About fifteen years ago I was one of three people on a panel discussion about the Holocaust at Loyola University Chicago. I’d spoken publicly before, and have spoken publicly since, and experience has taught me that speaking truthfully about the Holocaust often attracts Holocaust deniers and other loonies.
On this occasion, however, none of the predictable crazies showed up and the presentation proved uneventful… except for the most unexpected of all possibilities: a Jewish man who took me aside to explain how the Nazis were driven over the moral cliff because, according to him, the Jews were such a “hard people to like.”
Huh? Say what?
There was no historical accuracy to his argument and his ignorance of the history of European Jewry was stunning, not to mention that being “unlikeable” is hardly a justification for genocide.
It didn’t take long to deduce the man was seriously deranged. The more we spoke the more it became abundantly clear he was tormented by demons I had no power to exorcise.
That gentleman explained his parents were Holocaust survivors and he told me about the nightmares that plagued him throughout his life – terrible nightmares about how he would try to survive when “the Nazis come to America.” His terror was palpable and on many levels understandable; he broke my heart.
I could offer him no comfort. Repeatedly he said “but they couldn’t be all bad… yes, yes, you know some Nazis were nice…”
A Ph.D. candidate in psychology overheard our conversation and offered his take on it; he said “the guy’s terrified; fear has made him insane.”
He explained the pathetic man was making a psychotic deal with the devil so that if the devil returned he might be able to survive.
He also suggested the man’s determination to find redeeming qualities in the Nazis or blame the Jews for the Nazis’ behavior helped him staunch his terror: if he could make them “normal” in his mind or justify their behavior then he might be able to find a common bond, even form a friendship for his own security.
I wonder if I’m not actually seeing a manifestation of the same pathologically deranged behavior among women and people in the gay community who support the GOP.
Maybe I can’t explain their bizarre support for the GOP by using a psychiatric model of derangement and shouldn’t try.
My strength is in history and perhaps that’s where I should remain and if so then there’s a model I might be able to use as a historian. This model was given us by the historian Barbara Tuchman who coined the phrase “policy contrary to self interest” in her classic “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.”
In “The March of Folly” Tuchman selects dramatic examples of folly in history: the fall of Troy, the Protestant secession from Rome, the British forfeiture of the American colonies, and America’s own experience in Vietnam.
She defines folly as “the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or the state involved” and her key criteria are that (1) the policy must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time and (2) a feasible alternative course of action was available.
Another criterion is that the policy in question should be that of a group (of rulers or entire societies) and not of single individuals.
It’s that third criterion that’s the rub: can I lump Republican woman and members of the gay community who support the GOP into an “entire society” of their own? Or must I think of them as individuals? Can Tuchman’s historical model explaining government folly be retooled to explain individual behavior?
Probably not — so let me turn to a biological model.
You’ve all heard the expression “like lemmings to the sea,” right?
Recent research indicates suicidal lemmings are utter nonsense, pure myth. Maybe so, maybe not; I’m certainly no expert on those little buggers.
However, I know this: women and gays who vote Republican are nucking futz to vote Republican; there’s something not quite right about their thinking… they are just as crazy as a Jew defending Nazis, a nation determined to exercise pure folly, or those funny little rats marching to the sea…