Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Tricks of Sociopathy

There is a how-to. Genetics aren't everything.
Book burning, Nazi Germany, 1933

               I have to preface this by saying that I can only speak from then lens of my own culture, not teach (well) about anyone else’s. Although I would like to say that I could write from the perspective of someone who lived in Japan, or France, or Iraq, it would be warmed over, the experience of another.  So here’s what you get when you read from the perspective of a Jew.
               When some of us mention Hitler we add the words, y’mach sh’mo (sounds-like, rhymes-with y’locked-sh’go), meaning, His name should be obliterated from the face of the earth.  On Tuesday some of your Jewish friends or co-workers might have looked ashen and tired, fasting (yet going to work, which isn't encouraged but necessary sometimes) the fast of T’isha B’Av (sounds-like, rhymes-with mish-uh-b’-ah’v).  It is a long, grueling, 25-hour fast in the dead of summer, beginning at sundown on the eve of the ninth day of a lunar Jewish month, ending as the fires of Jerusalem had begun to wane, the next night. Three weeks before we began to show signs of mourning, the men stopped shaving. Then nine days prior observant Jews showered less, stopped wearing clean clothes (we drop them on the floor as a symbolic gesture). No meat, no music. Mourning.
               Mourning for what?  The loss of the Holy Temples, over two thousand years ago.  Not that's culture.  Every year, same thing.  Jews have other fasts, there are seven in all, but usually, if we get up before dawn and have a bite, they aren't as difficult, and none are as emotionally trying as T’isha B’Av. We had two of these holy places. The Babylonians, then the Romans, destroyed them both, built on the site that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son, where a mosque sits at this moment in Jerusalem.  The Jews, lost in battle for the city, were sent packing from Jerusalem, exiled.  Something like the Native-American experience for the likes of Tonto.  
               Now.  A proper fast, for an observant Jew, barring pregnancy or illness (which leaves out quite a few of us) means no water (zero, not even rain), and no food, not even a stick of gum.  No teeth brushing. Not a pretty day, Tisha B’av, between the dirty clothes, the bad breath, the sweat and a little starvation. The point of the fast, surely, to draw attention from the Old Mighty, She should notice we’re serious about redemption and hope for the universe.  No one should suffer, not even Her favorite scapegoat, the Jews.
               The other point, one more in line with therapy, is that we learn empathy. We are in the shoes of a Holocaust survivor, in the shoes of a Holocaust victim, in the shoes of a Ruwandan, an Indian, any indigent who suffers, starves, struggles daily.  One would think that this is empathy, but we learn, if we watch the documentary Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust   that our fast is a very weak approximation of the true horror, the true suffering of one who experienced the Holocaust. Nothing, nothing, nothing compares to this horror.
               Indeed, when Hollywood first took on the task of bringing the Holocaust into the homes of the international media-loving public, it was with trepidation.  The directors and producers of the time trembled at the thought of diluting the experience. Because, after all, to manipulate emotion, to capture our souls, a good film has an arc, and that arc is designed to be watchable, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, preferably a happy ending.
               Like dentistry or any surgery without anesthesia, there is no way to adequately convey the experience unless we have been through it.  And most who went through the Holocaust did not live to talk about it, and those who did were speechless for many years.  No words.
               The story, however, had to be told. So it began with brave attempts, The Mortal Storm, Charlie Chaplan’s The Little Dictator, Judgment at Nuremberg (the movie within the movie) and gradually culminated with War and Remembrance, very vivid, the Pawnbroker, Sophie's Choice, The Producers, Cabaret, and a first a television series, airing soon after Roots, The Holocaust.  That film-- four days in a row of nail-biting--captured one of every two Americans, had us glued to our television sets, a generation of teenagers, at once, newly aware of the Jewish experience in Germany. Then Schindler’s List, and ever since, more Holocaust films and documentaries than ever before, many so new that we can’t even get them on Netflix or Amazon-- each an amazing, sobering snap of life that none of us should miss, not if we wish to empathize with the most devastating experiences known to man.
               Therapists, certainly, need to be able to do this, empathize, if only to the degree that we can, having never been through such a thing.  
               Not to ruin your summer.  Here's a quick history lesson.* We learn empathy from history, too.  


Back in the thirteenth century, the French King, Louis IX, a religious zealot,made the Jews miserable if they didn’t convert. He would attend the baptisms of those who did this voluntarily.
When only 500 of the 3500 Jews in a town chose conversion over the alternative, death, an apostate, Nicholas Donin, came up with the idea that without their holy books, Jews were nothing.  Burn the books, destroy the culture. They will replace it.
Donin found an audience with Pope Gregory IX in Rome. He charged that the Talmud contained blasphemies against Christianity and God. The books were the power behind Jewish refusal to accept the true faith. The books needed to be confiscated, destroyed.
The Pope, convinced, ordered seizure of all copies of the Talmud and examined them. On June 12th a stacked public debate sealed the fate. The rabbis defended the faith, but it was a foregone conclusion that 1200 plus copies of Talmud and related commentaries, all written by hand, some a thousand years old, would be lost forever.

The Jews, of course, were not.  That burning in 1242 included 24 cartloads of books. This didn't stop the people from writing about the event, or rewriting their books. All is recorded by eye-witnesses without iPhones.
By 1306, the French King Philip IV (the Fair) expelled the Jews from all of France, and in Germany, taxation, pogroms, blood libels, inspired them to leave for what was then Palestine, where they had originally been banished on Tisha B’Av, a millennium and a half before.   Rudolph I, not wishing to lose them, declared the Jews personal property and refused to let them leave. They were far too successful.
One doesn’t let a resource like this go so fast.

Then the Spanish Inquisition (Was Columbus Jewish?  Did he have to leave Spain?), the pogroms, and we didn't even talk about the previous Crusades. A people forever on the run.
Then in 1933, Hitler took note, burned classics, not just Jewish books, but any old classic that threatened the worship of Nazi ideology, books by:
 Henri Barbusse, Franz Boas, John Dos Passos, Albert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, Friedrich Förster, Sigmund Freud, John Galsworthy, André Gide, Ernst Glaeser, Maxim Gorki, Werner Hegemann, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Kästner, Helen Keller, Alfred Kerr, Jack London, Emil Ludwig, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Hugo Preuss, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Walther Rathenau, Margaret Sanger, Arthur Schnitzler, Upton Sinclair, Kurt Tucholsky, Jakob Wassermann, H.G. Wells, Theodor Wolff, EmiléZola, Arnold Zweig, and Stefan Zweig.
You see, you can learn some of the tricks to sociopathy, it isn't all genetic.
Not to say that Hitler hadn’t an original thought in his head.
therapydoc

*The full story can be found on p. 360, commentary to Kinah 41, the Complete Tishah B’Av service, Artscroll Series. The kinot  are lamentations, sad poems sung in a sad, sing-songy drone)..:

2 comments:

Syd said...

I visited the Holocaust Museum and came away in tears. I had read and seen movies but nothing prepared me for those shoes and those photos and all that I saw there.

therapydoc said...

That's a full day of Holocaust. On Tisha B'Av, many visit a Holocaust museum, too. Picture yourself, annually, spending a whole day empathizing with the oppressed, the starving, the poor, and then jack it up to the victims of the Holocaust, the exiled from the Temples. They starved, too, but for months, until they couldn't hold out anymore.

We say, it shouldn't happen to us, but it shouldn't happen to anyone. Thanks, Syd.