Robert Scheer – “I’m half Jewish and half German” – points out that high culture didn’t stop Germany from sliding into fascism:
… they still had the best music, and they had the best
science, and they had all of this in Germany. And it didn’t save them at
all, it didn’t help them at all. And I have always found that very
depressing when I apply it to the United States.
CH: Well, because I think that the problem was that—I
mean, just as under Stalinism, there was a war against culture, replaced
with faux culture. You know, the whole attack on Jewish science was
part of Nazism and Stalinism. So you’re right, except that it shows how
swiftly a society that reaches those cultural heights can be reoriented
towards barbarism. And I would argue that that is one of the fundamental
dangers in the United States, is the war we’ve made on our own culture.
The Nazis made, had a huge movie industry, and they didn’t make—they
made some horrible propaganda films. But most of it was fluff, was
garbage, was Hollywood-type entertainment. And you know, mindless
entertainment; spectacle. Spectacle—fascists do spectacle very well.
Stalin did spectacle very well. And that creates a kind of cultural
milieu where people lose the capacity to think critically and
self-reflect, which is what authentic culture is about; that capacity to
get you to look within yourself, look within your society. And it’s
replaced with this collective narcissism, which has been on display at
this convention. And that’s very dangerous. And we’ve seen Trump ride
that collective narcissism, and exploit it through right-wing populism,
and do what proto-fascist movements always do, which is direct a
legitimate rage and a cultural narcissism towards the vulnerable.
Undocumented workers, Muslims, homosexuals, you know, on and on and on.
So the destruction of culture is a key component—actually, my first
book, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” and the wars that I
covered, noted that a culture that goes to war destroys its own culture
before it destroys the culture of the enemy.
RS: But basic to that manipulative concept, obscuring your own
responsibility—the denial of, say, Jesus, who may not have existed but
it was attributed to him in Luke, of the Good Samaritan—trying to
understand the other, and that the other also has a soul, and so forth.
Obliterating that, making people throwaway people, whether they’re the
people you deal with in jail, or the people we’re bombing. As the
Democratic convention is going on, a Democratic president is randomly
killing people with drones and what have you. And you even had Madeleine
Albright get up there to a standing ovation—I was stunned—and she’s a
woman who at one point defended the bombing, starvation, actually, in
Iraq, and you know, this is the price you pay. And I was thinking about
that; essential to this whole narrative is that idea that Reagan
pushed—he wasn’t the first, but the Germans had it too—that you are the
city on the hill. You are the place that God is watching.
CH: Right. Well, that’s what the collective narcissism is
about. And with collective narcissism, means you externalize evil. So
every moralist—I mean, having covered war, I know how thin that line is
between victim and victimizer. I know how easily people can be seduced
into carrying out atrocity; I’ve seen it in every war I’ve covered. And I
think the best break against that is understanding those dark forces
within all of us, and the capacity we all have for evil. That’s what
makes Primo Levi such a great writer about the Holocaust. And so
collective narcissism essentially says we—it creates a binary world, as
you correctly point out, where other human beings embody evil, and when
we eradicate them, we have eradicated evil. And that, of course, propels
a society into committing atrocious acts of evil in the name of good.
And that’s what the Nazis did, and I would argue that’s what we do in
the Middle East; that’s what we do in this vast system of mass
incarceration; that’s what we do in our internal colonies; that’s what
we do to our poor.
RS: And that’s what we do in our foreign policy. And there is a
common theme that we saw at both the Republican and Democratic
conventions. And it was surprising to me how much they had in common in
this respect: that we are the aggrieved. It’s like the people in Germany
after World War I, who became convinced that they had been victimized
by the rest of the world. Right, whether it was Jewish bankers in New
York, or it was the French, or the Allies, or what have you. And it was
interesting, we’re recording this at the point when Barack Obama’s going
to speak at the convention tonight. But last night, listening to the
speeches, they had you know, first responders; 9/11 was a big theme,
because after all, Hillary Clinton, senator from New York, and she had
the credentials of having been around during 9/11 and so forth. And it
was all about, you know, this—first of all, sort of a continuation of
the idea that no other people in the world have ever been attacked in
this way. Right? You know, we are a nation—
CH: Well, it’s the—you know, all of these societies that
descend into this, I think what you correctly called barbarism, sanctify
their own victimhood. This is what’s killed Israel. And you sanctify
your—once you sanctify your victimhood, it’s beyond understanding. And
it gives you a license, or you believe it gives you a license, to do
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