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Posts Tagged ‘nazis’

Today, the usual simmering resentment and anger the internet feels for Justin Bieber came to a roaring boil and bubbled over. And all it took was a few well meant words.

Let’s go back in time seventy-odd years for a brief recap. Anne Frank was a young German girl, who lived mostly in Amsterdam, who was hunted down by the Nazis during World War II because they were Jewish. Eventually she and her family were caught and taken to a concentration camp, where she died at the age of 15. She’s become famous for the diary that she kept, for much of the last few years of her short life.

The building in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family hid from invading Nazi forces is now the Anne Frank House, a museum dedicated to her memory. Recently, Justin Bieber went there to visit the place, as the museum reported on their Facebook page. The message he left in the guestbook read:

Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.

A brief look at the bottom half of the internet will give you a flavour of the outraged response that followed.

One commonly recurring theme seems to be about “respect”, and the idea that Bieber should have shown more of it. This is Anne Frank, after all, a tragic victim of a brutally murderous regime; she deserves better than to have her memory trivialised by some pop star with an over-inflated ego.

And, well. There’s certainly a case to be made that Anne Frank, her memory, and the museum that bears her name, represent a profoundly human and humane response to forces of persecution and hate, on a scale of monumental historic significance – and that it demeans her to try associating her with fans of a 21st-century singer.

But I don’t think Justin Bieber had any intention of being so demeaning, and I think some people expect too much of him to be able to appropriately memorialise her legacy in a brief note written in a book at the end of an hour-long tour.

Not least because, for many people these days, the atrocities of the Nazi regime are dim and distant history to which it’s not easy to relate. They’re lucky like that, the young’uns of today. Anne Frank died in 1945; Justin Bieber was born in 1994. I find it near impossible to fathom the enormity of the 1940s global conflict, or to begin doing justice to the memory of a young Jewish girl who died in a concentration camp, and I’m a well read guy nearing 30. A 19-year-old kid who’s had little opportunity to do anything with his time but be a pop sensation for the last five years doesn’t have a chance.

So when he comes to the end of this lengthy exploration of some of the darkest times in humanity’s history, and the way in which the human spirit can struggle through even such terrors without being wholly extinguished, maybe some of it’s sunk in a little. Maybe he’s learned something. He still can’t say anything appropriate for the occasion, because who the hell could, but he has a go. He tries to relate. And he offers that perhaps “she would have been a belieber”.

Many of Justin Bieber’s most devoted fans identify themselves as “beliebers” – a merging of “believer” with his own name, to signify their loyalty to him and to each other in the face of considerable hostility, forming a cohesive unit of support and admiration. It might often be driven more by teenage hormones than sophisticated musical appreciation, and you might not find the guy himself all that admirable – but being a belieber doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to us outsiders.

I can only speculate as to the role they play in Bieber’s own life, but given the numbers in which they tweet their affection for him to the world, cheer him on at every turn, and band together to share and encourage each other’s Bieberholic fanaticism, I imagine they form a massively significant part of his world, and seem like a strong, formidable, positive thing to be a part of. It wasn’t just self-centred for him to link Anne Frank’s memory with his own career; I suspect that it’s literally the most generous and open-hearted thing he can think to wish for somebody else, that they could be part of the swarm that surrounds him, and find friends and mutual support among an accepting, like-minded crowd.

Clumsy and inarticulate though it may be, this is how he shows respect.

And hey, maybe he’s right.

There’s a thing I never would have thought I’d suggest. Maybe, under different circumstances, Anne Frank would have been a belieber. She was a 13-year-old girl when she got the diary, 15 when she last wrote in it. Did she enjoy music? Did she ever start to have any young, adolescent, romantic feelings for a pretty boy with a nice smile? Or were these things denied her, aspects of her life which might have flourished if she’d had the chance to fully grow into herself and experience the world before all her opportunities were cut cruelly short?

I’ve no idea. I’ve not read her diary, as I suspect many of Bieber’s harshest critics haven’t, so I don’t know whether she wrote about such things at all. But the suggestion that she might have had certain things in common with many other teenage girls is a long way from being the most offensive thing ever said about Anne Frank.

Although, having said all of which…

Dear beliebers, and anyone else, who have been responding to criticism of Justin Bieber for his comments on Anne Frank, and standing up for his right to free expression, by making any comparison whatsoever between abusive online messages directed toward a millionaire global superstar, and the persecution and genocide of Jews in twentieth century Europe:

No.

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Order, order

(I should probably put this disclaimer up about this one.)

Is following orders a good thing?

Clearly it isn’t always. The phrase “just following orders” has become strongly associated with Nazism, because of how often it’s been used to refer to those numerous soldiers of the Third Reich who carried out inhuman atrocities, but who probably weren’t unusually immoral people outside of the context of Hitler’s dictatorship. As Stanley Milgram later described, regular folks are capable of doing terrible things under the right circumstances, and these Germans found ways to rationalise and justify to themselves the abominable acts they committed.

One of the things that helped many of them sleep at night, and reconcile the slaughter of innocents with their self-image as not-evil, was the idea that they were “just following orders”. Their job was to do what the higher-ups told them to do. It wasn’t their own decision that these things should be done, and if they didn’t do what they were told, they’d be harshly disciplined and someone else would be sent to do it instead.

Any Nazi soldier who defied this authority, and determinedly did the right thing regardless of the risk to themselves if their insubordination was discovered, we would likely be inclined to think of as heroic and noble. And you don’t have to be a Nazi to earn acclaim for thinking independently, acting morally, and not following orders. If you were told to do something morally wrong, and you decided not to do it because it was morally wrong, chances are you’ll have a good chunk of public opinion on your side.

But if doing wrong things is still wrong, even when someone in authority instructs you to do them… doesn’t that rather undermine the concept of “orders” altogether? We seem to have redefined an “order” as “something you’re told to do, which you ought to do except when you oughtn’t”. It seems like we’ve decided we can pick and choose what orders to follow based on whether the thing we’re being ordered to do is morally permissible, which puts “orders” on about the same level as “suggestions” when it comes to carrying moral weight.

And yet the assumption remains ingrained into much of modern life that following orders and instructions is an important, valuable skill. It’s sometimes justified by the idea that we need defined roles of order-takers and order-givers in order to maintain structure – nothing would get done in any organisation if someone wasn’t telling people what to do, and had some sort of authority to make sure it gets done.

So, do we have to admit that, sometimes, it’s morally necessary to follow an order to do a bad thing, for the sake of maintaining group cohesion? Is it an unfortunate fact we just have to face that, now and then, we’re morally obliged to drown a puppy for the greater good of bolstering a social structure which allows us to achieve so many other things and avoid descending into chaos?

Or is it still only morally right to follow such orders, if doing the thing you’re ordered to do would be morally right anyway?

Back in the increasingly distant days of my having a job, people ordered me to do things all the time. In practice, they were much more polite than to make it seem that way, but that’s what it amounted to. And, generalising broadly, if I hadn’t followed those orders, I wouldn’t have got paid. I don’t recall ever being ordered to do anything morally problematic, but I wouldn’t have been motivated to do them if not for that financial incentive, in the form of an order from the people paying me.

Even this, though, doesn’t seem to imbue order-following with any kind of moral righteousness. My employers were limited in what they could order me to do, after all, by the agreement I’d made with them about what my job actually was. The only moral thing I was doing was adhering to a pre-arranged contract to perform a certain role in the office. The “orders” I was given day-to-day defined the details of what comprised that role at any given moment, but the parameters were fixed, and it doesn’t seem like there was ever any particular moral goodness behind obeying any order in particular.

The main thing compelling me to keep following orders was that I didn’t want to get fired. Sometimes the authority behind an order amounts to “do this thing or this negative consequence will befall you” – which, rather than relegating orders to mere suggestions, now wholly equates them with threats.

Are they capable of being anything else?

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– An interesting take on Godwin’s Law: the Nazis weren’t that special. And nor are Americans.

– Wow. Some state representatives have a lot of spare time in which to write people angry, incoherent, idiotic, hand-written letters.

– The Governor of Ohio wants to make it illegal for your car to have a “secret compartment”. There doesn’t even have to be anything in it. You’re probably only going to fill it with drugs, so you can’t be trusted with the responsibility.

– Read this. “Bullying is about as valid a rite of passage as female circumcision, and no less its spiritual equivalent.” Read it now.

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Nazis, elsewhere

The action’s over on my Other blog tonight, where I’m asking important questions like: Were the Nazis really so bad?

By the time Jews were having their property confiscated as a matter of official policy, they had been successfully othered in the minds of enough Europeans that the Nazis could proceed with their “Final Solution” without any significant uproar.

It was this sort of euphemistic jargon, coupled with all the dehumanising psychological techniques brilliantly employed before and throughout the War, by which people could avoid having to directly address – or even think about – the murder of millions of individuals to which it referred.

Nobody involved in the Third Reich needs to have been an inhuman monster to achieve this. They only made clever use of a number of aspects of human behaviour, of the shameful ways in which we are naturally inclined to act if the circumstances are right.

You should read the whole thing.

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I’m an optimist.

At least, I try to be, but it probably won’t work.

One of the ways in which I like to hope that things will all work out okay in the end, without any real justification except not wanting to feel depressed, is that kids won’t be permanently screwed up by stuff like this. It’s creepy as hell watching children repeating any kind of dogmatic nonsense their parents have clearly drilled into them, possibly without even really understanding what they’re saying, but in time they’ll grow up and be able to make their own decisions about this, right?

I mean, this kid‘s clearly just enjoying the attention he’s getting from making a lot of noise like he’s seen some grown-ups do. He’s not been irreversibly indoctrinated with anything. He’s still got a chance to grow up into a rational thinker of some kind, right?

Right?

Well, it turns out that sometimes this desperate optimism isn’t entirely misplaced.

In the UK, the “Nazi teeny boppers” of the American band Prussian Blue – also the name of a compound used in gas chambers in Hitler’s Germany – are probably best recognised from the Louis Theroux documentary made about them some years ago. The band consisted of two young sisters, who started performing from age 9, driven at least in part by their white supremacist mother.

They were cute and blonde and innocent-looking and played guitar and sang songs about how the Holocaust never happened and black people are ruining their country, and it was creepy and wrong for all the obvious reasons.

But these days, they don’t do that any more.

The sisters are 19 now, and “pretty liberal” and want to exert “love and positivity”.

They’re still not so sure about the whole Holocaust thing. But, it looks like they might be growing up in exactly the kind of way my na├»ve optimism would have blindly hoped for. Frankly, I have more respect for them than for the people who sent them death threats in the name of tolerance and liberalism when they were twelve years old.

(h/t Orac)

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They were bad.

Reel ’em in with a bold, controversial statement. I sure know how to keep a captive audience.

Let’s trying something a little more specific:

The Nazi movement had a strong religious component, and strong ties to the Catholic Church. Most Nazis were Christians.

However: The Nazis were bad for reasons almost entirely unrelated to Christianity.

Similarly: Many Christians are good. Those who are bad are, almost universally, bad for reasons entirely unrelated to Nazism.

My point is this:

When atheists bring up the fact that Nazi Germany banned books which promoted Darwinism or disparaged Christianity, it’s not because we’re claiming that all Christianity is evil and all Christians are evil because of some Nazi connection.

It’s because people won’t stop doing exactly that to us.

‘Kay?

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Some things in brief, easing myself back into this slowly after a few more days of uselessness:

– Bill Donohue believes that the Catholic Church has “less of a problem with the issue of sexual abuse” than any other institution in existence. Can we please stop acting as if the Catholic League isn’t just this one loon in his basement?

This is a link to a news website article about a scientific finding. This is a pithy remark summarising my feelings about it. This is a weary sigh about how it will be inevitably misunderstood and widely misrepresented.

– If you trust in watchdogs of honesty to keep tabloid newspapers in check – to enforce some kind of repercussions when, say, the Daily Mail spreads misinformation about dangerous substances, potentially putting people in harm’s way by giving them reassurances of safety, which are explicitly contradicted by the science and have been directly rebutted by experts – then apparently your optimism is foolish and must be crushed. The facts were always there in plain view, but it was months before the Mail were obliged to print a retraction acknowledging that asbestos is in fact quite nasty stuff.

– It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes the quacks go down.

– Two out of three political party leaders in the UK don’t believe in a god. Which I guess is nice. The Deputy Prime Minster has been an open non-believer for a while, and now the new Labour leader has followed suit. The way he qualifies it seems entirely reasonable to me, too; it’s a shame that some people probably do still need to be dissuaded from making the link between “atheist” and “baby-eating monster”, but it sounds like he’s doing a bare minimum of pandering on the subject. And hey, I’m with him on the thing about respecting people with different views. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about a backlash if I want to be more vocal about the active disrespect I have for some things those people believe.

More tomorrow.

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