Notes from Underground


The hate experts



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I almost never expect the best from people, but I seldom expect the very worst. Indeed, even some of the most terrible crimes of our age, as well as most of the more mundane ones, are committed not out of a demonic vindictiveness or gleeful, sadistic enjoyment in others' suffering. Instead, when people are unfair or unjust in their dealings with others, it is very often because they think they are doing good. Or more precisely, they aren't thinking at all; they have simply conformed themselves to the dictates of the Zeitgeist, and have let themselves be pulled into the orbit of its ideological presuppositions, without actually using their mind in any way.

David Irving, Ernst Zündel, and Nick Griffin, along with numerous less high-profile defendants, have faced an essentially identical charge: thoughtcrime. In each case, a man targeted as "contemptible" by those in authority has been hauled before a court, essentially for the crime of refusing to cease to be his contemptible self, that is, for continuing to have opinions deemed worthy of contempt by the cognoscenti. The point of arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning those men, then, isn't really to fulfill the demands of statutes relating to "hate speech" or "incitement to hatred" — those are just legalistic excuses — but to publicly shame them as people.

But when I hear that it is not uncommon these days, in Europe and elsewhere, for such people who express frowned-upon opinions to be arrested and imprisoned, I don't automatically chalk it up to unmitigated, black-hearted wickedness on the part of the powers-that-be. Most of the representatives of the powers-that-be, after all, are only following orders, and Befehl ist Befehl. They don't make the rules, they just abide by them.

In taking thoughtcriminals away from their families and throwing them in prison cells, most functionaries are merely doing their job and feeding their family. They don't necessarily harbor any malice toward the people they persecute. Now, none of that diminishes their culpability for doing what is plainly wrong and evil, of course, but it does make it difficult to see them as deliberate enemies of all that is right and good. As much as we may deplore the fact that many men are losing their livelihood, and in some cases their freedom, for going against the Zeitgeist, we should be cautious about judging too harshly all those who have enabled that course of events.

Still and all, it sometimes takes my breath away just how mean people can be, especially when the powers-that-be give them implicit sanction to be mean. The fact that freedom of speech is steadily eroding across the Western world under the continued onslaught of political correctness has been much remarked upon. What is less discussed is the astonishing cruelty that has often marked coverage of those men's persecution.

When Irving was given a three-year prison sentence by an Austrian judge earlier this year, two details from news reports especially stood out to me. One source reported, in what it apparently deemed a delightfully ironic twist, that Irving might be forced to eat kosher foods while in jail. Another recounted that, during his trial, Irving tearfully mentioned how he missed his daughter and desperately wished to see her again, to which the prosecuting lawyer retorted, "If you saw her, what would you tell her about the Holocaust?" Irving apparently didn't know how to respond to that disgusting question, and his flummoxed state was cited as if it somehow negated any sympathy the reader might feel toward him for expressing love for his daughter a moment before.

In painting those two scenes, the (ostensibly objective) writers clearly had an agenda. In the first case, the idea was to imply that Irving was getting his just deserts — he was going to be humiliated for his alleged Holocaust-denial by being made to eat Jewish food, a fitting and no doubt revolting punishment for an anti-Semite. In the second case, Irving's status as a husband and father was made to be secondary to the fact that he was a thoughtcriminal. It doesn't matter, presumably, if the state is taking you away from your family for merely continuing to express an unpopular opinion; what truly matters is that you are a hatemonger, a bigot, a contemptible person; and if you are such a one, then any impulse for mercy that anyone might feel toward you is misplaced. It would be better to forgive a murderer or a rapist than a man with contemptible beliefs. And, indeed, calls for clemency for true criminals — men who have committed unspeakable acts — are regarded with less suspicion than those who beg the state to show mercy to thoughtcriminals such as Irving.

But the cruelest gesture I have noted is the impulse to jeer at the suffering of the thoughtcriminals, as if the latter had no right to claim that they were suffering. Frequently these jeerers sarcastically throw around the term "martyr" — Oh, look at him, claiming to be a 'martyr' for his cause — what a joke! Point out that thoughtcriminals such as Irving, Zündel, and Griffin are indeed suffering for their causes, whatever one may think of their causes, and you will be met with vicious scorn, and imputations that you are defending such men only because you yourself are a similarly contemptible person! Claim that their claims amount to slander and defamation, and once again, the jeerers will jeer that you are calling yourself a "martyr." In decrying your own alleged hatred, they remain oblivious to the increasingly hateful expression on their own face, or the flecks of spittle collecting on their mouth as they scream that you must repent for your hatred.

This tendency to dismiss the suffering of those who genuinely suffer strikes me as a contemptibly low blow, because it tries in effect to remove from the persecuted ideological deviant in question the very thing that could help give him relief from his suffering. Meditation on the wrongs one has suffered can lead a person at first to mere self-pity, but it can also eventually bring him to a greater understanding of his enemies, and perhaps even, in the long run, to forgiveness of them. But forgiveness can only follow an awareness that one has been wronged. Heaping scorn on one's claims to having been wronged, even when one plainly has been wronged, is thus at once the most brazen and uncharitable act, since it represents both a sheer denial of reality (i.e., that the man persecuted for his beliefs suffers) and an attempt to block the wronged man's only course back from bitterness and toward reconciliation with his fellow man.

Thus, those who scoff at the trials — both literal and figurative — of today's thoughtcriminals are akin to those who could watch a man innocent of any crime be flogged with the sharpest of whips, and after every cry of pain that followed each lash, would dare to express only contempt for the poor wretch, muttering that it wasn't really as bad as he thought, that he was only being over-dramatic and was trying to make a false martyr of himself as he screamed while the skin was slowly being torn from his battered back. In a more tasteful age, such remarks would be deemed in bad taste. Today, unfortunately, they are welcomed as perfectly appropriate, and, moreover, as enlightened, since we have been propagandized never to be tolerant of so-called intolerance, or charitable in any way toward those deemed "hateful."

June 24, 2006

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