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Twin Pages

How to think about Nazis

03 Oct 2021 10:27 - 07 Feb 2022 09:50

    • Hitler and Nazis and the Holocaust have a certain function in my thought (and I'm hardly unusual in this respect) – they represent a kind of useful reference point of absolute evil. Oddly comforting in a perverse way – the world may be a confusing buzz of postmodern collapsed values, but at least we have one moral certainty – the Nazis were bad and we want to combat that badness. They are a source of clarity; they dispel confusion about purpose; I might have no idea what I am pursuing on this earth, but fighting Nazis is an always available goal.
    • They provide a much needed form of sacredness, in perhaps the only form that works in the contemporary world – its inversion. We can't agree on what's sacred, but we better damn well agree on its opposite.
    • This desire for moral fixed points is considered Bad by Buddhism, as transmitted via Meaningness:
      • Any fixed belief, or fixed emotional response, is a “reference point.” We use reference points as bricks to build the prison of identity. In meditation, we allow that structure to collapse. When the roof falls in, we see the boundless sky. That is the vastness of nonduality, where purity and impurity are equally meaningless.
    • I have trouble with this; I do in fact cling to this one shred of moral certainty; I am unable to let it go. The best I can do is mercilessly critique it – it seems like a cheap form of fake moral heroism; a way of posturing, maybe of fantasizing that I am some bold member of the Resistance (rather than what I actually am, a guy who likes to pick pseudonymous arguments with random rightwing wackjobs on the internet).
    • The use of Hitler for psychological bolstering was perfectly depicted in White Noise:
      • Helpless and fearful people are drawn to magical figures, mythic figures, epic men who intimidate and darkly loom." "You're talking about Hitler, I take it." "Some people are larger than life. Hitler is larger than death. You thought he would protect you. I understand completely."
    • Agency

      • Nazis and evil in general are a problem for eliminativist theories of agency. The very idea of evil presumes that there are agents who can be blamed for something. In a strictly causal material universe, agents may do evil, but they are not responsible for their evil; there is no such thing as a self to serve as a locus of responsibility and agency. Everything acts according to its structure and environment, freedom is an ilusion and hence so is good and evil.
      • There's something to be said for this view. It's kind of true, for one thing. And if it dissolves the crippling neurotic guilt a lot of us suffer under, that's really positive.
      • The problem of course is that it not only lets us off the hook, it lets the Nazis off as well. They aren't evil, they are just a regrettable consequence of their circumstances – like everything else, a product of the basic processes of mechanical causation.
      • I think eliminativist positions in general are kind of stupid – it's obvious that "agency" denotes something real, even if we aren't certain about what that is. It's obvious that there's a difference between good and evil, even if people disagree on the specifics, and if our mechanistic theories make it harder to see that, then the problem might be with our theories.
      • Nonetheless they are useful as a thinking tool. What if we can temporarily stop treating Nazis and Hitler as metaphysical agents of unfathomable evil, and instead treat them as badly-programmed machines? Don't hold them responsible, recognize that they are just broken. Don't treat them as monsters, they are fundamentally humans just like us, but in their case the programming went bad. They got their imprinting from culture and and their upbringing and something just went wrong.
      • This doesn't quite feel right, but on the other hand, if fascism is a real problem to be solved then it has to be understood, not treated as some inexplicable manifestation of evil.