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Eyes on the Prize

The problem with the Left is that they don’t understand the Nazis didn’t set the Reichstag fire.

There’s little I enjoy more than taking an argument to a conclusion just past absurdity.  It’s a style better suited for comedy, but it’s also a way of being just a bit demure and disarming.  When done well, this technique allows any subject, no matter how taboo, to be talked about in an abstract way.  If nothing else, every murder needs an autopsy, and the millions of murders performed by the Nazis require constant analysis so that we don’t allow it to happen again.   Ready?

There are two decent reasons to analyze power and how to get it.  The first is so that people who want to do good things can have the means to make the world better, and the second is to prevent anyone from getting too much power.  Since I do believe that power (and its cousin centralization) is not a great instrument for good, I tend to take the latter view; we each have our ways.  No matter what, not understanding power because it seems inherently evil or icky is cowardly and naïve.  Bad people tend to understand these things, yes, but understanding power does not make you bad.

The Feuerwehr at the Reichstag.

The Feuerwehr at the Reichstag.

On 27 February, 1933, the Reichstag, or German Parliament, was burned to the ground by an arsonist.  This was a highly contentious time for them, having named Nazi Party Hitler the Chancellor (Prime Minister) just a month before.  Allies on the Right were careful, knowing that the Nazis were trouble – even though they were the largest party, 230 out of 647 seats.  The other parties in the coalition, and the German President, made it clear to Hitler that they would abandon him if things got out of hand.

When the Reichstag was burned, the Nazis swung into action.  They alleged that this was part of a Communist conspiracy to bring down the government, an easy charge since the man caught in the act was a Communist.  Sweeping powers were granted to suppress dissent, and the Nazis had their first firm grasp on the power they wanted.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the Nazis must have set the Reichstag fire they were ready to act before the bricks were cool, making them the main beneficiaries.  I’ve met many people who understand something about power who see events like this as part of someone’s grand scheme – you just have to see who, once it’s all over.  Some of them tell me that Cheney was behind 9/11 because the Bush Administration benefited so much from the attacks, even though  coincidence does not imply causality.

Yet an alternative view is more likely.  The Nazis were so focused on gaining power that they were ready for any event that allowed them to do it.  They weren’t watching their enemies to decide how to scheme around them – they were watching events to figure out how to use them.  Whatever happened, they were ready for it.  They were organized enough to get their word out quickly and get their people on the streets.  The message, no matter what happened, was bound to be a Nazi message already boiled down and easy.  One guy set the whole fire, not a conspiracy, but that didn’t matter.

Those who opposed the Nazis were of no consequence.  They had already lost.

If this sounds as though I am romanticizing the Nazi party, please forgive me.  There are many other good examples of this singular focus on the goal that can inspire.  The Civil Rights movement, for example, constantly reminded its people to “Keep your eyes on the Prize” of liberation.  No matter how they were humiliated, with dogs or firehoses, with clubs or jail cells, those willing to march and make a difference had to have one thing clear:  Freedom.  That took a power that had to be created, a power among the disempowered and invisible people kept isolated and afraid.  Giving the bastards who already had power a retaliation or other response only acknowledged the existing power.  Instead, a greater power was created from people thought to have none.

The recent marches and “Tea Parties” were not as well organized or focused as those behind them would like to believe.  People showed up because they were mad about bailouts, taxes, socializing banks, and a lot of other causes that weren’t really marching as one.  It wasn’t a great power building exercise, but it might be a start.  None of that was a surprise, frankly, but the response from my friends on the Left was.  So many people goaded the protesters, urging fellow Democrats to “shout them down!’ and generally disrupt their party.  To what end?  No one told me.  I was supposed to be upset that the other tribal affiliation, that of Rightists, was having a good time.

Many “Leftists” were more interested in the fight than any particular goals.  In the process, they were acknowledging a power that really wasn’t even there – at least not yet.

The simple truth is that anyone can start a fire.  Real power comes from putting out the fire, something even the Nazis understood.    Being organized and focused on your goals is how you do that in politics.  If your side is ready to put out the fire and take all the credit for doing so, you’ve probably already won.

Neither side is even remotely capable of doing that in the USofA right now, but I’m particularly saddened by my friends on the Left.  We recently won a huge majority that nearly eliminated the Republican Party from any kind of real power – yet we clearly have no idea what to do with it.

Keep your eyes on the prize, folks.  What is it you want to do?

17 thoughts on “Eyes on the Prize

  1. I didn’t hear much from the left at efforts to disrupt the various tea parties…mostly who was behind the effort and the last gasp of objectivity on the part of Fox News as they promoted it in advance, and “covered” the various events with their A-Team of O’Reilly, Hannity and others “reporting.”
    To your larger point…indeed we must keep our eyes on the prize….and hope we seek the same prize.

  2. Sounds like the shock doctrine and shock therapy (economic) it makes me quite sad. Beautiful start to the first 1/2 of your essay.
    One of my coworkers who I like went to the mn teaparty even though our jobs are contingent on government funding.
    For me right now its easier to think about somewhat esoteric things like the electrical smart grid while I deal with things like car repair and home maintenance. Looking forward to a foreign flick at the film fest like Liberation Day.

  3. It often seems like something or some person or some group has to give way in order for the world to work. What if everybody contended in traffic or at work or home? And I am not necessarily talking about the problem of evil theologically or otherwise. I remember reading something modern once about “the parable of the tribes”. We can probably google that. I have not come upon an answer that I fully accept yet. The image is a large boulder sitting on a cliff where the softer soil underneath erodes. We know eventually what happens. We know who, what, when, where and why and how. But people and groups are not rock or soil and subject to probably more complicated laws.

  4. I never know where your going with these, LOL!

    So far it looks like we’re not going to do anything important with the election results. It’s just the same routine in DC while everyone out here just fights about stupid shit. Your right, it is really sad sometimes how pathetic we are.

  5. I’d like to go back to a theme I picked up in the bit on Trust – the one about my friends in the Amish world.

    Connections beyond what we can handle, or about 150 people, require us to have faith more in ideas than people. Individuals take time to know, but what someone “stands for” or “does” or any other face they turn to the world as a shorthand is easier. It’s an abstraction of a person, not a real person.

    A lot of what we’re seeing lately is that these ideas (and corresponding tribal identities they form) that are supposed to represent people are inadequate, but we act as if they are all that there is. For most of the people we meet, it really is all we have.

    To have a real plan of action and stay really focused, we have to have more than ideas. We have to have a deep sense of trust and faith in the people we’re fighting alongside.

    That’s totally broken down, IMHO. We can’t keep our eyes on the prize because it’s become an abstraction of an abstraction, a vague identity and not a lot more. We like to think our ideas are smart, but they lead us to be very dumb.

    But what do you want from a Taoist?

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