Why are Neo-Nazis Still a Thing?

Didn’t he know they lost the war?

It seemed like a legitimate question at the time. I had just told a friend of mine that a guy he’d just met was in fact a former Neo-Nazi. My friend had laughed, and asked that question. To him the very idea that anyone, at any point in their life, would choose to be a Nazi seemed absurd. The Nazis did, if nothing else, lose the war. For him, and most ordinary people, the fact that Nazism = bad idea, falls into the bloody obvious category.

So why are Neo-Nazis still a thing?

Why would anyone find Nazism appealing after the horrifying madman’s train-wreck of World War Two?

To answer my friend’s joking question, losing the war didn’t necessarily discredit Nazi ideology. The belief in the superiority of the Aryan master race is not necessarily touched by the defeat of Germany. Aryans and Germans are not the same thing. The fact that the Germans failed… a disaster yes, an epic propaganda disaster for sure, but not a Jesus-coming-back-and-telling-you-he’s-a-Satanist kind of disaster.

And besides, you can always blame the Jews. Good old Jews.

If anything it’s a surprise there aren’t more Nazis. Think about it. What happened to them all?

With the end of the war, the Allied occupation, the Nuremberg trials, and Denazification, ye olde Nazism-original officially came to an end. Before that millions of people had been gripped by fanatical Nazi fervor. Then it was over. Nazism faded away. Indeed even before the end, Nazi fanatics failed to fight to the death as would have been expected. Where did they all go?

The sudden vanishing of mass Nazism may in large part be due to the nature of Totalitarianism. This form of totalizing government doesn’t so much persuade people of the truth of its ideology, as through sheer force of terror create an alternative reality in which the ideology is true.  It is made true. Jews live in filthy ghettos. Therefore Jews are rats. And if Jews weren’t rats, then why did we put them in filthy ghettos? Alternative facts meets concentration camps.

The Allied defeat of Hitler’s Germany was not an act of persuasion. Instead it destroyed the alternate reality created by the Nazis. When the Nazis lost control, the Nazi universe ceased to be real. Everyone could sit up, shake off the dream, and carry on into the newly restored non-Nazi reality.

Nazism went back to how it had been in the beginning – a fringe group of true-believers. A number of Nazis continued some form of Nazism long after the war, providing a nucleus around which Neo-Nazism as we know it could form. Nazis and fascists also existed outside Germany: in other Axis powers, among collaborators of the occupied nations, and fascist parties across the world. These too allowed Nazism and its varieties to persist one way or another.

It’s understandable that Germans and fascists would still feel the pull of Nazism after the war. But why did Neo-Nazism end up so visibly present in nations like Britain and the USA – nations that pride themselves on having defeated Nazism? Isn’t a Nazi American a contradiction, a traitor to the nation by default? And stranger too, why is Neo-Nazism in places as disconnected from the whole WWII story as Mongolia and Taiwan?

To understand that you must understand what Nazism is actually about.

Nazism is universal. Nazism goes well beyond mere German nationalism.  Nazism isn’t even about Germans. Nazism is about race, and race transcends all nations and all borders. This race ideology is more than mere racism. This is racism as a political movement. This is racism as the key to history. This is racism as the meaning of life.

To put it over-simplistically, Nazism is a religion of racism.

This religiosity can be quite literal. One of the ways Nazism survived the war was in the form of Esoteric Nazism. This gets drunk-fruitcake level weird: Hitler is a Hindu avatar, Aryans are from space, Jews are the work of Satan…. It’s a mash-up of Gnosticsm, ancient aliens, and Jewish genetic robots. Other Neo-Nazis prefer to dive into Norse paganism, satanism, and more. Ludicrous to outsiders perhaps, the esoterica does serve at least one purpose. It pushes the idea of race, the key dogma of Nazism, out of the world of scientific reality, and up onto the unassailable high ground of faith. Up in the clouds racism can live forever.

Even stepping back from these explicitly religious forms of Nazism, Neo-Nazis do come across a little religiousy. They come up with lists of eternal truths. They argue over arcane technicalities about who is and isn’t a member of the race. More entertainingly, or more worryingly, they have been known to engage in the make-yourself-relevant recruiting tactics that cheesy Christians are best known for. Take Nipsters for example: Nazi hipsters. Apparently the whole skinheads-in-trench-coats-threatening-to-kill-you look scares people. So they tried a hipsters-sipping-lattes-threatening-to-kill-you look. Anything to make Hitler cool for the kids of today.

Speaking of Skinheads, more important than any outward resemblance to religion is the role Neo-Nazism plays in it’s members lives – a role similar to that of a religion. If you’re not a Skinhead then you might not realize that Skinhead and Neo-Nazi are different things. You can in fact be an anti-fascist Skinhead. But if you can understand why Skinheads have become inseparably identified with Neo-Nazism then you’ll understand Nazism’s perennial appeal.

Nazism meets psychological needs.

Racism as an ideology, Nazi style racism-as-the-meaning-of-life, is a trembling hand grasping for a lost sense of identity. Belonging. Someone to be. Something to fight for. An explanation. A purpose. A destiny.

When all other group identities are stripped away from you, the most basic thing you have left, second only to gender, is race: the pure physical fact that I look like you, and you look like me. Therefore, says the race-ideologue, surely we must belong together. Do we not share a common identity… at some level… somewhere?

Say yes, and on this foundation you can build an identity, a purpose, a political movement.

Solidarity.

The reality is that race suffers from the same problem as all other forms of mass identity, like patriotism and religion: most members of the mass group have never met. When they do they routinely discover that their differences mean as much to them as their commonalty. The reality is that ideological racists only experience true solidarity with themselves – to the extent that they have carved out a community within this world. But by claiming me, and you, and anyone else who looks like them, ideological racists make themselves part of something much larger. A world-historical struggle. A grand narrative in which they have a purpose, they have a place, and they belong.

They can belong even when they are alone.

They can belong even when they don’t belong anywhere. They can stare at the strangers in the shopping mall and think to themselves, “I am one of you. I am fighting for us. We are one people… if only you would wake up to your race.”

Racism also allows an escape from identifying with humanity as a whole. A strange desire? We take our common humanity as a given nowadays. We are all human. Obvious. But to truly identify with all of humanity is actually a terrifying prospect.

If you see yourself as a Citizen of the World, if you personally identify yourself first and foremost as a human being, then you must accept into your self-identity the horrifying realities of the human species. Cannibals. Rapists. Drug addicts. Lunatics. The homeless. Fraudsters. Filth. Smell. Hypocrisy. Fools. Strange rituals. Frightening faces. Slaves. Black and white and all the shades in between. Accepting your humanity can be as difficult as accepting your animal side. Racism lets you escape a common human nature, just like believing in immortal souls lets you escape a common animal nature.

Splitting humanity into races has a further psychological upside. Identify the right racial group for the task, and you can make everything you hate about the world flesh and blood. Then you can lash out. Beat the human voodoo doll to a pulp. Antisemitism is no accident. The Nazis singled out the Jews for a reason. Historically Jews were associated with banking, internationalism, and the government. The very things people had come to hate. You can’t stab abstract internationalism. But you can stab Jews.

While Neo-Nazis can’t let go of the Jews – it’s tradition – immigrants have become a more meaningful group to hate for today’s racists. They are our modern symbols of the globalized world. The world that uproots people, destroys communities, annihilates solidarity, fragments identity, and has left the working class, and much of the middle-class, insecure, hopeless, and angry. The super-rich and all those abstract global forces are out of reach, too hard to see, too hard to touch. But immigrants are in your face. And they scream when you hit them.

Alienation. Ugliness. Hate. Fear. Hopelessness. Confusion. Anger. The psychological bread of Nazism.

Which brings us back to the Skinheads. They started out as a 1960s British working class subculture. Hence practical buzz-cuts and work-men’s boots. Working class youth were simply one of the earlier and more prominent groups to express the angry despairing alienation of modern times. Hence why one of their styles – the Skinhead – has become the style of Neo-Nazism.

While some people find Nazism (and ideological racism more broadly) desirable on its own merits, or because that’s just their background, the experiences of the alienated poor make Nazism all the more appealing – the same way joining a gang is appealing. Nazism is a religion for gangs.

Poor neighborhoods are the most exposed to humanity’s ugliness, the place where it’s easiest to give up on the notion of a brotherhood of mankind. A philosophy of division, of hate, of exclusion, of the lust for power feels more natural when your experience of the world is of division, of hatred, of exclusion, and of a desperate need for power.

Nazism can give it all a justification.

A reason to hate. A reason to crack skulls. A reason to exclude the world that excludes you.  A reason to feel powerful. A reason to feel good about yourself when you have absolutely nothing to feel good about.

Nazism gives you an explanation for why your life is shit. The poor black kids can blame slavery. The poor indigenous kids can blame colonialism. But what about the poor white kid? What is he supposed to do? All he gets is society’s all consuming belief in meritocracy – where everybody gets what they deserve. Therefore we tell him that his  life is shit because he is shit. And if that weren’t enough, do-gooders then go slap absurdity on top of insult. They demand he think of himself as white. Then they ask him to feel guilty about it. Over-privileged complaining white kid. Loser.

Nazism can take all that shame away.

Nazism lets you take pride in your blood – the one thing nothing can take from you. Nazism lets you go and make the black boy next door bleed, grind his teeth into the pavement, because you know in your gut that the fastest way to stop being at the bottom of the pile is to forget about pulling down the guy on top. Forget about the rich kids. No. The quickest way to stop being on the bottom of the heap is to beat down the guy standing next to you, and stand on his face. That is the promise of Nazism. You don’t have to be a loser anymore.

Of course racism isn’t the only form of gang-land salvation on offer. If you’ve got a Middle Eastern background then ISIS and its suicidal dreams of global empire fill the same role. For a white kid in the West the Neo-Nazis are simply the more logical choice. But it’s no surprise really to discover the story of teenaged Devon Arthurs, who switched from Neo-Nazi to radical Islamist, then murdered his Nazi friends for blasphemy.

Which reminds me of that mutual acquaintance, that guy my friend and I were talking about, the ex-Neo-Nazi.  His choices seem somewhat less absurd now. Our acquaintance had also escaped Nazism by finding God. It seems to be a common enough way to leave the fascist flock. I heard him give his testimony once, the story of how he got saved. He told how he’d grown up feeling rootless. He had no identity. But then he’d found his roots in his grandfather – a grandfather who’d grown up in Nazi occupied territory. A grandfather who’d developed a long-abiding admiration for his Nazi conquerors. It’s a typical enough Neo-Nazi story: one part true Nazi legacy, one part identity crisis.

And so our acquaintance found himself in a Skinhead world, contemplating if he should shave his own head, go all in, his heart a pressure cooker of hatred for every non-white person around him. Until he snapped – swapped love for hate and went looking for a better religion. Jesus was the new Hitler. A happy ending then. Although, as we chatted after he’d given his life-story speech, he did express his approval for hunting down and murdering abortion doctors. Old habits I guess…. Still, I suppose it was an improvement over wanting to murder four-fifths of humanity for being born.

So why are Nazis still a thing? Perhaps we should ask, when will Nazis not be a thing?

As long as society has members who feel alienated and lost we are going to have Neo-Nazis. At the very least, we will have something like them. Even if we expunge racism from existence something else will fill the psychological vacuum. Rage always finds a way out. Alienation doesn’t sleep quiet. If you want the Nazis to go away, then make the pain go away.

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit hole:

Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”.  A book well worth reading if you want to understand Nazism and Totalitarianism more generally. A preview on Google Books, here.

An example of Esoteric Nazism, Miguel Serrano’s 1984 book “Adolf Hitler The Ultimate Avatar”, here.

Read about Nipsters and Neo-Nazi struggles with branding and fashion in “Heil Hipster: The Young Neo-Nazis Trying to Put a Stylish Face on Hate”, in the Rolling Stone, here.

The unfortunate case of Neo-Nazi turn Islamic fundamentalist Devon Arthurs, in the New York Post, here.

The Turner Diaries, the novel that inspired Timothy McVeigh and other acts of terrorism. This novel that will show you what the world looks like if you’re a Neo-Nazi. A brief summary from the  Encyclopedia Britannica, here.

Neo-Nazis turn up in some unexpected places. “Mongolian Neo-Nazis: Anti-Chinese sentiment fuels rise of ultra-nationalism”, in the Guardian, here.

Life stories of former Neo-Nazi’s, on Reddit, here.

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How Long Can an Acronym Get?

It started as LGB, then it became LGBT, then it was LGBTQ, and now I recently ran across LGBTIQA+. We have officially reached the point of ridiculousness. And while the “+” might suggest an official decision to limit the acronym’s growth before it exponentially expands to consume all print space in the universe, I’m not sure everyone’s going to happy with being relegated to a mere “+”. Surely everyone deserves acronym equality?

What is going on here?

It seems society has landed on a rather unfortunate way of labeling people who fit outside the gender-sexual norms: an acronym. It was chosen over mere “gay” because gay clearly doesn’t describe all the people to which it might be applied. Now this acronym worked fine when it was just gays and lesbians and bisexuals. But then we discovered all these other people who also don’t fit. So we just tacked them on the end of the acronym. Again, and again, and again.

There is no logical endpoint to all this. The only thing that truly unites all these diverse people is that they don’t fit the mainstream. But the number of possible ways to be non-conforming is near infinite. It is as if instead of dividing the world into Jew and Gentile, we decided to give every ethnic group in the world a letter, and divide the world into Jew and ESWIFGSPHCSBZTSIELXOAIPHCBCNBQ+.

I think it’s time the acronym got retired folks. That, or can we at least agree that when an acronym gets “+” added that it is now illegal to keep adding stuff on the end. An absurd label does nobody any good, especially the LGBTIQA+ community.

 

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

Some of the history and difficulties of the LGBT term and it’s variants on Wikipedia

 

Why is New Atheism like Old Religion?

The New Atheists are so religiously anti-religious they even make atheists feel uncomfortable. Isn’t that a wee bit odd? How is that the most anti-religious people on the planet can resemble religion to the point that every other Tuesday they get accused of being militant fundamentalists?

The answer is fairly simple: when you fight a war of ideas and culture you will end up looking like everyone else who has ever fought a war of ideas and culture. No one has been fighting that fight longer than religion.

First we need to understand what New Atheism is all about. Then the oomph behind much of the apparent religiosity becomes fairly obvious. This thing we call New Atheism really got going after 9/11. Since then it has evolved into a collection of endeavors and interests mostly in orbit around a number of atheist authors, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. This solar system of atheism is roughly united by four beliefs:

1) The supernatural doesn’t exist. Gods, ghosts, and your daily horoscope are all wrong.

2) Religious belief is irrational. Believing in God isn’t just mistaken, it’s stupid.

3) Science is the best source of knowledge. Science disproves the ‘God-hypothesis’. Science can show us the best way to live.

4) A moral standard exists. Religion violates this standard. Therefore religion is immoral.

Agree with these points? Chances are you’ll like Dawkins and crew. So what’s new about all this? Approximately… nothing. Varieties of these arguments have existed for generations.

What is noticeable is the forceful emphasis on beliefs 2) and 4). Religion is irrational. Religion is immoral. Forget atheism, this is anti-theism. Religion is harmful stupidity.

Neutralize.

This moral mission is the raison d’être for most of the apparent atheist religiosity: anger, intolerance, and evangelism. If you think religion is evil, then you’ll be angry at religion. You won’t be able to tolerate a culture of religion anymore than you’d be happy with a culture of pedophilia.

This moral war is a struggle for minds. Such a campaign requires publicity and propaganda. A mission needs missionaries. No wonder people are reminded of the world’s proselytizing religions.

A movement needs members. Accidentally or otherwise, the New Atheist mission has encouraged atheism as an identity. They compare their struggle to that of gay rights – the identity struggle par excellence. Atheist’s need to feel free to come out of the closet.

However, atheism is a single-issue philosophical position. Is there a God? No. In contrast, religion has always been about belief and identity.

The religious merger between belief and identity is why people go supernova when their religion is criticized. Dawkins’ insistence that, “I respect you too much to respect your beliefs,” always fails – “I am my beliefs!” Criticism is a knife to the gut. This is partly why New Atheism is unavoidably rude. You just don’t slam identity.

Making atheism an identity makes it religious. All that supernova-nastiness gets sucked on in. Echo-chambers. Touchiness. Leader-adoration. Infighting. Bigotry. (In fairness, atheists living in a religious lion’s den have little choice here. You are scandalously The Atheist whether you like it or not.)

So that’s the moral fervor.

Belief number two makes New Atheism act patronizing; Religion is irrational. Rational beliefs deserve debate. Irrational beliefs deserve a Sesame Street lecture on How-to-Think-Good with Socky the Sock-puppet, followed by a brain-scan.

This faith in universal religious stupidity also permits whomping great truckloads of over-confident ignorance. Do you really need to study Santa to disprove Santa? Do you really think Santa’s real? Do you? Same deal, says New Atheism, with Noah and his you-can’t-fit-four-hundred-million-animals-on-that boat. Why bother understanding religious nuance when faith is that silly?

Combined with the condescension this all comes across as dogmatic and simplistic, a little bit religiousy.

Speaking of dogmatism we have belief number 3). Science. New Atheism is infatuated with science to the point of abuse. Deep philosophical questions are swept away with a “Who cares? Science!” The official slur for this is scientism. There’s some things you just can’t ask science to do. It’s not right.

Put all these factors together and team New Atheism smells of strident triumphalism. Just like a religion. Yet, in the end we do need to remember one thing: the word religion is so nebulous that almost anything looks like a religion if you stare at it long enough.

This one word, religion, failingly attempts to cordon off the entire crash-prone intersection between culture and belief. Dare to be a human who believes stuff, and you will be stuck on the wrong side of that barrier. And in the middle of all this credo-cultural carnage, the New Atheists are waging war. They always were going to end up reflecting back a little bit of their nemesis, old religion.

 

 

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole

A classic New Atheist discussion, “The Four Horsemen”, on Youtube  here.

An examination of the New Atheists on the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, here.

Atheist Church, yes there is Atheist Church. Here.

The New Atheism has old roots. Try a Roman celebrating the freedom of knowledge over the tyranny of religion with De Rerum Natura, here.

An example of the criticism that New Atheism is religious, by an atheist. “Why Richard Dawkins’ Humanism Reminds me of a Religion“, by Michael Ruse. Here.

 

 

Thou Shalt Give up Bacon, Tasty, Tasty Bacon…

When it comes to food people get weird. It’s not what they do eat, it’s what they don’t eat. Think about it. Despite famines, despite high food prices, despite all the amazing eating opportunities on offer, people across the world have steadfastly refused to eat:

  • pigs
  • cows
  • rabbits
  • root vegetables
  • mushrooms
  • lettuce
  • fish
  • horses
  • insects
  • cats
  • alcohol
  • dogs
  • satay goat testicles
  • whales
  • hot beverages
  • uncooked food
  • guinea pigs
  • mice
  • pumpkins
  • beans
  • camels
  • garlic
  • your grandparents.

That’s just to name  a few.

Each of these foods has been proclaimed wonderful, or at least mouth-worthy, by one culture, and condemned as pig-swill and sin by another. How can we have such wildly different opinions about what counts as good food?

Here’s a few reasons why:

A) We Have No Imagination

Functional fixedness. A cat is a pet. A rat is a pest. A cow goes well with pasta. What it does is what it does is what it does.

That’s what it does.

A horse is a horse is a… tasty meal in France. But in England it’s just… no… you can’t… it’s a horse. You ride them. Horses. Riding. Don’t you get it? You don’t… no! Damn Frogs.

B) Philosophy and Religion

An environmentalist’s refusal to eat endangered sea turtles is easy to understand. Likewise a do-no-harm Jain’s refusal to eat animals, and your daughter’s refusal to eat her pet rabbit. And cannibalism is… do I really need to explain that one?

Other prohibitions get a bit stranger.  Believers in reincarnation might go vegetarian out of fear of eating grandpa in goat form.  Believers in animal spirits may only feed their children small animals, until the child’s spirit is strong enough to deal with eating bigger animal spirits. And believers in controlling one’s uncontrollable passions often dislike garlic because… garlic gets ya going?

When it comes to religious food taboos Judaism is head of the table. God said “Thou shalt not boil a kid in it’s mother’s milk.” and that was that. What can you do? It’s one of the Ten Commandments. (The other ten. Yes, there’s others.) No one’s clear why God said this. He just did. So Jews have been keeping their milk and meat kosher ever since. (P.S. ‘Kid’ here refers to a baby goat. Boiling children in mummy’s breast milk falls under that “Thou shalt not kill” bit. Just so we are clear.)

C) I Don’t Eat Garlic. Who Do You Think I Am?

What is it with garlic? Forget politics. You want a divisive issue, take a whiff of garlic. Go to the right time and place and “Garlic Eater” is a racial slur.

Food is community. Nothing sets you apart more than refusing to eat what others are eating. Nothing binds you together more than eating something no other group will eat. We are what we eat.

D) Power Games

Imagine if you could convince half the population that only you and people like you can safely eat chocolate. Wouldn’t that be great! All the chocolate for me!

Seems people have had this kind of idea before. Especially men. All the meat for me! And then, if they can, the rest of the group swings back around and slaps another taboo on you. Yes, you may get the chocolate and sausages, but we get the bananas and fish fingers! Ha! Social divisions end up getting written in food. Thus the elderly, chiefs, widows, children, and more end up with their own special taboos and rights of violation.

E) Conservation

Don’t eat the milk cow. You get milk from it. Seems sensible. Likewise, if each neighboring village has a different taboo for hunting a different forest animal then the chances of everyone driving these different creatures extinct is diminished.

F) Blame the Grim Reaper

Food can kill you. New food is suspicious. Is that really edible? Are the garlic eaters trying to poison us? They said it was the brown mushroom, right? That looks brown to me.

In the game of evolution, one bad experiment and you lose.

Our food taboo paranoia reaches a high point with pregnancy. Don’t eat fish. Do eat fish. Only eat rats if your husband done the butchering. And no hen’s eggs. You don’t want the baby to be too chicken to come out.

~

Us humans never do anything straightforwardly. Nothing could be more animalistically basic than food. Yet we can’t stop ourselves from squirting identity politics and religious dogma straight into the middle of your lunchtime sandwich. It’s enough to make you want to go get a plate full of bacon and horsemeat, garnished with extra garlic, gluten, and plus-sized animal-spirits, just to spite them. Mmm, yum!

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

Food Taboos: their origin and purpose. Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow (2009) Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. Here.

National Animals: Why New Zealand? Why?

The national animal of New Zealand is the kiwi – a brown, chicken sized bird, which is all-round weird. The kiwi is a strange choice. Yet New Zealanders are kiwi mad. They named themselves Kiwis. They renamed Chinese gooseberries Kiwifruit. They named a bank Kiwibank. They named a retirement fund Kiwisaver. They stuck pictures of kiwis on the stamps, the money, and the air-force (despite the fact that kiwis are flightless). Kiwi, kiwi, kiwi! Kiwis are everywhere.

Which is strange.

Real kiwi are pretty much nowhere.

Most New Zealanders have never seen a wild kiwi. In most places where people live, kiwi are extinct. Paradoxically, the less contact New Zealanders have had with actual kiwi, the more attached New Zealanders have became to kiwi. Should the kiwi ever go extinct, logically New Zealand will be renamed Kiwiland. It is inevitable.

Kiwi-mania is perplexing. How can a nation become so extremely fond of an animal they never see? It’s like being fond of the Dodo.

New Zealand isn’t the only place to have a made an odd choice.  The national animal of the Mauritius is the Dodo. They love it. It’s dead. The English lion is even less real. The last time England had lions was… was… yeah. But that can’t top the Scottish. Their national animal is a unicorn.

These bizarre choices show us how we got national animals in the first place. The Lion of England and the Unicorn of Scotland are heraldic symbols from centuries ago. They were never meant to be real. Okay, the Scots did think unicorns were real, but the point is they are emblems. Symbols.

Places lacking suitable medieval heraldry can pick themselves some outstanding real animal. Or some outstanding fake animal. Asia loves its dragons. North Korea went for a winged horse. Indonesia has the humanoid bird that gets ridden by Lord Vishnu. Laugh if you like, but the truth is all national animals are imaginary. Some just happen to refer to real animals too.

National animals are symbols. The less something is a concrete reality the easier it is to make it into a symbol. As the kiwi slid towards extinction, New Zealanders were free to project onto the word “Kiwi” whatever they wanted. An animal became a symbol. A national animal. With kiwis gone, “Kiwis” no longer needed to worry about being confronted with the bizarre nature of actual kiwi. The symbol was safe.

So why do we bother with national animals? Well, all our friends have got them. Beyond that…

Blame cartoonists.

And politicians.

And advertisers.

All of them like to indulge in personification. All need symbols. To make a good political cartoon you often need to draw a character that represents the nation. Animals with a distinct cultural history work well. Then you can draw your disliked politician riding that animal, hitting it with a whip. That kind of thing.

Propagandists have the same need. Their ads need something distinctive that represents what they’re trying to sell. Patriotism needs a face. Hence all the lions, bears, dragons, and eagles doing all their roaring, breathing fire, and swooping majestically. Vote for Steve. Let’s go to war. Buy my boot polish. That kind of thing.

As a young country, New Zealand was in desperate need of new symbols to establish its identity. Hence a little over-enthusiasm with the kiwi. It’s a teenage thing. They’ll get over it. Hopefully.

Yet, the kiwi is still a strange choice. The Bald Eagle? Majesty. Power. Got it. The Russian bear? Danger. Power. Got it. The Kiwi? It’s a furry football with legs, whose greatest claim to fame is being able to push out an egg that is equivalent to a human giving birth to a four year old. Oh New Zealand! Sure the giant Moa and man-eating Haast Eagle were extinct, but why pick the kiwi? I see your sense of humour, but where is your pride?!

Perhaps that’s it.

National animals don’t get picked in a rational way. They just happen. Something about it just works. And the kiwi knows that New Zealand is small, cute, weird, unsure, and occasionally comical. And it doesn’t care. And it was easy to draw. Still, judging by the Scots and their unicorn… New Zealand should have picked the Taniwha. No one messes with a supernatural water monster with face tattoos.

 

 

Further Down the Rabbit-hole:

Read more about the kiwi, it’s life as a bird, and its life as an icon. From Te Ara, the encyclopedia of New Zealand. Here.

The origins of the Scottish unicorn, from the Scotsman. Here.