Monday, November 06, 2006

The Weakest Goes to the Wall

Back when slavery was still legal in parts of the United States, the abolitionist vs. slaveholder arguments basically boiled down to a matter of humanity: abolitionists argued that black-skinned people were full-fledged human beings while slavery supporters insisted otherwise. The two arguments had an unspoken assumption in common: enslaving a human being is wrong. Nobody denies that, so let’s debate whether the slaves in question are human beings instead.

I thought of this as I perused an online archive of German propaganda from the Nazi and East German regimes. The East German pieces are especially fascinating because of their novelty. Pop history has covered the Nazis so thoroughly there’s no revelation to be gained from leafing through their propaganda: they hated Jews, loved blondes and thought Germans were better than anybody else. But the GDR propaganda archive contains actual surprises, like this excerpt from an East German article meant to justify the new Berlin Wall:
We no longer wanted to stand by passively and see how doctors, engineers, and skilled workers were induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man to give up their secure existence in the GDR and work in West Germany or West Berlin. These and other manipulations cost the GDR annual losses amounting to 3.5 thousand million marks.
I’d always assumed East Germany justified the wall by calling it necessary to keep out the invading armies of the Western imperialists, similar to our proposed Mexican border fence. Maybe that's what the East Germans were told, but this piece was written for foreign distribution, an attempt to justify the wall to the rest of the world.

I know, “East German Communism sucks” is an outdated point to make in 2006, but I can’t bear to look at any current news sites until after tomorrow, when the elections end and the political ads go away. Propaganda for the Berlin Wall is better, because the wall’s long gone.

17 Comments:

Blogger rhhardin said...

Slavery ended when it became no longer possible to defend it. The full-human-being argument was just the final one tried, but it was already on the way out. That wasn't really meant as an argument, but more as a roadblock.

Stanley Cavell _The Claim of Reason_ has a nice essay p.372ff

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

I await the day when Leon Kass and his ilk are deemed subhuman, and it's decided that their continued existence lessens us as a species.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Why Socialism Needs Killing Fields

--
* * *

A socialist economy must employ negative incentives, the kind of incentives that law abiding people apply only to muggers and the like, in order to get light bulbs in the light sockets and toilet paper in the toilets. Thus the entire socialist country must be run as a prison, and all the citizens are lifers, and the nomenclatura are merely trusties.

Needless to say, when this system is introduced, a great many people misbehave. You cannot send them to prison, they already are in prison.

You have to murder them. Hence the need for efficient methods for the mass production of murder.
--

- Josh

12:17 PM  
Anonymous stevo darkly said...

"We no longer wanted to stand by passively and see how doctors, engineers, and skilled workers were induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man to give up their secure existence in the GDR and work in West Germany or West Berlin. These and other manipulations cost the GDR annual losses amounting to 3.5 thousand million marks."

According to what I read in the book The Sovereign Individual (because I didn't hear a peep about it at the time), during his administration Bill Clinton used similar reasoning to levy "an exit tax for millionaires" upon wealthy people who left the USA to become citizens of other countries where the tax rates were lower.

Actually, by "millionaires" he meant anyone with a net worth of $300,000 or more. And apparently the tax would work like this: Pretend the expatriate sold all his stuff upon leaving the country, and levy a tax of 28% upon the assumed capital gains.

The reasoning was that America (meaning the government) had invested a lot of money to raise, educate, protect and provide the necessities of life for these wealthy and skilled individuals. And now those individuals had the audacity to opt out of repaying the Motherland (by paying high US tax rates for the rest of their lives). (BTW, did you know that that the richest 1% of the US population shells out about 27% of all US income taxes? At least that was so when The Sovereign Individual was published in the early 1990s.)

So of course, it would be "unfair" to let those cash cows simply waltz freely out of the country. The exit tax was proposed as a means of taking one last grab of the money those assets -- er, people -- "owed" the Motherland.

This proposed exit tax was also called "the Berlin Wall for capital" (but not by its proponents).

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Stevo darkly said...

ACK!!! In my second paragraph, "to levy" was supposed to read "to propose levying" -- the exit tax was proposed by Clinton but not enacted.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

On the other hand, if East Germany had allowed people to leave after merely paying a 28% tax on what they owned that would have been a hell of an improvement. And the country would have been empty in a week.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Follow-up: After slamming Clinton, I should also note that further research reveals the Republicans later proposed a similar exit tax that was even worse. The Repus raised the net worth amount for qualifying as a "millionaire" to $500,000, but their proposed exit tax would require the escapee to pay not just once (upon leaving the USA and renouncing citizenship), but for two years* after! Yep, the US government would get to hound you for taxes even after you were no longer a citizen or resident!

*Maybe it was three years. I lost my reference already.

12:18 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

Jennifer,
Thanks indeed for the link on German propaganda. Being able to read it in the original, I am always struck by the similarity in the choice of words and the tone of the language during the 3rd Reich and GDR times. The same observation can be made in the Russian and no doubt in the Chinese of Mao's day as well as present North Korea. Unfortunately much is lost in the translation.
Totalitarianism has its own universal language. It is not only used in material for propaganda purposes, but it permeates everything. Poems, novels, publications, even everyday speech. There is no comparable tradition in English, probably because there never was an English-language totalitarian state, but of course, the language exists.
I have always wished that people were taught to recognise it and perhaps some are. If so, it seems to be in a context of history, not language, as my anecdotal experience has shown that most people do not recognise it. This is unfortunate, as they could instantly spot a present-day demagogue by his use of the language and that would trigger a proper skepticism.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Sam Franklin said...

Back when discretionary, late term abortion was still legal in parts of the United States, the pro-choice vs. pro-life arguments basically boiled down to a matter of humanity: pro-lifers (also called anti-choicers) argued that post-viability fetuses were full-fledged human beings while pro-choicers insisted otherwise. The two arguments had an unspoken assumption in common: terminating a human being is wrong. Nobody denies that, so let’s debate whether the fetuses in question are human beings instead.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

4:05 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

pro-lifers (also called anti-choicers) argued that post-viability fetuses were full-fledged human beings while pro-choicers insisted otherwise

Good post, good point, would have been better if you had worded it as "...while pro-choicers (also called anti-lifers) insisted..."

If you're going to give into the pro/anti crock of marketing crap, you need to dole out the beatings in a measured and even way.

I've consistently maintained that if we answer the underlying question, when does a fetus become a "person" under the constitution, then everything else is answered already within well settled law.

Sorry to go off on a tangent here, but this "pro" "anti" namecalling bullshit hits a very sore point with me. I'll shut up now.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Sam Franklin said...

a moose: I agree, and I had the post worded exactly that way, but then tweaked it just before posting because I didn't want to unduly piss off any pro-choicers.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

I didn't want to unduly piss off any pro-choicers

That's the problem, by approaching it as not wanting to piss off one side, you're falling into the whole language partisan game crap.

Be free with your antagonism in this case, and piss off both sides or none at all. Don't let people smugly say they're "pro" this, while letting them characterize the other side as "anti" that, etc. I don't mind someone having an opinion, but to word it such to make themselves feel better about a very difficult question (I personally believe so they don't have to think about it much) is just wrong.

By the way, I hold no real strong views on this issue other than we need to answer the underlying question, as it will address both this and a myriad of other issues such as those raised during the Shaivo fiasco. So, don't infer that I have any particular belief system by my comments.

Ok, I'm going to shut up for real now....

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Off topic, but one of my co-workers grew up in East Germany. He was only 10 when the Wall fell, but he can still tell some stories.

For example, it was very difficult to get fruits and vegetables out of season. If they were very lucky, they might have access to bananas during the winter. Children might be served bananas as part of their gov't-provided school lunch. However, as a general custom the children would not eat the bananas themselves, but would take them home to give to their grandparents, in order to give them some vitamins in their diet. (Reminder: We are talking about the 1980s here.)

There were no hardware stores. If you wanted to undertake a home-improvement project, such as building some bookshelves, in order to obtain supplies you would have to fill out a requisition form from the government. You would have to have your requisition form for wood, etc., signed by a city official, and then passed on for consideration.

It generally sucked.

However, some East Germans are still nostalgic about those old days. There was no market competition -- jobs were secure, and most people didn't have to work too hard. There was much less stress in life (unless you worried about nutrition problems or wanted to build a bookshelf).

Also, I don't know whether this is a totalitarian thing, a no-respect-for-the-rule-of-law thing, a the-official-police-won't-do-anything-about-it thing, or a German thing, but there seemed to be a lot of vigilante vandalism against rule-breakers. If you parked your car where you weren't supposed to, someone would rip the valve stems off your tires. One neighbor regularly broke a law against burning wood (in this case, especially smelly wood), so when he was away his neighbors ran a garden hose down his chimney and flooded his house.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stevo,

Has your co-worker seen Good Bye Lenin or read Stasiland? I'm curious what he thinks of them.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Stevo: Has your co-worker seen Good Bye Lenin or read Stasiland? I'm curious what he thinks of them.

I don't know. He's just a young punk of 27 and has a fairly lighthearted outlook on life, even when describing life in East Germany as a kid. I think the last movie he saw was Ice Age 2 and I have no idea what books he reads. It feels kind of odd to approach him about "heavy" stuff about his homeland. I can imagine how I might feel if I were visiting another country and someone wanted to have a lot of conversations with me about slavery and lynchings and Richard Nixon.

To tell the truth, I expend a lot of conscious effort in not making any jokes about Nazis and Hitler when he's in earshot. It's hard, because Nazis are a potential source of a lot of humor. But my German buddy might consider it in bad taste.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Good Bye Lenin is a comedy, but your caution makes sense.

I visited east Berlin a few months after monetary union. Seeing a marker where someone had been killed the previous year for trying to leave was sobering. But since they're young, the picture of communism that I scare my kids with is a parking lot filled exclusively with Trabants.

It must suck to be around the guy. Not only can you not make jokes about the murderers of ten to twenty million people, you're also denied that other wonderful source of laughter, the comrades who killed over a hundred million.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

I have always wished that people were taught to recognise it and perhaps some are. If so, it seems to be in a context of history, not language, as my anecdotal experience has shown that most people do not recognise it. This is unfortunate, as they could instantly spot a present-day demagogue by his use of the language and that would trigger a proper skepticism.

I think this is a great idea. We could also include some education about the techniques of advertising, to hopefully build in some resistance to that form of influence, as well.

1:38 PM  

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