Perpetual motion mania of totalitarian movements

Annie Deighnaugh

Sorry...the source had a limit on the number of articles accessible, and I was afraid I'd lose it as I couldn't read it at the time, so I've since lost the source. Nevertheless, this makes some critical points. If you wonder why our nation seems to be in a constant state of flux with one headline pushing the next off the page, it's intentional.

A man Mayer referred to simply as a “philologist” spoke about the pace of information dissemination during the N@zi rise to power. He explained how Germans like those Mayer interviewed were kept in a state of constant change — a technique Hannah Arendt later described as the “perpetual-motion mania of totalitarian movements [that] remain in power only so long as they keep moving and set everything around them in motion.”

The impacts of that technique, according to the philologist, were significant.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise,” the philologist told Mayer. The N@zi dictatorship was “diverting,” he said, in that it kept people “so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated…by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”

The impacts of that technique, according to the philologist, were significant.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise,” the philologist told Mayer. The N@zi dictatorship was “diverting,” he said, in that it kept people “so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated…by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”

Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, whose books were burned and who fled to London and then South America as the war began, felt similarly. “National Socialism, with its unscrupulous methods of deception, took care not to show how radical its aims were until the world was inured to them,” Zweig wrote in his 1942 reflections, The World of Yesterday, shortly before his suicide. “So it tried at its technique cautiously — one dose at a time, with a short pause after administering it. One pill at a time, then a moment of waiting to see if it had been too strong, if the conscience of the world could swallow that particular pill.” [I edited to prevent autodeletion.]

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Annie Deighnaugh

As Zweig knew already then, the world did swallow that pill for a time. As did many people in Germany — including those who recognized the implications of that gradual progression. Because, as the philologist described to Mayer, that broader pattern of constant societal change that totalitarianism imposed had a profound effect on individual agency. It resulted in a kind of personal inertia, even when one had an inkling of what was being set in motion. Things kept getting worse, but, the philologist explained, one struggled to react properly, or convince others that they should be worried, too. “In your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist,’” he explained. “And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it.”

That’s because — just as Zweig had described it — “each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse,” the philologist explained. “You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.” But that moment never came. “That’s the difficulty,” the philologist told Mayer. “If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes millions would have been sufficiently shocked… But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you to not be shocked by the next....

The constant motion of totalitarianism Arendt would examine years later — the steady movement toward tyranny — is measured as drips, not as a flood.

“When men who understand what is happening — the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single acts or developments — when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to,” the philologist told Mayer.

How many men, he then asked, understood this in America? “And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don’t understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great ‘patriotic’ mob,” he continued, “will they understand then, when they did not before?”

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Annie Deighnaugh

I think they call it boiling the frog. That's exactly what's happening in the US...one scandal is pushed off the front page by the next worse scandal...a daily drip drip of shock which pushes us even further, normalizing what was shocking to us merely a week or so ago. This is very dangerous territory.

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nancy_in_venice_ca Sunset 24 z10

I'm reading Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, and he incorporated some of the above in his narrative (I'm only half way through the book).

one scandal is pushed off the front page by the next worse scandal

In the book, instead of scandals there is acceptance of Hitler's war in Europe and creeping discrimination against Jewish Americans. The anti-Semitism is veiled at the beginning, and the newly-created Office of American Absorption tries to present a benign face to the public, even being headed by rabbi. By the time wildly popular President Lindbergh hosts a state dinner for von Ribbentrop and selective "relocation opportunities" are made available for Jewish families, there seems little doubt what the trajectory of novel will be.

While the 'boiling frog' in the novel might be the general public, the 'woke frogs' represented by the Jewish narrator and his parents are conscious of their own persecution and function as the conscience of the story.

Comparing Roth's novel to today's political situation, what seems to be most important is actually listening to the protests and warnings of those being mistreated and suffering from unjust and discriminatory laws and policies. Resisting normalization of that which has previously been judged not normal -- actively promoting discrimination and racial or ethnic divisiveness, for example -- is an important element to resisting authoritarian rule.

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nancy_in_venice_ca Sunset 24 z10

This is very dangerous territory.

As horrible as Covid-19 is, Team Trump is playing with deadly fire that could come back to destroy him; pushing both for premature re-openings and potentially useless or harmful vaccinations and/or cures.

Fear of mismanagement of the pandemic can overcome Trump's promotion of racial (and other) fears.

What we cannot seem to control is Trump's manipulation of the means of voting in a pandemic.

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carolb_w_fl_coastal_9b(zone 9/10)

Here's the article:

https://medium.com/@cfhorgan/this-is-how-it-happens-c289765df373

This Is How It Happens

A study of men in Hitler’s Germany shows how people allow tyranny to spread

Colin Horgan

I think many people are realizing just how potentially dangerous our current situation is. There are so many warnings coming from so many people.

This morning I read about Col. Vindman's assessment of the danger our president poses:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/alexander-vindman-trump-putin-useful-idiot/616341/


And Brooke Gladstone of OnTheMedia.org has likened this state of neverending crises to a Shepard tone.

  • The Shepard tone, or Shepard scale*, is a way of making it sound like a musical pitch is perpetually rising. The way you achieve this is by stacking several ascending scales on top of each other, each separated by an octave, and, as the scales progress, fading the higher notes out and the lower notes in.


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Annie Deighnaugh

Thanks Carolb!

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Annie Deighnaugh

I just played the Shepard Tone and even the kitties were triggered. I wish the trumpers were triggered by this dangerous man!

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