Nazis and Meditation

If you were beamed back into the body of a young, Aryan man in 1930s Germany, and you could send yourself one message, what would that message be? Also, for fun, it’s not allowed to be place/time specific. It has to be a message that you could apply anywhere, any time.

Because, for whatever it’s worth, I think  you *should* apply this message to yourself – right here, right now. You think it was obvious to the Germans in 1930 they were starting down a path more fucked up than incest? Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re not going to be on the oppressed side of the next holocaust. Well, maybe – can we ever really separate the oppressed from the oppressor? I suppose a bunch of dead Jews would say “yes,” but I still think it’s complicated.

Anyway, what was your message?

I struggled with this question for a while. Sure, there’s “don’t kill anyone,” but is murder really the only way we can oppress people? (Also, how does this square with my tax dollars funding drones? I may actually be fucking this one up, but I’m not even sure what steps I could take to stop paying taxes. Go to prison, maybe? Sorry Afghani babies, I’d rather you die than go to prison. Now we’ve established that, we can probably establish that if I were in the SS and knew I’d get shot for not killing Jews, I’d probably kill some Jews. But wait, back to Afghanistan, even if I *didn’t* pay my taxes, the government would still fund a similar number of drones – my money deficit would just come out of the education budget. I’m safe! Except, if I was in the SS and didn’t shoot the Jew in front of me, Hans would probably step in and do it for me. So, would I lose my life just so *I* wouldn’t be the one to kill that jewish child? She’s still going to die – why waste my life on a meaningless gesture? Oh my god, it’s so hard not to kill anyone.)

Anyway, I digress. I abandoned the “don’t kill anyone” option as too easy, despite the fact that I have not actually been able to achieve it, and tried to get a more generally applicable answer. To that end, I read Rudolph Höss’ autobiography trying to figure out what he did wrong, more generally than killing one million people.

The main answer I came away with was he ignored his inner feelings. Apparently, people asked him if he ever felt any remorse watching all those families walk into the gas chambers. He said of course he did, but he had to do his duty. He had to be hard, to steal himself against emotional weakness.

In fact, it was reading that book that convinced me that emotional expression was *not* a weakness. Since then any versions of the phrase “suck it up” have become abhorrent to me – borderline immoral. To ignore your inner sense, to do things you don’t like doing because other people think it’s a good idea, is usually a horrible idea.

Unfortunately, I’m also a programmer. I often don’t even *know* what my inner sense is telling, let alone have the strength to follow something as insubstantial as my feelings when pitted against societal institutions. Meditation has helped me somewhat – when my insides go quiet, I can more easily see what is underneath. But, it’s hard.

Doing the right thing is scary, often insane seeming. Even when I’m just disagreeing with someone, I often feel like a lunatic. For instance, all the liberal/conservative back and forth never addresses what I see as the underlying problem: one side never allows the other side enough dignity to change their opinion while saving face, so we can never achieve a reasonable answer. All opinions get more and more entrenched with continued arguing. Consequently, every single “YOU ARE SO WRONG” article someone posts on Facebook nearly always acts *against* its cause. But, I don’t even know how to *say* this without causing whoever I am talking to to double down into their established beliefs. So I usually say nothing, but I keep wondering – am I crazy? Are they? Why would *everyone* do this if it didn’t work? Do people care more about being right than actually convincing others of their point of view?

But, you know, the Holocaust. It happened.

Everyone is crazy. How can you not be? Only you know the answer to that.

6 thoughts on “Nazis and Meditation

  1. It’s just as important to ‘leave a line of retreat’ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/o4/leave_a_line_of_retreat/] for oneself as it for those whose beliefs one wishes to change.

  2. “one side never allows the other side enough dignity to change their opinion while saving face, so we can never achieve a reasonable answer” This is the heart of what Marshall Rosenberg calls “violent communication” in which the goal is to defeat an opponent. This is in contrast to his alternative framework, which he calls “nonviolent communication.”

    A message to send back that might fit in this case is Alfred Adler’s “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.” Or as I’ve heard it “Follow your gut, but check your facts.”

    Also, I kind of have a huge braincrush on you.

  3. Kenny – that’s an interesting point, which has a lot of facets to it. For instance, it’s important to leave a line of retreat – aka, admitting the possibility you might be wrong – in a social argument, because it stops you being too embarrassed to switch sides if you turn out to be wrong. And yet, this article brings up why people generally tend not to – they’re often *afraid* of the other point, so staying open to someone else’s point of view can be scary. Thanks for the link, it was really interesting. I’ll have to think about that more.

    Ed – It may be totally narcissistic for you to have a braincrush on me because you and I seem to think alike. I also really like Rosenberg’s views on non-violent communication, and have taken a few classes in his framework. Recently, I’ve abandoned following it literally because I find it difficult to be authentic while watching what I say so closely, but I really liked his underlying reasoning, and fall back on it sometimes for difficult conversations.

    • Nah, way too much self-loathing for that 😉

      I abandoned following it literally for the same reason, but I use it as a framework for thinking about what I need to communicate or ask and then try to find an authentic way to do that. I’ve also realized that it’s a terrible way to communicate with anyone on the autism spectrum, as “I statements” come across as confusing and frightening.

      • I tried to write a joke about how Emma’s comment on Ed’s potential narcissism had a few interesting indications about how the conclusion was reached, but I wondered if laughing at yourself was mean to the other person. Oh well, I tried.

        Ed – Self-loathing doesn’t preclude narcissism. One can spend so much time thinking about themselves with a negative/critical view and “looking in the mirror” that it could easily be considered narcissism. While Narcissus fell in love with himself, I feel like the story was really about the pond/mirror–the compulsion to look at one’s self, bias independent. One tendency of narcissists is to confuse/mistake self and other–effectively “seeing themselves” or constantly drawing comparisons when looking at someone else to “test the mirror”. I don’t know if these are common perspectives on narcissism, but they are part of my own experience.

        I did a quick search and found this interesting: http://goodmenproject.com/the-good-life/mental-illness-2/not-all-narcissists-love-what-they-see-in-the-mirror/#0qoyUA5zzf50QdiK.01

    • I used to tend towards believing I was wrong–positing an idea but being more than ready to abandon it since I was acutely aware of my own ignorance of most things. The only thing I could follow with any amount of certainty was the logic behind the assertion. I’d have faith to assert the idea, because I would believe it, but knowing that I didn’t have 100% of the facts or the perspectives on an issue made it difficult to say anything with certainty. Another person’s perspective could be as valid as my own, and they could come to completely different conclusions about a topic simply by coming at it from a different direction with different variables. Speaking on anything required a great deal of consideration and reflection because I was trying to be as careful as possible about “the truth”.

      What I found is that people are careless and often intellectually lazy. To dive deeply into the variables that make up a perspective makes for a potentially exhausting discussion with so many tangents that it’s easy to get lost. In addition, to break down deeply held assumptions is difficult for most if not all people. To indulge in self-doubt can be soul-destroying. Individuals cling to their identity, their prejudices, their anger. They internalize events and actions and forge their reality around those things. To attempt to crack that nut is a dangerous game, and often times the path to even reach that nut is Labyrinthine, with circular logic and fortified emotional defenses preventing progress. People find ideological safety in tradition and authority. Conservatism (social, emotional, intellectual), in many cases, is fueled by fear–fear of the unknown.

      Eventually it became easier to have more faith in my thoughts and opinions because the scope of discussions began to make more sense–the assumptions about the limits of scope meant the potential blind spots became less worrisome “for the sake of argument”.

      My message: “Do not despair. …For they know not what they do.”

      The truth is hard. Surviving is hard. Forgiving is hard. How does one make sense of why so many people were murdered for such petty things (in one view)? That the weakness of man is so easily exploited through fear and opportunism? That humans are so easily dehumanized through the power of divisive labels and rhetoric? Power is compelling, and we’re still a product of tribal culture.

      There are always two sides to the same coin. Who you fight for and how you fight are not up to you to decide. And yet, they are. How strange.

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