Sunday, October 31, 2010

About race

Commenter Fred, in response to my previous post, asked:
How would you respond to Steve Sailer's arguments about the existence (and relevance) of race (seen, for instance, here:

Good question. Such a good question, I am repeating a slightly expanded version of my response as a new post.

As you would expect from Sailer, his presentation is the most intelligent presentation of the distinction I have seen. Except he makes no differentiation between race and ethnicity. Afghanistan, for example, is not a place of different races (in the modern sense) but of different ethnicities.

People form groups, but they then tend to seriously over-estimate the significance of the groups. Witness the ascription of characteristics to 'left' and 'right' or 'liberal' and 'conservative' by partisans of said groupings.

In some ways, the medievals were more clever about this. For them 'race' and 'tongue' meant much the same -- a person of my race was a person who spoke my language. Thus, I could communicate far more easily with, was likely to share a larger set of references, expectations, even preferences with them. (Afghanistan would be a place of different races to the medievals: but they had little experience with the continent-wide groupings we moderns call 'race'.) If one presumes differing capacity to communicate (i.e. takes a transaction cost analysis) one can explain most of the apparently "racial" patterns in modern societies, particularly in things like hiring and housing.

Skin colour and other physical features make easy "markers". But, as Sailer implies, not exactly precise ones. (Jew-haters have had terrible difficulty with that.) And ones which people have put widely different importance to over time. (The medievals put almost none at all, for example. They wanted to know your religion and your language: sensible folk, since they are likely to have real effects on behaviour.) The historical contingency of racial signification is something many of the "race does not exist" crowd are very aware of.

There are certainly genetic clumpings which have, for example, medical significance. (And sporting significance: folk of sub-Saharan African background rarely make champion swimmers because of natural buoyancy issues.) But race mainly matters because people think it matters and because language and culture do matter for interactions while language and culture have some (often, but not always, quite strong) association with ethnicity and thus race. But language and culture are a lot more plastic over time than ethnicity which is a lot more plastic over time than race. So, even conceding the sensible bits in Sailer, race is not what one should be concerned with for moral judgment, for public policy (outside some medical applications) and so on.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Defining race ignoring culture

This extends a comment I made here.

Attempts to get racial definitions in law are inherently fraught, since "race" is not inherently exclusive. All the "strains" of homo sapiens interbreed perfectly. Given that "race" is not inherently exclusive, attempts to define 'race' in law end up in similar spots – the definition of 'race' used in apartheid South Africa being much the same as attempts to define Aboriginality under Australian law.

Indeed, this inherent difficulty is a sign that you should Just Not Go There. The idea that "race" is a significant distinction is a highly historically contingent one: it is only important if people make it so. We shouldn't.

The well-known problem (among statisticians) with Aboriginal counts in the Australian Census is precisely because people can "blend in", for race is not inherently exclusive. Under the "protection" regimes – when Aborigines were effectively not legal adults, but wards of the Protector of Aborigines – there was a strong legal incentive to identify as "white", so as to be treated as a legal adult: this without considering any social stigmas.

But that people could and did just demonstrates how not inherently significant "race" is.

Once you get past not permitting discrimination based on "race", the real issue with Aborigines is culture. One of the ways the ABS justified the large increases in the Aboriginal population count from Census to Census was pointing out that the demographic profile remained consistent. This was deeply depressing – i.e. the add-on's had the same disastrously lower life expectancy as the previously counted population.

In other words, the ABS was saying: "the extra folk we have counted are indeed Aborigines, because they also die much younger than the rest of the Australian population". Trying to move from hunter-gatherers to industrial economy in less than two centuries (sometimes well less) when our European ancestors took about 7,000 years to make the same journey (with quite a few problems on the way) is A Big Ask. It is a Really Big Ask when their societies and cultures are disrupted by disease, dislocation, welfare etc: but that is not a racial issue, it is a cultural issue. When, for example, their understanding of law, rules and property is radically disconnected from that which works in an modern industrial (indeed, post-industrial) society.

And it is not a "have you preserved your original culture?" issue. It is a "have you fully adapted to industrial society?" cultural issue. Which can be an emphatic NO! even if they only have smashed remnants of their original culture left: perhaps particularly so.

Once you start looking at it in cultural terms – by which I mean patterns of behaviour, outlooks, preferences, etc – then a whole lot of things become clearer (which is not the same as easier).

Generally speaking, I have an antipathy to cultural explanations, regarding them as the last refuge of the analytically bereft. But evidence is evidence.

And nothing annoys me quicker in this field than folk who burble on about preserving Aboriginal culture and yet talk as if culture has no implications. Or talk of Aboriginal culture as if it there is a singular Aboriginal culture: 40,000 years is a long time to develop cultural differences.

I am reminded of an attempt to re-create the Tasmanian aboriginal language based on a Western Victorian language. The two languages had been separated longer than English has been separated from Iranian.

And if one thing is clear, it is what a disastrous failure so much of indigenous policy has been over the last few decades (via). Something I have posted on previously.

I have posted this passage before, but it is such a perfect indication of everything that has been wrong with indigenous policy in Australia – the ignoring of culture, the imposition of outside presumptions (including failed collectivism of property rights) – that it is worth posting again. In Richard Trudgen's must-read Why Warriors Lie Down and Die there is the illustrative tale of the Galiwin ’ku fishing industry.
The Galiwin ’ku fishing industry consisted of several small fishing boats made from local timbers at Galiwin ’ku by the Yolηnu and mission staff. The Yolηu named these boats with holy names from their clain or riηgitj nation alliance. The boats were owned by the mission but were skippered and crewed by different clans. Some small clans would come together in a riηgitj alliance to make up a crew. …
These clan groups would use the boats and sell their catch to the mission for processing and re-sale to other places. The people clearly understood that what they caught was theirs until they sold it to the mission and they benefited directly from their catch. From the point of sale on, it belonged to the mission. This arrangement satisfied the legal requirements of both the Yolηnu and Balanda systems of law.
When the mission at Galiwin ’ku handed the fishing industry over to the Yolηnu council in 1974, everything proceeded well for a while because the mission staff also transferred to the council. For most Yolηu nothing really changed. Then in 1975 it was decided to get a loan from the government to develop the industry. The Aboriginal Development Comission ‘decided’ to bring in a consultant to look at the viability of the loan and how it could increase the efficiency of the industry. Following the consultant’s recommendation, one big, modern fishing trawler replaced the small boats. In the dead of night, the small boats were burned on the beach and one was cut adrift, to ‘convince Yolηu of the need to move up to the big boat’. Within six months the whole fishing enterprise at Galiwin ’ku had collapsed and Galiwin ’ku became an importer rather than exporter of fish products.
… from a Yolηu perspective the collapse happened because the separate clans and nation alliances found it impossible to work under one Balanda boss on the trawler, as the trawler captain now had to be licensed. Moreover, Yolηu were insulted and grieving over the destroyed boats. With no clear lines of ownership the people could not see that any authority had passed to them. …
To expect all the clans at Galiwin ’ku to believe they collectively owned the fishing company was like telling twenty-six Balanda companies that they collectively owned an industry incorporated as an association. … But this is not how community structures were set up. … The Yolηu fisherman did not see themselves as working for their own gain anymore; in fact, many now thought that the captain of the new trawler would reap the dividends. They had just become wage earners, and the incentive to work and build the industry for their own benefit was gone.
On top of all this, people had become confused about where these wages came from. In the past they saw a clear trade with the mission—so much fish for so much money. This trade was what the Yolηu were used to. Now they got wages no matter how many fish were caught. The steps in the development of a cash economy, with its system of wages-for-labour, are many. The Yolηnu were catapulted into the cash economy with little preparation.
With all this confusion, only conflict could occur, and economic development through industries like fishing was lost. (Pp47-8).
Race has nothing to do with these problems: culture and policy arrogance a great deal.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India is a highly readable, engaging, even enchanting, examination of religion in the Indian subcontinent through his encounters with nine different participants in religious traditions, encounters in which they tell him their life story.

So we have The Nun’s Tale, the story of a Jain nun; The Dancer of Kanmur, a prison warder and labourer who spends two months of the year as a neyyam, being worshipped as a dancing incarnation of a god; The Daughters of Yellamma, a woman who is a member of the repressed and increasingly marginalised but persistent tradition of the sacred prostitute; The Singer of Epics, one of the two remaining hereditary singers of the Epic of Pabuji, the full performance of which takes five, eight-hour, dusk to dawn, nights; The Red Fairy, a much-admired woman who is a devotee of a Sufi saint at his tomb in Sindh; The Monk’s Tale, a Tibetan monk who atones for his life of violence in the Tibetan resistance by making prayer flags; The Maker of Idols about a scion of a 700-year old family tradition of idol making whose son apparently wants a career in computing; Lady Twilight, a Tantric skull-drinking sorceress who lives in a burial ground; and The Song of the Blind Ministrel, a Baul or traveling mystic minstrel who has been blind since childhood.

What comes across very strongly is how much India is a preserver of sacred traditions and religious patterns that have largely died out (due to the impact of monotheism) in Western and Islamic civilisations. The notion that Hinduism is what the Vedic religion became in response to the challenge of Buddhism becomes very plausible. (The rough analogy would be if Neoplatonism had rescued classical paganism from the threat of Christianity.)
On the way, we also get some highly revealing vignettes into contemporary India. Hari Das, the gaoler who is a part-time god, for example, explains how politically-based criminal gangs (either far right—the RSS—or far left—the CPM) control the prisons—even the prison officials are beholden to them: mobile phones making it easier for those in gaol to control life outside it (Pp32-3). Of the religious tradition he embodies, Dalrymple writes:
The word theyyam derives from daivam, the Sanskrit word for ‘god’. Some scholars maintain that they theyyams of northern Malabar are a rare survival of some pre-Aryan, non-Brahminical Dravidian religious tradition that was later absorbed into Hinduism’s capacious embrace. Others argue that the theyyams were tolerated as an acceptable safety valve to allow complaints against the misdeeds of the upper castes to be expressed in ritualised and non-violent manner. Either way, there is no doubt that today they are a stage on which the social norms of everyday life are inverted, and where for a short period of the year, position and power are almost miraculously transferred to the insignificant and powerless (p.36).
Gaoler to god in the course of each year is certainly quite an inversion.

Some of the theyyam parables are charming. Lord Shiva, manifesting with his wife and child as a landless Dalit family and teaching a Brahmin—close to enlightenment but blinded by his caste-pride—a lesson in shared humanity (Pp39ff). Or the guru giving two disciples a rupee each and asking them to use it to fill a room. One buys a huge pile of garbage, the only thing cheap enough to fill a room completely. The other meditated in his room, then bought a match-box, an incense stick and oil lamp and filled the room with light and a beautiful fragrance (p.48).

Hari Das the theyyam detects a religious revival going on, with rising interest in theyyam performances, but is worried that increasing education will give his children more opportunities which may preclude—since they will not be able to take the time off each year—following the tradition of being a part-time god (Pp49-50).

The histories of the traditions Dalrymple explores in Nine Lives show the effect of social and religious changes. The devadasis (sacred prostitutes) used to come from the grandest families and hold honoured positions in the temple hierarchies; now they come low-caste families and are generally simply sex-workers. The response of Hindu reformers to the taunts of Victorian-era Christian missionaries—a response continued in government policy which attempts to discourage sacred prostitution—has had much to do with the loss of status (Pp70-1). Monotheism’s issues with sex and gender are, alas, contagious since they became associated with “modernity” and “being civilised” (and, often, male power). The practice of dedicating girls to the Goddess continues, however, because poor families still see it as a path out of poverty and a way to get the Goddess’s blessings (p.72).

Dalrymple interweaves the efforts of scholars nicely into his narrative—at the end of the book is an extensive glossary as well as a bibliography for each chapter. So the efforts of Milman Parry (apparently “the Darwin of oral literature”) to demonstrate the oral origins of Homer via study of existing Balkan traditions of oral poetry revolutionising study of the Greek classics is a nice segue in the story of the narrator of epics (Pp89ff). The Mahabharata is fifteen times as long as the Bible—an epic singer explains that he remembers by imagining each stanza as written on a different pebble—and it remains part of the reference of a society whose level of cultural erudition exceeds that of more literate, but movie-obsessed, societies (Pp90-1). Parry’s studies found that a bard learning to read was the death-knell to the oral tradition: that the illiterate were capable of feats of memory that literacy destroyed (p.95).

Part of the continuing power of the epics is that their religious references, the religious life they invoke, still has power for the listeners: indeed, the minor local deities have more resonance than the great Gods of Hinduism. Though, even so, a singer of the epics notes that it is many years since he heard the hooves of the hero of whom he sings circling a village at night (Pp108ff): shades of the “retreat of the oracles” of late Antiquity.

Sufi syncretism
Due to its geography of narrow fertile strips, rocky hills and deserts, Sindh is a province that is hard to rule. It is still a place of landlord control—to the extent of private (“feudal”) armies, landlord prisons and bonded-labour—and dacoit highwaymen. (Bonded labour being both a way of extracting a surplus and paying for protective services.) It is also a place of religious syncretism, where heterodox religious notions take refuge from more orthodox religious hinterlands. (This despite being the first part of the Indian sub-continent conquered by Islam: Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad has some appalling descriptions of the brutality and violence of the Muslim conquest—but Hindus and Buddhists counted as pagans rather than “people of the book” so, until more lenient interpretations gained some acceptance, confronted the choice of convert or die; hence Muslim incursions and conquests in India tended to be particularly savage.)

Of this religious syncretism, Dalrymple writes that Sindh’s own geography and:
its geographical position as the bridge between Hindu India and the Islamic Middle East, has always made Sindh a centre of Hindu-Muslim syncretism, with every kind of strange cult, part-Hindu, part-Muslim, flourishing in its arid wastes.
Much of this intermixing took place in the Sufi shrines that are still the main focus of devotion in almost village here. For Sufism, with its holy saints and visions, healings and miracles, and its emphasis on the individual’s search for direct knowledge of the divine, has always borne remarkable similarities to certain currents in Hindu mysticism.
All religions were one, maintained the Sufi saints, merely different manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque or temple, but to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart – that we all have Paradise within us, if we know where to look (p.113).
Sufism is a very mixed religious phenomenon. Possibly because of influence of British rule in India, Western concepts of Sufism tend to be very much of the sort of Sufism that Dalrymple presents here. Other strains of Sufism (particularly in North Africa) have been avidly jihadist. Sufism has long been the way Islam has presented itself to tribal and local peoples: it is currently losing out to the book-based salafi surge that propagates more easily in an age of mass literacy, global migration and the confronting cultural medley of the “global village”.

The Sufism Dalrymple is describing is one deeply influence by the interaction with Hinduism (and, though not mentioned, Buddhism):
The Sufis believed that this search for God within and the quest for fana – the total immersion in the absolute – liberated the seeker from the restrictions of narrow orthodoxy, allowing the devotee to look beyond the letter of the law to its mystical essence. This allowed the Sufis for the first time to bring together Hindu and Muslim in an accessible and popular movement which spanned the apparently unbridgeable gulf separating the two religions. The teachings of Sufi poetry and song also provided a link between the devotions of the villagers and the high philosophical subtleties of the mystics (p.113).
For the Sufis wrote in the local languages and used metaphors and images familiar to everyday rural lives.

Influences went in both directions:
If the Sufi brought many Hindus into the Islamic fold, then they also succeeded in bringing an awareness of Hinduism to India’s Muslims. Many Sufis regarded the Hindu scriptures as divinely inspired, and took on the yogic practices of the Hindu sadhus: sitting meditating before a blazing fire in the heat of summer or hanging themselves by the feet to recite prayers – a practice that is still performer by South Asia Sufis, who sometimes use the hat racks or luggage rails of trains from which to hang (p.114),
Dalrymple then gives us a brief biography of C18th Sufi master Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit Shah, including an English translation of a poem by the Sufi master praising the wandering sadhus of Hinduism (Pp114ff). The Sufi saint continues to inspire devotion. A few years previously, Dalrymple had observed:
The wild and ecstatic night-long celebrations marking the anniversary of the saint’s death were almost a compendium of everything of which Islamic puritans most disapprove: loud Sufi music and love poetry was being sung in each courtyard, men were dancing with women, hashish was being smoked, huge numbers were venerating the tomb of a dead man and all were routing their petitions through the saint, rather than directly to God in the mosque (p.115).
“Corpse-worship” is what the salafis would call it.

And the contempt is returned:
But for the Sindhis attending the ’Urs [annual festival of commenoration], it was not they who were the heretics, so much as the stern Wahhabi mullahs who criticised the popular Islam of the Sufi as shirk, or heresy: ‘These mullahs are just hypocrites,’ said one old fakir I talked to in the shrine. ‘Without love, they distort the true meaning of the teaching of the Prophet. They are just interested in themselves. They should all be jailed for life.’ (p.116)
The old fakir urges Dalrymple not to miss meeting a famous lady fakir, Lal Peri Mastani, or the Ecstatic Red Fairy—described as being known by everyone, regarded as the most passionate of the saints devotees and as dressed in bright red, very fat and carrying a club (Pp116-7).

When he meets Lal Peri, he finds she has the same views on the mullahs as the old fakir:
‘Today in our Pakistan there are so many of these mullahs and Wahhabis and Tablighis who say that to pay respect to the saints in their shrines is shirk. Those hypocrites! They sit there reading their law books and arguing about how long their beards should be, and fail to listen to the true message of the Prophet. Mullahs and Azazeel [Satan] are the same thing.’ (p.132).
(Which is, of course, not very far from Christ’s criticism of priestly and letter-of-the-law Judaism in the Gospels.)

Lal Peri quotes some couplets from Shah Abdul Latif:
Why call yourself a scholar, o mullah?
You are lost in words.

You keep on speaking nonsense,
They you worship yourself.

Despite seeing God with your own eyes,
You dive into the dirt.

We Sufis have taken the flesh from the holy Quran,
While you dogs are fighting with each other.

Always tearing each other apart,
For the privilege of gnawing at the bones. (Pp132-3)
Shah Abdul Latif was a contemporary of the founder of Wahhabism, but preached a very different Islam.

Dalrymple sees the parallels between contemporary Pakistan and C16th Reformation Europe, with text-based reformers and puritans attacking popular devotions to saints and shrines (p.133). People who say Islam “needs a Reformation” understand neither Islam nor the Reformation. What Islam missed out was the Aristotelian renaissance of the C12th and C13th (which it did not miss out on so much as deliberately rejected), the classicist Renaissance that never ended (due to the invention and spread of printing) and, above all, the Enlightenment response to the bitter religious strife of the Reformation.

Saudi money pouring into the madrassas is recruiting young devotees to an text-based puritanism, leading to demonstrations and destruction of shrines (as the Wahhabis did to the tombs of Muhammad’s Companions in Mecca). As Taliban control spreads, shrines are blown up or closed down: a common excuse being the shrines opening their doors to women for prayers and healing (Pp134-5).

As Dalrymple notes, this three-cornered contest of Hinduism, Sufi Islam and Islamic orthodoxy has a very long history (Pp135-6). Dalrymple’s interview with the head of a new madrassa which has opened up near the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif contains themes which are familiar to anyone aware of Reformation history. The madrassa head’s railing against “tomb worship”, “grave worship”, against the use of music, critiquing heretical departure from scripture could be that of any C16th or C17th Calvinist or Lutheran denouncing paganism-contaminated Catholicism (Pp137ff).

If one believes that one has texts which come directly from God—and that those are the only true guides to His absolutely trumping wishes—then anything which engages mere humans, and is not text-God-directed, is a diversion from God and thus sin and error. Given mainstream Islam’s adoption of occasionalism, contemplation of the created world as also being God’s work provides no counterbalance to this narrow textualism. But, even in Catholicism and Orthodoxy—where scripture is only indirect work of God while the created world is His direct work, so music and beauty can be utilised—priestly authority works to reproduce many of the patterns of the exclusory rigidity that monotheism is so prone to.

Insisting on the primacy of God’s compassion and love leads to a rather different perspective than does text-driven puritanism. For it is the authoritativeness of the text that is crucial: the content will remain open to interpretation; hence the real authority sits with the interpreters of the text. Thus Quakers are notoriously small ‘c’ Christian: they have no priests, so no religious intermediaries intent on using God to strip people of moral protections, as weapons for their own authority as “gatekeepers of righteousness”.

Lal Peri takes Dalrymple to meet her own teacher or pir Sain Fakir, a man in his eighties living at a small shrine. Sain Fakir tells Dalrymple:
‘The mullahs distort the Prophet’s message for their own purposes,’ said Sain Fakir. ‘Men are so blind as them cannot even see the shining sun. Their creed is extremely hard. It doesn’t understand human weakness.’
‘It excludes everyone,’ says Lal Peri, ‘Even other mullahs, at times.’
Sain Fakir shrugged his shoulders. ‘In this world, everyone commits sin. The Sufis always understood this. They understand human weakness. They offer forgiveness, and people will always love those who forgive.’ (p.143)
He is confident that the self-destructive nature of the Wahhabi teachings—as manifested in their internecine violence—and the enduring values of the Sindhis will block the spread of such teachings. The Red Fairy is brutal about the text-based puritans:
‘The Wahhabis are traders who sell their faith for profit,’ said Lal Peri angrily. ‘They are not true Muslims – just fuel for the fires of hell’
Her teacher responds:
‘A lot of it is about power … The Sufis are a threat to the mullahs because we command the loyalty and faith of the ordinary people. No one is excluded. You can be an outcaste, a fallen woman, and you can come and pray at the shrine and the Sufi will forgive you, and embrace you.’
‘You don’t even have to be a Muslim and you will be welcomed,’ said Lal Peri (p.144).
Dalrymple’s tale of the Red Fairy ends with a charming tale of a Sufi saint who decides to collect some of the fires of hell to warm himself and a friend, but returns empty-handed reporting that:
There is no fire in hell … Everyone who goes there brings their own fire, and their own pain, from this world (p.145).
I am reminded of a charming Vietnamese folk tale about the difference between Heaven and Hell. In Hell, people have all the rice they want but can only pick it up with 6-foot chopsticks, so everyone is starving, as they cannot bring the rice to their mouths. Heaven is exactly the same, except everyone is happy and well-fed, because they feed each other.

Divine eroticism
In telling the story of the maker of idols, Dalrymple explores the eroticism that pervades Hinduism’s polytheistic conception of the divine, contrasting it with the Judaeo-Christian tradition:
The Judaeo-Christian tradition, which tends to emphasise the sinfulness of the flesh, the dangers of sexuality and the idealisation of sexual renunciation and virginity, begins its myth of origin with the creation of light. In contrast, the oldest scripture of the Hindu tradition, the Rig Veda, begins its myth with the creation of kama – sexual desire: in the beginning was desire, and desire was with God, and desire was God. In the Hindu scheme of things, kama remains one of the fundamental goals of human existence, along with dharma, duty or religion and artha, the creation of wealth.
… the same erotic concerns found in the secular poetry of classical India are equally evident in the devotional and religious poetry of the period: Kalidasa’s poem The Birth of Kumara, for example, has an entire canto of ninety-one verses entitled ‘The Description of Uma’s Pleasure’ which describes in graphic detail the lovemaking of Lord Shiva and his divine consort. The poetry of the Tamil saints, who walked from temple to temple converting the local Jains and Buddhists, likewise dwell on the sensuous beauty of the deities they adore (p.187).
Such saints were perfectly happy to dwell on the erotic beauty of both Gods and Goddesses: Dalrymple quotes a poem of one such saint imagining himself as a dancing girl wanting to press her body against that of Shiva (Pp188-9).

This exploration of the eroticism within Hindu tradition continues in Dalrymple’s tale of the Tantric sorceress Manisha Ma. Tantra is a tradition that reaches into Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism and aspects of Sufi Islam and connects back to some very ancient traditions such as shamanism. It overturns convention, seeking ecstatic direct connection with the divine, existing in both high philosophical and more oral and spontaneous popular forms, including aspirations to magical powers. Its rituals have often involved use of bodily fluids, notably blood and semen (Pp213ff).

Tantra has been in long decline:
These original esoteric medieval Tantric traditions nearly died out in India, sinking from view around the thirteenth century AD, probably partly as a result of the disruption that followed in the wake of the violence of the Islamic invasions, which broke many of the lines of guru-disciple relationships through which Tantric secrets were passed. Tantrics later became a particular target of European missionaries who made ‘the obscene ceremonies of the Hindoos’ central to their polemics. The nineteenth-century rise of the Hindu reform movements, many of which emanated from Bengal in reaction to British missionaries, nearly finished this process. For the reform movements championed what some scholars have called the ‘Rama-fiction’ of Hindu worship in the Ganges plains: the rise of the Vaishnavite bhakti cults of Lord Krishna and especially Lord Rama, to the extent that they eclipsed many other more traditional and popular forms of local devotion involving DeviLINk cults and blood sacrifices, which were judged primitive, superstitious and anti-modern by the urban and often Western-educated reformers (p.215).
The process Dalrymple describes parallels the way the original Vedic religion was renovated into Hinduism in response to the Buddhist challenge.

Tantra is generally a marginal phenomenon:
everywhere except in certain areas of Bengal, Kerala and Assam, as well as in Nepal and Bhutan, where Tantra still flourishes as a mainstream form of religion, in the latter case within a Buddhist rather than a Hindu context (p.215).
Tantrics seek to reach the divine by opposing conventions and breaking taboos. One can clearly see the animistic roots of much Tantrism, as well as the notion of sex as a path to divine that recurs in both animism and polytheism.

The Bauls of Bengal are saffron-clad wandering minstrels who date back at least 500 years. They seek the Enlightenment in the moment, refusing to follow the conventions of caste-conscious Bengali society:
Subversive and seductive, wild and abandoned, they have preserved a series of esoteric spiritual teachings on breathing techniques, sex, asceticism, philosophy and musical devotion. They have also amassed a treasury of beautifully melancholic and often enigmatic teaching songs which help map out their path to inner vision (p.235).
Shrines, temples, mosques are only signposts on a road to Enlightenment, never ends in themselves.

They come out of longstanding traditions in Indian society:
The near-atheism and humanism of these singing philosophers is not in any sense a new departure in Indian thought, and dates back at least to the sceptical and materialistic Charvaka school of the sixth century BC, which rejected the idea of God and professed that no living creature was immortal. Ancient India in fact has a larger atheistic and agnostic literature than any other classical civilisation. (Pp235-6).
An ambiguity in the face of the divine which can be traced back at least as far as the Rig-Veda (p.236).

All the nine lives that Dalrymple uses to explore the different religious traditions of the Indian sub-continent are appealing in themselves, and part of the joy of the book. But the final story, that of the blind minstrel, is in fact two stories. Because Kanai the blind minstrel—the son of day labourers, he was blinded by smallpox at an early age—has a great friend and travelling companion Debdas, a Brahmin brutally rejected (indeed beaten bloody) by his father (and older brother) for seeking to become a Baul. They talk to Dalrymple of their connection, during which Debdas says:
At times, I am Kanai’s guru ... and at time, Kanai is my guru. He reminds me even of my own songs (p.248).
Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India is perceptive and engaging travel writing: humane, informed, deeply observant. It is an excellent way to connect to other religious traditions outside the confines of monotheism and so enabling us to see those confines more clearly.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Nazi Conscience (3)

This is the third part of my review of Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience, a study of the Nazi attempt to inculcate an ethnic and racial morality into Germans. The first part was in my previous two posts.

Race war
The history Koonz outlines up to this point is bad enough but, of course, it gets it true horror from its grim denouement:
Most of you know what it means when one hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred or a thousand. To have stuck it out and at the same time … to have remained decent fellows. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written.
Heinrich Himmler, Poznan, Poland, October 4, 1943 (p.221).
The organisation of mass murder on racial grounds is where this all led to.

The Nazi ideology of race both needed and created “Racial Warriors”. German soldiers committed atrocities that violated the separation of soldier from murderer that, as Koonz puts it:
violates the warrior’s honour as it has been defined throughout Western history (p.221).
The question is how: how did it happen on such a scale?

Koonz touches briefly on the scholarly debate on whether the mass killings are to be explained either situationally or as the outcome of longstanding trends in German culture and society. Koonz holds that focusing on either battlefield circumstances or lonstanding trends:
obscures a crucial stage in the formation of a genocidal consensus. From 1933 through 1939—the so-called peaceful years—racial warriors underwent mental training that prepared them for their subsequent tasks (p.221).
Whatever state of mind these acts were committed in, before war even began, German soldiers:
had imbibed the core elements of Nazi ideology: respect for the Fuhrer, devotion to the Volk, a belief in the justice of conquest, and the existence of a Jewish peril (p.222).
Particularly the SA and SS, who were primed for racial war.

Koonz uses Elias Canetti’s analysis of the difference between packs and crowds to frame the Nazi use of male packs as the basis for prosecuting the racial war. Particularly the power of the rivalry between the SA and SS “packs”, which proved to be, in many ways, complementary (Pp222ff).

The fluctuations in unsanctioned violence could themselves be misleading:
Because they were accustomed to the rule of law, Germans, whether they were Jews or non-Jews, found it hard to grasp the reality that lawful, orderly persecution would turn out to be more deadly than
random cruelty (p.224).
While the SA-SS rivalry created a “competitive radicalisation” of Nazi policy towards the Jews. Koonz explores the dynamics of this rivalry with chilling realism (Pp223ff).
Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer avidly sought and published letters about Jewish “outrages”. The use of ‘initials only published” letters encouraged libellous hate. (Shades of comments on the internet.) Der Sturmer portrayed anti-Semites as if they were an embattled minority, explicitly comparing them to early Christians (Pp231-2). Coarseness-and-vulgarity-as-authenticity, demotic-as-legitimacy, salaciousness-as-concern-for-decency; Streicher’s tabloid journalism of hate made the portrayal of Jews-as-evil, the malevolent identity of Jews, powerful and populist (Pp233ff):
In their coarse bombast, Sturmer authors popularized the moral reasoning of theological anitsemites like Gerhard Kittel (p.234).
The SS was a rather different operation to the SA. While Der Sturmer:
expressed the rough-and-ready ethos of old-fighter Nazis … Heinrich Himmler’s SS published Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps), which embodied the élan of a technocratic elite (Pp225-6).
And the SS was an elite organisation, both in its social origins and in its training and ethos:
Nearly 20 percent of SS generals belonged to the nobility, and aristocrats were over-represented among the lower ranks as well. At a time when 2 per cent of all Germans attended university, 41 percent of the SS officer corps had studied at universities (p.240).
As part of the this sense of being elite, and of appealing to the thoughtful, the SS weekly carried a wider range of opinion than any other publication in the Third Reich in the 1930s (P.241). But the Jewish question was covered in a way which made it clear that a judenfrei Reich was the ultimate aim. Emigration was happening—40 percent of the 568,000 Germans citizens defined as Jewish left, 138,000 Jews left Austria after the Anschluss—but not quickly enough (p.246).

The discussions in the SS weekly, like the rest of Nazi framing of the “Jewish problem”, prepared the ground for the Final Solution:
… the cerebral racism of the SS provided the mental armour for mass murderers (p.250).
Just as the Nazi euthanasia program trialled techniques and habituated technicians for industrial-methods mass murder. The entire rhetoric about the dangerous, subhuman Jews in which terms such as ‘extinction’ and ‘annihilation’ were used both set and spread the mindset:
When they received their orders on the eastern front, SA and SS militiamen may have been surprised, but they were not unprepared (p.252).
On the sixth anniversary of his appointment as Chancellor, Hitler broke his public reticence about his intentions for the Jews and launched into a now infamous anti-Jewish rant in the Reichstag. Hitler’s “prophetic” comments in his 30 January 1939 speech were barely noticed at the time (p.254). It is now seen as foreshadowing of the slaughter of the Jews:
Today I will be a prophet once again. If the international Jewish financial establishment in Europe and beyond succeeds in plunging the peoples of the world into yet another world war, then the result will not be Bolshevikization of the globe and thus a victory for Jewry, but the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the Jewish race in Euope (Pp253-4).
Koonz notes that it as also enunciates the four themes of the Nazi conscience:
(1) Preserving the common destiny of the Volk from racial disaster.
(2) Self-denial in the service of the Volk as the cardinal virtue. In Hitler’s words:
What is unimportant or detrimental to the existence of the Volk can never be ethical
From which followed;
(3) The German’s right to claim the lebensraum they deserved.
(4) The denial of universal morality, something that Hitler derived from, in his words:
the laws and necessities of life, as they reveal themselves to man through reason and knowledge (Pp254-5)
The last is not far from the Thomist moral rhetoric that a Catholic school boy could have picked up from a Catholic Church whose formal commitment to universal morality has always had a lot of caveats. The Catholic Church has, after all, always been a bitter opponent of equality before the law—for pagans, Jews, other Christians, queers. In each case (apart from the Jews), it has been a bitter opponent of such groups even having an acknowledged existence within the community, while its theology of Genesis 19 is explicitly that of purifying extermination.

Nazism was a secularisation of aspects of Catholic theology: the utterly trumping moral authority against which no human claims had standing was the Aryan race rather than God; it was blood that was sacred and conveyed salvation, rather than God’s grace; but—with the exception of Slavs—the victims of the Holocaust (Jews, queers, Gypsies [who are pagans], “incorrect believers”) were all those whom the Catholic Church has spent centuries propagating malevolent identities against: Nazism was as much series of substitutions on Catholic patterns as a rejection of them—it is noticeable how many of the key organisers of the Holocaust were either born and raised Catholic or, if Protestant, raised in predominately Catholic milieus. Hence the special animus many senior Nazis had for the Catholic Church—it was in so many ways a competitor and an embarrassing mirror.

Koonz cites various observers at the time who could see where things were going. As one horrified German bystander observed:
What happened to the Armenians in Turkey … is, more slowly and efficiently being done to the Jews (p.255).
A grim observation, given Hitler’s infamous rhetorical question of "who remembers the Armenians?".

The series of stunning German victories in the early stages of the Eurasian War created both an opportunity—wartime control and mobilisation—and a problem. How could such a tiny Jewish remnant (less than one percent of the population) be any sort of threat to a strong, powerful, self-confident and triumphant Volk? The answer was to depict Jews as either a racial plague or agents of global conspiracy. Antisemitic think tanks and research institutes produced new “evidence” of Jewish malevolence and corrupting power:
Well in advance of the first feasibility study for mass extermination (commissioned in July 1941), a continuous flow of fraudulent research on the Jewish question shaped the moral context within which desk murderers and field commanders when about their work (p.258).
The process of extermination itself got underway using the “ordinary” processes of a modern bureaucratic state, thereby attracting less attention. Ordinary Germans were aware of the New Order having a dark side, but Jewish suffering was mainly met with apathy, though acts of kindness, even of protection, still occurred. The Nazi regime permitted fairly wide latitude of private conscience—indeed, treating acts of kindness or dissent as matters of private conscience minimised their political consequences—while ethnocrats who found the consequences of their efforts to create a new racial order hard to face were able to move to other positions (Pp258ff). But, as Koonz observes:
The everyday decency of a few magnifies the complicity of the man (p.264).
Walter Gross continued his tireless efforts of racial indoctrination throughout the war, though increasingly upstaged by Goebbels (Pp264ff).

Kooonz strips away the postwar claims of Germans that they at most vaguely knew of bad things happened “in the East”. A map (p.268) of the concentration camp network displays vividly just how large—and all across Germany—the camp network was, while the process of identification and expulsion required the compliance of many thousands of ordinary Germans.

How was such active and passive compliance achieved?
Germans’ readiness to expel Jews from their universe of moral concern evolved as a consequence of their acceptance of knowledge disseminated by institutions they respected (p.272).
Nazi Germany was not a society of rigid control such as Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The creation of a broad ethnic consensus was thus crucial in creating the Nazi racial order (Pp272-3). Koonz offers the best one paragraph summary of Nazism and the Third Reich I have read:
Nazism offered all ethnic Germans, whether or not they joined the party, a comprehensive system of meaning that was transmitted through powerful symbols and renewed in communal celebrations. It told them how to differentiate between friend and enemy, true believer and heretic, non-Jew and Jew. In offering the faithful a vision of sanctified life in the Volk, it resembled a religion. Its condemnation of egotism and celebration of self-denial had much in common with ethical postulates elsewhere. But in contrast to the optimistic language of international covenants guaranteeing universal rights to all people, Nazi public culture was constructed on the mantra: “Not every being with a human face is human” (p.273).
Because Koonz has so immersed herself in the way Nazism worked as a system of thought, of virtue, of alternative morality, she can see how:
Hitler founded a consensual dictatorship that was “neither right nor left” on the political spectrum but occupied an entirely different political terrain. Like other fundamentalisms, it began with a powerful leader and drew on populist rage against corrupt elites who had betrayed the “common man” (p.273).
Nazism is something it is very important to understand in its own terms, according to its own nature, not placed into some convenient pre-conception. Which is why Koonz’s study is so revealing.

Nor has the appeal and pattern of ethnic fundamentalism died with Nazism but—as Koonz points out—kept recurring in the break-up of imperial orders. For ethnic fundamentalism is:
a creed that gathers force when modernizing societies are convulsed by dislocations which threaten conventional systems of meaning … Reforging bonds that may be religious, cultural, racial, or linguistic, ethnic fundamentalism merges politics and religion within a crusade to defend values and authentic traditions that appear to be endangered (p.274).
The recent history of the Balkans displays this very clearly.

We live in an age of moral flux (“what critics call moral meltdown”) which lets loose some grim possibilities, as Koonz warns in her final words:
Political leaders who appear to embody the communitarian virtues of a bygone age purport to stand as beacons of moral rectitude in a sea of sin. Although they incite hatred against anyone they deem to be ethnic outsiders—whether sexual degenerates, pacifists, defenders of human rights, or simply misfits—their devoted constituencies share a fear of moral and physical pollution so profound it transcends partisan politics. Long after the demise of Nazism, ethnic fundamentalism continues to draw its power from the vision of an exclusive community of “us”, without “them” (p.274).
Part of the art of political leadership being, of course, to not get so out of touch with popular concerns than such messages begin to gain resonance.

Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience is a profoundly sensible and perceptive study of Nazism as a system of virtue and persuasion. The patterns of moral exclusion are portrayed and dissected in a way that is very accessible and revelatory: one that both reveals patterns that have wider application while being thoroughly grounded in the specificities of the Nazi experience. It is a splendid work of history and moral perceptiveness.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Nazi Conscience (2)

This is the second part of my review of Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience, a study of the Nazi attempt to inculcate an ethnic and racial morality into Germans. The first part was in my previous post.

Youth politics
Koonz then moves on to “The Swastika in the Heart of Youth”, starting with a pointed quote from Hitler:
When an opponent says “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already … You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community (p.131).”
Of course, standing on the other side of the failure of Nazi (and Soviet) totalitarianism, we can see the limits to what can be done. And yet, and yet. Compare this famous passage from a 30 January 1939 Reichstag speech by Hitler:
Today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!
with this more recent statement by a former member of the Hitler Youth:
The denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace.
Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace.
The tone of the Pope’s message (repeated in an abbreviated version in a homily) is much more elliptical than Hitler’s abusive rant, but the notion is the same—a vulnerable minority is castigated as a threat to the very basis of world peace. (The Catholic Church is in favour of the family in the way that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was in favour of the workers—it is in favour of the ones that do as they are told.) Messages directed at youth may have more resilience than one might expect.
The Nazi regime put considerable effort into attempting to reach youth. Teachers and civil servants joined the Nazi Party at higher rates than did the general populace (p.133). Relatively few classroom teachers were sacked, but 15-20 percent of school supervisors and 60% professors in teacher education colleges were sacked (p.135), part of a fine sense of what matters in controlling education:
Nazi teachers, who themselves participated in subversive activities during the Weimar Republic, understood that expulsions and mandatory curricula could not control what teachers actually taught in their classrooms (p.136).
So active attempts were made to engage and convert teachers, to turn superficial, outward Gleichschaltung into deep, “inner” Gleichschaltung. This included providing a mass of materials to cover the interim period before new textbooks could be put together.

Various levels of resistance frustrated the ambitions of the Nazi activists. Catholic teachers defied instructions to remove crucifixes from classrooms. Some teachers were offended by incitement to ethnic hatred and racism, others lamented the loss of classroom autonomy, the replacement of female with male supervisory staff in girls schools, the anti-intellectualism of Nazi activists (and Hitler) with surveys finding very hostile attitudes to various Nazi figures such as ideologist Alfred Rosenberg. The ideological supervision also alienated teachers (Pp139-40).

When the rolls for new Party members re-opened in 1937, teachers were conspicuous by their absence, while the revival of the economy led to a severe shortage of teachers—Koonz suggests that teachers leaving the profession was likely a factor (p.140). The full racial hatred package faltered. The milder version of Nazi ideology celebrating ethnic revival was more palatable, spreading all the further for that reason: part of a shift in Nazi strategy to a more stealthy approach in selling the Nazi message. Thus, anti–Jewish messages would be slipped into texts framed in the sober language of science. Norse sagas linking honour to sacrifice and vengeance gradually displayed Christian morality tales. Examples and practice essays across the range of subjects would push Nazi ideas and preferred policies. As Koonz says of anti-Jewish messages in biological topics “its very lack of salience made it more effective than blatant racial hate” (p.144). It was the Volk rather than the Nazi Party which was celebrated. Self-sacrifice—for example, in charitable works—was extolled. The Golden Rule was re-interpreted in terms of being willing to sacrifice yourself for your racial comrades, to treat your racial comrades as you would want to be treated (Pp146-7). Gender separation of classes in educational institutions was used to reinforce the different roles in service of the Volk, while teachers were asked to identify students who might have “damaged genes” (p.147).

The sad reality was that the abolition of the ghetto and the integration of Jews into public institutions (such as public education) made them more vulnerable as individuals (in the way queer individuals always have been, though they have generally more capacity to hide). Personal contacts did provide an inconvenience for the preaching of hate (but not, in the end, a very effectual one).

Between emigration and concentration of Jewish students into Jewish schools, the number of Jewish students in public schools fell. In 1933, less than 60,000 Jewish students attended public schools (75% of all school-age Jewish children). By 1939, only 27% of the 27,500 Jewish children in Germany attended public schools (p.148). While many teachers displayed kindness or otherwise resisted the campaign of hatred, other teachers made the life of Jewish students miserable.

Nazi education experimented with experiential teaching and sought to foster (racial) egalitarianism (Pp151ff). Heidegger’s enthusiastic embrace of Nazi education efforts is dealt with quite matter-of-factly (Pp155-6). Retreats and re-education camps were organised for teachers: something like two-thirds of teachers attended at least one regional retreat. A “folksy populism” which “fostered ethnic solidarity” and an “egalitarian ethos” was the organising principle, with retreats displaying a mixture of order and spontaneity (Pp157ff). In the end, Nazi pedagogy was one where:
the moral mandate was clear: honor the Fuhrer, expel aliens, sacrifice for the Volk, and welcome challenges (p.162).
A moral mandate that prepared the ground for larger Nazi purposes.

A racial law
Koonz then considers “Law and the Racial Order”. While Hitler moved decisively in a wide range of areas, between the April 1933 laws that imposed occupational quotas and the September 1935 Nuremberg laws there was a mass of hostile regulations but no comprehensive anti-Jewish race law (p.163). This misleadingly entitled “grace period” saw the consolidation of a consensus among Nazi policy makers. The struggle of the ethnocrats to bring some legalistic order to racial thinking is presented in such a matter-of-fact way that the underlying madness (and the black humour of it) is, if anything, more salient. Particularly the endless wrestling with how you define ‘Jew’, given that racial thinking required a hard-edged category that could not properly cope with the chaos of human diversity.

The operation of the ethnocrats Koonz characterises as “incremental radicalisation” (p.168). This followed from the logic of the thing, for the issue was to distinguish and separate Jews. The effect over time was to make such separation the salient public policy issue and to find ways to effect that. The final separation being, of course, extermination: if a people’s interaction with others is defined as “the problem”, then it is a problem that can only be finally solved by getting rid of them. A religious Jew-hatred could rely on conversion or expulsion. A racial Jew-hatred was left with only expulsion or slaughter.

The madness is even more salient when one considers that even the most expansive definition (one Jewish grandparent) led to a total of 800,000 Jews in the entire Reich, a tiny percentage of the 65 million population of the Reich (p.169). But, of course, that huge disparity generates its own logic: Jews “had” to be some “great corrupting threat” otherwise it was a small minority being monstrously brutalised and bullied by a huge majority—hence exactly the same logic is demonstrated in contemporary society in the dynamics of queer-hatred where they are castigated as some great corrupting threat.

Which is why contemporary accusations against queers replicate those against Jews: that they (or their quest for equality) undermines world peace (see above), are the gravest threat to the nation, are engaged in a conspiracy against Christianity and corrupt and pervert individuals and institutions. Republican Oklahoma state legislator Sally Kerns declared homosexuals a graver threat to the nation than terrorism or Islam:
"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation, OK, it's just a fact," Rep. Sally Kern said recently to a gathering of fellow Republicans outside the Capitol. "Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted, you know, more than a few decades. So it's the death knell in this country. " "I honestly think it's the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat,"
In the same month, the Catholic Bishop of Motherwell declared homosexuals were engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Christian values. That same-sex marriage would corrupt and pervert marriage and the family is a staple claim of opponents. For example, the Rev. James Dobson opining that:
Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.
In a 28 May 1999 article in The Age, Cardinal Pell wrote against:
”those who work to win recruits for homosexual practice” and told us that “a deep homosexual orientation often brings suffering, but acting this out generally brings greater suffering, particularly when accompanied by adult seduction”.
The recycling of the same accusations against a religious/ethnic minority and a sexual minority tells us that the accusations have nothing to do with the accused and everything to do with the world-view and logic of exclusion.

Indeed, the laws being pushed by Christian preachers and politicians in Nigeria and in Uganda are, in fact, more vicious towards queers than the Nurembourg Laws were to the Jews. Koonz’s grasp of the nature and patterns of Nazism as a moral order is precisely what makes her historical study so revelatory.

There is an underlying grimness to Koonz’s exploration of the issues and processes involved in directing the policy of a modern state to deal with the problem of:
How could life be made intolerable for Jews in ways that met radicals’ expectations without alienating ordinary citizens. From 1933 through 1935, hundreds of memos and dozens of meetings debated possible answers. While appearing moderate, bureaucratic persecution turned out to be more pernicious than pogroms. Not only did its calm façade mislead victims into believing that the situation was less malign than it was, but policies backed by the state were far more thorough than sporadic violence (p.168).
One that mobilised over a million civil servants, tens of thousands of Nazi functionaries plus educators, lawyers, health care professionals and social worker with varying degrees of commitment to the Nazi project. Logic wrestled with obedience, reason with blatant ethnic particularism, citizen aversion to open violence with acquiescence in acts with the legitimacy of legality all resulted in a mass of inconsistencies foreign observers noted (Pp168ff). The lack of depth of feeling against Jews amongst the general German populace was a constant frustration that Nazi officials both wrestled and compromised with while seeking to inspire into deeper “racial feeling” (Pp178ff).

The result was a familiar conundrum to Nazi leaders:
unsanctioned anti-Jewish violence offended public opinion but moderation spawned disaffection among zealots (p.182).
Hitler’s solution was to preside over drift then suddenly—just before a scheduled Reichstag speech—he summoned three key policy makers to Nurembourg, ordered them to draft a comprehensive race law. They worked frantically, cobbled together some key paragraphs and, unable to agree on a definition of ‘Jew’, drafted four and left the decision to Hitler. Hitler referred to the laws only at the end of a meandering speech, attributed them to (Interior Minister) Frick and colleagues and asked Goring to read them—at which point Goebbels turned the radio broadcast to a march, so only the 500 or so Reichstag delegates in the hall actually heard the laws. But Hitler’s rejection of violence and endorsement of bureaucratic tactics was clear (Pp183-4).

He was, however, still wrestling with the problem of definition—specifically the issue of “mixed breeds”:
Hitler, as an ideologically driven autodidact, had little patience with ambiguity (p.185)
In internal policy discussions, Hitler nominated three solutions of emigration, sterilisation and assimilation but elaborated only on the third. The issue of trying to placate international opinion (particularly commercial ties) without creating too much frustration among Nazi activists continue to lead to various PR circumlocuations (Pp186ff).

Meanwhile, the ethnocrats wrestled with problems of definition under the new laws having discovered that, not only would they not be punished for their opinions, their opinions could actually influence policy (p.188). The process of enforcing the policy of racial separation became one for the orderly bureaucratic processes of the modern state: so orderly they attracted little outside notice and most of its practitioners suffered no ill-effects on their lives or careers when the Third Reich went crashing down. In the meantime:
ethnocrats accommodated themselves to a Nazi conscience appropriate to the tasks ahead. Old fighters and Hitler Youth destroyed Jews’ property: bureaucrats liquidated it. Over the next four years ethnocrats met the challenge as the term “liquidate” itself migrated from commerce in material goods to traffic in people (p.189).
What Koonz calls ‘the cold pogrom’ could be sold as an improvement, since outright violence decreased, which was reassuring to the general German public: a sign of Hitler’s sensitivity to public opinion.

Seeking respectability
So we come to “The Quest for a Respectable Racism”. Koonz makes the excellent point that the Reich Citizenship Law—part of the Nuremberg laws—by banning Jews from citizenship, imposed a civic death on them (p.190). The reduction in unsanctioned violence was helpful to the domestic and international image of the regime. But legality was accompanied by increased publication of anti-Semitic writings, reports and themes injected into public culture, giving ordinary Germans a framing in which to justify their own actions:
Germans made their peace with regulations against their Jewish fellow citizens … criminal laws became part of a mirage of law and order, and the perception gradually took hold that Jews were strangers in their own homeland (p.192)
Again, a pattern that occurs elsewhere—as revealed in philosopher Richard Mohr’s comment that:
unenforced sodomy laws are the chief systematic way that society as a whole tells gays they are scum.
“Unnatural”, “against God”, “enemy of the Volk” are just different ways of saying that your existence is an offence against some absolutely trumping moral authority against which no human claims have standing. In our own societies, Catholic theorists such as Finnis, George and Feser continue to produce works based on a view of “human flourishing” utterly uninterested in inconvenient human experience except as manifestations of aberration to be rejected. But these patterns go deep: it was a Jewish philosopher who was the source of the notion of purifying extermination entering Christian civilisation while St Augustine—in his theology of the Jews—was the archetypal theorist of dhimmitude, of fellow monotheists as people who were permitted to survive, but not thrive, with the ultimate aim being conversion.

The German economy was aggressively “Aryanised”: partly through confiscation and boycotts and partly by the levers the new regulations gave to unscrupulous competitors. A steadily increasing acquiescence in Jews-as-irrevocable-others took hold of public and private life, leaving Jews more and more isolated.

Professors had been disproportionately supporters of the Nazi takeover and scholars stepped into the silences from Hitler to produce material “demonstrating” the danger than the Jews represented. The academics found that every discipline was being asked for what it could contribute:
Writing in 1951 about life in the Soviet sphere, Czeslaw Milosz described the moment at which intellectuals in a totalitarian regime realize that they must not merely offer generic praise but also swallow its nonsensical dogma … “in its entirety” (p.195).
A moment that came to the scholars of Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s when they realised that their research agendas were expected to conform to biological explanatory themes. The operation of Gleichschaltung in academe under the Nazis is much the same as pc-progressivism operates in much (though not all) of contemporary academe. As Koonz writes:
But denunciation meant exclusion from benefits, not prison (p.196).
Ironically, this was in the context of Heidegger’s thought being dismissed by Party apparatchiks as useless for National Socialism. Academic research included examination of the terrain (both human and physical) of the projected path of German lebensraum (p.199).

Koonz’s discussion of the spread of racial thinking in academe is reminiscent of the spread of postmodernist though in contemporary Western academe. The same mixture of genuine talent and careerist mediocrities, of scholarship producing jargon-despoiled nonsense that was nevertheless treating perfectly seriously by large numbers of people.

Much of what went on under the Nazi regime was much the same as under any Leninist regime, with the focus on ‘race’ rather than ‘class’ (so targeted at a much smaller percentage of the population). Since the Nazi regime was largely indifferent to ownership, the change was less dramatic, and the power of the regime less total, than in a Leninist takeover.

If the Jews were a danger due to their corrupting influence, then their social and physical isolation was not enough: their influence in the realm of ideas also had to be combated. Walter Frank expressed the dilemma:
The Jew is of alien blood and, as such, the enemy. There can be no German Jews. There are, however, millions of German Protestants and German Catholics living out the tradition of the Jewish people (p.207).
But if one was going to reject founding ideas—such as the liberal principles underpinning much law—then new principles had to be found, adopted and integrated. Scholars scoured archives for anti-Jewish ordinances and evidence of Jewish malfeasance while conferences and publications sought to “de-Judaizize” religious faith (Pp212ff).

This was not mere show: Nazi scholars and scholarship was taken seriously at the time. Alas, the facts did not turn out to be easily marshalled into racial “science” (Pp215-6). Koonz takes us through these empirical failures and their failure to derail the enterprise. One technique was simple ignorance—so Heidegger would lament the poor quality of Nazi scholarship in his own discipline, but laud it in others of which he knew little (p.216)—again, a pattern not unheard of in our own time. Another was faith what it was just “part of the process” of developing a new intellectual paradigm. Besides, as long as one did not contradict racial dogma or challenge Hitler’s authority, academics had considerable intellectual freedom. The rare purge victim generally involved sexual, not intellectual, pretexts (Pp216-7).

However much of an intellectual failure it was in the end, this scholarly industry nevertheless had its effects:
The apparently objective stereotypes about Jewish nature produced by antisemitic research contributed to Germans’ clear conscience as they decided not to return a Jewish friend’s greeting, not to shop at Jewish-owned stores, not to shelter a neighbor whose property was Aryanised, or not to comfort an ostracized Jewish pupil (p.218).
Again, anti-queer activism is assiduous in trying to generate “scientific” support for its claims for somewhat similar purposes (without anywhere near the same level of state support, however).

Koonz concludes with examples of how this “respectable” anti-Semitism produced alibis for Germans after the war—they had nothing to do with all the violence and killings—while its notions of a malevolent Jewish identity clearly persisted, as she demonstrates from quotes from “respectable” Germans decades after the end of the Nazi regime (Pp218ff).

This review will be oncluded in my next post.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Nazi Conscience (1)

Not everything with a human face is human.
Carl Schmitt, newspaper article, 1933 (p.2).
The Golden Rule applies only to your “racial comrades”.
Nazi publication, 1934 (p.119).
“The Nazi conscience” is not an oxymoron (p.1).
Bigotry—the (moral) grading of people by category, regardless of any actual harm to person, property or relations between people that they have done—is a moral claim. It turns a difference into a (moral) distinction: it is about who is, or is not, covered by which moral protections on grounds of “worthiness” by category, one not based on any actions they have done to harm persons, property or the connections between people. If you do not understand that bigotry is a moral claim, you do not understand it. Indeed, one might say that often ‘bigotry’ is “morality you do not agree with”.

Thinking about such matters led me to Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience, a study of the Nazi attempt to inculcate an ethnic and racial morality into Germans.

An ethnic conscience
Her very first line is:
“The Nazi conscience” is not an oxymoron (p.1).
Quite so. Consider C. S. Lewis’s observation:
... those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.
As will those who torment others in the name of the general good. The truly terrible thing about a Nazi gauleiter or Soviet commissar was not that they lacked a conscience, but precisely that they had them: consciences that burned to “purify” society. It is exploring the ethic that led to (indeed drove) megacide that is the subject of Koonz’s study.

It is all about the framing: in the Nazi case, an ethnic framing.

Koonz starts by considering the nature of the conscience and how the notion of ‘others’ in treating others as you would be treated (or not treated) has been subject to redefinition. Nazi Germany provided the knowledge (the scienta) about which humans deserved moral consideration according to one’s conscience (con scienta, ‘with knowledge’). Hence:
The term “Nazi conscience” describes a secular ethos that extended reciprocity only to members of the Aryan community, as defined by what racial scientists believed to be the most advanced biological science of the day (p.6).
Koonz identifies the Nazi conscience’s four key assumptions as being: the life of the Volk was an organic cycle; that each people developed its own values appropriate to its nature and environment; that aggression was justified against those who obstructed the Volk; and that the government could annul such groups’ legal protections (Pp6-7).
One of the themes of The Nazi Conscience is Nazi frustration with the general German population not adopting Nazi principles anywhere near as wholeheartedly as the Nazi elite and functionaries desired. Koonz points out that, based on behaviour, Germans were not particularly anti-Semitic prior to 1933 (p.9). Jew-hatred played little role in the rise of the Nazis. Rather, the Nazis used the immense popularity of ethnic revival to promote Jew-hatred. Koonz summarises the evidence as:
Germans did not become Nazis because they were antisemites, they became antisemites because they were Nazis (p.10).
careful investigations of public opinion in Germany reveal that, while most Germans shared the “polite” or “cultured” antisemitism common in Western Europe and North America, they disapproved of diehard Nazis’ coarse racism and pogrom-style tactics (p.11).
That Koonz has studied the internal operations of Nazi operations and efforts, how they looked “from the inside”, gives her a fine sense of difficulties the Nazi ethnocrats (a term from historian Michael Burleigh that she agrees with [p.163]) confronted. That much of the Reich’s citizen were Protestant likely further limited the level of Jew-hatred, since none of the mainstream Protestant churches had put anywhere near the effort of the contemporary Catholic Church into promoting an identity of malevolence for Jews.

But, under the Nazi regime, personal relations between Jews and Germans frayed and broke, leading to Jewish isolation as ordinary Germans became indifferent bystanders to—or collaborators with—persecution. This did not come from terror (which was understaffed and limited) or relentless propaganda (anti-Jewish themes were a minor element in Goebbels’ propaganda efforts until well into the War). It came primarily, Koonz argues, from pushing an “ethnic fundamentalism” that promoted an ethnic arrogance. With key elements of Nazi ideology—the cult of the Fuhrer and his Volk, phobic racism and Lebensraum—being disseminated via the Nazi’s replacement of the avenues of a collapsed democracy for civic engagement with ones under their control (Pp11-13).

The Nazi effort proceeded in layers: Koonz delineates three sources for the “production of Nazi morality”. One was the role of Hitler as preacher and paragon of communitarian morality and virtue, where his own personal struggle paralleled and embodied that of the Volk. The second was the effort of “midlevel” functionaries (prominent being philosopher Martin Heidegger, legal theorist Carl Schmitt and the head of the Nazi Party Office of Racial Politics [ORP], Walter Gross) to rebrand Jews as pariahs, creating an anti-Semitism that was both “respectable and ruthless” (Pp13-14).

The third was the debate within Nazi policy circles to evolve a policy consensus on racial aims and policies. It was the latter which solidified into the Holocaust, an erratic process whose eventual conclusion Koonz regards as never seriously in doubt, one that:
evolved not as a clear evil but as the shadow side of virtue (p.15).
In other words, as the consequences of Nazi ethnic-centred virtues. The propagation of a shared vision of a Volk so righteous, and an enemy so vile, had a natural end even before the means were conceived or put into practice. Koonz holds that to understand Nazism and the Nazi regime, we need to take the Nazi claim to be propagating a moral order seriously (p.16).

A politics of virtue
Having set the framing, Koonz takes us through the Nazi “Politics of Virtue”, a politics that celebrated a Volk to be “saved” from democracy and decay. The Reichstag fire provided an opportunity that was eagerly seized. Whereas, however, repression of revolutionary Marxism was popular, blaming and attacking the Jews as much less so, even though Hitler’s own rhetoric was much more aimed at the latter than the former. Outrages against Jews were generally limited to regions where Nazism was already popular. Nevertheless, Hitler’s own image as a paragon and first advocate of virtue provided a rallying point for “respectable” Germany to identify with the regime. Protestant theologian Otto Dibelius (who later joined the resistance) rejoiced in that Germans now lived under “One Reich, One Volk, One God” (p.38).

Repression of revolutionary Marxism was popular at home and abroad, while racist outrages provoked protests. The Nazi regime moved to damage control, using its “respectable” members (such as von Papen and Schacht) to reassure international opinion (Pp39-40).

Though Koonz does not explore the point, there is no mystery to this difference. Given the history of Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, the activities of the Comintern, the revolutionary turmoil of 1918-1920 in Italy, Hungary, Bavaria and elsewhere, the ambitions for social transformation involved in revolutionary Marxism, there was nothing that a respectable middle class person might hold dear for them and their family—not life, liberty, property, culture, or religion—that was not threatened by the prospect of a Leninist takeover or military advance. There was a widespread, practical fear of revolutionary socialism that Jews simply did not engender.

The Nazi regime therefore had to work much harder at anathematising the Jews, via the lever of the popularity of the politics of ethnic revival. In this, they were assisted by “Allies in the Academy”. Koonz uses the philosopher Martin Heidegger, the political theorist Carl Schmitt and the theologian Gerhard Kittel—three contemporaries of Hitler (they were born within one year of each other, and Hitler, in 1888-89)—to chart the appeal of the Nazi politics of ethnic rejuvenation to intellectuals and “respectable” opinion. It was, in many ways, the triumph of emotional appeal over doctrinal precision:
The reactions of thee three quite different men illustrate the ecumenical attractiveness of a charismatic force so plastic that listeners could fasten their own myths of the Fuhrer. To Heidegger, Hitler was authenticity personified to Schmitt he was a decisive leader, and to Kittel, a Christian soldier. The differences in their views of Hitler reminds us that the muddle doctrine denigrated as vapid by Hitler’s opponents contributed to the resilience of the “Hitler myth”. Three very different ideas of what constituted Nazism converged on one point—the desire for moral rejuvenation of the Volk—even as Nazi paramilitaries destroyed the civil society of the Weimar Republic (p.48).
The logic of powerful or intense belief is so often an emotional logic. (A point that Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues explore in their studies of the moral foundations of human psychology.)

Koonz takes us through Heidegger, Schmitt and Kittel’s “paper trails” as public intellectuals. Her conclusion is damming:
To their well-educated peers—precisely the people most likely to have Jewish friends and colleagues—Heidegger, Schmitt and Kittel provided the moral basis for the scores of antisemitic restrictions that followed the April boycott. The advanced the values of the Nazi conscience in their praise of a communitarian ethnic utopia. Each, in his own way, contributed to the redefinition of courage as the capacity to harm the vulnerable without shirking, in the name of the Volk (p.68).
It has long been a feature of Jew-hatred that it claims that “standing up” against the Jews is an act of courage: a necessary claim because otherwise it is just monstrously bullying a small and vulnerable minority in the name of a large majority. (Queer-hatred displays the same pattern for the same reasons: precisely because Koonz explores moral exclusion in the name of virtue so perceptively, much of what she has to say applies directly to the patterns for “moral” exclusion of queers.) Koonz sets out the redefining of virtue by prominent public intellectuals in the service of a genocidal regime in ways that facilitated that genocide. A regime that none of the three ever publicly regretted their support for (p.49).

Taking the culture
Koonz then considers “The Conquest of Political Culture”, the processes by which public life was Nazified: streets renamed, culture censored, institutions taken over or eliminated. The latter in particular faced the choice of either Gleichschaltung or dissolution (p.73). (Indeed, Koonz’s discussion of how Gleichschaltung works has some clear contemporary resonances in the quiet processes by which careers are fostered or inhibited, funding granted or denied, actions forgiven or penalised, celebrated or denounced, according to dominant views.) The combination of the appeal of the politics of ethnic revival, the offering of a sense of public virtue, as well as rewards and punishments for conformity, encouraged a process of Selbengleichschaltung or self-conforming, self-Nazification: a process that continued even after the first flush of enthusiasm waned (p.75).

Hitler as preacher and embodiment (in his carefully managed public image) of virtues that were continually connected to ordinary life and ordinariness was a powerful part of the process. Hitler had long since perfected the technique of re-framing criminal acts as moral ones: so the Night of the Long Knives was reframed in precisely this way, just as the Beer Hall Putsch had been. That the killings and gaolings associated with the Night seemed to have also been about suppressing knowledge of Hitler’s past was also about preserving Hitler as public embodiment of virtue (p.96).

Other voices assisted this process; the Minister for Justice Hans Gurtner (not a Nazi: indeed, he was later to die in hospital after displaying deep distress over conditions in conquered Poland amid rumours that he had been poisoned [p.262]) held that the killings were justified to stop citizens distrusting the state while Carl Schmitt described the Fuhrer’s will as the supreme embodiment of justice and so sufficient in itself (p.98).

Hitler developed the technique of what Koonz calls ‘cryptograms’ whereby public statements contained messages to Nazi faithful reassuring them that public restraint in his statements did not involve abandonment of his core racial beliefs: denouncing an already unpopular idea as Jewish, project his hatred of Jews on “life-threatening” enemies of the Reich, using Mein Kampf as a continuing token of his ultimate aims—all embedded in a public campaign designed to reassure ordinary Germans so that they could rationalise their support of the regime and preserving his distance from unpopular aspects of his regime Hitler thereby:
communicated in cryptograms to the Nazi faithful while reassuring mass audiences that his intentions were benign (p.102)
Versions of this occur in contemporary politics: such as Muslim leaders saying one thing in Arabic and another in English.

Nazi moral politics involved a conjunction of “Ethnic Revival and Racist Anxiety”. Koonz examines the efforts of self-styled “racial philosopher” Walter Gross in the context of efforts to invigorate the Volk—including sterilisation campaigns, celebration of images of racial perfection, identification of enemies of the Volk. What Gross himself labelled:
our drive to implant concern for the biological life of the nation into the conscience of the Volk (p.103).
Mass publications were issued, celebrating Hitler as a moral giant, propagating racial messages (in one, Hitler compared ethnically mixed marriages to “unions between ape and human” [p.116]) such as a middlebrow magazine (Neues Volk), full of authors identified by their degrees or occupation. The racial message was carefully contained within a much large mass of, generally positive, material. The politics of ethnic revival was packaged as a politics of health, vigour and healthy participation in the life of the Volk. The use of repellent or negative images and phrasings were clearly about defining the limits of the Volk, or threats to all this healthy vigour. Gross himself was active in conferences (both national and international), assemblies, pamphlets, speeches, courses for physicians and other professionals, selling calendars celebrating the “Aryan” physique. A citizen of the Reich would encounter Gross’s efforts in many forms and settings (Pp115ff).

Gross agonized on how to tell if the newly Nazified (particularly new Party members and activists) were sincere or not. Like other old Nazis, he disliked rules and procedures as “deadening” of the spirit of Nazi activism yet privately complained at the disorder endemic in Nazi rule. Ironically, Gross found his early hopes of a clear and definitive racial science running afoul of messy facts. What he did manage to do is to prepare the ground for genocide:
Gross and his colleagues in the ORP established the ethical foundations for extermination by presenting the Volk as an endangered organism (p.130).
And they had lots of help: future Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz contributed an article for Gross’s office in which:
he compared the Volkskorper with “defective” members to a healthy individual who had malignant tumours. “Fortunately,” he added, “the elimination of such elements is easier for the public health physician and less dangerous for the supra-individual organism than such an operation by a surgeon would be for the individual organism.” The Volk itself had become the body to be purified, and “unwanted” people had become mere malignancies (p.130).
It was all part of process that Gross was such a central figure in whereby:
a genocidal consensus evolved among the proponents of a relentless bureaucratic war against Jews in Germany (p.130).
Koonz judges that Gross’s own cognitive dissonance about any empirical problems for his racial doctrines just increased his ardour for invigorating and “purifying” the Volk.

The creation of moral criteria disconnected from any specific acts harming persons, property or the relations between people creates the basis for exclusion-by-category. So Marx’s labour theory of value and exploitation—by making employing people for profit economically superfluous “exploitation”—consigns whole classes of people to moral exclusion. As does the notion that reproduction is the only purpose able to justify sexual acts—so all other sexual acts are “immoral”. Thus does being same-sex attracted (or, worse, oriented), or being “bourgeois”, became manifestations of being “morally twisted”. Race theory turns racial difference into boundaries crossing of which is dangerous “moral pollution”: thus does being racially “inferior” become a moral “threat”.

In each case, a trumping moral authority—God, natural purpose, the classless society, the health of the Volk—is invoked against which no human claims have standing, supported by moral criteria unconnected to any specific, real moral harm. Thus do moral claims “justify” stripping categories of people of moral protections, with the harm thereby done to them becoming emotionally invisible, and morally irrelevant, due to the trumping moral claims of the exclusory theory.

The disconnect from any acts which actually harm (or otherwise morally transgress against) specific individuals is a necessary part of the process. Otherwise, one has to treat the people in the relevant categories as individuals, judge them as individuals and count the harm done to them as morally relevant. It takes a truly grand moral theory to justify—for example, making a 13,14,15,16-year-old think they are against God and "outside nature", that they are "objectively disordered", that they are "oriented towards an intrinsic evil" because they are attracted to members of their own sex—to make the harm done to them emotionally invisible and morally irrelevant. Nazi theory took traditional “offenses against God” and “the natural moral order”, turned them into “offenses against the Volk” and “the imperatives of nature”, and then appealed to a grand ethnic narcissism to sell a brutal, and ultimately, exterminatory, moral exclusion. Not so hard, when the ground had been so prepared, for so long.

(The rest of this review will be continued in my next two posts.)