G. S. <email@example.com>
initial posting 18 March 2006 - last update 1 Aug 2010
ignorant, a finger touched to its lips elicits an effort to suck the finger. So the miracle of a new human life begins with the first breaths and the initial nursing and the warmth and closeness to its mother’s body. It knows not of religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, pride, patriotism, shame, sex, greed, love, hatred, killing, and so on. Totally innocent. That's how each of us began our rocky journey through life.
The notion that anyone is born cursed with “original sin” or is genetically programmed, as a homo sapiens, to be an “evil” person, to carry out a whole range of socially damaging actions, to lie, cheat, steal, destroy, murder, and so on, is patently absurd. But if that is true, as I’m sure it is, then there must be a rational explanation why our species, and uniquely ours, has arrived at a stage where we are destroying our global home, many of the other life forms that share this planet, and quite possibly ourselves as well. If we can understand how that came about, and what is driving humankind along the current deadly course, then we will be able to try to change those conditions, surely external to our genetic makeup, and thereby alter the course of history, steering it instead towards humane survival.
The assumption that people are not born “bad”, are not inherently evil, is a fundamental article of faith for anarchists. But because the “evidence” all around us clearly and continually shows that many people do bad things, we are constantly challenged by the argument that these bad actions are done as a consequence of “human nature.” The idea that our behavior, particularly when it is bad, is “in our genes” has a long and dishonorable history. A recent reincarnation of this “theory” has been promoted by credentialed scientists like zooligist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose popular book The Selfish Gene says on its jacket, “We animals exist for their [the genes] preservation and are nothing more than their throwaway survival machines. The world of the selfish gene is one of savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit.” Rape, for example, is seen simply as the drive of genes to replicate themselves. Better just accept it as part of “human nature.”
From an anarchist’s perspective, by contrast, the “bad” things people do are a result of cultural influences that permeate our lives and influence every aspect of our awareness, all our thoughts and actions. It is our cultural conditioning that teaches a young person, his (or her) national, ethnic, religious, gender, etc. identity. For example, in most cases the nation-state steps in immediately at birth to affix nationality to a newborn infant, and may later claim the right to force this individual to kill “enemies” defined by the state and its corporate bed-partners. I don't believe anyone is a “born killer”. Killing must be learned. People must be conditioned, taught to kill if that is a role to which they are to be assigned. Every army is acutely aware of the indoctrination needed to make its members reliable killers. No newborn infant enters the world programmed for such a killer role. By simply looking at a tiny infant the absurdity of such a hypothesis is made evident. Killing is at one extremity of the “bad” things people do.
In an earlier essay I considered a lesser “bad” action, lying. I tried to show the absurdity of the notion that anyone is a “born liar”  with the following argument:
“You've probably heard it said, about someone who apparently lies effortlessly, that so-and-so is a “born liar”, as though it was a particular genetic attribute rather than something that had to be learned. Of course that’s not so. No one is born a liar. Clearly, from the very beginning of its life an infant is embarked on a miraculous search for understanding — everything — a search to comprehend the world of which it rapidly gains consciousness. Long before it can verbalize, long before it can decipher the sounds of speech, it discovers, much to the pleasure of adults, that it can smile and that its smile invariably elicits smiles in return, and human warmth. And it learns to cry. You have only to watch a small baby held by a parent or other familiar person if its eyes suddenly discover you in its field of view. With its eyes rivetted upon you, the intense, unabashed scrutiny to which you are subjected is one of total curiosity, a focused effort to understand you. The child tries to fit you into its perception of the universe. Clearly, at this stage, a small child is nothing if not totally open, totally honest.
“At a later stage of childhood, each of us learned that people say things that are untrue, and we learned that we could sometimes benefit, for example by avoiding punishment, if we denied the truth. The motivation to lie is always the same, to gain some perceived benefit.”
In discussing lying and killing, it’s clear that I am unable, in strictly logical terms, to provide a “proof”, that is, a “proof” in the rigorous sense in which a mathematician would judge a theorem to be proved. Nevertheless, it seems to me indisputably clear that the argument is also obviously correct.
Consider first the act of lying. One might try to argue that lying is actually programmed into the human genetic makeup, but of course such a supposedly intrinsic feature of our makeup cannot be expressed before a person has acquired the ability to speak. Someone arguing this position could point to the drive for carnal sex, which, although evidently a result of our genetic makeup, is not expressed until a person’s development stage reaches the point of producing the essential hormones. However, this “development stage” argument which would claim that lying is a genetic trait, can be countered, I think decisively, by the well-established fact that adults in different cultures behave differently in this regard. It is thoroughly documented, in the history of the conquest of the Indians of North America in the United States, that an Indian’s verbal pledge was a guarantee of his future behavior, in glaring contrast to that of the white conquerors, who lied endlessly to achieve their goals. The only way to counter this clear difference between these so-called “different races” that I can think of would be to say, Whites are genetic liars, Indians are not. But that argument flops immediately because so-called “full-blooded” Indians in the U.S. now lie as much as Whites.
Now consider the act of killing. Specifically, think of a newborn boy who first saw the light of day eighteen years ago in Israel, a son of Jewish parents. It would be ridiculous to imagine that he knew anything at birth about his “identity”, his forthcoming ritual circumcision which would mark him indelibly as Jewish (or Muslim), or that he would be called upon to serve in the Israeli military to enforce imposed curfews in the occupied territories, in some cases killing Arab schoolchildren for crossing the street to get to their school, children acting in resistance by violating the curfew. Nor, of course, did he know he would come to despise Arabs, to regard them as less than human, and to feel no compassion for them, no remorse as he lined up the cross-hairs of his sniper-scope and squeezed the trigger. One might try to argue that although as a newborn he was totally innocent of all such ideas, he was actually programmed by his “Jewish genes” to develop into a killer of Palestinians. But this “development stage” argument is as ludicrous for killing as it is for lying. And in fact it ought to be particularly repugnant to those of us who identify (or are identified) as Jews, because it was promoted as a core justification of the Nazis’ attempt to exterminate all the Jews, i.e. the idea that Jews were despicable and dangerous because we are Jews, a genetic group that deserved to be got rid of.
One could examine all the other categories of socially destructive behavior, from those that border on being innocuous, like telling “harmless” lies, to the most terrible, like causing mass murder, and show that in each of them cultural influences are the factors of overwhelming importance. Biologists are of course fully aware that we are not products solely of our genes. Although it’s true that the human genotype determines our fundamental constitution in terms of our hereditary characteristics, each of us has as well a particular phenotype, which describes our personal manifest characteristics, including anatomical and psychological traits  that result from both our heredity and environment. The total environment consists of both physical and cultural parts.
You might wonder why, in the last few paragraphs, I’ve insisted on things that a moment’s thought shows must doubtlessly be true. Sometimes, and with some issues, we need to insist on actively knowing the truth. This is such a time and such an issue. The cliche “It’s human nature” is used endlessly to supposedly explain bad things that people do as the results of the human genome, and we need to nail down the fact that this is false. The true source of such behavior lies not in our genes but overwhelmingly in our cultural conditioning. Once this truth is acknowledged, the implications are enormous. To begin with,
Born in 1889 in a small Austrian town near the city of Linz, Hitler’s  father, Alois Hitler, died at age 65, when Adolph was a few months shy of 14. Almost five years later, when he was 18, his mother Klara, then 47, died of cancer. According to the cited article, “She was held in love and affection by Hitler, her Jewish doctor, Eduard Bloch, later recalled: ‘I have never witnessed a closer attachment.’” Soon after his mother’s death he moved to Vienna, living there for the first two years (1908-1910) on his orphan’s pension and his work as an illustrator. His pension ended in 1910. Although by then he had inherited some money from an aunt, he lived, according to his autobiographical account in Mein Kampf, in poor circumstances another three years in Vienna, until in 1913 he moved to Munich. I believe, from my admittedly limited knowledge, that from his birth through his 18th year there is no evidence that he held notable or particularly strong anti-Semitic (meaning anti-Jewish) views, though according to his own account he was aware of and shared a generalized, but not yet virulant dislike of Jews as early as his 14th year. The cited article states:
One of the people exterminated by Hitler’s Third Reich was a young German Jewish girl, Anne Frank. It is unimaginable, anywhere in America or Israel, that a play about her short, tragic life, less than 16 years long, could not be presented, and that is as it ought to be. It is a true and painful bit of history that the world ought to know.
Rachel Corrie, an American woman of 23, was exterminated on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza while standing in front of a doctor’s house that the Israeli Army was about to demolish. A play, “My Name is Rachel Corrie”, “had been tentatively scheduled to start performances at the New York Theater Workshop in the East Village on March 22. But yesterday [February 27, 2006, just 23 days before the scheduled opening], James C. Nicola, the artistic director of the workshop, said he had decided to postpone the show after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work.”  The Guardian, UK reported him saying, in announcing his suggested “postponement until next year”, “what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon’s illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation. We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn’t want to take.” What would be the reaction of the New York Jewish community if a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” were similarly “postponed” with some flimsy excuse? Imagine the great creator of Guernica refraining from having his masterpiece displayed lest this work of art be seen as his taking a stand in a political conflict.
The role and importance of the media in shaping consciousness is really beyond dispute. That was as true when Hitler was in Vienna as it is in all areas of the world where developed media exist, which means just about everywhere. I’ll return to Hitler in a moment, but first want to mention that six days after the New York Times account of February 28 quoted above, this same supposed “newspaper of record” published a profoundly dishonest piece by Edward Rothstein in an attempt to prevent the undeserved and extravagantly polished reputation of the government of Israel from being tarnished.
As I indicated earlier, my current belief is that up until age 18, shortly after what must have been for him the painful death from cancer of his mother, when he moved to Vienna, Hitler was not possessed by hatred of Jews, not in the way that I am possessed by the urgency of trying to “save the world.” The article I quoted says, “It was in Vienna that Hitler began developing into an active anti-Semite”, allowing for the possibility that he already had, as his own statements confirm, a “passive” dislike of Jews. He may even have had some hatred of Jews, though he maintains that’s not so. Many people have unexpressed hatreds, and there’s no reason to believe Hitler, before age 18, did not hate Jews “in general”, although there seems not to be much evidence. Did he hate his mother’s Jewish physician, Eduard Bloch, quoted earlier from the same article, who spoke so strongly of Hitler’s love for his mother? I don’t know. Nor are questions like these of particular significance, although to some psychiatrists and historians they provide grist for endless speculation.
It’s not critical to my argument whether Hitler became anti-Semitic, or how strongly he felt hatred towards Jews before arriving at Vienna. Because what I maintain seems obviously indisputable: when he was born in the little Austrian town of Braunau-am-Inn close to the German border, he was just as innocent,
the Second World War, published by Reader’s
Digest in Spanish, in 1992 in Mexico.
just as ignorant of the world as each of us was at his or her moment of birth. There was nothing in his genes to make him develop into a mass murderer. What he became was the result, almost overwhelmingly, of the cultural environment in which he lived, as is true of each of us.
It would be a fatal mistake, fatal for the human species, if our understanding of history is provided only, or primarily by historiography that attributes major events — the Second World War, the Judeocide carried out by the Nazi’s Third Reich, the Napoleonic Wars, the European conquest of the Americas, and so on — largely to the actions of individuals in positions of power. An example of such dangerously inadequate “explanations” is in the article I cited, which says of Hitler, “He was the principal instigator of the Holocaust and World War II.” The danger lies in the belief such pseudo-analysis promotes that history is “made” by the so-called “leaders”. For example, it is quite commonly believed that Hitler was largely responsible for both World War II and the Nazi Judeocide. Two horrific historical events instigated principally by one “leader”, a “bad” man now reviled by many millions who attribute these horrors to him.
It’s an easy leap from this inadequate historical understanding to the belief that Hitler acted as he did because it was “in his blood”, as they used to say, or in contemporary terms, “in his genes”, and to then generalize to the often heard proclamation, “It’s human nature”, i.e. it wasn’t just Hitler, it’s our entire species that is genetically “bad”, with its dismal implication: there’s nothing we can do about it, no way to change it. The danger is precisely that if too many people believe this, then our species will continue along the present disastrous path, destroying the entire biosphere and decimating the human population.
It’s crucially important, if we are to have any hope of ending the Armegeddon currently in progress, that we
You might wonder why I am concentrating on Hitler, as though I am obsessed with him. Could it be because I am afflicted, as I was recently told by Jack Rosen, Chairman of the American Jewish Congress, with abysmal “self hatred”?  Hardly. That was simply a stock defensive reaction, either by Rosen himself or someone employed in his office, to a biting attack I made on him and other die-hard self-designated “defenders of the State of Israel” as it continues its ruthless, cowardly conquest of the Palestinians. The reasons for focussing on Hitler are straightforward. He played a key role in both the Nazi Holocaust and in initiating the Second World War, during which he was the absolute ruler in Germany, that is, the person whose word carried the force of law. As such there is no doubt that he is, in the judgement of many many millions of people, one of the greatest war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity of all time.
I am one of the many many millions of people who believe that is true, with no qualifications. I make no brief on Hitler’s behalf. The important question to answer is: How was it possible for an ordinary sane, rational person, which I believe Hitler was, to behave in such a horrible, unforgiveably brutal manner? Those of you who prefer to think of him as, for example, a “madman, an evil raving idiot” and object to my characterizing him as sane and rational are gravely mistaken in ignoring the vast complex of historically developed cultural factors that determined the fateful path from innocent child to heartless adult directing monstrous deeds. My point of course is that these same cultural factors still permeate and dominate most of the world today, and unless we recognize them for what they are and eliminate them we are doomed to continue on our tragic path. Let me be more specific.
An attempt to list the cultural factors that make up the deadly ideology pervading most of the world will result in a lengthy and incomplete list. Nevertheless, here’s a first stab at it, in no particular order.
Taken together, the entire ideology that prevails in most of today’s world, of which the beliefs above are part, determines how we conceive of ourselves and how we relate to other human beings and to the rest of the animal and plant species and to the physical substructure of the world, beneath the biosphere, and also the atmosphere, oceans, mountains, rivers, etc. — the “whole ball of wax”.
In the next part of this essay I will explore Hitler’s change, within the course of his years in Vienna from age 18 to 23, from which he emerged obsessed with the belief that “the Jews” played an inordinately important, even controlling, role in the degradation of Austrian society as he experienced it and responded to it with fierce anger, determined to struggle against it.
 I include the phrase “here on the earth” because I regard proposals to set up colonies of humans on other heavenly bodies as utterly insane. Our species will live or perish in the one home we have ever known, and we damn well better try to preserve it.
 That essay, “Mutual Aid and Mutual Trust”, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/Infra-5.htm.
 For simple definitions of genotype and phenotype, see e.g. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2000.
 A brief, really thumbnail size biography of Adolph Hitler which appears to me carefully and reliably written is at http://www.geocities.com/religionencyclo/hitler.html. I’ve drawn a few facts I used about his life from this source. The dates I found (here and elsewhere) were: for Hitler, April 20, 1889-April 30, 1945; for his father, June 7, 1837-January 3, 1903; for his mother, August 12, 1860-December 21, 1907.
 Mein Kampf, translation of the First German Edition by Ralph Manheim, Houghton Miflflin, Boston, 1972. Hitler wrote the first version of Volume One of his 2-volume manifesto in 1924 while imprisoned in the Landsberg am Lech fortress after the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” in Munich on November 9, 1923.
 In Mein Kampf, p.51, Hitler wrote, “Not until my fourteenth or fifteenth year did I begin to come across the word ‘Jew,’ with any frequency, partly in connection with political discussions. This filled me with a mild distaste, and I could not rid myself of an unpleasant feeling that always came over me whenever religious quarrels occurred in my presence.”
 The full text of Avnery’s open letter to Arafat, in which he states that the roots of European anti-Semitism lay in religious struggles for power, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2004-04-08.htm.
 Anne Frank was born June 12, 1929. She died in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, officially from typhus. I consider her to have been exterminated by the Nazis. Information from http://www.usa-people-search.com/content-anne-frank.aspx. The link to the souce for the above information about Anne Frank became inopertive, as Helen Stevens wrote me. She kindly suggested the link to the site now given here, which I much appreciate. G.S., 2009-09-04.
 Rachel Corrie was born April 10, 1979. Her death March 16, 2003, although labelled an accident by the Israeli military, was no such thing. I consider her to have been exterminated by the Israeli Nazis.
 My Name is Rachel Corrie. The initial quote is from a New York Times article of Feb 28, 2006 at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/28/theater/newsand
 Edward Rothstein’s New York Times article attempting “damage control”, “Connections Too Hot to Handle, Too Hot to Not Handle”, appeared at: http:/
 Tiempo de Guerra: História Ilustrada de la Secunda Guerra Mundial (Time of War: Illustrated History of the Second World War). The photograph of Hitler as a very young infant is on page 15. The book is essentially a glorification of war, promoting the ideology typical of the Reader’s Digest Corporation’s publications.
 On the obligation of the knowledgeable and powerful to compel “right behavior”, Upton Sinclair, in explaining why he chose as the title for his 1923 book, The Goose Step: A Study of American Education, wrote,