Following on from my visit to Auschwitz last month I have been reading as much as I can to try to understand how such an atrocity could ever happen. I have just begun reading “An Interrupted Life: The Diaries And Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943”. Powerful, thoughtful, and heart rending, they are an intimate insight into the last two years of Etty’s life before her death in the gas chamber. Reading such personal stories makes the situation all the more real than broad historical political analysis of the times. It also reveals, as I have written before, how terrifyingly ordinary evil can be, and how ordinary people allow it grow.
It is inconceivable that seventy years later we could be watching the apparent rise of fascism in America. “The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism” (that I linked to yesterday) is a recent article by Chris Hedges that pulls no punches and is hard to argue with. Current conventional politics seem as much part of the problem as the solution. Our old “big picture” stories of material success and liberal politics are losing relevance and we’re not anywhere near compelling alternatives yet. My usual strategic advice for unpredictable times of “Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground” isn’t much use if we can’t agree on where the high ground is.
Or is it?
Maybe it is the “big picture” myth that is the problem. The idea that there is one all encompassing story that will sort everything. This is where idealism and ideologies go wrong. Invariably it is one vocal, small group, who impose their views on the rest, no matter how benign their intentions. Maybe this is why I see the demise of mass media as a good thing, allowing us to take back our story telling and sense making to a more personal and more human level. Maybe this is where my “organisational anarchist” tag comes in handy. Maybe we need to take the idea of “Trojan mice” seriously and on a global scale? Lots of small actions, closer, more intimate networks, fragmenting the opportunity for abuse of power or polarising of wealth?
I have Burke’s phrase “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” ringing in my ears all the time at the moment. Maybe it is “ordinary people” who have the power to prevent evil? Maybe our alternative to doing nothing is to do lots of little things. Lots of little steps. Lots of real conversations with real people about stuff that matters.