Beyond the U.S. there is also the international community at large, which even today, although the UN has finally outlawed the right for a state to commit genocide against its own peoples, we nevertheless have seen repeatedly (in East Timor, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Kurdistan, and the Sudan, among others) the UN edicts going ignored and unenforced; and its laws thus essentially remaining a dead letter.
But as if this were not enough evidence that modernity carries the germ of holocausts to come, international law aside, the author points out that there is nothing within Max von Weber's own exposition of modern bureaucracy (the rational spirit, principles of efficiency, that science is instrumental and value-free, relegating values to the subjective, etc.) that precludes the possibility of any of the excesses committed by the Nazis from recurring.
What professor Bauman reminds us of here is that whatever moral instinct is to be found in human conduct, we can never forget that it is not inherent in the human condition: Morality must be learned; it is "socially produced." And sadly, so too are its inhibitions and the tendency to be "indifferent to" or to "distance ourselves from," our own evil, and especially from the moral responsibility of our own evil acts.
Thus, what Professor Bauman tells us the holocaust teaches us about ourselves in particular, and about the modern world more generally, is that, what little morality that remains in our post-modern cultures, quickly dissolves as soon as societies malfunction.
The paradox he uses to brings this point home most clearly is that in an otherwise entirely innocent or primitive state, (that is one that is altogether free of social influence and regulation such as religious teachings, formal education, political ideologies, etc.), people at worse are indifferent to injuring one another.
However, when the mere presence of social regulation and organized indoctrination occurs, they then become anxious to injure at the behest of societal administrators, tribal, racial, religious and group rules and norms -- or worse, even for pleasure or for pay.
Put simply, the intended civilizing thrust of social regulation, which was to impose moral constraints on our otherwise rampant selfishness and our inborn tendency towards savagery, in actual practice too often works in exactly the opposite way: Savagery in the name of societal rules and causes, that is condoned and excused, and is conveniently masked by after-the-fact rationalizations, and often wedded to ideology through the psycho-social reward and punishment structure of society, becomes a bureaucratic tool that historically has collectively lowers the inhibitions of those within a group. It does this at the same time that it prods them to commit acts of savagery in the name of the tribe, race, religion, ideology, or nation -- acts of savagery they otherwise would not commit.
As perfect cases in point, witness the Crusades, or its most recent reincarnation, attempts by Muslims to return to the same era through talks about creating post-modern caliphates.
As the author notes, Hannah Arendt, one of my intellectual heroes, was shouted down when she suggested that victims of the holocaust may have lost some of their humanity on the road to perdition. It brings to mind the scene in the movie Munich in which the Golda Meir character said: "just because Jews were victims of the holocaust, does not make them decent."
And indeed if we look at the events currently unfolding in the Israel-Palestine situation, we see clearly that Arendt's point sadly, is ruthlessly being carried out by none other than Israeli Jews.
There is also a Chinese proverb that says: "society prepares the crime and the criminal only carries it out." Put simply, "internal state violence" is undeniably just another socially orchestrated "We versus Them" drama of heroism and victimology, making existential claims on the collective minds of its citizens through patriotic morality plays and socially-approved narratives.
All scripts of these manufactured dramas, follow the same contours of, and are different in degree rather than in kind, if not entirely interchangeable with, those used by the Nationalist Socialist Democratic Workers Party of 1934 Germany.
It may come as a surprise to the reader to know that much less than the normal ten percent of Hitler's SS were considered psychopaths. And more importantly, that when discovered, they were summarily removed from duty. Himmler, the vile and evil head of Hitler's Gestapo, threw up when he was forced to go on an inspection tour where he had to witness the mass murders that he had ordered.
Thus, his main problem was not sadistic killers chomping at the bit to murder more Jews, but that of keeping normal Germans, who overnight had been turned into state-sanctioned murderers, from going insane? Indeed, it was modernity -- technology and bureaucracy that served as a buffer that would overcome this human revulsion to killing that saved the day for Himmler and eventually led to, not 6, but 20 million people dying in Hitler's death camps and ovens.
And while it would be wrong to suggest that Mr. Obama's use of drone technology is just another step in the progression of "mechanized stand-off killing at a distance," a chill went through my body when it was announced a few days ago, that someone had launched a drone at the White House?
Even though this was an accident or a prank, it nevertheless is mindless to misunderstand that it is only a matter of time before drone technology will boomerang back on us? It ever there was a poor man's weapon of mass terror, it is a computerized drone, a technology within the capability of even a high school student. How can it be that one of our shrewdest but most morally flexible Presidents does not realize this?
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