Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dreadful and important.

I recently finished reading a book titled "My Father's Keeper" by Stephan and Norbert Lebert. It is an unusual book. One author is the father who did a series of interviews with some of the children of prominent Nazis in the 1950s, these interviews were then updated by his son in the 1990s.

I really can't recommend reading it unless you are prepared to be rather dismayed and least that's the principle reaction I had to the book. It is depressing and sad to read about the children who are appalled and/or horrified at their parents behavior and it is even more depressing and sad to read about the children who are not appalled and/or horrified or who deny any such behavior.

What was very saddening to me was that it seems that all the denial and/or unconcern with the murderous behaviors does not result in discernible psychological and/or emotional problems.
In the 1960s the Heiderlberg psychologists Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich made the following statement about the psychological health of the Germans:
“Astonishingly our experience in no way points to the kind of increase in the number of patients in a state of denial that might have encouraged us to identify a tangibly clinical illness. From the records of more than 4,000 patients it emerges that extremely few criteria could be found for a correlation between their present-day symptoms and their experiences in the Nazi era. Self-confessed Nazis virtually never appeared.”

The Freiburg psychoanalyst Tilmann Moser offered a similar conclusion at the end of the 1990s.

“It seems that we must resign ourselves to the fact that the perpetrators and their followers have uncovered no path to shame or guilt within themselves, and for this reason we remain faced with” cleavage, defiance, cognitive dysfunction, collective denial and anthropological limits to the establishment of identity and the continuity of conscience.”

After countless studies, his Munich counterpart Wolfgang Schmidbauer has come to accept the 'intensely unjust' state of affairs that for the camp murderer who has killed over and over again, or the camp employer who has profited by the deaths of thousands of helpless slave laborers, it is far easier to deny guilt, to shrug off scruples, to live a normal family life and be a respected father to his children, than it is for the victims, who are mostly visited by the severest feelings of guilt because they are the ones who survived. You have to look at it this way, Schmidbauer concludes: the perpetrators had to deal only with their fear of being caught and condemned. From a psychological viewpoint, it comes down to understanding that the perpetrator realised him or herself through his or her act, whereas the victim was hindered by the same act in everything that he wanted, and wants still, to realise. Or put it more cynically: torturing body and spirit has measurably fewer side effects than being tortured. Pp186-7
I don't want to draw some maybe obvious conclusions from these observations...I'm aware of many but am not inclined to fully ascribe to them...mainly because I suspicion they would prompt a really unpleasant state of depression.

It is all perhaps best summarized by this passage from the book.
The Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal says that it is a grave and dramatic mistake to proceed on the basis that only evil beings are capable of evil acts. One of the essential characteristics of many leading National Socialists, says Wiesenthal, was that at home they were utterly charming people. They were the same people who lovingly kissed their children goodby in the morning and then a few hours later were gassing or shooting Jews. This realisation , Wiesenthal thinks, is dreadful and at the same time hugely important, because on the person who has grasped it knows that evil lives dormant in most people and can break out at any time. Let no man say that such a ghastly dictatorship is no longer possible today. That is the true lesson from the horror of National Socialism: we must fight against it constantly, against evil, so that it does not emerge again. pp 182
Most of us who live vegan did not do so at some time. We lived ordinary lives doing extraordinary evil with no discomfort at all. Wiesenthal seems to be oblivious to the evil that is inherent in eating our fellow Earthlings...I find no references to his being vegan. We must not only fight constantly against evil, we must fight constantly to be able to even recognize evil. Living vegan is the only way I know of to mostly avoid participating in a huge huge evilness.

I've written before about history and human behaviors (here, here and here). I'll likely write more too. Having spent my professional life trying to understand and sometimes modify human behavior and personality makes me know how little I understand. I will say though, from what I can see, veganism as explained by Donald Watson and friends seems to be the best of the best of all ways to live while doing minimal harm to others.


Bea Elliott said...

Wow, this does sound like an extremely depressing read. But I do see how it would be much easier to continue on with life "as normal". It's sad and even adds to the injustice that perpetrators (and their children) have the benefit of this useful coping mechanism. While those who already suffered enough, can find no relief.

I wish I could recall where I saw this interview with German youths who theorized that many in this generation, took extra precautions to recognize oppression where ever it was. It was an interview that attempted to explain why there's such a large and successful vegan movement in Germany... I remember one person said specifically that they looked back at what their grandparents generation was responsible for and devoted their lives to ending all systems of tyranny... It made me feel good thinking this was the outcome. This book it seems says otherwise. Apparently it is very easy for some to live with the sins of their fathers.

On a personal note, I just don't see how this is done. The key thing I remember when I made my discoveries about nonhumans was an utter shame of my species. Ever since, the misanthropy is impossible to shake. And each story of a rescue or of a kind act becomes a lifeline to sanity. :/

Just a question here... Is it really possible to truly live if one *does not* fight against evil? I think not. And so we who genuinely care, find ourselves trying to breathe compassionate life into the dispassionate dead ones. Quite a task it is. Perhaps it's even insane to think we can achieve a vegan world... Thankfully many of us, and a growing number more, think otherwise. There's just isn't any other way to live. Nope.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. Hopefully the book I read was primarily about the children of the destroyers, not the grandchildren. Hopefully the lack of detection of apparent emotional cost to those destroyers was more due to the deficiency in our detection abilities. Hopefully.

The real hope though, to me anyway, lies in the seeming willingness of the bulk of human animals to be led. If enough awake and aware humans will step up and show the rest how to be and to me is where the hope is. Too too often however the leading seems to fall into the hands of the destroyers because they're most often the power seekers. It's a curious paradox...the best humans don't want power over others yet that leaves a seeming vacuum most often filled by the worst humans.

In any event...unless and until the devoids are stripped of any and all influence we all live in terrible and severe do our fellow animals. As you is fighting against evil...anything else is death.

D.E.M. said...

Wow. Thanks for this. I work with someone who thinks it's harder for the torturer... or that we haven't paid the perpetrators enough thought for their feelings, etc. etc. Crazy shit everywhere. Send in the flying monkeys!!!!

P.S. it is interesting that the witch says "what a world" as she goes under. What a world.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. They think it is "harder" for the torturer? That's sort of spooky.

A good rule of thumb to remember re human animals (and most all animals I suspect) is that situations where control/power is reduced or removed are almost always more anxiety provoking than those where this is not the case. Most likely because this is evocative of infancy where dependence on others for survival is absolute and personal control/power is virtually nonexistent.

The omnipotence of infancy is only in the mind of the doesn't exist in reality. One speculation about those hungry for power as adults is that issues of infancy/childhood are being played out in adulthood (usually with tragic and awful effects).

Harder for the torturers eh? A little thought experimenting should disconfirm that stuff. :-)

Have Gone Vegan said...

Sounds like a fascinating book. And I can certainly see that the Nazi perpetrators themselves would likely not ever have felt shame (denial is an incredibly powerful force which vegans certainly witness every day), but I can't help think that future generations DO feel the impact of past generational behavior.

Like Bea, I have seen shows (actually, quite a few) that focused on children and grandchildren of both perpetrators and survivors, and as a child of Dutch parents who were teenagers during WWII, I can tell you that the ripple effect continues to this day.

I think it's absolutely true that we are all capable of great evil, and in fact ARE both good and evil, so it's more a matter of which part of ourselves we let lead. But sadly, denial again plays a big part in that we don't recognize evil within ourselves and within the societal norms we take for granted, so we can continue to believe that we're being "good" when we're really not.

Don't have any answers though as to how to break through denial, other than constantly trying to become both self-aware, and by having more and more people chip away at societal denial. Eek, what a mess!

veganelder said...

Thank you for your comment HGV. You've summed it all up masterfully..."Eek, what a mess!"