The chains are locked and tied across the door

21 07 2017

How does helplessness become resentment?

I’m in the midst of reading Robert Gellately’s edited transcripts of psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn’s interviews with Nazis at Nuremberg, Nuremberg Interviews; what is striking are the protestations that they could have done nothing other than what they did.

They were helpless.

They were helpless before Hitler’s charisma, helpless before his charm, helpless to do anything other than their sworn duty—to the military, to Germany, to their own high moral principles. And those who weren’t personally helpless emphasized Germany’s helplessness following WWI and the victors and their unjust Treaty of Versailles.

And as for the Jews, well, while these Nazis disclaimed any personal anti-Semitism, they did point to Jewish dominance of German cultural life and that so many Communists were Jews—so really, was it so wrong to want to free Germans from the yoke of such an alien people? Goldensohn paraphrased Alfred Rosenberg:

The cause of the Jewish question was, of course, the Jews themselves. The Jews are a nation, and like every nation, have a nationalist spirit. That’s all every well, but they should be in their own homeland. … Why couldn’t the Jews be allowed to remain where they were , in other lands? They would have been all right if they didn’t do bad things, but they did. What did the Jews do? They spat at German culture. How? They controlled the theater, publishing, the stores, and so on.

Similar sentiments were expressed by others: Jews provoked anti-Semitism by their involvement in German life. What else could Germans do? Of course they had to defend themselves.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the role of resentment in politics, but isn’t behind resentment some notion of victimhood, helplessness? How does despair over the inability to control one’s own life become politically virulent?

Propaganda, inarguably, but that can’t be the sole catalyst, can it? What makes it work?

And while it is supremely easy to dismiss the rationalizations of Nazi defendants, what cannot be dismissed is that some peoples have been victimized, are being victimized, and may justifiably feel helpless amidst the conditions of their oppression. Is it not just that they be freed?

Political mobilization draws in part on moving people from a sense of apathy or despair and toward action; when is this mobilization just, and when is it malignant?

One quick response might be that any mobilization which relies on or stokes resentment tends toward malignancy, but, honestly, that seems too quick: what, for example, distinguishes “righteous indignation” from “resentment”?

It could be that this distinction is too caught up in ideology to be of any analytical use, that is, that my good views will always be based in righteousness, while your bad views are riddled with resentment.

Again, there’s a ton of work, both scholarly and journalistic, on resentment in politics, so likely nothing I’m saying here is at all original—for originality, I recommend Nietzsche.

Still, Nietzsche disdained the ressentiment of the weak toward the strong; the resentment of the strong toward the weak, well, that would not even have occurred to them: to be strong was to be above it all.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Go on and put your ear to the ground

17 10 2016

I. The reasons someone supports a candidate you hate may not be the reasons you hate the candidate.

I think Donald Trump a menace, an unstable, thin-skinned, ill-informed blowhard who built his candidacy on a nasty brew of resentment and bigotry. I consider his terrible temperament—the sulking, the whining, the needy bullying—and terrible policies (to the extent he has any) and think What a fucking disaster.

Some (half? most?) Trump fans look at those same things and think Fuck yeah! Where I see instability, they see authenticity; what seems to me ill-informed seems to them common sense; resentment is, yes, resentment, but a righteous one; and bigotry, well, that’s simply refreshing political-incorrectness.

Some (half? most?) of these fans like the shove-it attitude just because he’s saying Shove it.

And some (half? most?) see only a champion for a life they want to have, think they deserve.

II.  Loss of privilege—unearned, unjust privilege—still registers as loss.

White supremacy is the founding injustice of this nation.

As a matter of justice in a plural nation, its destruction is of the greatest urgency.

As a matter of sociology in a plural nation, this destruction has led, does lead, to existential dislocation, to status disorientation on the part of those white folks who never had to deal with the costs of the construction of that whiteness.

As a matter of politics, both must be dealt with.

III. Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.

And nobody knows another game.

Is it worse to fix the fix, or to blow it all to hell, and start over?

The fix of the fix won’t hold; there’ll be new fixes. And blowing it all to hell is to blow it all away; there will be no restoration.

Pause: This is not to excuse—anything, or anyone.

I am trying to understand, to say what I see, to see what I see.





And you will know us by the trail of our dead

23 09 2011

Posted this at TNC’s joint, worth reposting here—an excerpt from a recent New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik:

. . . Americans are perfectly willing to sacrifice their comforts for their ideological convictions. We don’t have a better infrastructure or decent elementary education exactly because many people are willing to sacrifice faster movement between our great cities, or better informed children, in support of their belief that government should always be given as little money as possible.

The reasons for these feelings are, of course, complex, with a noble reason descending from the Revolutionary War, and its insistence on liberty at all costs, and an ignoble one descending from the Civil War and its creation of a permanent class of white men convinced that they are besieged by an underclass they regard as subsidized wards of the federal government. (Thus the curious belief that the worldwide real-estate crisis that hit the north of Spain and the east of Ireland as hard on the coast of Florida was the fault of money loaned by Washington to black people.) But the crucial point is that is the result of active choice, not passive indifference: people don’t want high-speed rail are not just indifferent to fast trains. The are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas: these things give too much pleasure to those they hate. [emph. in original]

One gent pushed back, arguing that Gopnik was holding a match to a straw man, but, y’know, I don’t think so.

This doesn’t explain everything, but it damned sure explains some things.





Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

7 05 2011

Foster children would be allowed to get clothing only from second hand stores

By Todd A. Heywood | 04.22.11 | 11:40 am

Under a new budget proposal from State Sen. Bruce Casswell, children in the state’s foster care system would be allowed to purchase clothing only in used clothing stores.

Casswell, a Republican representing Branch, Hillsdale, Lenawee and St. Joseph counties, made the proposal this week, reportsMichigan Public Radio.

His explanation?

“I never had anything new,” Caswell says. “I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was — and quite frankly it’s true — once you’re out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes.”

Under his plan, foster children would receive gift cards that could only be used at places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other second hand clothing stores.

The plan was knocked by the Michigan League for Human Services. Gilda Jacobs, executive director of the group, had this to say:

“Honestly, I was flabbergasted,” Jacobs says. “I really couldn’t believe this. Because I think, gosh, is this where we’ve gone in this state? I think that there’s the whole issue of dignity. You’re saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes. You know, for a lot of foster kids, they already have so much stacked against them.”

Casswell says the plan will save the state money, though it isn’t clear how much the state spends on clothing for foster children or how much could be saved this way.

(If you’re wondering if we’re really at the abyss, read the comments.)

Credit: The Michigan Messenger; h/t Fred Clark at slactivist