Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Malevolent Defect

Up until now, I intentionally avoided writing about the current immigrant situation in Europe. My reason for this is that there are many people with a much better insight into the topic than me, who are actively discussing and acting upon the affair. Adding my own opinion just seems redundant. Be that as it may, it happened so that today two similar online projects were called to my attention; one being done in the Slovenian, the other in the Croatian language. These projects are focused on a certain aspect of the whole immigrant issue in their respective countries, both of which's languages I speak. And this certain aspect I always found to be the most alarming of all. Its scope surpasses the concerns around the immigrants. The circumstances in progress purely demonstrate a fertile ground for observing this phenomenon well, and these two websites provide an excellent viewpoint. Thus, I decided to write an exclusive blog post, sharing the message of these websites, in English.

The most distressing facet being addressed in the two projects is the aggressive public opinion of some citizens. I am not talking about mere xenophobia and the failure to tolerate other members of our own kind, – frames of mind which represent enormous problems on their own, – but about the openly hostile intentions with the aim to hurt those struck by a great tragedy; a tragedy I would never wish for anyone to endure.

I usually argue that the third reich received the most appropriate of punishments from history: it became the prime example of what not to do, and the followers of the regime are one of the most widely used symbols for catharsis, i.e. people who are mercilessly killed in movies and video games, and have jokes of adolescent humor being tailored about them. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly obvious that historical facts alone are not enough to make the ancient saying "historia magistra vitae est" uphold its wisdom for the individual's attention.

pogrom jewish man cicl violence lviv july 1941
A pogrom in progress. Lviv, July 1941.

There are several efforts, especially around Europe, that focus on illumination about the atrocities of the Second World War and the dangerous deeds that can come from ignoring facts about human behavior. There is plenty of knowledge written on the psychology of evil, and I'll leave that subject for a future post. The point I want to emphasize here is that in order to avoid maliciousness, all we need to do (in most cases) is to know about the nature of a tendency which leads us to succumb to acts of violence. Sadly, some people are raised to be bigots, and, after appropriate education, public ridicule is the next best thing which might open Them to the possibilities of admitting to somewhat more philanthropic ways.

In my following post, I will mention how ill-informed we commonly are... It is tragic to think that even in Europe, the cradle of fascism, some people still dare to wish for the reiteration of the true horror that will hold its marks for times to come. Many people had it with this attitude, and so did someone from Slovenia. They made a simple blog called "ZLOvenija" that raises attention to our twinge on two levels. One is a public presentation of hostile comments on social media, accompanied with the names and photos of the responsible individuals. The other is the critical style of the blog. This style mainly consists of a manifesto, which declares a concern towards the necessity of the existence of a blog like it is, and the title. Zlo in many Slavic languages means evil. Then, someone from Croatia found out about ZLOvenija and created a similar blog, with the title "Lijepa Naša", which means our beautiful – the very beginning of the Croatian national hymn and a catchphrase illustrating the love towards the home country, often sadly misused for the purposes of jingoism – and in this case this idiom is its own parody. Its slogan is "mržnja ima lice", meaning: hatred has a face.

The manifesto of ZLOvenija begins with a quote:

"Without the Hösses, the Eichmanns, the Goglidzes, the Vishinskys, but also without the railway signalmen, the concrete manufacturers, and the government accountants, a Stalin or Hitler is nothing but a wineskin bloated with hatred and impotent terror. To state that the vast majority of the managers of the extermination processes were neither sadists nor sociopaths is now a commonplace.
. . .
But the ordinary men that make up the State – especially in unstable times – now there's the real danger. The real danger for mankind is me, is you."
~ Jonathan Littell

It continues:

"This page should not exist.

This page should not exist, because we would like to believe that our fellow citizens, neighbors and relatives are people who do not want to torment, humiliate and kill. Not us and not others.

This page should not exist, because we would like to believe that the society, in which we were formed (family, school, church), did everything it could in order to prevent unreflected hatred and violence of any kind.

This page should not exist, because we would like to believe that the history, which still didn't manage to count all its dead, is sufficiently obvious.

This page should not exist, because we would like to believe that we built the society on the heritage of the ideas of enlightenment and human rights.

This page should not exist, because we never wanted to put ourselves in the role of arbitrators and moralists. We know that a society in which people are forced to take matters into their own hands and adjudicate is in danger, and we are aware of the pitfalls that common judgments and ideological confrontations pose.

This page should not exist because it is an extreme, because it arose as a response to the silence of those who are supposed to speak, those who have been elected to talk soberly at a time when the majority renounced reason. Still they did not.

This page should not exist because it testifies to the fact that all other methods of maintaining the basic standards of civilization are defunct, and all that is left to us is merely showing a mirror. Here you go, stare into (your own) evil.

This site will cease to exist when things turn for the better."

I believe that sums what is at stake.

When the best option to call out for common sense is open shaming, when free speech equals irresponsible foolishness, and when heavily traumatized and broken people are regarded as some kind of an infectious curse, then all our assumed idealistic values as species sensibly fall flat, showing just how far we are from being a kind and caring group we all pretend to be.

And if such is the case, we need more projects like ZLOvenija and Lijepa Naša. We ought to make the false sense of superiority as something uncool, as something that is to be despised. This duty arises as a necessity since the case seems to show that we, humans, instinctively need something to loathe. Let it then this affinity towards destruction be aimed at ignorant beliefs, rather than ourselves.

Update 1: Yesterday, the ZLOvenija blog ceased with its initial activity. A post explains:

This page is laid to rest.

As of today, we will no longer publish new content. The photos of those who regret the dissemination of hate speech, we deleted. Other photos are temporarily removed. The columns of Reader’s Letters and Removed Photos we maintain as an archive.

The project ZLOvenija had three objectives:

- to launch a debate on the problematic of hate speech
- to warn people that the web is a public space and that their words have meaning and weight, for the surroundings just as for themselves
- to put a mirror and condemn every intolerance and violence

The method of "pillar of shame" is an extreme one, but no less extreme are the statements which call out for killing/shooting/slaughtering/burning/beating. These are not "opinions". These are not about the freedom of speech, but of instigation that would have to be condemned by any human, regardless of political affiliation or worldview. Left and right, ours and yours, all should be aware of the problematic of such a style of expression and its toxicity. One hostile statement feeds the other – and when the discourse of violence becomes the norm, what follows?

Evil digs in slowly and almost indiscernibly. That is why it is so important that we tirelessly warn about it. It is important that the governing bodies immediately learn of it, and that competent institutions keep it at bay. It is, therefore, important that it is unequivocally condemned first by those, who should stand as the highest moral authority of the state. When it tips over the edge, it will be too late.

That is why it would be good if more attention, rather than the controversial methods which were used by ZLOvenija, was devoted to what we highlighted.

Thanks to all who have helped in spreading this web address, for the encouragement, support, and reflections. Thanks to all who contributed with content. And above all, thanks to those of you who will from now on, during your coming disagreements, pick more tolerant ways of expression.

This site should not exist. And yet it occurred.

This statement is followed by anonymous apologies of those who were formerly publicized by Their hateful comments. Most of these contain the confessions on how their writers acted impulsively while being inadequately informed. I looked around a bit and learned that the administrators of ZLOvenija, under the pressure of incoming pledges for removal of content, decided to open an option for that. This option required the deletion of the original post containing hateful speech, and a letter which would be displayed instead of the previously identifiable photo.

As expected, some people are more stubborn. Besides the few who decided to retain Their right to speak as They wish, there is a section with general letters of readers, most of which are questioning the methods and even the underlying ideology of the website. As a direct result of ZLOvenija's existence, an extremist social media page called its followers to refrain from hateful commenting, since Their personalities could be publicized. Like plenty others, this extremist page called the actions of ZLOvenija illegal. As another commentator pointed out, that is not entirely true. Although the following may clash with the laws of Slovenia any any other countries, the terms and conditions of Facebook state:

When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).

The point was definitely made. All of my respects to the creator of ZLOvenija, who not only managed to raise attention and a debate, but acted as promised, and when things turned for the better, i.e. some people taking the effects of Their own words more seriously, the ridicule was stopped.

As for those, who haven't changed Their minds, there's a rough journey ahead. I would summarize Their sentiments in the closing of a threat to ZLOvenija, which attempted to rally people displayed on ZLOvenija in order to sue its creator(s):

What if there is someone who will understand these posts as an opportunity for headhunting and who will attack, even physically assault, or, god forbid, kill the people you crucified here?


Update 2: Shortly after ZLOvenija's conclusion, Lijepa Naša followed, with a final post of similar content to that of its inspiration. The author(s) do add that:

"People who hate, people who have extreme attitudes, people who call upon murders, lynching, concentration camps and torture are not 'somewhere out there', they are around us. They have faces, children, husbands, wives, dogs, cats, chickens, they go to vacations, they like flowers, they hang out with us."

Therein lies the real danger. People within the masses who create atrocities are not born twisted. They just act on natural impulses under the excuse of doing what They think is right. Sharing thoughts with people in conversation every day, while ill intended information (and even propaganda, still) spreads by the word of mouth can lead to unintended consequences. Not many of us would actually want to cause harm onto others, am I right?

The way to a suitable degree of altruism nowadays must be carved from seeking out true information (which is way easier than it may sound) and standing for it when it is challenged by false senses of righteousness, which wouldn't be acceptable in a reversed situation. Because just like the people fleeing from religious insanity, each and every one of us could suddenly lose all the comfort we take for granted. Wouldn't it be nice if people understood us for what we are then, instead of taking us as a symbol that justifies loud and imprudent opinions?

Do You know any similar projects in other languages, or do You plan Your own? Let others know in the Figments below.

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