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.

Advertisements

Would You Dye a Lake Blue? Part II (or, We Are All Pretending and We Know It)

In “Would You Dye a Lake Blue?” I explored the strange case of people trying to achieve aquatic landscape perfection by dumping gallons of blue ink into their ponds. Was this absurd fakery just a problem for angst ridden landscape owners? I don’t think so.

Fake is a central fact of our social existence.

Fake is everywhere. You are fake. I am fake. We live in a fake world.

It’s easy to understand why one person fakes, and keeps their fakery hidden. People lie. We know why.

Far stranger is when two people lie to each other, and they both know they are lying, and they both know that they know that the other is lying. Yet they do it anyway. They consciously choose to create a fantasy world.

Strange?

You’ve probably already done it today.

“Hey, how you doing?”

“Good. Yourself?”

“Never better!”

One, two, three, done. You could’ve been anywhere from manic to suicidal and you still would  have said the same thing. I’m fine. You’re fine. Everything in the universe is just fine. Except that it isn’t, and you both knew that.

It’s not just greetings.

Laze a while on the manicured lawns of your best friend’s Facebook profile. Is that really them? Or is it no more real than a lake full of blue dye? Take the phenomena of “Finstagrams” – fake Instagram accounts were people go to escape the fakeness of real Instagram accounts. Yet even they struggle with the omnipresent demand to be fake.

How about your boss? The chummy one. That matey, handshakey, pat-on-the-back, let’s-get-a-drink boss. The boss that hates you because you don’t do things the way he would. The boss that you hate because he is underpaying you. The boss with whom you act out a charade of friendship.

Our fakeness has even earned itself a title: the Social Fake. The art of the white lie. The secret to keeping everyone happy by pretending you give a shit. Which you don’t. But you don’t need to tell them that. They already know.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

So why are we living all living in a self-inflicted fantasy?

I suspect the fake is camouflage.

First, like the white lie, it covers the ugly truth. Fake is the product of an arms-race of lying. A war of social conformity. Each step up in illusion creates ever greater demands to conform to an impossible standard. The only way to keep up is to invest in thermonuclear levels of fakery.

Yet the fake hides another even more brutal truth – everything we do is fake. We are all actors. All the time. We are permanent fantasists.

The truth is: the social world is a constructed world.

No law of nature demands that you listen to police officers. Physics did not decide that the tastes of the rich are more desirable than those of the poor. God did not decree that the money you strive for has any true value. We made it all up. It only exists because we say it does. And because we made it all up, a lot of our social world is soul-achingly absurd.

The illusions are the bed-sheets that cover the naked truths of our relations. Imagine what would happen if we tore the sheets away…

The greetings…

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“I’m going to kill myself.”

“Good. Saves me a job.”

The Facebook…

“Oh look, there’s a photo of Sally getting fired. Sad face! That’s her at rehab. I remember those needles – like! And that’s both of us getting arrested for public urination. Ah,  good times!”

That boss…

“Hey Phil, when I was last stealing office supplies, it occurred to me that no one here’s had a pay rise in ten years….”

“Yeah, I know. I’m doing it on purpose. You see, I really want to get promoted out of this shit-hole, which means I have to keep costs super-duper low so that the Fat Cats can pay themselves ginormous bonuses. Oh… and that cheap printer ink I made you all switch to – it causes cancer.”

“Oh, gee Phil, I guess I’m going to go start a riot now. Mind if I fire bomb your car?”

While I’m no fan of the noble lie – the idea that we need to be deluded – if we stripped away the fake then a lot in this world would be forced to change. A revolution or two at least. Maybe society would collapse into anarchy? Maybe Facebook would implode in a frenzy of unfriending? Maybe you would get divorced and move to Tibet? Or, maybe we’d learn to build a world that’s more true, more authentic, and doesn’t screw you over while asking you to smile.

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

Learn more about Finstagrams in “On Fake Instagram, a Chance to Be Real” in the New York Times. Here.

It get’s weirder still. People fake looking authentic. “People Fake to Look Real on Social Media” on ScienceDaily. Here.

Got kids with special needs? Try “Phoney Baloney” the game that teaches them how to do the Social Fake, or more bluntly, how to manipulate people’s emotions by lying to them. Here.

Would You Dye a Lake Blue?

A friend once told me a strange story about an American summer camp. That camp had a lake. Just before the parents returned for their brats the camp managers done something very odd to that lake. They went down to the lake’s edge. They opened up some plastic drums. And they dyed the lake blue.

Blue. With blue dye. A lake.

Yeah.

If you’re like me then you’re probably going, “What? Are they insane? The poor fish! Those idiots!”

But…

Wait…

Don’t worry…

That summer camp was no anomaly. That was lake dye. Special purpose. Fish friendly, so they say. You can buy it by the drum load.

Why would anyone use this stuff?  Well, according to the purveyors of the finest in paint-for-lakes, lake dye is a must have because:

  • it controls algae and plants, by shading all photosynthetic life to aquamarine-tinged death;
  • it enhances fish safety, by allowing the fish to hide from predatory birds in murky water the color of Gatorade;
  • and, most importantly of all… beauty. If it aint glowing cerulean blue then it aint good enough for you.

It appears that enough people find these reasons sufficiently compelling to have supported an entire industry, with multiple competing brands, that’s been churning out the blue wonder for years.

Now, just in case you’re beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, this is reasonable behavior after all, let’s be clear about one thing. All this talk about “fish safety” and “algae control” is a blue-dyed herring. For limnological reasons we wont get into, trying to fix water quality issues with blue dye is like trying to grow a beard with face paint. Lake dye is about one thing and one thing only – The Look, the blue look.

“Hey, Jim, that’s amazing! How did you get your pond to look so blue?”

“Well, Bob, I filled it with ink.”

“Gosh Jim! Why didn’t I think of that? Can I have some?”

“Sure Bob! I’ll bring it over as soon as I finish spray painting the dog.”

Lake dye is nuts. Objectively. It’s expensive. It doesn’t fix the real problem (i.e the fact that small lowland ponds just aren’t blue… that’s nature folks). And… you are dying a lake blue!

So then… why do people care so much about The Look that they are willing to act like eccentric professors with an overabundance of bad ideas?

Good question.

Lake dye has friends. Fake has long been popular. The Chinese are said to paint entire quarried mountainsides green, so that passengers in passing aircraft don’t notice the ravaged landscape beneath them. Stores exist where you can buy yourself an entirely plastic garden, right from the astroturf to the petrochemical palm trees. I recently passed an entire hedge’s worth of this stuff outside a lawyers firm – I had thought something seemed a bit wrong with those bushes. And my own grandmother long kept a bowl of plastic apples on her kitchen table – an eternal mouthwatering disappointment.

So why be a person who merely looks like they have a bowl of fruit, without getting any of the satisfaction of actually being able to pick up one of those apples and eat it?

Why do we fake anything?

Maybe some people really do like the look of plastic fruit and blitzed-blue lakes. It’s a quick-cheap aesthetic booster-shot. But that summer camp never wasted their dye making life pretty for the kids.

Fake is impression management. Information warfare. Psychological espionage. So viscous is this struggle that some of us will go to any length in-order to win – including telling lies with a forty-four gallon drum full of blue – seeking natural perfection in chemical oblivion. A few clever words from the salesman about algae and fish and we can convince ourselves we are doing this for sensible reasons. But the truth is…

Society’s eyes are ever staring. We see all. We judge all. We are inside your head.

We decide what you must want, what you must have, what you must be. If you want our help, then don’t you dare tell us that you cannot afford to be… don’t have time to be… don’t know how to be… We expect perfection! We expect your polluted little mud pond to resemble the royal blue waters of alpine Davos. We expect the impossible.

So you give us the impossible. The unreal. The lie.

You fake it. You fake it to make our voice in your head shut up.

You drown us in blue dye.

 

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

A few random lake dye suppliers as a taster:

(I’m not advertising by the way. In fact… never buy lake dye. Are you insane?!)

Cryptic Poetry: why bother?

Words exist to communicate. Each one is a dense dollop of meaning flung from my mind to yours. That is the purpose of words. Why then do people write words without meaning? I’m talking here about a certain species of bad poetry – cryptic poetry. Words that are so indecipherable they communicate nothing. They fail as words. Why write them?

Dew of mist

All the butterflies are dead

This year

Inject the soul with

Happiness.

Was that a poem? I created it by stringing random words together with a little syntactic glue. It has no purpose. It has no meaning. It is an empty shell of hollow words. This poem has meaning in the same way clouds have faces.  Yet the internet is awash in this sort of cryptic meaningless poetry.

Why? A lack of skill? Some people out there do seem to think that merely putting words

on different

lines

makes it

a poem.

It doesn’t.

Slap on top a belief that poetry must be about obscure personal emotions and out pops cryptically bad poetry. It’s like listening to someone talk in their sleep. We can’t join their dreams.

My heart aches

The cinnamon bun

You know.

Another possibility is a neurological problem. Serious. It’s called word salad. It’s a symptom of dementia, schizophrenia, and brain injury.

Wall speaks

Windy hot mess, cloud blues;

A shelf lay fuschia,

In worlds with pencils.

I hope this is rather rare cause of bad poetry, but one can’t escape the resemblance.

However, incompetence and injury aside, to truly understand the popularity of cryptically bad poetry, I’m sorry to say this, we’re going to have to ask Deepak Chopra. Yes. Deepak Chopra. To be more precise, a random word generator with the uncanny ability to mimic a tweet by Deepak Chopra.

Can you guess which of these is the real Deepak, and which is the random Deepak machine? (The answers are at the end.)

“Reality is the consciousness that projects the illusion.”

“Formless Being is ultimate reality Liberation of Consciousness from Identification with Form through Non-reactivity.”

“Your consciousness is reborn in universal possibilities.”

“Self-power is the womb of total acceptance of abstract beauty.”

The Deepak machine was used in a 2015 study by psychologists from the University of Waterloo. It won science’s second highest honor after the Noble prizes (and all those other prizes) – the Ignoble Prize. The topic? It was titled “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit.”

Bullshit. Pseudo-profound bullshit. That, I believe, is what we are dealing with here.

They define pseudo-profound bullshit as “seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.” And they found that people will frequently rate a meaningless randomly generated buzzword sentence as profound. People buy bullshit.

Seeing how easy it is to write cryptically bad poetry by stringing together random words, I would say that it counts as pseudo-profound bullshit. It gives the impression of deep meaning without having any actual deep meaning.

So why is there so much bullshit poetry?

From the poet’s point of view bullshit emanates out of a desire to impress, to seem profound, to get clicks on the like button. As people will happily slurp up bullshit, you’ll seldom be challenged on the fact that all your poetry is empty nonsense. That, or you’re a random word generator.

Oh, spring forth

flying quantum space time of

my soul!

From the readers point of view? We expect poetry to be profound, we are accustomed to it being difficult, and we intend to read it intuitively – souls wide open.  We put ourselves in the optimal bullshit-absorption state. The expectation creates gullibility. The lack of confidence makes us confuse “I don’t get it” with “This is profound.” And the intuitiveness disarms our analytical firewalls. The bullshit slides right on down.

Ah, zeitgeist

dust motes

dancing on the minds

of this is bullshit!

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole

Pennycook et al. (2015). On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6. Here.

The Deepak tweet generator, www.wisdomofchopra.com.

(ANSWER: For the Deepak quotes, the first two are from Deepak’s twitter, the second two are randomly generated. How well did you do?)