Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Please pass the butter - a reflection on revisionism and the holocaust

Don’t bother me with the facts, my mind’s already made up (popular saying).

In our age, seems to me, anti-Semitism stands as the universal icon of ethnic prejudice and the holocaust as the historical point of reference. So much so that one begins to feel that questioning the facts of the holocaust, contextualizing it historically, even criticizing the behaviour of the State of Israel in any way is somehow encroaching on holy ground. I’m not arguing for the holocaust revisionists here; I’m simply saying that there appears to be undue alarm raised by any historical research that tends to update details of the holocaust, as if such effort is necessarily an attempt to divert blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

And holocaust revisionists do the latter blatantly. Book titles and websites proclaiming that “gas chambers and extermination plans are myths” are easy to find. But what if it turned out to be true that a lot of the Jews we once believed were killed by NAZIs in Poland were actually killed by Poles? Would it make an appreciable difference? Holocaust-denial websites and historical revisionists imply that such information tends to absolve the NAZIs, and are hard at work pushing this faulty logic on the world.

Ah, logic. We don’t teach it well. A website lists the people in positions of authority in the American media who are also Jewish. That list runs to about a hundred names, and put down on paper that way, it implies a message that simply isn’t there. There are thousands upon thousands of people of non-Jewish origin who would be on this list if ethnicity were not its central criterion. It’s logical that a hundred or so would be Jewish in such a company.

It’s tantamount to listing the names of all the people in Southern Manitoba who own businesses and are Mennonite, then putting a huge exclamation mark after the list. It would imply conspiracy, i.e. that Mennonites are so highly represented in commerce in Southern Manitoba that there’s obviously a plan to exclude non-Mennonites.

People of Chinese origin are massively over-represented in the café business in rural Saskatchewan. Obviously only conspiracy could account for this, and who knows what sinister plot the whole of world-wide Chinasery has cooked up, of which their presence in such unexpected numbers in rural Saskatchewan is an obvious part? It makes every Chinese person suspect. It makes it easier to believe that they’re serving us alley cats as chicken and mice as shrimp.

A lot of people have no training in logic; they have a hard time seeing through such deceptions.

Below are three logical fallacies from the catalogue that are clearly evident in the arguments of the holocaust deniers and historical revisionists. They are blatant and should be recognizable to every educated person. Obviously, they’re not:

Argumentum ad logicam (argument to logic). This is the fallacy of assuming that something is false simply because a proof or argument that someone has offered for it is invalid; this reasoning is fallacious because there may be another proof or argument that successfully supports the proposition.[1]

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”). This is the simple fallacy of stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises. For example, “Racism is wrong. Therefore, we need affirmative action.” Obviously, there is at least one missing step in this argument, because the wrongness of racism does not imply a need for affirmative action without some additional support. . . . [2]

The argument to logic is applied repeatedly by revisionists. They will attempt to show that the statistics on executions in Auschwitz, for instance, are inaccurate, and will use that as evidence that the holocaust never happened. (They will often follow this up with an Argumentum ad Hominem fallacy, namely, the argument that the researcher of the inaccurate statistics must have falsified the truth and is therefore an evil—or at least untrustworthy—person. This is proof, they say or imply, that the historical record in total and all those who are responsible for it must be dismissed.

The non sequitur fallacy should be recognizable to all of us, but we often fall prey to it. The entire argument that the high number of Jews in the banking business in Germany means that they were responsible for monetary failures in the period before 1933 is a non sequitur, it does not follow in logic, anymore than the argument that the high rate of incarceration of aboriginal people in Western Canada shows unequivocally that aboriginals have criminal tendencies. Much more needs to be shown as evidence for these two things to be logically connected.

There’s nothing wrong with researching matters like the holocaust, and no one should be dissuaded from this by those who might quickly jump to the conclusion that the effort is in support of revisionists and holocaust deniers. The truth is always the truth.

Educating ourselves and our children to recognize the difference between butter and bullshit, however, is essential.

828 words

[1] http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/fallacies.html#Argumentum%20ad%20logicam

[2] ibid

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