Externalizing Evil

So I always hesitate to mention anything Hitler because he garners such immediate gut level responses, but bear with me for a moment.

As we struggle now with Russia meddling with our elections, to be fair, Hitler also saw Russia and the Bolsheviks as a major threat to his vision of civilization– so much so that he attacked them in spite of all military logic.   He was so obsessed with the threat Russia posed, Hitler actually thought that once he attacked Russia, Britain would see his point and become his ally in facing the threat of Russia and Bolshevism.

By the way, the day WWII ended, we took over Hitler’s project of fighting Russia.

Now I am not for a moment trying to support or justify anything Hitler did. My point is, that in is own mind . . . IN HIS OWN MIND . . . he saw himself as a “good guy.” And he saw the evil in himself as something that existed in others, outside of himself.  This is very common.

Now . . .

I am reading digital hand wringing all over today as people ask “How could Neo Nazis still walk among us?” This completely ignores what is really going on, which is,

We human beings are wired, by default, to externalize our feelings of shame and evil.  “The problem is not ME– it’s THOSE PEOPLE over there.”  And it is this propensity that is the problem, assuming you want to try to fix it.  And because projecting our deepest shame and fear onto others is so popular, I question whether anyone really does.

You see, just as we see Hitler as this terrible person, he saw Russia as terrible people.  Can you step back for moment from your own hard wired need to be part of a morally superior group, and see that the group that you feel morally superior to looks at you in the EXACT SAME WAY? And, by the way, perhaps not without basis and justification for at least some of their complaints?

(And do you really think you can go around saying to somewhat ignorant people, “Your great great grandfather, that you have been taught all your life to honor and revere, was a traitorous scumbag,” and not encounter some pushback?)

The folks that carried torches in that parade don’t see themselves as evil bad boys. They see themselves as heroes, marching to save something dear and noble, protecting it from, well . . .

. . . you.

You can argue who has the moral high ground til you are blue in the face.  And please don’t think I am taking their side– I know what they are doing is wrong.  But if I join a group of people who hate them, do I not then belong to a hate group?  Much as I love feeling morally superior to these people?

The problem is, nobody wants to admit that maybe we are not as noble as we think, and we are very eager– some might even call it a social necessity– to assign our sense of shame to someone else in order to cope with it.

Until we get away from allowing ourselves to always immerse ourselves in a belief that we are automatically morally or intellectually superior to some other group, we will inadvertently create those groups, and this process will repeat and repeat without end.  Condemnation will not solve this problem– it’s actually a symptom of it.  It feels good but . . . Until we recognize the shaming exclusionary rival tribe trauma that results in this counterbalancing behavior, of seeking solace in a sense of moral superiority (that is the basis for taking extreme actions against perceived enemies with now justified violence), we are not looking at the root cause.  Does anyone want to fix this problem, or do we too much enjoy having someone to feel morally superior to?

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

–JL

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