I know it’s the weekend and blog activity drops way down on weekends. However I thought some might find this discussion interesting. I’ve been blogging about it on my website the past few days, but have primarily been focusing on abstract phenomenological and semiotic aspects of the problem.
The basic issue gets back to the whole Sheri Dew Nazi reference. Over on LDS-Phil we had this (to me) extremely interesting discussion of why her comments were inappropriate. Quite a few people I really respect strongly suggested that to use the holocaust as a metaphor diminishes and denigrates the holocaust.
Now my view is that I strongly disagree. Not because I think Sheri Dew’s use was acceptable. By Goodwin’s Law alone it was a poor rhetorical choice. However what we very interesting to me was the notion that it was always inappropriate to use the holocaust to refer to anything other than the events of the holocaust in Europe during WWII at all. To me, the holocaust exemplifies a certain unspeakable evil better than almost any other symbol we have. As such I think it one of the ideal symbols for evil. Others, however, made the argument that to have the holocaust refer to any other event waters down the meaning of the holocaust and is thus inappropriate.
Allow me to quote a bit from my blog, where I droned on endlessly about some of the more abstract philosophical implications. I’ll skip the boring philosophy and just cut to the chase.
One big problem I have with the way the holocaust or other Nazi attrocities are treated is how that treatment devalues all other atrocities and genocides. The fact we want to distinguish the holocaust from evil bothers me since one would think that the holocaust is a rather prime example of evil. Thus the holocaust exemplifies evil but sure the evil it exemplifies is more essential and fundamental. Indeed evil itself is hopefully the more troubling to us.
I think that the holocaust is seen as a particularly good representation or symbol of evil and thus directs us towards an evil that can’t ever be directly thought properly or fully. Yet to make the holocaust itself the object of a kind of veneration or fear is to in a sense trivialize it because in so doing we trivialize the actual evil itself. What I’m trying to say that when we treat the symbol as what is important rather than what it symbolizes (or exemplifies) that we’ve reversed things in a very disturbing way.
The reason I find this disturbing is because the holocaust, as being in the past, is dead, complete, determinate and thus in a sense under our power. The future is incomplete, unfinished, and indeterminate. Thus it is in a sense out of our power. By making the past events more important than the evil they exemplify, we in effect suggest a power over the future we don’t really have. It is that movement to death that allows new genocides like Darfor or Rwanda to take place and not have the power the holocaust does. We’ve made evil dead when it is unfortunately very much alive.
Now I’ll leave the abstractions for discussion on my blog (and feel free to join in there or on LDS-Phil) However here I’m more interested in the practical implications. Ought we use the term holocaust to refer to the Turkish genocide of Armenians or Stalin’s purges of the Jews or the genocide of 10% of Cambodia by the Khmre Rouge?