Cultural Memory and the Unprincipled Norms

German infantry on the battlefield.  August 7, 1914.  Underwood & Underwood. (War Dept.) NARA FILE #:  165-WW-286-51 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #:  637

As much as human society in the past century has attempted to be humane, it seems that one cannot excise human nature from the humans.  Problems which some have imagined have been removed from human history crop up at inopportune times as often in the enlightened countries as in the dark backwards corners of the earth.  For all our pretensions what if those aspects of human nature we thought to have banished to the back of our culture become a necessity again?  What if those aspects of human nature are unleashed but this time we can no longer control them?

Cultures seem to have a memory for what they can do and what can be done.  The urban elve may flinch at the thought of executing some poor youth.  They may even celebrate the death of some poor bigot but put them in the room and put a gun in their hand and they may yet fail in their conviction.  Killing and death have left the culture it is no longer something that the average citizen experiences.  Those that do either experience through a vibrant upbringing, a family hunting trip or as one of the few citizens who sees frontline duty on some distant sand.  The rituals surrounding death have been slowly peeled back from society.  No longer do the proles gather to see the latest dastardly criminal asphyxiate as a rope crushes his throat, or be disemboweled by spear.  We no longer gather in the town square to celebrate the victorious return of our soldiers or to mourn in their death.  Gone are the white feather campaigns or the shaving of French-Nazi collaborators.  Some would say that technology has made war impersonal, removed soldiers from death.  I won’t dispute that, but I will dispute that technology necessarily needs to separates us or our soldiers from killing and death.  It is not the romance of war which we need back.  Indisputably war can and is horror, but to cower and fear and hide from death is to invite it ever closer.  What we need is to bring death closer to our cities through ritual.  To accept and celebrate our executioners, guards and soldiers.

Our culture takes gentle steps around death.  Our journalists and reporters pretend there is a gentle, civilized way to handle things, there is none.  Civilized responses are for civilized people.  Not all the world is civilized not even everyone in our country is either.  Our principled response, the privileges given to the great among us have been wasted upon our dregs.  We forget what people are like, looking only to the model among us, ignoring those below.  It is in these times that I question our principled exceptions, are they sustainable?  In a society of reason we can decided whether this or that poor sap is deserving of a 2nd chance or a thug who needs to be hanged, but there is no such society of reason.  How long after the first principled exception, does the 2nd come, not from reason but from the pleading and the emotional games as the feminine among us wail on their knees for mercy?  Can we maintain the hard resolve to do the right thing when it is so easy to make another exception and then another? How long before an unprincipled exception becomes the rule?

Conversely what happens when there is a problem in need of physical removal?  How do we suppress subversion or exile a problematic group.  By delaying the necessary you risk uncontrolled responses.  Can one quietly deport a population after claiming that they were Americans?  Can you justify expulsion without risking scapegoating or worse slipping into genocide?  By suppressing the less savory but necessary aspects of humanity we might well have set ourselves up for greater tragedy.  We must not only ask ourselves how to convey the hard truths but how to let out the steam of anger long suppressed or newly found.

Unfortunately we have a long road ahead of us.  What we desire is racism but not petty bigotry.  Classism but not trampling on the weak.  There are indeed some truths which are better left as secrets.  Not from society but from the least of us.  Truths must be explained in ways appropriate to the caliber of the listener.  The HBD one teaches the prole is not the same lesson as one teaches the elite.  We must remember that whatever careful preparations we make against abuse, our first priority is that society must remember our mistakes long past our lifetimes.  Let not the principled exception become an unprincipled norm.  Never Again.

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One thought on “Cultural Memory and the Unprincipled Norms

  1. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/05/31) | The Reactivity Place

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