Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hitler Was One of Us

Scott Bradley

I am inserting this post into the series on Guo because his premise (and Zhuangzi's, I believe) that no being is better than any other and that, consequentially, each has its own "rightness", and still further, we are thereby compelled to accept all things, quickly raises moral outrage. "What about Hitler?" is a typical response.

Let's begin by stating categorically that Hitler was (and is) one of us. He was a human being just like you and I, and whatever moral monstrosities he committed were committed by humanity. Yes. This is also who we are. Christians and Jews are not exempted. Buddhists and Daoists are not exempted. You are not exempted. I am not exempted. We call him a monster in the hope that this separates him out from among us, but this is self-deceit.

Perhaps "humanity" is a concept sufficiently enough removed from our individuality that we still are able to view Hitler as if he were some alien from another galaxy, so let's also state categorically that Hitler lives in each one of us. He lives in me and he lives in you. If he acted out to the extreme that of which we are also capable, but over which we have happily found inner restraint, this does not make him other than us. A true alien, if no more enlightened than we, might feel it his moral duty to exterminate the lot of us. Earth, no doubt, would be thankful.

So what about the "rightness" of Hitler? Even the suggestion makes us squirm. Things might go easier if, instead of using "rightness", we said "fact", though they mean the same. What the term "fact" better conveys, however, is that no moral attribution is implied. The "rightness" of all things has absolutely nothing to do with moral judgment. Daoism does not read Reality in moral terms; quite the contrary, moral judgments are understood as something pasted onto reality by the human. It will not exist on Mars, nor will it be necessary, until we get there.

What the "fact" of Hitler requires of us is an acceptance of him as an expression of ourselves and of ourselves as an expression of him. This is also who we are. But we are also a social species, and like every living thing (and possibly everything else), we are endowed with a spontaneous impulse to self-preservation. Within the context of a humanity capable of socially self-destructive expressions, by virtue of the evolution of a certain apparent freedom of choice, we are obliged to make 'moral' judgments which condemn and sometimes eliminate that which would destroy us. Thus was it "right" to irradiate the "rightness" of Hitler and his minions.

“If your right eye offends you, pluck it out,” said Jesus. Guo would simply add, “But don’t forget whose eye it is.”

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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