it before they do anything too radical. Things can’t really get too bad. So for now let’s just come together as Germans and see what we can do to rebuild this great nation.

D: In many ways I hope you’re right. The scary part is that I’m sure that back in the day Trump supporters were saying the same thing right after he was elected…

beer-hall-2

Leave a comment

Filed under Ethics, History, Politics, Respectability

Responsible Politicians and Other Oxymorons

The world is full of political controversy this month. In the US we’ve got politicians getting themselves in trouble for sexual indiscretion again; not quite overshadowed by the French fellow who might have been their next president if he hadn’t mistakenly assumed that the use of chamber maids for purposes other than cleaning was included as part of the service in New York’s luxury hotels. These mistakes are in some ways more honest and understandable than the South African president’s adventures not so long ago –– having a semi-consensual adulterous relationship with the HIV positive wife of a friend, and then “protecting himself” against the disease by taking a shower afterwards –– but they have been far more politically costly.

If we’re honest about it though, sex addicted politicians are certainly nothing new, nor are they nearly as big a problem as those addicted to violence, as we’ve witnessed among nearly all of the presidents of the Middle East this spring. This can be only partially blamed on their former colonial overlords (and quasi-colonial overlords) who may or may not have got them hooked on such violence to begin with: warlords have been ruling that region by killing off those who question their authority for millennia already, it’s just that now they have tanks and rocket launchers bought with oil money from NATO countries to do it with.

If we move beyond “moral issues” though, another increasing global trend in politics seems to be polarized deadlock. The American GOP, attempting to bounce back from the years they spent lost in the Bush, have played the political constipation strategy with remarkable effectiveness. Opposition parties from around the world now have started to follow suit: If the constitutional balance of power allows for the smaller party or parties to prevent stuff from happening, then the idea is to use that power to block things big time. That way you make the people in the controlling party/parties look stupid and inefficient, because they can never get anything done. Of course it’s bad for the country, but it’s good for the party, so who cares?

Another very basic tactic from the extreme right wing in the US in particular, but in more civilized countries as well, is to play the old outside-group-hatred card. Basically you find some sets of people who get limited public sympathy anyway, and you build an argument that these folks are the cause of all of the nation’s problems. You then claim that your political opponents are giving these despicable, villainous problem causers whatever they want, and the only way to solve the problem and get the nation back on track is to give you complete control, because your party is the only one that can defend the nation against these horrible “others”.

The “others” being targeted in particular by the radical American right are families on welfare, homosexuals, immigrants and Muslims. In their attacks on government spending, if they were to be honest about things, they should also include farmers, the elderly, the disabled and recipients of public education as evil “others”, but that might not play out so well in the heartland.

This strategy of finding an out-group to hate was used particularly effectively in various parts of Europe in the early part of the twentieth century, but for those who lack historical awareness in this area Godwin’s Law keeps me from spelling it out more precisely for you.

What other ways are there for politicians to remain in power? One other tactic is to somehow become a hero of the people, and to get a loyal following of believers who will do anything to please you. First you have to get a base of fans. You can get these by being a musician, an athlete, an actor, a religious leader, a military hero, whatever. What you were originally good at doesn’t matter as long as there is a solid group of people who believe you can walk on water. Then after that you have to have an organization that pulls these fans together and positions each of them to spread the message of how wonderful you are. This can take many forms, few of them particularly respect-worthy. Youth organizations based on personality cults or organizational loyalty are probably the worst. But if you’re not hypocritical about who you are and what you stand for, and if you have a goal beyond the power itself, a personality cult as a means of getting there might be morally acceptable.

There seems to be a common if not universal trend among politicians these days to consider the point of their job to be screwing whoever or whatever is screwable and to exercise power to build and/or maintain power in whatever way happens to work. Well, besides such basic Machiavellian principles in politics what else is there really?

 

Actually there could be many things. The mark of a great leader and a statesman is to stand tall (figuratively speaking at least) and rally people together by enabling them to build a new sense of respect for each other, without necessarily agreeing about particular issues or changing each others’ minds. If people decide to work hard together to realize a common vision, seeing each other as imperfect allies rather than natural enemies, good results are almost inevitable. That’s far easier said than done however. To make that work more often than not you need to have an enemy that you can put forward to all parties that is bigger than the political opposition. If you make that enemy something abstract and yet readily understandable –– something like disease, starvation, illiteracy… even lust, greed or sloth –– it doesn’t have to lead to labeling particular individuals as the horrid bad guys, but that requires an electorate which is well enough educated and integrated with each other to share and appreciate what they are fighting against. Overall hatemongering against particular out-groups is far easier.

But then we come back to that troublesome question of what, besides power and privilege for themselves, politicians are supposed to be working for. Frankly it seems that most of them don’t have a clue. That in turn can to a great extent be blamed on the education systems that they’ve come up through, because there is in fact a simple answer: human rights.

Ultimately the job of every government and every government employee is to insure that every person within their jurisdiction is treated with a level of respect that every person deserves as a person. That’s really all it boils down to. Everything else is just means of getting there and then extras to make life more fun and interesting once the basics are taken care of. But the fundamental job of every government is really nothing more nor less than protecting the human rights of those within its territory.

The idea of human rights has had many stages of evolution, but I would like to point out three in particular: the US Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the US Constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All of these are imperfect documents of their own times, but they are all based on a premise that has been officially accepted by every respectable nation on earth: that the job of a government is to make sure that people are respected as people.

The Declaration of Independence, like Luther’s 95 Theses, is a vague laundry list of complaints about the way things were being run, with the underlying premise that God doesn’t expect people to submit to those who don’t give them the respect they deserve. Its most famous lines are these:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

That’s worth stopping to ponder. First of all, the core of the moral argument justifying the US decision not to be a British colony any more –– which has since served as a rule of thumb for what (theoretically) makes states legitimate in general –– is that people (men in particular) automatically are naturally entitled to certain rights just because they are people. Being a person means that in some fundamental ways you are just as valuable as any other person. Beyond that, the whole point in having governments to begin with is to make sure that these rights are fundamentally respected and protected. Furthermore, when it comes to who is there to protect and defend these rights for them, people deserve to have a say in the matter, just as part of what they are entitled to because they happen to be people.

This wasn’t a particularly comprehensive listing of what all counts as human rights, just a statement that being allowed to live, being in some sense or another at liberty and being in some respects allowed to attempt to make yourself happy are somehow part of the package.

Once these former colonists got the British out of their hair they actually found that putting together a system for protecting these rights was easier said than done. They discovered that it required a lot more basic organization and strength of government than they had first assumed. Thus the Articles of Confederation effectively failed as an original attempt at US national government. In particular it became apparent that they needed to have a system that charged a fair amount of taxes, and that divvied that money up in ways that protected a more specific set of rights. The core formulation of those rights was laid out in the Preamble to the new constitution, written 11 years after the Declaration of Independence:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So besides defending people’s lives, liberty and hedonistic pursuits, this government now took as its task to make sure that all of its equal citizens received basic justice in the court system, that everyone should be allowed to live in basic peace and security, that everyone should have some level of general welfare provided for them and that everyone’s descendents (family) would be taken into consideration. That was a good basic start. That is why, over 200 years later, the US Constitution still works.

Other rights issues were tacked on ad hoc over the next century after that, making up what is known as the Bill of Rights. Two major improvements in particular, which the US founding fathers never could have agreed to, came along in the late nineteenth century: the abolition of slavery and a required public education system. But from there United States’ moral leadership in the world of politics floundered a bit. It wasn’t until the Nazis’ Japanese allies attacked the US and propelled America into World War 2 that the question of what people were entitled to as people really started getting attention there again.

In spite of the friendships the Nazis built with leading American industrialists, when American soldiers saw the horror of what they did to other human beings, Jews in particular, up close and personal, there was really no question left about the matter: this government was evil. Something had to be done to try to stop those sorts of evil from happening again. There needed to be some sort of international agreement about what people are entitled to as people, that governments could band together to get respect for. This is the unstated purpose behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: preventing new Nazi-like atrocities from happening.

Now of course the different governments involved in the formulation of this document each had their own input as to what counts as a violation of what people are naturally entitled to, but if you take the idea of equality from the US founding documents seriously, and you factor in all of the cultural and technological innovations that have happened since –– in education, health care, religious tolerance and the moral imperative to abolish slavery in particular –– all 30 articles in the UDHR do rather consistently follow from its Preamble:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that […] every organ of society […] shall strive […] by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

In other words as of 1948 none of the member states could claim that they were doing their job right. All of them realized that they had a ways to go in terms of treating their people how they deserved to be treated as people. All of them could also accuse each other of being somehow Nazi-like in some areas. Racial segregation of public facilities in the US deep south and prohibitions on international travel for those behind the Iron Curtain were but two obvious examples of this. But they essentially agreed that respecting people as people was their core task as governments, and to do that properly these 30 articles needed to be followed.

These articles include basic rights which even American politicians are aware of: equal justice in the legal system, freedom from slavery, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to travel, the right to property ownership and the right to democratic participation in the government one is subject to. But they also include rights things that many right wing politicians are trying to prevent their governments from recognizing people’s rights to: equally accessible public services (art. 21.2), welfare services sufficient for protecting the dignity of families (art. 23.3), freedom to form trade unions (art.23.4), medical care and social security (art. 25.1), special assistance for mothers and children (art.25.2), higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit (art. 26.1) and freedom to enjoy the arts (art. 27.1).

Thus I would contend that the measure of a “good politician” anywhere in the world is the extent to which she or he is able to fully understand the responsibilities which governments bear according to the UDHR, and is then able to bring the government in which she/he serves closer to this ideal. As when the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the US Constitution, this will require some taxation, but according to article 30 this is a matter of balance: the right to private property for some needs to be balanced with the right to education and health care for others.

For any politician to claim that there are some people whose rights are not worth defending, or to claim that since the government has screwed up in attempting to defend the human rights of particular groups it shouldn’t even try, is the height of political irresponsibility –– far worse than an addiction to sex, on par with an addiction to violence. So I will close by saying it directly: the very existence of the “Tea Party” movement in the United States, and the fact that someone like Michele Bachmann can be taken seriously as a candidate for any national office, says that the American education system has failed at its most basic task: making people aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens. In other countries as well, the less people recognize the basic human rights of those around them, and the less they expect of their governments in terms of protecting those rights, the less respect I have for their level of education and intelligence.

It has been said that democratic nations get the leaders they deserve. Clearly in this regard the US does not deserve leaders with a strong sense of responsibility and integrity, though by the grace of God they might get one every now and again anyway. I would still like to believe, however, that the country has not sunk so low as to deserve the sort of leadership that the current batch of Republicans are trying to offer. We’ll see.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Human Rights, Politics, Purpose, Respectability

Death of a Despised Individual

While I was traveling last week an important piece of history took place: the US military finally hunted down and killed Osama Bin Laden. Many people have been asking what I think about the subject, so after some delays here, I’ve taken the time to explore my thoughts with and for your all.

To start with there’s the whole timing conspiracy question. Was there a reason why he was killed now rather than sooner or later? Is his death a means of promoting certain political or business careers? Why wait until now? Or why not take him prisoner and kill him later if necessary? In my opinion such questions don’t merit particularly extensive investigation. Not quite 10 years after his most infamous act was not a particularly auspicious time for Bin Laden to be gunned down. Both Bush II and Obama could have used the political boost of the death of this infamous enemy to much better advantage if it had happened earlier. While this can’t hurt the US Democrats’ standing with the wavering, moderate voters, with whom Obama spent all of his political capital in trying to make health care a basic human right in the US (as it has been for decades in every other “developed” country), it by no means guarantees their success in the next election cycle. So as far as American political interests are concerned it is unrealistic to assume that there is more to this than what can be seen on the surface: Bin Laden was wanted dead or alive, preferably dead, due to the fact that he very publicly worked to bring about the deaths of thousands of otherwise innocent Americans; and the American military took care of that as soon as they could.

It could be said that the biggest delay in carrying out this assassination stemmed from variable levels of cooperation with the Pakistanis. Here I am not an expert, but I can point to a few of the well known dots that might be worth connecting. The extremely medieval form of Islam practiced in Bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia can obviously still work in such an  oil rich country, where reform and progress towards social justice can be stifled by a strong-armed and well resourced military machine, together with some strategic distribution of the oil wealth among those who are friends of the status quo. If a country doesn’t have that kind of money, an alternative way of holding the ancient status quo together is by using it as a defense against some particularly horrible “other”. Pakistan has tried both approaches, and neither is looking particularly sustainable at this point. Given Pakistan’s problems with internal political strife, flood damage that may never be repaired, growing resistance to traditions of brutally oppressing women, and cultural optimism following an international cricket championship final against India (which remained extremely friendly even though they lost), maybe––just maybe––the Pakistani military bosses finally decided that siding with this rabble rouser who specialized in inciting hatred based on medieval thinking was no longer in their best interest. That in turn allowed for significant wheels of military intelligence finally being set into motion.

But political causes and effects aside, one of the big questions remains: was it right to kill this fellow? How freely can we justify the taking of a human life –– any human life, regardless of how despicable we find the person? In Star Wars’ terminology, when we act to take a life, or lives, out of hatred and disgust at what a person symbolizes to us, do we effectively surrender ourselves to “the power of the dark side” in the process?

There are actually two relevant ethical issues involved in this matter: What makes a human life particularly valuable to begin with? And then, how dangerous are motivations of de-humanizing hatred and resentment?

Those few who genuinely deeply object to Bin Laden being assassinated do so on the basis of assassination always being wrong, as an absolute moral principle, with no exceptions. For these purposes let’s define assassination as the targeted killing of a particular individual because of the risks that person poses to a particular government or other organization. So some particularly well known assassinations of the modern era would include Abraham Lincoln, Duke Franz Ferdinand, Leon Trotsky, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Biko, Anna Politkovskaya and Benazir Bhutto. In each of these cases, despite their personal detractors and posthumous opponents, they have achieved as certain martyr-like status, and those who caused their deaths have been roundly condemned. On the other hand though, we have cases like Ceauşescu in Romania, where assassinating the fallen dictator as they did could have easily been the best thing for the country in terms of saving other lives. Or in fiction we have the rather sympathetic scene in “The Godfather” where Michael assassinates the crooked cop and his handler in the diner… for the good of the family and community, as he saw it. In neither case could those assassinated be considered any sort of martyrs. Could those have been taken as morally justifiable assassinations? What if some intelligence service or military unit were to eliminate the Gaddafi element of the Libyan people’s suffering? What if thousands of Zimbabwean lives could be saved by ridding that country of Mugabe’s autocratic rule? Would saving thousands of lives, and the freeing of millions from lives of terror, justify the assassination of such self-important individuals?

To some there is a significant moral line between assassination and capital punishment following a fair and public trial. Does due process make governmentally sanctioned killing more moral? In some ways it’s hard to see how. Reducing the risk of killing someone who doesn’t deserve to be killed is a noble idea in one sense, but in cases such as Bin Laden’s there can hardly be any reasonable doubt regarding whether or not he committed the actions for which the US and Pakistan determined that he deserved to die. But those who are prone to believe in absolute moral principles might say that you still need a trial just as a matter of principle. They too are entitled to their view.

The more commonly held view, however, is that government sponsored killing is just as morally wrong as privately committed murder. This view holds that the problem is not, as Hobbes taught, just a matter of keeping violence under control by only allowing it to be exercised as a matter of public agreement. The heart of the matter is that there is something absolutely sacred about human life, which makes it something never to be taken by another human under any circumstances. That, however, is highly problematic in at least two senses: First of all it doesn’t really have any logical basis for being so; and secondly, it’s more or less impossible to consistently apply.

The closest thing we have to a basis for believing that human life must never be taken away is the religious tradition of which the 10 Commandments is an integral part: “Thou shalt not kill.” It almost goes without saying, however, that originally, in practice, this was only intended to prohibit private murder within one’s own society, and even there religious justifications provided plenty of exceptions. Religion itself has been a major excuse for killing over the years, and so taking religion as an absolute basis for not killing is hardly morally consistent.

Religion in general, and the Abrahamic tradition in particular, holds that life is a precious gift from God, but it is inherently temporary, and to realize its full value it has to be related to something beyond itself –– something more eternal. Respect for human life is vitally important in this tradition, but its protection and prolonging is far less an end unto itself than a means of realizing something more than long life for its own sake. Sometimes that value relates to particular lives necessarily coming to an end against our hopes and sooner than expected.

But more than killing, one factor which would seem to be an even bigger corruption of the human spirit, and our societies, is to base them on hatred of others. This has always been there, in spite of the best attempts of the best of religious leaders to help people overcome it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is quoted as saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).  In other words, in his teaching, hatred is just as serious a moral problem as murder itself. Of course enemies and detractors will always exist in our lives, but basing our lives on shared hatred of those we label as evil is a nasty way to live; basing our lives on cycles of revenge, so much the worse.

There’s a standard joke nowadays about using Hitler or the Nazis in an argument: it always constitutes one variation or another on “Godwin’s Law”. Nazis have become such a cliché, based on their use as a scare tactic against any form of “socialist” by such lesser minds as Glen Beck, that any moral lesson from recent history is in danger of being lost. In using the word “Nazi” as a hate-mongering tool, today’s rabid American radio personalities are, perhaps intentionally, losing track of the fact that the ultimate evil of the Third Reich was hate-mongering. We do not condemn Hitler for making the trains run on time or providing state sponsored health care. We condemn him for fueling that sort of efficiency with resentment towards “inferior tribes” that he convinced people needed to be exterminated. Why is that so hard to understand?

In our generation there are plenty of hate-mongers to go around still. There are ultra-nationalists versus anti-nationalists, and violent religious extremists against both their counterparts of other religious persuasions and violent anti-religious extremists. To one extent or another it will become inevitable to meet this violence with violence. The trick is to do so without making hatred the central factor of our existence.

Overall though, in the time delay since I started trying to formulate these thoughts, I can’t really complain about the way things have played out. In the week and a half since Bin Laden was killed, the world has not become a significantly more peaceful nor a more violent place. The US seems to be more worried this week about the question of whether or not rich people should pay taxes so that poor people don’t have to die for lack of medical care than about how to combat the next wave of Muslim extremists. And while that alternative problem as its own strange absurdity to it, it’s a far cry healthier for them to be debating about that than to be holding debates to snowball the hatemongering. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, autocrats are grasping at straws, saying that if they don’t stay in power some horrible extremists will take over their countries, but no one is buying it.

Struggles continue, but neither celebrations of nor mourning over the death of this high profile religious hate-monger has captured this last week’s headlines. And flying by way of Istanbul last week, sitting in the airport next to the door to the Muslim prayer room while waiting for a connecting flight, the biggest commotion was the yelling competition between the cashiers at Burger King and Popeye’s and the Turkish ice cream vendor to get potential customers’ attention. Wonderful how smoothly this little spike in hatred came and went!

So may peace and security be with each of you as well.

6 Comments

Filed under Death, Ethics, Politics, Religion