I knew the story of course, but, until now I'd missed the book, the movie and the play. Seeing it at this point in my life I am awed by the endurance and compassion of Otto and Edith Franck, sympathetic to the less favorably portrayed refugees, and curious about the heroes Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Jan and Miep Gies, and Johannes and Bep Voskuijl. Curious too about what kind of man Otto Franck was to create such love and loyalty in his employees.
Of the heroes we know the most about Miep Gies, in part because of her astounding longevity. She passed for an ordinary person before and after World War II. She claimed, somewhat convincingly, that she was motivated not by courage but by a fear of unbearable guilt should she fail to perform her duty. It may be relevant that she was, by necessity, given up for adoption by her birth mother.
I wondered then, and wonder now, how extraordinary Gies was. In coverage of her death this past January I recall that of 81 people asked by the Dutch resistance to shelter Jews, 7 accepted. Clearly they did not ask just anyone; if we guess that only 1/10 were considered candidates, and 7/81 of those accepted, then Gies-class heroes were, and are, perhaps 1/100. Unusual certainly, but more common than world class athletes.
That feels right. I can believe that somewhere between 1/30 and 1/100 of humans are heroes born, and another 1/10 to 1/20 heroically inclined. Likewise it feels like 1/5 of us are Nazi-capable and 1/50 Nazi born. The rest of us, in most circumstances, favor the good. Which is why civilization is possible.
I expect the epidemiology of heroism has been studied by scholars of later genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. I know one such, so maybe I'll update my post with some real data.
Do the demographics of hero and villain vary by society? Obviously some societies are far more evil than others; Germany of 2010 is not Germany of 1940. I would not be surprised to learn, however, that the frequency of fundamental human heroism and villainy is fairly constant. It might instead be chance and circumstance that leads to the rare, but cataclysmic, ascendance of the villainous.
Could villains win in modern America? Obviously yes. Even if there had been any past doubts, the recent widespread public support for governmental torture has put them to rest. We, like most nations, are quite capable of industrial evil.
Given that we Americans, like most nations, have a low but real risk of repeating the worst of modern human history, shouldn't we put some measure in place so we can estimate and track our risk?
We can't call this the "Nazi score" because the word Nazi has too much baggage. It cannot, for example, be applied to readily applied to Israel and it is historically bound to a peculiar form of industrial organization. In any event a Nazimeter score would be a Godwin's Law violation.
Still, the lessons of Nazism are so powerful, and so often studied, that it would be insane to ignore them. So I'll permute some characters and name this metric the Zani score.
It only remains then, to assemble the metric. Tradition dictates a 10 point scale, so we need to come up with 10 distinct indicators of roughly equal weight. As a rough guide we can assume that the National Socialists get 9-10 points and the American Tea Party movement must score less than 5.
Given that rough outline here's my start on the 10 indicators that sum to a Zani score for any social movement or organization. Suggestions are most welcome and I hope to refine the scale over time.
- A belief that the ends justify the means, or, in other words, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice".
- A sense of grievance and injustice.
- A charismatic leader.
- Celebration and admiration of violence.
- Tribal or ethnic boundaries; a division into the "chosen" and the "other".
- Anti-intellectual, in particular anti-geek.
- Denial of skepticism. Skeptics are outcast, dissent is forbidden.
- Welcoming and affirmation of the convert.
- Membership alone is proof of virtue.
- Scorn for the weak; denial of pity or sympathy for the other.
Any suggestions on additions or deletions? Does anyone know of a genuine, empirically tested, Zani metric?