Friday, October 2, 2015

Unanticipated consequences...

can be surprising.

Consider the phrases "unanticipated consequences" or "unintended consequences" while thinking about that notion of not knowing what you don't know. There's a big difference between thinking about or considering an ideology versus actually making shifts in your ideology...because when you make such changes...things that were hidden can come into awareness and/or what might be in your awareness will begin (slowly or suddenly) to be perceived and experienced differently. Those sorts of changes can often be surprising or shocking or disorienting. Aph Ko and Syl Ko, on their excellent blog Aphro-ism, write about these phenomena here.

For instance, grappling with decreasing my oblivion regarding how we human Earthlings behave toward our sister/brother Earthlings resulted in my pretty much avoiding any movies that include humans riding or "using" horses...which encompasses a lot of 'western' movies (ignoring the ubiquitous lies and distortions about Native Americans that often permeate 'western' movies). I find it too unpleasant and painful to watch such abuse and so mostly I don't. I certainly didn't expect that maintaining an ethical vegan viewpoint would interrupt the viewing of 'western' movies...but there ya go.

Speaking of unanticipated consequences...I started reading a book titled Blowback by Christopher Simpson but found it to be disturbing enough that I decided to stop reading it. It's about how the U.S. decided, immediately following WWII, to enlist thousands of Nazi war criminals in their efforts to "resist" Soviet Russia...and in the process to exempt mass murderers from any punishment. It's equivalent to a group of men being afraid of women so they decide to hire Ted Bundy to advise them on how to resist women...and to absolve him of any criminal charges as a payoff for helping. Or...it's much akin to our government's justification of torture as a way of "obtaining information". In each case...we opt for excusing despicable behaviors because "we're really scared". Jeez.

But the unanticipated consequence that hit me recently was both surprising and sad making. One of my (formerly) favorite movies of all time, Judgement At Nuremberg, which stars Spencer Tracey and Burt Lancaster suddenly looked completely different to me. I ran across it recently and started to watch it and I realized that I was feeling disgust as I watched.

I've always enjoyed Mr. Spencer and Mr. Lancaster as actors and this movie had it all...high minded moralizing...punishing bad guys...consideration of different viewpoints and so on. The movie is shot in black and white (which I often enjoy) and, aside from the somewhat irritating Richard Widmark, cast with some other excellent actors. The story is sort of based on a trial soon after WWII wherein various Hitler era judges were held to account for their participation in some of the awfulness of that time. It was released in 1961.

So the movie is all about awful stuff that was "legal". It's about showing how terrible these judges were for going along with the harming of humans because they happened to belong to particular groups...not because of anything they had done...but just because of being identified with a group. There are a few complexities thrown in (fear of the Russians) and such and some interesting attention paid to many German citizen's protestations of innocence because they "didn't know" what was going on...and so forth. I had liked this movie for years and it was one of my favorites. Well...no more.

Here's the problem...the movie is set in 1947 or 1948...it's all about these nasty disgusting Germans who treated people awful because the Germans (most of them anyway) had decided that people in certain groups were not ok. The movie centers on the terrific and freedom loving U.S. Americans who are all concerned with "liberty and justice" and taking these miscreants to task. And it's all sort of true...about the trials occurring...but the concern with "liberty and justice" by U.S. Americans...well that's simply not true. Here you might want to refer back to the paragraph above re the Blowback book.

Yes we did some trials and we punished some people...but in 1947 back here in good old U.S. America we white people were treating some of our citizens horribly (including murder by lynching) just because they belonged to certain groups. In fact, this crap was still going on in 1961 when this movie was made.

One victim was portrayed by Montgomery Clift playing the role of someone who had been forcibly sterilized and much was made of his anguish...all the while back here in the U.S. such forcible sterilizations continued until 1981. Or maybe for longer.

Another case, referencing illegal liaisons between Jewish identified people and non-Jewish identified citizens, was presented by the actress Judy Garland....and...back here in the U.S. "inter-racial" marriages were illegal in various states up until 1967. Emmett Till, a 14 year old African American was murdered in 1955, supposedly for whistling at a white woman and his murderers were freed by our "legal" system. And yet...this movie is asking us to be outraged over the awfulness of the German prohibitions against the behavior of Jewish identified peoples.

Watching the movie this time around was simply repugnant to me. The hypocrisy was of such a magnitude that I couldn't bear it. I had to stop watching. It was white people fantasy at full tilt. The hideous disconnect from reality was too much. Good grief, in 1961 in many areas of the U.S., people were legally prevented from attending school together or eating in the same restaurants or watching movies together...simply because of their belonging to differently identified groups. But we're holding trials for German judges and imprisoning them and even executing some of them...for behaviors similar to those we (white people) in the U.S. were engaging in at the same time?

The movie was highly regarded and and nominated for and received numerous awards. The wikipedia entry tells us that several of the 'big-name' actors worked for a fraction of their usual salary because they felt the movie was socially important. One way to think about the movie is that it was identifying injustices perpetrated by some German judges...and by Germany the nation. But...those doing the pointing at Germany apparently didn't know what they didn't know about their own nation's behaviors. Decrying the behavior of others while being oblivious to your own actions is problematic. If the makers of the movie had prefaced it with some statement indicating their awareness of the awfulness in their own country and judicial system...that would have been refreshing. As it is though...it's just sort of embarrassing and also insulting, especially toward members of targeted groups here in the U.S..

While this trial of German judges was occurring and even while this movie was being made...the U.S. Public Health Service was lying to hundreds of African-American men about providing them with health care...all the while the health service knew these men had syphilis and did not tell them what disease they had and did not provide them with drugs which would have stopped the disease because...they wanted to know the effects of the disease as it progressed.

And...we're trying and imprisoning and executing German people for what they did? Of course what they did was inexcusable...but to have the nerve to hold them to account and totally ignore what we were doing? We're in never never land here. Hypocrisy seems like a concept that's too small to characterize our oblivious and other-directed moralizing.

What are we? Who are we? By we I mean primarily white U.S. American people because that group (mostly white men) controls...and has always controlled...government and business and education and the military and the police and the media and and...ever since this nation started. We present ourselves one way...but if our behavior is examined...a whole different picture emerges. Struggling to step away from being centered in, excuse the awkward phrase, "U.S. American white man's dominant worldview" is...hell, I don't know...I don't have words for what it is. Whatever it is, it isn't fun...that's for sure.

I'm fearful too, as these shiftings happen, that I'm unable to clearly communicate about them. Good grief...they aren't at all clear to me and trying to write about them while in the midst of experiencing them...means I probably end up spouting gibberish. Maybe that's part of what Aphro-ism's posting about confusion was pointing out.

I really liked that movie. I feel sad about that liking going away...and I feel duped and angry about being duped...but I also participated in the duping by not breaking through my obliviousness. Chagrin is a good descriptor for some of my feelings.

Abagond writes semi-humorously about Apple-pie America but I can't read his writing about this without thinking that humorous and horrid begin with the same letter and so does hurt and it all makes my head hurt...and the rest of me too.

Being oblivious is not a desirable way to blunder through life because that makes it too easy to inadvertently harm others and one's self, for that matter. However...decreasing obliviousness is a change and sometimes change means loss. So...goodbye to my liking for this movie...that doesn't mean I can't watch it and learn from it...but that liking (based on obliviousness) is no more.







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