Some years ago now, I seem to remember watching a heavily edited version of “American History X”: we have those in Utah (edited movies, that is…I don’t know for sure whether or not AHX had an edited version; Utah’s more sensitive to sex than violence). And there’s a scene where Edward Norton’s neo-Nazi gets some vicious prison discipline from a fellow neo-Nazi — the head neo-Nazi in charge — for being too “eager” and purist in his, well, neo-Nazism.
At the time I thought it was powerful and brutal and poignant, but also gimmicky; it seemed like too much of a plot device, too convenient, too much of an object lesson. Surely, ethnic gangs in prisons were too busy sticking together to have in-fighting?
But then I thought about it.
Who killed Malcolm X?
Who killed Yitzhak Rabin?
Who killed JFK?
Who tried to kill Hitler?
Who eventually did kill Hitler?
After all these men had been through, all the wars and close calls and early days, they were targeted and killed by their own people (or themselves, leaving behind a real scorcher of a suicide letter).
Let me qualify that. People of all shapes, shades, sizes and appendages will screw you, will be mean to you. But the people shaped, shaded, sized and appendaged like you will probably pull it off more often, for several reasons:
- You’re likely to live in closest proximity to them
- You’re likely to spend most of your time with them
- You’ll never see it coming from them; you won’t expect it; you expect them to be on “your” side
- You’ll suppress the memory of when it does happen and/or chalk it up to momentary/individual failing
- You and your society will let them get away with it
Even in the famously ethnically fractured states united of America, violent crimes of all kinds are overwhelmingly committed intra-group, by in-group members, not across ethnic lines. Similarly, most sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances of the victim, not strangers in the bushes on “rape hill”. So, literally, no one will screw you longer, deeper and harder than your own people.
Looking back some 20 years ago now, I don’t think Yitzhak Rabin, decorated IDF veteran, son of the soil, a man who’d spent more than a third of his entire life as a soldier, woke up that morning in 1995 — or any other morning — and thought: “some punk kid who owes his very existence and nationality to me, who’s been alive fewer years than I was in fatigues, is going to pop a cap in my a$$ today”; I don’t imagine that that thought had ever occurred to him; I don’t imagine he ever thought random domestic wingnuts were an imminent and credible threat to his life. Or perhaps he did 1, but it felt pretty out-of-left-fieldy to me.
Japanese people don’t hate you. You just live in Japan, and there are jerks (even in Japan; Japanese industry hasn’t figured out how to quality control them…yet 😀 ). And statistically, probabilistically, because of reason (1) up there, almost all the jerks you meet are gonna be Japanese. But for reasons (3), (4) and (5), you won’t let it slide. 2
Now, I hear you going: “Khatz, you’re just pulling off mental acrobatics to get us to hide from the truth”. And I know it can seem that way. But I’m not.
Firstly, it actually takes a great deal of effort to permanently blanket-hate a group of people (it can be quite easy to start, but maintenance is killer ); if nothing else, you’re forced to suppress and ignore all conflicting evidence; you have to forget and ignore all the good while remembering only the bad; it wears your mind and body down; hate, like language proficiency and talking plants in Rick Moranis movies, has to be fed to stay alive and healthy. So you don’t need my help there.
Secondly, what I’m actually doing is pulling out surprising statistics to get you to see the truth behind the assumptions and stereotypes. There are definitely exceptions and counterexamples: Leopold of Belgium was able to royally screw over much of Central Africa without ever visiting there. Remote jacka$$ery, if you will.
Then again, you could take it up another level of abstraction and come full circle: humans make a big deal about other animals (or extraterrestrials or even ghosts(!)) killing us, but it’s living humans that hate and harm fellow humans the most: “homo homini lupus”, as the Romans 3 said. Man is a wolf unto man. We are the big bad wolf. We are our only true predator.
Like, literally. At every scale. From cosmic to microscopic. It’s self-similar. Like a fractal.
Observe. Some 30,000 Japanese die by their own hand (suicide) every year. Similarly (but much more indirectly), the products of our own metabolism inside our own cells end up causing aging and eventually death for us. 4 Carl Sagan would say that we’re just temporary accumulations of stardust annihilating other temporary accumulations of stardust.
2002 was a terrible year to be a female child in America, with a spate of kidnappings that would not let up, of which Elizabeth Smart was but one datapoint…if you watched the news, that is. In real life, 2002 was a down year for child kidnappings. Not only that, but most child kidnappers are…known to the victim — family, in fact. Blood relatives. Divorced parents and the like. No one will screw you longer, deeper and harder than your own people. And you don’t even know. You turn a blind eye to that because you seem them as individuals. The Smart case was an outlier, an aberration, an exception not an illustration.
We are far more wary and judgmental of biological and sociological outsiders than is statistically fair. Every kid gets the “stranger danger” talk. No kid gets the “watch out for us when we’re drunk: we will eff you up” talk. Not from their parents. Tsk tsk, African immigrants in South Africa got beaten up and killed in a dirty, rough neighborhood and it’s on the news? Dewd, native South Africans in dirty, rough neighborhoods get beaten up and killed by their fellow countrymen all the time and it gets jack-all coverage because, well, nobody cares about kids from dirty, rough neighborhoods. 5