What really caused the Nazis, and how can we avoid their return?

I received a very interesting and thoughtful answer to my question I posted here and on Quora: PH said in answer to my question: “What really caused the Nazis, and how can we avoid their return? Are they something else, or is there a little Nazi in all of us that social circumstances permit us to exhibit?”

Excellent question! There were many factors which caused the rise of the Nazis, and to a larger extent, the Fascism. Their rise included certain economic conditions, a need to regain a loss national pride and purpose, an exaggerated past—-especially a mythological past, the creation of a super powerful enemy (real or imagined) as well as a scapegoat, just to name a few.

Nazism was an extreme form of Fascism. Many people try to tie both to the Left, especially Nazism because of the use of the word “socialism” in the formal name, National Socialist German Workers Party. However, Hitler made it clear that the use of the term did not apply to international socialism in the same way as used by Marx or Lenin. His use of the word meant the creation of a wholly “German social community”. Hitler also used the term “worker” which implied unions or worker associations, which he had no use for. In fact, the day after celebrating the International Day of the Worker—May Day or May 1st—with President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler outlawed and shut down all unions and associations! In its place, he created a state run union, the German Labor Front (DAF) led by Robert Ley. Hitler’s aim, so he said, was to create a name to attract as many groups as possible to his cause.

Fascism itself is a partnership between the state and big business. In Nazi Germany, it was clear that the state was the senior partner, and the party was the state. Whereas in Communism, there is no corporate partnership. There is no private ownership or boardrooms. The state owns and controls everything. Fascism also borrows from both the Left and Right; mostly from the Left on social issues, but the Right in terms of strong corporations, weak or no unions, a strong sense of nationalism or patriotism. This is what makes it so difficult to place on our outdated Left/Right political spectrum. We tend to think “either/or”, which is completely inaccurate when thinking about Fascism or even Nazism.

As to the last part of your question, sadly I have to say “yes”. I think it’s part of the human condition to want to find and blame others for what happened to us. We still think in terms of tribes, which are an extension of the family unit. Tribes can be familial, racial, cultural, religious, and even national, which is where our sense of nationalism comes form. Wars are usually portrayed in terms similar to tribe vs tribe. It’s why we demonize the other side; we see them as something less than human. There is a “us vs them” mentality that seems to be hardwired into us. It was great for survival once, but not so much nowadays.”

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How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist” By Leszek Kolakowski

I guess I am a conservative-liberal-socialist like the Polish philosopher and dissident Leszek Kolakowski 

“Motto: “Please step forward to the rear!” This is an approximate translation of a request I once heard on a tram-car in Warsaw. I propose it as a slogan for the mighty International that will never exist.

A Conservative Believes:

  1. That in human life there never have been and never will be improvements that are not paid for with deteriorations and evils; thus, in considering each project of reform and amelioration, its price has to be assessed. Put another way, innumerable evils are compatible (i.e. we can suffer them comprehensively and simultaneously); but many goods limit or cancel each other, and therefore we will never enjoy them fully at the same time. A society in which there is no equality and no liberty of any kind is perfectly possible, yet a social order combining total equality and freedom is not. The same applies to the compatibility of planning and the principle of autonomy, to security and technical progress. Put yet another way, there is no happy ending in human history.
  2. That we do not know the extent to which various traditional forms of social life–families, rituals, nations, religious communities–are indispensable if life in a society is to be tolerable or even possible. There are no grounds for believing that when we destroy these forms, or brand them as irrational, we increase the chance of happiness, peace, security, or freedom. We have no certain knowledge of what might occur if, for example, the monogamous family was abrogated, or if the time-honored custom of burying the dead were to give way to the rational recycling of corpses for industrial purposes. But we would do well to expect the worst.
  3. That the idee fixe of the Enlightenment–that envy, vanity, greed, and aggression are all caused by the deficiencies of social institutions and that they will be swept away once these institutions are reformed– is not only utterly incredible and contrary to all experience, but is highly dangerous. How on earth did all these institutions arise if they were so contrary to the true nature of man? To hope that we can institutionalize brotherhood, love, and altruism is already to have a reliable blueprint for despotism.

 A Liberal Believes:

  1. That the ancient idea that the purpose of the State is security still remains valid. It remains valid even if the notion of “security” is expanded to include not only the protection of persons and property by means of the law, but also various provisions of insurance: that people should not starve if they are jobless; that the poor should not be condemned to die through lack of medical help; that children should have free access to education–all these are also part of security. Yet security should never be confused with liberty. The State does not guarantee freedom by action and by regulating various areas of life, but by doing nothing. In fact security can be expanded only at the expense of liberty. In any event, to make people happy is not the function of the State.
  2. That human communities are threatened not only by stagnation but also by degradation when they are so organized that there is no longer room for individual initiative and inventiveness. The collective suicide of mankind is conceivable, but a permanent human ant-heap is not, for the simple reason that we are not ants.
  3. That it is highly improbable that a society in which all forms of competitiveness have been done away with would continue to have the necessary stimuli for creativity and progress. More equality is not an end in itself, but only a means. In other words, there is no point to the struggle for more equality if it results only in the leveling down off those who are better off, and not in the raising up of the underprivileged. Perfect equality is a self-defeating ideal.

 A Socialist Believes:

  1. That societies in which the pursuit of profit is the sole regulator of the productive system are threatened with as grievous–perhaps more grievous–catastrophes as are societies in which the profit motive has been entirely eliminated from the production-regulating forces. There are good reasons why freedom of economic activity should be limited for the sake of security, and why money should not automatically produce more money. But the limitation of freedom should be called precisely that, and should not be called a higher form of freedom.
  2. That it is absurd and hypocritical to conclude that, simply because a perfect, conflict-less society is impossible, every existing form of inequality is inevitable and all ways of profit-making justified. The kind of conservative anthropological pessimism which led to the astonishing belief that a progressive income tax was an inhuman abomination is just as suspect as the kind of historical optimism on which the Gulag Archipelago was based.
  3. That the tendency to subject the economy to important social controls should be encouraged, even though the price to be paid is an increase in bureaucracy. Such controls, however, must be exercised within representative democracy. Thus it is essential to plan institutions that counteract the menace to freedom which is produced by the growth of these very controls.

So far as I can see, this set of regulative ideas is not self-contradictory. And therefore it is possible to be a conservative-liberal-socialist. This is equivalent to saying that those three particular designations are no longer mutually exclusive options.

As for the great and powerful International which I mentioned at the outset–it will never exist, because it cannot promise people that they will be happy.

From Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial (University of Chicago, 1990).

 

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Questions for the New Year 2018

One of the things I did when I retired in 2003 was to list some questions I thought interesting that I might explore in my researches or in how I lived post retirement. I changed them a little bit in 2006 and just re-discovered them. Here is a slightly shorter version to take out conflict technical questions:
1. Why do people find it so hard to follow any disciplined process, even when it is shown to work?
2. Why do people find it so hard to apply learning from books and the classroom in the practical/work world or in their own lives?
3. Why does short-term, immediate self interest so dominate decision making? Is it evolutionary wiring we are only just growing out of?
4. Why do people self-sabotage so often?
5. Why do people spend so little of their time doing what they enjoy? Why do they try so few ways of enjoyment? Why do they invent so many ways to make themselves and others miserable?
6. In organizations, governments, political parties etc. why do so many stupid, immoral, anti-social people get promoted over more intelligent moral, pro-social ones?
7. Why do so many relatively poor people vote for conservative parties that do not serve their interests?
8. Why are people so obsessed with their position relative to others versus absolute level of their interests/life
9. Why do people want to perpetuate their genes by looking after their children, leaving them money, but fail to want to perpetuate them by looking after the planet their children need to live on?
10. Why are religions so obsessed with sex (the stopping of it or the associating of it with guilt) when their holy texts don’t spend that much time on it?
11. What would it take to convince the Republican Party/Religious Right to take global warming seriously? Aka why don’t conservatives want to conserve civilization?
12. What attracts so many people to war? How are they psychologically different from those that oppose it?
13. What really caused the Nazis and how can we avoid their return? Are they something else or is there a little Nazi in all of us that social circumstances permit us to exhibit?
14. How do we really learn so that we change ourselves?
15. Can we successfully change our selves and others to save the world?

Nearly 15 years on I haven’t really found any good answers. 🙂 But hey I still like the questions…..

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Donald Trump’s unwitting surrender to China by Edward Luce

Great piece in today’s UK Financial Times by Edward Luce.

Basically it says that Trump really is an unwitting Chinese rather than Russian Trojan Horse, and I think he and the GOP is too deeply stupid to realize it. And I think the Democrats not much better, clueless on the subject. And US capitalism too quarter by quarter short sighted to even care. US dominance was built on government-private sector partnership that China is emulating and Trump is determined to destroy for corrupt plutocracy serving reasons.

Sixty years ago Russia shocked the world with the launch of the Sputnik satellite. Donald Trump was 11 years old. That display of superiority jolted America to outspend the USSR in a drive that produced the internet and the global positioning system. Today’s Sputnik moment, by contrast, appears to have bypassed America’s 71-year-old president.

China openly plans to dominate artificial intelligence by 2030. Mr Trump appears too busy tweeting to have noticed. Yet China’s AI ambitions pose a greater long-term threat to US security than North Korea’s nuclear reach. Pyongyang can probably be contained by the guarantee of annihilation. There is no obvious barrier to China’s aim of leapfrogging the US.

“Whoever becomes the leader in [AI] will become the ruler of the world,” Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said recently. His observation followed China’s announcement that it intends to draw even with the US by 2020, overtake it by 2025 and dominate global AI five years after that. America’s leading technologists believe China’s ambitions are plausible.

“Just stop for a sec,” said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, last week. “The Chinese government said that.” Unlike Sputnik, there is no single Chinese action that is likely to drive the threat home. But the trend lines are stark for those who care to look. President Xi Jinping has broadcast China’s AI superiority as a strategic goal.

Mr Trump has said nothing about America’s ambitions. But his budget proposal speaks volumes. He wants to cut US public funding of “intelligent systems” by 11 per cent and overall federal research and development spending by almost a fifth. Nasa’s budget would also shrink. Likewise, Mr Trump wants to halve the inflow of legal immigrants, which would hit America’s ability to recruit the brightest researchers. It would make far more sense to offer them a green card. Chinese students often win Google’s coding competitions. “If you have any kind of prejudice . . . that somehow their educational system is not going to produce the kind of people that I’m talking about, you’re wrong,” said Mr Schmidt.

Can America prevail in spite of Mr Trump’s myopia? That is quite possible. The big US tech companies remain world leaders. But the gap is narrowing. China has two key advantages. The first is that more of its economy is online than America’s. Forty per cent of global e-commerce takes place inside China, mostly via Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, the big three Chinese tech companies. Their ability to manipulate vast troves of data faces few legal limits. Likewise, their scale is daunting. Last week, Tencent overtook Facebook to exceed a market capitalisation of $500bn.

In some areas, such as online payments, visual recognition and voice software, China is already ahead of its Silicon Valley counterparts. It is fast catching up on autonomous driving. Almost all such technologies have military application. Think of swarm drone warfare. Second, China’s private sector is hand in glove with government. That might seem like a handicap to libertarians.

But people have short memories. Just as Dwight Eisenhower underwrote the rise of Silicon Valley, so Beijing is subsidising China’s mastery of deep learning machine technology. Moreover, its digital sector is increasingly self-sufficient. With the exception of microprocessors, which remains US-led, most of China’s capacities are produced at home. It is decreasingly vulnerable to disruptions in the global supply chain. Should a global trade war break out, China could press on largely unhindered with its AI development. There is the reason China has locked out Google, Facebook, Twitter and others.

The same applies to China’s space technology. Last weekend, John Hyten, the general in charge of US nuclear weapons, caused a stir when he said he would resist an “illegal” order by the president. But he was simply reiterating the rule book. More ominous were his comments on China’s big leaps in 21st-century warfare technology. When someone suggested China’s space threat was as hyped as the infamous “missile gap” with the Soviets, Gen Hyten said: “What I see is very aggressive [Chinese and Russian] actions to build a force structure that would counter our entire space capabilities.”

If you want to read a nation’s priorities, look at its budget. Mr Trump’s main ambition is to cut the US corporate tax rate to 20 per cent. During Eisenhower’s time, the marginal income tax rate was above 90 per cent. That did not stop US public and private ingenuity from racing ahead of the Soviets. Today America is the world’s technological leader. With Mr Trump in the cockpit, tomorrow may look very different.

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Ranting: Channeling my Inner Steve Carell from the movie “The Big Short”

Some of my posts on this blog, people tell me, who know me and have heard me rant on the insanity of much present day politics, should be heard through the lens of the character Mark Baum, who is played by Steve Carell in the movie The Big Short and this scene in particular.

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Beware The Tory Cult that is Steering Brexit: Simon Kuper

Someone else shares my view that the UK Conservative Party is in the grip of Cargo Cult with catastrophic consequences: “The difficulty of Brexiting is part of the appeal: only a great tribe can renew itself through sacrifice” 

In South Africa in 1856, the spirits of three ancestors visited a 15-year-old Xhosa girl called Nongqawuse. According to her uncle, who spoke for her, the spirits wanted the Xhosa to destroy their crops and cattle. The tribe’s ancestors would then return and drive the white settlers into the ocean. New, beautiful cattle would appear. The sun would turn red. The Xhosa duly began killing cattle and burning crops. This type of self-destructive quest for riches and freedom is now known as a “cargo cult”. (The word “cargo” denotes the western goods the tribe hopes to obtain.)

Brexit voters come in endless varieties. However, the particular sect now steering Brexit — the Europhobe wing of the Conservative party — is turning into a cargo cult. At the heart of it is ancestor worship. There’s a widespread belief in Britain that “the past is the real us”, says Catherine Fieschi, head of the Counterpoint think-tank. Perhaps no other country has as happy a relationship with its chequered history. And the self-appointed guardian of this relationship is the Conservative party.

Hardly any of today’s Tories actually remember Britain’s golden age of ruling India and winning the second world war. Even the party’s ageing members are merely the children of the Dunkirk generation. Economically, they have been the luckiest cohort in British history. But they and many other Tory MPs feel the shame of late birth. They disdain the UK’s tame, vegetarian, low-stakes, Brussels-based, post-imperial incarnation, which in 70 years offered nothing more glorious than the Falklands war.

Now they have their own heroic project: Brexit. Cargo cults typically start when the tribe feels it is in decline, surpassed by foreigners. In Melanesia, the Pacific region with a tradition of cargo cults, locals came to feel like “rubbish men” (the phrase is pidgin English) in comparison with rich Europeans. “A recurring feature of these cults is a belief that Europeans in some past age tricked Melanesians and are withholding from them their rightful share of material goods,” writes Paul Sillitoe, an anthropologist at Durham University. To get these goods, the tribe has to the British population at large) to shut off trade with Europe. If the correct rituals are followed, the ancestors will return. The sect leader, Boris Johnson, in his biography of Winston Churchill, sometimes seems to cast himself as the reincarnation of the great “glory-chasing, goalmouth-hanging opportunist”. But the cargo cult is threatened by non-believers. They can ruin things by angering the ancestors. 


For 15 months, Nongqawuse blamed the failure of her prophecy on the few Xhosa — amagogotya, or “stingy ones” — who refused to kill their cattle. Now, leading Conservatives are hunting British amagogotya. Chris Heaton-Harris seeks to out Remainer university teachers, Jacob Rees-Mogg castigates the BBC and the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney as “enemies of Brexit”, while John Redwood urges the Treasury “to have more realistic, optimistic forecasts”. 

The sect also suspects Theresa May and Brexit secretary David Davis of being closet amagogotya. That is probably accurate: as Britain’s point-people in the negotiations, these two sense that cattle-killing might not be a winning strategy. Sillitoe says it’s wrong to dismiss cargo cultists as “irrational and deluded people” who mimic modern rituals that seem to have made advanced societies rich. Melanesians built airfields to receive the ancestors’ cargo.

The Brexiter flies around signing trade deals. Meanwhile, the inferior goods of today’s “rubbish men” must be destroyed. Hence the eagerness in this Tory sect (but not among
among the British population at large) to shut off trade with Europe. If the correct rituals are followed, the ancestors will return. The sect leader, Boris Johnson, in his biography of Winston Churchill, sometimes seems to cast himself as the reincarnation of the great “glory-chasing, goalmouth-hanging opportunist”.

But the cargo cult is threatened by non-believers. They can ruin things by angering the ancestors. For 15 months, Nongqawuse blamed the failure of her prophecy on the few Xhosa — amagogotya, or “stingy ones” — who refused to kill their cattle.

Now, leading Conservatives are hunting British amagogotya. Chris Heaton-Harris seeks to out Remainer university teachers, Jacob Rees-Mogg castigates the BBC and the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney as “enemies of Brexit”, while John Redwood urges the Treasury “to have more realistic, optimistic forecasts”. The sect also suspects Theresa May and Brexit secretary David Davis of being closet amagogotya. That is probably accurate: as Britain’s point-people in the negotiations, these two sense that cattle-killing might not be a winning strategy. Sillitoe says it’s wrong to dismiss cargo cultists as “irrational and deluded people”.

In fact, he writes, “Cargo cults are a rational indigenous response to traumatic culture contact with western society.” Comical as the participants might seem, “they are neither illogical nor stupid”. Certainly the Conservative cult follows its own logic. The aim isn’t simply to reduce immigration the EU is welcomed as a ritual re-enactment of Britain’s past glorious conflicts. Hence the ovations for any speaker at last month’s Conservative conference who urged walking out with no deal. 

A recent blog by Pete North, a founder of the Leave Alliance, beautifully sums up many of these attitudes. North, who favoured staying in the European single market, predicts Brexit will send Britain into “a 10-year recession”. He writes: “After years of the left bleating about austerity, they are about to find out what it actually means.” And yet, he continues, “My gut instinct tells me that culturally it will be a vast improvement on the status quo.” He says modern Britons have become “spoiled and self-indulgent . . . in the absence of any real challenges or imperatives to grow as a people”. 

As the psychiatrist says of the TV character Basil Fawlty, there’s enough material here for an entire conference. After the cattle-killing, many Xhosa starved to death, while flocks of vultures reportedly watched from above. Refugees who fled to the British Cape Colony were forced into serf-like labour contracts. But Nongqawuse lived on for another 40 years, albeit in exile, under a changed name.”

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Sea Lion in Debates

OK I admit I am a Sea Lion on line with Trump supporters:

 

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