stonesphinxes

Everyday Thoughtcrimes

Category: Culture

We Are All Monsters

We have just recently reached the 70th anniversary of the liberation of those interned at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When I was quite young, there was a pizza parlor in my town run by a man who had been held in a concentration camp when he was himself a child.  We’d surreptitiously (and likely very obviously) peer over our menus at his identification tattoo, but were too awed and terrified to ever ask about it.

I have always been saddened by the notion that one day there will be no one left with direct knowledge of the atrocities perpetuated by Germany (and Japan for that matter) leading up to and during World War II.  We have such short memories, and just like we have as a culture entirely forgotten the roiling horror of the polio epidemic, I expect we will also handwave and marginalize the Holocaust into something that only happened in movies that starred that white dude who was Gandhi.  We will remember it the way we remember President Whitmore’s rousing speech and the Battle of Helms Deep.

THIS is why you vaccinate your children you stupid silly twats.

I came upon a little corner of the web which I find illustrates perfectly why, exactly, we all must be constantly vigilant about what sort of monsters we all, to a one of us, are:

Awwschwitz:  Adorable Things, In Horrible Places

I’m not entirely sure if it is meant to be simply a novelty, or something more.  I found it incredibly powerful.

This loving father instigated genocide.

The German people of the time were modern, educated, and enjoyed life in a first-world country.  They loved their children, they cared for their families, they wrote poetry and grand literature and gardened and were engaged in their trades.  Some of them were right assholes, and some were beautiful souls.

The majority of these people, when confronted with great evil being perpetrated in their backyards, did nothing.

Many actively participated.  One would think that an educated young man would notice that they’re forcibly cramming women and children into a boxcar, and that those crammed into boxcars are never again seen alive.  That’s not something one can really normalize.  I overwhelmingly doubt that the Germans as a whole were so passively trusting that no one ever thought to ask where the boxcars go.

There are a great number of theories that explain the participation or at least non-interference of the German people in what is clearly and obviously a moral blight.  Most start from the point of view that no rational person would want to engage in this horror, and they were directly or socially coerced.  Soldiers couldn’t disobey orders, ordinary people couldn’t risk speaking up.  Perhaps no one knew that the small actions they were doing contributed to murder, which again, would require any given German to have the mental processing power of approximately 1.5 goats or one small houseplant.

I have a simpler explanation, and I love the simple explanation:

We are all of us monsters.

Inside even the most rational, educated person, there is a transponder with a direct radio to a time when surviving until tomorrow meant annihilating whoever stood between us and food, or sex, or shelter.  This signals up great delight and triumph when someone we perceive to be our enemy is humiliated or harmed.  No amount of moral education can stop the signal, we can only decide what to do with it once registered.

We are surprisingly hardwired to engage in and protect our tribes.  Those who could form cohesive bonds with small groups had a greatly superior genetic fitness, and so here we are, our ancestor’s children.  We love our tribes, and we hate to disappoint our cohort.

Look at this list of cognitive biases.  It’s really interesting, I’ll wait.

There are 90 decision-making biases alone.  (That we know of, of course.)

All of these apply to everyone.  They are part of the hardware of every mentally functional human.  No matter how smart you are, how educated, how morally pure, how modern and enlightened all of these defects will and do affect you.

I have personally participated in studies where we were able to activate the same cognitive errors in nuns, lauded professors, and meth-heads who didn’t graduate high school.

At the heart of every one of us is a creature who can be manipulated or even manipulate themselves to feel entirely righteous in the most outrageous acts of harm and evil.

The most dangerous of all monsters are the intelligent, educated, modern individuals who refuse to believe they’ve a dangerous creature inside.

I am terrified by the smugness that emerges when people ponder the why and how of what happened with the “ordinary German people.”  They are discussed as if they are some defective element of humanity who all managed to end up living in the same country with nothing to do with anyone else.

They’re not.

They’re us.

You’re them.

ISIL and Boko Haram, those are also you.  The Japanese in Unit 721, who undoubtedly thought they were doing a necessary service to their country, we’re them.  Just people.

If we forget the faces and the names of the survivors, if we tear down the evidence of our crimes and build supermarket where the Bergen-Belsen memorial now stands, we must remember who we are.  Because we’re always who we are, and we will do this again.

This man is only evil because they lost.

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Appropriation

Part of my personal development in the last several years has been to finally internalize that men like long hair.

Yes, they do.

Yeah, I know your best dude-friend and all your BFFs told you your pixie cut was adorbz.  They’re lying.

The truth is that your dude-friend can’t tell you otherwise because he knows all girls have a screeching harpy inside and he doesn’t know at what level your harpy containment facility is holding at, and this is “Does X make me look fat?” level harpy bait.  Your BFFs are just delighted that they’re now all cuter than you by default.

That’s SO cute on you!  No really!  Super flattering, keep doing it that way. Sound familiar?

There’s even been studies that suggest it doesn’t matter what your face looks like, as long as you’ve got that goddamn hair.

And trust me, this was really hard for me.  I was very resistant.  It took me realizing just how much outward attractiveness matters.  Which is a lot.  I’d grown up in a culture where I had it endlessly held forth to me that people who care about appearance are shallow and beauty came from the inside.

Didn’t really work out so much.

That’s pretty much me, but add a buzz cut, acne, and less social awareness.

Long hair is a pain.  It’s work.  You’ve got to start preparing when it’s only a few inches long.  You have to schedule showers and washing and make some serious product investments.  Say goodbye to the “high” setting on your hairdryer and hello to Mennonite ladies’ blogs.

I’m working on at least mermaid strategic-nudity length and potentially longer if I can manage it.

That’s about right.

My favorite thing these days is coconut oil.  Coconut oil on fucking everything.  Every.thing.  I soak my head in it for hours at a time and have enjoyed the amazing paradoxical effects.

If there are any ladies reading – Holy crap.  Do. It.

Also, only shampoo your roots and only condition the ends.

My favorite hair treatments are those marketed toward Indian women.  I follow their instructional videos on youtube, and, horror of horrors, I scope out the “ethnic” section of the hair care products.  I don’t really see how it’s my fault that they don’t market hair oil to pasty white euro-mutt women, but I’ve caught criticism for it.

Apparently I am “appropriating” Indian hair, and need to check my privilege.  Apparently women of color have worked long and hard to have access to their own section of hair products at Walmart, and I am not welcome on aisle 12.

As absurd as it sounds, I’ve been accused of having “white hair privilege” before.  Which makes me wonder what the advantage is to having hair genes that come from the same place that invented those dreadlock dogs and/or haggis and Nazis.  Half of it is wavy, the other half is curly in the opposite direction, it’s all very big if there’s a microliter of humidity, and there’s no cultural outreach to teach me how to do my hair.

Cultural appropriation is widely defined as:

Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.

So, uh, well, okay.  As I’m lacking in access to whatever cultural bureaucracy grants authorization to use another culture’s cuisine, I guess this will stand as an official apology for eating sashimi served by a Filipino and Korean chef team earlier this evening.  I was planning on making tikka masala later this week at home, but now I am confused and afraid.

I own a 1920’s kimono, which I am proud to say, only takes me 4 hours and one case of tennis elbow to put on.  I am working on some art that incorporates the imagery of Kachina dolls, because it’s beautiful and fascinating.  I first became aware of how Indian women do their hair when I lived next to a community of recently immigrated Indian folks, who also still wore saris daily.  I also think that saris are gorgeous and convenient for the climate, and would wear them myself if I knew how.

However:

the Orientalism that comes with donning saris, henna tattoos, and other Indian ornations, rub many people in both communities the wrong way

And:

An authentic cultural exchange should feel free and affirming, rather than plagiarizing or thieving.

So is it free and affirming for me to wear a sari that is appropriate for the weather conditions and buy the “ethnic” hair products that work really well for me, or is it insulting to the culture those things are intended for?  If I go to actual India and wear Indian clothes in India where everyone else is wearing them am I respecting or insulting the culture because somewhere before I was born someone of my skin color was a total bell end to Indians?

I suppose it depends on how butthurt you feel like being that day.

I grew up in a neighborhood where I carpooled with a Mexican immigrant family who didn’t speak English, my neighbor was a Dutch lady who conducted Tibetan Buddhist meditation ceremonies, and I went to Catholic Mass and Unitarian Universalist services on the regular.  My friends were Indian Indian, and Native American Indian + Italian hash, and  Mexican (of the native incorporated sort), and a whole bunch of other people whose defining characteristic was that they were able to overlook the mortal sin of my wearing puffy paint kitty sweater sets.

That’s actually the sweater. I had matching stirrup pants. My beard was never quite so lush though…

Are we supposed to be a melting pot here?  That’s what I always thought.

We learn from each other, and if one speaks pidgin Gaelic and Mandarin to get along in the world, so it shall be and we shall celebrate with potato pot stickers and soju car bombs.  And it will be good.  Especially after a couple soju car bombs, oh my yes.

Or are we all going to sit in our little tribes and demand that no one else can look at our super-secret special things?  Is everyone’s culture so fragile it can be entirely negated by a silly valley girl’s tasteless Halloween costume?

All said, I never expected to be getting dirty looks in the ethnic hair products aisle.

Edit: 01/25/15 – 8:20p

Just to illustrate, here’s a bunch of people yapping about cultural appropriation of “Chinatown Bags” by Stella McCartney’s clothing line.  Chinatown bags are apparently cheap, plaid, laminated cloth bags used for shopping in low-income immigrant districts of mostly Asian origin.  I guess.  All I got on the first two pages of Google were guide for buying fake Louis Vuitton in Chinatown, and shoes based on said unpictured bags.

This is problematic because we’re ignoring the Asian immigrant plight by incorporating these bags into hoighty-toighty Western fashion.

One trench of irony to leap though –  Plaid is Scottish.

Which was appropriated by Asians who needed cheap shopping bags.  Which then the English, via Stella McCartney, appropriated back.  But apparently it belongs to the lowest bidder.  Whomever wins that particular bracket of oppression Olympics.

Edit: 01/25/15 – 9:51p

My carriage returns disappeared.  I’m allowed to use those, they were invented in Cleveland.