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LIBERTY: Rights & Tolerance | January 27, 2005


A Posting in "Comments From Left Field"

By "The Scarecrow" *

My fellow human beings,

Three score years ago, as the war that almost ended civilization wound down to an end, the Army of Russia opened the gates to a place that opened the eyes and the heart of anyone with a shred of humanity: Auschwitz was liberated.

The ghastly images of the dead and near dead. The stories they told of more than a million souls oh-so-methodically murdered. The evil acts of individuals and the equally evil complicity of countless other individuals, in the name of their state and race. From that day forward, it became necessary to speak and think of the unspeakable and the unthinkable, if we beings who purport to be human wish to save our soul.

"How," many ask, "could people do something so horrible to other people? To so many other people?" That, unfortunately, is all too easy to answer: a question for politicians and engineers, those skilled in manipulating people and things.

I believe the better question is, as it usually is, in affairs oh-so-human, "Why?"

As much as that query skewers the human psyche, people wrestle with many reasons -- some even squirm around inexcusable "excuses" -- sociological and psychological. And it may well be that no species, human or otherwise, may be able to see itself with enough detached clarity to answer such a fundamental question about its own nature. But to keep from going quite mad -- with the nagging fear that we might one day become the victims of such horrors ourselves or, perhaps worse yet, the perpetrators of such psychopathy -- all of good conscience have struggled with the why of it all, in the sixty years since the barbed-wire gates were flung open.

To me, dear friends, the explanation for such extraordinary evil is rooted in very ordinary instincts...and, thus, is most cautionary. People hate others and do them harm -- from the smallest slight to these most horrific atrocities -- because of selfishness.

I speak not simply of greed -- wanting for myself that which is not rightly mine (and, indeed, the Nazis and their collaborators stole untold material goods from their Jewish and other victims) -- but more generally of the state of mind of an individual (or state of government of a country) that is hostile or, perhaps even more damning, indifferent to the fate or welfare of anyone else.

Serving such selfishness, in the extreme, one is absolutely intolerant of anyone in any way "different" -- racially, religiously, politically, in any definable way different -- from one's self. The self is served; all others, be damned. The "Final Solution", from such a point of view, is not so much the extermination of those who are different (although that, of course, "must" be done) as it is the ultimate preservation -- for now and forever -- of the self and only the self (or, at most, those most like oneself).

And as long as there is ego, there will always be such danger, of selfishness ad absurdum.

But the remedy is not to swing to the other extreme: Extreme selflessness is also as dangerous. Indeed, the fascism that brought Jewry in Europe and civilization in the world to the brink of extinction could not have existed without the selfless self-discipline of the masses, at the command of the dictator, the raving embodiment of the cult of self.

No, the answer, as in most of life, lies in a balance: As the One I worship once said, "Love thy neighbor as thy self." (Truth be told, many far wiser than yours truly -- from Christ to Confucius -- have stated this Golden Rule, in one form or another, down through the ages)

We can learn from history; we must learn from history. That is why your humble servant, The Scarecrow, but a phantom from the time of your Revolution, hath returned in yet another incarnation, to submit context and lessons from the past as you consider the serious issues of your day: I appeal to your intelligence and humanity; I never mean to insult them.

Thank God you live in a far better time than that which gave the world such places as Auschwitz. But never forget that the embers of evil that, fanned by fanaticism, grew into the Holocaust will ever lie smoldering, never quite extinguished, wherever the self holds others in contempt. Never forget that the perfect grace of our imperfect race is love.

Your obedient servant,

The Scarecrow

* My alter-ego, after the classic 18th Century character created in the early 20th Century by Russell Thorndike in his Doctor Syn novels, adapted in various films. No endorsement of my commentaries by any other individual or company exists or is implied.

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