31 January, 2019

Let sneaking presidents lie

Many have observed that when it comes to defending his policies, President Donald Trump likes to just make shit up. Shit like this:
Many have also observed that normally this would be a big deal, and lamented the fact that in 2019, it’s not as big a deal as it perhaps should be. It’s true that in normal times, such shameless falsehoods would be a big deal. But these are not normal times.

The one true skill Donald Trump has is his ability to change the story. His willingness to say things that are so obviously stupid with such regularity means there’s always something new to be shocked at. The previous shocks are forgotten.

In the essay On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt argues that the liar needs to recognise and accept the truth on order to say the opposite. The bullshitter just doesn’t care either way. He could have been writing about Donald Trump.

It doesn’t matter whether Trump bullshits because it’s in his interest or because it’s in his nature. The fact is, his blatant disregard for the truth makes a convenient distraction from his blatant disregard for the rule of law.

At a time when thousands of federal employees were having to choose between rent and food due to a completely unnecessary government shutdown, Trump successfully launched a thousand hot takes about the White House serving cold hamberders. However delicious an allegory the story may have been on Trump’s character or 21st century America in general, it wasn’t the most important thing going on. It was just easier to write about. That’s Trump’s talent.

Pay no attention to the 800,000 furloughed workers behind the curtain
It’s enough to make you believe that Trump really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Here’s how he would do it: First, he’d shoot someone. Then, as the police and ambulance were on their way, he would tweet something like,
“Mexicans faked the moon landing becos it’s really made of mozzarella cheese!!” 
And suddenly everyone would be saying, “That’s not true! OMG, you’re so stupid!” while the victim bleeds out.

The level of Donald Trump’s malfeasance is so deep that we need to prioritise. Yes, it’s shocking and sickening that the president of the United States can lie with such ease and abandon. What’s even more shocking and sickening is that this isn’t the worst thing about him. At a time when there is reasonable suspicion that the US head of state may be acting on behalf of a hostile foreign government, either wittingly or unwittingly, who cares if he pulls figures on illegal immigration out of his ass? You know it’s bullshit. I know it’s bullshit. Even he knows it’s bullshit, or would if he cared. But there’s still only so much people can think about in one moment, and as long as people are talking about whether he really knows anything about Mexican immigration (spoiler: No. Duh!), they’re not talking about whether he’s a criminal or a traitor.

If America had a president truly deserving of the title, the steady stream of untruths would indeed be scandalous. We so far beyond that now as to render the bullshit trivial. Stay focussed.

01 January, 2019

I read Mein Kampf

(and maybe you should too)

A few explanations first…

I read Hitler’s memoir/manifesto so as to have an informed opinion. There are plenty of quotes attributed to this book and I wanted to know which were accurate. And I wanted to know how Nazis defined themselves at the time, as opposed to how historians define them (not that I question the accuracy of those definitions) or how present day pseudo-fascists perceive the doctrine. I wanted to know to what extent it is a ravings of a madman, to what extent true intentions were covered up, and how a nation could have been taken in by such a doctrine.

Put more simply: Know your enemy.

I took great care in sourcing a copy. There was no way I was going to purchase a copy in any way, shape or form. Since coming into public domain, the book has been made available to buy and I am given to understand that proceeds from sales are donated to charity, although some charities have refused to take such donations. I’ll have more to say about whether the book should be available at all later. In any case, I was not going to have my name, payment details or any digital profile associated with such a purchase.

I used a TOR browser and private search engine to find a free electronic copy. In doing so, I discovered that there is some controversy among neo-Nazi circles about the accuracy of translations and certain edits of the book. Apparently there are certain “unedited” manuscripts which are alleged to contain Hitler’s “true” feelings because certain official versions were cleaned up. I sense bullshit there, and who cares anyway? I settled on a version which had been sanctioned by the Nazi party in the 1940s with the intention of distribution in an occupied Britain. This electronic copy was clearly scanned from a print copy, which explains the errors in the screenshot. I will not covert quotes to text.

There has been chatter in recent months about whether Hitler was left wing or right wing. It is an irrelevant question. George Orwell described himself as both a patriot and as a socialist but would recognise neither term as they are commonly used today. Yes, Hitler called the party “National Socialists” and he certainly held economic theories which might be described as socialist, but on the whole, the Nazi party was socialist in the same way that North Korea is a “Democratic Republic.” Hitler saved his most vehement (although non-specific) criticism for Marxism, which he considered to be a part of the great Jewish conspiracy.

The fact is there are passages of Mein Kampf that could plausibly be attributed to any post-war political thinker from Margaret Thatcher to Michael Moore. Trying to describe Nazism in modern terms of left and right is a fool’s errand which helps no-one.

Having grown up in a household where war documentaries were a common thing, it was regularly pointed out that when film of Hitler’s speeches are shown, there are never any translations and sometimes his voice is distorted too. Having read his book, I can now see why. He is seductive. There were moments in the first volume where I actually found myself nodding in agreement with certain passages only to be taken aback when I turned the page and was reminded that I was reading the words of one of history’s most evil men when he blamed it all on “the Jew.”

In last year’s rage read, Atlas Shrugged, it’s obvious in every paragraph that it was written by a sociopath. Mein Kampf has moments that are surprisingly, disturbingly reasonable in amongst the bizarre asides on Aryan supremacy.

This is the biggest problem with selective quotes from this book. While Hitler is rightly seen as the embodiment of all evil, it does not mean that all his views or policies are equally evil. This opens the door for people with modern political motives to make the spurious assertion that (for example) nationalisation of industry will lead to mass genocide.

General themes:
  • Parliamentary representatives are cowards because their collective responsibility also gives them the option to deny responsibility. Better to have a single leader who Providence shall identify and who will be responsible to the angry masses if they fail.
  • Oratory is greater than writing.
  • Marxism is evil.
  • So is social democracy.
  • The masses are mostly stupid.
  • Economic dominance is no substitute for military power and expansionism.
  • It is right to forcibly expand territories to feed a growing population.
  • Germany only lost World War I because of traitors and a defeatist press.
  • Propaganda needs to consist of short, simple slogans repeated endlessly. (sound familiar?)
  • The press want to undermine the state and therefore must be controlled by the state.
  • All the press is controlled by the Jews.
  • Marriage is for procreation and the strengthening of the race and the state.
  • Modern art is rubbish.
  • So is modern architecture.
  • Aryans invented everything.
  • Subjugation of ‘inferior’ races is mutually beneficial.
  • Racial impurity is the cause of all downfall.
  • Might makes right.

There is no pandering to any point of view. There is absolutely no doubt Hitler believes everything he says here. He actually makes a partially reasonable case for dictatorship, reminding us of that great conservative saying that representative democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. His unashamed belief in racial supremacy and outright dictatorship are both shocking and, in a way, almost refreshing in an age where we are used to certain sectors making sly hints towards these views. If nothing else, Hitler was honest about it.

The words “master race” are never used but Hitler’s obsession with racial purity and paranoid belief that Jews control all aspects of finance, the media and (somehow) Marxism dominate every topic. In fact, his assertions on eugenics border on the comical but it’s important to think before you laugh. As patently absurd as much of this doctrine is, we must remember it eventually seduced a nation which went on to conquer most of a continent, murder 6 million people, and it took a world war to stop them.

This brings me back to why I wanted to read this book and whether it should be available. Mein Kampf is undoubtedly an extremely dangerous book. I do not believe it should be banned. I believe that to guard against racist nationalist dictatorship ever rising again, we need to know and recognise the doctrine in their own words as well the interpretation of historians. The subtitle of this essay is in no way a recommendation or an endorsement. I don’t think people should read this book out of idle curiosity. As tedious as the writing is, it has the power to seduce the weak minded or those who don’t read it in the context of what it led to. It should however be considered by anyone who wants to recognise Nazism in its own words and identify anything similar.

PS: I am open to suggestions for a rage-read in 2019 but please make it something shorter.