We would be Nazis too

Yesterday was a bad day. I woke up in the morning, full of purpose and determination. I had many things to do and I was going to get them done! 

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I edited and uploaded a new post, completed a shitty draft of another, and then bummed around. I ate some cereal, watched some YouTube videos, read for twenty minutes, and then slithered into bed at 0900, only to be woken by the arrival of the plumber at 1330.

The afternoon was slightly better. I did some cleaning and washing, and somehow, I ended up absorbed by a podcast. For almost three hours I listened to Jordan Peterson talk to Joe Rogan about social justice warriors, political correctness, meta-stories, scientific and dramatic truth, free speech and sacrifice.

It turns out that I gained something valuable from a day that I had written off. 

Among the many fascinating ideas and tough questions Peterson raised was the point that, had any of us been citizens in Nazi Germany before and during World War II, we would have been Nazis too. We would likely have committed some of the inhumane acts that normal people back then committed.

“No, never! I’d never do such a thing!” is your immediate reaction, right? “I could never be so brutish and beastly!” But hold on just a second. As Peterson points out, the millions of people that made up the German state were just like us. They were normal. They weren’t evil. They were human. And I’m not saying they enjoyed doing these things. No-one, unless you’re one of the few sadistic and malevolent individuals who thrived in that environment, would’ve enjoyed rounding up Jews and getting them onto the cattle cars. But it doesn’t matter how they felt while they were doing it. What matters is that they did these things.

After I finished watching the video, I considered asking my friends and family what they would do were they in Nazi Germany. Would they conspire to bring the regime down? Would they be one of the minority to risk their lives to stop the march of evil and tyranny? I doubt it. See, the funny thing is that the population that did do that were a minority, just a handful of courageous individuals. But when you ask people if they would do the same, if they would fight, the majority would answer in the affirmative.

We all—me included—would say we’d fight. We say we’d sacrifice ourselves for good and for humanity. But where’s our evidence? Essentially, what the people who defied the Nazis in their own country were up against was overwhelming pressure. Pressure from terror, from fear, from society. A pressure that we cannot comprehend. But when have we truly defied such pressure and such authority? When have we taken a stand that had the highest probability of resulting in great personal harm for the slightest societal benefit?

Most of us haven’t. And that’s the point. It’s easy to philosophise, to sit here and claim you’d never do this or become that. But really, we have no fucking idea. The only valid evidence for these claims is past actions. If we have defied authority and pressure, if we have made great sacrifices before, we can make a reasonable assumption that we would do so again on a grander scale. But most of us haven’t. And so most of us cannot even pretend that, in the most dire and dangerous of situations, we would not be Nazis too.