June 22, 2019

WE AREN'T REJECTING THE FACT THAT THEY ARE CONCENTRATION CAMPS...:

The Unimaginable Reality of American Concentration Camps (Masha Gessen, June 21, 2019, The New Yorker)

[T]he argument is really about how we perceive history, ourselves, and ourselves in history. We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain--someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn't possibly have happened. Or, to use a phrase only slightly out of context, something that can't happen here.

A logical fallacy becomes inevitable. If this can't happen, then the thing that is happening is not it. What we see in real life, or at least on television, can't possibly be the same monstrous phenomenon that we have collectively decided is unimaginable. I have had many conversations about this in Russia. People who know Vladimir Putin and his inner circle have often told me that they are not the monsters that I and others have described. Yes, they have overseen assassinations, imprisonments, and wars, but they are not thoroughly terrible, my interlocutors have claimed--they are not like Stalin and his henchmen. In other words, they are not the monsters of our collective historical imagination. They are today's flesh-and-blood monsters, and this makes them seem somehow less monstrous.

Anything that happens here and now is normalized, not solely through the moral failure of contemporaries but simply by virtue of actually existing. 


...but that we are the sorts of people who put innocents in such camps.

Posted by at June 22, 2019 7:22 AM

  

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