Friday, September 4, 2009

A Case For More, Not Less, Calling of "Nazi!"

Tonight I was watching a program on the Spanish Civil War. I know something about that history, having played more than twenty tours around Spain back in my jazz musician days, starting a mere decade after the death of Franco.

But it's been a while since I'd delved into the subject, and much has changed in our world, so I sat transfixed as I was reminded of the dynamics leading up to that murderous, catastrophic conflict. Spain had polarized into two elements; one conservative, religious, and highly dogmatic; and the other liberal, iconoclastic, and equally dogmatic. The two sides were more than political antagonists; their conflict had hardened into something more existential. Each side believed itself to be the "real" Spain - which, of course, made their counterparts the enemies of the nation (and, therefore, of everything right and good).

One side foamed over hated Socialists, the other frothed at hated Fascists. Viewed from the vantage point of a subsequent century, neither had the clear moral high ground, but, anyway, trying to determine which was "right" is a futile exercise. After all, the moral clarity of each side's utter rightness was, itself, the very problem. In light of such absolute and uncompromising certainty, Spain might have wound up Stalinist or it might have wound up Nazi, but reprehensible violence was inevitable either way.

I sat aghast as the tale was told of how a society remarkably like our own quickly devolved into the grisliest neighbor-against-neighbor warfare and near genocidal apocalypse. Franco said he was willing to kill half the population to save the nation from Marxism, and Hitler was all too eager to help, supplying, along with Mussolini, much of the military muscle behind the Falangist victory. And I reflected on the fact that there's nothing uniquely dark about the Spanish or German or Italian soul (or for that matter, Japanese, English, French, Mongol, Iranian, Serbian, Ugandan, Rwandan, or Sudanese). The ugly place where the Nazis went and where the Spanish went is a place we might all go.

Isn't that the supreme lesson to be drawn from the horrors of the twentieth century? That humanity is capable of heinous evil, and it may recur in any era with a f├╝hrer du jour? That we need to remember how low we can go, and try to stanch situations before they devolve to the ghastly point? That the specter of the Nazis - an archetypal expression of humanity's shadow side - must be kept close as a perpetually relevant cautionary tale, rather than packed away as a distant historical nightmare?

We hear the term "Nazi" thrown around more and more these days, though some insist the word should never be diluted, and that it must maintain its full potency. But there is a hardened, hateful, desensitized and uncompromising portion to the human psyche -
every human's psyche - waiting to erupt when circumstances are right. And glimpses appear even in everyday human activity. It's not an entirely buried crayon; it darkens the hue of countless ordinary actions, assertions, and conflicts. The callous monster arises whenever we begin to dehumanize "the other side".

We've lately grown surprisingly comfortable with dehumanization and ever deepening divides and hatreds. It snuck up on us. So I'm gratified to see the term "Nazi" falling easily off of tongues. It's not to be stowed away for use solely at the verge of apocalypse. There's Nazi in all of us, and it must be called out and shouted down whenever it appears. We don't spot it easily enough!

There's often one group considering itself categorically compassionate and high-minded as it dehumanizes and despises its counterparts. Turning a blind eye toward this dynamic within themselves (though maintaining a sensitive awareness of it in the other side), they can dramatically escalate the degeneration. Current "progressives" - cloaking themselves in a self-image of evolved compassion, and utterly oblivious to their role in the symmetry - deem themselves thoroughly beyond any such inclinations. Very dangerous.

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