Saturday, April 15, 2017

April 15: Who? Me? Evil? Yeah.

This is the one I don't want to write. Essentially, what I shall say is that all of us (or virtually all of us) have a natural tendency to take a Hitlerian view of the world, to be wide open to racism. All that's needed is a leader who consciously or unconsciously  knows how to tap into that.

I can't approach this as a pyschologist because I know nothing about psychology. But the evidence of history is very strong.

In the Canada of 1939, anti-semitism was pronounced. In Montreal, for example, Jews had been acceptable to high society in the nineteenth century. A Montreal Jew even became prominent in the sporting world of the time which was largely the preserve of the wealthy. (He would become the world's first figure skating champion.)

That acceptance was because 1. Jews in Canada were very, very few. 2.Most were financially well off. 3. They were very, very British.

However, that changed. In the late 1960s, twenty years after the defeat of Naziism, I was invited to a summer cottage at a lake well known as THE summer vacation spot of the wealthiest English in Montreal. While there, I was invited to take part in a community game of softball.

That evening there was a meeting of the leaders of Montreal's wealthiest to find out who had invited the Jew up to the lake.

(I'm not Jewish. But I was the director of a Jewish camp that summer, and I was wearing a camp T shirt with the Star of David on it.)

Canadians became profoundly anti-Jewish after 1900 as the very few,  very British and wealthy Jews in Canada were augmented by very, very many Jewish immigrants who were NOT British and NOT wealthy.

I learned a lot wearing my YMHA Tshirt that summer.

I was a child in  a Montreal in which Jews were pretty much confined to the shabbiest districts. Into the 1960s at least, it was common for apartments for rent to have signs that read 'Select Clientele Only'. That meant no Jews, no orientals, no African Canadians. The same attitudes in the business world forced them into low wage jobs in, for example, a brutal clothing industry.

In the  1930s, as Jews tried to flee the horror that was Germany, many countries (including Canada and the U.S.) refused to accept them. We knew what was happening in Germany. We didn't care. In fact, a great many Canadians and Americans, especially in the business world, thought highly of Hitler.

Late in World War 2, large numbers of German children were spirited away from the death camps to find safety in Spain. Spain refused to keep them. They would have to leave Spain for another country - or go back to Germany.

Britain, the U.S. and Canada refused to accept them, even though those countries knew what would happen to them. And it did happen. Canada and the U.S. even refused to accept Jewish refugees for several years after the war. By then, all Canadians knew about the death camps. They still didn't care.

Alas! Jews are a human as the rest of us. That's why Israelis have treated Palestinians with much the same racism that was inflicted on Jews.
Some  years ago, British film studios came out with a rash of films about heroic British soldiers valiantly defeating hordes of Africans. One of those films was about the glory of Rorke's Drift where a small British force valiantly held off a much larger force of Zulus. How glorious!

Hang on, though.

Why were the British there? Weren't they murdering Zulus and stealing their land? Why do we applaud murderers and thieves?

Surely, it's because the murderers and thieves were white. And the people defending their land were not white. Have you ever seen a film about heroic, black Africans beating off white invaders?

Imperialism is the child of racism. It's okay to murder and plunder and exploit "the others" because they are a race inferior to us. The Empires of Britain, France, Spain and Portugal - and the U.S. - were all built on racism, on the belief that the attackers - thieves and murderers - were racially superior.

That explains why Christians were responsible for what was possibly the greatest holocaust in all of history. No, it wasn't Hitler's holocaust of Jews. It was our holocaust of the native peoples of the Americas. Nobody knows, nobody ever will know, how many of our native people were murdered. But it must have been tens of millions.

And George Washington, who spoke of fighting to bring democracy and freedom, did not bring either of those to Africans in the U.S.  (He also didn't bring it to native peoples, women, or to the poor.) George Washington was a racist.

To build their empire, the British had to kill millions They had to steal their land.  They had to use the survivors as cheap labour. They created vast poverty and death in countries like China and India.  That was obvious throughout the empire. It was obvious, but it was never seen.

It wasn't seen because the British believed themselves to be racially superior to their victims. That was still obvious when I was teaching in Hong Kong. (You can see hints of this in the film, The World of Suzie Wong.)

Chinese were not permitted to enter most of the clubs of their conquerors - except as servants. The British governors had absolute power, and could not care less about the living conditions of the Chinese in Hong Kong. (I can still remember the thousands of Chinese, whole families even with babies) who slept on bits of cardboard on the streets, beneath underpasses, under stairways...)

I came to know the governor's secretary. He was an Englishman of no great intelligence who had utter contempt for the Chinese. In his view, all were inferior to him. I taught British and Chinese journalists in Hong Kong. The British ones, no matter how badly they did in the class, expected to become editors in no time at the South China Morning Post or The Express. (And, at that time, they did.)
The buzz word for those who realize that racism is not a nice word is "evil".

Assad of Syria is evil. Hussein of Iraq is evil. In fact, neither of them comes close to any recent American president in evil. The rebels of Afghanistan are evil. Why? Because they defend their country against an invasion by the U.S. Several decades ago, they defended it against the Russians. Then they were good. But now, they're evil.

The U.S. can murder Guatemalans by the tens of thousands. Who cares? Our news media don't even report it. They aren't like us. They're inferior. Investors in South American mining (and other places), treat their workers like animals. They also destroy the environment to a degree unimaginable to Canadians. Anybody who complains is likely to get shot. Some of the worst offenders in this are prominent Canadian businessmen.

But it's okay. Those South Americans and Africans aren't real people like us. They're an inferior race.

If real Americans had to flee the U.S. for some reason, Canadians would welcome them - as they welcomed those who came to avoid Vietnam. If people from the middle east who fled their homelands try now to flee a racist U.S, we arrest them at the border.

Europe, admittedly, has a challenge in  caring for refugees. Take a look some day at conditions in the refugee camps. Do you think Christian refugees would be treated in that way?

The notion that some people are just born superior to others - and that the difference is connected to differences in skin colour or religion (and sometimes not even connected to those) is almost universal. The Irish and English certainly look alike. But the English had no problem with letting them starve to death in the potato famine - even though the English had lots of food available. And when the starving Irish arrived in Canada, they were widely seen by Canadians for a century after as an inferior people.

This sort of racism even extends to our perception of social classes. Descendants of the British royal family, even the most moronic ones, are treated with awe by those whose shopping for reading is confined to the magazine stall at the supermarket. They are superior - by birth. And that sounds like a pretty good definition of racism.

(Doesn't Prince Harry have a wonderful forehead? Isn't young Prince George precious?)

The wealthy, including all those who are wealthy because they inherited it, have a vision that they are superior to those who are not wealthy.   (That shows up very strongly in the ego problems of Donald Trump.) Any big businessman who thinks he was a right to intervene in government (and most of them do think that) is a racist.

We, probably all of us, have a tendency to racism. We seem to be born with it. All it takes is a leader who knows how to turn it on. And such leaders have always been available. Hitler knew how to do it. More than a few of this world's business and political leaders know how to do it. Donald Trump knows how to do it.

And once it's done, the rest of us will line up for privilege of killing people just like us for the profit of the kings and prime ministers and presidents and billionaires of this world.
And a propagandizing press
knows how to turn up the fear and hatred. That's why the biggest threat to the world today is not Russia or China. And it's certainly not Syria or Afghanistan or North Korea.

It's us.

And that's why, as I write this, we are so very close to a nuclear war.
footnote, after I finished the above, I read the faith page of Burnswick News for today. It is, of course, the usual milk toast. In fact, throughout history the Christian churches have almost always been on the side of the racists.

The core of Trump's support comes from the most religious (Christian) part of the U.S., the so-called Bible Belt. These are the people who demonstrate with signs saying abortion is wrong because it kills babies. Apparently, though, it's not wrong when the U.S. kills babies by the million. (And Trump, the man they voted for, is now busy starving babies to death in Yemen.) Presumably, that's because they're foreign babies and so, by definition, of an inferior race.

I look forward to some day writing the faith column for the Brunswick News. I even have the title for it. "Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition."
Finally, here's an opinion, largely from China's point of view, on the North Korean crisis.

Yes. North Korea is wrong. The U.S. is wrong, too. And if this goes a step further, it won't matter who was wrong.


  1. Heya there Graeme,

    Interesting that you're musing on this

    Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson spent 15 years pondering the Nazi question of how ordinary loving human beings with families etc could do such horrific things.

    The result of that long period of time can be read (for free) in his book Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief. You can download it from his website

    When I found it I went darn here is the book that I wanted yo write

    Jordan Peterson also has a youtube channel and a podcast.

    Hope you're doing well


  2. PS

    I came across a transcript of a great talk by Toni Morrison at PSU back in 1975

    She had some very deep things to say aboot racism and its "purpose"

    Here's a link