Not My Problem

I’ve been seeing on social media a new meme, which I had already been thinking about for sometime. I found it compelling, because it is true: the virtue of solidarity is lost on Americans. Unlike a more communal society that is of the belief that we cannot truly progress while those among us languish, suffer, and die needlessly, the US is distinctly individualistic. Meaning, that we tend to define ourselves as autochthonous, springing from the forehead of Zeus into the world without any provenance, without any connection, gratitude, or debt to any place or being.

This corresponds with the illusion of the self-made man, narcissistically important and mildly solipsistic. The notion that we don’t owe anything to anyone else is a structural and cognitive defect, a deformity of memory that serially numbs out the countless macro and micro ways in which influence and soft power–not to mention privilege and positive prejudice–share the lives of the successful. Whether it’s lookism, sexism, racism, or other forms of chauvinism that benefit the verso groups of the prejudice, many benefit from the value dualism entrenched in much of American thinking, self-regard, and action. The American identity seems ineluctably driven to create enemies and suspects, like a paranoid type. While certainly the Schmittian notion of forcing unification through the straw man of a larger, more fearsome boogieman lends Machiavellian sense to the machinations of power-brokers, it is ultimately a self-immolating hyena-like strategy.

the selfmade man.jpg

Example A. The Myth of the Self-Made Man.

Currently, in US politics, the destruction of the Open Society is in full swing. Friends of mine are having their visas run out, and may have to go back to Mexico, a home they have not had in decades. Other scientist colleagues now estimate that they will leave the US after their current contracts expire, afraid of the status a European scientist in a xenophobic US may confront.

I also have many friends who are biding their time, believing that the deportations, wall-building, public services-quashing, racist policies of the current US Administration don’t affect them. They are not yet worried. Yet.

To everybody who thinks that fascism isn’t their problem, I share the story of the Protestant priest Martin Niemöller’s famous speech regarding the divisive tactics of the fascists, as he finally was taken by the Nazis:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Here is one creative critic’s modern US take on Niemöller’s sad retrospective: