Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Disaffection and Violence

Indeed, before I get into this further, I have to note the false nature of press reporting on this topic.

The media recently held a local event on the topic of press distrust.  In that local even the press pondered why it is so distrusted.  It considered  the topic of media biased and then found that it wasn't biased so that couldn't be it.

It is.

Here's an area where it is.  Reporting on this topic reports some astronomical number of "mass shootings'.  All violent deaths are tragedies, but as a sociological phenomenon they are not all the same.  Indeed, these two events last week aren't the same, maybe.  But it's clearly not the same if, for example, a drug dealer kills two or three others who are cheating on his distribution chain.** That's a tragedy in all sorts of ways, but it's not what we're talking about. When the press reports a huge number of "mass killings", however, that is what they're including.

There's a huge problem with that as it what it tends to do is obfuscate the nature of the problem or problems and, in this one, it focuses almost universally on the topic of gun control.  This post, we'll note, isn't on gun control, but as an example of what I'm referencing the New York Times ran an op ed analysis piece right after these two events and concluded that the only thing that was different in regard to the United States and most other nations was the lack of U.S. gun control.

That the US has less gun control than other western nations is true, but to suggest that the type of weapons that have been used in these events are wholly absent from other nations is false.***  That doesn't mean that the regulation of them is the same universally by any means, but it also means that you can buy, for example, a military style semi automatic rifle in some western European nations.

Again, this isn't an article on gun control so we'll leave that here.

My largest and most significant post on this topic is this one:

Peculiarized violence and American society. Looking at root causes, and not instrumentalities.

In this, I advance a thesis that I think is hugely significant and which I also feel is nearly universally ignored.   That conclusion, following a lengthy discussion, is here:

The Conclusion and what to do about it. 

What does seem to be the case is that we have a population we've really failed, but the failure is now so systemic that addressing the problem is massive in scope. But if we don't confront that now, the problem will grow worse and worse.  The difference between tolerance and acceptance needs to be reestablished, and the concept that a society must have standards does as well.  And that can't be foisted off on the school system.  And, while we now seem to accept that we've lost forever certain types of work, we must recognize that work, for some people, is much more than a career, but literally a life raft for them and us, giving their lives meaning.  Finally, while we're talking of banning things, we need to really look at violent entertainment.  Just as the argument will be advanced by those in favor of banning certain firearms that it doesn't matter that most of the owners of those arms will not misuse them, but that those who do, do so catastrophically, it is even more the case that some will be impacted by the glorious cartoon depiction of violence negatively.  And entertainment, at the end of the day, is just that.  There's little justification for highly glamorized sexualized violence aimed at teenage and twenty something males.

I still think that explains the root of what we're seeing in a major way.

What I also think we're seeing now, however, is the appearance of Horst Wessel.

Horst Wessel in his Nazi SA uniform, Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1978-043-14, Horst Wessel.  Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-043-14 / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3. CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1978-043-14, Horst Wessel.jpg.  Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Horst Wessel?

Yes, Horst Wessel.

Wessel was a German storm trooper in the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) who was murdered in 1930, prior to the Nazis obtaining full power in Germany.

He was a 23 year old Westphalian who fell into the Nazi Party.  He was the son of a Lutheran minister and came from a family of Lutheran ministers. Lutherans are a minority in Westphalia.  It's a Catholic region of Germany that was less than keen on being included in the German Empire in the first place.  It later proved to be the epicenter of the membership of the July 20 plot against Hitler.  That put Wessel into an odd demographic strongly associated with the conservative German monarchy in the region in which he lived.****

Wessel started off with career aspirations to be a lawyer, but at some point he dropped that pursuit and fell into what we might regard as disaffected dissolute living.  He hung out in bars and formed what might be regarded as a right wing gang.  By the early 1920s, prior to the rise of the Nazis, he was already associated with racist causes.  Going into the Nazi SA, which was basically its street fighting gang wing, was a natural path for him, by the time it came around.^  Indeed, it built on his disaffection and what he already believed.

In September 1929 Wessel met and took up with Erna Jänicke, a 23-year-old former prostitute.  She moved in with him that following November.  Wessel's apartment was ironically subleased to him by the widow of a Communist.  She tried to get Jänicke to leave, probably fearing prosecution for harboring a prostitute, but the couple wouldn't allow it.  She then went to friends of her late husband, who were naturally enough Communists, and they agreed to help her mostly because they were aware of Wessel's role in the SA.  They sent a gang to address the situation, and a member of that gang shot Wessel just about as soon as he opened the door to his apartment.

The Nazi's were given a golden opportunity with this, and Goebbels rapidly acted to propagandize Wessel as a martyr, stating:
A Christian Socialist! A man who calls out through his deeds: 'Come to me, I shall redeem you!' ... A divine element works in him. making him the man he is and causing him to act in this way and no other. One man must set an example and offer himself up as a sacrifice! Well, then, I am ready!
The whole martyr thing was baloney, of course.

Indeed, by that time, none of this reflected the reality of Wessel.  He wasn't a Christian anything, but a failed young man who had adopted a desperate racist ideology, abandoned his religion, and was living with a woman in a fashion contrary to Christian morality and whom had recently been a whore.

None of which precluded what amounted to a proto Nazi state funeral and the writing of the Nazi era fight song, The Horst Wessel song.

Now, what on earth could be the point here?

Wessel ended up a Nazi not because he was a deep thinking student.  It was because he wasn't.  He became a Nazi as he entered his early teens with one concept of the world and his place in it, and by 1918 that world was gone. Following that, his concept of how the world was supposed to be ordered was deeply at odds in comparison with the direction Germany was actually going even while, as the very same time, his personal conduct in terms of morality was hugely at odds with his own apparent beliefs and those he'd grown up with.  He was a lost hypocrite in a world that he couldn't recognize and that was getting more unrecognizable every day.  He's like a lot of Nazi figures that way.

And that likely explain some of what we see going on.

If Imperial Germany had kept on keeping on without interruption (something that's a complete historical impossibility) Wessel likely wouldn't have ended up at the business end of a pistol during an attempted armed eviction and he likely wouldn't have ended up sharing that apartment with a former prostitute.  He probably also wouldn't have become a lawyer like his father had hope for him.  Chances are that he'd have gone on to some sort of boring clerical job of slight privilege, being of the right demographic in an aristocratic country whose leadership favored the clerical class over the working class and Lutherans over everyone else.  He obviously had a brooding mind, but he obviously wasn't an intellectual heavy lifter either.  Had German society not taken a big diversion from the Protestant Imperial norm he was from, however, he likely would have turned out to be a middle class functionary, have married a Protestant girl, and had a conventional middle class German family, loyal to the Emperor and enjoying a bit of privilege simply because he was of the right demographic.

But by 1918, that didn't matter anymore.

The Empire was gone. The German working class went into revolution.

And that revolution yielded a Germany that, while recognizable to us now, in hindsight, was deeply distressing to many Germans at the time as well as being a state under tremendous stress.  Germany wasn't an ancient political state, it had only existed since the Franco Prussian War, but the Prussian Empire that ran it was, in relative terms.  Now the Imperial order was gone, along with its aristocratic, militarist, and Protestant political culture.  The social order was seemingly ruined as well, with Socialist politicians dismantling laws that had tightly controlled social conduct for decades in favor of a much more libertine society that expressed itself in the cities in a very strong and sudden way. . . think Babylon Berlin.  Average middle class Germans were shocked and conservative upper class Germans disgusted.

And the economy was ruined as well in a profound way.

Most Germans, in that atmosphere, carried on with their pre war views in a modified form. But not all did, and particularly those who were younger and perhaps would not have risen to great heights in the first place.  Men like Wessel, as well as Himmler and Goebbels found themselves without any frame of reference that they could see in daily life and they reached out to the political extremes which provided them with secular absolutes. They became Nazi and Communist street thugs, when they probably would have just been clerks or the like otherwise.  It's hard to imagine any of them being real successes in any sense in a normal Germany, if there had been one, or in an Imperial Germany, it had remained, or in a republican Germany, had it existed in normal times.

All of these figures reached about for somebody to blame while at the same time reaching back into a past that they idealized but they didn't live up to.  Wessel, as noted, came from a deeply religious Lutheran family.  Himmler and Goebels came from devout Catholic families. They all rejected the religion of their parents even while working towards a past that Germany never had.  It's no wonder that all of them looked all the way back to a German tribal past that they imagined as unyieldingly heroic.

None of them would have amounted to a hill of beans but for the turbulent times.  In that atmosphere, once again, the German Social Democratic Party claimed the allegiance of most Germans, and it actually became more conservative and middle of the road after coming to power in 1918.  Most conservative Germans joined other parties, most notably the CDP and the Centre Party, but more extremes gained voice.  And those voices were heard by the disaffected.  And those disaffected were willing to surrender themselves to violent ideologies.  This meant that real German problems were drowned out by extremists who used their disaffected adherents to advance their cause.

And that's what we need to be aware of.

I've noted it here on multiple occasions, but there's been something going on in the last several years that has expressed itself in the last two, maybe six, elections.  The problems that are expressing themselves in the election of populist candidates of the right and the left are real problems that nobody is paying attention to, and certain members of the disaffected are now really yielding to their darkest impulses, implicitly urged on by the extreme rhetoric of those who use the times for their own advantage.

Ironically, the members of the radical left and the radical right are largely the same in numerous ways and this is particularly so among their disaffected hard corps adherents.  This was true in the Germany of 1918-1945 as well.  Goebbels, for example, had been a Communist before becoming a Nazi, something that wasn't uncommon at all.  Many of those reaching out for a radical reformation of society now, or a radical reach back into an imaginary past, are the same people.

And if we're honest about it, we should be admit that we're in a period of technological transformation and uncharted social experimentation that are leaving a lot of people behind in a truly disturbing way.  I've addressed that very completely in the thread linked in above, but we've dropped those with marginal personalities who formerly occupied dignified work clean out of the workplace, leaving them to their parents' basement and to their brooding imaginations.  We've destroyed a social order in which they would likely have met and married somebody or at least have gotten along, and replaced real live human beings with "hookups" and, more likely, Internet pornography, thereby taking down all  the fences on their conduct that previously existed and leaving them only to the boundaries of their own misformed imaginations.  And we've oddly, at a the same time that we have fewer men in the military at any point since World War Two, and a lower percentage of American men in the service since, I'd guess, before World War One, completely glorified the Armed Forces and in fact glorified combat violence.  In doing that, we've oddly corrupted a "gun culture" that was highly directed towards subsistence hunting with an appreciation of military arms, to one focused on one as if combat is about to break out at any moment.  And we've undertaken more and more to not only frustrate traditionally male roles from being that, but have even demonized that the maleness of certain male roles and males themselves, with professional sports barely remaining the sole last exceptions.^^

And you also get an atmosphere when really serious issues about economics, technological transformation, science and immigration won't see the light of day.  Indeed, they've become mere points and counter points for populist politicians of the right and the left to throw one liners at each other about, fueling the disaffecteds' discontent.

Put that all together, and you get Horst Wessel.
In separate incidents over the past two weeks, gunmen have killed three persons and wounded 13 others in Gilroy, CA; killed at least 20 and wounded 26 others in El Paso TX; and killed at least nine and wounded 27 others in Dayton, OH. These are just the latest in a long pattern of mass shootings; shootings that have blood-stained the past two decades with no end in sight. 
Now begins the usual aftermath: expressions of shock; hand-wringing about senseless (or racist, or religious, or political) violence; bitter arguments about gun control; heated editorials, earnest (but brief) self-searching of the national soul, and eventually — we’re on to the next crisis. 
I buried some of the young Columbine victims 20 years ago. I sat with their families, watched them weep, listened to their anger, and saw the human wreckage that gun violence leaves behind. The experience taught me that assault rifles are not a birthright, and the Second Amendment is not a Golden Calf. I support thorough background checks and more restrictive access to guns for anyone seeking to purchase them. 

So I’ll say it again, 20 years later. Treating the symptoms in a culture of violence doesn’t work. We need to look deeper. Until we’re willing to do that, nothing fundamental will change.​
Archbishop Chaput.

**About 5% of all homicides in the United States are, fwiw, "gang" slayings.  

The vast majority of American homicides are, connected with other criminal activity.  A high percentage of murderers have committed other crimes prior to ever taking a life. Those killings that are not directly related to a criminal enterprise, tend to be "domestic" in nature, although even there prior criminal activity is common.

Hammers are significant murder weapons in the U.S., making up a high percentage of the instruments of homicide. Firearms are the most common murder weapon, but some types of firearms, including some "military style" weapons, are almost never used in homicides.

***It's also the one area of reporting in which the press feels free to separate out countries based on how "advanced" they are.  South and Central American nations, for instance, are excluded in reporting that's almost racist in this context.

****Westphalians were sufficiently opposed to inclusion into Prussia that the incorporation of the region into that monarchy was partially responsible for  wave of Westphalian immigration to the United States.

^Both the Nazis and the Communists had quasi militaristic street gangs that served their parties' interests violently.

^^But probably not for much longer.  Women's soccer did spectacularly well in the World Cup.  It should be celebrated in its own right, but the fact that a woman's team did well was instantly co opted by the political left for political purposes, aided by the fact that the leader of the team is very vocal in her views including on her gender views, and boosted by the Press.

She has a right to be all of that.  But I heard at least two press interviews of the coach which included her opinions on political and social matters in which the reporters all but begged her to criticize the current President.  Any American, indeed anyone really, has the right to criticize the President, but a sports figures opinions on politics are not terribly relevant to anything whatsoever.  None the less, I heard two interviews in which she was asked if she was going to run for office, which based simply being a soccer coach, is a really odd question.

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