My Name For My Tribe Is “People.” My Name For Your Tribe Is “Food.”
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ANN ALTHOUSE: “The cry of ‘eugenics’ always goes up, but what are the people who raise it really worrying about? Not the return of the Nazis. It’s all-too-convenient the way the Nazis pop up to assist in making the argument you already wanted to make.”

The existence of the Nazis and the barbarian savagery they epitomized offends people like Althouse on a basic, almost primal level, because the Germans who so readily and willingly subsumed themselves in that brute paroxysm were, in folks like Althouse’s eyes, people. They were cultured Europeans with a high civilization and a millennia’s worth of major contributions to the western intellectual, spiritual, and moral canon. Yet they turned into animals almost literally overnight, and deep in their frightened little souls, the Althouses of the world fear the same thing could happen to them. It’s one of the reasons they, along with their European brothers and sisters, crave the strong, smothering hand of the all-powerful state – because the socialist nanny will protect them from their most evil and fearful impulses. It is also why Germany, cradle of the Nazis, did the ideological heavy lifting for much of socialism and communism as well.

They don’t fear the savagery of the communist cossacks, or the slant-eyed invaders from the far east, or the bedouins from the Saharan wastes. What are those people to such as they but animals and devils anyway? And how else would you expect the wogs and sand naggers to act except as savages?

But Germans. Ah, the people of Bach, Goethe, and Planck! And at the same time, the willing people of Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels. That is simply incomprehensible to people like Althouse. In her world, people don’t turn into animals in the span of a few years. But Germany did.

Best to sweep them under history’s rug. Best to pretend such an aberration could never occur again.

Best to pretend that if the Nazis hadn’t existed, we’d have to invent them.

Yes, that’s it. Let’s pretend the Nazis were just an invention, a bad dream, a inadmissible debating device. And let’s never mention them in polite society.

That’s best for everybody concerned, isn’t it?

UPDATE: I have corrected the link to Glenn Reyolds’ post, which was wrong all day today. And since Glenn has responded to this post, (click the repaired link) I’d like to try to clarify my position as best I can.

First, my objection is to the claiming that any use of any aspect of German fascism in a discussion dealing with any contemporary issue is almost invariably dismissed as “trivializing” the horror of the Nazis, as if Godwin’s ridiculous “Law” actually had the status of law.

Nothing can trivialize the Nazis. Their barbaric savagery cannot be trivialized. (But it can be forgotten, especially if any mention of it in polite (or other) debate is verboten). But let us remember there was more to the Nazis than the death camps. In fact, the most remarkable thing about the German fascists is how utterly banal they were, and how deeply they warped even the smallest aspects of daily life. They passed gun control laws, for instance, that bear a remarkable resemblance to gun control laws later passed here in the United States. Is to note that fact to be automatically regarded as “trivializing” the deeds of the Nazis?

Further, it is a common misconception that the eugenics programs practiced by the German fascists were all brutal affairs inflicted on the unwilling innocent. Far from it. In tandem with their eugenics programs involving forced sterilization or murder of “undesirables,” there were also programs that encouraged “desirables” to have as many children as possible, with such practices encouraged by government subsidies and propaganda programs designed to generate public approval of those who partook.

Now what raised Ann Althouse’s ire was this:

Before contracting for the embryos, clients can evaluate the egg and sperm donors, and can even see pictures of them as babies, children and sometimes adults….

“People have long warned we were moving toward a ‘Brave New World,’ ” said Robert P. George of Princeton University, who serves on the President’s Council on Bioethics. “This is just more evidence that we haven’t been able to restrain this move towards treating human life like a commodity. This buying and selling of eggs and sperm and now embryos based on IQ points and PhDs and other traits really moves us in the direction of eugenics.”…

“People can say, ‘Oh, this is the new Hitler.’ That’s not the case,” [said Jennalee Ryan of the Abraham Center of Life.] “I don’t take orders. I say ‘This is what I have’ and send them the background. If they don’t think it’s right for them, they don’t have to take them.”…

To which Althouse responds by decrying the use of the term “eugenics” as if it were synonymous with Nazis (it isn’t, and the Hitler reference was from somebody who supports the contemporary practice at issue), and then goes on to beat that horse into pudding by adding some snark about the “convenience” of the “Nazi argument.”

Question for Ann: Did the Nazis practice, as part of their eugenics efforts, a voluntary selective breeding program in which the goal were in many ways identical to the issue she was citing? Yes, they did. Is it then to be forbidden to mention that fact because it drags the dreaded Nazis into the discussion?

The problem with this sort of taboo is that we are bidden to “Never forget” what was done by the Nazis. But how can we do that, when we are forbidden ever to make reference to what they did?

Aside to Glenn: Part of my response attempted to delineate why I think there is such an aversion to referencing the Nazis, and part of it was, frankly, my exasperation at the taboo itself.

Posted in General, Media permalink

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


My Name For My Tribe Is “People.” My Name For Your Tribe Is “Food.” — 14 Comments

  1. The horrifying thing to me about Nazis and the Holocaust is that this evil, this seemingly inhuman thinking and behavior, is just under the surface of every one of us, given the right (wrong) environment. To cast certain peoples or ethnic groups as more savage than others is ridiculous, because the 20th Century is replete with examples of cultured, wealthy and educated societies acting out pure barbarism. I’m not sure Ann doesn’t understand this; to me, only reflexive and unthinking Lefties think this way.

    It is very important to distinguish human nature from human behavior, which too many (mostly on the left) refuse to do. All the civilizing in the world will not erase or change our nature. We are animals and civilization was designed to control our animal instincts and urges, enabling us to cooperate in groups while allowing our mental and spiritual capacities to flourish (in my opinion). Civilization is a frighteningly thin veneer, as we have seen over and over again. Look at the behavior of U.N. peacekeepers for one simple example. The only thing separating us from our basest behavior is society, that is, our tribe’s agreement to behave according to certain standards and norms. All that is required for us to debase ourselves is for the tribe or a subset of it to agree to do so — as we saw with the Nazis, the communists, etc. Anyone who thinks it can’t happen again, on a grand or small scale, among the most privileged of us, is dangerously deluding themselves. Believing it can’t happen is what makes it frightenly likely TO happen.

  2. Another good question to ask is where the Nazis got the idea for eugenics as public policy from in the first place.

    The irony is, of course, that the smothering nanny state is what enabled the Nazis to do their evil and legitmate it in the first place.

    The whole “Godwin’s law” nonsense is an excuse to avoid real critical thought in distinguishing spurious accusations of fascism from legitimate concerns about force, the abuse of science and the state.

  3. I think you missed the point. To me, the point they were making is that trying to equate so many things with the Nazis is what is wrong. The evils practiced by the Nazis were truly horrible, but today many people seem to forget how they were and instead link little things with them. By doing so they trivialize the Nazis’ crimes. To use another example, take the term rape and then substitute the term sexual abuse for it. Both are against the law, but sexual abuse covers other crimes, many less severe than rape. Using the term sexual abuse to describe rape makes it seem less offensive. When people compare such programs as the Swift program to what the Nazis did, they slowly change public perception of how evil the Nazis were. I certainly didn’t get the impression that Ann was trying to sweep Nazis under the rug or deny them, but rather that she was saying not to compare minor crimes with what the Nazis did, and above all don’t compare apples and oranges. Lastly, bringing up the Nazis in most any argument is saying that you don’t wish to make the argument against whatever it is and think you have won because everyone knows the Nazis were evil so no argument is needed. The problem with that is most people never made the argument that what they were discussing could be equated with anything the Nazis did. The end result is that people trying that are not willing to debate the merits of their own case and instead are trying to win it by associating it with something most people know was evil even when there is no comparison or connections.

  4. To me, the point they were making is that trying to equate so many things with the Nazis is what is wrong. The evils practiced by the Nazis were truly horrible, but today many people seem to forget how they were and instead link little things with them. By doing so they trivialize the Nazis’ crimes.

    “Trivialize” is a matter of perspective. Automatically decrying the use of the Nazis as an instructive example applicable to other situations and times is equally, or even moreso, a debating tactic, and one that tries to pretend the Nazis were so horrible an example they can never be used in any other argument. How about using Hitler or the Nazis in an argument against Pol Pot? And would you continue to say applying the Nazi argument to Ahmadenijad, were Iran to nuke Israel, was trivializing the Nazis?

    We have Nazi-level horrors occurring in the world almost constantly. Since Hitler himself, we’ve had at least a dozen, in Red China, in Africa, even in Europe. But nobody is ever permitted to mention the Nazis in these accounts.

    I’ll tell you why: In the western liberal canon, the worst monsters in history are the Nazis. The far worse communist murderers aren’t even in Hitler’s league, because, well, they just aren’t. So Hitler must be forced to remain on his untouchable pedestal as the Worst Murderer In History, lest one take a hard look at all the other Hitler wannabes, and all the other Hitler-style tactics at work in the world today, for the most part at the hands of men of the left, or diversity-protected non-western religions.

  5. Just a brief–and somewhat tangential–point. I used to believe that the Nazi horror occurred because of some unique defect in the German national character. THEN I learned about the Stanford Prison Experiments, conducted by Philip Zimbardo (in 1971, I believe–much info available via a search engine), in which students were randomly assigned the role of either guard or prisoner, based on a coin toss. After about the fourth day, some of the ‘guards’ began acting with a sadistic cruelty, creating scenes which were eerily similar to many of the photographs from Abu Ghraib. One of the ‘guards’ was particularly sadistic, and was interviewed for a recent documentary. To this very day, he has NOT A CLUE that in another time, and in another place, he could easily have ended up as the commandant of Auschwitz.

  6. > To cast certain peoples or ethnic groups as more savage than others is ridiculous, because the 20th Century is replete with examples of cultured, wealthy and educated societies acting out pure barbarism.

    The 20th is replete with examples of leftists acting out pure barbarism.

    And yes, that includes the Stanford prison experiment, and the Nazis. (Yes, they were atypically stylish and capable of running an economy, at least in the short term, but leftists none less.)

  7. Instead of talking about who else deserves to be called a Nazi, let’s look at the Nazis in the specific context of this particular issue (which is largely undealt with above, except in the last couple of paragraphs of Mr. Quick’s rather long original post).

    What was abhorrent about Nazi eugenics was how it took to the ultimate their underlying attitude that your life didn’t belong to you as an individual– it belonged to the state. And therefore, the state could make choices that would make you more valuable to it– including removing you from this life entirely; experimenting on you; using you as a sex slave; using you as slave labor; making a lampshade and soap out of you; and so on. Your lack of a right to simply be the person the roll of the genetic dice made you was an extension of your lack of a right to be left alone to live your life generally– your lack of a right not to have your fate decided on purely utilitarian grounds. It was the ultimate abuse of state power over the individual.

    We don’t see any of that in the situation described by Althouse. It has nothing to do with state power; it has everything to do with individual parents exercising control. At most you can say that it reflects a change in cultural thinking about children that is the first step on the slippery slope to permitting state eugenics, but I could just as readily say that INTERFERING with it would be the first step on the slippery slope to giving the state veto power on how and when each of us chooses to have kids. There’s something a little dismaying about parents choosing to pick their kids’ genetics this way– but there’s something dismaying about them educating their boys more than their girls, too, and we don’t consider that exceedingly common practice to be the last stop before “kinder kirche kuche.”

    In short, Althouse is right, it’s intellectually lazy to jump to Nazi in this case without thinking through all the ways in which it’s more inapt than apt.

  8. In short, Althouse is right, it’s intellectually lazy to jump to Nazi in this case without thinking through all the ways in which it’s more inapt than apt.

    You keep missing the point. The original speaker, whom Althouse berates for bringing up the dreaded Nazis, did not mention their name. He mentioned eugenics. It was Althouse and a woman with whom she agrees who raised the Nazi issue. (Do you think Nazi and eugenics are synonymous?)

    Further, I do address her specific issue in “the last couple of paragraphs” of my “rather long” post. And yes, there are aspects of this new program that can be discussed under the general rubric of eugenics, even aspects of the Nazi eugenics program.

  9. Yeah, but Bill, you’re the one who fantasized out of whole cloth that 1) Althouse has some sort of racist attitude toward “wogs,” and 2) Althouse fears her own propensity to turn Nazi is liable to leap out at any moment. That’s hysterical, and completely unjustified by her calm and clear discussion of why people shouldn’t get hysterical.

    I like your writing a lot, but in this case you’ve written yourself 50 yards down a rickety pier while leaving the rest of us standing on the shore, wondering what the hell you’re jumping and yelling about down there.

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