Saturday, May 24, 2003

'The rancid chrysanthemum aches' --Hagiwara Sakutarô, Howling at the Moon

Isn't Insomnia the anguished knowledge that you have wasted the day, that you have done nothing?--And the wish for immortality, of whatever ilk, isn't that a spiritual insomnia, the thirst for infinity from never having grasped one's finitude in the world's particularity?? The fame that would fill our ears is a rude misunderstanding translated into archetypal clarity; the plenitude that consoles and delivers a creator at the time of creation is a precise comprehension of one perfect nuance of form--and you can jabber all you want about Art and artworks and never come close to this paradox. It is not for sharing. What the community can possess is an abundance of creative persons and room for them to grow in. Either a place sparkles with its own energies or it is a dustbin and matter-trap (though it explode, rage, and whirl with unconsummated inertias). When will there be a civilization that treasures silence, then music, and only after, speech? --Not by talking about it--

In case you wondered what the leaflets we dropped on Iraq look like.

A haiku by Lt. Smash:


A beautiful dawn
Scent of sulfur in the air
Not a tree in sight."

Friday, May 23, 2003

"The underlying problem is not that certainty is the opposite of doubt, but rather that certainty is the opposite of complexity. I sometimes think that the political spectrum today runs not on a left-right axis, but rather on a simple-complex one." --Silliman's Blog

I'm a Badger.

I see the Wikipedia article on 70 Virginis has been amended to reflect my contribution. When this star was first discovered to have a planet, all sorts of news reports went out that a "new water world" had been found. It took me a lot of searching, but i found the original article. Which i realized used information about the distance of the star that was out of date. According to Hipparchos, it can't have oceans (except at considerably more air pressure than on Earth), & so it is not a good candidate for life. But there is virtually nothing on the internet to reflect this--even on sites that give the correct distance... I may still write about this star one day; it has generated its own mythology so quickly.
      "Ort of the Bad Hours"

The brother of a cactus once i knew,
Scattering of dog bristles
Across the rust tile floor.
At six thousand feet
An upsidedown mouse.
I remember the silver dazzle
Of almost formless mist
We were driving through yesterday,
And the Wiki comes with me.

9 15 01

A wonderful compendium of some of the uses Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been put to, & related matters. (via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Zeitgeist. There was a time when, as a Whig (Retro Avant Garde), i prowled antique malls not in search of objets de virtu, but for icons redolent to me of the periods that i preferred to my own. Just the other night i saw "Down with Love", & realized that to be Whig is no longer even slightly Avant--it's mainstream. (Which won't make me throw out my kidney-shaped two-tier coffee table, though.) Moreover, this tendency has been visible in all sorts of places you wouldn't expect: there's been a renaissance in "Hard" scifi from about the early 90's; & even Retro chess openings, starting likewise thereabouts (Scotch Opening, Four Knights' Game--which i would've sworn would never be played again between grandmasters). And now i see that what we are experiencing is not just a Cold War Nostalgia--it's a McCarthy Flashback!

This is how i'd display my links if i knew how to do it. (via Dr Menlo) The artform of the Blog finally starts to leave its print-based shapes behind...
I say i forget everything--why? Does this mean i believe thoughts are only words and when i stop using a set of words i no longer have those thoughts? Or are thoughts consumed--without ash--in recombination? (Well, what happens to my food? I name kinds of dishes, but not each one: maybe what i thought yesterday and today, is just one kind of idea, a matter of chef's convenience, but the active part is its atoms--) I mourn the natural progression of conscious act into reflexive habit, not in my muscles, only when it happens with the brain-muscle... I remember everything, really: in the "unconscious". So this complaint is like saying: I shouldn't sleep. (Did Gurdjieff? Even at the wheel!)

The recurrence of my concerns is proof enough they were underground awhile and have surfaced again, like certain subway trains.

I'm not a naturally reflective person and it seems absurd to me now that i thought i was. The sort of self-perceptions i do have are almost traceless, they come and then meeting some interceptor disappear before ever having been verbalized & made permanently conscious. Like iridescent colors, green becoming red and everything in between, instantly, so that we don't have a chance to identify one at a time, but call it: iridescence. And i call it: forgetfulness. But isn't it rather the ternal watchfulness of that intercepting force, that my emotions seem viewed through an opera glass far away and small and brightly unreal? That puts a distance in front of my response? Should i say it's--reflection? Reflecting daylight...into a camera obscura. And so it is that i make images. Because in my dark room i am curious...but with a curiosity that is satisfied with any image--.

Four-kanji proverbs. (via Language Hat) --I think i'm going to try this in Lojban!

Thursday, May 22, 2003

"He's a tormented soul, because he doesn't want to turn into a monster; yet he enjoys the feeling of power.." --Stan Lee on The Hulk (substitute: The American Empire)

In a film i saw, [the Spanish surrealist playwright] Arrabal called Bobby Fischer a mystic. Yes. As there are insights which change nothing, so also does the world have impotent divinities.

If a sculptor of marble gets diverted into making mud-pies, that's not tragic. If the world runs out of marble and he goes around busting up old statues for their material, that's just being practical. But if the world still has marble and he believes (whether told or self-deluded) that marble must be made in the mind and can only be had by wishing for it, that's tragic.

    "The Last Artists"

They learned every coercion,
  forgot how to ask.

(4 17 83)

'Where men are lacking, strive to be a man.' --sayings of Rabbi Hillel, quoted in: Kaufmann, Religion in 4 Dimensions

Art would be so much less a mystery if we all were artists and never kept what wasn't fully inspired. Then we wouldn't have to bust our definitions trying to include everything that anybody ever kept...trying to put into words the nonverbal part because all we understand is words...

The avantgarde is a necessary position because today art must provide what used to be taken for granted, a common cultural context... --i wrote to [my publisher]. But the absence of culture is our common context, and so the struggle is not against dead traditions but against indiscriminate eclecticism. Most of those who appear to be "traditional" artists* have borrowed a few signs from the impressionists, some from the Dutch Masters (not much! not enough!), and the rest from the corpse-corpus of Academic painting as it has lingered in textbooks alone. What is their attitude? That subject matter and a certain "finish" make a legitimate picture. Well? By their refusal to take chances, they are killing art with Boredom. (Wanting to paint just like Rembrandt or Vermeer is a slavish ambition, but at least it's ambitious--like all those who climb Mt Everest after the first one...)

'46. "Weakness of the Will": that is a metaphor that can prove misleading. For there is no will, and consequently neither a strong nor a weak will. The multitude and disgregation of impulses and the lack of any systematic order among them result in a "weak will"; their coordination under a single predominant impulse results in a "strong will": in the first case it is the oscillation and the lack of gravity; in the latter, the precision and the clarity of the direction.'
*this goes double for NeoFormalists. What an epidemic of epigonorrhea!

We got in an old book on "Fighting Venereal Diseases". Glued inside the front cover is a letter dated 1920 from the Treasury Dept, US Public Health Service instructing that "This book is to be placed in all Dallas barber shops...You may not be aware of the fact that during the year 1919, over fifteen hundred Dallas citizens visited specialists on venereal diseases and were found to be infected with either gonorrhea or syphilis. Thirty-four of these fifteen hundred died."

The first new Chicken joke of the 21c: "comrade #1: Comrade, why did the free-range chicken cross the road?

comrade # 2: Because she enjoyed exercising her rights as a free citizen of the range!" (from

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

"Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspector, has compared the invasion of Iraq to Hitler's invasion of Poland. He told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that 130 Americans had died "for a lie", adding: "I see no difference between the invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Poland in 1939." Both invasions were based on what he said was an artificial argument of self-defense. President George W Bush had used the September 11 attacks as Hitler used the 1933 burning of the Reichstag to repress domestic dissidents." (from

Eduardo Kac had a rabbit made with jellyfish DNA, so it glows chartreuse in a certain wavelength of blue light. Here's his page on what he calls "transgenic art". I wrote this limerick about it:

      "On Alba, the G F P Bunny"

   With help from some whitecoats, Ed Kac
   Patched the genes of a rabbit in spots,
     So the right wavelength'd blues
     Turn her pelt bright chartreuse.
   What's wrong with this picture? Er...lots.


Texans who hunt illegal aliens. (I'm sure they hold hands & pray first.)

"Adamant nights in which our wisest apes
Met on a cracked mud terrace not yet Ur
And with presumption more than amateur
Stared the random starlight into shapes." --Merrill

"All those contactee stories, for instance, are framed in a kind of sci-fi imagery that permeates our culture. I could buy aliens, but not aliens that look like Fifties comic art. They're semiotic phantoms..." --William Gibson in: Mirrorshades

--Take a moment to consider that phrase: semiotic phantoms. I'm beginning to think the Twentieth Century can be explained by nothing else; that our term "ideology", far from referring to any sort of reasoned system, describes rather the simple prevalence of such phantoms that, once expected, punctually make their appearance. I have examined all the books that purport to contain ideological systems, in search of a definitive solidity, but found nothing but immense heaps of patches. The phenomena came first & every objection of common sense had to be dealt with, as it naturally arose. Patches, & still more patches! The phenomena were sacrosanct. Here is a true koan: why is it easier to believe some things than others? (You know, the first time it was raised, they made him drink fucking hemlock.) And i'm still looking for the counter-koan: what do you do to make someone stop believing something they believe in just because it makes them feel good?


I don't want to hear another person talk about the NeoCons as if they had managed to give intellectual rigor to their politics of bigotry & superstition. They are anti-intellectuals who read, but that doesn't make them intellectuals; if you read for the sole purpose of justifying your prejudices, that makes you an anti-intellectual. (Something the Right has no monopoly on, to be sure.) And it's mostly their "semiotic phantoms" which have infested the present landscape, & caused so much grief & havoc by the stupid things people do who believe in them.

Do you want an example? What about this thing they call "reality television"? It's actually games played with non-professional actors, of course; & only as real as the cameramen & the editors of the raw footage care to present. But what is the idea that it propagates? That none of us is any better than the most venal, self-serving humans they can scrape up. That ALL PEOPLE, EVERYWHERE will do ANYTHING for money. How very useful a belief for the architects of empire! This semiotic phantom, which properly should be called "Normalcy = Moral Squalor", although the people who harbor it would consider it a solacing & sometimes amusing adult-realism, was at one time the exclusive possession of pirates & robber barons, & heartily condemned by the majority of people who knew in their bones that a society is based on reciprocity & acceptance of civil duties, as much as it is on public buildings & infrastructure. And i don't even now think that it has become the belief of a majority of Americans...

Listen. I was just reading in Counterpunch an excellent article on Things You Can Do Against the Republicans. But little by little something started nagging at me, till at last i had to stop in disgust. It was steeped in a certain class-illusion, one i was born to & cannot wholly abjure, that i have to characterize to myself as the "Periclean Bourgeoisie Syndrome". It has to do with one's sense of personal empowerment, of the sphere of action possible to a person of your station in life. If i had been born otherwise, i know it would be utterly impossible for me to believe in some of the things i have, such as "you can be anything you want to be" & "what matters is what's inside you"... Not that it's not a good thing to want to always tell the truth, for example, believing that this is in all situations the route to an optimal outcome. But even the most privileged slave of Pericles himself could have told you that dissembling is required to the precise extent that there is inequity in personal power. (I would have made a bad slave.)

I think of a certain scene in the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair", when Pierce Brosnan is out racing his million-dollar sailboat with another rich man. Then he wrecks it on purpose, just for the hell of it. This is a portrait of American politics. Once i cheered, because the sailboat of "my team" won. Does this mean i really have a boat of my own in the race? You could say this is cynical, because it promotes apathy. My answer is that as a philosopher begins by removing all the false notions before he can ever come up with a new one that is possibly true, you have to give up your class illusions in order to see what kind of action is possible for you in the real world. I WILL be voting in 2004. But not to salve my conscience!

So, what does a real "blow for freedom" look like? What about that anonymous casino employee who broke the story of William Bennett's gambling addiction? Damage control can try all it can, but he's never going to be as shiny as he was before. And there's a certain blogger in Iraq, who i think has accomplished more than any other figure on the Internet (except maybe Michael Moore--): simply by being what he is. A human being, who happened to be born in Iraq... And how different these things are, from the idea of asking complete strangers for money, till you've accumulated enough to build your own million-dollar sailboat--that the officials probably won't let you run in the race anyway.

Monday, May 19, 2003

"...Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few." --Shelley

'Just as the most terrible fears come at noontide, when, risen to his zenith and hidden behind his violet shields, the evil Dragon [i.e. the sun] weaves his spells, so the deepest mystery is revealed only when the masks are removed.' --Sologub in: The Russian Symbolist Theater

"People often die in the night, devoured by their own nightmares." --Greg Bear in Mirrorshades

"There is a secret society of seven men that controls the finances of the world. This is known to everyone, but the details are not known. There are those who believe it would be better if one of the seven were a financier." --R A Lafferty, "About a Secret Crocodile"

"Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours (1739-1817).
Founding the Dupont Company wasn't enough for this eccentric French aristocrat who had immegrated to the United States. An avid naturalist and birdwatcher he also compiled two dictionaries in 1807, which he entitled Crow-French and Nightingale-French. In them he gave what he called the French translations of the various calls of the crow and the nightingale.

The cat, claimed the French-American author, is a better speaker than the dog. 'The cat,' he explained, 'has the advantage of a language which has the same vowels as pronounced by the dog with six consonants in addition: m, n, g, h, v and f. Consequently the cat has a greater number of words.'" --Robert Hendrickson, American Literary Anecdotes (1990)
An old poem of mine from the Eighties:

Hitler lost
but the concentration camp

"Solitude is the richness of self. Loneliness is the poverty of self." --May Sarton

'I still am able to find some enchantment
In trifles I meet quite by accident:
A book with title and the ending missing,
This rose I hold, withering, without scent.

It pleases me that drops of rain are trembling
Silver and pure upon its moiré velours,
That I found this rose on a dirty sidewalk,
That I'll toss it into the trash, for sure.'

--George Ivanov, in: Modern Russian Poetry

One of my Volapük poems: "Neif tü Reinüp" ('Knife at Raintime')

   Fidil pefalöl dese lusil,
   O lecütel, tobuls no dönu
   olükömons is lienetiks.
   Exilonok mekavamüster
   nesinifodio sembal, e
   mutob gegivön ad ol voli
   kölöfikum keli älärnob
   da logs ola, voli de fil kel
   päfanon fa ob de oliks muds
   tel, e voli dolas luplikün
   in ola lad keli ädünob.

(Ort fallen from the sorry sky, O great deceiver, Mad Octobers will not arrive here again. The artificial mystery has banished itself to some meaninglessness or other, & i must give you back the world more colorful i learned through your eyes, the world of fire that was caught by me from your mouths twain, & the world of most wolfish griefs in your heart which i served.)

Accent always on the last syllable.

"Maned with light, ember and anodyne" --Jamres Merrill, Divine Comedies

Read in Plimpton's Shadow Box about the meeting of Marianne Moore & Muhammed Ali. They wrote a poem together. Later she went to watch him box--wearing her tricorne hat.

...[In the closed stacks] i scanned Enver Hoxha's memoirs. The Albanian dictator was describing a meeting with Tito. Tito's dog kept farting. Then they went for a ride in a rowboat. The dog swam after them &, climbing aboard, almost capsized it (Hoxha couldn't swim). The dog shook himself dry all over Hoxha's suit, soaking him.

"...justifications for the prison's existence, six-foot letters in a language nobody could read." --Paul Park, Soldiers of Paradise (1987)

"A bureaucrat armed with a computer is the unacknowledged legislator of our age." --Neil Postman, Technopoly (1992)

The first qualification to be a poet nowadays is not to read poetry. There is no second qualification.

Do i not believe in my own freedom at all, even as i understand that so much of this & my earlier acknowledged errors, happened precisely because i knew better & refused to do the sensible thing, over & over? It's like the gambler who continues to lose money--you can't call it, after a certain point, hope. Only the shape of hope. Which is almost a calling, a cry for hope to come... I believe that, as long as i don't mistake this wrongness, my lucidity itself will protect me. With the same fearlessness, once i hitchhiked cross-country with nothing but a dime in my pocket; but the only proper use of this state, very likely, is the beginning of a very ambitious artwork (which all its other uses, are nothing but metaphors for--)... these knots i seem to be weaving, aren't they evidence of stories beginning to tell themselves, somewhere deeper than i have yet been able to look for them?

A new speech by the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy. There aren't many public figures i respect, but she is one of them. (via Robot Wisdom) Vonnegut's always worth listening to, too.


I am trying to reconcile two thoughts, though life keeps firing back, disrupting the ability to create. I want to do well on the occasion of this presentation. I focus on the hope of the mother-wordsmith and the father who makes moving pictures. I think their daughter incredibly lucky to be born to such art. So I try to reconcile the two thoughts, to whittle them down to their most precise point, so I can turn them inside out and make something new and learn from the mere act of creation.

My memory, a month later, is still saturated with images of oak trees in New Orleans; not just the proud stately ones which are insured for millions of dollars and inhabit the emerald grounds of the plantation famous for being so photogenic. Breathtaking, yes, but so scrupulously maintained; awe inspiring, no doubt, but that¹s not where my mind wanders. Instead, I keep reliving the scene at South Alexander Street where the oak trees are almost as old and beautiful, but more reckless as they have been victimized, boxed into a corner. That was a long time ago, a hundred years or more, and they have long forgotten how to be polite. There remain no vestiges of Southern hospitality on South Alexander Street, where the roots, the thick, twisted, knotted fingers, of the live oak trees have taken over, demolishing the sidewalk; an intriguing disarray of cracked and buckled concrete slabs. The handiwork of a silent terrorist. The sheer heft of these roots, and the force with which they reveal their presence, strikes me as powerfully poetic and even comforting, the way they just go on and on undeterred. I think if I could just capture the right words I would have a poem benefiting the birth of a child.

The second thought I have concerns my beautiful seven year old niece who, from the day she was born, has brought such enormous joy into my life. Hilary Rodham had it right when she said it took a village; that¹s what it¹s like in our household: husband, sister, brother-in-law, and niece. I show my niece a photograph I took inside a historic New Orleans townhouse; it¹s a life size portrait of a proud Creole matriarch. My niece studies the woman¹s finery, runs her finger across the photo, then asks me, in a voice that is both sweet and filled with concern, a question so frank it startles me, sets off a tremor in my solar plexus.

³Aunt Melanie, was she a good person?²

I can¹t imagine why my niece would ask such a thing. I look at the portrait. I look at my niece, her face so pretty and open to a world of possibilities. At that instant, though, her voice is tinged with something inexplicably fully-grown. I do not know how to answer her, but it never occurs to me to say that. Instead, I offer a pat explanation about how the woman most likely thought of herself as a good Catholic. I know it¹s a weak answer, but I hope it¹s enough to suit her.

Later my niece and I play a board game, and I still think of roots and my own childhood; the way we used to have to call the plumber once or twice a year because the cottonwood¹s roots stifled our plumbing. I think I might want to hunt down my grandma¹s old ivory dominoes and teach my niece how to play, just like my grandma taught me. And I continue to think about roots and childhood and difficult questions. And I am saturated with thoughts of these things."

Melanie Pruit

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism
Free Inquiry Spring 2003 5-11-3

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed
to the government's policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
They Thought They Were Free
By Milton Mayer
"They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945",
University of Chicago Press. Reissued in paperback, April, 1981.
As Harpers Magazine noted when the book was published in 1955 (U. of Chicago), Milton Mayerâsextraordinarily far-sighted book on the Germans is more timely today than ever·ä
This crucial book tells how and why 'decent men' became Nazis through short biographies of 10 law-abiding citizens. An American journalist of German/Jewish descent, Mr. Mayer provides a fascinating window into the lives, thoughts and emotions of a people caught up in the rush of the Nazi movement. It is a book that should make people pause and think -- not only about the Germans, but also about themselves.
But Then It Was Too Late
"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know it doesn't make people close to their government to be told that this is a people's government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing to do with knowing one is governing.
What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
"You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the universe was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was "expected to" participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one's energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time."
"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. "One had no time to think. There was so much going on." "Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your "little men", your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about - we were decent people - and kept us so busy with continuous changes and "crises" and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the "national enemies", without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures" that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - "Resist the beginnings" and "consider the end." But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have changed here before they went as far as they did; they didn't, but they might have. And everyone counts on that might.
"Your "little men," your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemoller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing: and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something - but then it was too late."
"Yes," I said.
"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to "go out of your way to make trouble." Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to you colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, "It's not so bad" or "You're seeing things" or "You're an alarmist."
"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
"But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to ö to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked ö if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in "43" had come immediately after the "German Firm" stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in "33". But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying "Jew swine," collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in ö your nation, your people ö is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
"You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.
"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done ( for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
"What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or "adjust" your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know."
I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.
"I can tell you," my colleague went on, "of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn't an anti Nazi. He was just ö a judge. In "42" or "43", early "43", I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an "Aryan" woman. This was "race injury", something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case a bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a "nonracial" offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party "processing" which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the "nonracial" charge, in the judge's opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.
"And the judge?"
"Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience ö a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That's how I heard about it.) After the "44" Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don't know."
I said nothing.
"Once the war began," my colleague continued, "resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was "defeatism." You assumed that there were lists of those who would be "dealt with" later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a "victory orgy" to "take care of" those who thought that their "treasonable attitude" had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.
"Once the war began, the government could do anything "necessary" to win it; so it was with the "final solution" of the Jewish problem, which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its "necessities" gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany's losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it."
 Milton Mayer
(via Metafilter)

"Party like it's 1939!"