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Friday, February 12, 2010

Retour du refoulé

This is shrink talk that can be loosely translated as "what goes around, comes around".
This phrase summarizes what I hold to be a psychological truth (for Western culture, and probably for most cultures, but I am not going to fall into Freud's generalization trap).
You will occasionally hear me harping over there in the jungle about the facts that WW2 was fought on European ground, (for the part of WW2 which is constantly browbeated, that is) that our international institutions rose out of the ashes of WW2, and that the final survivors of WW2 are now dying off.
These are facts. No interpretation involved on my part.

Some 15 years ago I got curious about "Mein Kampf." (I am a rather provocative person, as you have certainly noticed.) So... I went to my local library and checked it out, and photocopied several sections of it, with the idea of reading it from a spy perspective.
As I may have already mentioned, when I brought the book back to the library, the librarian looked at me furtively, looked to both sides, and whispered that she had got flak for having let "Mein Kampf "out of the reserve (yeah, well, we can understand that it is NOT on the shelves, right ?). That her superiors wanted to know WHO had checked it out, and why... Of course, I reassured her that I was not a candidate for the national socialist party. (We are good friends, the librarian and I...)
In the ensuing years, I have OCCASIONALLY mentioned that I have read several chapters of "Mein Kampf".
And the reactions are... very interesting.
An old friend and colleague (over 70) looked at me with distaste, and said that he would not be caught dead with it in his hands... Something along the lines of consorting with the enemy...
This weekend, in a Geneva bar, an American man residing in Belgium looked to both sides before telling me confidentially in a low voice that he had a copy stowed away behind other books in his home.
Last night, my theater prof's actor husband laughed dismissively before recounting an anecdote where a high school student brought the book to class to show teacher and classmates...
Here is how I present MY conclusion :
If 14 year old Adolf, father dead, and mother suffering from terminal cancer, had met ONE (or two...) BENEVOLENT souls during his flight to economically depressed Vienna in search of a vocation, a meaning for his life, the face of the world would have been different. (Yeah, Thai, this means, if Adolf had found someone to PROTECT his vulnerable 14 year old self from economic exploitation.)
I firmly believe this.
And my belief, I have found, makes a lot of people uncomfortable...
Some seem to think that my belief is an accusation that is adressed to them : like, THEY are responsible for what happened. (Ridiculous, they weren't even BORN at the time ; how could they be responsible ?)
What this state of affairs highlights is : the structure and the role of scapegoating.
Here is how it works : "Adolf was a MONSTER. This means that he was NOT HUMAN."
When we create monsters, we encapsulate them, and their acts in such a way that we are isolated from them.
Making THEM monsters reassures US that under no circumstances could we BE like them, or do what they do (or did).
Creating monsters is designed to destroy empathy and identification, thus separating the world out into the categories of "us vs THEM".
It is becoming more possible to open up this Pandora's box, these days. It is becoming more possible to talk about "Mein Kampf" and Adolf Hitler. (For those interested, not many people know that "Mein Kampf" was first published in France right after Hitler was elected. The French editors prefaced it with an introduction stating that they felt that it was their DUTY to inform the French public of the content of the book. Hitler himself tried to PREVENT publication of "Mein Kampf" in France.)
But there is still enormous resistance.
Why am I bringing this up ?
Because the SAME mecanism is at work when we DEMONIZE the banksters, our political leaders, and the many other categories we demonize/exclude in the U.S. : pedophiles, schizophrenics, criminals, you name it, we demonize it....
One of our major motivations in the demonization of our economic/political leaders is our "infantile" disappointment that the one whom we have... ELECTED to be Superman (yeah, Thai, you may THINK that Barack Obama is a President, because that is what the political structure of the U.S. suggests, but... I think that the American people in the last election CHOSE a KING.) is just as human, as fallible as we are.
Instead of harping on all the time about making sure that history does NOT repeat itself, in propaganda style fashion, we would do better to open up "Mein Kampf" and try to understand what happened...
I'm not sure that we're really ready for it, though.
It would maybe be a good idea to GET ready, considering the current economic context...


jean said...

Deb, I am a nonparticipating reader of Sudden Debt and your contributions here. Your writings touch on areas that really resonate with me, with an eloquence I lack. Thank you SO much.

Debra said...

Thanks a lot, Jean.
I don't know whether you are a boy or a girl, with a name like that, cause you COULD be French...
Why not ask for posting privileges here ?
WE'RE a democracy on Street Rat Crazy, right guys ?

Thai said...

Hey Jean, Welcome. Which parts resonate to you, there are so many viewpoints to come at Deb's post from?

I guess I concur with Jean's notion that this post "resonates" with me, but I tend to do it from the erector set world I from which I come.

But remember, in the end I have already made a choice that I accept thing like abortion and the death penalty, acts or behaviors that others might see as Nazi like monstrosities when looked at from a different viewpoint.

To me the problem is very simple: it is the age old problem of stability vs. change mixes with the additional age old problem of simplicity vs. complexity/diversity.

And I mean complex/diversity in ALL its manifestation.

We are seeing these "signs of strain: in our society as we have again become extremely diverse as a society- at least too diverse for the main body politic to hold together comfortably. And while I absolutely see the benefits of such diversity, we are now seeing the opposite side of what complexity/diversity brings.

What I guess you call a "king", I call "a common set of rules" and without them nothing holds together.

Many do not see this but there are actually common sets of rules for everything.

I really do recommend Niall Ferguson's The War of the World. He does a marvelous job showing how it was the areas of Europe that had experienced the mix of the most change (even good economic change) combined with the most diversity/complexity that experienced the most terrible violence as reactionary homogenization create the homogeneous Europe we know today- and like the US, that homogeneity is falling away to diversity with all its accompanying issues.

Thai said...

By the way, this is just another way of describing the process of evolution.

Thai said...

Remember my analogy: the war of complexity or the simpletons vs. the complexitrons?

Let me give you an example:

You and I both have issues with the world of child protective services. We have our issues for different reasons and have come to our own criticisms from different viewpoint, yet never the less we both have "concerns".

We a friend of mine, who I have worked for years with in the emergency department decided to go to law school and decided to "specialize" in childrens' rights- hear echos of the word "complexity" or "diversity" in the concept "specialization", etc... (and I mean no foul saying this as I am a type of specialist as well).

Anyway, my friend sent me a message on facebook the other day asking me to support some bill currently working its way through committee that would apparently improve services in Maryland for neglected children- notice the tie in with your post here?

Apparently we have lots of bills and service for abused children, but not neglected children.

Now I am certainly not in favor of neglect, and he is my friend and I don't want to say "no" and offend him: this is his new career/passion after all.

Yet as far as I know, the bill does not in any way say that if we spend the money for this program, where will take the money from in order to fund the program?

Do we raise taxes? And if so, where do the people who pay these taxes have to cut back on their spending? Will they eat less dinners in restaurants? And if so, what will happen to the people who are no longer needed to work in the restaurants as people stop eating in them? Will they now go and work for the child neglect organizations funded with this bill?

But what if they liked working in restaurants and don't want to work in a child neglect organization?

Yet again, if I say "no" to my friend's facebook request, am I bad person? Does this mean I am in favor of child neglect?

What if we jut have less people who neglect there kids? Or these people can exist but they don't have kids? Or they do exist and do have kids and I say "OK" for the next few years I will eat out in restaurants less often so we move some of the people working in restaurants into child neglect programs. Hopefully the kids will get attention, all will be well and we can get rid of the program in a few years and my sacrifice and the restaurant worker's sacrifice will have made a difference and we can get back on with our lives.

But then someone else comes along and does the same thing all over again. Or maybe we have twice as many neglected kids as before.

And if we want to wind down the program and go back to restaurant eating, are the people working in the child neglect programs willing to change jobs and go back to working in restaurants?

People don't like making all those changes when they just got comfortable in the job they were in.

Economists call these things "externalitites" but the reality is everything we do has an externality.

If we can come to agreement about how the world should look, we march in that direction and things look good. If not, well- chaos

Thai said...

As I said, there is science known as complexity/chaos. You can imagine a complex system as one where at first you see a large block but then realize the block is yet itself made up of lots of smaller blocks- remember I love fractals, which are repeating or "iterative" combinations of "building blocks".

And you can think of a chaotic system a that same complex system system where the sum of the parts equals the whole, but now you changed one little smaller block and try to put the whole system back together again, hoping to make it look just like it looked before the change. Only you realize that all the little blocks will no longer fir together like they did before.

And after this one smaller block changes, yet the larger block tries to still exist, do you return the changed block the way it was before? Or do a few other blocks in the system change in order to to accommodate the first one to change? Or does EVERY block in the system change and the whole remains and at the same time looks very different than it did before?

Debra said...

Thai, I have already told you...
I am an ANARCHIST. That means that I really DON'T LIKE GOVERNMENT. (you got all irrational over there on Sudden Debt about the monarchy, what the hell were you talking about, by the way ??)
I'm not crazy about child neglect programs.
Why do we always have to have a PROGRAM and/or LEGISLATION to deal with a problem ? (See, now I COULD tell you that the U.S. is ALREADY a really SOCIALIST country, because there are all those official PROGRAMS, and all that legislation, huh ?)
If you have a more tightly knit social structure, then you don't necessarily NEED bureaucratic programs that cost MONEY.
But... if NOBODY is at home any more for any duration of time outside of sleeping time in the evening, then what kind of COMMUNITY are you going to have ?
And then you pretty much HAVE to have those official programs, don't you, because there's nobody around to do FREE work ? (Yep, you just saw that, I said FREE work.)
Two nights ago I was talking to my theater prof about gratuity in our society.
Yes, well, we have mercantilized A LOT in our society, BUT... we have NOT YET reached the point where when I invite people to dinner, I charge them for the meal, nor do we put our hands to our pocket books to pay for... the IDEAS that we're exchanging in this PRIVATE situation. (or here, either, for that matter...)

Thai said...


Funny how much miscommunication occurs when your mind and mine has we slightly different meanings for the same words.

I am not sure we have the same definition of anarchy either but I think we are not that far off.

Thai said...

re: what I was talking about

Again, remember that over in the jungle, I am the voice of the system and have a reputation for being on the side of the bankers- which is not true.

People are angry at the banker over in the jungle since they feel the bankers lent other people's money to people who could never repay that money and they only reason they did this was because they personally made a profit from it.

Yet many have less anger at the government for doing the same thing. Their anger toward the government seems more directed to ward the fact that the central bank's policies encourage this behavior and the central banks did not prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Even if we did not have a central bank, every time the government borrows to give the money to someone who could never pay that money back to the government, it encourages the same thing.

I said it is no different when the government does exactly the same thing and you seemed to say it was different, at least from an intent standpoint.

And while I agree the intent may be different, the results are ever the less the same.

Debra said...

That is not true, Thai what you are saying, for the simple fact that in almost EVERYBODY's mind, for the time being... there is less risk lending and borrowing to the government than to MOST private individuals (well, all, because look at Enron...)
We'll see what happens IF sovereign default turns up in the cards in our society...

Debra said...

Say Thai... come to think of it, on the basis of your banker's argument...
YOU must CERTAINLY agree that paying your MONEY to your insurance to be taken care of is not all that different from paying TAXES or whatever to the GOVERNMENT to be taken care of ?
When we get right down to it, you are STILL paying money to be taken care of ?

Thai said...

Again, it is this viewpoint issue I keep talking about. It depends on the viewpoint you are looking at things from.

From the viewpoint of someone lending money to another person, it seems much safer lending to a government so I agree.

But from the viewpoint of what effect there is on society, they are the same.

It is the anger people feel towards the bankers I am saying is silly, at least it is silly if one is not angry at government as well. Indeed, you would have to be angry at yourself as well as

for if you are borrowing AND occasional give some of your money to people in need, you too are responsible for a credit cycle.

Borrowing money to give the money to someone who cannot pay the money back is not the same the same as borrowing it to give to someone who can.

It is the anger at the bankers that I am saying is a little silly. AND at the same time, there was clearly fraud going on as well and where that happened it is appropriate to be very angry. It is both.

I completely agree with your notions around purchasing insurance. Again, it gets to the issue of choice and consequence and this is what people is causing so much frustration.

For Americans has this cognitive dissonance that we both want individual decisions/freedom AND we want protection when we get in trouble and best of all we want someone else to pay for it.

These are obviously irreconcilable issues and one has to give up on some of them or something else has to give somewhere else in the system in order for these to simultaneously (which is what is happening).

Remember, I have said that at some level everything is the same and that I think the underlying structure of society is immutable and unchangeable. Further, at some level, there is no difference between communism and capitalism or a society where all decisions are made at the level of the individual or one where they are made at the level of a single king.

At some level these are all the same and it is simply different perspectives on the same thing where some look good and some do not look good to an individual depending on what their personal view of the world is/should be (which I agree is influenced by what everyone else' view).

But in a world that is more diverse/complex it become hard where we have very different views/desires for the world.

In my opinion, either some of the diversity will be destroyed someone how or the whole will fracture further into smaller parts.

I tend to think we will witness the destruction of some diversity/complexity.

I have a guess what it will be, but only a guess.

Remember, fundamentally nothing is any different in a credit cycle. It is the perception which has changed.

Debra said...

We don't really see things the same way Thai, I think.
While you say that society is immutable (or something to this effect...) I am saying that the PROBLEMS that the social body faces are immutable, and basically the same from generation to generation : transmission of knowledge, property, filiation, the balance between what people perceive to be the individual's rights/responsibilities, and the collectivity's, care of the invalid members of society (ill, immature, aged), all of these problems are immutable.
But... the solutions that are found for these problems can be quite different.
I don't think that you know very much about divine right monarchy, by the way. Its underlying structure.

Thai said...

I know nothing about divine right monarchy, agreed.

And re: "the PROBLEMS that the social body faces are immutable"

From my perspective this is because the underlying structure of the universe and therefore society is immutable. They are one and the same.

Generations certainly try to handle them differently but the reality is not all approaches work. The number of ways society can solve this issue are very limited.

Debra said...

Maybe... they are as limited as our IMAGINATION, Thai.
What bugs me about your approach is that I sense a smack of determinist thinking, there.
Determinist thinking is most often a kind of... substitute for a feeling of helplessness.
It runs a vicious streak through our society.
It is inevitable : because it gets US, and our responsibility off the hook, and we are always looking for some way to get off the hook, somewhere. (yeah, that's a gross generalization, I admit...)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits