Not Dear Old Uncle Heinie! Compartmental Thinking and The Politics of Domination
“Not dear old uncle Heinie!” was how Heinrich Himmler's extended family greeted the news that he was the architect of the Holocaust. With his family, Himmler was a nice guy. Yet at work he could murder millions. So too, the Argentine military officer who would pat his baby's head with the same hand that an hour ago tortured an 18 year old student to death. So too, the stock manipulator who deliberately wrecks a business, throwing thousands out of work, then has an amiable game of golf with his friends.
Almost everyone in a position of authority will compartmentalize when ordered to do something cruel. A tiny minority will refuse and some will go insane when forced to commit crimes against humanity, but the vast majority will do what they are told. Compartmentalization is normal with people of an authoritarian upbringing. It is, like the associated condition of denial, a typical survival strategy of abused children. This is also one of the reasons many abused, in turn, become criminals and abusers or are attracted to positions of authority. It is much easier to bully or commit crimes when one has compartmentalized from infancy.
The key element in getting people to easily compartmentalize is the dehumanization of the victims. The “average” person finds great difficulty in assaulting, torturing or murdering their fellow human beings. One of the goals of military training is to overcome this aversion. Propaganda is used to make the alleged enemy out as subhuman, not worthy of any sympathy, to be killed like a vicious wild animal. Hence the soldiers on the other side are not considered soldiers, but Huns, Boshe, Slopes, Gooks, Sand Monkeys etc.,
Demonization is an important tactic, Communists and anarchists are not people who want a better world for the workers, but monsters destroying civilization. Environmentalists are crazies who wish take your car away etc., Unworthy of any consideration, and at the same time deemed highly threatening, these imaginary devils in human form kick the reptile portion of the brain into high gear. Away flies any empathy and down come the clubs, the electrodes are clamped to the genitals, and the machine guns roar.
How can we help overcome this problem, and at the same time weaken the hold that irrational authority has over a significant portion of the population? We must make people aware of compartmentalization, which means encouraging greater self-awareness. We must continue to encourage libertarian parenting and pedagogy and fight child abuse in all its many forms and rationalizations. We must continue to encourage the questioning of authority and the undermining of the mass media hate propaganda that demonizes the system's latest targets.