“I Don’t See Color”: Racism

Personally, few things are more infuriating when you can see that there is a problem and others can also see that there is a problem but the supervisor/teacher/parent/authority figure denies it or just claim not being aware of it. Sometimes, it’s laziness. Sometimes, it’s an “ignorance is bliss” defense but it is indefensible to those who are affected.

This is essentially what color-blind racism is. It boils down the present as to be just being the present with no historical, social or political influences taken into account and looking at an individual as having full agency instead of being one part of many within our society. None of us are truly self-made beings; our values and beliefs are shaped by the society we grow up in, our attitudes and behaviors are modelled by those we deem role models, and punishments and lessons teach us what’s right and wrong. It is not until we are at a significantly ripe age mentally that we are even able to self-reflect and see the effects of our environment and the people around us on our development and what we hold dear. However, these are just values and beliefs and behaviors that everyone is subjected to within a society. Other factors like gender, race, class, sexuality, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, etc. limit us in other ways.

Our societal systems ascribe certain essential attributions to groups of people under each of those categories and these attributions may come in the form of stereotypes but also manifest within our policies, our culture, how employers hire new employees, the production and consumption of media, and similarly pervades every other facet of society. There might be some inclination of guilt if one is privileged by such a system that disadvantages everyone else but again, the individual often has little to do with the power structure already in place so rather than a passive hopelessness and paralysing guilt, there needs to be a proactive effort to seek out the ways how this privilege manifests and to challenge it wherever it is seen in your life. As he does best, here’s James Baldwin on color-blindness in 1968:

Here’s a transcript for some of what he says that are particularly relevant today:

“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.

That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.

I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.

Now, this is the evidence– you want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”

**If you haven’t read or seen any of his work, I highly suggest checking them out.**

Let’s look at a modern-day example:

The San Francisco Housing Crisis

There are several examples I would like to look at within the context of this housing crisis. First, there is the invisibility of poverty that is relegating the homeless people of San Francisco to the sidelines and the physical fringes of society because people don’t want to see them and local governments take great pains to keep them out of public spaces. Then, there are the historical processes that started with slavery and continues today with redlining, income inequality and other everyday cases of racism that further push and keep minority populations down the socioeconomic ladder.

Then, there is the circular relationship between reality, perception and discrimination. There is a racist preconception existing in the American psyche that black men (especially those of lower socioeconomic status) are violent and a danger to society and themselves, that black women are nymphos that have kids from multiple men and live off of government welfare.

The perception of black people as being the majority of the homeless and the meritocratic assumption that people are homeless because they’re lazy and/or are drug addicts leads to less effort to support the homeless community and ignores existing racist institutional practices and historical maltreatment which does nothing to alleviate the problem and so the cycle continues.

News footage shows us the homeless population in these urban centers as being predominantly black, which is not reflected in the statistics (over 30% of the homeless population in SF are black while they make up less than 10% of the city’s overall population).

The statistics above show us two things: 1) African-Americans are overrepresented in the homeless population, 2)African-Americans are overrepresented in the media.

People naturally seek out what confirms their preconceptions (confirmation bias) and the media footage proves that. That confirmation strengthens the previous biases and justifies them. Meanwhile, the underlying reasons why this huge population of people are homeless remain untouched.

Why are there so many single mothers caught in the mass evictions in San Francisco? Does it have anything to do with the over-policing of black communities that often land black men in jail? Perhaps the lack of access to adequate education and the school-to-prison pipeline that lock members of the community out of a job market that increasingly sees a college education as a minimal requirement, therefore keeping them poor and uneducated? Is it the lack of good financing options/de facto segregation that pushes minority populations out of desirable housing markets and into situations where they’re more likely to default?

It’s all three and more. What mass incarceration is doing to the men of minority communities, eviction is doing to the women. It pushes the narrative of this dysfunctional community of thugs and loose morals and a regressive lifestyle. But hearing the news stories and seeing the pictures of homeless black women with their children don’t tend to evoke these discussions about how the system has consistently treated them as second-class citizens or why so many of the minority populations have ended up concentrated on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

Color-blindness ignores all context and points at an individual’s shortcomings to blame for their situation in life. Why are there so many single black mothers? Because the men were taken away to be locked in jail. Why were the men committing crimes? Crimes rates are higher in majority-minority communities and also for lower-income communities. Is it because these communities had more criminals or were there just more policing? In these communities and for those targeted as part of the “efforts to crack down on crime”, even (jay)walking can turn into tense, potentially life-threatening encounters.

As far as it goes, fraud and embezzlement are as much stealing as larceny or burglary and the former often involves far greater amounts of money but it’s easy to see how the treatment of those convicted of them differ vastly from each other.

However, even that is questionable because we’ve seen over and over again how the criminal justice system treats those who pass through it. As far as it goes, fraud and embezzlement are as much stealing as larceny or burglary and the former often involves far greater amounts of money but it’s easy to see how the treatment of those convicted of them differ vastly from each other. The way we see those crimes as a society and how they’re portrayed in the media are certainly different because it’s not that richer people don’t commit crimes, it’s that their crimes and their actions are afforded more privacy and, with more power and better lawyers, they can more often get out of convictions (just look at what’s come into light since #MeToo).

There are so many layers to how our society and its institutions consistently favor some over others and once you start looking, it never ends. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed. For example, social mobility in the US is minimal; very few actually move up the socioeconomic ladder. For a country where social mobility (i.e. The American Dream) is lauded as one of the nation’s great virtues, its social classes are remarkably stable. That’s because social and cultural capital figure into how many and what type of resources people have access to and the ways upwards are increasingly exclusive and hostile to those trying to move up.

Intergenerational wealth is also a huge factor; there is very little an individual can amass against the power and influence of a fortune that’s been accumulating for several centuries; even more so in a country with minorities like African-Americans who literally didn’t have any money for most of American history and were kept from any significant means of supporting themselves even after “liberation”.

“…there is very little an individual can amass against the power and influence of a fortune that’s been accumulating for several centuries…”

Let’s talk about something else. Native American mascots:

I could only find partial clips on YouTube but the entire documentary is worth watching.

There is this notion that everyone is somehow “equal through consumption”. You can see it in how minority cultures are seen as things to be appropriated and gentrified. For example, black culture has long been commercialised to great success by celebrities and artists to be “edgy” and “counterculture” but the people that the cultural symbols came from whether it be the way they speak, the clothes they wear or the music they create, the original creators and holders of this culture are ridiculed and seen as uneducated, “ghetto” and a multitude of other stereotypes and slurs.

It is the same way with Native American mascots. We say, “What? It’s just a mascot. It’s not hurting anyone.” But it is. By commercialising and making a cultural symbol a commodity, a spectacle, it is the erasure of the original purpose and meaning of this symbol. It is the usurpation of what a community holds dear and is part of their identity. But it is not all abstract either. The reactions to abolishing Native American mascots are very real. Activists get attacked, spit on and receive death threats. If it is only a symbol, only for fun, as they say, then why such a hostile reaction to doing away with it?

It’s the sense of entitlement and the interruption of the comfort people had twisting another people’s sacred symbols for their own entertainment. This interruption of their comfort zone, this accusation of racist intent, of insensitivity. How dare they make me uncomfortable in a place I should belong?

Of course, this sort of casual comfort with disregarding the sanctity of others’ culture doesn’t limit itself to thoughts and “harmless” fun for sports games. Something else that Charlene Teters (the Native American woman speaking in the documentary) mentions later on is that the vestiges of Native American culture are doubly precious because its preservation has been fought for through bloodshed and struggle. To diminish that culture is to mock those ancestors who died being ripped from their homes, those that died fighting to protect their people and their lands, those initial Native Americans struck down by foreign disease and the Native children that were “re-educated” through Indian boarding schools.

That is what people don’t think about when talking about political correctness. That is what people don’t think about when they see paraphernalia for sports teams with Native mascots in gift shops. It should be. It’s not some abstract concept about what is an “appropriate” opinion in polite society. It affects real people. Looking at it from a colorblind stance where you only see the mascot as a harmless bit of fun during football halftimes is willful ignorance of a people’s heritage and history. A true understanding of the situation requires knowledge of history and an awareness of others and their perspectives.

“…politics is what gets to decide if you are counted as a person. It decides your rights and your access to resources and public facilities…. whether the law will protect you or hang you out to dry.”

Then, there are those like the Yale professor in the James Baldwin video above that was about to say “Not all white people are racist!” and more or less did complain about Baldwin “pulling the race card”. You might complain, “why does everything need to be political?” But you have to remember that politics is what gets to decide if you are counted as a person in this country. It decides your rights and your access to resources and public facilities. It decides whether the law will protect you or hang you out to dry.

Things like the Census are integral to this. For example, the first Census had three categories: free whites, all other free persons, slaves. Since it is a Census year in 2020, this is a reminder to take the Census seriously because it not only determines the distribution of representatives, it also determines the resources allocated to a population and if minorities are undercounted, as they likely will be, then the government funds set aside for our development won’t reach the communities that need it.

Only those who can live comfortably knowing that their government and elected officials will represent them and have their best interests at heart can afford to hold the worldview that the personal, the moral and the political can be separated. For the rest of us, colorblindness makes us invisible and that is deeply problematic where the visibility of a population dictates how kindly we are treated.

More Reading Material

Police Bait Truck: Entrapment?

Bubble Tea and How it Figures into East Asian-American Identity

Race, Class, and the Framing of Drug Epidemics

**Featured Image is of the payroll of African-Americans, both enslaved and free, that built the Capital.**

February Quote of the Month

“This circle was a temple which had been devoured by ancient fires, profaned by the miasmal jungle, and whose god no longer received the homage of men.”


-“Circular Ruins” by Jorge Luis Borges

[Repost] Metaphysics and Homophobia

The most persistent forms of bigotry/intolerance are the ones who aren’t as overt and comes in the form of microaggressions and exists when society excludes them from social and economic processes (think of Mr Norton from Invisible Man). It mentions in the video that some people, when confronted a subject of controversy like the existence of transgender individuals, may, with good intentions, respond with “I believe they can change their name, how they dress etc. etc. I think people should be allowed to do as they please with themselves.” In the video’s analysis, it calls out the fact that these statements are merely tolerant of transgender individuals and are just playing along. It’s like they’re talking about a child going through a dinosaur or a horse phase in that it is implied that the phase will “pass eventually”. This dismissal of what is a central part of a person’s identity is highly damaging and means that things like legislation which can help acknowledge the existence of such people aren’t being brought forward because their existence is denied by the legislative bodies.

Furthermore, the statement sounds patronizing. It doesn’t really matter if “you” believe because these people exist outside of what you believe. Your belief that they should be allowed to do what they wish implies that you have power to take away their freedoms as if their freedoms and rights aren’t guaranteed. Mostly, I get this feeling from the tone and context in which this statement is spoken in so this may not apply in all instances but my point still stands. The video goes into philosophy to help break down the arguments that ____phobes use to justify their views and actions and also goes into the more academic sides of such issues so if you’re interested, please watch this video in full:

4-Part Analysis of Invisible Man (Part 3)

[Synthesis with “Caged Bird” by Mary Angelou]

I thought this poem was very representative of the IM’s internal dissonance in what he’s doing and in what he’s feeling. This something that we see throughout the book but in these hundred pages, we also see him assume another identity; one of a public speaker for the Brotherhood. When he makes the speech for the old lady who was getting kicked out, he got his first taste of power. Before, when he makes speeches, he was ignored and talked over. This time, he had the power over the crowd and managed to make the authorities lose ground. After he joins the Brotherhood, he is indoctrinated into the ideals of the Brotherhood and he’s taught to use the science-oriented rhetoric they use. However, with his newfound ability, he also has restrictions on him that he’s never had before. This is can be seen in how although the IM is “allowed” to sing, his wings are still clipped and his feet are still tied. They tell him that he has to make speeches the way the Brotherhood makes speeches (through an appeal to logos, not to pathos like he’s used to) and he was specifically told that he shouldn’t “underestimate the discipline [of the Brotherhood]” meaning that although he’s been given an elevated position, he is still tied to the Brotherhood and has to listen to what the group decides. This will come up later during the trial, which we will not talk about just yet.

Like a caged bird who sings fearfully, the atmosphere of uncertainty that surrounds his position in the Brotherhood and as he became more involved in the Brotherhood, a feeling that something bad is going to happen grows. The first big cue for this was in the scene where the IM was taken to El Toro in the middle of the night. There are several things that gave off a bad vibe. First is the calendar that he notices. The date is April 1st, April Fool’s Day. So, whatever is coming up isn’t going to be good for the IM as he’s been playing the fool the entire book. We know enough of Brother Jack’s character now to know that he’s in the Brotherhood more for power than for change as he treats the IM as a means to an end and not as an individual. The other smaller detail is in the name of the place, El Toro, or the bull in Spanish. So, effectively, the IM is getting bull and being played for a fool.


[The IM treated as a means in The Brotherhood]

The Washington Post on how the fate of the Dreamers was used as leverage for the 2018 funding bill (link):

AFTER ALL of President Trump’s bluster about his “great love” for “dreamers,” brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, it turns out he’s content to use them as leverage in a high-stakes game of political horse-trading. Mr. Trump seems willing to strip them of jobs, security and homes unless Democrats buckle on a range of Republican immigration priorities, including an even longer-standing object of the president’s ardor: a beautiful border wall.

In September, it was Mr. Trump who terminated the Obama-era protection for dreamers that shielded them from deportation while granting them work permits if they had clean records and met certain other requirements. At the time, he gave Congress six months to fashion a legislative fix; failing that, the president suggested he would act unilaterally to ensure their protection.

It soon became apparent that Mr. Trump’s passion for his base, whose anti-immigrant fervor he stoked in the course of the 2016 campaign, exceeded his feelings for the dreamers. Prodded by White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a nativist hard-liner, Mr. Trump has made clear that his price for helping the dreamers is steep — not just the wall and additional funding for border security but also an overhaul of the immigration system to end family-based migration and the visa lottery, whose beneficiaries are mainly from developing nations.

That agenda is anathema to Democrats and would harm the country. It’s worth debating the merits of expanding visa quotas to allow more high-skilled and highly educated immigrants, but that’s not what the White House is pressing for. Rather, Mr. Trump is more interested in tearing down programs than building new ones. And, as he made clear, he now regards dreamers as a means to that end. Democrats, he said in a tweet last week, are on notice that dreamers are out of luck “without the desperately needed WALL” and “an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration.” But the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program cannot and should not be the mechanism by which the United States’ immigration system is refurbished.

The clock is ticking for Congress. The grace period extended by Mr. Trump to dreamers expires in early March but, as three former homeland security secretaries told Congress on Wednesday, the real deadline is mid-January. Unless a bill is passed and signed by then, there will be insufficient time to establish a system by which dreamers can apply and be vetted for whatever new status is available. Without such a system in place by March 5, dreamers will lose not only protection from deportation but also their work permits — a disaster for them and a blow to the businesses that employ them.

Many Americans may regard congressional dysfunction as a given. That doesn’t mean they will easily forgive a failure to protect dreamers, which would expose so many blameless young people to calamity with so little justification.

This article was written earlier this year when there was major concern over whether Congress would be able to pass a spending bill for the new year especially when the new bill would be cutting a lot of programs and be funnelling the money towards things like the potential wall at the Mexican border. In this case, the Dreamers were held as bargaining chips to get the Democrats to agree to the other “terms and conditions” that the Republicans put in the bill. Effectively, what happened was that a small nation of citizens was left as human collateral in a political game in which they had no say.

This, in a lot of ways, is what’s also happening in the Invisible Man. There are multiple characters who seek to capitalise off of the situation as it is with the black race and the white race. Even Brother Jack, the leader of the interracial Brotherhood, is in it only for the power. His view is very similar to what America’s Founding Fathers thought of democracy — they didn’t like it, stating that “The United States is not a democracy, never was, and never was intended to be.” Brother Jack thought the average man didn’t know what was best for him and that they needed some superior mind to guide them, much like how the Founding Fathers characterised democracy as “mob rule” and for a big chunk of American history, voting rights were only restricted to those who owned a significant amount of land and had to meet certain incomes (some would argue that this is also how politics are run nowadays but I digress).

In this case, the IM was used as a tool to gain support with Harlem and with his talk with Brother Hambro, the IM realises that they never really cared about Harlem anyway. Once Harlem was perceived as not beneficial to their quest of power(“weak”), they abandoned it. The IM then realises that to the Brotherhood, his race wasn’t what made him invisible, it was his “functionality”. They saw him as a tool and when they didn’t have a use for him anymore, they just threw him away along with Harlem. The mysterious letter he received is evidence of that (one of Ellison’s foreshadowing devices), warning him that while his work is to support the black community, his real allegiance should be to the Brotherhood and that if he tries to “go too fast”, they will oust him. It is like Trump having Omarosa and Ben Carson by him, both of whom, mind, the black community do not think represents their race and using that to say that he’s not racist. It’s like a misogynist saying he likes at least one woman and using that to justify that he’s not misogynist. So, as an educated black man, the IM is being used as a connection to the people the Brotherhood is trying to gain power from. He’s just a superficial puppet that smiles and stands behind the leader that uses him to gain something from his people and the IM was an unsuspecting host. Of course, Omarosa and Ben Carson was never the spokesperson that the IM was but that’s besides the point.

If the Dreamers weren’t such an essential point to getting the Democrats to sign the new funding bill, then they would have been thrown aside in a heartbeat in a similar fashion.


[On the mysterious letter that the IM recieves]

“Brother, This is advice from a friend who has been watching you closely. Do not go too fast. Keep working for the people but remember that you are one of us and do not forget if you get too big they will cut you down. You are from the South and you know that this is a white man’s world. So take a friendly advice and go easy so that you can keep on helping the colored people. They do not want you to go too fast and will cut you down if you do.”

The first layer of meaning that I thought of when I first read this was, “Wow, what an obvious threat.” The words “cut you down” was written twice, that’s how serious it is. Yikes. This was the first clue that the Brotherhood wasn’t working towards the progression of the black race because, in this letter, the progression of the black race was merely a front; the real focus of its members should be in expanding the influence of the Brotherhood. The diction of this letter, the two appearances of the word friend, is kind of sinister. It reminds me of mafia interrogation where the inquisitor is implying castration or torture by fingernail removal all the while insisting that they’re here to help and that they can be trusted.

Besides the blatant paradox between the Brotherhood’s supposed goal and the obedience this letter is demanding, the phrase “you can keep on helping the colored people” as if they themselves weren’t colored leads me to believe that whoever wrote this was someone who would feel threatened if the IM got too popular and that they weren’t black. Of course, the obvious suspect would be Brother Jack; he has the most to lose if the IM does keep on going fast.

Another layer of meaning lies in what it’s saying about real life social movements. One side effect of social movements like the rise of black civil rights sentiments in the 50s and onto the 60s is that people see opportunities to gather an audience and through their audience, gain power and influence. Riding the wave, so to speak. This can be clearly seen when Ras accused the black Brotherhood members of being sellouts. They were seen as partnering with a group of white people who were simply using the black members to pull the wool over the populace’s eyes with a false ideology. Again, this is the question of whether people can actually affect change. People like Bledsoe only believes in power within the system. He would also be labelled a sellout. These are people who are, on the surface, protesting against the establishment while taking advantage of it as well which is why intersectionality is such a big deal when looking at issues like sexual harassment or racism because, in the end, different groups experience different forms of the same thing and have more or fewer options based on gender or race or income etc etc. For example, when women got the vote in the form of the 19th Amendment, those rights were reserved for white women. Black women still struggled under Jim Crow for decades to come. We see here advantaged people fighting against the thing they’re advantaged by while simultaneously also benefiting from their advantage. The most obvious current example of this would be in the increasingly popular beauty trends based off of black culture, in other words, cultural appropriation aka taking the culture’s characteristics while at the same time believing the culture is bad. On Kylie Jenner, big lips and cornrows are attractive and a ground-breaking fashion trend. On a black woman, it means she’s not as accepted because she doesn’t adhere to the beauty standard set by white women. Social movements are complex and contain many personalities, many of whom are actually sabotaging the group’s efforts. It is no different in today’s environment as it was in Ellison’s era.


Discussion Questions

  1. How have the words of the IM’s grandfather changed in meaning in this section of the book?
    1. At the beginning of the book, the grandfather’s words could be seen as a dying confession of the guilt he’s harboring over betraying the dignity and identity of his people. The IM didn’t understand why his grandfather said that and he didn’t until this section of the book when he sees really how the system, though professing its support for the black people, is really corrupt in its own greed. In Bledsoe, he was disillusioned about his mentor’s character. In Brockway, the old man clearly had a few screws loose. However, in the Brotherhood, there were no excuses that the IM could find to justify what happened. He’s followed the system even now, listening to a white man and accepting a name given to him by a white man. There is something strange about a white man appointing a black man to be a spokesperson for the black people. Isn’t the whole point to having the black people’s voices be heard so shouldn’t the black community decide who their spokesperson is? Before, the grandfather’s words had a message of rebellion, warning the IM from the system and the IM feels uneasy about it since he’s been taught to follow “the straight road”. Now, it is one of bittersweetness, of not realising soon enough or not having the strength to buck the system. It says something about the tone of the rest of the book where marginalised groups had to learn, either through their parents or through experience (the hard way) that there really is no place for them, inside or outside the system. That people are born in a skin or an identity that can be perceived as inherently wrong and inferior and not being able to get out of it. The IM had to grow into the realisation and it’s painful and ultimately, he breaks down and gets out of the system, believing a non-existence is better than conformity and degradation.

 

  1. What is the meaning of the Sambo doll?
    1. The Sambo doll in the scene was another one of the shock factors in Ellison’s book. It is a grotesque caricature of a black man. The IM notices that the doll is controlled by an almost invisible string. This symbolises the hold that society has on them in various forms of oppression and microaggressions that they often cannot grasp or articulate. The words that are used to sell this doll also suggests a degree of dehumanisation, a circus act, if you will. A toy. What I think Ellison is trying to get at here is Brother Clifton’s breaking point and it kind of predicts what will happen in the 60s. It reminds me of McMurphy’s plight in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Basically, both characters are pushed past their breaking point but they’re forced to live on in this institution called society. In McMurphy’s case, his death liberated the rest of the patients in the ward. With Clifton, there was no savior moment. All that signified his death was the pool of blood after he was shot. This was a man that became too self-aware and so he was punished. There are no saviors in this world. Really, the Sambo doll and what it represented and what happened to Clifton was the despair event horizon for the IM. I think that this was a bigger turning point in the book than anything else before it because it physically showed what the IM was experiencing over the last dozen and a half chapters and he was forced to come to terms with it and with that, came the same realisation that Clifton had (although the IM did take his sweet time about it even after witnessing Clifton’s death).

 

  1. Was Ras’s approach better or the Brotherhood’s?
    1. For this question, I want to talk about the historical context. The setting is the Civil War era. Lincoln was forced to make the Civil War about slavery (the details of which I won’t go into but Lincoln was definitely not the progressive guy everyone thinks he is). Since the slavery issue was forced, Lincoln had to decide what to do with the black people he emancipated. Some wanted them to be moved to Liberia. A minority thought that they should carry through and integrate black people into white society. Many others had opinions in between and a lot of them thought that the emancipation was a bad idea. So, those that wanted the freedmen to be moved Liberia would be Ras’s ideology and those who wanted integration would be the Brotherhood (if the Brotherhood wasn’t corrupt). Historically, integration won out and that’s what started to happen albeit at a painfully slow pace. The project to make Liberia a haven for freedmen ultimately failed so although I can’t say either approach was better because, to be honest, neither have the right attitudes, I would say that integration historically has worked out better.

July Study Piece Part 3: We Should Start Over

How we should have approached things

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”

– Desmond Tutu

This is why we study history

Timeline courtesy of Nemo.

We may have went overboard the moral political indoctrination. Some would call it a “brutal education” in and of itself. The content was clouded by the method. There exist many conspiracy theories because people are distrustful of authority figures that break their promises. Some people are mad because the nation’s leader didn’t uphold their promises to protect their people, federalists are upset because they feel the government infringes on most aspects of their lives. The idea behind conspiracy theories is: “If they would lie to us on one occasion, what else could they be omitting to save face?”

The Holocaust is not a conspiracy nor is it a mere theory. Real people died, were separated from their families, and stripped of their basic human rights. It seems not like a distant memory but a horror story parents tell their children in order to behave. It makes humans into gruesome monsters who prey on the suffering of others. It makes us look like demons that walk the Earth and people aren’t comfortable with that. Many of those who were put on trial, especially in the Nuremburg trials, took the defense that they “were simply following orders” as to deflect much of the blame away from themselves. Because before the trials, they were regarded as “good soldiers”. Before the trials, they were assured that they were making their country better by killing “the bastard races.” Before the trials, they weren’t considered criminals who had committed atrocities.

Even now, David Irving asserts that the Holocaust didn’t exist because there aren’t documents that say “Holocaust” but that’s because Holocaust is a Jewish word meant to illustrate the brutality of a cult of personality… it means sacrificial offering on an alter to a God (Hitler called himself der Fuhrer). The Nationalist Party called it “The Final Solution” or “Endlosung.” It would do Mr. Irving good to actually learn German and study the documents that may still remain, seeing as much of it was destroyed when the Nazis realized that they had lost the war and Hitler had committed suicide.  Of course, he would argue that seems mighty favorable for the prosecutors and coincidental.

I would rather not focus on the Holocaust because there are plenty of prolific sources out there but I would rather focus on what would drive people to do things like that to their fellow man and how many years in the making such plans would take. Make no mistake: Hitler did a lot of dreadful things, but he also did a lot of good things. Otherwise, why would everyone follow a mad man? Hitler is synonymous with the spawn of Satan and considered the very essence of all things evil, instead of explaining in detail why what he did was bad. Not everyone understands or wants to understand that it’s the very mentality of wanting to kill other people “for the good of all” is not only flawed but morally wrong.

 

TL;DR: The Germans had many victories and crushing defeats. Those who either studied history or felt they were dealt an unfair hand were more than willing to “have a go” at those who were accused of being the scapegoats, even going as far as aiding in “rectifying” their communities by doing away with the “bastard races.” There were of course dissenters but there may be a slim chance that those who cooperated weren’t entirely aware of exactly to what they were agreeing. This is where the Hangman poem has the most relevance.

Our Idiosyncratic Beliefs | July Study Piece Part 2: The “Orientals”

An Introduction

With an insight on major themes of the detachment of public opinion through a psychological lens, we now take a look at the same motifs prevalent on the Eastern Front of World War II, specifically Japan. In the general time span of half a century, Japan has undergone a physical, spiritual, and cultural metamorphosis. From the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the country has since somewhat apologized for all of its actions during WWII and has maintained healthy economic and political relations with nations around the world. However, there are still tense undertones between the citizens of neighboring Asian countries and Japan. Their role in WWII has been downplayed or even denied; juxtaposed with the consistent badgering of Germany to pay reparations and make amends, some feel that Japan has gotten off easy, considering their role in WWII is arguably comparable to the likes of Hitler and the Holocaust. The interpretation and misinterpretation of histories, ideals, and communications on the Eastern Front of WWII blur the line of “righteous” and “evil” for not only the Japanese people but the general public perception, causing a mass polarization of nationalism and borderline supremacy.

Japanese Supremacy, “Land of the Rising Sun”
In the earliest time periods, the Japanese called themselves “wakoku”, or “Wa”, as designated by the Chinese [1]. The Wa tribe developed soon after the Chinese, gaining much of their influence from the neighboring Chinese and Korean (Paekche) cultures. The name, “Nihon” (Land of the Rising Sun), was first seen in Chinese transcripts designating Japan’s place east of China; however, the Japanese liked it so much that they requested to be known as Japan/Nihon/Nippon, Land of the Rising Sun. Around 500 AD, Buddhism was spread from India to China to Korea, and consequently, Japan, who based their religion on this influence. Their early expansion and development as a civilization came after they infused their government and politics with a conglomeration of Confucian ideals and Bushido philosophy (see Nanking Massacre, Topping Off China’s “Century of Humiliation”) [2]. The growth of Japan was now unstoppable.
So how did Japan, a country that started off running on borrowed culture, become the international superpower that it did by the 20th century, rampaging and conquering lands of Manchuria and Korea? Confidence from the Russo-Japanese War (1905) could be a factor. The Great White Fleet (1906) negotiating Japan into industrialization and westernization could also be a factor. However, in Hitler’s works such as Mein Kampf (1925) [3] and the Political Testament of Adolf Hitler (1945) [4], Hitler elaborates on what it means to be Ehrenarier, the “Honorary Aryan”. Hitler’s idea of the “Honorary Aryan” did not simply imply the “blonde-hair, blue-eyes” stereotype. To be Aryan meant to have pride in one’s race. It was in the blood. Hitler regarded both the Chinese and Japanese as held in high respects, and this, too, could have prompted the Japanese to embrace the title of “superior race” (albeit, Hitler still referred to the Japanese as Kulturträger in Mein Kampf, “culture carriers”, and recognized Western influence as the driving factor for Japan’s expansion). The only defining factor separating the Chinese and Japanese was their purpose in life.

“We (Japanese) were taught that we were a superior race
— since we lived only for the sake of a human god — our
Emperor. But the Chinese were not. So we held nothing
But contempt for them… the Imperial Army was consumed
With a prejudice so intense that the killing became easy.”
— Shiro Azuma, former Japanese soldier, (CNN 1998) [5]

As mentioned previously, the basis on which Japan was founded on religiously and politically came from other Asian cultures. The pedestal that the Western world held the Japanese at originated from (debatably) friendly negotiations between U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry and his gigantic, shining, threatening naval ships behind him. And so, how could an entire country be mass mobilized to believe that they are superior to those that assisted their development as a nation?

Nanking Massacre, Topping Off China’s “Century of Humiliation”
From the first Opium War (1842) to the end of WWII (1945), China has been at the mercy of the hands of various nations such as Britain, the US, France, Germany, Japan, and others (officially called the Eight-Nation Alliance by the time the Boxer Rebellion rolled around). After the Russo-Japanese War led Russia and Japan to fight for regions of Northern China (Manchuria) and Korea to conquer, tensions between China and Japan began to rise, culminating in the Sino-Japanese Wars. China was ultimately at a disadvantage, as they were undergoing a domestic divide between Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists led by Mao Zedong, leaving the Japanese with the opportunity to attack in 1937.
In 1937, Japanese troops were led to invade China, led by three generals:

“Nakajima has been described as a cruel violent man, a specialist in thought control, intimidation, and torture. Matsui was a Buddhist from a scholarly family. Yanagawa was a serious man who focused on the importance of military discipline and control. Their forces had reached the outskirts of Nanking by December. On December 7, General Matsui, of a generally weak constitution, grew very ill on the field and was replaced by Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, a member of the royal family, who brought the authority of the emperor’s crown to the front line in Nanking. On December 9 the Japanese launched a massive attack on Nanking.” [6]

From the gruesome events that followed, there are multiple accounts of horrendous rapes, disembowelments, and murders plaguing Nanking. Definitively, what is the difference between the events that occurred in Nanking alone and those that occurred during the Holocaust? And why, if they are both such gruesome crimes against humanity, has Japan not been shamed as much as Germany has? Is it because of the fragile political and economic relations that other nations need to have with a powerful Japan? Or is it because of the philosophy that each event was politically governed by? And why does that mere difference make it okay for the general public to hold one event to a higher memorial than another?
The Western Front and Hitler’s governing political philosophy was indeed Nazism. The general public opinion was raised on anti-Nazi propaganda; the usage of Social Darwinism to dictate a nation was absolutely wrong and needed to be stopped (see July Study Piece Part 3). However, Japanese political sentiment was arguably based on the honorable Bushido philosophy.

“It argues a sad defect of information concerning the Far East, when so erudite a scholar as Dr. George Miller did not hesitate to affirm that chivalry, or any other similar institution, has never existed either among the nations of antiquity or among the modern Orientals. Such ignorance, however, is amply excusable, as the third edition of the good Doctor’s work appeared the same year that Commodore Perry was knocking at the portals of our exclusivism.”
-Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan [7]

In Nitobe’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Nitobe details the loyal and benevolent spirit of the Bushido. The Eight Virtues are:

      1. Rectitude or Justice
      2. Courage, the Spirit of Daring and Bearing
      3. Benevolence, the Feeling of Distress
      4. Politeness
      5. Veracity or Truthfulness
      6. Honor
      7. The Duty of Loyalty
      8. Self-Control

The key to being a good soldier, leader, and strategist is to keep these virtues in mind for they dictate how one treat others. However, an individual mustn’t forget that as a descendant of the loyal Japanese samurai, one must serve his master well above all else. Recall the three generals leading troops into Nanking. General Matsui, the most benevolent and scholarly of them all, had given an order for his troops to invade Nanking with the utmost moral dignity to earn the Chinese people’s respect as their new rulers. He demanded the Eight Virtues to be enforced; however, he fell sick only to be replaced by Prince Asaka, one of royal blood. Thus, in dutifully serving Japan’s one “human god”—the Emperor—by adopting Prince Asaka as their master, ruthlessness, and bloodshed had fully taken its place in Nanking. Loyalty and obedience of the Japanese samurai took precedent, before all else… and just like that, the honorable Bushido code had, arguably, gravely and widely contributed to the Japanese soldiers’ mindset to wreak havoc in China.

An Interjection from LtDemonLord, “No Conceptual Scapegoats”
For one, the Japanese army had little means to provide for themselves once they’ve made landfall and resorted to pillaging the locals. The conflict that ensued automatically brought Chinese civilians and Japanese soldiers into direct contact, often resulting in murders of households and the “taking” of women. The death toll from the murders were then joined by ranks of the starving as the survivors faced empty food stores and ruined fields. The fact that the army at the time were made up of mostly civilians themselves (Japan being a country with a relatively small population) who are fed a propaganda-rich diet of self-righteousness and disdain for China’s resistance to their rule meant that they were far more willing to treat the Chinese as less than living beings than their more well-educated and well-trained counterparts in the navy and air force (as evidenced with their treatment of the Russian POW during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) although cultural changes could have also been the reason). Another reason for their brutality may also have resulted from the unexpectedly strong resistance they faced as they advanced further inland. Their generals, who believed that their campaign would be quick and the Chinese would surrender, grew increasingly frustrated as the war dragged on and their campaign in Nanking may have been the direct result of an attempt to frighten and subjugate the Chinese citizens into surrendering as many of the officers either “failed” to keep discipline or actively encouraged their men to act out their base desires. Keep in mind that this sort of senseless violence wasn’t the first time the Japanese had forced onto the people they’ve tried to conquer — in fact, Koreans who were colonised by the Japanese earlier in the century experienced the same dismissal of human rights and lack of humane treatment.
Among a people who you were destined to conquer and with divine judgement on your side, crushing those in the way of your Manifest Destiny becomes nothing.

Hirohito, Tojo, or the Japanese Common Man?, “A Diffusion of Responsibility”
The ruling figure of World War II was none other than Emperor Hirohito, Japan’s longest-ruling emperor. However, Hirohito’s role in the vicious actions of Japan during World War II is largely debated among historians. Some say he had absolute control over the events that Japan executed, but others say that his Prime Minister, General Hideki Tojo, was the true villain. Indeed, although Tojo was powerful, he could never amount to a ruling dictatorship like Hitler or Stalin. Thus, although both played a part, Hirohito and Tojo only worked to polarize each other’s corruption but never amounting to full power as others have succeeded to do so on the Western Front. For the most part, Hirohito and Tojo were only so successful in obtaining what they desired because of the mass indoctrination occurring decades before in the education system. Emperor Hirohito’s status as Divine Emperor and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s accomplishments as a militarist spurred the Japanese concept of being the “superior race”.

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 9.15.39 PMRiseofAsiaLeaf

         (The Advertiser, Aug 12, 1929)                               (“Rise of Asia”, 1943)

Even prior to the beginnings of WWII, Japanese education largely revolved around their “superior race” teachings. Those sentiments only grew stronger, however, with Japan bombing Pearl Harbor. Education then shifted to indoctrinate young students into becoming “children of the Emperor”, creating a mass production of young minds believing that they are a race of celestial divinity and immortality [8]. They were to remain loyal to the Emperor, to bring honor to their country, and to succeed in fulfilling “superior race” status. This certain upbringing, a common one for the Japanese citizen, proliferated progressively, forcing an entire nation into a “mob-mentality” type of society. Their whole beliefs centered on the idea to take back Asia from the Westernized civilizations (disregarding two-thirds of the Axis Powers as westernized), to lead the other Orientals into independence—under Japanese rule. Obviously, to post-WWII society, the idea sounds almost presumptuous. However, at the time (and even now in present-day Japanese society, see The Country Holds No Liability, “国家無答責”), it made perfect sense to the loyal and obedient Japanese citizens who were indoctrinated into believing that they worshipped divine blood, the Emperor, and for that, their blood also held some divinity.

RooseveltFeastBones

(Churchill and Roosevelt: “Their true character is that of devils and beasts.”)

The Country Holds No Liability, “国家無答責”
Throughout the years following, it can be observed time and time again that Japan refuses to issue a full, heartfelt apology concerning their role in World War II [9].

Not only World War II, the country cannot even seem to acknowledge its wrongful acts against its fellow Asian countries [10]. After the addition of the “Comfort Women” statue release in San Francisco, Osaka had cut ties with its sister city, claiming that the citizens feel as though they are being criticized for the controversial past of their nation [11]. Many Japanese have since believed that their role in WWII was not as extreme as depicted, or even, fully nonexistent.
This can be illustrated with denial of the Nanking Massacre ever occurring [12]. The Japanese believe that there is no official proof or record that the events in Nanking were so gruesome [13], and yet, even though they admitted to invading Nanking, they claimed it was a bloodless invasion. One website is full of photos that show peace and laughter between the Chinese citizens and the Japanese soldiers, and there is even a section on how the soldiers were not, in fact, violent due to General Matsui’s orders. However, the website fails to mention anything about General Matsui’s illness and consequently his replacement, Prince Asaka [14]. On another website, obtained pictures of the event displays the public horror of rapes, decapitations, and murders, contrary to the popular belief that “no documented proof exists” [15].
Here is an example of the muddled truth during what really happened at Nanking. The following is a famous photograph known as, “Shanghai Baby”.

shanghaibaby.jpg

(“Shanghai Baby”, 1938)

Japanese historian, Mr. Shudo Higashinakano, is convinced that the Nanking Massacre was a fabrication. He appears on a Japanese show to prove that every single horrific photo is edited by the Propaganda Department of the China National Party on July 1938. Higashinakano claims that the “Shanghai Baby” was taken by a Chinese photographer named H.S. Wong (王小亭) who worked for the Documentary Film Team of the Propaganda Department and that the baby was actually placed there for dramatic effect.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 11.13.19 PM.png

(unknown, 1938)

Here you can see someone picking up the Shanghai Baby. Higashinakano believes that this is the man who placed the baby in the scene, but according to another source,

“Moments later, an adult male, presumably the child’s father, arrived on scene. Emergency responders tended to the youngster as best they could before the man and child disappeared into the crowd. Wong never learned the infant’s name or fate.” [16]

Is this man working for the Chinese National Party? Or is he the Shanghai Baby’s father? The issue with this distortion of truth is that we may never get an answer… And that is the problem.

 

 

A Conclusion
With Japan’s strong connections and pride in their own country and government, the nation has made itself liable to distort the truth of its own past. In an even broader context, the online resources provided to a curious inquisitor like myself make it hard to understand what really happened at Nanking. Both sides appear to be extremely biased with no nations intervening with their own narrative of what went down. The Chinese government-funded Youtube channel uploading “extremely rare footage” of the events of Nanking filmed by an American pastor, the former Japanese soldiers admitting to the crimes while others are placing the blame on Chinese soldiers, and the power shift between Hirohito, Tojo, and the indoctrinated Japanese people… In an era where our idiosyncratic beliefs allow us to selectively put certain history behind us, one can only imagine what truly occurred to drive the Land of the Rising Sun to be in the dark about its past… and what our own governments are leading ourselves to believe.

Additional Video:


Sources Cited

((TRIGGER WARNING))

[1] Spacey, John. “Why Japan Is Called Land Of The Rising Sun.” Japan Talk, Japan Talk, 27 Aug. 2012, http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/why-japan-is-called-land-of-the-rising-sun.

[2] Watanabe, Akira, and G. Cameron Hurst. “The Meiji Restoration.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 July 2018, http://www.britannica.com/place/Japan/History.

[3] Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. 1925.

[4] Hitler, Adolf. The Political Testament of Adolf Hitler. 1945.

[5] Kamimura, Marina. “A Japanese Veteran Attempts to Make Peace with Haunting Memories.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Aug. 1998, http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9808/16/japan.war.crimes/.
[6] Cook, Karen. The Rape of Nanking: Analyzing Events From a Sociological Perspective. Stanford University, web.stanford.edu/~kcook/history.html.
[7] Nitobe, Inazo. Bushido: The Soul of Japan. 1900.
[8] Friedman, Herbert A. “JAPANESE PSYOP DURING WWII.” Psychological Operations (PSYOP), Psywarrior, http://www.psywarrior.com/JapanPSYOPWW2.html.
[9] McCurry, Justin. “Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Stops Short of New Apology in War Anniversary Speech.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Aug. 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/14/shinzo-abe-japan-no-new-apology-second-world-war-anniversary-speech.
[10] Baird, J. Kevin. “War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: Unraveling the Persecution of Achmad Mochtar | The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 1 Jan. 2016, apjjf.org/2016/01/4-Baird.html.
[11] Fortin, Jacey. “’Comfort Women’ Statue in San Francisco Leads a Japanese City to Cut Ties.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Nov. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/world/asia/comfort-women-statue.html.
[12] “Japan Hotelier’s Nanjing Massacre Denial Angers China.” BBC News, BBC, 19 Jan. 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38673407.
[13] “Nanjing Survivor Sues Japanese Authors.” BBC News, BBC, 29 Nov. 2000, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1047188.stm.
“‘The Shanghai Baby’ – The True Story Behind One of History’s Most Dramatic Photos.” Military History Now, 8 Nov. 2017, militaryhistorynow.com/2016/04/15/the-shanghai-baby-the-true-story-behind-one-of-historys-most-dramatic-photos/.
[14] Kubo, Arimasa. “The So-Called Nanking Massacre Was a Fabrication.” Remnant, http://www2.biglobe.ne.jp/~remnant/nankingm.htm
[15] Cook, Karen. The Rape of Nanking: Analyzing Events From a Sociological Perspective. Stanford University, web.stanford.edu/~kcook/.
[16]  “‘The Shanghai Baby’ – The True Story Behind One of History’s Most Dramatic Photos.” Military History Now, 8 Nov. 2017, militaryhistorynow.com/2016/04/15/the-shanghai-baby-the-true-story-behind-one-of-historys-most-dramatic-photos/.
Additional Readings:
Japanese Imperialistic Effects on Korea: Black Flower by Young-ha Kim (fiction)

Our Sunken Place |July Study Piece Part 1: The Psychology

“What good fortune for governments that people do not think.” – Adolf Hitler

 

In humans, there has always been an intrinsic struggle between the self and others. We must be able to maintain a distinct self-identity while at the same time be able to fit as one of the innumerous cogs of society. Because of this need to fit in, over the course of history, the actions and thoughts of the public have been hijacked many times to make them pliable under the will of their governors.

The idea of government and other governing institutions is to consolidate decision-making power into a central body so that the citizens are able to free their hands to do other things. However, this opens up the door to complacency where the public would rather not worry about the finer details of policy and lawmaking and doesn’t take notice before it’s too late.

There are several ways that we can be told information that is clearly wrong but we still believe what’s being said. In this first part to this month’s study piece, we’ll look at some of the ways that we can be suggested to second-guess our own thoughts, focusing on what we know so far from psychological studies.

Conformity: Informative vs Normative Social Influence

First, we’ll start off with a well-known experiment:Asch’s Line Experiment. In it, a group of students were asked which line (a, b, or c) most closely matched the length of the original line.

Asch_experiment.svg

In reality, within the group of students, there was only one that was truly a participant of the study; the rest of the group were confederates of the researchers. This is done to gauge how group pressure, even when the group is wrong, can sway a person’s public belief even if they secretly believe otherwise. In the trials where the group said the wrong answer, a significant portion of the time, the participant went along with what the group. After the study was concluded, when the participants of the study were debriefed, the participants admitted that they didn’t think the group was right but went along with it anyway.

Now imagine this scenario playing out in the real world with much higher stakes. This has happened many times throughout history. Ultimately, this study was done to gauge the level of conformity that we display in a group setting. In other words, this study demonstrated the power of normative social influence over our public actions: when others believe one thing or perform one action, we are more likely to also believe that thing or perform that action even if it’s against our values.

This sort of conformity is also why a person’s vote is kept confidential. Otherwise, their vote may not stand for what they truly believed in.

To more aptly illustrate, this is a famous poem called First They Came… by Martin Niemöller, a pastor and Nazi concentration camp survivor:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Inaction in a time of crisis is just as bad as having committed the crime itself.

On the other hand, we also have informational social influence. This type of influence is in how willing we are to accept the word and instructions of a person who seems to know better. Whereas normative influence comes from a person’s desire to be liked and accepted, informational influence comes from a person’s desire to reflect what seems to be the correct behavior or belief. This occurs more when the person in question doesn’t know what to do in a certain situation. This type of influence is partially why the bystander effect exists where since no one else if doing anything to help a dangerous situation, you as an individual are less likely to help as well. This is also why children in cults can be taught to hate things and people they’ve never seen and to fear things that they don’t even know. If it’s an adult or some other authority figure speaking, then it must be true because they know better.

That is simply not true.

Don’t give up the burden of individual thought just because you’re tired and don’t know who to believe anymore. This is the time when you need to think for yourself the most.

In part, this submission to peer pressure is evolutionarily hardwired into us so that we don’t get ostracised by the social group that we belong to. In the wild, this promotes our ability to survive by creating a like-mindedness among the members of a group so that everyone works better together. However, this also means that we are more likely to stay silent when we do see something that goes against our values especially when whatever’s happening doesn’t directly affect us.

Obedience

Obedience to an unsavory cause can stem from many reasons even when the person knows that what they’re doing is wrong. Most come from fear.

First, we’re going to look at another famous study: theMilgram Experiment. The experiment revealed the willingness of participants to harm another human being under the orders of an authority figure.

For brevity’s sake, this video helps illustrate both what the Milgram Experiment was and how it relates to this month’s topic (be warned: there are segments of original footage from concentration camps as well as the experiment — viewer discretion is advised):

Under the pressure of authority, even the ordinary, compassionate citizens would be willing to do great harm to others, sometimes with great conviction.

Power

Everyone knows the saying, “Power corrupts” and science can prove it. The first study we’re going to bring up is Professor Zimbardo’s infamousStanford Prison Experiment.

If you haven’t heard of what the experiment is, please watch this introductory video (that I found on YouTube):

In it, we saw how students who by all accounts were outstanding intellectuals at Stanford University turn into the abusive and abused that we hear about from news stories to the point where, to the students’ safety, the experiment had to stop at six days. All it took was six days.

The whole point of the experiment was to understand the developments of norms as well as the effects of labels and roles on people and their behavior. What we see that it only takes very little time for anyone to degenerate into a state of suspended morality.

It’s so easy to become used to ever-escalating levels of shocking events especially when the events separated from you by barriers. A different race, a different place, other humans. It shouldn’t matter who is suffering because of our actions. If it was happening to you, you would want others to stand up for you so why should you sit idle when it’s happening to others? This includes criminals, people who come from other lands, and those that aren’t able to speak for themselves (those with disabilities, mental conditions etc.).

If it only took that much time before bright, young college students who didn’t have any external pressure to perform as inhumanely as they did (they didn’t have any real benefit from treating fellow students like crap), then what would happen if we happened to live in a world where we thought we were the policemen of the world, that our way was the right way? We would adopt that role and grow into it, imposing our views, our values and our needs on others, thinking that since we know better, everyone else is better off doing what we think is best for them, never entertaining the idea that, just maybe, we don’t know better and it’s better that we don’t play God with the rest of the world. It’s easy to say that another Holocaust/Trail of Tears/Rape of Nanjing/genocide won’t happen to us or our country nowadays but at the same time, those that came before has demonstrated again and again that it is possible and might possibly happen again.

Cognitive Dissonance and Defense Mechanisms

A very effective way to squash a person’s conscience towards crimes committed or views held is to rationalise what is being done. Often, arbitrary standards are used to measure the victim to dehumanise them and make them a being that we can’t relate with and therefore don’t feel bad if they’re hurt, tortured or killed (includes mental and emotional hurting, torturing and killing). This is all to ease our cognitive dissonance and acts as a defence mechanism because no one likes to think they’re bad people doing bad things.

Rationalisation is the same as lying to yourself to justify your actions. It’s obvious to see with alcoholics and other addicts but it’s not so easy with yourself. This can take form in the associations we make to the people we hurt or through “alternative words”. This can be seen in the doublespeak-like fashion that we use to term unpleasant things. This might be euphemisms that we hear in day-to-day life or we might it hear it on the news and from our policymakers where concentration camps are referred to as “tent cities” and concentration camps for young children are called “tender age shelters”.

Other ways that people ease their cognitive dissonance is to victim-blame. Is it the victim’s fault for carrying their wallet in their back pocket when he gets pick-pocketed? People like to believe that bad things don’t just happen for no reason and that bad things won’t happen to good people. Rationalisation comes after the fact so many justifications didn’t apply at the time the event is happening. In other words, we make up faults in the other person to make it seem like the other person deserved it. It takes a very introspective person to recognise when they’ve been rationalising their actions and it takes a strong mind to own up to any actions they weren’t proud of.


In total, we will have three parts to this month’s study piece. We will, for the most part, focus on WWII and in particular on Japan and Nazi Germany. In the second part of this series, we will look at how the Japanese, who are normally a courteous and honor-focused people, managed to commit evils on par with and beyond those committed by the Nazis under Hitler’s rule. The third part will, then, be focused on Germany during WWII. Overall, we hope that by analysing these two instances of hate and unspeakable violence, we are better able to understand and recognise the very symptoms of intolerance and detached morality that led to what happened and prevent it from happening again today.


Additional Readings:

Causes and Motivations (Nazi Germany)

The Obedience Studies at 50

Post Hoc Rationalisation – Reasoning Our Intuition and Changing Our Minds

1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451

Framing as a Propaganda Prop

The Hangman | A Poem

 

July 2018 Quote of the Month

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

    – Thomas Jefferson

February 2018 Quotes of the Month

My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.

-Desmond Tutu

 

A dolphin gon shake his fin, regardless if he gets in /Or out of water, most important thing for him is to swim /And Flipper didn’t hold his nose, so why shall I hold my tongue?” – Andre 3000, Sixteen

 

APUSH Discussion Groups: Did Yellow Journalism cause the Spanish-American War? (Yes)

Stance: Yes (how the media blew up what was happening in Cuba in order to sell more papers)

Synthesis & Thesis: The Spanish-American War wasn’t the first time the Americans were whipped into a frenzy of mass hysteria: the earliest and most famous example of which was the Salem Witch Trials. Over two hundred people were accused between February 1692 to May 1693 and twenty were executed. They were accused of practicing witchcraft and people believed that they were agents of the devil and could bring curses upon those they didn’t like. It turned out that there was a strong correspondence between the wealth and status of the accused and the accusers. The economic hardships of the time as well as their deep-seated superstitions and resentment caused the Trials and their beliefs spurred on by rumors and fear, spiralled out of control and resulted in very real consequences, much like the baselessness of the Spanish-American War. With the press actively working to encourage war, public opinion soon became putty to be molded according to the news headline of the day. With news stories so completely false and separate from the facts and yet having a massive following with eye-catching headlines, the US and Spanish government was soon backed into a corner where one had to fight to save face or risk rebellion and the other had to fight to relieve the bloodlust of its people. Yellow journalism caused the War by putting forth false and sensationalist news that fuelled public outrage and then forced the hand of the government through the pressure of public opinion.

Points:

  • Background-
    • Main players involved Hearst & Pulitzer, together had millions of readers
    • Penny newspaper means customers who are mid-lower class = less interested in mundane news = a lucrative business selling sensational headlines
    • Pulitzer and Hearst were rivals in the business
      • Pulitzer was against war but printed pro-war to increase circulation
  •  Incidents and Effects
    • De Lome’s Letter- construed as “the worse insult in American history”
    • He had to resign and it wasn’t much of a big deal if not for…
  •  Maine in Cuba
    • Was in Cuba on the pretense of being “a friendly act of courtesy”, the Vizcaya was sent to the US in return
    • Was hailed as the first “offensive” of the United States into Cuba by media
    • Was blown up, media blamed it on Spanish gov’t and spread the news that the Maine was blown up by mines planted by the Spanish government
  •  Vizcaya
    • Vizcaya arrived just after the Maine explosion
      • Front-page news for weeks, all spewing pro-war headlines of course
      • Suspected Vizcaya of ulterior motives– offended, Spanish officials barred Hearst’s men from boarding which caused more suspicious rumors
      • moon w/ two rings = sign from heaven
      • testimonials of wretched mothers (even made up a quote from Roosevelt), people volunteering to fight and condemned peace attempts as twaddle, whipping people up to a war-ready frenzy — revenge