Contra Continuing Hatred or
A Reply to Mr Schraub on Ethnic Memory

Mr Schraub thinks my previous essay (here) is “It’s an interesting post, marred only by the fact that it’s wildly wrong on nearly every account.” This might be credible, if he didn’t choose to misinterpret me on virtually every account. Now that may be more my fault of poor exposition than his at willful disagreement or a worldview mostly orthogonal to mine. But allow me to examine his reply in more detail and attempt to see where the cards lie. After all, I will admit that I’ve spent less time in study on these matters than he, so perhaps my initial reading is hasty.

The main thesis for my previous post was that when remembering tragedy that occurs to an ethnic minority, we should recall that horrific tragedies are more often than not, to be found in every (or at the very least most) ethnic group(s) and that we should use such tragedy to both unite the internal ethnic bonds, but not to hold them as a reason to continue and add to the hatred and violence in the world. That is, they should be a thing that unites a people as well, as a uniting principle with those outside their circle and that when they are used in an oppositional manner this is counterproductive and .. well … wrong.

Ok, let’s start in on his points.

  • He writes:

    Jews do not ignore the deaths of others in the Holocaust (I always write of the 11-12 million total death toll unless I’m specifically writing a post about anti-semitism)–although I’d sometimes like them to be a bit more forward about it. But at the same time, Jews are somewhat justified in focusing on their own plight, again because of its particularism: Unlike, say, Poles or Catholics, many of whom also died from slave labor, Jews were one of the only groups to be singled out specifically for extermination (as opposed to just being sent to slave labor camps).

    Well, I didn’t claim they always ignore the deaths of others, just that normally the 6 million figure is what is seen in history accounts and popular press and those accounts it seem to me come not just from non-Jewish sources. I for one, am not willing to splice my ethics of death camp vs slave camp so finely when millions die in the process, but in fact Jews were not the only group so singled out. The Roma, mentally ill, and probably other ethnic groups were also singled out specifically for extermination. My point is that the ethnic remembrance in this case falls short by virtue of its simplification of what occurred.

  • Next:

    “Nazis” aren’t the guilty party, the German people are. Pope Benedict tried to pull this slight of hand, but the Holocaust could not have happened without the widespread consent and support of the populace. Every major Holocaust theorist supports this view. And I’d add that the vast majority of the world, by turning its back on the atrocities and by refusing to accept Jewish refugees, were in effect collaborators to the extermination.

    Nope. I won’t buy that one. I don’t buy the “people” are evil argument. People are people, individuals commit moral acts not a people. Systems and institutions can be set up which encourage good or evil. The German people were about as complicit as the average Russian in the Stalinist purges. The German people were complicit inasmuch as any people are guilty in the web of contingency which led to a totalitarian government. Once caught in the maw of that particular horror, it takes personal heroism (most often accompanied by martyrdom, e.g., Bonhoeffer) to resist the particular horrors that the system spews out. I’d also point out that another “major Holocaust theorist”, i.e., Hannah Arendt included the European Jewish people as well as complicit in the web of contingency that allowed the horror to reach the scope it did.

    The last “crack” that the vast majority of the world was also complicity by “turning it’s back on the atrocities” et al, that’s just disengenous nonsense. Prior to the war, resettlement was explored but never did the Germans declare, “Take these refugees, or we’ll kill them all (bwahahaha)”. I think not. And then after the war broke out what where they to do? Win faster? Is this a pretense that they were not attempting to win ASAP? Yeah, right.

  • Next:

    And it’s an understatement to the extreme to call July 4th “not such an unalloyed declaration of Freedom” for Blacks. If I were Black, I’d consider “all men are created equal” to be an outright mockery at the time

    First off, I didn’t say they should certainly not regard it as “not an outright mockery” at the time but today. I think that even then, however it was not a mockery and should have been nor should be regarded as such. If Mr Schraub entertains such thoughts (that the sentiment is not a high ideal), then shame on him.

    More importantly, for example, does Mr Schraub regard Plato and Aristotle as an “outright mockery” for after all, Athenian ideas of enfranchisement, civil rights, and the like were perhaps less advance than Jefferson and Adams. If the American Black thinks the sentiment “all men were created equal” is a mockery, a sham, and not a great high ideal, perhaps the root of the problem is that the American Blacks are not thinking clearly. I’m not sure how the .. well … personal sinfulness of the philosopher must necessarily invalidate his thought.

Next Mr Schraub moves in on some of the main points. He pokes at my analogy between the African slave trade and the drug trade as my main point was to demonstrate that the seller (Africans) shared in the moral responsibility with the rest. His arguments why that analogy are not always so good, but he it seems grants the point that the African choice to sell slaves for arms in a disingenuous attempt to resist European colonialism. Perhaps an embracing of modernization ala Japan post Perry might have been a less morally suspect choice. His main point on the difference it seems is that in the analogy is that the buyer in the slave trade is not “addicted” as the addict is. Well, that might be true for the first generation, but when institutions are getting underway, but at the time of the start of the American experiment, these institutions were generations old, much like an addict perhaps.

    However more to the point, the particular assigning moral blame for the tragedy surrounds the ethnic history of the American Black, might it be:

  • The repressive/progressive reforms proposed by the Spanish grandee to stem the human rights abuses of the Spanish treatment of the indigenous peoples? He suggested, to his later horror substituting the African Black.
  • The African nations enslaving their neighbors and selling them to lands unknown?
  • The European (and American) shippers plying the vicious triangle?
  • The buyers and sellers at the other shores, sugar/rum, slaves, and guns?

I think blame abounds. My point was that the modern American Black exclusively blames the White, and this simplification is the error to which I point. As I’m pretty sure that’s not an error, “wildly wrong” overstates things a bit. Mr Schraub asserts “it’s simply ridiculous to assert that Black slave trade was something that operated independently of White imperialism and immorality “ which is true enough, but oddly enough that’s also not what I asserted, or perhaps Mr Schraub is asserting that slavery was a foreign institution to the African continent prior to the horrible intervention of colonial Europeans, which I think is untrue.

At last we get the the meat of his argument, not sniping about the edges as it were. He has some arguments why hateful or divisive remembrances are sometimes good (or at least justified).

  • First off, he thinks the tragedy should be recent. Old tragedies it seems are fine for to be used as ethnic memory in the Passover mode. But recent ones, recent being left undefined might qualify otherwise.

  • How “bad” was the tragedy. In an odd turn, he states Being called “paddy” when you move to America sucks. Being brought to America in chains, separated from your family, beaten bloody every day, and having your son sold to a known brute and your daughter raped by your master sucks more.

    Uhm, Mr Schraub? Do you know why the Irish immigrant was reviled. Because a lot of them came right at the same time. Do you know why? Well, “coming to America driven by British mis-rule, driven by poverty, starvation, and famine to a place which doesn’t want you on it’s shored because there is a rabid influx of the rest of your “type” at that time … sucks enough that making light of it as “just being called paddy” is a bit cruel. . A fairer comparison might be comparing racial epithets. Comparing epithet to experience is an apples/oranges fallacy. That’s a little sloppy on your part, eh?

  • Has the “power structure changed”. And has the majority group “apologized”. This calls to a theory of group sin, which I don’t ascribe to. Individuals commit crimes, do bad things (and good ones), and so on. Ethnic groups do not, is not such thinking termed “stereotype” and thought poorly of? Seriously, I question whether a change in power structure necessarily is called for. Is Mr Schraub seriously thinking that until Israel’s global influence and power eclipses Germany’s or even that until the European Jewish community reign ascendant (or at least equal to) the German nation, then the Holocaust should be remembered with bitterness and anger toward those that enabled it.

    On the topic of “individual vs group” guilt, consider a moment the (yet) another analogy (which Mr Schraub will undoubtedly call “bad” because being an analogy can be stretched too far), the Eastern Europe suffered greatly since in the 20th century from the deprivations of Marxism. Should we then blame political philosophers for their pain. That’s a relatively well defined group, and we might ascribe to them more of the worlds ills if we put a little thought into it.

  • Finally, does the tragedy still have import? In a day in which separatist movements abound, import can be re-invented at will. To this day, the Welsh in England refer to their 2nd to last Prince as “our last leader”. Does that mean the Welsh are contemplating a separatist push? I think it is more in line with a Passover style motion towards keeping the ethnic flame alive. But,

    Mr Schraub at least thinks for both the Jewish and Black peoples their tragedy has “special import”. He expounds on that.

  • His first point is that any who benefit from a “racial caste” system, are guilty. He points to the American Black imagery and stories, which stereotypes he says (but doesn’t link or support) all flow from the time of slavery. So, does this mean the gangster from the “hood” imagery, which serves the American Black no small favor, in fact very much the opposite, derives from slavery images? Hmm. It is my impression that the destruction of the inner city black family by the repressive/progressive (recall the Spanish above?) policies American elites, e.g., no-fault divorce, welfare, et al, which destroyed the nuclear family in the Black community has undone all the work of the great civil rights movement of the ’60s. If that is so, perhaps those liberal theorists lke himself are to blame? Perhaps it’s liberal/repressive/progressives that ultimately are to blame for all the problems the Black’s face, then and now. 😉
    Let’s get personal for a moment. Take me. On my fathers side, my parents arrived in the last quarter of the 19th century from Norway settling in southern Wisconsin. My mothers ancestors arrived, I think, somewhat earlier (a decade or two) from Northeastern Germany and Wales, arriving in Wisconsin via upstate New York. Both families farmed. Question how does a rural Wisconsin families arriving “after the events” in question “take part” in the tragedy of the American Black slave experience? Actually, Blacks in rural Wisconsin were (and I think are) rare. What might I or my family do differently to avoid such a “crime”? Not come to America?

    Furthermore how do they “benefit” from the “caste system”. Arguing that they do is odd, if you consider that Mr Schraub elsewhere argues that we are harmed a lack of racial (and I’d say ethnic) diversity. One can’t benefit and be harmed at the same time by the same thing, no?

    In a fit of synchronicity, I’ve just finished reading Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, in that book, Charles Darnay is condemned to the guillotine by our villains. For what? For the crime of being the son of his father. This seems to fit Mr Schraub’s inclination to ascribe to all Whites blame for Black slavery and it’s aftermath, just by guilt by association. Dickens teaches that the sins of our fathers might not be passed on to the sons. Mr Schraub it seems disagrees?

  • Finally, he holds that holding to this memory long after it’s “ripe” holds “explanatory power for the broken promise syndrome”. Mr Schraub notes: As Richard Delgado notes, a celebratory remembrance which emphasizes reconciliation is not only ridiculous idealistically, its foolish pragmatically, because it lets the White majority tell itself that “the problem has been solved” Following the Passover analogy, it would be odd for the White majority to celebrate Black freedom in the same way (or at all). That would be akin to non-Jews (Egyptians) celebrating Passover. Mr Schraub would have nothing celebrated by the American Blacks until all ethnic prejudice against them is completely irradiated? Don’t celebrate progress, it might convince you you’re done? Why celebrate Passover, until all of God’s promises are fulfilled?
  • Mr Schraub then points to a pattern of disillusionment among Black leaders and asks: We’d expect the reverse pattern if, as Mark puts it (in different words), this view of the past was a pathology with little relation to current realities: Black leaders would grow more optimistic about the state of America as they see that their lives are not being constrained by these structures of prejudice. But instead, the classic pattern is one of disenchantment: they start off believing the hype that America is willing to get past racism, and they slowly lose faith as they discover that the story does not match the reality. Mark needs to come up with an alternate explanation of this disenchantment phenomena. The answer is not that difficult if you think just a bit. The pattern of youthful idealism fading into disenchantment, cynicism, and disillusionment is not exactly unique to the Black experience. It’s part of the Human  experience. Youth are often and in fact, should be energetic and idealistic. As a person ages, and discovers that the world is not the simple easy uncomplicated place he found it to be when young, then disenchantment sets in. This is not a thing requiring “an explanation”.
  • To recap, I didn’t, as Mr Schraub suggests, hold that ethnic memory was a bad thing. It is not, it is in fact largely good. However, it can be used for ill. My contention is that such memories should be used to cement ethnic identity, not to divide different ethnic groups.

    Mr Schraub posed a question to me, requesting “an explanation”, so I’ll respond likewise. Setting aside, Black slavery and the holocaust, there have been many (all too many) tragedies to ethnic groups in the past. What patterns of response helped the aggrieved the most? Is it holding on to divisiveness and hatred or in the Passover model, holding to the good, i.e., the memory and the deliverance? Some possible examples might be Gaul and Rome, Britain and Rome, Ottoman and Eastern Europe, Mongol and Russia. I might be wrong (paint me an older idealist?) but I’d hope the “hate” model doesn’t win out in the end.

    Ending on a lighter note: Mr Schraub consistently misspells my name Mark Olsen instead of Mark Olson. Oddly enough, given my Norwegian heritage, Olsen would be correct except that coming over though Ellis Island, my forebears opted for a Swedish spelling … to avoid prejudice. As if, Americans might distinguish in the main between a Swede and a Norwegian.

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    5 comments

    1. marriage poses a greater moral threat than slavery? That’s simply stunning. Folks like Dobson use and abuse the civil rights movement for their own agendas, but seem to have very little awareness of the gravity of the wrong itself. Hmm…maybe the way Black people could properly remember their tragedy would be to support equal rights and citizenship for their gay compatriots. The most logical descendant of Loving v. Virginia, after all, is Goodridge v. Department of Health. Yes, that’s my reading of Dobson, too. Yet I don’t find it stunning. Not

    2. marriage poses a greater moral threat than slavery? That’s simply stunning. Folks like Dobson use and abuse the civil rights movement for their own agendas, but seem to have very little awareness of the gravity of the wrong itself. Hmm…maybe the way Black people could properly remember their tragedy would be to support equal rights and citizenship for their gay compatriots. The most logical descendant of Loving v. Virginia, after all, is Goodridge v. Department of Health. Yes, that’s my reading of Dobson, too. Yet I don’t find it stunning. Not

    3. Mark says:

      All,
      Sorry about the patchy formatting, I’ve been fighting the editor, and I’m giving up. I think I need to keep to shorter posts, or get a better off-line tool.

    4. Cleaning Up The Kitchen: Responsibility for……

      After reading Mark’s rejoinder to my reply to his critique of how Blacks and Jews (among others) remember certain tragedies, I realized that it was futile to keep running around in this circle of critique/refute/critique like I’ve been doing so far. …

    5. […] David Schraub and I have been discussing race. It started with a post of mine, on postive and not-so-positive ways ethnic groups recollect tragedies which have befallen them in the past, to be provocative, I chose two example, the American Black and the Jewish remembrance of the Holocaust. Mr Schraub, then demurred claiming that those two groups have a right, if not a responsibility, to remember their particular tragedies in a negative/divisive fashion. I responded, thinking I was most likely misunderstood, given my poor facility with the written word. Back to his court, Mr Schraub then held that we need to back up and examine principles. In this latest rejoinder, Mr Schraub claims a moral principle he finds to be primary when considering ethnic relations: Human beings have a moral obligation to try and remedy unjust systems of which they are the beneficiary […]