Sunday, March 15, 2015

Arendt and Socrates

As I move from one town or city to the next I am always amused by their various claims to celebrity and achievement.  I grew up in Hyde Park in Chicago.  The only plaque or monument I am aware of there, honors the first nuclear chain reaction.  Most places would give such an event its own acre, perhaps with a museum and diorama.  Hyde Park keeps shuffling it around,
 -Look, it happened nearby, OK, maybe not exactly right here, but in the general vicinity and anyway we've got a few things going on right now.
When I was a child, living in Hyde Park, my mother introduced me to Hannah Arendt.  She was a member of our congregation. Hannah Arendt told me she studied evil and I said that sounded boring.  My words were not flippant.  Evil people did not impress me.  We agreed that evil was worth studying.
I wish I could tell you that Hyde Park lionized Arendt; instead, we subjected her to our usual snottiness, throwing Fermi out of Steinways drugstore for buying a single coffee and staying for hours, etc.   The rabbi denounced her work Eichmann in Jerusalem for saying that some rabbi collaborated with the Germans, which isn’t exactly what she was saying.  Why are rabbis so stupid? I know other religions have their moments, but they seem honestly wicked. For pure self destructive, narrow-minded stupidity, it’s hard to top a rabbi.
Bruno Bettelheim, the great revisionist, also from the neighborhood, called Jews to task for not recognizing the coming cataclysm.  For being, so centered in our day-to-day lives that we had refused to see the obvious.  There had been many waves of anti-Semitism before and we didn’t have to leave.  The lesson of Noah lost yet again.
If you must criticize Jews for their compliance, then you must also criticize the interred Japanese Americans.  Many of them had left Nippon for America to keep their Buddhist faith and then we persecuted them for being Japanese. They had no more reason for expectation of survival than the Jews did.  Some did not survive.  There was never an explicit order to kill the internees. Americans don’t work that way.  It was very sparse, cold and isolated.  The only way for a soldier to transfer off guard duty was to kill a prisoner. Many years later my brother asked my friends dad, who had been an internee, if he had volunteered to serve in the Japanese-American combat regiment:
-Hell no.
Socrates when faced with the overwhelming evil of tyranny simply went home and refused to participate.  However, when the democracy rightly or wrongly ruled his execution, he accepted the hemlock.  Socrates equated evil to ignorance, Arendt wrote of its banality.
What is the proper code of conduct of the victim? When Muhammad ordered the slaughter of the Jews, our calm acceptance horrified the Arabs.If the Japanese had stood in armed defiance, more of them would have died.  It’s easy to see Jews making the same estimation.
The revenge of the victims is their absence.
So, that’s what we did, what did you do in your neighborhood?

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