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A Few Reflections on Adolf Hitler

I have just finished reading, Hitler: Ian Kershaw’s brilliant, two-volume biography on Adolf Hitler. Over the course of 1432 pages, Kershaw uncovers why Hitler, a man not all too dissimilar from other tyrants in history, has become synonymous with evil.

Kershaw also reveals the gap between Hitler’s public image and private personality. He reveals the difference between the rabble rouser capable of captivating the masses by exploiting their fears, prejudices, and desires, and the lacklustre reality. Kershaw shows how Hitler transformed Nazism into a national religion – complete with its own songs, fables, and rituals – and how he transformed himself into its demagogue.  

Hitler projected a persona that embodied all the ideals of German nationalism. He presented himself as the archetype of German pride, efficiency, and self-discipline. In Hitler, the German people found the living embodiment of their fears and aspirations.

Furthermore, Hitler presented himself as the saviour of a nation on the brink of ruin. This was not entirely his doing, by the early-thirties things had grown so dire in Germany that people were willing to throw their lot in with anyone promising to restore law, order, and honour. Hitler promised all that and more. Utilising what we today would recognise as identity politics, Hitler promised to restore national pride and wreak vengeance on Germany’s enemies. He divided the world into victims (the German people), perpetrators (international Jewry and Marxists), and saviours (the Nazis).

It would be far too simplistic, however, to conclude that Hitler brainwashed the German people. Rather, Hitler and the German people became intertwined in the same unconscious conspiracy. Hitler may have been the one to espouse the kind of murderous ideas that led to Auschwitz and Stalingrad, but it was the German people who gave those ideas their full, unconscious support. As time marched on, Hitler’s sycophancy was taken as political genius.

By telling the German people what they wanted to hear, Hitler was able to present himself as a national saviour. The reality was far different. He was a man with virtually no personality. He had no connection whatsoever with ordinary people. He never held an ordinary job, never had children, and only married his mistress, Eva Braun, the day before his suicide. Albert Speer, the Nazi architect and one of the few men Hitler counted as a friend, described him as a duplicitous, insecure individual who surrounded himself with shallow and incompetent people, laughed at the misfortunes of others, and retreated into “fantastic mis-readings” or reality.

Furthermore, whilst Hitler presented himself as the hardworking political demagogue of unmatched genius, he was, in reality, a lazy, egotistical man whose rise to power rested on the cynical manipulation of national institutions. Far from being the tireless worker he presented himself to be, Hitler actually proved unable to deal with numerous major crises during the War because he was still asleep. He saw his role as being the creator of Nazi ideology. The actual running of Germany he left to his functionaries.

When Hitler toured Paris following the fall of France in 1940, he made a special visit to the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Saluting the Emperor’s marble tomb, Hitler commented, in typical egotistical style that like Napoleon his tomb would only bear the name “Adolf” because “the German people would know who it was.”

He was not entirely wrong. The name Adolf Hitler is remembered today. However, far from being remembered as the founder of a thousand-year Reich, he is remembered as a genocidal fruitcake whose legacy is as inglorious as his life. Hitler and Napoleon may have been similar in many ways (both were foreigners to the countries they would end up ruling, both reigned for a short period of time, and both significantly altered the course of history), but where Napoleon left a legacy that is still very much with today, Hitler failed to leave anything of lasting significance

But perhaps that is precisely what Hitler wanted. Carl Jung has a dictum: if you want to understand someone’s motivations for doing something, look at the outcome and infer the motivation. In his brief twelve-years in power, Hitler led the German people into a war that cost fifty-million lives, presided over a Holocaust that murdered eleven million people, and oversaw the destruction of the old Europe. If Adolf Hitler could be summarised in a single quote, the line from the ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita would prove sufficient: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

TRANSGENDERISM IS NO BASIS FOR PUBLIC POLICY

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It has been over fourteen-year since David Reimer, the victim of an insane and evil scientific experiment, committed suicide. After his penis had been burnt off in a botched circumcision, David’s parents had turned to the infamous sexologist and social constructionist, Dr. John Money for help. Following Dr. Money’s advice, David’s parents agreed to allow a sex change operation to be performed on their young son and raised him as a girl.

Despite Dr. Money’s boasting that his experiment had been a success, however, David Reimer did not settle comfortably into his female identity. David tore up his dresses at three, asked if he could have his head shaved like his father, and engaged in all manner of boyish behaviour. David was bullied at school and, upon hitting puberty, decided that he was a homosexual (in reality, of course, he was heterosexual).

Finally, when he was fourteen David’s parents revealed the truth about his gender identity. David reverted to his masculine identity, broke off contact with Dr. Money whom he described as an abusive brainwasher, and received a non-functioning penis through phalloplasty. Unable to handle the immense psychological damage that had been inflicted upon him, David Reimer blew his brains out with a shotgun at the age of thirty-eight.

For all of human history, boy has meant boy and girl has meant girl. Traditionally, sex was used to refer to the biological markers of gender. If you were born with a penis and an XY chromosome, you were a man. If you were born with a vagina and an XX chromosome, you were a woman. One’s gender expression was thought to compliment one’s biological sex. A biological man would have masculine personality traits and a biological female would have feminine personality traits. These complimentary characteristics, among them body shape, dress, mannerisms, and personality, were thought to be produced by a mixture of natural and environmental forces.

Recently, however, gender theorists have begun to question the relationship between biological sex and gender identity. They argue that gender, which they see as distinctive from sex, is a social construct. Since gender refers to the expression of masculinity and femininity, gender is something that a person acquires. (Needless to say, this movement is driven by a pernicious post-modern, Neo-Marxist worldview). Under this philosophy, gender expression is the manner in which a person expresses their gender identity. Gender identity is expressed through dress, behaviour, speech, and nothing else besides.

Neuroplasticity provides the gender theorist with perhaps his greatest argument. If underlying brain processes are theoretically strengthened through repetitive use, it follows that gender identity comes from a narrowing down of potential gender categories through the repetitive use of certain brain processes. However, it also reveals a fatal flaw in the gender theorist’s (and social constructionist’s) philosophy. If the human brain is so malleable that an individual’s gender identity is constructed, then why can’t the brain of a transgender person be adapted out of its transgenderism?

The primary problem with gender theory is that it just plain wrong. The idea that gender is distinct from sex has absolutely no basis in science whatsoever. As Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology/philosopher, has stated: “the idea that gender identity is independent of biological sex is insane. It’s wrong. The scientific data is clear beyond dispute. It’s as bad as claiming that the world is flat.” Men and women differ both at the cellular and the temperamental level. Unlike men, for example, women menstruate, they can have babies, and they show a slew of personality characteristics that mark them as different from men. David C. Page, the Director of the Whitehead Institution at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has even claimed that genetic differences exist at the cellular level asserting that “throughout human bodies, the cells of males and females are biochemically different.” These differences even affect how men and women contract and fight diseases.

The philosopher Alain de Benoist has also strongly criticised gender theory. De Benoist argued against the scientific errors and philosophical absurdities in his work Non à la théorie de genre (No to Gender Theory).

First, De Benoist points out that the gender theorists have used the fact that some gender characteristics are socially constructed to argue that all characteristics are socially constructed.

Second, De Benoist argued that the “hormonal impregnation of the foetus” (as De Benoist puts it) causes the brain to become genderised because it has a “direct effect on the organisation of neural circuits, creating a masculine brain and a feminine brain, which can be distinguished by a variety of anatomical, physiological, and biochemical markers.”

Third, De Benoist argued that biological sex has a profound effect on the way people think, act, and feel. In order to support their theory, gender theorists are forced to deny the natural differences between men and women. De Benoist wrote:

“From the first days of life, boys look primarily at mechanized objects or objects in movement while girls most often search for visual contact with human faces. Only a few hours after birth, a girl responds to the cries of other infants while a boy shows no interest. The tendency to show empathy is stronger in girls than in boys long before any external influence (or “social expectations”) have been able to assert themselves. At all ages and stages of development, girls are more sensitive to their emotional states and to those of others than boys … From a young age, boys resort to physical strategies where girls turn to verbal ones … From the age of two, boys are more aggressive and take more risks than girls.”

Furthermore, gender theory cheapens what it means to be a man or a woman. And, by extension, it denigrates the contributions that each gender has to make to civil society. Gender values give people ideals to strive for and helps them determine the rules that govern human interactions. The idea that men and women ought to be treated the same is ludicrous beyond belief. No parent would like to see their son treat a woman the same way they treat their male friends. Men have been taught to be gentlemen and women have been taught to be ladies for a reason.

All of this is not to say, however, that those pushing transgender rights do not have a case. They are right when they claim that the transgender peoples of the world face discrimination, prejudice, and violence. Some countries treat transgenderism as a crime, and it is certainly true that transgender people are more likely to be victims of violence, including murder. A reasonable transgender rights argument would be that transgender people cannot help their affliction and that society ought to treat them with kindness, tolerance, and compassion.

Unfortunately, that is not the argument that gender activists like to make. Rather than focusing on promoting tolerance, gender activists have instead sought to do away with gender distinctions altogether (which is, more likely than not, their actual aim). Using a very tiny minority of the population as their moral basis, the gender activists are attempting to force society to sacrifice its traditional classifications of male and female.

Transgenderism is clearly a mental health disorder. In the past, it was referred to as “gender dysphoria”, considered a mental illness, and treated as such. To assert the fact that transgenderism is a mental health disorder is not a denial of an individual’s integral worth as a human being. It is merely the acknowledgement of the existence of an objective reality in which gender is both binary and distinct. Unfortunately, this is not the attitude of those who influence public opinion. Consequently, programs for LGBTQ youth have seen an increase in youth who identify as transgender. The transgender journalist, Libby Down Under, has blamed instances of rapid-onset gender dysphoria on the normalisation of transgenderism in the culture. With a slew of celebrities coming out as transgender (former Olympian Bruce Jenner being a primary example), and with transgender characters being featured on numerous television shows, many teens and tweens have suddenly decided that they are transgender despite having no prior history of gender confusion.

Transgender youth increasingly feel that it is their right to express themselves however they please. And they feel that it is their right to silence all who dare to criticise or disagree with that expression. Cross-living, hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery are seen as part of this self-expression. Alarmingly, the mainstream response of psychotherapists to these children and adolescents is the “immediate affirmation of [their] self-diagnosis, which often leads to support for social and even medical transition.”

It is a classic case of political posturing overshadowing the pursuit of truth. Most youth suffering from gender dysphoria grow out of their predilection. Dr. James Cantor of the University of Toronto has cited three large-scale studies, along with other smaller studies, to show that transgender children eventually grow out of their gender dysphoria. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual 5th Edition claims that desistance rates for gender dysphoria is seventy to ninety percent in “natal males” and fifty to eighty-eight percent in “natal females.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association’s Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology concludes that the vast majority of gender dysphoria-afflicted children learn to accept their gender by the time they have reached adolescence or adulthood.

It is not a secret that transgenderism lends itself to other mental health problems. Forty-one percent of transgender people have either self-harmed or experienced suicidal ideation (this percentage, of course, does not reveal at what stage of transition suicidal ideation or attempts occur). The postmodern, neo-Marxist answer to this problem is that transgender people are an oppressed minority and that they are driven to mental illness as a result of transphobia, social exclusion, bullying, and discrimination.

It is typical of the left to presume that society is to blame for an individual’s suffering. And to a certain extent, they are right. Transgender people are the victims of discrimination, prejudice, and violence. But it is more than likely that these abuses exacerbate their problems rather than causing them. One in eight transgender people, for example, rely on sex and drug work to survive. Is that the fault of society or the fault of the individual? The National Center for Transgender Equality claims that it is common for transgender people to have their privacy violated, to experience harassment, physical and sexuality violence, and to face discrimination when it comes to employment. They claim that a quarter of all transgender people have lost their jobs and three-quarters have faced workplace discrimination because of their transgender status.

In Australia, there has been a move to allow transgender children access to hormone-blocking drugs and sex-change surgeries. Australian gender activists – surprise, surprise – support the idea of as a way to reduce the rates of suicide among transgender people. The Medical Journal of Australia has approved the use of hormone therapy on thirteen-year-olds despite the fact that the scientific community remains, as of 2018, undecided on whether or not puberty-blocking drugs are either safe or reversible.

In the United States, a great deal of debate has occurred over transgender rights. In particular, there have been debates over what bathroom they should be allowed to use, how they should be recognised on official documents, and whether they should be allowed to serve in the military. In 2016, former President Barack Obama ordered state schools to allow transgender students to use whatever bathroom they desire. Similar ordinances have been passed in hundreds of cities and counties across the United States. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia are subject to ‘non-discrimination’ laws which include gender identity and gender expression. These include restrooms, locker rooms, and change rooms.

In March of 2016, North Carolina passed a law which required people in government buildings to use the bathroom appropriate to their biological gender. The US Federal Government decried the decision as bigotry and accused the government of North Carolina of violating the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Government threatened to withhold over US$4 billion in education funding. The government of North Carolina responded by filing suit against the government of the United States. The US government responded by filing suit against North Carolina. North Carolina received support from Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas whilst Washington received support from most of the northern states.

Pro-transgender bathroom policies are not limited to government, however. Many businesses in the United States have similar bathroom policies. Many large corporations, among them Target, allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. And they are perfectly prepared to enforce these policies, as well. A Macy’s employee in Texas was fired after he refused to allow a man dressed as a woman to use the female change rooms. Similarly, Planet Fitness revoked the membership of a woman who complained that a transgender man was in the female change rooms.

The most alarming trend of the gender theory movement is the attempt to indoctrinate children through changes to the education system. In 2013, France unleashed the ABCD de l’égalité (the ABCs of Equality) on six hundred elementary schools. In their own words, the program was designed to teach students that gender was a social construct:

“Gender is a sociological concept that is based on the fact that relations between men and women are socially and culturally constructed. The theory of gender holds that there is a socially constructed sex based on differentiated social roles and stereotypes in addition to anatomical, biological sex, which is innate.”

The creators of the program are smart enough to include the disclaimer: “biological differences should not be denied, of course, but those differences should not be fate.”

Fortunately, it would seem that many people are not taken in by this race to fantasyland. They are not taken in by the idea that the program merely exists to combat gender stereotypes and teach respect, and have protested. The French Minister of Education dismissed the protestors by saying that they “have allowed themselves to be fooled by a completely false rumour… at school we are teaching little boys to become little girls. That is absolutely false, and it needs to stop.” In America, The Boston Globe dismissed the protests against the program as being motivated by fear. Judith Butler event went as far as to say that France’s financial instability was the true cause of the protests.

And such a profound misuse of the education system isn’t limited to France, either. In Scotland, teachers are given guidance by LGBT Youth Scotland, children are expected to demonstrate “understanding of diversity in sexuality and gender identity”, and children are allowed to identify as either a girl or boy, or neither. The government of the United Kingdom has mandated that transgender issues be taught as part of the sex and relationships curriculum in primary and secondary school. Justine Greening, the education secretary, said: “it is unacceptable that relationships and sex education guidance has not been updated for almost twenty years especially given the online risks, such as sexting and cyberbullying, our children and young people face.”

It is in Australia, however, that there is the most shocking case of gender theory indoctrination. A great deal of controversy has been generated over the Safe Schools program. The program, which was established by the Victorian government in 2010, is supposedly designed to provide a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment for LGBTI students. It states that schools have the responsibility to challenge “all forms of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, intersexism to prevent discrimination and bullying.”

The Safe Schools program promotes itself as an anti-bullying resource supporting “sexual diversity, intersex and gender diversity in schools.” It requires Victorian schools to eliminate discrimination based on gender identity, intersex, and sexual orientation, including in terms of an inclusive school environment.

The program addresses the issues of sleeping and bathroom arrangements and dress code. In terms of dress code, the program states:

“An inflexible dress code policy that requires a person to wear a uniform (or assume characteristics) of the sex that they do not identify with is likely to be in breach of anti-discrimination legislation including under the Equal Opportunity Act (1984) SA”

Likewise, the program states on the issue of bathrooms and change rooms that “transgender and diverse students should have the choice of accessing a toilet/changeroom that matches their gender identity.” In addition, the program states:

“Schools may also have unisex/gender neutral facilities. While this is a helpful strategy for creating an inclusive school environment for gender diverse students broadly, it is not appropriate to insist that any student, including a transgender student, use this toilet if they are not comfortable doing so.”

The idea that a transgender boy or girl should be allowed to sleep, shower, and defecate in the same place as a group of boys or girls ought to ring alarm bells for everyone. It increases the risk of sexual activity, sexual assault, pregnancy, and the transmission of sexually-transmitted-diseases. There is a reason why schools segregate changerooms, toilets, and dormitories.

The tragedy of David Reimer reveals just how dangerous it is to ignore the truth in favour of a false and malevolent social philosophy. It is one thing to seek tolerance and compassion for those in the community who may be struggling with their identity. It is something else entirely to use the plight of transgender peoples as a means of cording society to change the way it categorises gender. And it is completely insane to allow a false philosophy like gender theory to be used as the basis of public policy. If we don’t want more tragedies like David Reimer’s, we should put gender theory out in the trash where it belongs.

WHY TRUMP WON

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Not even Cassandra, cursed to prophesise but never be believed, could have predicted the tumultuous change that occurred in 2016. In June, just over half of the British public (51.89%) voted to leave the European Union. Then, in November, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the President of the United States.

And not only did Trump defeat Clinton, winning thirty of America’s fifty states (though Clinton did win the popular vote), the Republican Party utterly decimated the Democrats. Trump won thirty of America’s fifty states (Clinton, admittedly, did win the popular vote). The Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, have a majority in the Senate, hold thirty-three state governorships, and control thirty-two state legislatures.

Brexit’s victory and Trump’s triumph comes off the back of a deeper cultural movement. It is a movement that rejects the doctrines of political correctness, identity politics, diversity, and equality in favour of greater intellectual rigour and personal freedom. Trump’s gift to this movement has been to expand the Overton Window. As an indirect consequence of his uncouthness, the boundaries of public discourse have been expanded exponentially.

Throughout his campaign, the media treated Trump as a joke. He hasn’t got a hope in Hades, they claimed. In the end, however, they were proven wrong. Trump won through a mixture of hard-line policies on immigration and a rejection of political correctness and far-left politics. And he won through his astounding ability to market himself to the American people.

The first thing to note is that Trump thrives on scandal. Much of this ability emanates from his already tarnished reputation as a rude, uncouth, bully and womaniser. Trump has never denied these facets of his personality (in some cases he has even emphasised them). What this means is that those who voted for Trump did so despite the significant faults in his character. Consequentially, accusations involving sex or money (the two things people truly care about) has little effect on him.

Then there is his skill as an emotional manipulator. Trump appeals directly to the emotional sensibilities of the people by using fear-mongering rhetoric to circumvent the mind’s critical faculties. Rather than emphasising the importance of maintaining the integrity of immigration law, Trump chooses to emphasise the crimes – rapes, murders, drug offences – committed by some illegal immigrants. After this, Trump promotes anger by setting up an out-group as the enemy. As a result, Trump implies not only that he is the best man to solve these issues, but that anyone who opposes him is somehow anti-American.

Finally, there is Trump’s use of simplicity and repetition as persuasive tools. Nuanced and boring statements can be taken out of context. By contrast, simple and heavily repetitive statements are harder to take out of context. But, more importantly, such statements are also more likely to be believed.

Much of Trump’s use of simplicity has its basis in his relationship with language. Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level and averages one syllable per word. While it would be easy to dismiss this as unsophisticated or low brow, it is important to remember that small words have a stronger and more immediate emotional impact, are more accessible to a wider audience, and are considered more believable. Cognitive fluency bias means that that the easier it is to understand something, the more likely it is to be believed. As a consequence, Trump’s use of small, simple words means he is more likely to be understood and, therefore, is more likely to be believed.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Trump’s magnetism is his ability to bypass the traditional mediums of communication and appeal directly to the American people. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who relied upon celebrity support and the mainstream media, Trump and his supporters used social media to appeal directly to voters. The lesson is clear: voters like for politicians to speak to them as equals, not preach to them from on high.

THE SHADOW

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Embedded throughout world religion and mythology is the psychological motif of the shadow.  In the story of the fall of man, the shadow is symbolised in the snake that tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In modern times, the motif of the shadow can be seen in various superhero and fantasy films. Batman can be seen as the shadow of Bruce Wayne, Harry Potter’s ability to speak to snakes is a sign of his magical connection to the evil Lord Voldemort, and so forth.

Perhaps the most notable example of the shadow, however, comes in the distinction between the light and dark sides of the force in the Star Wars saga. Indeed it is the inability to recognise and come to terms with his own shadow that causes Anakin Skywalker to succumb to the dark side and become Darth Vader. Years later, Vader’s son, Luke would also battle his shadow, but, unlike his father, he would be able to recognise and ultimately overcome his own dark nature.

The shadow is an aspect of the Jungian concept of the psyche. The psychologist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) conceived of the human psyche as a self-regulating system comprised of many complex and archetypal parts. The ‘self’, therefore, is the totality of all the aspects of the psyche. It is the part of us that expresses a desire for fulfilment, that aims at goals, and drives us forward.

The Jungian concept of the psyche consists of the persona, the ego, the self, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, the shadow, and the anima and animus. The ego represents the aspects of our psyches that we are consciously aware of. It is the part of our psyches that regulates and organises our memories, our thoughts, our feelings, our sensory experiences, our intuitions, and so forth. From the psyche, our concept of ourselves and our place in existence springs forth.

Standing in contrast to the ego is the Jungian concept of the unconscious, which can be split into the collective unconscious and personal unconscious. The collective unconscious refers to the deep-seated and archetypal memories and instincts shared by the entirety of the human race.  The personal unconscious is developed through the interaction between the collective unconscious and personal development.  Jung himself defined it as:

“Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once  conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind;  everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do;  all the future things which are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness; all this is  the content of the unconscious… Besides these we must include all more or less intentional repressions of  painful thought and feelings. I call the sum of these contents the ‘personal unconscious’.”

It is from the collective unconscious that the shadow is grounded. This is because people are the product of both nature through the evolution of the human mind over millions of years (yes, this author is a believer in evolution), and their cultural heritage.

The simplest way of considering the shadow is to think of it as the part of your personality that you do not like. It is the part of yourself you have rejected because you consider it to be weak, flawed, inferior, or even disgusting. The Jungian psychologist, Aniela Jaffe (1903 – 1991), defined the shadow as the “sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the conscious attitude, are denied expression in life.”

The shadow emerges out of the essential need for choice and opposition in life. The shadow represents all those ‘unchosen’ choices. When we choose to be one way, we choose not to be the other way.   As the British philosopher, Alan Watts (1915 – 1973) said:

“It’s always the devil, the unacknowledged one, the outcast, the scapegoat,  the bastard, the bad guy, you see, the black sheep of the family. It’s always from that point, that which we could call the fly in the ointment, you see, that generation comes. In other words, in the same way as in the drama to have the play it is necessary to introduce a villain, it’s necessary to introduce a certain level of trouble. So, in the whole scheme of life, there has to be the shadow because without the shadow there can’t be the substance.”

Jung saw the shadow as presenting a “moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality.” Because it represents a side of ourselves that we do not like our instinct is to try and hide and repress our shadow. Often those who have totally rejected their own dark side will unconsciously project the dark or negative aspects of their own personalities onto people or entities that they do not like.  The more we condemn the evil in others, Jung observed, the blinder we are to it in ourselves.

Understanding and reconciling oneself to their shadow is an integral part of self-enlightenment. One must make himself consciously aware of the darker elements of their own psyche without being an enemy to it,  and then accept it as absolutely present and real. In doing so, it is possible for the individual to integrate the evil within themselves and place their devils in their proper function.

THE RIDDLE OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

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On November 20th, 1945, twenty-four leaders of the defeated Nazi regime filed into Courtroom 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice to be tried for some of the most reprehensible crimes ever committed. Over the next ten months, the world would be shocked to learn of the depth and extent of the Nazi regime’s mechanised horrors. By the end of the trial, twelve of the defendants would be sentenced to death, seven would be sentenced to periods of imprisonment, and three would be acquitted.

Contrary to what one may believe, the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not psychopaths, sadists, or otherwise psychologically disturbed individuals. Rather, their actions arose, as psychologist Gustave Gilbert (1911 – 1977) concluded, from a culture which valued obedience. The observation that mass-horror is more likely to be committed by normal men and women influenced by social conformity would later be categorised by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) as the ‘banality of evil.’

This shouldn’t be as too much of a surprise. After all, human beings are hard-wired to obey orders from people they deem superior to themselves. In 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933 – 1984) carried out a famous experiment which explored the conflict between authority and personal conscience. Milgram’s experiment was inspired by an interview with the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (1900 – 1947). Höss was asked how it was possible to be directly involved in the deaths of over a million people without suffering emotional distress. Chillingly, Höss answered that he was merely following orders.

The process of the experiment was simple. Two participants, one who whom was actually a researcher, would draw to decide who would take the role of teacher and who would take the role of student. (The system, needless to say, was rigged to ensure the actual participant took the role of teacher). The teacher and student were then separated, and the teacher was taken to a room with an electric shock generator consisting of a row of switches ranging from fifteen to four-hundred-and-fifty volts.  Supervising the teacher was an experimenter in a grey lab coat (an actor in reality). Through the experiment, the teacher was to ask the student questions and administer an electric shock every time the student got a question wrong. As the experiment continued the student would deliberately give wrong answers. As the shocks got more and more severe, the student would scream and beg for mercy. When the teacher expressed concern, however, the experimenter would insist that the experiment continue. By the end of the experiment, Milgram had concluded that all participants would continue to three-hundred volts whilst two-thirds would continue to full volts when pressed.

The Nazis were able to create such obedience through a well-calculated propaganda campaign. Hitler outlined the principles of this campaign in Mein Kampf:

  1.  Keep the dogma simple. One or two points only.
  2.  Be forthright and powerfully direct – tell or order why.
  3.  Reduce concepts down to black and white stereotypes
  4.  Constantly stir people’s emotions
  5.  Use repetition.
  6.  Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
  7.  Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
  8.  Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.

Similarly, Hitler’s speeches also followed a very specific and calculated formula:

  1. Hitler would unify the crowd by pointing out some form of commonality.
  2. Hitler would stir up feelings of fear and anger by pointing out some kind of existential threat.
  3. Hitler would invoke himself as the agent of a higher power.
  4. Hitler would present his solution to the problem.
  5. Hitler would proclaim the utilisation of the solution as a victory for both the higher power and the commoners.

In essence, the Nazi propaganda machine facilitated feelings of group identity and then used conformity to gain control over that group. They gambled that the majority of people preferred being beholden to a group than identifying as an individual.

If there is any lesson which can be derived from the Holocaust it is that the distance between good and evil is shorter than we like to believe. As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is fond of pointing out, if the Holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary people and you’re an ordinary person, the only logical conclusion is that you too are capable of horrendous evil. It is not enough to be critical of those in powers, eternal vigilance means being critical of our own need to conform and obey. Our freedom depends upon it.

12 ANGRY MEN

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This week for our cultural article we will be examining the classic 1957 courtroom drama12 Angry Men.

BACKGROUND

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12 Angry Men is based on a television play inspired by Reginald Rose’s (1920 – 2002) real-life experience as a juror on a manslaughter case in early 1954. It was first aired on CBS’ Studio One in September 1954.

It was inevitable that the television play would result in a film adaptation. With Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) and Rose acting as producers, and with Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) acting as director, the resulting film was filmed in under three weeks and made for a paltry US$340,000 (US$2,961,823.49 in today’s money).

THE MOVIE

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12 Angry Men is a small film in every sense of the word. Twelve jurors are locked in a room on the hottest day of the year to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. As per the law, the vote must be unanimous. Initially, all but one, Juror Eight (Henry Fonda – the only real star in the movie), vote guilty.

It’s not that Juror Eight thinks the defendant is innocent, but that he isn’t sure. He argues that the boy had an inadequate legal defence and that they, the jury, ought to examine the evidence more closely.

Initially, he has trouble persuading the other jurors to change their vote. But, as they begin to examine the pieces of evidence, more and more of the juror’s find room for reasonable doubt. The film ends with a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.

ANALYSIS

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12 Angry Men stands out in an era of sweeping epics and technicolour. It is a small, minimalist, black and white film shot mostly in real time. The mood is created through the creative use of camera angles, camera lenses, and editing.

At the beginning of the film, there are long, unbroken takes filmed from above with wide angled-lenses which give a sense of distance between the characters. They are dominated by the task ahead of them. As the film progresses, the takes become shorter, the camera moves steadily from above to below the action, and the focal length is decreased. This makes the film feel more claustrophobic. No longer at the jurors dominated by the task ahead of them, they are dominated by the force of each other’s personalities. As Lumet wrote:

“I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level, and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end, the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot  to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.”

12 Angry Men is primarily driven by its characters. Tension arises from body language, dialogue, and personality clashes. The characters represent an almost perfect cross-section of different personality types and temperaments.

12 Angry Men acts as a crash course on the parts of the US Constitution that guarantee a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  It is never stated whether the Defendant is innocent or not but instead asks us to look beyond our biases and arrogance and examine the evidence closer at hand. 12 Angry Men symbolises how well the American legal system can work when people are prepared to look beyond their personal feelings use their integrity for its benefit.