The knowledge we have of the surrounding world obviously plays a huge roll in the way we interact with the world. In They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer, the author has some interesting observations about the way the German’s acted with what they knew. The Germans had experienced destitution, they had memories of some form of liberty, they hated communism; but above all they wanted to live.
Pg 325 – They Thought They Were Free
The Germans want, not at all oddly, to live. They would like to live well, but in any case they would like to live, well or badly. Their attitude may be unherioc; they ought, perhaps, to prefer dying on their feet to living on their knees. But they don’t; and, unlike us, who have had neither experience, they have had both. What we, who have never been slaves, call slavery, they, who have always been what we call slaves, find less abhorrent than death. They hate Communism – under that name – but they do not love what we call liberty enough to die for it. If they did, they would have died for it against Hitler.
If the Germans knew, if they had experience with living on their feet, would they have chosen to die on their feet? American’s have some experience with living on their feet, but personally it is more of a fading memory than an actual experience. More and more we live on our knees, but life is rich enough that no one complains. Life is well enough, that it doesn’t seem to matter when we lose more and more of our ability to choose as we come under pressure. It is not a stretch see how the Germans chose life on their knees rather than death. That is why knowledge, knowledge of freedom, of living on our feet is so important. A vision of Liberty. If a dream of what life ought to be is not held, then that dream can never be attained.
Pg 282 – They Thought They Were Free
Hitlerism was a mass flight to dogma, to the barbaric dogma that had not been expelled with the Romans, the dogma of the tribe, the dogma that gave every man importance only in so far as the tribe was important and he was a member of the tribe.
Tribalism is a horrid social-wide dogma that actively encourages lack of knowledge of your neighbor as an individual. No longer are you to “love your neighbor” as Christ told, but you are to love your Tribe. It encourages the larger forms of Tribalism in that rather than our neighbor we are to love our Nation (Nationalism) and our People (Racism) above others. People who are similar to you are to whom you can relate. Not to the individuals you have access too and can actually interact with. Such is not the way humans are meant to be, it is an ignorant viewpoint, one that discourages knowledge of people and things around us. Knowledge increases our understanding, increases our empathy and will decrease our tribalism. All Tribalism is, is fear of what’s unknown. It used to be Fear of what people lie in the village beyond the hill. Fear of the dragons at the end of the world. Now it is fear of people beyond the invisible national border, or across the ocean. Fear of what will happen to your God because of scientific discoveries. Knowledge reduces fear of silly things and increases fear of suitable things. I am not afraid of people for they are just like me. I am afraid of people’s acceptance of bad Ideas for they have the worst of consequences.
Pg 306 – They Thought They Were Free
My friend Willy Hofmeister, the old policeman, was amazed, and kept adverting to his amazement, that Mein Kampf had not been banned in America during the war.
Willy’s mindset of how disagreeable books should be banned is a perfect distinction of the fear of Tribalism. The fear of what knowledge can do. Even while I fear people’s acceptance of bad ideas, I do not fear the ideas themselves. Bad ideas are like horrid little bugs, to be squashed or ignored. The only time to fear them is when someone is foolish enough, or lacks the appropriate avoidance knowledge and get’s bit by that horrid little bug. No matter how horrid the idea, all ideas are really worth discussing. This is because if someone is unsure or is leaning towards a bad idea that means there is a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding. That is a distinct role of knowledge, to make our world smaller, closer, more sociable, and all together, more free.
This post is a continuation of a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer. The book itself is home to a lot of revelations to the nature of people and I do recommend reading it. For additional reading please see the short review of the book itself and a list of other commentary like this post.