This is my follow-up on the unfinished business of my last post. It was unrealistic of me to imagine that, in the interim, any of you would be able to gain access to the two major sources I referred to. Never mind: here's the promised summary.
It's hard to imagine that there could ever again be for humankind such a severe crisis of conscience than that which faced us with irrefutable evidence of the extermination factories of the Nazis, shortly after the defeat of Germany in the Second World War. Given our current world situation, even that statement may well be inadequate, as we are clearly in the midst of vagaries of social process that we do not fully understand, and consequently for which we don't seem to have solutions. That many of those processes are inimical to humankind is not immediately obvious, particularly to those who are motivated by primarily self-serving interests.
Both my recommended authors have commented extensively on the Holocaust and its meaning; Elias from a perspective that takes into account the whole process of human interactions and the sources of their motivations in the course of history: and Bauman from a perspective that analyses the actual psychological as well as social processes that were operative in that particular case. Each perspective is important, and each emphasizes the relevance of the other.
In Bauman's most recent version of Modernity and the Holocaust he gives significantly more commentary on the manner in which the conscience of people can be stilled by what I guess I should call "distractive" activity, carefully planned in advance, and sufficiently connected to other identity concerns upon which all of us depend for our sense of meaningfulness and purpose to suggest that those very identity concerns place us at risk from people whose identity concerns are different. In the case of the Nazi administration, this distractive activity was consciously orchestrated, firstly, and most signifcantly, by separating the future victims from any humane intercourse with other people by putting them in the ghettos, and thus making them ostensibly invisible as human beings with concerns similar to our own. Given that separation, it was possible to build upon the myth of a thousand year reich which would fulfill the realization of a superior national and racial identity.
There is another aspect of that process, however, which is so pervasive, and yet well nigh invisible. It is the unconscious assumption that any realizable vision of a future more successful (satisfying) than the present must be formulable in terms of a theoretical plan of some kind That is, there must be what I have called elsewhere a kind of utopian vision, either of an outcome, or of a process, which classifies everything in terms of whether it contributes to the visionary outcome, or prevents it. In those circumstances everything that supports the vision (however erroneous) is encouraged, and everything that endangers it must be rendered ineffective, or destroyed. Tony Judt's last chapter in Postwar documents how pervasive such attitudes remained in Europe throughout the years following the second world war. I"ve already commented on this previously, but it is still for me one of the most horrifying documentations of our capacity as human beings not to learn from our own collusion with what Elias calls dys-civilizing processes. A prime character of those processes is that the "negatve' and "positive" aspects are identified as characteristic of clearly distinguishable groups of people, who are thus enabled to justify not only their dissociation from one another, but also the necessity for any action that might contribute to the achievement of the ideal. In our current world situation it is pretty obvious that the utopianism may simply take the form of an identity belief that affirms powerfully-shared collective values as being the essence of who one is. In our present global society (if we can even dare to call it that) who one is is largely defined in terms of who one isn't. As Elias put it himself back in 1987, (quoted in detail in my earlier post "Self and Other revisited"),
The consciences of people, particularly the leading politicians, officers and businessmen throughout the world, are almost exclusively preoccupied with their own individual states. The sense of responsibility for imperilled humanity is minimal.
Elias also touched on the very similar exclusive self preoccupations of international business concerns, for whom even specific "national" interests and concerns were (and are, increasingly today) virtually irrelevant.
How can we together promote a "We" image for humankind that would enable us to resist our temptation to contribute to those dissociative processes?
More to come!
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