Monday, February 05, 2024

On living and working with "Nazis"

My current social media vice is Mastodon, with Threads 2nd and Bluesky a distant 3rd. (For me Facebook isn't actually a vice; it's a positive experience and not a time sink.)

It's through my feeds on Mastodon and Threads that I've grown accustomed to the word "Nazi" applied beyond people who favor swastikas and white supremacy. I don't love the meaning shift, but from studies across multiple societies and eras we know that roughly 1/3 of people would, in the right context, be eager Nazi equivalents (Dorothy Thompson's 1941 essay is worth a read). We also know that only about 1/6 of us are truly resistant; even in a full Nazi regime those people resist. The rest of us just kind of go along. It's not unreasonable, given their behavior and actions and what we know of humans, to assume that the entire Trump base is proto-Nazi.

One third of humanity is a lot of people. Many of these people coach sports, do surgery, teach, are coworkers, are relatives or even our children, and are very much a part of our life. If you are reasonably social you interact with them all the time. Just like Rwanda's Hutu and Tutsi interacted before and after a true genocide. Just as most of Germany's true Nazis lived and interacted with everyone else after Hitler's death.

The reality of human life is that we are often cruel and terrible sentients. Often, but not always. Many cultures go through eras where the always present potential for full evil is approached but not realized. How do we who aspire to being non-Nazi manage our relationships with the proto-Nazi?

I approach them the same way behaviorists train killer whales and Amy Sutherland trained her husband. Reinforce the positive and extinguish the negative. Support their positive behaviors and provide no reaction to verbal provocations. Reinforce cultural norms, even frayed norms, of compassion and caring. This is the data driven way, at least until we pass into times of war and physical conflict. Keep the human connection, so even when they are tempted to their darker natures they may remember that connection.

It is tempting to attack. To threaten to "punch Nazis". This is folly. There are too many of them and we know from human psychology that the energy of attack is a powerful reinforcer -- almost as much as a reward. It seems illogical, but humans are not logical.

The proto-Nazis will always be with us. At least until the AIs end us all. We have to manage them to have a civilization.

1 comment:

dani said...

I came here from Laura Jedeed's newsletter, and I just wanted to say that I wholeheartedly agree -- thank you! (And "Amy Sutherland's What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers" is now on my to-read list, so thanks for that, too!)