Beothuk Dodo

Beothuk Dodo (an excursus in extermination)

                                    Too big to fly, Dodo ugly, so dodo must die

                                    Dog go, with fear on its side

                                    Can’t change, can’t change the tide

                                    Dog baiter, agitator

                                    Asking questions, says he wants to know why

                                    Ain’t no reason that money can’t buy

                                    Mink, he pretty, so mink he must die…

  • Genesis, 1981

            It is well known that the Reich made the obvious connection between exterminating vermin such as insects and rats to doing the same with those they considered to be person-pests; ‘life unworthy of life’, as was said. The penchant for eugenics was married to the desperate desire for ‘racial purity’. The Jew, in spite of his eternally wandering status and his pariah personality, had somehow maintained his own racial homogeneity, refusing to entirely assimilate wherever he next washed up. The subito siren of the death of the other, beseeching us in both ways at once – if I must die let it be quick; nay, I shall rather slay you in the heat of your own desire – is remade in the grander scale of opera or yet epic. A Wagnerian death, fit only for the antique gods, when transposed to humanity, required millions to be murdered, and systematically so, for that is the most rapid way of capturing the drama of the moment. The Holocaust was more than an anthropological machine for ‘beautifying the world through violence’, it was also an architectonic aesthetic statement; that those closer to the old Gods in form and feel would take over the once-Valkyric duty to choose the slain before these lower forms reached up from the depths of ugliness and dragged the rest of us down with them.

            How many human deaths could equal that of one God’s? That is the question the Holocaust and like events pose to us. The old god of morals, long dead, was Himself an immoralist in the sense that He aided the ancient Hebrews in their quest for a homeland. Begrudgingly, given their lack of loyalty and inconsistent worship, Yahweh must have been thinking that, ‘Well, they do suck but all these other groups wouldn’t be any better. Besides, the children of Akhenaton invented me, so I suppose I owe them one’, and so on. This ‘religion of the father’, as Freud famously put it in his final volume, Moses and Monotheism, only gives way to that of the son through patent parricide. Now, how then to keep the potency of that ultimate death alive given that history rewrites and memory forgets? The death of the father = the life of the son; Jesus was thus not forsaken on the cross but rather because of the incarnation, the one to whom He called was Himself lost. The death of the under-race = the life of the over-race, and thence toward the so-called ‘super-race’ yet to come. In the ‘Dyskabolos’ speech, Hitler cautioned his art history buff audience that ‘we can only be said to have reached our goal when we have attained the form expressed by the Greek sculptors or even have gone beyond it’.

            This ‘form’ could not have been an idealized, stylized reference simply to an Olympic athlete, though we to this day, with continued Nazi verve, celebrate the ‘festival of both youth and beauty’ – the subtitle of Riefenstahl’s documentary film of the 1936 games – but for Sontag for instance, referenced the ‘fascist aesthetic’ which was wholly esthetic in its surface appearance. Riefenstahl herself calls out this analysis in the film The Power of the Image, and somewhat amusingly to boot. But the very use of the term ‘form’ is suggestive; it in turns calls to mind the Platonic ideals, the eternal form and not its passing content. Youth, for a few years and those extended by Olympian practice and exercise, maintain something close to the ideal bodily expression of the form. So, it is not so much that a race as a whole must reproduce itself unsullied by inferior elements, but rather more specifically the youth of that race. It is not a coincidence, nor is it merely an effort in pedagogy, that the Reich spent much effort upon cultivating its youth in both culture and sport. By 1940 or so, even complete nudity was made into part of the propaganda imagery, not so much due to the sense that mores had relaxed since Orff’s highly erotic Carmina Burana was first performed in 1937, becoming a Nazi favorite soon thereafter, but rather because the first generation of racially pure youth had now come of age, ready to strut their perfect stuff in a call to more than military arms.

            At the climax to the Olympic torch relay, also a Nazi invention, one needs recall, the BBC commentator remarks on how ‘perfect’ and ‘pure’ does the physique of the German runner look, and thus extolls it to the world. Just as was the Holocaust the result of applied aesthetics, so the Olympics are the obverse side of that self-same coin. Anyone who watches them is a crypto-Nazi at best. Far better to give into the baser desire to see youthful bodies as simply objects of lust and nothing more transhistorical; that is how low we can go without imagining extermination camps. For the beauty of youth, stained by the Internet, suppressed by the neo-conservative, was actually the one truer thing exalted by the Reich. It expresses an essential will to life, just as does mass murder – we imagine that life is precious not in its quality but rather in its quantity; if you must live, then I shall surely die, there’s simply not enough of it to go around – and the killing of the other in order to preserve my own ongoing existence remains a human ultimatum to its more ‘affective unhistorical subconsciousness’, if you will. We are possessed by a feeling, not merely of superiority, but of a kind of passing grace; I am alive and at the peak of my living performance. The Olympian expresses this will to life over against the unhealthy and infirm, the injured and ill, but also, more profoundly, against all those ugly and deformed. What used to be referred to as the ‘special Olympics’ is belatedly inserted not so much out of any doubt about what is beauty and thus truth, but rather for perspective, and rather out of the sense that Nazism can after all be democratized and alles can be included in the race for the perfect race.

            But few desire to watch the ugly try to be beautiful. They exist in their own media ghetto, its walls unforgiving and stretching as far past the eye of the now as does the death of God stretch back in historical time. In His stead, we are rightly outraged in the face of the ubiquitous abuse against athletes because coaches and trainers are themselves outside their sacred circle, violating it with their perverse lust, petty authority and picayune control. The gymnast is a living sculpture, her mobile museum the stadium. It was not merely a function of lack of more qualified personnel that the Olympic stadium in Berlin was defended by two-hundred Hitler Youth led by an art history professor. The Soviets quickly dismantled this effort with few casualties on either side, sending the kids home and the professor back to his campus office, perhaps missing the whole point of it. No, these defenders were the most qualified to serve and protect this meta-sacred space. Donning the uniform of Valkyric intent, obeying the higher orders of aesthetic authority, the young men and women imagined that theirs was the transcendental task of elevating life unto death. However many barbarians died was not and never at issue. The question was not even of what constituted the ‘good death’ – that is something for the therapist to ponder in the face of a smaller life perhaps replete with some regrets and disconnects – but rather what is the highest death? What is the life that is worthy of being chosen by the sisters of Brunnhilde? That is the death worth dying, and only that. And the highest of deaths must be ledgered by the lowest, those occasioned by the camps.

            So, the function of the death camp system was at least two-fold; in its baser of operations, it was a eugenics facility, but in its noble cast, imagined by its architects and likely specifically by Haydrich himself, given his own sense of art and accomplishment, it was a bellwether for the evaluation of the meaning of the higher death. If I am the final person standing, if I have vanquished all others, pretenders and even vermin that they were, then the Valkyric youth, the ideal woman who is both a goddess and a warrior, beautiful and lithesome, whose athleticism is no longer a theatrical display as in the Olympics but is absolutely real in its ‘event’, shall surely light on I and I alone.  It is no coincidence that the Olympics were born out of the skills associated with ancient warfare, the javelin, the pole-vault, the broad jump, steeplechase, and Pankration. The Valkyrie is the one with all those skills; she is the truer heptathlete. In my desire to die by her own hand, I shall exterminate the many distractions that might yet blind her to the presence of the higher form. So much is this a vaunted goal, that in our imagined post-Nazi days we seek to buy our way into her purview, abusing our actual youth but mass-manufacturing the pretense thereof for adults; sixty is the new thirty. Yet because thirty is also the new thirteen the sixty must maintain its deeper mark, masking the stinging stingy stigmata of agedness with the wistful wiseacre of fantastic ages. But the capitalist, like the communist before him, misses the point. Extermination is about ultimate life, not death. It is the only passion by which a mortal being can distinguish himself in the eyes of the dispassionate Gods.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, aesthetics, religion, education, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

            We can be said to have a future as long as we are unaware that we have no future – Gadamer

                All those who yet live must accept both the happenstance of their birth and the necessity of their death. Though we are not born to die, but rather to live, living is an experience which is very much in the meanwhile, for the time being, in the interim, even of the moment, pending global context and possible crisis. We neither ask to be born nor do we ask to die, as Gadamer has also reminded us. And beyond this, these are the truer existential conditions which connect us with all other human beings, not only our living contemporaries, but also the twice honoured dead. Birth and death overtake all cultural barriers, and thence undertake to be the furtive guides which travel alongside us during that wondrous but also treacherous intermission between inexistences.

            It is a function of the basic will to life that generates both the shadow of ressentiment, especially towards youth, as well as the orison of immortality as an ideal and now, more and more a material goal. Indefinite life, a more modest version of the same will, is nonetheless radical to the species-essential experience of coming to understand human finitude. It is not enough to comprehend finiteness, as with the limits of bodily organicity, including the gradual breakdown of the brain. Because we humans are gifted with the evolutionary Gestalt of a consciousness beyond mere sentience and instinct, forward-looking and running along ahead of itself in spite of knowing its general end, we have to come to grips, and then to terms, with a more subtle wisdom; that of the process of completion.

            Dasein is completed in mine ownmost death. Heidegger’s existential phenomenology is clearly also an ethics, and a profound one, and if it is somewhat shy of the conception of the other, as Buber has duly noted, it is not quite fair to say on top of this, that it is also at risk for fraud regarding death, as Schutz declared. Such ‘phoniness’, as reported by Natanson, might be felt only insofar that death is in fact the least of our living worries, especially in the day to day. Poverty, illness, alienation, loneliness, victimization, illiteracy, hunger, all these and others authentically occupy our otiose rounds and do not, in their feared instanciation, immediately prompt us to meditate upon the much vaunted ‘existential anxiety’. Rather they compel us to act in defence of life, our own and perhaps that of others as well. So it is also part of the will to life that we truly fear such umbrous outcomes and it is commonplace to second-guess many of the decisions we thus make in our personal lives with the sole purpose of maintaining an humane equilibrium.

            But what if this balancing act breaks apart, even for a moment? For eight young women in Toronto, possessed of only the beginnings of self-understanding and equipped with none of the perspective that only living on for perhaps decades more begrudgingly bequeaths to any of us, the fragile balance of common humanity, the ounce of compassion for every weighty pound of passion, the spiritual eagle who pecks at our conscience rather than our liver, fell away. The result was the death of a much older man, needless and therefore almost evil in its import. No matter the intent, no matter the force, no matter the loyalty nor the rage, neither the desperation nor the anxiety, none of these things can vouchsafe such an act. Even so, for the rest of us, we must be most alert to not feeling so much love for the dead that we forget what the living yet require of us. That one is dead must be recognized as not even tragic, for there was no noble drama being played out. It was rather an absurdity, an intrusion upon not only civility but also upon human reason itself. That eight live on, now to be shipwrecked for a time on a hardpan atoll of their own making, is in fact where the call to conscience next originates.

            These young women clearly need our help and guidance if they are to honour the death of the one who was denied the remainder of his own challenging life. This is a far wider point for any who live in the midst of a history which is at once my own but as well so abstracted and distanciated from me that I am regularly compelled to relinquish any direct control over events or even of the knowledge of the human journey emanating from just yesterday, let alone of remote antiquity. I have no doubt that for all eight, real remorse mixed with a sullen distemper is disallowing sleep. For even if ‘the murderer sleeps’, as Whitman reminded us, the character of her sleep is not quite the same as is our own. It is thus the burden which falls upon the rest of us to help the newly-made pariah back into the human fold, for it was her original alienation from that succor which was the root cause of her vacant evil.

            In doing so, we must also remind ourselves that on the one hand, such a death could have been my own, but yet more importantly, and on the other, that I too might have killed if I had been in similar circumstances, young and enraged, desperate and anxious, alienated but in utter ignorance of the worldly forces which are the sources of my stunned and stunted condition. And in the meanwhile my wealthy peers attend yet Blytonesque private schools and though they look like me and consume the same popular culture as me and are fetishized alike by adults whose leers I must endure each day, they might as well be of a different species entire. And all the more so now that I have killed.

            Would not the parents of the privileged also kill to defend their lots? Would I, speaking now in my real self, not kill to protect my family? What is the threshold of the needless? Where do we make our stand and state with always too much unction that this death was justified and this one was not? Why would someone attack my family? Why would someone offend privilege? Why would eight young women attack an utter stranger? For the living, upon whom our love both depends and is called forth daily, this is the time to ask the deeper questions whose responses shall expose our shared and social contradictions. For the misplaced love of the dead serves ultimately only the self-interest of those who are content with the world of the living insofar as it continues to privilege they and them alone. The misplaced hatred of the others, including these eight young people, serves only as a decoy for our self-hatred and self-doubt, charged with the background radiation which is the simmering knowing that we have strayed so far from our ideals that such dark acts are not only possible but have indeed occurred.

            The only way to prevent their recurrence is to work actively for a just society, an ennobled culture, a compassionate individual, a responsible State. Those who need our love in the highest sense of the term are those who have acted in a manner that shows that they are themselves outside of human love. That each of us may descend to such inhumanity must remain the patent frame in which the love we proffer to all those affected by this event is rendered. Do not love the dead, do not hate the living. I will be the one but I am yet the other. I do not stand with the victim for he now stands beyond all human ken. Rather, however uncomfortably and even ironically, I must stand with the criminals, because they are faced with the same challenges as am I myself; to regain each day the highest expression of the will to life in spite of any descent the past has conferred upon us.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, health and social theory. He has worked with alienated youth for three years and for a quarter century before taught thousands of young people through transformative and experiential learning. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades in both Canada and the USA. He may be reached at