Regimes are built on you and me
God I’m getting tired of starting all my posts with ‘I am a 9 year old Iranian refugee turned proud American citizen.’ I’m going to skip that intro.
My entire thesis is: When you think about Nazi Germany, or any other authoritarian regime, do you think of the people involved, the citizens, the fighters, the rulers, as black and white and flat people? Or do you think of them as real humans?
When you think about Hitler committing suicide, how do you feel about it? Do you remember the 7th grade classroom you learned that in? Do you imagine why he’d do it? Do you find a 20% opacity filter put on you of you reliving yourself stuck in a bunker with bombs and troops outside?
TL;DR: If you haven’t thought about how Nazi Germany happened, not just the fact that it happened, since you were at an 8th grade mental capacity, watch Man in the High Castle.
It doesn’t do much to talk about how we got here, what’s more important is what to do now, but before we can really talk about that I think a lot of people need to wake up.
That’s not a partisan message. I’m not singling anyone out. I just… every two or three weeks I suddenly realize just how real this stuff all is. It gets scarier and scarier each time. Have you had even one of those experiences yet?
It’s all uncomfortable, raw and we all feel hurt, so I’m not going to talk about this regime. It’s too soon and you or I will lock up and stop hearing.
Let me use my Pisces, Libra rising to try to explain to you how I think Nazi Germany happened.
When I was a dumb kid too busy to pay attention to the little we were being taught at school, I thought all the citizens of Germany 1939 were awful people. Why else would they be standing there, raising their hand in the sky?
One of the things I say a lot at work is “a company’s culture is the summation of the people and parts within the company”.
One of the things much smarter people* do is ramble a bit when asked “What is a culture?”
To make sense of such situations requires taking a “cultural perspective,” learning to see the world thorough “cultural lenses,” becoming competent in “cultural analysis” by which I mean being able to perceive and decipher the cultural forces that operate in group, organizations, and occupations.
When we learn to see the world through cultural lenses, all kinds of things begin to make sense that initially were mysteriously, frustrating, or seemingly stupid.
So combine “cultural lenses” and “cultures are sum of parts of people”, let’s go.
Let’s say within the group dynamics of 1939 Germany, within the 79.3 million* real life human beings, some percent of them were parents maybe with jobs, maybe laid off, hoping their kids can enter the workforce.
There’s maybe one, two big employers in town. They all mandate, or if not mandate, you still don’t want them to ask “Why?”, that interns be members of the Hitler Youth.
So you enroll your kid in the Hitler Youth. It’s not like a well-defined marketing funnel, but imagine being the kid in that situation, having seemingly weak parents and hearing about the wonders of the Reich and service, while being surrounded by non-weak grownups at work with jobs.
What percent of those kids do you think learn to hate their parents? To spy on them? To report on their parents and the friends of their parents to try to win favors with the more powerful role models in their lives?
Let’s pick some random guesses out of the air. Let’s say 30% of kids become indoctrinated like that or similar thought processes, and those 30% are from 15% of the non-minority German population.
Even 15% of 79.3 million is 12 million. 12 million good, god-fearing, authoritarian hating Germans, trying to make sure their kids don’t die.
That’s just one random example and historical perspective I’ve read about, projected using some random off the cuff numbers. I’ve heard at least 6 different personal justifications and stories for why people were complicit with the Nazi regime, even though they loved their Jewish neighbors.
If each of those six is 15%, that’s 90% of the people.
We just used a thought exercise to prove how one crazed man going off a free, well-defined playbook can do all the historical facts you know he did, off learned helplessness and complicit scared-but-still-safe-if-I-just citizens.
Once you stop thinking about major shifts in history as flat you start being terrified of how real it all is and how given each individual person’s cultural lens, how freaking fast it all happened.
To be fair, it’s unfair that we typically are taught this stuff badly. Or impartially. Or when we were at a dumb 16 year old’s cognitive powers. It’s unfair that even when we look at photos, they’re black and white and flat. There’s no depth. Those people aren’t like us. They are, they’re just like us.
If you’re a scared “default” (not “white man”, there’s a lot of defaults in different contexts and cultures), and you don’t know how you can help, or it seems helpless, I have one idea: Read. Learn. This stuff is literally off a playbook. Learn about previous experiences. Learn about current experiences. Learn how real this all really is. Learn about how the bad guys arose, and how they fell.
This Twitter thread. I had no idea how Germans themselves learn about this stuff. Amazing thread, and there’s a suggestion for a “making it all feel more real” book at the end.
Solnit reminds us of how changed the world has been by the activism of the past five decades.www.haymarketbooks.org
This is a semi-new book from one of my favorite authors. Originally published post second Bush election, all about not giving up in dark times. Cheap book, quick read, recently republished with a new intro, lots of heartwarming “I can do this”. My favorite passage.
16 April 1963 My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent…www.africa.upenn.edu
The moneyshot. I read this at least once a week. If you have read it before, fun fact, in some reproductions every single instance of “white moderate” is removed. Hit cmd-F on that link vs this one from The Atlantic.
Read the full letter. Read something. Read some people’s voices.
The authoritarians literally have a playbook, and top-down structure. I believe that’s their flaw.
We’re a pluralistic resistance. We are an infinite amount of voices, all fighting for the same thing, for different reasons. That’s what unites us.
Hear the voices of those who have helped lead that fight in the past. The dictators are reading the words of those who did what they want to do. Why not us?