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text 2015-02-21 07:09
Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

The Duty to Remember--But What?: Afterword to the 2000 Edition

- The precept of staying alive as the sole thing that counts, as the supreme value that dwarfs all other values, is among the most tempting, and the most common, interpretations of the lesson of the Holocaust.

- Soon after the end of the war psychiatrists coined the concept of survivor's guilt--a complex psychical ailment which they ascribed to the survivors' asking themselves why they had stayed alive when so many of their near and dear had perished. According to that interpretation, the joy of escaping death was permanently and incurably poisoned among the survivors by uncertainty about the propriety of sailing safe out of the sea of perdition--with disastrous consequences for the survivors will to live and to succeed in life after their rescue.

- In the course of time the "guilt" aspect, so prominent in the original diagnoses, has been progressively exorcised from the model of the "survival complex", leaving behind the pure and unalloyed, unambiguous and no longer contested approval of self-preservation for self-preservation's sake. It is just the haunting pain left by the sufferings that staying alive required that is now blamed for the persistence of the "syndrome".

- Such a shift brings us dangerously close to the spine-chilling image of the survivor as painted by Elias Canetti--as the person for whom "the most elementary and obvious form of success is to remain alive". At the far end of the obsession, Canetti's survivor wants to kill so that he can survive others; he wants to stay alive so as not to have others surviving him...

- The lessons of the Holocaust are reduced for popular consumption to a simple formula, "who strikes first, survives"; or to an even simpler one, "the stronger lives". The awesome, two-pronged legacy of the Holocaust is, on the one hand, the tendency to treat survival as the sole, or at any rate the topmost value and purpose of life, and, on the other, to the positing of issue of survival as that of competition for a scarce resource, and so of survival itself as a site of conflict between incompatible interests--a kind of conflict in which the success of some depends on the defeat of others in the race to survive.

- The ethics of hereditary victimhood reverses the logic of the law: the accused remain criminals until proved innocent.

- The pernicious legacy of the Holocaust is that today's persecutors may inflict new pains and create new generations of victims eagerly awaiting their chance to do the same, while acting under the conviction that they are avenging yesterday's pain and warding off the pains of tomorrow; while being convinced, in other words, that ethics is on their side.

The most important lesson of Holocaust is that in our modern society people who are neither morally corrupt nor prejudiced may also still partake with vigour and dedication in the destruction of targeted categories of human beings; and that their participation, far from calling for mobilization of their moral or any other convictions, demands on the contrary their suspension, obliteration and irrelevance.

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text 2015-02-19 23:30
Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 8
Afterthought: Rationality and Shame

- Terror remains effective as long as the balloon of rationality has not been pricked. The most sinister, cruel, bloody-minded ruler must remain a staunch preacher and defender of rationality--or perish. Addressing his subjects, he must 'speak to reason'. He must protect reason, eulogize on the virtues of the calculus of costs and effects, defend logic against passions and values which, unreasonably, do not count costs and refuse to obey logic. By and large, all rulers can count on rationality being on their side. But the Nazi rulers, additionally, twisted the stakes of the game so that the rationality of survival would render all other motives of human action irrational. Inside the Nazi-made world, reason was the enemy of morality. Logic required consent to crime. Rational defence of one's survival called for non-resistance to the other's destruction. This rationality pitched the sufferers against each other and obliterated their joint humanity. Graciously, the noble creed of rationality absolved both the victims and the bystanders from the charge of immorality and from guilty conscience. Having reduced human life to the calculus of self-preservation, this rationality robbed human life of humanity.

- The lesson of the Holocaust is the facility with which most people, put into a situation that does not contain a good choice, or renders such a good choice very costly, argue themselves away from the issue of moral duty (or fail to argue themselves towards it), adopting instead the precepts of rational interest and self-preservation. In a system where rationality and ethics point in opposite directions, humanity is the main loser. Evil needs neither enthusiastic followers nor an applauding audience--the instinct of self-preservation will do.- The second lesson of the Holocaust is that putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way predetermined, inevitable and inescapable. One can be pressed to do it, but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on to those who exerted the pressure. It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation--what does matter is that some did. Evil is not all-powerful. It can be resisted. The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the authority of the logic of self-preservation. It shows it for what it is in the end--a choice.

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text 2015-02-19 08:22
Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 7: Towards a Sociological Theory of Morality

- Durkheim (whose treatment of moral phenomena turned into the canon of sociological wisdom, and virtually defined the meaning of the specifically sociological approach to the study of morality) debunks all pretentions that there is substance in evil other than its rejection by a force powerful enough to make its will into a binding rule. But the warm patriot and devout believer in the superiority and progress of civilized life cannot but feel that what has been rejected is indeed evil, and that the rejection must have been an emancipating and dignifying act.

- The appearance of immoral conduct is understood as the manifestation of pre-social or a-social drives bursting out from their socially manufactured cages, or escaping enclosure in the first place. Immoral conduct is always a return to a pre-social state, or a failure to depart from it.

- This theory of morality concedes the right of society to impose its own substantive version of moral behaviour; and concurs with the practice in which social authority claims the monopoly of moral judgement. It tacitly accepts the theoretical illegitimacy of all judgements that are not grounded in the exercise of such monopoly; so that for all practical intents and purposes moral behaviour becomes synonymous with social conformity and obedience to the norms observed by the majority.

- In the aftermath of the Holocaust, legal practice, and thus also moral theory, faced the possibility that morality may manifest itself in insubordination towards socially upheld principles, and in an action openly defying social solidarity and consensus. For sociological theory, the very idea of pre-social grounds of moral behaviour augurs the necessity of a radical revision of traditional interpretations of the origins of the sources of moral norms and their obligatory power.

- Hannah Arendt had articulated the question of moral responsibility for resisting socialization. The moot issue of the social foundations of morality had been cast aside; whatever the solution offered to that issue, the authority and binding force of the distinction between good and evil cannot be legitimized by reference to social powers which sanction and enforce it. Even if condemned by the group--by all groups, as a matter of fact--individual conduct may still be moral; an action recommended by society--even by the whole of the society in unison--may still be immoral.

- The socially enforced moral systems are communally based and promoted--and hence in a pluralist, heterogeneous world, irreparably relative. This relativism, however, does not apply to human "ability to tell right from wrong". Such an ability must be grounded in something other than the conscience collective of society.

- The process of socialization consists in the manipulation of moral capacity--not in its production. And the moral capacity that is manipulated entails not only certain principles which later become a passive object of social processing; it includes as well the ability to resist, escape and survive the processing, so that at the end of the day the authority and the responsibility for moral choices rests where they resided at the start: with the human person. If this view of moral capacity is accepted, the apparently resolved and closed problems of the sociology of morality are thrown wide open again. The issue of morality must be relocated; from the problematics of socialization, education or civilization--in other words, from the realm of socially administered "humanizing processes"--it ought to be shifted to the area of repressive, pattern-maintaining and tension-managing processes and institutions, as one of the "problems" they are designed to handle and accommodate or transform. The moral capacity--the object, but not the product of such processes and institutions--would then have to disclose its alternative origin.

- Once the explanation of moral tendency as a conscious or unconscious drive towards the solution of the "Hobbesian problem" is rejected, the factors responsible for the presence of moral capacity must be sought in the social, but not societal sphere. Moral behaviour is conceivable only in the context of coexistence, of "being with others", that is, a social context; but it does not owe its appearance to the presence of supra-individual agencies of training and enforcement, that is, of a societal context.

- Emmanuel Levinas describes the existential condition of "being with others" with a quotation from Dostoyevsky: "We are all responsible for all and for all men before all, and I more than all the others."

- According to Levinas, responsibility is the essential, primary and fundamental structure of subjectivity. Responsibility, which means "responsibility for the Other", and hence a responsibility "for what is not my deed, or for what does not even matter to me". This existential responsibility, the only meaning of subjectivity, of being a subject, has nothing to do with contractual obligation. Because of what my responsibility is not, I do not bear it as a burden. I become responsible while I constitute myself into a subject. Becoming responsible is the constitution of me as a subject. Hence it is my affair, and mine only.

- Responsibility being the existential mode of the human subject, morality is the primary structure of intersubjective relation in its most pristine form, unaffected by any non-moral factors (like interest, calculation of benefit, rational search for optimal solutions, or surrender to coercion). The substance of morality being a duty towards the other (as distinct from an obligation), and a duty which precedes all interestedness--the roots of morality reach well beneath societal arrangements, like structures of domination or culture. Societal processes start when the structure of morality (tantamount to intersubjectivity) is already there. Morality is not a product of society. Morality is something society manipulates--exploits, redirects, jams.

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text 2015-02-18 17:37
Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 6: The Ethics of Obedience [Reading Milgram]

- The person who, with inner conviction, loathes stealing, killing, and assault, may find himself performing these acts with relative ease when commanded by authority. Behaviour that is unthinkable in an individual who is acting on his own may be executed without hesitation when carried out under orders.

- In a nutshell, Milgram suggested and proved that inhumanity is a matter of social relationships. As the latter are rationalized and technically perfected, so is the capacity and the efficiency of the social production of inhumanity.

- Perhaps the most striking among Milgram's findings is the inverse ratio of readiness to cruelty and proximity to its victim.

- Mediating the action, splitting the action between stages delineated and set apart by the hierarchy of authority, and cutting the action across through functional specialization is one of the most salient and proudly advertised achievements of our rational society. The meaning of Milgram's discovery is that, immanently and irretrievably, the process of rationalization facilitates behaviour that is inhuman and cruel in its consequences, if not in its intentions.

- The reason why separation from the victim makes cruelty easier seems psychologically obvious: the perpetrator is spared the agony of witnessing the outcome of his deeds. But this is not the only explanation. Again, reasons are not just psychical. Like everything which truly explains human conduct, they are social. Placing the victim in another room not only takes him farther away from the subject, it also draws the subject and the experimenter relatively closer. There is incipient group function between the experimenter and the subject, from which the victim is excluded. In the remote condition, the victim is truly an outsider, who stands alone, physically and psychologically. Loneliness of the victim is not just a matter of his physical separation. It is a function of the togetherness of his tormentors, and his exclusion from this togetherness. Physical closeness and continuous co-operation (even over a relatively short time--no subject was experimented with for longer than one hour) tends to result in a group feeling, complete with the mutual obligations and solidarity it normally brings about. This group feeling is produced by joint action, particularly by the complementarity of individual actions--when the result is evidently achieved by shared effort.

- The effect of physical and purely psychical distance is farther enhanced by the collective nature of damaging action. One may guess that even if obvious gains in the economy and efficiency of action brought by its rational organization and management are left out of account, the sheer fact that the oppressor is a member of a group must be assigned a tremendous role in facilitating the committing of cruel acts.

- In the course of a sequential action, the actor becomes a slave of his own past actions. Smooth and imperceptible passages between the steps lure the actor into a trap; the trap is the impossibility of quitting without revising and rejecting the evaluation of one's own deeds as right or at least innocent.

- Inside the bureaucratic system of authority, language of morality acquires a new vocabulary. It is filled with concepts like loyalty, duty, discipline--all pointing to superiors as the supreme object of moral concern and, simultaneously, the top moral authority. They all, in fact, converge: loyalty means performance of one's duty as defined by the code of discipline. As they converge and reinforce each other, they grow in power as moral precepts, to the point where they can disable and push aside all other moral considerations--above all, ethical issues foreign to the self-reproductory preoccupations of the authority system.

- As Milgram puts it, "the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority.... Superego shifts from an evaluation of the goodness or badness of the acts to an assessment of how well or poorly one is functioning in the authority system."

- Bureaucracy's double feat is the moralization of technology, coupled with the denial of the moral significance of nontechnical issues. It is the technology of action, not its substance, which is subject to assessment as good or bad, proper or improper, right or wrong. The conscience of the actor tells him to perform well and prompts him to measure his own righteousness by the precision with which he obeys the organizational rules and his dedication to the task as defined by the superiors.

- Milgram's own conclusion is that it is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences of the action.

- Once responsibility has been shifted away by the actor's consent to the superior's right to command, the actor is cast in an agentic state--a condition in which he sees himself as carrying out another person's wishes. Agentic state is the opposite of the state of autonomy. In the agentic state, the actor is fully tuned to the situation as defined and monitored by the superior authority: this definition of the situation includes the description of the actor as the authority's agent.

- We may surmise that the overall effect of such a continuous and ubiquitous responsibility shifting would be a free-floating responsibility, a situation in which each and every member of the organization is convinced, and would say so if asked, that he has been at some else's beck and call, but the members pointed to by others as the bearers of responsibility would pass the buck to someone else again.

- The readiness to act against one's own better judgment, and against the voice of one's conscience, is not just the function of authoritative command, but the result of exposure to a single-minded, unequivocal and monopolistic source of authority. Such readiness is most likely to appear inside an organization which brooks no opposition and tolerates no autonomy, and in which linear hierarchy of subordination knows no exception: an organization in which no two members are equal in power. Such an organization, however, is likely to be effective on one of the two conditions. It may tightly seal its members from the rest of society, having been granted, or having usurped, an undivided control over most, or all its members' life activities and needs, so that possible influence of competitive sources of authority is cut out. Or it may be just one of the branches of the totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian state, which transforms all its agencies into mirror reflections of each other.

- A most remarkable conclusion flowing from the full set of Milgram experiments is that pluralism is the best preventive medicine against morally normal people engaging in morally abnormal actions. Unless pluralism had been eliminated on the global-societal scale, organizations with criminal purposes, which need to secure an unflagging obedience of their members in the perpetration of evidently immoral acts, are burdened with the task of erecting tight artificial barriers isolating the members from the "softening" influence of diversity of standards and opinions. The voice of individual moral conscience is best heard in the tumult of political and social discord.

- Most conclusions flowing from Milgram's experiments may be seen as variations on one central theme: cruelty correlates with certain patterns of social interaction much more closely than it does with personality features or other individual idiosyncracies of the perpetrators.

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text 2015-02-18 07:31
Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 5: Soliciting the Cooperation of the Victims

- Among the resources of resistance that must be destroyed to make the violence effective, by far the most crucial position is occupied by the traditional elites of the doomed community. It is hoped that the marked group, once deprived of leadership and centres of authority, will lose it cohesiveness and the ability to sustain its own identity, and consequently its defensive potential. The traditional elites of the doomed community constitute therefore the prime target of the genocide, as long as the latter is aimed indeed at the destruction of the marked people as a community, as a cohesive, autonomous entity. (e.g. the Slavs under German occupation.)

- However, since the state of affairs the Nazis wished to create was one of total Entfernung--an effective removal of the Jews from the life-world of the German race--all "special treatment" of Jewish elites became unnecessary. After all, they were destined to share the lot of their brethren anyway.

- Perhaps an anticipated effect of such a "totalization" of the Jewish problem was the survival of Jewish communal structure, autonomy and self-government long after similar factors of communal existence came under a frontal assault in all occupied Slav lands. This survival meant first and foremost that Jewish traditional elites retained their administrative and spiritual leadership throughout the duration of the Holocaust; if anything, that leadership was further reinforced and made well-nigh uncontestable following the physical segregation of the Jews and the fencing off of the ghettos.

- Jewish elites played therefore a crucial mediating role in the incapacitation of the Jews; quite untypically for a genocide, the total subjection of a population to an unconstrained will of their captors was achieved not through destruction, but by reinforcing the communal structure and the integrative role played by native elites.

- At all stages of the Holocaust,the victims were confronted with a choice (at least subjectively--even when objectively the choice did not exist any more, having been pre-empted by the secret decision of physical destruction). They could not choose between good and bad situations, but they could at least choose between greater and lesser evil.

- To make their victims' behaviour predictable and hence manipulable and controllable, the Nazis had to induce them to act in the 'rational mode'; to achieve that effect, they had to make the victims believe that there was indeed something to save, and that there were clear rules as to how one should go about saving it. To believe that, the victims had to be convinced that the treatment of the group as a whole would not be uniform, that the lot of individual members would be diversified, and in each case dependent on individual merit. The victims had to think, in other words, that their conduct did matter; and that their plight could be at least in part influenced by what they were about to do.

- The diabolical aspect of this setting was that the beliefs and convictions it sanctioned, and the actions it encouraged, supplied legitimacy to the Nazi masterplan and made it digestible to most, the victims included. While fighting for petty privileges, exempted statuses or simply the stay of execution which the overall design of destruction provided for, the victims and those who tried to help them tacitly accepted the premises of the design.

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