Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Uncomfortable Questions about Germany for Americans

I am not a history expert, but I proffer several questions historians ought to ask about Nazi Germany: 

1.  When Adolf Hitler was appointed or elected, who were the alternatives? Were they more distasteful than Hitler in some way? 

2. It seems clear the first way to isolate a minority is through laws. (Violence is too obvious and its showcasing results in weakening the image of law and order.) 

What were the first laws that targeted minorities? What did the enforcement of those laws look like? How did the national government incentivize local police to turn against their own residents or at least to look the other way? 

3. What were immigration patterns from 1919 to 1937? Which types of persons moved away?  Recent immigrants? Affluent and/or educated residents? Which types of persons stayed? Government employees? 

4.  Obviously, propaganda existed, but how was it made pervasive? For example, did the government arrest certain people and highlight their situations extensively? Did they use coercion to silence or blacklist persons who questioned the status quo? What specific methods did they use to dissuade behavior they deemed unacceptable? 

5.  What were marriage, divorce, and childbirth rates in Germany from 1900 to 1945? Can we break down statistics by each year to see useful patterns?

6.  What were immigration patterns--both legal and unauthorized--into Germany from 1900 to 1945? 

As an American citizen but a minority, I've left the United States. Whether my absence is temporary remains to be seen. Obviously, I have to return before April of each year to pay taxes, but the more I travel, the more I see other areas of the world that feel like America, pre-9/11. Part of the reason I've left is because I can see odd similarities between American society and other historical events. 

America elected someone who wasn't presidential but who was still better than the alternative. Vested interests within the opposition/losing political party elevated someone they favored rather than someone more electable, angering their base. 

Economic gains were not distributed to all corners of society, rendering some people vulnerable to propaganda, especially against minorities, tearing apart any common social fabric. Inflation in essential items increased, but without wage increases.

Being part of a group became worthy of respect and heroism. For instance, merely being part of the military or police entitled someone to automatic respect--regardless of the presence or absence of specific actions. 

This patina of heroism translated into less accountability for certain groups, leading to a "uniform culture" that allowed consolidation of power--and government funding--for special interests, especially the military. 

Economic gains continued not to be diversified, with old and now new special interests caring less and less about results and accountability. All sides in power begin to realize problems touch upon fundamental issues that cannot be solved unilaterally or that require sacrifices they were elected to avoid implementing. Rhetoric such as "Drain the swamp" becomes muted as the new political establishment resorts to extreme signaling or headlines to avoid losing power or legitimacy. 

Political discourse becomes progressively more toxic, throwing people into two or three camps: 1) yelling to become heard, i.e., the rise of the outrageous as the new normal; 2) taking no substantive positions but remaining agreeable, losing the support of anyone with principles (Note: appeasement comes in many forms, including economic appeasement); or 3) advocating solutions that cannot be implemented without massive changes (i.e., politically impossible solutions that require a dictatorial approach advocates would say they despise). 

In many cases, outliers are highlighted by both sides to justify their political positions or at least to blunt criticism of the status quo. As outliers become used more commonly, the media loses its ability to rally the public to act as a check and balance against government overreach or against the government's honest mistakes. 

Such political toxicity permeates the culture, causing children to grow up in a desensitized as well as unstable environment. For children growing up during a toxic time, the abnormal becomes normal. The children, unlike adults, don't have an earlier time to which they can compare their current lives. The shift from normal to abnormal occurs without any obvious outward signal because the new generation is mimicking the only behavior they know.

Reasonable, empathetic adults see what is going on and leave or self-segregate. They reject such an environment in which to raise or have children or self-segregrate in ways that may require ever-escalating costs to maintain their positions. Many people within this camp will be among the most successful members of society or its most principled--exactly the kind of people who would otherwise stand up effectively for minority rights. Without them present or fully integrated in their communities, little resistance exists against actors wanting to remake society in their own image. 

The lowered number of sensitive, empathetic, principled, or quietly diligent people--whose absence occurs gradually and is therefore difficult to register in any official capacity--causes a collective shift to a new, desensitized normal. At some point, even the less sensitive and empathetic residents realize something is wrong and they, too, leave, self-segregate, or disconnect psychologically from broader society. Yet another barrier of resistance to conformity is removed, leaving strongmen, radicals, and fools to dominate the culture. 

The children in this society grow up to become the new SS. Threats not otherwise perceived by any reasonable person in the previous generation are suddenly seen where few to no new substantive threats actually exist. (e.g., the North Korean nuclear threat is not new; however, NK's increased ability to survive without any need to be connected to countries other than China renders conventional solutions more impotent with each passing year.) This distortion leaves less time--and taxpayer funding--to deal with real problems, the causes of which become less obvious as more time passes. 

Society decays inexorably as more people hold onto power by any means necessary, whether through propaganda (fake news), new laws (CBAs, etc.), or brute force. The inability to resolve fundamental problems means fewer resources to be divided, leaving charity--both psychological and financial--less viable ("compassion fatigue").  Segregation becomes the new normal as fewer people care about others, especially persons who do not look or act like them. 

Segregation is crucial to understanding how a society changes its character because as more and more groups segregate themselves from each other, the information they receive is different. For example, despite living just 15 to 100+ miles away from each other, Community 1 may believe in a totally different reality than Community 2. In addition to making communication and therefore collaboration more difficult, segregation also allows Community 1 to hide its activities from outsiders. To take an extreme example, Community 1 may be brutalizing a minority group, but Community 2 has no realistic way of discovering such activity if the media no longer captivates the general public's attention or continues to lose readers/viewers and therefore status, revenue, income, access, and jobs. In the alternative, a "Neil Postman scenario" may result where excessive information functions the same as deliberate misinformation, leaving too few persons able to ascertain reliable facts, making broad or nationwide cooperation extremely difficult. 

In this future, everyone wonders how such normal, nice people changed in just a few decades. Most people are convinced by academics and media that some unique phenomenon occurred in the past. Some historians highlight positive outliers to provide people with hope when they ought to be warning that atrophy has occurred in every society and could occur again, right here. Otherwise reasonable people have left or spend their time battling misinformation, leaving them exhausted or with less time to contemplate solutions to fundamental problems--the same ones that continue unabated, as distractions and noise increase. 

More people leave or self-segregate through laws, legal agreements, harsher police enforcement, and/or physical barriers. Society's only hope is to allow more immigrants who still believe in the country's advertised principles, which are no longer actually true. Whether the government and existing residents allow new immigrants or some other source of fresh idealism to save their country dictates the direction of the society's future. Many countries, after a certain point in this cycle, choose war. 
From Bremmer's Superpower

The key is the youth. Do they choose the old ways, or do they forge a new path? 

Wash, rinse, repeat. 

Bonus: when my family came to America, I remember being assisted by multiple native-born Americans who took pride in assisting my conservative and socially awkward father. (Like father, like son.) I remember this kindness vividly, even though I did not communicate verbally with any of the persons I saw. I was too young and, as noted, socially awkward. 

Yet, I still remember minute details: the family from Davenport, Iowa who took the time to guide my family around unfamiliar territory, but who became separated at a highway offramp, leaving us to attempt to re-connect unsuccessfully in an era without cell phones or GPS. Being separated from this family distressed me greatly, even though I was not close with them. Why? I knew these people had made sacrifices to assist us, even if just losing time, and their sacrifice meant something. It meant I felt I was welcome in their community, and if I followed the rules, one day, it could be my community. Do recent immigrants to America have similar assistance and feelings that come with such generous assistance?  If not, how do they forge a bond, if any, with their communities?

Bonus II: my comment above regarding segregation is a precursor and base requirement to 
Kwame Anthony Appiah's worldview, in which he believes change and tolerance come from getting used to each other, not logic nor arguments:

"I am urging that we should learn about people in other places, take an interest in their civilizations, their arguments, their errors, their achievements, not because that will bring us to agreement but because it will help us get used to one another--something we have a powerful need to do in this globalized era. If that is the aim, then the fact that we have all these opportunities for disagreement about values need not put us off. Understanding one another may be hard; it can certainly be interesting. But it doesn't require that we come to agreement." 

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