Beyond. The Reich, Arendt and Us


I think I am going to have to read Gasset y Ortega’s The Revolt of the Masses again.  Anyone want to read and share thoughts on relevance to our current situation?


Consider all that has come down recently, I think we are living outside the normal channels.  I really don’t like it much when, sometimes, my thought leads we to think that we are truly headed toward authoritarian government and authoritarian government does not go away with a vote.

I wonder if there is good reason to expect that “our fellow Americans” will “see the light” because there are so many of them who are so welcoming of the current state of things.  The Fox crowd is nothing think about in any other way than dangerous.  They are dangerous and very dangerous and they will have a say in who gets elected and what those elected will be allowed to do.

I am reading Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, the subtitle of which is most terribly disturbing, A Report on the Banality of Evil. Her powerful thesis is that the evil of the Reich had much more to do with regular folk doing what they were told to do than it did with powerful monsters forcing people do work their will.  She argues that good portions of the people can become complicit in heinous acts if what is heinous is the normal with which they are made to believe is the proper normal because it is the normal that those in authority tell them is normal.

It goes beyond passive acceptance to a way of thinking about the world and the place of self within, as people with a sense of self-efficicy or as just people who others listen to others because they have been conditioned to not think for themselves.  Evil becomes normal and people carry out acts of evil because, within the context of their society, evil–getting rid of the Jews–has become the good thing to do.

Yesterday I came across a passage in Eichmann that brought the Reich way too close to home that talks about the quality of “ruthless toughness” that was “held in the highest esteem by the rulers of the Third Reich.”  I think that we currently have people governing us who pride themselves in possessing such and many others who celebrate those in power for being ruthlessly tough.  This is John Wayne in the Red River Valley.  This is the quality many found to be admirable in the likes of Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes and particularly in Cheney and Rumsfeld.  And now Trump.  We can and should do to them what we would never allow to happen to us because we are tough enough and rough enough to not be held accountable under the normal standards of decent human behavior.

Ruthless enough and tough enough, to, for example, ship to Auschwitz, with with compliance from Petain’s French Vichy government, “four thousand children, separated from their parents who were already on their way” to their deaths in the concentration camp.

It is not so much that we are on the path to becoming a second coming of the Third Reich–that deserves though–but that the mentality of ruthless and tough has become very much acceptable to more than enough to provide good reason for worry.  And those masses brought up on Fox and WWF and movies and television programs that depict ruthless and tough as not only acceptable but commendable and not only commendable but sensible and correct when there is a job that needs to get done.

We are beyond sensible argument because of what too many have been made to believe is sensible.  And, for that same many, sensible is not necessarily something that is or should be a element of their thinking.  They will think what they are told to think and then insist that their thinking be treated as sensible because this is what they think.

Our public discourse, a discourse critical to democracy, to the democratic decision making process is so badly distorted that there cannot be sensible discussion that could help to bring about the kind of decisions that might be agreeable to most.  There can be no agreement that is sensible without all bringing to the table ideas that are the product of good sense thinking.

Where are we now and what can we do to get to the better place?  It is a hell of a lot more difficult and complex than most like to talk about and the remedies are not in voting or marching or letter writing.  What are the moves that need to be made to remedy?

I think it has to do with thinking hard about how attitudes are shaped, what forces in our society shape attitudes (business and its media, the schools…) and then how we force those entities that play with attitude to change whether their stockholders like it or not.





By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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