Political Devotion to Purity and Unity, Research Time, 30/04/2014

This is Adolf Hitler, Leader of the Nazi Party.
My comments a couple of posts ago about using imagery from Triumph of the Will to underscore the weirdness of Lucy’s Newfoundland nationalist political propaganda in A Small Man’s Town reminded me to check out the film, which until last night, I had actually not seen in full. It is a masterpiece of propaganda, with terrifying images of creepily Aryan boys (the Hitler Youth sequences carry just a hint of pedophiliac eroticism, which only makes the film more disturbing) and Nazis and swastikas marching in freakishly perfect unison.

Its core ideas feed into some of the notions I’ve been developing for the Utopias project: the devotion to a political cause as an all-consuming religious faith, the unity of the entire people in the political movement, defining the political movement as the literal expression of the Leader’s will. In many ways, the Utopias project is a critique of the idea that a political movement that overwrites the individuality of its members in a single movement or an ideal social form. Such a movement is inherently violent, but its inspiration comes from the attractiveness of that ideal shape for society. Who wouldn’t make any sacrifice to achieve paradise?

Contrary to the last few years of political propaganda from
his opposition, this is not Adolf Hitler.
Nazi political ideology was, in my view, the most pure expression of this notion, that one must devote oneself to a political movement to the point of sacrificing not just your life, but your very individuality to achieving your political goal. It was also the most disgusting, and profane such ideology, which is certainly a help to me in my argument that this kind of idealism in politics is inherently destructive. Of course, I’m not so dumb as to believe that I, or anyone else, can actually succeed in an argument whose form consists of, “The Nazis were the perfect expression of Edenically idealistic politics; Nazism is evil; therefore, Edenically idealistic politics is evil.” I’ve seen enough examples of Godwin’s Law, as well as two decades worth of propaganda against George W. Bush and Barack Obama to know just how badly that method works. 

If I can say at such an early stage in the project that Utopias has any central core, it’s the notion that the problem of Edenically idealistic politics, the political movement that calls on a devotional faith to sacrifice all to achieve a vision of a perfect world, is too simple. It ignores the existence of difference in existence, and that an ecosystemic world, which all life constitutes, is inherently driven by difference. 

Contrary to the political propaganda of his opposition in
my youth, this is also not Adolf Hitler.
Living systems only survive through the increase of diversity because diversity in a system itself encourages health. For my editing job, I’ve come across some biological studies on the development of industrial agriculture, and one critical focus of these works is the destructive effects of razing diverse ecosystems to create monocultural farms. Immense numbers of complex nutrient cycles among plants, mammals, insects, birds, thousands of fungi genii, and God-probably-can’t-keep-track-of how many kinds of bacteria are all thrown away and flattened to create corn and wheat fields. A simple, pure, unified ecology replaces a messy, absurdly complex one.

The result is soil that loses its nutrients and can’t even grow these simple fields of plants within a few decades. Consider this an analogy for politics. Any movement or idea that would see its goal as the implementation of a uniform political program according to a single, simply set of principles is as politically and socially destructive as the monocultural farm is ecologically destructive. Nazi ideology was not only a simple image of a political Eden to which the party strove, at great cost and sacrifice, for two decades. It was also, even for ideologies, a simple one. It valued absolute unity of a diverse people (and the German people, with their cultural heritage in all those towns and duchies with their own unique histories and traditions, is remarkably diverse) in the will of a single man. It valued total uniformity of political, moral, and religious beliefs. It valued total purity according to a childishly simple theory of ontological race.

Absolute uniformity is death.

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