musings

“Us vs. them…” a statement on the state of things…

Well, once again, it’s Friday. Bill is coming home today after having been gone for the past few days. I started reading Maus yesterday, after having read about the uproar the book is causing in the United States. I’m about five chapters in so far, and I can already see why it won a Pulitzer Prize. I’ve never been a big comic book person and it never would have occurred to me to read a graphic novel before I heard of Maus. And yet, the drawings and dialogue, which author Art Spiegelman has so cleverly created, have really drawn me in. I forced myself to stop reading last night, because I was afraid I’d get too emotional and have trouble sleeping. I think it helps that Art Spiegelman was influenced by Mad Magazine, which was one of my favorite magazines when I was growing up.

Of course, I also started another book on my Kindle app that is potentially equally upsetting. But I don’t find the subject matter of the e-book quite as horrifying as I do the subject of the Holocaust, which disturbs me on many levels. And it’s mainly because I now live in the country that perpetrated those horrors, as I watch my own country go down a similarly destructive path. I only hope that some day, the United States will heal in the ways Germany has, complete with citizens taking full responsibility for the attitude of disdain and hatred people have for each other and the damage that attitude does.

I really think that Maus is deemed “inappropriate”, not because of the word “God damn” and the prospect of young people looking at mice in the nude, but because most young people are not stupid, and some of them will connect the dots. No, I don’t think it’s gotten to the point at which people are being hauled to camps, starved, and gassed, but I think it’s important to remember that the Holocaust didn’t start that way, either. It started with the “us vs. them” attitude, and a charismatic leader who cast blame on people he deemed “undesirable”. Right under the noses of otherwise decent people, he made it okay to be hateful and cruel, simply due to who people were and their life’s circumstances. It eventually got to the point at which people thought of “them” as non-human.

I think the pandemic kind of adds to this phenomenon. There’s just so much disrespect across the board nowadays. People are fed up with the constant rules, restrictions, sickness, and death. That fatigue crosses over into other things… Not that the rudeness didn’t exist before COVID-19, but it’s gotten much worse. I’ve noticed that if you aren’t squarely on one side of the issue, people assume you’re on the side that isn’t theirs, rather than assuming that maybe you’re in the middle. And they seem to think that makes it okay to attack.

Last night, I was reading about the Maus controversy, and the arguments being presented on both sides were stated in ways that were anything but friendly. One very vociferous man… or, as vociferous as a person can be on the Internet, was insisting that taking Maus out of the curriculum was the right thing to do, since it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for all audiences. Anytime someone argued with him, he basically accused them of being “obtuse” or “stupid”, even if their arguments were intelligent and reasoned. He doggedly took on all comers, too. I didn’t respond to the man myself, since he was just like so many other people I’ve run into– strangers who forget that there are people behind the posts to which he was responding. I don’t enjoy arguing with people I actually know, so I knew I wasn’t wanting to argue with that guy. But I did notice that he had a “Red Wave” vote Republican sign on his profile… which automatically makes me wonder if maybe he wasn’t just projecting.

This level of “disdain” doesn’t just come from conservatives, though. There don’t seem to be many “good guys” who are just moderate and normal, and want things to be fair for everyone. Or, maybe there are people like that, but they are staying quiet. I try to write about these things myself, because I think more people need to read a more centrist view. Before Donald Trump came in and wreaked havoc on the Republican Party, I used to think some of the conservative ideals made good sense. But now, it’s being run by a bunch of religious zealots who think it’s “Christlike” to carry weapons and force people to give birth.

Likewise, I don’t like how liberals try to cram their ideals down everyone’s gullets, self-righteously preaching to anyone who isn’t completely on their bandwagon, and arrogantly acting like they’re superior to those who aren’t “woke”. It takes time to change people’s views, even when the views are considered politically incorrect. A person who has politically incorrect views may not be all bad, though. Sometimes, people evolve. I don’t think it’s helpful to unilaterally condemn people… although both sides of the political spectrum are certainly guilty of that practice.

I admire people who are civil. I wish I were more civil myself. I try to be, and I think I’ve made progress over the past 25 years or so, but I still have a temper and strong sense of what I consider to be right and wrong. Like, for instance, a more civilized person might be more magnanimous toward my husband’s ex wife. There are times when the better part of me looks at her with empathy. I truly am sorry she went through the things she did when she was a child. I wouldn’t wish that for any human being, not just because I don’t like to see people suffer, but also because I know suffering causes people to hurt others. It’s a condition that is as contagious as COVID-19.

I mentioned that I’m only five chapters into Maus, but one thing I immediately noticed was at the very beginning of the book, when Art draws himself as a boy who was left behind at the playground and is deemed a “rotten egg”. He sniffles that his friends abandoned him. His father wisely pointed out that most friends turn less friendly in times of adversity. Lock people up, treat them badly, and take away things they need for survival, or even just comfort, and you’ll soon see them turn against each other, and see each other as less than human. To a much lesser extent, we can see this “us vs. them” attitude in daily life, as each side is convinced that the other wants to take over and make things worse for them. In fairness, though, I can see why each side feels that way. I just happen to lean more toward the left right now, mainly because I truly believe Donald Trump and his most rabid followers are very dangerous people.

But maybe these people have always been out there. I just never noticed them before, because we’ve always had people in charge who had at least a scintilla of decency. Donald Trump is probably the most shameless malignant narcissist who has ever lived in the White House. I don’t even think he believes in a lot of the ideas he pushes. He just says what riles people up. He may find that he’s awakened a beast, because I have a feeling that some of the people he’s agitated may turn on him, and not toward decency and diplomacy.

Anyway… I am just a nobody here in Germany, writing yet another post for my little read blog. I sure would like to see some sun… and it will be good to see Bill, who makes what I do worthwhile. I’ll probably get more into Maus today. If you haven’t read it yourself, I recommend picking up a copy; if you can find one. Besides being very cleverly conceived, I find the interaction between Art and his father, Vladek, very moving. I’m gratified to read it. Maybe I should thank the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee for inadvertently educating me. I doubt I would have been determined to read this book if it weren’t controversial and “banned”.

Stephen King is right.

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3 thoughts on ““Us vs. them…” a statement on the state of things…

  1. Maus is one of the most ingenious, moving, and revealing narratives about the Holocaust and its effects on the people who were caught up in it. Art Spiegelman captures the essence of his father, his mom Anja, and all the people he depicts in Maus and the thematically connected (but artistically separate) story “Prisoner from the Hell Planet so well that I can hear the characters’ voices as I read the dialogue. It’s one of my favorite books in my “new life in Tampa” era, and I’m glad you are reading it, although I’m not thrilled by the ban that brought the book into the public eye.

    As for conservatism…while I understand that some of its tenets (respect for tradition, the need to be thrifty, and its emphasis on individual responsibility) are necessary for any society, I also understand that it is, at its core, a philosophy based on fear. Specifically, it is often a variant of metathesiophobia. Change, whether it’s beneficial or not, is scary. Most people, including Yours Truly, like routines, familiar places, and a sense of knowing our place in the world. So, I “get” that part of conservatism.

    What bothers me to no end about conservatism, especially the kind of conservatism that has morphed into Trumpism, is that not only is it based on fear, but also on hatred and prejudice. And, worse of all, many of the powerful people behind the “new” right (there’s actually nothing new about it; it’s always been here, just not always dressed up as “Republicans” or “MAGA-hat wearers), folks like Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch, and other wealthy (and intelligent) promote conservatism because it is the one sure way that they can hold on to their wealth and power.

    The more I learn about politics and how they have a profound effect on humanity, the less I like a lot of conservative philosophy. It is often presented as the most pro-individual liberties ideology, but if you look at some of its core values – such as the misogynistic positions on women’s rights (including reproductive rights), you’ll see that it’s truly not the philosophy of personal freedoms that it pretends to be.

    That’s not to say that liberalism is 100% rainbows and unicorns, no matter how badly its more enthusiastic adherents want to believe it is. If National Socialism and Fascism are the extreme poles of conservatism, then Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, and whatever the hell the Kim family in North Korea practices are the extremes of (usually) well-meaning liberal ideas. (To quote Joseph Stalin, the justification for Communism’s excesses boils down to “If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.”

    I’d like to think of myself as a centrist. My core values are still middle-of-the-road. I will never believe, for instance, that we don’t need a strong military (cos I know we do) or that everyone should have a free college education (someone must pay the professors, right?). But if conservatives try to rig the game of politics by lying (hi. Fox “News,” I’m looking at you!) and using fear and hate to motivate its voters and govern only to protect the interests of the extremely wealthy, I will not be supportive of the Republican Party.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the rest of Maus. It truly is a great book.

    • Thanks Alex. I got through only one more chapter today, because Bill came home. I suspect that when I am done with it, and he reads it, it will blow his mind. I think what really strikes me about this book is how human it is. I have read a lot of books about the Holocaust, but none that really illustrated so well how normal turned to abnormal. I never would have expected that from a novel… particularly a “graphic” novel.

      I really hope a lot of people read Maus and heed its warning. There is a lot to be learned from this book.

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