Oh, the Humanity


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

Related Post Roulette

165 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Now, as you may have surmised, I, being of empathetic mind and body, would NEVER EVER EVER kill baby Hitler. I would kidnap him and raise him better, in a different time and place, where I would give him all the pets he wanted and a lot of construction paper and glue sticks and crayons and maybe even some glitter if I could stand it, because I do not believe that any person is destined to be evil.

    I want to push back a bit on this, because I think this is dumping a lot on the shoulders of parents who happen to have children who do bad things, despite the fact that they’re often perfectly decent parents. Twin studies show that personality traits tend to be attributable almost entirely to genetics and non-shared environment (a technical term for “random stuff we can’t explain, but probably mostly measurement error”), with shared environment (which includes parenting and family income) explaining little if anything. Here’s a study of the heritability of psychopathic personality, with findings consistent with that general rule.

    It’s really shocking how little this stuff matters. Intuitively you’d think it would, but nope.

    Anyway, if you kidnapped baby Hitler and brought him to the future, you’re right that he probably wouldn’t grow up to murder 20 million people and start a war that killed 60 million more, but mostly because the unlikely combination of events that put him in power wouldn’t happen in a different time and place, and not because you raised him so well.

    As a personal example, my father’s parents were pretty swell people—especially my grandfather, who was a war hero and married my grandmother after her husband ran out on her and my one-year-old father—but their other son was a total POS. Some people are just fished up for no apparent reason.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I remember reading something a million years ago about how You-Know-Who’s childhood was magnificently messed up. One shrink said something to the effect of “it was the most messed up childhood he’d ever seen that did not have a single positive role model that did not result in an alcoholic/drug addict or petty criminal”.

      I have no real desire to dig for that (and don’t remember the phrasing well enough for it to pop up immediately without references to You-Know-Who) but, if it’s accurate, You-Know-Who might have actually benefitted from friends and role models.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I was thinking about this push back also. There are genetic alignments that would result in babies being born without sufficient tools that would easily develop sympathy, compassion and empathy that would eventually dull the acuteness of indifference.

      I would hope the number of those would be marginally small enough as to be rare exceptions and not the general rule, which I think is the context Kristin is using, but I could be wrong.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Except that that study was looking at personality traits as measured by clinical instruments, not at actual behavior out in the world.

      It’s entirely possible both for basic personality traits to be highly heritable, and for how those traits manifest themselves to be highly affected by environment. Psychopathic traits are shared by a lot of people who don’t behave in ways we find objectionable, or who have compensatory factors that lead us to excuse their way-less-than-Hitler objectionable behaviors, as well as those we object to.

      tl;dr Baby Hitler would arguably never grow up to be Fannie Lou Hamer, but he might very well, given different conditioning, have grown up to be Steve Jobs. Which seems like a much better outcome…Report

    • I actually completely agree with you about dumping too much blame for troubled kids onto parents. Oddly enough, I happen to be pretty to speed on the twin studies due to some research I’ve done for work.

      The thing is that 50% genetics, 50% non-shared environment (which is what the research I’ve read found) means that 50% of the outcome comes from the world around a person – friends, school, culture as a whole, etd. which parents have a huge amount of influence over. So were I to snag Baby Hitler from his cradle and plunk him in a different environment, from minute one he’d have 50% of his outcome changed because he’d be in a different environment. Even if I spanked him rather than gave him time outs, LOL. Even if, as the study you posted was correct and it was really more like 70% genetics and 30% non-shared environment, 30% is still a huge difference.

      (and this is entirely aside from the fact that Hitler came to power in a time that allowed him to, rather than just being a freaky dude you don’t want to end up sitting next to on the bus. I’m talking straight across his personality, not what came after.)

      So I both agree with you that it’s lousy when people blame parents for everything but at the same time I do think taking a child into a different environment can lead to a different outcome regardless of their genome.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I don’t think Hitler started down his evil path until he was in his early 30’s, when he self-radicalized. Prior to that he was just a maladjusted artistic loner looking for a purpose, in a sea of European racism, conspiracy theories, socialist revolution, and street violence.

      His influences have been debated at length, and here is a New Yorker article that delves into all the different approaches historians have taken on it.

      In contrast, Mussolini was likely a textbook sociopath. As a boy, he’d been expelled from a number of schools for doing things like stabbing a fellow student and laughing maniacally or smashing a girl’s face into a water fountain – and laughing maniacally. He was glib, superficial, grandiose, probably unable to form close personal bonds (he had a long string of girlfriends and no close friends), and the people he first had murdered were former colleagues in the Italian Socialist Party, people he had been personally close to. But his rule was mostly pomp and grandiose buffoonery so nobody cares all that much.

      As for the Hindenburg, in our original timeline Democrats lost the House in the 1938 mid-term elections. The Nazis had been overthrown in a coup d’etat by Prussian generals, in a plot hatched by an officer on the Hindenburg a few months after it arrived in New Jersey. A few months after the coup, they threatened France and were forced to capitulate in the face on an overwhelming French and British response in which hundreds of soldiers and dozens of civilians died in border clashes near the Alsace. But in a side show, disaffected German communists stormed a US destroyer that was paying a port visit to Konigsberg and gave our sailors wedgies on camera. The American public was so upset at the Roosevelt Administration’s weakness over the wedgie incident that the House flipped to Republican control. So FDR and the Democrat National Committee had Dr Indiana Jones use his recovered ancient stone device to travel back 18 months in the past, blow up the Hindenberg, and stop the Prussian officers coup. And the rest, as we say, is history.Report

  2. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    I was thinking: yeah, but they ARE fellow human beings, and we do not want to stoop to whatever level they are at, this is why we don’t rejoice when they die. Also, people are possibly redeemable: I have read enough articles about people who left violent gangs or the skinhead movement and now regret what they were in the past, and are working to be better in the future.

    I also think that when you begin to turn your opponents/enemies into cartoons that are “easy” to kill, you lose a bit of yourself. I know a lot of people cringe at some WWII era political cartoons (and even actual cartoons; check out the “banned Looney Tunes” on YouTube or somewhere) that contain some pretty shocking (at least to a modern person) racial stereotypes….We even saw a bit of that post 9-11.

    I think a related point is the political ugliness. I would much, much, much rather argue about “this politician has bad ideas” or “their motivation is not good” or “they are not considering these particular points” than “Oooh, they’re ugly and they dress funny!” But it seems that political discourse has dropped to the level of schoolyard insult, and that doesn’t get us anywhere, it seems to me.

    I tend to be similar to what’s described online as a Highly Sensitive Person – similar to your empath, and yeah, it kind of sucks. I know I regularly joke that the hermits in the Monty Python Hermits sketch had the right idea…Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    The flip side to the humanity of people we consider evil, is how commonplace evil behavior is.

    If you were to travel back to 1936 Berlin and visit with enthusiastic Nazi families, what would we expect to see? Demons with horns and fangs?
    Nazis were loving doting parents, cheerful friendly coworkers and generous humanitarians.

    And also, with every bit as much vigor, willing to applaud and commit the most horrific crimes.

    Which of those actions defined them, and could serve as a single summary judgement of their character?

    In the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters is our actions. We argue about politics so as to find an avenue to resolve things with a minimum of violence, not to weigh each other’s souls.

    When we describe opposing ideas as evil, we aren’t making some abstract philosophical comment. We are marking out boundaries, red lines that when crossed will result in violence.Report

    • Avatar Mark in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Jesse Owens commented that he was personally well treated in Berlin by random people in the street often better than random white people back home in Ohio treated him. Human beings are complex. We can emphasize with Germans dying in an aviation accident without supporting Nazism. I feel for German soldiers in the cold of Stalingrad, but I’m glad they lost. The US wars in the Levant are misbegotten, but I think most American soldier are gallant.
      Morality means learning to make distinctions. It is improper to surprise a pretty girl with a kiss, but there are times when it is the best thing on earth.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Yes. The amazon tv series “Man in the High Tower” does a chillingly good job of showing just how easily Nazis could fit the 1950s ideal of an American family, and how even the really vile ones were human, with families they loved.

      It is one of things that scares me most in the modern era. How easy it is to overlook currents carrying us to great evil because the individuals in the mass of evil babies are just ordinary working class or middle class Americans…Report

    • If you read that piece up there and didn’t take away “evil behavior is shockingly commonplace” from what I wrote, then I am at a loss.

      I mean, your comment seems as if you’re explaining to me the entire point of what I just wrote up there, as if I wasn’t saying precisely that??

      Where we are going to forever be two ships passing in the night, Chip, is that you seem to think you’re immune from human foibles and I believe that no one is immune.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Let me be more blunt.

        What I didn’t see and wanted to add, was that violence is sometimes necessary even when the participants and circumstances are morally ambiguous.Report

        • Nice of you to take the mask off for me.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          violence is sometimes necessary even when the participants and circumstances are morally ambiguous.

          As long as it is in service to the greater good, I don’t see how anything bad could come out of this.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

            Yep, which is exactly my point.
            How do we know when violence is justified, since we often fool ourselves?

            We dont! We can never know withat certainty.

            And yet…we are called upon to govern ourselves and to make binary irrevocable choices.

            Acknowledging the humanity of others and the moral complexity doesn’t absolve us of agency as citizens.Report

            • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              “The necessary consequence of man’s right to life is his right to self-defense. In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. All the reasons which make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative.

              If some “pacifist” society renounced the retaliatory use of force, it would be left helplessly at the mercy of the first thug who decided to be immoral. Such a society would achieve the opposite of its intention: instead of abolishing evil, it would encourage and reward it.”

              (That sounds about right.)Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal says:

                It sounds great, because it is a lazy formulation that doesn’t do any useful work.

                When a native attacks a group of settlers, who is the one initiating violence?

                When a sheriff violently evicts a squatter, who is initiating violence?

                I’ve never seen a clean and trustworthy algorithm that can always and clearly define justified versus unjustified violence.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Lazier than what? Because you really didn’t bring anything to the table other than a eight ball that reads uncertainty every time.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal says:

                The quotation doesn’t offer any assistance in determining when violence is justified or not since it is very nearly a tautology.

                “Initiating violence is evil, but not defending oneself is also evil.”

                But the problem bedeviling philosophers for eons is defining those terms.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                It says it write up there:
                “initiation of physical force”

                There is no tautology in that statement.

                At least one philosopher made a good go of it, it’s a shame more people don’t read it or make any attempt at understanding it.

                Would you expect the settlers to not self defend?

                If the sheriff is violent, would you expect the squatter to not self defend?

                It’s also not as if prior thinkers didn’t come up with something along the lines of:

                Self-defence is nature’s eldest law.

                If you want to say there is no social truth that can be claimed, I’m good with that, but you still cannot continue making that claim within the realms of individual constructs, as a good many people are rather rigid about that construct.

                If you think it isn’t truth, then go put it to the test, empirically.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal says:

                You don’t think something about this seems off?

                Like, if I squat on your property and refuse to leave, the one who forcibly tries to remove me is the one committing evil?

                Even as a lefty in good standing, this seems…extreme.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                What would the expectation be in a civilized society?

                Maybe we are talking past each other in degrees of measure. I will admit there are more narrow and wider measures in what we are discussing, but if the alternative is uncertain nihlism then both of us have to give up on the concept of a civilized society. Which i am suspicious of the concept of society anyway, so i have one foot pointed in that direction already.

                If you have anything better than what she wrote, let’s hear it.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          “violence is sometimes necessary” has historically not been the position of intellectual progressive toleranceReport

  4. Avatar CJColucci says:

    I didn’t think that way when I was eleven, and most people I know didn’t, either. My limited acquaintance with contemporary eleven-year-olds is consistent with what I remember. The Baby Hitler meme is a conversation starter. I doubt it reflects anything real. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I travel in the wrong circles. I don’t think so, but I am willing to be persuaded.Report

  5. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    This post reminds me of the discussion we had of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” on the occasion of Ursula LeGuin’s death. I wouldn’t go back and kill baby Hitler either. Maybe you would be just making room for Himmler or Goebbels.

    It seems as though you are saying that you stepped back from liberalism because some people who are liberals say or do stupid things. I suspect you aren’t the only one, but at the same time it bothers me a bit. People everywhere of all sorts are doing and saying stupid things. They want to look all badass and stuff.

    Anyway, your empathy does not surprise me. What surprises me is when it hides.Report

    • That’s actually not what I’m saying. I stepped back from liberalism because I felt and feel that the solutions the left is offering are not going to work with human nature and in many cases will make matters substantially worse.

      And just because I have a different solution to the world’s problems than you doesn’t mean my empathy is hiding. Two people can have different solutions to a problem both acknowledge and that doesn’t mean that one is any less empathetic than the other.

      Thanks for reading.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Isn’t also possible that you find conservative proposals less threatening than liberal ones?

        Like for instance you may find feminists strident and unpleasant while bans on abortion are unthreatening?Report

        • Like for instance, how I am a feminist, and I have an entire blog in which I talk about feminism at length and it even has the word “FEMINIST” in there in great big old letters?

          Like for instance how I also have written on this very site about how even though I dislike abortion, I wouldn’t ban it because the costs to civil liberties particularly for women would be too high?

          A person can have a different set of solutions for society’s problems than you personally want and in fact be just as empathetic as you are, if not more so. I disagree with ideas that I think are unworkable, impractical, immoral, and not out of a lack of empathy on my part.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            And when a decision is made on whether to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights vs one who wants to ban it…?

            I get what you are saying about moral complexity but actions are often binary choices. We pull the trigger or not and any choice we make has consequences.Report

            • I have never cast a vote for a candidate on that basis.

              But imagine if you would, if a person really thought abortion was murder. Like, legitimately. No playin.

              In that case, it’s a pretty bizarre charge to levy against someone to say “your reluctance to grant women the right to choose is clearly indicative of your lack of empathy”. Because that person may be just as empathetic or more so, it’s that the person they have the most empathy for is not the same one you do.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                You’re demonstrating my point.
                The actions of liberals like deplatforming are red lines for you, threatening enough to cause you to break with them.

                The ban on abortion is disagreeable, but ambiguous and complex, and definitely not a personal threat.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                Because that person may be just as empathetic or more so, it’s that the person they have the most empathy for is not the same one you do.

                So, selective empathy? Isn’t that the position you’re arguing *against*?Report

              • Just to put it back into context, The original statement made by Doctor Jay was that I have no empathy or something along those lines because I don’t agree with his policy decisions.

                Chip then brought up abortion so I applied his example to the issue of abortion.

                Anyone with an ounce of charity in their hearts knows what I was saying was not calling for selective empathy (baby OVER mother) but simply pointing out that there is room for empathy for both parties. That some people feel more empathy for the baby in a situation and others feel more for the mother, doesn’t mean that either party lacks empathy (which was Doctor Jay’s original claim, recall – that I lacked empathy because I politically disagreed with him).

                My whole point was to refute Doctor Jay’s claim regarding empathy and not to make any larger point about abortion.Report

  6. Avatar Aaron David says:

    I was just thinking about Shirley Jacksons The Lottery this morning. We all know the tale at this point; a small town, selecting the sacrifice, etc. In reality, it is about conforming to evil, for certain values of evil. Because at a point in time and place, those were good values that are shown. Progressive even.

    I am Jewish, lost all the European branch of my family to the Holocaust. And you are right about killing Hitler. Indeed, something else did show up in his place. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin. The British and Canadians both have had political internment camps, to say nothing of FDR or Jim Crow. The US currently jails far too many people for far too many unserious crimes. History shows people want to remove the enemy, the other. Only the means change.

    I often think of the Civil War and reconstruction. Putting the country back together after that massive, hateful experience. These days, 150 years later, it seems people still want people to be othered.Report

  7. Avatar bookdragon says:

    I suspect the ‘kill baby Hitler’ meme is born more out of frustration with the actions of current Nazis and is merely hyperbolic rather than a sincere desire for time travel and infanticide.

    That said, I agree. I would not kill baby Hitler or Stalin or Mao or other Evil Baby, and oppose the death penalty even for adults we judge evil, because I do believe that redemption is possible. One of my favorite books is Not by the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman. At the same time, I will oppose Nazism and everyone who allies with or even excuses it. And I will call it evil. Maybe we can look back and see how Germans in the 1930s came to buy into it, but those that embrace it today knowing now what it really meant? I have no problem thinking that as long as they hold those views they deserve to be called deplorable. Maybe that means I lack empathy. I won’t argue with that. I probably do. Despite having walked out of the GOP in disgust years ago, in a lot of ways I remain conservative enough to think that redemption requires repentance.Report

    • Parts of this post really insult my intelligence.

      I wrote a snarky response and deleted it because it was not helpful. If you saw it, I apologize.

      But, yeah. I was aware the Baby Hitler meme and the responses to it were hyperbole.

      The problem is that everyone thinks they have a handle on what evil is, and a lot of us are right. I think Nazism is evil. But the problem I’m trying to conjure in people’s heads is, if in order to defeat evil you have to become a greater evil, that’s probably not a very good trade. Because people have tendencies to expand the meanings of words like “evil” and “Nazi” just like they have with “Mary Sue” till they start getting applied to “everything I don’t like”.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        “Parts of this post really insult my intelligence.”

        Many of your responses to me, here and in other comments, make me seriously doubt your claim of having any real empathy or understanding of what people feel and think.Report

        • Ok. I can see why you think that.

          Let me explain that on this site it certainly appears to me that we’re supposed to be arguing back and forth. It seems like that is kind of the point of this site. Certainly no one is treating me with any kid gloves, and all I’m doing is trying to join in the culture. I don’t think it’s terribly fair to ask me to engage in a place that’s all about arguing and then throw my personal, private empathy in my face, but I was the one who brought it up so I should have expected that.

          For whatever reason it just happened that your posts encapsulated things I was seeing elsewhere from lots of other people and they were good jumping off points. Again, as I tried to explain before, badly, it’s not a personal thing, although I can understand why you see it that way. I’m just trying to stick up for myself in a climate that is not at all natural to me, as I’m surrounded by a whole crowd of people trying to pick apart the stuff I’ve said.

          It doesn’t leave much room for empathy, unfortunately. But luckily I still have plenty of room for it the rest of my life.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            If it weren’t a personal thing, it would be okay. But you seem to jump off in defending yourself by insulting and attacking me, so how else am I supposed to take that? Especially after you made that claim of having such extraordinary empathy.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to bookdragon says:

              “Ironically, social media is nice for me because I can keep people at arm’s length – I can’t see their facial expressions or hear their tone of voice or read their body language, so I’m free from experiencing their feelz too intensely.”

              Do you think a comment section is more like social media, or more like in person-face-to-face?

              As someone else who has trouble not dissolving to empathy in the face of others’ disagreement, I think it’s more like the former than the latter…. (though I don’t, personally, find that with social media).

              and so I don’t expect Kristin to be less combative than y’all are on average.Report

            • But the thing is, I don’t feel like I started it. Being told things like I’m overreacting, or having basic and obvious concepts explained to me, is upsetting to me. I certainly don’t expect agreement on any subject I write, but don’t like being made to feel crazy or stupid for having written something, either.

              It’s not just you. It was you a couple times in a row (coincidence) and the one day you caught me on a bad day when I was already fed up. I have regrets about that. It should have been done a separate post and not part of a reply. Because it looked like it was addressed to you when the main thrust of it was more of a general statement.

              All that having been said, I’m not trying to have empathy here. In fact, I’m trying hard not to. This seems to be (by design) an empathy free zone, like a Fight Club, and like I’d already mentioned, online stuff is much easier for me to keep people at arm’s length anyway. This is NOT me being empathetic, it’s me being on Ordinary Times.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                “This seems to be (by design) an empathy free zone, like a Fight Club,”

                There is…. some disagreement among the large group of people who make up OT as whether that is a feature or a bug.

                To say the least.

                I’d certainly say it’s more an emergent property than a design spec, insofar as it’s true.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Maribou says:

                “This seems to be (by design) an empathy free zone”

                I’m sure I’m pulling it in that direction.. I come here and think, “sheesh, everyone is so sensitive and touchy feely”

                Then I go somewhere like Twitter and I think, “OMG the internet is nothing more than a giant EMOTIONAL WOUND… make it stop.”Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Maribou says:

                Well, I think it’s a bug, and I think it’s contagious. But as Schilling told me once long ago, “you’re one of us now, and that’s not a compliment”.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                “But the thing is, I don’t feel like I started it. Being told things like I’m overreacting, or having basic and obvious concepts explained to me, is upsetting to me. I certainly don’t expect agreement on any subject I write, but don’t like being made to feel crazy or stupid for having written something, either.”

                Here’s the thing. From my pov, I have not done that to you. Not once. I have stated how I saw something in order to show my thoughts and where I was coming from, or frame a question when something didn’t seem to follow or make sense for me. You seem to read anything from me in the worst, most negative, and in the case of accusing me of using a common colloquialism to imply all women were over emotional/hysterical, false and personally insulting way possible.

                That last in particular wasn’t general. It twisted my specific words and was an accusation very personally aimed at me, so don’t tell me it was just a general statement. If I respond with less charity now, it’s because you chose to kick me in the gut.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to bookdragon says:

                Everybody knows they’ve been defected against.

                Everybody knows that they didn’t defect first.

                And here we are.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                meh, this was not a useful comment; never mind.

                edit 2: to be fair to bookdragon, I think Kristin came down too hard on the wrong angle on the thread-starting comment.Report

  8. Avatar pillsy says:

    This is a well-written piece, and I’m glad I read it.

    But… wow do I have mixed feelings about it. It’s going to send me off on a tangent, because I’m not responding just to Kristen’s piece, but a lot of other stuff too, including some of the things that I think inspired it, and some stuff that’s just been floating out there and getting on and off my nerves for years.

    So if you’re wondering why I’m responding to stuff that’s not in the OP, well, there’s a reason.

    I hope you don’t mind, Kristen.

    It comes down to is this paragraph:

    My son thinks Nazis are subhuman bad guys in a cartoon and Nazis should be punched or better yet, exploded. He doesn’t know that Nazi Germany was made up of actual human beings only some of whom were Actually Evil Babies, only some more of whom were even people who thought “hey what those Actually Evil Babies are saying sounds pretty good to me” because they came of age in a time and place and environment in which terrible things sounded good to otherwise good people. He doesn’t know that most of them were just teenage girls sitting in cars wondering where the fire department was. He doesn’t understand that because he is a child.

    A lot of the enthusiasm online for punching Nazis (or doing more to Nazis) is rooted in not only a picture of them as cartoon villains, but also in a picture of cartoon violence, the kind that says that you can win a fight with a solid sock to the jaw and then walk away cleanly, with your enemy in pain and humiliated but really not seriously worse for the wear.

    Now the folks who actually do the punching, I’m pretty sure most of them have been in a fight or two and have a pretty good idea what they’re getting into. In the unlikely event that any of them are reading this, I doubt what I’m going to say will sway them one way or another.

    But we live in a pretty damned violent society. According to the FBI, there were more than 15 000 people murdered in the US in 2017. That’s a lot. But we aren’t for the most part talking about murder; we’re talking about assault. Just walking straight up to a guy and punching him.

    That happens a hell of a lot more than murder. There were more than 800 000 aggravated assaults in the same year, and based on some conversations with online legal folk, I’m given to understand that most of the time that punch isn’t even going to rise to the level of aggravated assault.

    So yeah people get punched a lot. People throw punches a lot. Most of the time it isn’t the end of the world.

    But a couple years back someone punched an actual Nazi on camera, and two things happened.

    One is that a ton of people got incredibly happy and started talking about how they would love to punch a Nazi themselves. Now, look, I know some of them it wasn’t bluster, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority haven’t thrown, or more importantly, taken a serious punch as an adult. Getting punched can really fucking suck. It doesn’t always stop with with pain and maybe a bruise. It can be serious business. Rarely, it can rise to people just straight up dying levels of serious business.

    So those people were being glib as shit about it. And that bugged me.

    I don’t say this because I’m some hardass tough guy who knows how to handle myself in a street fight.

    I say this because I’m some goofy klutzy ass nerd who found himself in a street fight anyway.

    I got my clock cleaned to the tune of a nose broken in two places, a week’s absence from college, some terrified and upset friends and family, surgery under general anaesthesia, and several thousand dollars in “patient responsibility” that my parents, thankfully, were able to help me with.

    On the other hand, some other people just melted the fuck down over it. And that also bugged me.

    Probably millions of people get punched over talking shit every year. The vast majority of the shit they’re talking is a lot less heinous than advocating crimes against humanity and replacing the government of the United States with a fascist, white supremacist regime. And while that’s not great, it also hasn’t brought our country to its knees.

    But somehow some dude gets punched (and not even seriously hurt, unlike a lot of of other people who are punched) and all of a sudden our civilization is supposedly teetering on the brink of chaos.

    Somehow an actual Nazi become the mascot of freedom and debate and open-mindedness.

    And that shit is just as cartoonish than the, “LOL, I’d totally punch a Nazi even though I haven’t gotten in a fight since Jimmy stole my Fruit Roll-Up in second grade!”

    It’s all about what it means when a completely awful person who antagonizes and repulses the vast majority of the country by flouting every standard of decency gets hit in the jaw, when really, people like that get hit in the jaw all the time and the world keeps on turning without anybody noticing.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to pillsy says:

      (Psst. Expand it a bit and Write a post!)Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

      I very very badly want to write glib and snark comments about punching Nazi (and sometimes do!) but it was Lee here who reminded me once that mob violence has never worked out well for minorities.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

      “But somehow some dude gets punched (and not even seriously hurt, unlike a lot of of other people who are punched) and all of a sudden our civilization is supposedly teetering on the brink of chaos.”

      a dude who talked shit and got hit is not a problem

      the problem was a bunch of other dudes talking about the platforming of antisocial behavior and how important it was that we not let empathy-killing emotion substitute for reasoned behavior and how it’s a real problem that the right is normalizing violenceHOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE THAT HIT TAKE THAT YA NAZI FUCK YEAH THAT PWECIOUS SNOWFWAKE GOT HIS FEEFEES HURTED MAYBE HE NEEDS A SAFE SPACE LOLLLL

      Like, what bothers me is not people being hit, what bothers me is how quick the “hitting is bad” side decided that maybe hitting was good after all, and how they seemed genuinely surprised that someone might not make that jump with them.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:

        And yet the “hitting is good” side, who love making glib comments about violence (and sometimes glib comments cheering on violence) when it’s a reporter or a protester or an unarmed kid in a hoodie suddenly lost its voice when it’s a would-be genocidaire.

        If we want to talk about preferences, and what they reveal.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

          that is not actually a response to my commentReport

        • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to pillsy says:

          Conservatives have never been that consistent. But liberals are supposed to be better than that!!!! Right? Liberals are all about principles and patience and understanding and tolerance but oh wait all that stuff gets flushed in the span of 10 years?

          And I’m not supposed to notice any of that?

          And I’m supposed to be the bad guy for saying “hey can you guys explain this, you’re scaring me?” and the response to that is “prove your fear?”

          I’m afraid because you guys have had a freaking personality transplant!Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            @kristin I actually lost here. Maybe i’m just missing it. What did liberals change on? Tolerance? Not really seeing that. There never was a big liberal push to tolerate the KKK or nazis. For good reasons to. That doesn’t mean people aren’t complicated and often a moral muddle. I will officially state i’m all for tolerance and i hope the nazis, KKK, etc all whiter away to nothing as movements and ideas. There isn’t any contradiction there. The Paradox of Tolerance is a good place to start to understand that.

            Human nature? Umm no. There never was an Official Liberal Human Nature. And no more then there is a an Official Conservative or Libertarian Human Nature. I’ve certainly never known what i’m supposed to believe as a liberal about human nature and i don’t’ really care either.

            I see liberal policies that we want that have been pretty darn consistent over the years though they are moving more leftward at this point, well at least in the online peeps. Not really seeing much in the congress yet.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to greginak says:

              I think a good summary of the shift is found in Brandon Straka’s #walkaway videos. They’re all over Youtube. Last year he was a liberal gay hairdresser in New York. He can’t stand racism, sexism, anti-gay intolerance, group think, hatred, menace, and fascistic rhetoric, so he became a liberal. But he still can’t stand racism, sexism, anti-gay intolerance, group think, hatred, menace, and fascistic rhetoric, so he had walk away from liberalism.

              What he’s talking about is how the extremely woke have turned liberalism into a nightmare, becoming everything liberals used to stand against and cranking it up to eleven.

              His liberal values are still fine. He’s even more insistent on them than ever. He just seems to feel that the liberal movement was recently hijacked by some very intolerant people who think liberalism is a sharp edged tool for beating innocent people into bloody pulps so they can self-righteously preen about their moral purity, and the more liberal the targeted victim, the greater their purity must therefore be for attacking them.

              He’d found himself on the receiving end of one of these beat downs, targeted because he was a liberal white New York gay hairdresser, and therefore obviously an evil racist sexist white supremacist transphobic monster, because gay whites are historically privileged oppressors, and he wondered what the heck was going on. He found an alarming development, one that he couldn’t abide.

              A mob might start out with the best of intentions, burning out a snake pit of true evil, but every morning the leaders of that mob, if they want to stay leaders, have to come up with a new target or the mob will dissipate. So they yawn and stretch and look around for who they burn today, and which fertile territory will they’ll sack with a torched earth policy.Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to greginak says:

              OK look one of the places that is particularly crazy-making about the way we talk politics around here is how everything is supposed to be boiled own to “policies”.

              This misses a huge part of politics, and, especially as our government has tipped further and further towards the Executive and the Judicial Branches doing all the work while Congress sits around with its collective thumb up its collective ass, that rhetoric matters a lot in terms of what the government is actually going to do. Much more than a party platform or bills submitted to Congress.

              I don’t think @Kristin is talking about policies here.

              She’s talking about rhetoric and worldview.

              And I think she has a point about Leftward rhetoric and worldview post-Trump (and even pre-Trump). I probably disagree with her as to where the shift is coming from and almost certainly disagree with her as to what we should do about it, but the basic premise isn’t wrong.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to pillsy says:

                It’s a rare day when I agree with Pillsy, but when he’s right, he’s right. And this has a lot of knock-on effects also, such as Hilary’s campaign. Technocracy isn’t a working plan to motivate the poloi.

                Arguably, the biggest part of politics is getting out in front of people and convincing them that you are with them and leading them. Writing a policy paper that says that if the price of cheese drops .03% it will allow a greater number of refugees from Blah, Blah, blah. No one is listening.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            What can I say?

            People are rarely as good as they’re supposed to be.

            Being told that you’re supposed to be better than other people, while those other people keep reaping endless advantages by being worse than you, is pretty draining.

            And the snap really happened for me back in 2010, long before Trump was President. It wasn’t even a big thing, just an unambiguously shameless and bigoted little bit of propaganda the GOP strategists and conservative media meat puppets coalesced around, where all the traditional values about religious freedom and private property went by the wayside because some Muslims wanted to build a mosque on private property in Manhattan.

            I have no idea how it played with everyday conservatives across the country. None whatsoever. But despite it’s breathtaking cynicism, the GOP won the House and some Senate seats beside.

            And stuff like that just kept happening. I kept waiting for the conservative political-entertainment complex to throw me a bone and show me that my worst suspicions are false and they fail worse and worse with every passing year.

            And sometimes I just wish that people would extend some of that empathy and understanding to us when maybe we don’t live up to our own standards when it comes time to have empathy and understanding for people like Richard Spencer, who would happily see me, my family, and most of my friends and colleagues murdered or driven from the only country we’ve ever lived in.Report

            • Avatar JoeSal in reply to pillsy says:

              Do you think the leftwards weaponizing of ‘social ostracism’ may have had a part in this?

              I mean that in a way that the rightwards are now doing it(reflecting it) in a scary way?Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                No, I think the Rightwards started doing this long before they started talking about Leftwards engaging in social ostracism.

                If anything it was the Left learning the messages the Right taught them in its campaign to build support for the Iraq War, which was just rife with ostracizing language and demonization.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to pillsy says:

                I didn’t hear anything about social ostracism in the rightward circles until just recently, like within the last year or so.

                I don’t agree with it at all, and thought it doesn’t sound at like something the rightwards should be doing.

                Can you be more specific about how the Right used it in the Iraq War context?Report

              • Avatar Jesse in reply to JoeSal says:

                “Can you be more specific about how the Right used it in the Iraq War context?”

                Ask the Dixie Chicks.

                Who were ‘deplatformed’ in a way by conservative media in a far harsher and more effective way than any conservative-leaning actor or singer has ever been by the liberal media.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Jesse says:

                Hmm, what I see there is chick criticizes president. Claims of anti-American sentiment. Yet they are still in society, and were probably never really kicked out?

                I mean, I kinda see it but it’s a little fuzzy. What would make it different from backlash? I guess would be something I would ask next..Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                I don’t think it is different from backlash.

                But it also doesn’t really seem to be all that different from the things that conservatives worry about when they describe the things they fear the Left doing to them.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                I don’t know if they talked about it much, but they sure as hell did it. Indeed, there was a lot of very intense rhetoric that was about painting the anti-war crowd as more than mistaken. “Objectively pro-Saddam” was one of the most common, but also one of the mildest.

                As for the ostracism, the example that stands out for me came a bit after the war started, with the reaction to the Dixie Chicks saying they were ashamed of the President.

                Talk about “cancel culture”.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to pillsy says:

                Yeah, that link looks a lot like boycotting, which admittedly does look as though it could be part of social ostracizing.

                The pro-Saddam thing looks like something that would be deployed in tarnishing an oppositions position.

                I want to be specific here in that I didn’t hear the idea of Social Ostracism as a political strategy of the right until very recently. (and am aware that that is anecdotal, but I’m looking for evidence to counter that)Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                Ah OK I think I totally misunderstood what you were referring to as “ostracism”, and Leftward weaponization of same.

                Yeah, it was basically a big noisy boycott and protest.Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to JoeSal says:

                I’m not sure it matters who “started it” because I think it’s simply a tactic a dominant culture uses to suppress dissent. So when Christians were more culturally dominant they used it, but it isn’t really representative of the Culture Wars that have broken out the past 10-15 years.

                This latest outbreak of social ostracism is coming from the left and the right has coopted it. There have always been some who ban books and burn records. The difference is that liberals (my image of liberals, anyway, maybe I was just wrong) were always on the correct side in my lifetime and now they are the driving force of it.

                Just seems damn peculiar, and as someone who is vehemently against burning books, it’s concerning to me.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                Fear makes people do things they normally wouldn’t do which is something I know you know, but just saying it so it registers.

                It’s a little unhealthy to put any particular faction on a pedestal, as those factions are made of humans with the entire spectrum of hopes and fears.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                The problem here, i guess, is the “my image of liberals” part. There have truly been censorious people for ages. Some liberal and some conservative. Nothing has changed. Nothing. If you didn’t notice the censorious liberals, like the Gore’s, years ago then you missed it. Fine. Just this week former Nebraska Senator, Governor and frickin medel of honor winner Bob Kerrey had to pull out of being commencement speaker at Creighton due to protests by Repub pols.

                Is that the R’s being the driving force now or in a hundred other incidents i could list. There really isn’t anything new in all this banning, etc stuff. It’s fugly but when you make it partisan by just aiming at one sides behavior it never helps. You are accusing the left of being the driving force. That looks to lots of us like you are seeing things through blinders.

                I’m saying this is both sides and if you want people listen and stop you need to speak to that. This also gets very much towards the media you consume. It is easy to see one side at the Big Problem if you are getting filtered media picture. It is hard to get around that.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to JoeSal says:

                Social ostracism has been a part of society for approximately forever. Especially in small towns and tight knit communities like churches. The examples i’m personally familiar all come from very conservative churches who ostracized people for affairs or getting pregnant out of wedlock or leaving their husband due to be abused. Liberals didn’t do anything new or innovative re: social ostracism. It certainly hasn’t be “weaponize” ( ohh scary word!!) anymore than it was before.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to greginak says:

                Yeah religious ostracism has been with us a long time.

                Tribal ostracism probably predates even that.

                I can’t speak for much of the rightwards, but I see social ostracism as a nothing burger.

                Stuff like this doesn’t strike any fear in me:
                “driven from the only country we’ve ever lived in”

                But I can definitely see that Pillsy is concerned, which I think means it has traction somewhere for yall.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                Stuff like this doesn’t strike any fear in me:
                “driven from the only country we’ve ever lived in”

                I mean literally expelled in a campaign of ethnic cleansing, which is what Spenser advocates doing to Jews and other people he deems enemies of the white race.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to pillsy says:

                This is why I’m trying to unpack it a lot more, it is a very, very, big concern of yours that this could actually happen.

                If the Rightwards are signaling a huge signal of social ostracism as a political strategy, this is the very thing I would expect the left to be highly concerned about.

                Here you are specific to Spencer and Jews, the thing I am looking for would be a even larger phenomenon.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                Yeah I’ll admit to periodically getting freaked out a bit by this stuff.

                But more to the point Spencer is just an awful person who is unrelentingly hostile to me and mine due to ancient and blitheringly stupid conspiracy theories.

                So when it comes to understanding and empathy for him and his ilk?

                Well, it’s a challenge.Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to pillsy says:

                You understand, I hope, that I picked Nazis not only because I had a cute anecdote about the Hindenburg, but because I was trying to use the most despised group possible to make a larger point.

                I am not expecting any person to want to kiss and hug poisonous snakes.

                I am trying to make people think about the way they’re thinking about each other, because it is not only Richard Spencer who is being categorized in the “must hate” category.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                I was about 97% sure of that.

                But… well, one of the things that has been bugging me, and not only me, has been that Nazis are, perhaps, just not quite as despised as they were a few years ago.

                They’ve been filtering in from the fringes and it started a few years before Trump and it has a lot of folks just a bit on edge. Especially because they also seem to be stepping up the murders.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                Are you concerned you may end up in the “must hate” category?

                Why would that be a considerable concern?Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to JoeSal says:

                I’m going to push to create the world I hope to see – peaceful, tolerant, and safe for everyone. I don’t like the way things are going. I’m being proactive about that and calling out some attitudes I find concerning in hopes of all of us getting to a better place in which we can coexist.

                Again, I don’t see the future but I do see the past. Every culture on Earth throughout history was a pretty awful place in which people have treated each other terribly. That’s human nature. Somehow we’ve managed to partially rise above that, slightly, with many glaring exceptions.

                So why would I just trust that the world will continue to be as it is now, given human history? Given that even in our relatively good world, people are still treated with injustice and submitted to horrible violence? Why would I assume that making the world a better place would require no effort on my part?
                Why should I not speak out and make people think, to try and create the world I hope to leave behind?

                It doesn’t make me paranoid to do that.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                Do you think society can peacefully exist without a rule by force social construct?Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal says:

                I must also mention, that i don’t see any paranoid indicators, but i do think i see some small amounts of fear.

                Though admittedly i don’t have the gift of reading people at all. Everyone is like a black box of layered mysteries.

                They usually have to boo slap me with a issue about three times before; ‘oh that’s important’Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to JoeSal says:

                “Are you concerned you may end up in the “must hate” category? Why would that be a considerable concern?”

                because we live in a world where saying “wash your ass” gets you put in the “must hate” categoryReport

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:


                See this makes conversation with you really hard, because it turns out you’re talking about people who aren’t here and you don’t have any examples…but you’re posting as though we should definitely feel that the things we said are wrong, because of those people.


              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

                oh, so now that’s a bad thing we shouldn’t be doing? Sounds great! I guess if you’re so willing to own me that you’ll own yourself, well, I’m not gonna stop you.

                Also, I, at least, can actually show a source on this one.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:


                oh, so now that’s a bad thing we shouldn’t be doing?

                Let me know as soon as you make up your mind, dude.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

                This goes back to the original freakin’ post, where we complain that liberals have gone back on the principles they held that we actually considered admirable, and you whine about how conservatives were jerks first, and we say “don’t you think it’s a problem that liberals are going back on the principles they held that we actually considered admirable”, and you reply “I know you are but what am I”.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:

                This whole, “Don’t complain about things that were said elsewhere,” principle is yours, dude, not mine.

                It seems kind of dumb to me, actually.

                And the fact that “conservatives were jerks first” is what you took away from my original comment has a hell of a lot to do with why I think you didn’t respond to the whole thing, as I had a pretty long section about how the Leftward response to the whole “punching Nazis” discourse was also distasteful.

                It’s still up there. Maybe try reading it again.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Redd Foxx (bless’em)Report

      • It’s this, it’s this, thisthisthis. It’s watching liberals turn around and now say the polar opposite of everything that I thought you guys were actually about and how me noticing that is somehow indicative of ~me~ being a hypocrite and a bad guy.

        Pillsy, I didn’t leave liberals. You guys left me. And it started before Trump. From where I sit, it seemed to start when you guys were WINNING and I will remain forever baffled and frighened by it.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

          Okay, but speaking as someone who feels the same way about conservatives – they left me, and at point when they were WINNING – at what point does Trump co-opting that side make you leave it?

          Note: I’m not saying you should be liberal or calling you a hypocrite. Honestly, I tend to look at Dems and shake my head still. And there are a whole subspecies of progressives I’d slap as gladly as most alt-right types. But as I read your piece, through quite a lot of it I couldn’t help but think of Trump and his supporters. Trump is a privileged dude who’s never known a day of hunger but still turned out awful, but as you pointed out wrt Hitler, he’s only symptom and would never be in power if a whole bunch of people didn’t support him. And the script has flipped in terms of it being conservatives now who say anything can be excused and no one should be accountable for bad behavior.

          If you really have this extreme empathy, then surely you know that even though what you finished with showed you meant it as a hit at liberals, this:

          “Dudes and dudettes, our house is on fire. And we can’t tell it’s burning from the inside. Only someone looking at this fire from a parking lot across town can see it. Even if your beloved authority figures aren’t doing anything, even if they’re telling you that hating and othering and demonizing those people is not only ok, but desirable…”

          read to me very much like a description of the modern conservative movement.Report

          • I did that deliberately to try and hopefully make people understand that they’re also prone to the same flaws they see in conservatives because all humans are prone to those flaws.

            That was not me being very very dense about what I was writing. That was a deliberate and intentional strategy to hopefully get some people to maybe see, if only for an instant, that the feelings they’re having, feelings that seem fully justified, certainly Chip thinks they’re justified, are the exact same feelings that all people have when they go riding out on a pogrom. Every single person who goes down that road feels that their actions are totally justified because their enemies are the literal worst. They all have reasons that seem totally legit.

            You probably are not aware of this because it’s not what I do on here, but I spend a fair bit of time urging conservatives to do better and be better. That is not my purpose on this site. So don’t assume that I’m going easy on conservatives, I’m not, I just take care of that business elsewhere.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Kristin Devine says:

              Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is what caused the two parties – and the spirit that motivates them – to change so dramatically. And Bookdragon is right, but so are you. Conservatives won the cold war, but to make that happen, they had to eject a whole passel of things that were verbalized as important. And then they stood around looking for new mountains to climb.

              Liberals enacted the election of Obama, the first African descended leader in the free world, let alone in the US. But to do that, they need to through over many things that they espoused.

              Both sides will say these things were totally worth it, but within the margins many (myself included) will count the cost. And it is far easier to look at your ideological opponent and see their failing than it is to look yourself in the mirror.Report

              • Interesting take, thanks.Report

              • To espouse Trump, conservatives have had to abandon free-market economics, long-standing foreign alliances, and any claim to value the Constitution. Soc-cons have had to admit that all their criticism of politicians’ private live was utter BS.

                What was the equivalent to elect Obama?Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                It wasn’t so much to elect him (pretty much anything would have beaten McC after Bush), but what they had done to keep him in place.

                They have thrown civil rights under the bus, what with trying to end due process rights with changes to Title IX. They were totally happy to use the gov’t to both punish political adversaries and deny voting rights with the IRS. Removing constitutional checks and balances went right out the window with all his “pen and phone” maneuvers.

                They did campaign on ending many of the civil right abuses of the Bush admin, but Obama doubled up on them, what with the surveillance of anything that moved. Also, prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists at a rate that would make Nixon blush. And oh yeah, collusion with the big tech companies to help enact said surveillance state.

                And Obama did love assassinating US citizens.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I didn’t mind Richard Spenser getting punched. It’s when people started saying “YEAH! YEAH! ALL NAZIS SHOULD GET PUNCHED!” that I remembered that all of the hipsters I knew had Small-Batch Artisanal Nazi Detectors that had proprietary Nazi Detection Algorithms that were somehow calibrated to find people who wanted to know more about how the algorithm worked.

        Remember when we discussed this way back when?Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yeah but the vast majority of those people were full of shit.Report

          • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to pillsy says:

            But pillsy, how am I supposed to know that? I mean, some of the stuff that people in positions of importance like Sarah Jeong and Lena Dunham is freaking mindboggling (and they’re widely defended) Is it really so amazing I might extrapolate that to thousands of other people I see online and IRL saying all kinds of crazy things? I would be a fool if I didn’t take it at least a little seriously, yk??

            I think a lot of the people on the right who say ridiculous and inflammatory things are also just cranks full of shit.

            It seems like you guys want me to ignore the ridiculous inflammatory cranks on your side while holding me personally responsible for the ridiculous inflammatory cranks on “mine” (using the term “mine” very loosely)Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kristin Devine says:

              I’m not sure where in my comments you got the idea I’m holding you personally responsible for anything?Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to pillsy says:

                I”m not saying that you are. I’m speaking to our larger ongoing conversation about me feeling afraid.

                I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here. Really not. But me feeling anxious and worried is not coming out of left field, it’s not neurotic and paranoid, it’s not because I’m “imbibing right wing media” or whatever, it’s got basis in some things that I”m detecting right here in this very thread.Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kristin Devine says:

              That aside, I don’t know if you are supposed to know it, let alone how.

              Doesn’t mean it’s not true.

              Which is one of the reasons I wrote that long comment. To explain why, at least, I thought most of the people saying that stuff were full of shit.Report

            • Avatar Jesse in reply to Kristin Devine says:

              “But pillsy, how am I supposed to know that?”

              I don’t know, the fact Joe Biden has nearly half the Democratic primary vote and another 20% of it is held by cranky socialist Bernie Sanders who also doesn’t care about culture war things.

              As I’ve said before, Kristen, as an evil coastal progressive elite leftist living in Seattle, I wish the social and economic Left had as much power as you think it does.Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Jesse says:

                And the vast majority of those people voting Biden are going to be dead in 20 years.

                Then what? I see tons of younger D’s who despise Biden (rightfully). I think it’s a bit disingenuous to act like Joe Biden’s positions are in any way representative of the long term hopes of most liberals who aren’t 70.

                I’m not saying I’m curled up in a fetal position and hoarding bullets or anything. I’m saying I have concerns. And the more you guys (nice!
                reasonable! friends!) tell my my concerns are completely baseless and paranoid, the weirder things get for me.Report

              • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                One of these days, maybe we’ll find out what these “concerns” are, why you think they are likely to be realized, and what Bad Stuff is going to happen if they are. Then maybe we can talk.Report

              • CJ, you can see examples of my concern right here in this very thread. Several posters expressed sentiments I find concerning.

                I’m not giving concrete examples. You see why?? Because I mentioned I had a very high level of empathy and have been attacked for that by 4 separate people.

                That is what this site has been about for me, people luring me into a conversation that I hope may be productive, and then using what I say in that conversation to go off on me.

                No more. I”m not doing it.Report

              • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                Well, that certainly clears things up.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to pillsy says:

            And almost all of it was unleashed twitter Id. Which mostly just shows how terrible a combo some people and twitter are.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

              The article that I linked to in that comment thread was to the New York Times.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                So. The punching nazi’s thing was fanned by twitter and that is where is primarily exists. At this point conservatives talk about at least as much as liberals. Was there more than one nazi punched? Beats me and i didn’t think it was right to do it that one time.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to greginak says:

                Yeah that’s my thing. It just happened one time and all of a sudden it was all consuming.

                And enough of the people [1] who made a hero out of George Zimmerman (and slandered his victim in order to do it) were suddenly really bent out of shape about vigilante violence made it look to me (and I expect a lot of other people on the Left) that the objection wasn’t over punching people, it was over the fact that the person punched was part of their in-group.

                Which, well, is it’s own kind of message. And not a reassuring one.

                Certainly not one that is going to lead one to ratcheting down one’s rhetoric even (and perhaps especially) if it’s full of shit.

                [1] Not, to be clear, anyone involved in this conversation here, but these conversations neither begin or end here.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

                See this makes conversation with you really hard, because it turns out you’re talking about people who aren’t here and you don’t have any examples…but you’re posting as though we should definitely feel that the things we said are wrong, because of those people.

                Ok, so, y’know, let’s allow that these people actually do exist.

                So what?

                Like, okay, so they’re realizing that maybe vigilante violence is bad. Is that not a GOOD THING? Is that not how we WANT THIS TO GO?

                I mean, you’re rolling in with the sack dance on people who are making the journey you want them to make. WHY?

                And, I mean, okay, so people have thrown over their Strongly Principled Stances after a little chin music. What’s that got to do with the people whose Strongly Principled Stances flipped to violence? Like, the people who said that street violence was bad right up until it was women who supported Trump getting maced and having their hair set on fire? Wouldn’t you say that’s worth discussing?Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:

                It didn’t turn out that way. I literally said it in my first comment:

                But… wow do I have mixed feelings about it. It’s going to send me off on a tangent, because I’m not responding just to Kristen’s piece, but a lot of other stuff too, including some of the things that I think inspired it, and some stuff that’s just been floating out there and getting on and off my nerves for years.

                So if you’re wondering why I’m responding to stuff that’s not in the OP, well, there’s a reason.

                Did you even read the whole comment or did you just read a single sentence near the end and get wound up because I dared to think that people were getting really weirdly upset over something that isn’t at all uncommon.

                (Also it’s hilarious that you, of all people, are trying to gig me for responding to stuff other people said elsewhere.)Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

                “did you just read a single sentence near the end,” pillsy writes, responding to a single sentence of my post and ignoring the rest of itReport

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Well yes because the single sentence suggested that you had no idea what I’ve actually been saying in any of my comments.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

                You’re right, sometimes a single sentence is the only thing that anyone needs to respond to.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to DensityDuck says:

                @densityduck The rest of your post is already responded to by his original comment. So I can see why he wouldn’t bother to respond to it *again*.Report

  9. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    I don’t like the bloodless hypotheticals of fantasy killings and don’t think it creates any meaningful insights.

    But I think Hitler provided one of the necessary contingencies for the NAZIs to take over Germany. I think its hard for us to appreciate his personal charisma and the broad appeal of his life story, while at the same time, contemporaneous conservative elites viewed him as somebody they could control as they assisted him into power. Without someone who could thread this narrow lane of mass appeal while being underestimated, Germany probably transitions into some sort of military autocracy reminiscent of Bismarck’s.Report

  10. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Re: killing baby Hitler…

    David Sedaris last night, speaking in Denver (paraphrase) “…so begrudgingly, I wrote a statement to the press apologizing for my earlier comments. ‘I’m sorry for saying that if I had a time machine I would travel back 70 years and smother baby Trump in his crib. That was an inaccurate expression of my views, and for that I apologize. Instead, I’d travel a little bit further back in time and convince Trump’s mother to have an abortion.'”Report

  11. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    The problem is that speakers have a vast power to normalize things that should not be normalized and this includes Trump. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen stories about militias holding migrants at gun point. This week there was a story on Buzzfeed with one of them stating “we need to go back to Hitler…”


    Trump and other GOP politicians but mainly Trump has done a lot to normalize this kind of behavior as okay. He has frequently used language that dismisses immigrants as non-human. I’m not saying that you need to believe in open borders or even more asylum/refugees coming in (though I do want more immigration) but don’t you think this essay could have been better if it denounced these actions too. You can be opposed to more immigration but find it dangerous and bad that militias are threatening people at gun point.

    The actual Nazis were very bad people. They purposefully slaughtered 6 million Jews and millions of other people because of whom they were. They started a war that led to the deaths of 50 million people total. Yet it is strange that venting hypotheticals on baby Hitler are what prove “liberals are the really horrible people.” I agree with Pillsy that a lot of the “punching Nazi” don’t quite realize what they are saying and probably never fought since the second grade but the White Supremacists of today marched through the streets shouting “Jews will not replace us.” One of them turned his car into a weapon and murdered a woman. It is right-wing militia types that are using guns and acting as paramilitary units. But because some liberals play internet tough person and vent about punching Nazis, it is liberals who are really bad.

    This is just strange and incomprehensible to me.

    When I was 14, I was in a video arts summer program for high school students. I can’t remember the context but one day our teacher said that his father was a real anti-Semite and he was openly trying to reconcile his love for his father with the vile things the man believed. I think Chip is on to something when he discusses how Nazis can be loving people too. A lot of people imply (but never quite admit) that they know people with really racist and horrible beliefs. But because they are in the tribe, these people are nothing but lovely and supporting to them. Or they come from a similar background and see the same struggles. But they don’t want to deal with “My cousin Bob has done so much for me and he thinks Jews need to be exterminated.” So they find a way to make liberals the bad guys.Report

    • All people have potential to be the bad guys.

      Can you truly not see that?

      Do you think you’re immune?

      Is it not worthy of some – even just minor and fleeting – soul searching?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        “Can you not see that demonizing people who want to exterminate you is part of the problem, Saul?”Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Stillwater says:

          And here I thought it wasn’t possible to Godwin a conversation that started out about Hitler.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to PD Shaw says:

            “Does Saul not realize that by demonizing the people who want to exterminate him he’s showing that he, too, could be just as bad as Hitler?”Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

          I actually know a guy who did in fact kill Nazis.

          My uncles all fought in WWII, and the one with the most combat experience never liked to talk about it, much to the dismay of a little boy who loved playing war games.

          Because as I found out later, he grasped the humanity of the man he killed, who was literally face to face with him when he by pure luck pulled the trigger first. The memory was something that obviously left him conflicted for a lifetime.

          Which I was trying to get at above, that even seeing the humanity of all people shouldn’t change our decisions whether to go to war or not, kill or execute or not.

          Because all humans, all through history are morally ambiguous. We don’t kill people because they are judged by us to be evil- no one can possibly render that decision.

          We kill because we have worked out,to the best of our ability, that it is necessary for protection or defense.

          This is why I am taking such a sharp and binary tone here. It is easy to get lost in the fog of ambiguity and nuance such that we end up watching the house burn down.

          In a year’s time, Donald Trump will either be turned out of office or not.
          The Supreme Court will either overturn Roe and make abortion illegal in a dozen states, or not.
          Thousands of families will either be reunited with the children, or forever ripped apart.

          We are all citizens here, all engaged and active agents in these developments. Every one of us will live with the consequences of our choices, and wringing our hands over the moral complexities won’t shield us from that.Report

          • “even seeing the humanity of all people shouldn’t change our decisions whether to go to war or not, kill or execute or not.”

            I do think, however, that we need consider the humanity of all people when we make that decision.

            “Because all humans, all through history are morally ambiguous. We don’t kill people because they are judged by us to be evil- no one can possibly render that decision.”

            Agree with the first sentence. I agree with the second sentence inasmuch as it’s prescriptive. I don’t really agree with it as a descriptive sentence. Or rather, I think it’s good food for thought, and maybe it’s possibly mostly true descriptively, but there are probably enough people who make such judgmental killings. But perhaps I’m misrepresenting or misunderstanding your point?

            “We kill because we have worked out,to the best of our ability, that it is necessary for protection or defense.”

            Again, I’d say that’s good as an ought, but probably doesn’t match up to the is.

            “Every one of us will live with the consequences of our choices, and wringing our hands over the moral complexities won’t shield us from that.”

            I agree, if the goal is to be shielded from the consequences of our choices. But I think we should always (or usually….I suppose there are low-stakes situations) wring our hands over the moral complexities, even when we have made the choices.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        I’m pretty sure that Stillwater has it right here. It isn’t the job of Jews to befriend Nazis.Report

        • One the one hand my principles, stated below , say it’s everyone’s job to not befriend, but empathize with and recognize the humanity of everyone.

          On the other hand, that type of thing starts at home. When I can start empathizing with and recognizing the humanity of someone who has merely done a minor harm to me (and not someone trying to exterminate me or defend those who exterminated my ancestors), then I’ll have standing to judge Jewish persons for not befriending Nazis. I’m not there yet and according to one of my other principles, I never will be. So I agree with you.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to gabriel conroy says:

            I guess part of the reason this line of argument always gets my back up a bit is that I suffer (not sure that’s the word, but I’ll roll with it) from a somewhat milder version of this compulsive empathy thing. It can be hard for me not to empathize.

            Much easier on social media or comment sections, like she remarked elsewhere, but I always feel incredibly bad if I’ve hurt someone’s feelings,[1] and back when I was a kid and would get into the kinds of fights kids get into, I’d feel really bad when I hurt someone physically.

            I actually knew some neo-Nazis at my high school. I detested them of course, and they earned it, but they were such pathetic idiots that it was hard not to feel a twinge of empathy. They made some horrible choices and were huge dickholes, sure, but they had such a rough time of high school life due to those horrible choices that it was hard not to feel a bit for them.

            But for whatever reason the kind of judgement that would lead people like that to blight their own lives by embracing one of the most nakedly criminal ideologies in human history no longer seems to land quite as harshly any more.

            So at a certain point I felt like that kind of empathy was no longer something I could afford.

            Especially when so many people who delight in judgement, and don’t seem to have any sort of problem blaming folks for all their own problems because of their laziness or impiety or occasional pot use or even their sexual orientation suddenly started getting very, very worried about people who are actively embracing evil suddenly facing the obvious consequences of doing that.

            I’d prefer not to do the work of suppressing my own empathy for those Nazis, which, yes, means putting them in a “must hate” category. And yes, I know putting anybody at all in that category is playing with fire.

            But when you get right down to it I’m not feeling like I have a lot of better options.

            [1] And yes, social media and blog comments and the like make it easier to hold people at arms length, and also easier to not see all the human facets of them. It’s always be the sudden silence, or the look on someone’s face, that makes me feel awful.Report

        • And no one said you should.Report

  12. Regarding Baby Hitler: just go back a little further. HItler’s father’s birth name was Schicklgruber. Had his mother not married later to Hielder (later Hitler), then he’s born with the name Adolf Schicklgruber and never rises to power with that name.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Michael Siegel says:

      What if you just make sure Mr. and Mrs. Hitler never meet.

      I dunno, give one of them a bunch of gold coins or whatever to start a new life in Montana.

      I guess what I’m saying is that making time travel as a of thought experiments designed to illuminate moral questions creates a lot more problems than it solves.Report

  13. I liked this post, but am not sure I shall (or want to) read the comments. So apologies if these points are made elsewhere here.

    First, this reminds me of a post I’ve been thinking about writing concerning bystander syndrome. The gist of it (if I ever write it), is that we have to understand why it’s so easy to be a bystander. I also plan (again, if I ever write it) to illustrate the post with examples from when I was a bystander.

    Second, I have some different assumptions from yours but I think I get to the same place. I tend to believe that we’re primed to choose evil but that we can choose good, and by choosing good, we’re going against our inherent nature and transcending ourselves. That leaves me to want (or claim to want….I don’t follow my ideals in practice) to have empathy for others.

    Third, there’s a pedantic point that “empathy is not necessarily sympathy.” But while I believe that (indeed, I’ve recently issued a mini-rant along those lines in another post thread), I do believe that empathy does and should lead to sympathy, even for the worst people. Also, while I think empathy is well-advised when it comes to fighting against opponents (an army commander can fight better if they know what the opposing army commanders are thinking), I also believe we have an obligation or duty as humans to try to empathize with others.

    Fourth, even though I believe people are primed to do evil, I also believe I don’t have a right or prerogative to judge other people as evil. I can and should discern whether others do evil things and act accordingly, and I suppose that inevitably is a form of judgment, but we should nevertheless reserve final moral judgement to god. And if god doesn’t exist, then we should reserve final moral judgment. Period. I also believe, therefore, that no one is peculiarly evil, although I also believe that someone can choose evil so consistently and presents such a clear and present danger that maybe at that point they might need to be opposed with force.

    Fifth, about the Hindenburg incident. I remember hearing an audio recording of the reporter saying, “oh, the humanity!” And I remember thinking it was funny because it seemed like an over reaction. It actually reminded me of the WKRP Thanksgiving episode where Les Nesman is screaming into the microphone while (SPOILER ALERT!) Mr. Carlson and Herb threw turkeys out of a helicopter. Sometime, however, several years ago, I looked it up on YouTube, and others interpreted it humorously like I had. Yet one commenter reminded them (and me) that there were actual living people who died and that the reporter was just commenting on the true horror of it. It wasn’t ironic or funny. It was just a horrible thing. I felt like a jerk, but I deserved to feel like a jerk because that commenter was right and I was wrong.Report

    • Great comment, I agree with pretty much every point.

      My stepfather drummed “empathy is not sympathy” into my head growing up and maybe it had more of an effect on me than I realize. I think a lot of people are apparently not aware of the difference, but there is one.

      I recall as a younger person thinking “Oh the humanity” was a really bizarre over the top thing to say, but I’ve come to realize that may be because I grew up seeing actors pretend shot by pretend bullets and it may be that I’m actually inured to things I see on the screen. In my head, on some level, it wasn’t real, the Hindenburg crashing was just a model on a sound stage or something.

      Thanks for reading.Report

    • Avatar Michael Schilling in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      Les Nessman is quoting from the Hindenburg disaster broadcast. That’s the joke.Report

  14. “Why did anybody care if it crashed, if it had Nazis on it?”

    Also why didn’t Indiana Jones just give them the Ark?Report

  15. Avatar Michael Schilling says:

    We can talk about the counterfactual: Suppose Hitler had been killed in WWI?

    Certainly there still would have been a reactionary nationalist movement in Germany. The misery caused by the Inflation and the Depression would have been linked to the dismantling of the Second Reich and the Treaty of Versailles. And the German superiority complex stemming from 19th century Romanticism was alive and well, so a claim of something like the Stab In The Back was inevitable, and probably powerful enough to propel political success. Would it have led to militarism? Yes, because of the need to avenge WWI. Anti-Semitism? Quite likely, that had been a German pathology since Martin Luther. Genocide and the industrialization of murder? That’s the big question.

    IMHO, there’s no reason to think so; fascism didn’t go that way in Spain or Italy. (It did in Turkey, but I don’t think that’s a good parallel.) A resurgent, militarized Germany, determined to start and win another world war would have been ugly enough; the only reason we don’t really recall the atrocities in Belgium in 1914 is that so much worse has happened since. But the particular horrors of Naziism came from Hitler’s own kind of evil and his ability to persuade others to join him in it. Germans were highly susceptible, but the French were no better nor were the Ustashi in Croatia. (The Danes and Norwegians were, to the point of heroism. I can’t explain why.)

    Long story short: Hitler mattered, as do leaders in general, especially ones who can inspire their own kind of evil in their followers.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Michael Schilling says:

      We can talk about the counterfactual: Suppose Hitler had been killed in WWI?

      So some British Tommy starts running around screaming “Guys! I just killed Hitler!!!!” and his mates are like “So? Who is that?”

      “Hitler. Adolf. Fishing. Hitler. Der Fuhrer. The future German chancellor who kills tens of millions of people and takes over all of Europe. I killed him!”

      And then this innocent Tommy, our hero, ends up in a psyche ward with a bunch of shell shock patients, where he keeps ranting that he killed some guy named Hitler and changed the course of world history, so they keep him locked up until 1930. He can’t find a job in the depression, and ends up in and out of prison for petty theft, disorderly conduct, and a host of minor infractions, until he dies penniless and alone in a flop house. So sad.

      But the Hitler question goes deeper. He might have been the only one who could’ve brought the Nazi party to power, but he wasn’t the source of many of their horrible ideas. But he was able to portray himself as a Moses figure, the Heaven sent savior of the German people’s, and use that influence to more easily spread those horrible ideas. I’m not sure another figure would’ve been nearly as successful at it.

      But some kind of major war may have already been baked in ever since the post-WW-I “stabbed in the back” took hold, and if so, Germany probably would have been able to conquered just as much territory before collapse, or more likely, not have been dumb enough to invade the Soviet Union before they could support such an invasion to its successful conclusion. That’s because Hitler had nothing to do with prior innovations in German doctrine, a continuation of their direction during the latter part of World War One that emphasized local command decisions, two-way communication paths, creating and exploiting breakthroughs dynamically at the small-unit level, and most of the other fundamental elements of Blitzkrieg. Even before the Nazis took power, the small German army staff was already thinking along mechanized lines, with coordinated armor and air support, and two-way radios even in their trucks.

      I think the “stabbed in the back” myth is key, though. It was coined by a British general who suggested it to Ludendorff (as a way to better summarize Ludendorff’s explanation for Germany’s defeat), who then suggested it to Hindenburg, who revealed it to Germany during post-war testimony in 1919. That same year the Jews were already being blamed, and denounced as spies and profiteers who destroyed the German war effort. This was all happening several years before Hitler even became a radical.

      And other questions arise, such as the effects of substituting a more competent leader for Hitler, and the counterfactual scenarios multiply.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to George Turner says:

        (seen on Twitter)
        Everyone says I should have used my time machine to kill Hitler, but I tell them “it broke after I used it to kill Smithson,” and they say “who’s Smithson,” and I say “you’re welcome.”Report