Death via Quota

In the book Death by Government, the author goes through an amazing amount of detail regarding deaths through government fiat.  For today’s post I pulled out a couple quotes discussing not just death through government fiat, but specifically when those deaths are utterly meaningless, meaning death for no other real reason then to meet a quota.  People’s lives are ended because of an arbitrary numbers game.

The author says it well so I will let him speak about Murder by Quotas below.  After that, I aim to discuss some of the de-humanizing effects of such meaningless murder

Pg 81 – Chapter 4, Soviet Gulag State
We lack a concept for murder by quotas because we – including the journalist, historian, and political scientist – have never before confronted the fact that a government can and has killed its own people for apparently no reason. For the same reason, neither do we understand the execution of starving peasants who fish in a stream without Party permission (trying to steal state property), or for the pinning of a ten-year sentence on the first one to stop clapping after Stalin’s name has been mentioned at a public meeting. Nor for the execution of a fourteen-year-old because his father was purged; nor for the Red Army’s not only permission for but encouragement of mass rape and murder of civilians in virtually every country it newly occupied during World War II.

The Soviet Gulag State discussed in Chapter 4 was the first country mentioned in the book to explicitly kill through quota’s.  The quota’s were tight enough that the local government enforcement arm had to resort to drastic, meaningless, murder-on-the-street methods to fulfill their quotas:

Pg 81 – Chapter 4, Soviet Gulag State
But murder and arrest quotas did not work well. Where to find the “enemies of the people” they were to shoot was a particularly acute problem for the local NKVD, which had been diligent in uncovering “plots.” They had to resort to shooting those arrested for the most minor civil crimes, those previously arrested and released, and even mothers and wives who appeared at NKVD headquarters for information about their arrested loved ones.

The Nazi’s may or may not have a had a quota – the book didn’t mention one – but their system itself didn’t need one.  Their murder rate was high enough to keep the murdering processors busy.

Pg 118 – Chapter 6, Nazi Genocide State
So many gassed per day, so many cremated per hour – it was a stopwatch system, at the center of the best in human technology, knowledge, and efficiency, and carried out by what was considered in the 1930s to be one of the most civilized, educated, and developed nations in the world.

It’s a horrible system, one where people pity the murdered and are horrified by the murderers.  Are they even human anymore?  If empathy is considered a necessary human trait, then these murderers actually lose their humanity when they lose their ability to empathize.  I’ve discussed empathy before in Men to Monsters and On Empathy, Dragons and Nazis.  Recently, there was an interesting study done on how politics effects empathy.  The jargon used in the study is “Visceral States are not projected onto dissimilar others”; or namely, people don’t empathize with people of a different political opinion.  In fact, empathy was shown to be catastrophically reduced and often completely eliminated.

This should be headlining news as a reduction of empathy turns people into sociopaths, at least regarding people of a differing, antagonistic political party.  But instead of it being proclaimed and heavily discussed throughout mainstream media, I’ve only seen it mentioned on alternative media.  That being said, this ability of politics to separate people into groups where the opposing groups essentially see them as non-humans (as being regarded as human “just like me” requires empathy) is probably a big reason behind how people can cause such misery to one another through government.

Pg 178 – Chapter 9, Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge
[Khmer Rouge were] tipping out patients [from the hospitals] like garbage into the streets….Bandaged men and women hobble by the embassy. Wives push wounded soldier husbands on hospital beds on wheels, some with serum drips still attached. In five years of war, this is the greatest caravan of human misery I have seen. – Reported by a British Journalist at the French Embassy

I have a hard time explaining how else people could treat other people as such.  They have to be seen as non-humans, as anti-political entities.  Which, luckily for Death, politics apparently creates.

Pg 196 – Chapter 9, Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge
“In the new Kampuchea, one million is all we need to continue the revolution. We don’t need the rest. We prefer to kill ten friends rather than keep one enemy alive.” – Khmer Rouge Officer

Combine the ability of politics to de-humanize people with the lust for power of the political elite and you have, what poet Nguyen Chi Thien calls a return of Man to Ape.

Pg 281 – Chapter 11, Vietnamese War State
The Poet Nguyen Chi Thien, who by 1980 had spent over sixteen years in prison camps, must also have been expressing the feelings of “re-education” camp inmates in a poem he called “From Ape to Man” that was smuggled out of the camps to the West:

From ape to man, millions of years gone by.
From man to ape, how many years?
Mankind, please come to visit
The concentration camps in the heart of the thickest Jungles!
Naked prisoners, taking baths together in herds,
Living in ill-smelling darkness with lice and mosquitoes,
Fighting each other for a piece of manioc or sweet potato,
Chained, shot, dragged, slit up at will by their captors,
Beaten up and thrown away for the rats to gnaw at their breath!
This kind of ape is not fast but very slow in action, indeed
Quite different from that of remote prehistory.
They are hungry, they are thin as toothpicks,
And yet they produce resources for the nation all year long.
Mankind, please come and visit!

This post is a continuation of a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from Death By Government by R.J. Rummel.  The book itself is a real and horrific tome of how Power kills absolutely.  Despite the negative outlook of some of the commentary, I do recommend reading it.  Here are some quick links to posts related to this book: Short review of the book itselfall the quotes in one place, and a list of other commentary like this one.

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