Like ducks to water

by Yule Heibel on May 23, 2004

A sharp remark on Frank Paynter’s blog entry Fear Itself by the inestimable k!. His comment talks about “The Silence,” and how it’s warping the obvious.

With a sad heart I would add that “if it looks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, if etc. etc…. it is a duck.” Bad behaviour doesn’t respect any boundaries, whether of gender, “race,” or religion.

PS: for those who don’t read German, the text that links to “duck” (above) defines the word Sippenhaft, which is based on Sippe, meaning clan or family, and Haft, meaning arrest or incarceration. Here’s a translation of the definition the site gives:

The punishing of a person (a relative, a spouse) for the criminal act of another “clan- or family member”; the practice was deployed in totalitarian systems of rulership, for example the Nazi period, as a means of terror against political opponents.

A key difference — and it is to be respected — is that today Sippenhaft isn’t used by overtly totalitarian systems of rulership; in fact, in the case of Israel, it’s instead used by a democracy. But whether it’s a democracy bulldozing your house down because your cousin Abdullah joined Hamas or whether it’s a totalitarian system, your house is still falling down around your ears just because your cousin might be a fool, and you are a victim of terror.

Ducks swim in all kinds of water, and respect only goes so far because at some point everyone scrapes rockbottom and respect has once again to be earned, too.

Why do I want to get into this argument at all, what with being an heir to German history and German bad behaviour and German inhumanity? Because I can’t believe what’s happening around me: I can’t believe that the spirit of totalitarianism and “1984” is alive and well and spreading out far and wide, and that it actually uses its crimes of the past to protect itself from criticism, and that somehow it’s not the crimes of the past which are taboo, but the invocation of the party name of those who perpetrated them. You’re not allowed to call anyone on “our” side a Nazi regardless of how loud the quacking gets. Well, do you still get my respect, are you still on my side, if what you’re doing is illegal and immoral?

Incidentally, that picture above, that’s Charlie Mingus who was from Watts in Los Angeles, and who knew a thing or two about living in a democracy that never acted democratically enough toward some of its citizens. He wrote a piece called “Free Cell Block F, ’tis Nazi USA.” Hyperbole? Not bloody likely. It’s systemic, and it quacks like a duck regardless of epoch or cloaking “system,” and it’s all of a piece with current events. There’s only so much looking away that any of us can get away with:

If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880’s and 1930’s, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. (From an article by Susan Sontag in the New York Times magazine.) [More….]


Anonymous May 24, 2004 at 9:42 pm

“Did we do anything after this?
We were watching TV, watching TV, watching TV, watching TV.”

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 11:52 am

comment deleted: porn spam.

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