BBC reports that former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning was sentenced to five years in prison. The man is 94 years old. He did not actually kill anybody. He just did nothing to help and, well, he was there.
So burn him, for fucks sake, if it brings you pleasure. What do I care. Who am I to judge you for judging. But let me ask you if you had sacrificed your life in the vain attempt to help all those people. What is your answer? Probably something like: Well, I want to think I would have.
But there is something else that I find interesting about the article. It is a form of rhetorical manipulation that I think is very common and also very moronic.
As Mr. Hanning sits in court, confronting some super-duper victims, he is described as follows in BBC’s article:
Observers said Hanning, in a wheelchair, remained silent and emotionless for much of the trial, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.
While one of the super-duper victims is described as follows:
Mr Glied, a dignified man with thick white hair and a ready smile, now lives in Canada. He was accompanied today by his daughter and granddaughter.
Side note: Glied, in German, means member. When used in slang, it usually means dick.
So what’s wrong?
I have two problems with this. Firstly, this may be a projection of the journalist and not even accurate.
But secondly and more importantly, what does it say? He looks dignified and has a ready smile, so that makes him a good person? And the other guy looks emotionless and avoids eye-contact, so he is evil?
What a moronic child’s play.
Surely Mr. Glied never once in his life looked emotionless or avoided eye-contact. Surely if he were in Hanning’s position, bound to a wheelchair, 94 years old, about to be sentenced to five years in prison for some bullshit that happened some sixty years ago, he would look very dignified and would have a ready smile.
And the thick white hair does speak for physical health. Yippie.
What if I dare take the liberty to rephrase the description of Mr. Glied.
Mr. Glied, sitting in court and being finally given something of a chance for revenge, can’t help himself but have a smug and self-righteous smile on his face. Justice is served, he must be thinking, and his egoic satisfaction shines through.
I mean no offense to Mr. Glied, by the way. I know nothing about him. My criticism is one of the journalism and subtle judgments of emotions ingrained in the culture – or maybe just in my interpretation of it – and not one of him.
Let me also attempt to rephrase the description of Mr. Hanning.
Mr. Hanning, clearly broken from the stress of the trial, seems withdrawn and barely manages to show any emotion. His underlying sadness and his broken trust in society is apparent in his avoidance of any form of eye-contact.
But phrase it as you want, what does it matter? So if you have a good day and a ready smile on your face, that makes you a good person? And if you wake up the next day with a migraine and just want to be alone, then you are bad? What does that say about who you truly are, the smile or the avoidance of eye-contact. Nothing at all. Those are just superficial emotions that come and go with the circumstances.
Of course Mr. Glied has a ready smile and looks dignified. Everybody in there respects him and wants to hear his account. Everybody has compassion with him and to some, he may be something of a hero.
Of course Mr. Hanning is emotionless and silent, being looked upon with disdain by probably everybody in the room, having projected all the hatred and pain of that so-called dark time upon him. How could so much negativity possibly leave him unaffected?
Again, I may be projecting, but I am under the impression that our culture has these personality-stereotypes about who is good and who is bad. Confidence, smiles, dignified look, victim stance, all that is the domain of the hero. Coldness, disillusionment, guilt, shame, that is the stuff that the villain is made of. If the villain shows shame or guilt, we assume he is evil.
Why? It makes no sense at all.
All those emotions are facets of the human experience. The dignified look belongs as little to Mr. Glied as the emotionless stare belongs to Mr. Hanning.
Underneath, we are all the same. Sometimes we get attached to some form of pain and sometimes this makes us do horrible things. But that does not mean that this is our identity. Even if Mr. Hanning had actually murdered somebody, why should we make an identity out of it? Why do we say that somebody is a murderer? When somebody uses tooth floss, do we call him a flosser? Likewise, Mr. Glied happened to be in a powerless position back then. But why should we make an identity out of it for him? Does it mean that he has once experienced being a victim? Or does it mean that being a victim is part of his identity?
Likewise with Jews in general. Are Jews simply a culture that has experienced victimhood? Or is victimhood now a firm part of the Jews’ identity? Same with women. Or blacks. Or whomever.
Having committed murder does not mean that it is your identity. It is an experience you had. Having been victimized does not mean that being a victim is your identity. It is an experience you had.
But for some reason, we like to hold on to those things. Ego. We want to be able to define ourselves in some abstract way and when something extraordinary – even if it is very painful – happens to us, we grasp for it and suddenly we know who we are – victims or oppressors.
And just as we hold on to it personally, we also force others to hold on to it. We keep telling women they are oppressed. We keep telling murderers and rapists that they are evil and bad.
Instead of understanding that the capacity for all of those things lies in all of us. Just as the capacity to let it go and heal lies in all of us.
And if being emotionless and silent truly makes you bad, well, I guess that we all have been bad people at some point in our lives, haven’t we.
For some reason, our culture shames certain clusters of emotions. Shame, guilt, fear, weakness, being creepy, et cetera. Identifies them with being bad. Instead of just acknowledging that they are a form of self-expression that can hit any of us. I also think that this shame is a one reason for us holding on to pain very often, for example rapists and their victims. The subject and the involved emotions are so out of the norm and seem so unacceptable – just consider the fact that you can orgasm while you are raped – that you have a tough time acknowledging them to yourself. Instead, you keep pushing it away and fighting it and thus you hold on to it for a long time. Instead of healing, you seek relief in the only way possible: By blaming those who hurt you indefinitely.
Because we believe that some things are unacceptable, we actually fail to accept them and move on.
I bet you that Mr. Hanning had his moments of dignity and ready smiles. But that’s not what we see. We see a news report with a photography of Mr. Hanning looking grim – and decide that this grim face is his identity. Well, it’s not. The notion is ridiculous.
I did photography for a while. Guess how you do photos of events, of people. You take a hundred pictures of a person and then pick out the one picture that best suits your needs. Usually, you want to pick out the picture where the person’s face does not look stupid, distorted, in the middle of a sentence, evil, momentarily withdrawn, sad or whatever. You want one that expresses strength and confidence and joy. But guess what. Out of that hundred pictures, maybe five fit those criteria. The rest of it show the entire bandwith of human emotion.
And that’s what they do in those news reports about villains as well. They take a hundred pictures of him and pick out the one where he looks most sinister and evil. To support the narrative that he is somehow worse than anybody else. That being evil is his identity. To forge the illusion of our superiority over him.
But I bet I could take a picture of you where you look equally evil.
I recall an excursion I participated in, to a state prison in Germany. There we had the opportunity to talk to a few incarcerated guys. Two or three of them were murderers, one of them was a serial killer. They were normal people. They did not have a sinister look in their eyes. They did not have some mysterious aura that made you want to run away. Nothing like that.
And from that, you may conclude that they are able to hide their evilness very well. Sure, that is one possible conclusion. The other possible conclusion is that the thing you call evil is simply a facet of the human experience that shines through sometimes – and does not at other times..
Anyhow. May he who is free of sin cast the first stone.