Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It was in the Corner Just Where I Left It

Every so often, I am struck by phrases we use casually, phrases that we all understand but have lost all of their literal meaning.

A longtime, personal favorite is "spare change." What is that? Is that to mean that you have money - you know, the money that you actually use - and then you have some extra that you keep around, but don't really need or plan to ever have any use for, but just have in case of an emergency, like a spare tire? People may have more money than they need, or even more than they could ever spend (I'm looking at you, Donald Trump), but when is that ever spare?

Another is "find the time," as in: "I just couldn't find the time for that." Where was this time that you found? Did it pile up in a corner with the dust and dirty laundry? How is it you didn't notice this time, just laying around there, before? And finally, who knew that time could just wander off like that? No wonder we seem to have so little.

Maybe if we had some spare time, like spare change, carefully boxed up in a safe place just in case we needed it. After all, we all have some extra time we're not using, right?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Be This Guy

We all like to think we would be that guy - the one who holds his morals and stands up in the face of evil. But I think about this every so often, and I fear I might have been worse than simply not being that guy.

“I find Elser is someone to be proud of because he wasn’t an aristocrat or an educated man, he was an ordinary German craftsman and he chose to resist. He had that moral courage inside him. What makes his story even more remarkable is that he managed to resist in the countryside, because it was easier to keep to yourself in a big city. There was more anonymity there. In the countryside everyone knew everyone else so there was more pressure to conform.”

It's really embarrassing, in a way. It's not like all sorts of people didn't resist, or actively work against the Nazis.  There was an active German underground - it doesn't get as good press as that of the French (who needed something to cling to after a lot of their Jews seemed to disappear, among other things) - and there are a lot of other examples of people under Nazi rule who at worst managed to make the machinery of oppression grind very slowly and poorly, and at best actively fought.

Richard Pryor on the Nazis: "Was iz das?" "Oh, nothin'. Just funning around..."

However, history is more commonly full of people who would rather be left alone while they get on with their lives. In fact, if you go through all history carefully, you find the general rule is like that in the average American election: 20 percent on each extreme end, and about 60 percent in the middle. Or, f you want, split into thirds: one third for, one third against, and one third who want to be left alone to go about their business.

The Nazis provides a particularly invidious example, and not just for the reason you might think. With 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see their evil from top to bottom, starting with mass killings of not just Jews, but political opponents, other troublesome religions, the mentally retarded, the handicapped, and on and on. There's the absorption of all society into a grand social scheme, the usurpation of children from their parents. But at the start, especially for your average person not paying close attention, this wasn't so clear. Then, they seemed an understandable, crypto-conservative/socialist reaction to the tough times ... with cool uniforms. If one is honest, it's easy to imagine joining up for the parades.

What does this mean? One perhaps should approach exciting political ideas - especially those that claim to solve everything easily - with caution. And one should be humble. Though we may hope to be Martin Niemöller, we generally fall into that middle third, just going along to get along ...

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.