• frank
    11.9k
    In terms of scale, the greatest crimes of humanity against itself were during the 20th Century. Is it just that the human population was greater and these events were business as usual? Or did our species cross some threshold into mass insanity?

    I think it was the latter. The Holocaust was driven by an ideology of greatness through eugenics. The crimes of the USSR and China were meant to wash the past away to found a new culture. The roots of these events can be found in the Enlightenment which reduced religion to fairy tales and set the world on a trajectory toward scientism.

    Or maybe this view places too much importance on ideas. Maybe these events were the outcome of a multitude of diverse agendas.

    Which makes more sense to you?
  • Outlander
    1.6k
    Oh it's not the crimes. It's the accountability and widely held ability any person wields to make them known in this day and age that's changed. Little more. Though it does discourage. Sometimes.
  • Paine
    1.1k

    Machine guns. Bombs and Missiles. Industrial Project Management. Mass Media. The shrinking of the world as a shared space. Ennui.
  • frank
    11.9k
    It's the accountabilityOutlander

    How would you assess accountability?

    Machine guns. Bombs and Missiles. Industrial Project Management. Mass Media. The shrinking of the world as a sharedPaine

    I assume you agree that these things were to he result of science and technology. Do you agree that scientism was also a factor?

    EnnuiPaine

    How so?
  • Outlander
    1.6k
    How would you assess accountability?frank

    Well seeing as I have no idea who the heck you are or where you're from but if I read you're in distress it's now known by (up to billions of) people for one... and you know, folks might want to investigate that. Or at the very least prepare themself for what danger or misfortune that allegedly is befalling you.

    There was no news back then. The telegraph and the oceanic cables brought intercontinental communication which you must admit changed things considerably.

    I'm saying there is no increase of crime itself simply increased awareness of it and to the average person sitting at home sounds alarming.
  • Paine
    1.1k
    Do you agree that scientism was also a factor?frank

    I think of it more along the lines of John Keegan in his A History of Warfare. Advances in technology has long been a part of why certain methods succeeded but figuring out how to become more lethal with what you have got is not only about the tools used. He has a great account of how deadly the use of the Phalanx was against less organized forces.
    Keegan speaks of nuclear weapons as a sort of lethality that conditions people in a way not experienced previously. The pursuit of the lethal leads to a standing wave where there is no progress beyond it. If 'scientism' is a factor from that point of view, it is no different from all the efforts to make better tools to kill from time out of mind.

    Regarding ennui, young people get bored where they live confined by certain structures and the allure of fighting in another place has always been more attractive than doing chores for some of them..
  • 180 Proof
    10.9k
    Ennui.Paine
    :100:

    "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
    ~Blaise Pascal
  • BC
    11.5k
    I think it was the latter.frank
    Which makes more sense to you?frank

    You raised interesting and difficult questions.

    I agree that impressively large scale crimes against humanity were carried out in the 20th century, from the Turkish genocide against the Armenians to the Tutsi genocide against the Hutus. But the centuries before the 20th century saw the genocide of the aboriginal people of the western hemisphere by Europeans. Genghis Kahn wiped out a lot of people during his reign in the 13th Century. The history of bad things happening doesn't stop there.

    In the big picture, people have not changed. The Germans had good organization and technical prowess at their disposal, in addition to a wall-to-wall social coercion program. Maybe he was the first to carry out killing industrially--not that the method makes much difference to the dead.

    Are we crazier now than in the past? No. We've been crazy for a long time. Why? Because we are primates with big brains, opposable thumbs, and ancient emotions that know nothing about ethics, justice, or fairness. We get emotionally twisted out of shape over one thing or another, and then we call on our big brains to figure out how to destroy entire peoples who were just too annoying to tolerate.

    What can be done about it?

    Back to the drawing board, 10,000,000 years ago? Do it over and this time avoid agriculture, living in cities and everything that followed? No can do. We are collectively screwed. Individually, we can be as good as the Holy Men taught us to be. Collectively, we can't get ourselves organized to fix a tire on a bicycle.

    There's always a handy Yiddish word. Pascal knew of Sitzfleisch. The word is German (though widely appropriated in Yiddish) and it literally means "butt flesh". (The meat of your ass, in other words.) But the figurative use of "sitzfleish" means: "The amount of endurance a person has for sitting still on his/her butt for the hours and hours and hours of time that it takes to get important work done."

    Sitzfleisch is sort of the opposite of Ants In Your Pants.
    The amount of sitzfleisch you've got will directly influence how much work you can produce. How long can you stand it, to sit there and push through? Inspiration is beautiful, imagination divine, and we all love soaring dreams. But sitzfleisch? Ass meat? THAT'S how you write your novel. That's how you compose your symphony. That's how you paint your masterpiece.FLEISCH.
  • BC
    11.5k
    EnnuiPaine

    And anomie?
  • jorndoe
    2.4k
    Probably more complex, is my guess.
    Neurotic homo sapiens...
    With more communication, mobility, exposure, whatever, crazy spreads as easily as healthy.
    With increased power per effort (like from horse riding to truck driving) variations become increasingly pronounced.
    It's not so much the Enlightenment as it is plus/minus variations in ethics.
    In a way, the Enlightenment was more about what is, than what ought be.
    A bit like ethics (and humans) never kept up with other human developments.
  • Shawn
    12.6k
    Imagine what the founder of TNT must have felt like during WWI &WWII... It was the same guy who founded the Nobel Peace Prize awards.

    Yeah, scientists became very self-aware of misuse of their findings after the Manhattan Project and WWII...
  • T Clark
    10.7k
    In terms of scale, the greatest crimes of humanity against itself were during the 20th Century.frank

    I wonder if this is true. As @BC notes, wars that have killed millions of people, mostly civilians, have been taking place for centuries, millennia. I assume World War 2 had the highest casualties, but there are other, earlier wars that have killed 10s of millions. Those numbers are even higher when counted as a percentage of the people alive at that time.

    I do think that the 20th century allowed the mechanization of war. Changes in weapons and transportation made it much more efficient. Communications has improved so we can know more about the bad things that have happened.
  • Banno
    19.9k
    Is it just that the human population was greater and these events were business as usual?frank

    Yep.
    fGLlCvzYDDiufodwdASmdjr9_MBN8Fql9ZrG3pHXpm8.png
  • jorndoe
    2.4k
    , well, a thought experiment of sorts, imagine if Torquemada had acquired logistics/resources we know of today, more power. I'm thinking cruelties would have been higher accordingly.
  • T Clark
    10.7k
    imagine if Torquemada had acquired logistics/resources we know of today, more power. I'm thinking cruelties would have been higher accordingly.jorndoe

    Looking on the web, it seems as though the number of people executed by the inquisition in a period of 300 years was in the low thousands.
  • Vera Mont
    836
    crimes of humanity against itselffrank

    Interesting concept, from a legal pov. What scale would the court have to be?

    Yes, numbers and density have a major effect: even where resources are not particularly scarce, there is a perception that there is not enough for everyone, because those who want more and more and more for themselves make sure the majority is too busy fighting over the scraps to unite and turn on them. Julius Caesar may have declared it, but it was used by rulers before him as well as after.
    Yet, ever couple of hundred years, the people do revolt, but by then they've been pushed into such a state of despair, they go mad and destroy the very nation they meant to reclaim.

    Another factor is the size of empires. When two tribes had a war, the casualties were in tens. When little countries fight, they may die by thousands, but have neither the armaments nor manpower to keep it up very long. When empires like Alexander's or Caesar's make war, it's open-ended; they don't stop until they run out of real estate to conquer or up against an empire just as powerful. In those days, it took decades or centuries, which means more cannon-fodder waiting in the wings, and more potential victims. With modern weapons, it can be all over in 15 minutes, with very few survivors.

    The nature of the madness doesn't change; it just has more to burn.
  • jorndoe
    2.4k


    "There are various estimates of the number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition during Torquemada's reign as Grand Inquisitor. Hernando del Pulgar, Queen Isabella's secretary, wrote that 2,000 executions took place throughout the entirety of her reign, which extended well beyond Torquemada's death.[20]"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom%C3%A1s_de_Torquemada

    Who knows. Maybe Torquemada was involved in some hundreds.
  • Tom Storm
    5.8k
    Or maybe this view places too much importance on ideas. Maybe these events were the outcome of a multitude of diverse agendas.

    Which makes more sense to you?
    frank

    Humans are killer apes. :wink: If I had to guess, I'd say people had diverse reasons for doing vile things, mild and terrible, even within the one egregious phenomenon like Nazism. Perhaps a web of interrelated factors. But I think it's fair to say that tribalism and our obsession with identifying ultimate truth, whether it be in politics or religion, along with our ready willingness to kill to defend such truths, seems to be at the root of many of these matters.
  • Tzeentch
    2.2k
    Totalitarianism was a completely new phenomenon in the beginning of the 20th century, so it was not "business as usual" - something clearly changed.

    Scientism may have played a role with its promise of final answers and singular truths. It is a way of thinking which is apparent in especially the Soviet system, where society as a whole was treated literally as a scientific equation with their planned economy.
  • frank
    11.9k
    In the big picture, people have not changed.BC

    YepBanno

    Humans are killer apesTom Storm

    So we're just in a lull? We can expect 100s of millions to die violent deaths at the hands of their relatives sometime around the corner?

    Or could we find a way to channel our aggression with less bloodshed?
  • frank
    11.9k
    In a way, the Enlightenment was more about what is, than what ought be.jorndoe

    That's what I was getting at. The particular kind of immorality that created the Holocaust, for instance, could it have been related to a weak moral anchor?
  • frank
    11.9k
    Totalitarianism was a completely new phenomenon in the beginning of the 20th century, so it was not "business as usual" - something clearly changed.

    Scientism may have played a role with its promise of final answers and singular truths. It is a way of thinking which is apparent in especially the Soviet system, where society as a whole was treated literally as a scientific equation with their planned economy.
    Tzeentch

    Exactly. This wasn't something that had ever happened before. Was it?
  • Tzeentch
    2.2k
    The closest historical parallel to it would be perhaps the Crusades and other religious wars. Institutionalized religion tends to feature the same belief in singular truths.

    However, in most of history there was some form of seperation between state and church. The ideology of the church was (usually) counterbalanced by the pragmatism of those in power. There is no seperation between state and ideology in totalitarian regimes. The state is the ideology.

    The advances in information technology allowed states to brainwash their populations with propaganda in ways that simply weren't available before. This probably also played a role in the emergence of totalitarian states, since it allowed states to centralize and enforce uniformity to a much greater degree.

    There might also be a link between industrialization and the systematic way these states carried out their mass atrocities.
  • T Clark
    10.7k
    "There are various estimates of the number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition during Torquemada's reign as Grand Inquisitor. Hernando del Pulgar, Queen Isabella's secretary, wrote that 2,000 executions took place throughout the entirety of her reign, which extended well beyond Torquemada's death.[20]"jorndoe

    From what I could see, including in the Wikipedia article you linked, there are differences in opinion about how many died resulting from the inquisitions actions. I think there would be agreement that the numbers were much less than those killed in the conquest of the new world, which was taking place at about the same time.
  • T Clark
    10.7k
    Humans are killer apes. :wink: If I had to guess, I'd say people had diverse reasons for doing vile things, mild and terrible, even within the one egregious phenomenon like Nazism. Perhaps a web of interrelated factors. But I think it's fair to say that tribalism and our obsession with identifying ultimate truth, whether it be in politics or religion, along with our ready willingness to kill to defend such truths, seems to be at the root of many of these matters.Tom Storm

    It seems that the great majority of mass deaths of innocent civilians have been caused by the desire for power, land, and profit. Kings want to be emperors. Governors want to be president. Millionaires want to be billionaires. Same as it ever was.
  • javi2541997
    2.7k
    From what I could see, including in the Wikipedia article you linked, there are differences in opinion about how many died resulting from the inquisitions actions. I think there would be agreement that the numbers were much less than those killed in the conquest of the new world, which was taking place at about the same time.T Clark

    Thanks for having and investigate another perspective on the "dark" side of the history of my country, Clarky. Appreciated it.
  • jorndoe
    2.4k
    , just some observations...

    Individual serial killers do theirs and may not need any more reason than impulse. The more people around, the more of those there will be, and the more potential victims will be available. Any (positive) ethics are secondary or worse.

    In organizations/governments there need just be factors/ideas overriding (positive) ethics, and atrocities can take place. Whether such factors are bad ethics or something not particularly related to ethics, doesn't really matter. Hard/uncompromising adherence to (singular) ideologies could exemplify such factors.

    Real life shouldn't be ignored (whatever is), doing the right shouldn't either (whatever ought be). We, humans in general I mean, do act impulsively (and opportunistically heartlessly egoistically), and sometimes get caught up in (inconsiderate or narrowminded or whatever) ideologies, so those are or can be ethically suspect.

    I don't think such likes have changed all that much. Did ethics sort of stagger behind? I guess we should cultivate and nurture moral awareness, foster individual autonomous moral agency, caring, concern for others, embrace our humanity socially (— and hug a tree, too :grin:). Education and learning from history can help. Empathy helps, but is also insufficient, could be exploited, used for bad just the same.

    The Holocaust had some ideological backgrounds and certainly had no concern for others, mainly Jews in this case. :sad:
  • Paine
    1.1k
    And anomie?BC
    That is an interesting question.
    The first thought that pops into my head is the movie The Last Picture Show.


    Perhaps more closely related to the topic at hand would be Walter Kempowski's novel All for Nothing. It tells a story of the Germans losing the war in a way that reproduces the condition that made it possible. Don't read near bedtime.
  • Tzeentch
    2.2k
    From what I could see, including in the Wikipedia article you linked, there are differences in opinion about how many died resulting from the inquisitions actions. I think there would be agreement that the numbers were much less than those killed in the conquest of the new world, which was taking place at about the same time.T Clark

    It is perhaps the fanaticism, emphasis on terror and the paranoid, intentional nature of the Inquisition that makes it somewhat similar to totalitarian systems.
  • Paine
    1.1k
    That's what I was getting at. The particular kind of immorality that created the Holocaust, for instance, could it have been related to a weak moral anchor?frank

    Killing Jews was a crowd pleaser well before the Enlightenment. The Crusades had people doing it at home as well as abroad. For example: The Pogroms of 1189 and 1190

    If you are thinking of a Nietzschean narrative of nihilism from loss of faith, it is interesting to consider the intellectuals who were drawn to Naziism as a rejection of modern values that exclude a 'spiritual' life:

    In April 1933, Heidegger took on the rectorship of Freiburg University, and joined the Nazi Party with great public fanfare the following month. He supported a political revolution which, he believed, by teaching the Germans discipline and an “instinct for the ultimate”, would prepare the way for a “deeper … spiritual” revolution. What this was really about, he insisted, was that “exposed to the most extreme questionableness of its own existence, this people [should] will … to be a spiritual people”. If the Party did not “sacrifice itself as a transitional phenomenon”, he grandly declared, but instead pretended to be “complete, eternal truth dropped from heaven”, it was “an aberration and a folly”.

    The Notebooks document Heidegger’s increasingly bitter realization that Hitler and his chief ideologue Rosenberg wanted nothing to do with this idealism: Germanness, to them, was a matter of race and territory, not of spiritual destiny.
    Judith Wolfe

    As on many other topics, Heidegger was a poor student of Nietzsche. Fred could tell creatures apart from the sounds they made and the odors they out gassed.
  • Vera Mont
    836
    Or maybe this view places too much importance on ideas. Maybe these events were the outcome of a multitude of diverse agendas.frank

    The two main bones of contention through history, and long before, were land and water. Who controls most arable land and water, their clan survives longest. Ideas are pinned up on poles to unify people in an endeavor whose actual purpose is to gain territory. In the olden days, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Incas, the Zimbabwe, the Vikings didn't feel any need to disguise their territorial ambition. Later, as the population of empires became more diverse, they might not all share the same ambition or loyalty to the same king, so they had to be collected under a religious or ideological or national slogan.

    Totalitarianism was a completely new phenomenon in the beginning of the 20th century, so it was not "business as usual" - something clearly changed.Tzeentch

    It was a new word. The rule of kings, pharaohs, maharajas, popes and caliphs was quite total enough before science was an issue.
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