Flutterby™! : decisions, decisions

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decisions, decisions

2005-04-19 17:43:48.95618+00 by Dan Lyke 6 comments

[Further Edit: Reading the book now. it's fascinating, and I think that I was misrepresenting Rees' thesis in the places where Pete was disagreeing. More later]
[Edit: Pete makes a convincing argument that Laurence Rees[Wiki] is full of crap and I need a better look at history, so feel free to ignore this post...]

Had the rat boys[Wiki] over for dinner last night, and this morning ended up driving Alec[Wiki]'s book bag over to him at school. In the process, heard a bit of Laurence Rees on Fresh Air. Rees is author of Auschwitz: A New History[Wiki], but unfortunately that book doesn't sound nearly as interesting as the discussion on the show. In it he talked about the differences between Nazism and other regimes that we often compare it to, like Stalinism. Rees' opinion is that one of the things that differentiated Nazism was that, unlike most totalitarian regimes, it was a social structure that actively encouraged innovation. Radical solutions within the framework and belief structure were encouraged, and the eventual emergence of the death camps wasn't initially planned, but lead from decision to decision until those who implemented the "work them 'til they die then kill them" felt like that was the only way to accomplish the overarching goal because circumstances had lead them to that stage.

I'm not doing his sequence justice, but he described a decision making process that started with the desire to expel the Jews from Germany, but when they couldn't find other nations to emigrate to, ghettos were created. Isolated, the economy was closed, which meant that soon those inside the ghetto couldn't buy food. The solution proposed was an organized labor system, from which they could earn food. But, of course, you have those who couldn't work, the artificially low wages didn't allow support of non-working members of the community, and this lead step by step to the conclusion that killing large numbers of people was the more humane option.

Through decision chains like this, Germans could accept a belief chain that started with "the Jews control Churchill, and Churchill won't let Jews living in Germany emigrate to England" and ended with "Jews brought the Genocide on themselves".

This struck a particular chord recently because I've been seeing a lot of places where there's a cultural willingness to base a decision structure on flawed premises. And while I could force and stretch some issues of national importance into these modes, I'm thinking more of simple corporate politics; situations where it becomes accepted that, say, someone who refined a piece of code was the originator of the technique, thus the original implementor is stuck trying to work within that flawed belief structure, because a direct attempt to take credit would be interpreted as backstabbing or disloyalty. Once we find a belief system that makes sense we build on it, rather than periodically re-checking our premises to make sure that the decisions we're making are still valid in the broader context of reality.

[ related topics: Politics Books Invention and Design Sociology Work, productivity and environment Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-19 18:11:19.092334+00 by: Pete

I haven't seen any of the source material you're discussing here, Dan, but going by your description, it's absolutely false in its description of the build-up to genocide.

Hitler explicitly called for the elimination of the Jews, in print, in Mein Kampf, which was completely published by 1926. There was no gradual working up to an eventual position of genocide; it was his stated goal from before he came to power, and he used the power handed to him to make it happen.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-19 18:21:58.344327+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

It's been a long time since I looked back at this section of history, and I'm not sure I was ever really up on the build-up. Was it true that he called for the elimination by genocide, or just the elimination of the Jews from Germany. Rees' was building his argument that the original call was for having no Jews in Germany, the original mechanism was deportation, and it was building from the problems with deportation by which Germans gradually came to accept mass killings.

[Edit] I was also tuned in for a short time, it may also have been that even if genocide was laid out earlier, Rees' was offering this progression up as the way that it was sold to Germans. It seems a widely held belief that despite the high sales of Mein Kampf[Wiki], it wasn't read nearly as widely as it was distributed. [/Edit]

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-19 18:39:27.354033+00 by: Pete

From the link:

Hitler announced his hatred in Mein Kampf toward what he believed to be the twin evils of the world: Communism and Judaism, and he stated that his aim was to eradicate both from the face of the earth.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-19 19:00:12.947673+00 by: Dan Lyke

Thanks, maybe I should read Mein Kampf rather than Mr. Rees' latest.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-19 22:02:51.446349+00 by: petronius

A somewhat shorter document is the Wannsee Protocol of 1942, where a number of high-ranking Nazis got together to set up an inter-agency working group for the Final Solution. Although the "Final Solution" is not specified, the discussions of how many Jews will conveniently die of overwork and starvation is chilling enough. It is being treated as an industrial problem. A very good film of 2001 Conspiracy with Stanley Tucci as Eichmann was made from the material. Highly recommended.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-20 00:15:33.009468+00 by: Dan Lyke

By '42, though, all of that stuff was relatively out in the open. If I'm interpreting and re-telling the interview correctly, Rees[Wiki] was saying that before the attack on Pearl Harbor (when the U.S. became involved and Hitler could go back to his earlier writings and say "See, they caused a world war! I predicted this!") the public line was still one of a series of events which started with getting the Jews out of Germany, not killing them in place.

Shoot, now I'm far enough into this that I'll have to read everything mentioned so far so that I can put it all in perspective.