On The Dangers of Conformity When You Benefit

We’ve seen a lot of Hitler comparisons over the current primary cycle this year. Most recently we found out, according to Melania Trump, that her husband “[is] not Hitler,” which was a relief to everyone who mistook the Real Estate Tycoon for a man who died in a bunker in Berlin back in 1945.

What I’m trying to say is that Hitler comparisons are over done. They are hot air. When one person doesn’t like the way a guy runs his soup kitchen, the guy is titled, “The Soup Nazi,” re Seinfeld. Most of the time, when I see a reference to Hitler in a piece of political journalism, I stop reading. It has entered the realm of rhetoric.

I posit that Nazism is a pop-culture concept these days. The intricacies of the Third Reich’s bureaucracy, ideology, and goals aren’t as widely known as they perhaps should be. If you want to understand better I encourage you to read Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees. While it’s a bit dry and stuffy at times, I don’t know if anyone has looked so deeply into the mechanical workings of the Third Reich’s governmental system and decision making process. You’ll find that the road to fascism wasn’t paved lightly, even by men like Goering, Goebbels, and Himmler, who were the architects, if not the ruler and poster boy of the Third Reich.

The most difficult aspect of the Third Reich to understand is how so many people, so many civilians let such horrible things happen. You might be able to convince yourself that anyone who went along with the Nazi regime must have been in support of the Nazi Party, but that isn’t necessarily true, and while many Germans of the time DID support and were members of the Nazi Party, many other’s were not, and did not agree with how the Third Reich was conducting itself. But those who disagreed were often in no position to speak out without endangering themselves and there families. You may be skeptical of this. You may even be able to convince yourself that you wouldn’t have remained silent. That you would have done the right thing and spoken out. Contrary to popular belief the Third Reich was open to criticism and questions as long as you stepped back into line after they were answered. So those who apposed the Third Reich, by and large, remained silent. As collaborators. This is how history remembers those who were silent.

However, the most shocking thing Rees discovered about the Nazis was much more unique and frightening than people who kept silent once cowed.

Rees has interviewed ex-members of Stalin’s Secret Police, and high ranking officials from Imperial Japan, and the response when asked why these people did what they did, was, “I was following orders.” However, the Nazis were different.

“I didn’t tend to get that with Nazi war criminals,” said Rees when interviewed about his book on NPR’s Fresh Air. “…most of the Nazi war criminals I’ve met, actually, when you push them say, ‘well, at the time, I thought what I was doing was right.'”

And here’s my first comparison:

Peter Zieve, the CEO of Electroimpact in Seattle, has been sending racist and bigoted email “jokes” to his nearly 800 employees for years. Some of these employees have moved on because they feel as though this is wrong, but many stay. Zieve has even gone so far to try and stop a mosque from being built in Mukilteo Washington, a suburb of Seattle. While some employees have spoken out against this, they do not last long at the company. Jessica Loveridge, for instance, asked to be left out of the “joke” email thread that was discussing how Andreas Lubitz, a Germanwings airline pilot who committed suicide last year by crashing a plane, had secretly converted to Islam, before doing so.

“Time for you to leave. . .” Zieve wrote to Loveridge in response to her request.

Cooper Van Vranken, another former employee used his own resignation to call Zieve out. “I have issues with many of your policies including your blatantly sexist and racist hiring practices … However, I am going to focus in on your anti-Muslim sentiment,” Van Vranken wrote.

This has all been covered by the Seattle Times, in a scathing article that spans interviews with former employees as well as recovered or leaked company emails. These sources provide information on Zieve’s infatuation with the re-population of society with those he deems “…the good guys,” And his dislike of minorities, and Caucasians who disagree with him and choose not to reproduce. “When they choose not to repopulate and allow our wonderful country to be backfilled with rubbish from the desperate and criminal populations of the Third World, I find that to be disgusting and I find those persons to make those decisions to be repulsive and I don’t like them around me.”

Unlike Van Vranken and Loveridge, not all of Zieve’s employees think he’s wrong. One employee even responded to an email by saying we, as a society need “to quit fighting these mongrels ‘ethically.’ ”

When you compare these quotes by Zieve to the Van Vranken quote on Zieve’s racist hiring practices, it’s not a stretch to see that this man has eugenic ideologies. In fact, Zieve, even gives out baby bonuses for those who reproduce that range from $1,000 per child, to continuous income bonuses, reported, by one former employee, to be near $10,000 in a six month span.

This is what’s scary: Zieve thinks he’s doing the right thing, and some, not all, but some of his employees think he is too. They think that the right thing to do is keep our country white, keep it homologous. And more eerily, still, that a certain kind of people, a certain demographic, ethnic, and religious group, are to blame.

“. . . There was a feeling put about the Jews were to blame,” Rees said, concerning the propaganda used directly before and during the Second World War. “There was a genuine fear of communism, that Jews were somehow falsely attributed in their totality to communism. Simultaneously, Jews were thought to be running Roosevelt and American politics. . .”

This might be a dangerous comparison, but take a look at who’s to blame now, in our current society. For Zieve, it’s immigrants, but more specifically, Muslims. There is a genuine fear, not of communism, but certainly of terrorism, in our current situation–and somehow, Muslims are attributed “in their totality to” terrorism–never mind that Americans kill far more Americans every year than terrorists do. And lastly, there is a belief, still, by some, that The President of the United States is either Muslim, or being controlled by Muslims: Remember this?

Now, look, it’s not like all 800 employees of Electroimpact share Zieve’s racist, bigoted views. In fact many don’t and don’t participate in the “joke” email thread, though they do receive it. However, it’s clear that if you want to keep your job at Electroimpact, there’s no room for disagreements with Zieve’s world view. It’s either spoken agreement, or silence–which amounts to the same thing. Of course, there are many reasons people who disagree with Zieve might continue to work at Electroimpact and remain silent. The job is a good one that pays well, they are rewarded for the work they do, and the children they have. It is comfortable and they are taken care of. If you fit into Zieve’s ideology, or simply don’t question it, then you can live a very comfortable life.

Sound familiar? Of course, Zieve is not Hitler. Electroimpact is not the Third Reich, and this issue is not as widespread as it was in 1940s Europe. However, the dangers of conformity and silence when you are part of a culture such as this, legitimizes said culture. I understand that those who remain silent at Electroimpact have families, ambitions, and lead a prosperous life. But in the end, silence is its own form of collaboration.

What I mean to say is this: I get it. It’s difficult to speak up, speak out, when you and yours are taken care of. Humans are, by and large, self serving animals, sprinkled with a conscience. We can all look at Germany in 1940 and ask ourselves, “Would we hide a Jewish family in our homes, endanger our families and neighbors?” And we can almost all agree that to do so would be the right and honorable thing to do. But once faced with that decision, who knows if you could risk it all to save a family of strangers, or just one person? Is it not easier to remain silent? Not open the door when the knock comes? Is it not easier to continue to earn a paycheck, live a prosperous life, than to speak up and find another job? One that isn’t ensured, in part, by your silence and the color of your skin? The issues Electroimpact raises are a dangerous bridge to a way of life we, as society, should NOT tolerate. Don’t be silent if you have the power to speak up. Answer the knock when it comes. Speak out for those who have no voice.

10/17/14

When I was in Europe I was never robbed, but I was threatened once because I was American (W. Bush was still in office and that wasn’t popular). I stayed awake all night in Munich at a bar full of concerned Germans as the 2008 presidential election took place. There was one guy–another American–who had voted for McCain. It was made very clear very quickly that he wasn’t wanted in the group of people I was hanging with.

People from all over the world rooted for Obama. Half of the United States, or almost half, Voted McCain.

When it was announced Obama had won the election I cried. I had grown up, since 7th grade until I was 21–a time in which I became increasingly politically aware–thinking what the government from my country was doing was wrong and harmful to others. I was right, and it still continues, but to a lesser extent now, I think.

In Lagos, Portugal I fell in with this girl who was beautiful. She had short hair for a girl and a slim build that didn’t warrant breasts that size. We spent our days on the beach and taking naps and having sex as much as physically possible. It didn’t last for more than a week. I was a traveler and had to move on.

In Granada I met a woman from Estonia outside a small grocer. I’m unsure what it was about my look, the sweater I was wearing, the long hair, the overall air of raggedness? but she walked right up to me, just as ragged and said, “Hey, you want to buy some hits?”

And I said, “Of what?”

And she said, “LSD.”

And I said, “Naw, that’s ok, thanks though.”

Two night later I had been drinking and went to the same grocer. I met a man from the Netherlands who asked me the same thing. I’d been drinking and said yes. I split six hits with my friend Sue, but we didn’t take them then. We waited to the next morning and when the sun was coming out we went to the park and I took three hits and she took two and another friend of ours named Sarah took just the one, but we had one of the best days in the park ever. There were these large prints of photographs from all over the world put up and as we were sitting near a statue a man named Tim walked up who we had run into in Lagos and in Sevilla. He didn’t know we were tripping at first but after a while he figured it out and was cool with it and just hang around with us looking at the large prints of monkeys and landscapes and he made us laugh so hard with his commentary.

When the sun began to dip in the low trees we made our way to a place to watch the sunset. I sat with Sarah and we listened to music while Tim and Sue spoke in the background and over the city of Granada the sun put the city to sleep. Sarah and I went back to the hostel and I fell asleep. Sarah stayed up drawing.

After that I didn’t go out much on that trip. I only had a week left in Europe and if LSD has ever done anything for me, it’s always made me question my actions. Why was I going out? Why was I partying? Sue was bummed because when we went to Barcelona I liked the sight seeing but wasn’t much excited for going out at night.