Stuart Schneiderman had a post on the question: Should Government Produce Happiness? One commenter said:
We might say Nazi Germany tried to produce happiness by promoting national pride, and racial pride. They created myths of superiority and suddenly if you had blond hair and blue eyes, you instantly gained status and could walk down the street with other special people and scheme collective revenge against the people who are wrongfully trying to hold you back. This suggest populist leaders at least are good at identifying scapegoats and unifying people against common enemies. You can project all your shortcomings on your external enemies and righteously hate them for it. Certainly it must feels like happiness when you believe your specialness (personal and collective) will soon be honored, and you’ll work very hard to make it happen.
I’m not sure that “populist” is really a proper description of a political movement which stood for absolute top-down rule…but there’s no question that the Nazi ideas of racial superiority led to a feeling of ‘specialness’ on the part of many if not most followers. Also, many people who did not have a strong affinity for Nazi ideology…or any affinity at all…still felt a strong pull toward the movement, for reasons of a need for group belonging. As an example, I saw a documentary in which a strongly anti-Nazi German said that despite his clear recognition that Naziism was evil, he had still felt a sense of loss and by not being part of the circle of warmth that he perceived in the Nazi rallies.
But, as I noted in the comments to Stuart’s post, it is serious mistake to identify these motivations with only “right wing” movements such as Naziism. In-group identification and arrogance, the use of scapegoats, and the evil pleasures of political cruelty…all these things are major features of today’s “progressive’ movement. I have documented many examples of this in prior posts, for example here. While some have claimed that the violence, intolerance, and harassment so common on the Left is a reaction to Trump, there was clearly a lot of this going on long before Trump became a political factor. It was going on, especially, in American’s universities, and it should have been clear that this toxic behavior would spread beyond the campus into the wider American society.
If I could communicate just one thing, across the increasing divide of language and thought to the left it would be this: that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re running someone down is not righteousness. It’s just the feeling apes get when they run off another ape.
If you’re part of a band and all of you were piling on an outsider — or an insider who was just declared an outsider and run off — you’ll also feel very connected to your band, and a feeling of being loved and belonging. It’s not real. It’s the result of a “reward” rush of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that flood your body after stress and a perceived “victory.” Oxytocin, particularly, promotes a feeling of bonding with those around you.
Just remember, as you’re high fiving each other and believing that something that feels so good has to be good and morally “just” you could be the victim tomorrow. Because the feelings don’t last, and that rush of “righteousness and victory” is addictive. Those who are your comrades today will be looking for someone to kick in the face tomorrow. And it really could be you.
I’ve previously quoted some related thoughts from the American writer John Dos Passos. In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case. But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint. Describing one protest he attended, he wrote:
From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.
I agree with their protest: I too was horrified by this outrage. I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done. But do I agree enough? A chill goes down my spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind. Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall?
Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?
Quoting Dos Passos and connecting his observations to our own time, Jay Nordlinger wrote:
I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward. Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).
The thing that frightened Dos Passos in the attitude of these protestors–who were, remember, his allies–is, as Nordlinger noted, quite similar to the thing that is so disturbing about so many of today’s “progressive” protestors. Dos (as he was called) was entirely correct to be disturbed by what he saw, but I don’t think he diagnosed it quite correctly. Though he refers to the protestors he observed as “those good people,” quite likely many of them weren’t good people at all–even if they were right about their cause–but were rather engaging in the not-good-at-all pleasure of conformity and the enforcement thereof, and would given half a chance have gone all the way to the even-worse pleasure of bullying.
Some of them may not actually enjoy cruelty–at least not initially–but engage in it in order to fit in. Goethe’s character Gretchen falls to some degree into this category. After finding that she is pregnant by Faust, she is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:
How readily I used to blame
Some poor young soul that came to shame!
Never found sharp enough words like pins
To stick into other people’s sins
Black as it seemed, I tarred it to boot
And never black enough to suit
Would cross myself, exclaim and preen–
Now I myself am bared to sin!
There’s a lot of this…”sharp enough words like pins to stick in other people’s sins”, combined with the pleasure of preening, going on today. (Even some crossing of selves, among “progressive” Christians.) And many if not most practitioners thereof will, unlike Gretchen, likely never repent. Indeed, I suspect that many who initially ‘just go along’ soon develop a taste for cruelty, as tigers who eat one human are said to develop a taste for human blood.
See A Desire to Fit In is the Root of Almost All Wrongdoing, also C S Lewis on The Inner Ring.
One feature common among today’s ‘progressives’…and maybe among those of Dos Passos’s time too…is coupling the feeling of courage that they get from believing that they are defying law and convention with the feeling of security they get from conforming to an in-group. For a lot of people, the ability to combine submission (to the group) with aggression (toward the designated targets of the group) is very attractive.
None of these types of human behavior is new, of course, but they do seem to be getting a significant boost from the nature of social media and are definitely getting a significant boost from today’s institutionally-irresponsible Democratic Party and its leadership.