Update to «The atrocities at the height of an evil regime did start small»

If you’ve ever wondered how regular people stood by and watched Germany descend into Naziism, now you know.

It was suggested to me that one of my last postings «The atrocities at the height of an evil regime did start small» crossed the line and went into legally relevant territory.

Like explicitly written in that posting, I did not compare what the university does now with what the Nazis did at the so-called «high point» of their power. But it is the third rail of German politics. Touch it in any way and your issue dies — and your reputation with it. Even it it just to point out that the Nazis did not start off with that kind of atrocious power, and that you do have some similarity when it comes to those dangerously close first steps.

What is interesting — which is the most neutral term I can use — was that the criticism came from a person at work. Someone whom I did not expect to comment on what I do write on a private blog. While work frequently provides an impetus for what I write here, I consider it a private blog. A place where public writing forces me to find out what I think about a topic and why.

And (well, it was too obvious that I only noticed it during reading this posting the next day), while work is frequently an impetus, I am not talking about one specific university. The pressure regarding health decisions is not limited to it. On the contrary. Some universities do have harder measures. Some countries even go beyond 3G, for example, requiring you to get vaccinated to attend the university (as in some states in the USA).

But yeah, that conversation was … interesting.

And I do take that comment seriously. Mostly because I love my job. Teaching, research, the intersection between psychology and technology — I feel like a fish in water. And yeah, if I would think I like something else better, I would have left long ago (there were a few non-Covid-related stressors during the past years). But I love that job — the variety of tasks it entails. It’s challenging, it’s ever changing and never boring. That’s why the situation is so stressful — one the one hand a job and place I love, on the other measures that I consider as unethical.

But regarding that particular criticism … well, I will not remove that posting.

Mostly because I think that I am right at what I did actually say. That evil starts small. That you should take care of the beginnings of things, especially evil things.

They can grow large — in a pretty ugly way.

Hmm, let’s put it this way. I did not compare the university (or rather: universities and other places that try to force health decisions) with what the Nazis did at the so-called high point of their power in the same way I would not accuse a little child of being a serial killer just for deliberately stepping on ants. But I do see the potential for the child to leveling up to mammals, which might one day include humans. That’s why a conscience is needed, for without it torturing and killing animals (including humans) is fun.

And organizations are no different. It’s easy to say «It’s not that bad now, I can somehow justify what happens and I will speak up if something really bad happens.», especially if you do not look as closely what the consequences of the regulations actually entail. And this does remind me a bit of the churches during the so-called “rise” of Nazi Germany. Not yet, not yet, not yet, too late. We remember Niemöller because he was the exception, not the rule.

And that’s why deliberate, at times, hard feedback is needed. (And yeah, sometimes, it’s not the scalpel but the blowtorch.)

And to cover another objection, the one that some people might misinterpret my writing, well, I will not feel responsible for how other might see my writing. If I did, well, if you’ve got a quarter of a brain and a quench of creativity, you can misunderstand any writing. If I would take that challenge seriously, I could not write anything anymore. I write mostly to communicate, sometimes to find out what I am thinking, and at times to point out issues. I try to do it as best I can.

But, to bring this posting to a conclusion, I seriously think that the developments of the last — almost — two years are … concerning. That we did fall into a kind of moral panic, similar to other crazes. Balance and moderation, rational decisions and measured actions went out of the window. People got drunk on power. And I do not only mean politicians who noticed just how simple the world can be if you just decree certain things. I mean the average Joe or Karen who could wield a health scare as a weapon to bludgeon others into adhering to some behavior.

And almost imperceptibly, like in Milgram’s experiment with those 15V increments, we went into the territory of the Nürnberg Code, of the Declaration of Helsinki, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From two weeks to flatten the curve to masks to lockdowns to dividing the population into vaccinated and unvaccinated, to …?

And yeah, I do point out where that leads. And I mean what I write. It’s easy to condemn evil in hindsight, it’s much harder to see it developing. Especially if you are totally and perhaps even righteously convinced that you know what is good and «rational». (Almost) nobody is a villain in their own mind. And while we equal Nazis with the worst of what human beings can become, sorry, but I’m either an optimist or pessimist (depending on the perspective), when I say: «You have seen nothing yet.»

Because humanity can top that, considering the tools we have developed during the last (almost) 80 years.

And frankly, I think the remembrance of one inhumane atrocity is enough.


Note: Did edit the posting a few hours later to streamline it and remove irrelevant side-topics.