Most mob members don’t want to look too closely at the details

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Robin Hanson recently watched Downfall on Bryan Caplan’s recommendation and found its depiction of Hitler and the Nazis too cartoonishly evil to take seriously:

So much so that I wonder about its realism, though the sources I’ve found all seem to praise its realism. Thus I was quite surprised to hear that critics complained the movie didn’t portray its subjects as evil enough!


The conclusion I have to draw here is that no remotely realistic depiction of real bad people would satisfy these critics. Most people insist on having cartoonish mental images of their exemplars of evil, images that would be contradicted by any remotely realistic depiction of the details their actual lives. I’d guess this is also a problem on the opposite end of the spectrum; any remotely realistic depiction of the details of the life of someone that people consider saintly, like Jesus Christ or Martin Luther King, would be seen by many as a disrespectful takedown.

This is probably the result of a signaling game wherein people strive to show how moral they are by thinking even more highly of standard exemplars of good and even more lowly of standard exemplars of bad, compared to ordinary people. This helps me to understand self-righteous internet mobs a bit better; once a target has been labeled evil, most mob members probably don’t want to look too close at that target’s details, for fear that such details would make him or her seem more realistic, and thus less evil. Once we get on our self-righteous high horse, we prefer to look up to our ideals in the sky, and not down at the complex details on the ground.

He adds this addendum:

This attitude of course isn’t optimal for detecting and responding to real evil in the world. But we care more about showing off just how outraged we are at evil than we care about effective response to it.


  1. Sorcery God says:

    Interestingly, the Nazis themselves felt they were sometimes getting too soft.

    As the killing units of the SS roamed Europe, they were urged to “cover up their true feelings” and “not feel sorry for the vermin.”

    Hitler was probably not particularly sympathetic to the Jews, though. His lifetime experiences had molded him to hate them, giving him an iron opinion and freezing him in place.

    That’s all I have to write for now.

    Why not come to my website and add your comments to the mix? This is a permanent invitation. I’m at:

    See you there.

  2. Kirk says:

    Uhmmm… Yeah.

    See, here’s the basic problem with that whole thesis; the Nazis really were “cartoonishly evil”.

    I mean, seriously… Industrial-scale mass-murder, with them keeping meticulous records and harvesting the hair, gold teeth, and personal possessions from the victims…?

    The whole regime, with its bizarre obsessions with things like the occult? Has this guy seen Wewelsburg Castle? Familiarized himself with the whole SS cult?

    Seriously… The Nazis really were “cartoonishly evil”, because that’s the sort of people they were: Powerful children living out their fantasies. You want real evil, you need to go looking at Stalin or Pol Pot. Hitler and his crew were a sad joke, as far as their “reality”. You examine the history of the whole Nazi movement, and after a bit, you come to the conclusion that the whole thing reads as if it were conceived and planned in a fifth-grader’s notebook, complete with elaborate drawings of fantastic machinery and monumental architecture.

    Seriously… The whole thing can’t be described as anything other than “cartoonishly evil”, because that’s the kind of evil it was–The sort that some depraved schoolboy would come up with.

    Actual, real-world, capital-E Evil, though? You want the prosaic sort of workaday world-conquering that the Mongols got up to, under Ghengis. Samarkhand? “Oh, the locals have hidden all their valuables by swallowing them… Well, shucky-darn… Go ahead and start gutting them and cleaning out their intestinal tracts…”.

    That’s Grade-A Evil. The most the Nazis managed was an Economy-Grade Fantastic Evil, one doomed to failure on nearly every front. Had Hitler and his boys been truly “Eeeeevul”, we’d all be speaking German, today. Much like most of Central Asia and a lot of China wound up turned into a paradise for nomadic herders under Ghengis…

  3. Phil B says:

    Two points:

    Really evil people don’t appear to be evil. Think about confidence tricksters, mass murderers and others. If they had horns growing out of their heads, red faces, a forked tail and smelled of sulphur, then OK, we could identify them and they wouldn’t be able to carry out their activities. But they don’t. They appear plausible, friendly and likeable. Not a good way to sell a film about how evil they are. They need to be a caricature to sell the film or story. So trying to portray them realistically doesn’t “work” for a film which needs to summarise the whole story in 1 1/2 hours.

    Secondly, trying to over egg the pudding likewise doesn’t work. The German series Das Boot was originally proposed to be made in America/Hollywood but the producers wanted to insert SS soldiers on the U Boat and have them machine gunning survivors of a sunken ship in their life boats.

    The fact that the Waffen SS was “Army” and trained for land based warfare, had nothing to do with the Navy and were a self contained branch of the services didn’t phase the Hollywood types. They had to have MOAR evil than the book and reality would provide. Just to show how evil the Nazis were …

    Hannah Arendt wrote a book about Adolf Eichmann called The banality of Evil. And evil in its every day existence is, in many ways, banal. Hitler did, in fact wear comfortable slippers, enjoyed a cup of cocoa and probably bought tacky souvenirs when he went on holiday. This is hardly the drooling, cackling and insane image that people expect to see when he’s portrayed in film.

    So I can see how people were disappointed in the film for various reasons.

    I must admit my exposure to Downfall has been via the Hitler rant parodies but from what I have seen, it corresponds with what I know about his last days and his increasing detachment from reality.

  4. Wan Wei Lin says:

    Read Martin Van Creveld’s Hitler in Hell. A fictional ‘autobiograpghy’ composed of Mein Kampf and numerous sources. It’s so well synthesized I could hardly tell the difference between Mein Kampf and the ‘autobiography’ in style and perspective.

  5. Wan Wei Lin says:

    The scary part of reading Mein Kampf is I found myself agreeable to certain observations made by Hitler. At those moments I understood how he was able to steer the whole of Germany.

  6. Kirk says:

    The thing about nutters, whether you’re talking about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, William Ayers, or Bernie Sanders…? A lot of the time, what they’re saying and doing that makes sense is just window-dressing, to lure in the rubes.

    If you want an interesting exercise in how all this works, find yourself a Balkan Communist, a true believer, like Slavoj Zizek. Listen to them, and observe the technique, the patter with which they perform their intellectual seduction of you. Note how they start with something unequivocal, that makes sense, and then slowly shift over to the delusional and insane, ever so slowly, much like an intellectual version of “slowly, slowly, catchee monkey…”. When it’s all over, and you’re walking away nine-tenths convinced they’re on to some fundamental truth of human existence, you’ll suddenly find yourself going “But… What about…” when you’re going to the fridge for a beer.

    It’s all an intellectual construct, a con, a swindle. Hitler was able to parlay his complete misapprehension for how the world works, in terms of economics and trade, into a fairly credible hold on his followers–None of whom, you will note, cottoned on to the essential unreality of what he was saying and doing. Germany slept-walked into WWII, under the guidance of Hitler and his fellow travelers, never noticing that the economic policies they were following were not working, nor were they doing anything other than to place Germany in a position where she had no choice but to go to war, and gamble on victory.

    The technique by which this came about worked precisely because so much of what Hitler and his minions said made sense; and, it got results. For awhile. The bills came due, and after they ran out of Jews to rip off, they had to do something–And, that something was go to war and rape the rest of Europe economically.

    It’s notable that even with all of Europe at Hitler’s feet, the theoretical economic benefits of unification didn’t occur–Just as they’re not occurring right now, under the EU. And, again, it’s because the fundamentals just don’t make real sense. Sure, they look reasonable on the surface, but the reality is that you’re not going to be able to yoke the economies of Greece and Italy to the Germanic dynamo, and get anything other than trouble. Give it a generation or two, and see what happens when the people of those countries realize they’ve become economic vassals of the German state, and that their autonomy is gone. The longer that state of affairs exists, the bigger the bang is going to be when the whole mess finally implodes at some later date.

  7. T. Greer says:

    You can’t take a trip to the loo without Robin Hanson describing your crap as some sort of signaling device. If there is a more tiresome author, I have not found him.

  8. T. Greer says:

    Incidentally, he gets the argument backwards. The reason why people want evil characters like Hitler to be portrayed as supremely evil is that they worry that a sympathetic portrayal is a tempting portrayal. This is an instinctive wariness — the danger of becoming what we sympathize with.

    Not that Hanson would ever understand normal human emotions in any case. It is beyond his ken.

  9. Sam J. says:

    “…It’s all an intellectual construct, a con, a swindle. Hitler was able to parlay his complete misapprehension for how the world works, in terms of economics and trade, into a fairly credible hold on his followers…”

    This is untrue. What Hitler did worked. While farmers were hanging themselves in their barns in the US, Germans were going on paid vacations.

    The present economy of the Japanese and increasingly the Chinese are based on the Nazi economy and they are doing well. They have very little of the combination of massive wealth combined with grinding poverty in the Jew controlled west in Japan. Yes part of this is because they have less diversity, a tool to destroy Whites, but it is also structural.

    The Jews drove the German economy into the ground with hyperinflation and bankrupted the middle class such that they were prostituting their children to survive. When Hitler took away the ability for them to print money the economy stabilized. He passed laws to spread the wealth between the owners of business and labor. It worked. There’s no doubt about this.

    The Germans, and Hitlers, hatred of the Jews came from verifiable and reasonable reasons. The Jews worked to wreck the German economy during war time to force a Communist revolution. After Germany was prostrate they took over several provinces and proceed to murder people in great numbers to retain power and overthrow the rest of the government. The Germans knew exactly what was going on in Russia. Mass killings of the most grotesque sort and the Jews were in charge of this. Only a damn fool would want what happened in Russia to happen to you.

    If a hostile group moves into your country and helps you be defeated in a war, pours abuse on your history and heritage, takes up arms and starts shooting your officials and you know good and damn well they had done exactly the same in other countries with multi-millions loss of lives then the only sensible thing to do is to suppress them as soon as possible. The Jews were lucky the Germans were such decent people or they would have slaughtered the Jews down to the last Man, Women and Child. If the shoe was on the other foot and it was the Jews in charge they would have killed everyone. The way the Palestinians are treated in the worlds largest open air concentration camp is instructive.

    The Jews are doing the exact same thing in the US that they did to the Germans. They control the banking system and have printed a vast, unbelievable amount of money that they funneled to their tribe. This they used to take over most all the profitable industry in the US and outsource manufacturing to China. Remember all the hostile takeovers in the 80′s, 90′s? As usual, they’ve been doing this for thousands of years, they cut in elites like that traitor Romney and others to loot the country.

    Hitler was screwed up and made mistakes but he was totally right about the Jews in everything he said. The Jews want him demonized so that the west will not wake up to what the Jews and our elites have done to us.

    It’s worth noting that the Jews publicly declared war in many major newspapers against Germany when Hitler took control of the economy for the Germans instead of letting the Jews run Germany in to the ground. The same demonization is evident towards Putin because he stopped the Jews looting Russia.

    If you look at the total effect on a country when a bunch of Jews move into it there’s no difference between Jews moving into your country and a tribe of psychopaths moving into your country. The end result is exactly equivalent. Eventually no one can stand the behavior of psychopaths and they are repelled.

  10. Kirk says:

    Your economic illiteracy is matched only by your Jew-delusions. Adam Tooze documented everything that the economic naifs running Germany under Hitler did, and why it didn’t work, as well as why they had to start the war when they did, after they ran out of Jewish businesses to loot.

    What the Nazis did in Germany during the ’30s is best understood as an organized crime “bust-out”, just like what the Bolivarian Socialists did under Chavez in Venezuela. Same crap would have happened in Germany, once the money ran out and the bills came due–Only difference is, Hitler had a competent army to call on, Chavez didn’t, and that whole “oil” thing supported Chavismo for a lot longer than the looted Jewish businesses did Hitler.

    I hear people like you blaming the Jew for everything, when the reality is that the real problem is in yourself and the people that you elevate to importance–The Germans bet big on Hitler, and where did that get them? Jew-hatred is a symptom of an infantile mind that can’t comprehend its own self-destructive pathologies, and seeks to blame “the other”. During the Black Death, the Germans blamed the Jews for surviving the plague, mostly due to their better hygienic practices of the time. Same-same with the conspiracy bullshit you spout–They’re simply smarter than you are, and working more effectively in the financial world they built around us–While your sort forgets entirely that the only reason that the Jew got to that position was because your idiot precursors banned them from doing anything else besides moneylending, and then periodically chose to vacate their debts via the occasional pogrom that just happened to leave your lot in control of the “Jewish money” they’d accumulated because your lot were too fucking stupid to run a modern economy.

    It’s an old story, and Hitler only modernized it and made it more efficient. He was still just as stupid as the old-school aristos were, who got themselves into hock with the Jews over the centuries, and in the end, wound up the same way his victims did–Dead and scorned.

  11. Sam J. says:

    “…Jew-hatred is a symptom of…”

    The attack on the USA by the Jews on 9-11. You go on frequently about how the Arabs caused 9-11 but anyone with the sense of a snail knows building 7 could not fall as if it were held up by only “air”. The building was demoed in some way and there’s no getting around it. It’s not possible for a few fires on 3 or 4 floors to level a building like that. The Jews fucked up. They own ALL of the major media in this country and they can see this just as easily as I can. That’s what made me hate the Jews. It’s also what spurred me on to study their long, long, long record of deprivations of every single country they’ve ever been to. Jews are hated because they act like a tribe of psychopaths and constantly attack everyone. We give them the same back???

    The Jews don’t want people to hate them? Stop being such psychopathic assholes. Stop blackmailing our legislature. Stop smuggling drugs. Stop trafficking women and children.

    People hate the Jews because many are evil and most Jews are always willing to overlook any such evil as long as it’s not done to the Jews. Everyone else…psychopaths, they don’t care.

    It’s amazing that the Jews can spend 24 hours a day attacking Whites, attempting to destroy western civ., on and on with the “Poz” but can’t take any criticism themselves. They’re always “the angels”. Please. Just about every single seriously bad trend in the US, and in any country they go to, is exacerbated, funded and promoted by the Jews.

    The Jews have been traditionally wealthy because they have relentlessly sided with the elites in every country then used monopolist financial and legislation rules combined with ZERO morals in the pursuit of money and power.

  12. Sam J. says:

    “Your economic illiteracy is matched only by your Jew-delusions…”

    Oh really. Then why are the Japanese and most Asian countries using the same strategy???? Are they all nitwits too?

    “…after they ran out of Jewish businesses to loot…”

    What silly assed nonsense. The Jews used MASSIVE issues of currency in Germany to destroy the Germans while buying up everything they could with debt. In the process they destroyed the whole entire economy. Now, and I’m NOT agreeing with you that the Germans stole all the Jews money, even if they did it’s hardly criminal to take back what was immorally taken from you in the first place. Typical Jewish thought, the Jews steal you blind then complain if you want back what they pilfered from you in the first place. Total psychopathy. Not concerned with anything but themselves and PROFIT!

    I repeat again, Jews have NO right to lecture anyone, anywhere, anytime on morality as they have none at all.

    9-11 was really stupid and it was a BIG tell that large amounts of Jews are psychopaths as no one else would ever think of doing such a stupid thing. The whole entire religion of the Jews is just one big psychopathic mantra. I mean really, everyone will be their slaves and everything on Earth with be their property??? If that’s not one big psychopathic tell I don’t know what is.

  13. Neovictorian says:

    Isegoria–your comment sections have certainly taken off from when I first started reading you.

    Anyway, regarding the original topic…I think Hanson is generalizing too much from a movie (that is not a documentary). That’s more the problem with Downfall than the basic human tendency to resist humanizing those they hate.

    Hollywood, and film makers all over the world, have never, ever been able to make something “based on a true story” without some “improvements” to the “true story.” Reality doesn’t look good enough on screen. and of course, even more than with a biography or novel a film has to compress everything into brief sequences with a “point.”

    Whenever I watch a movie now supposedly based on actual events I watch it as fiction and enjoy it as such. One can’t learn anything much from a movie or trust anything in it as fact. One must read for that.

  14. Graham says:

    Hmm. I’ve bashed off a lot of comments on other posts lately and then backed off while folks in the know commented about firearms and infantry tactics. This weekend I’ve clearly missed a lot of activity while being mostly AFK where not entirely non compos mentis for various reasons. It’s a weird era in my life.

    I am aiming to come back later this week but this one really struck me.

    Without too much detail, I think I agree with much that has passed here already, but this touches on something else for me.

    Lately the discourse on the war focuses entirely on “the Nazis” and “fighting the Nazis” without much sense that many peoples then imagined themselves also fighting “the Germans”.

    I don’t mean here to credit some sometimes accurate and sometimes tendentious 1940s stuff about how Nazi ideology was just Prussian militarism or innate Germanism or similar notions. We’ve hashed that out here before.

    I’m thinking more that many countries went to war not only to resist Nazism or fight for “freedom” but to fight Germany in the interests of or for preservation of their countries. Even Churchill, who had a very good, convincing, and deeply felt rhetorical line in freedom was both playing to his American audience and, for his British audience, meaning some very specifically British and English things when he spoke.

    It’s tough to maintain a sense of the war’s complexities without remembering all that and more.

    In the last decade or so I have started to think the discourse on movies, comics and popular culture has spread into real life, with the worldview of Marvel Comics now everywhere.

    When Saving Private Ryan came out, I thought it, as one of the first WW2 movies to be made in nearly a generation, was among other things a transition to a more personal, emotional, sentimental, and, forgive me, American take on events. Or, at least sentimental in a more American, individualistic way. British and even previously American movies had had other fish to fry, and not always in the same way. Of note, one of the more sentimental “British” movies of even the wartime propaganda era was actually American, Mrs. Miniver. I can see the influence of both countries in it, at least.

    Anyway, not get down a rabbit hole. SPR was for me a very different kind of thing than had come before. Movies had glorified the war effort sometimes overdone terms during the war, been reflective after it, celebrated it in the 50s, been more cynical in the 60s and 70s reflecting Vietnam, but there was always something traditional about all of them. Everything from In Which We Serve to Battle of the River Plate and Sink the Bismarck and Battle of Britain to Patton and A Bridge Too Far to the war films of the Duke, all look to me like they came from the same set of cultures. SPR was the late 90s/21st century retooling to make a war movie after over a decade essentially without any, and now with the nostalgic perspective of the idea of the “Greatest Generation”, and focusing on that one private and the implication of Hanks’ character that saving him was the one good thing he could do.

    As much as the movies I named above reflected their own decades, and different senses of WW2, Spielberg’s point seemed from another world. A strange world in which on the one hand, one can see “The Nazis” replacing “the Germans” in toto, but they are mostly off the point and the personal story is really what matters.

    All that probably needs me working it out a little more, but I raise it here because now I see SPR as actually quite traditional. When compared to the age that produced Fury, let alone Inglorious Basterds, and which I am convinced will one day think of Hydra as real.

    By that standard, Downfall was positively retro, it could have been made in the 1970s. And that is not a negative comment from me.

    Without detracting from the evil of the Nazis, there is something in the sensibility of this time that needs it to be “cartoony”, as if to be frightened of recognizing something about humanity, or that the people of that time might have seen it all in the context of the many, many other things they had to fight for or over.

    I have seen countless war films of the postwar decades in which there are German characters not all portrayed as insane Red Skull clones. I didn’t actually think that this meant I was supposed to not be aware of the Holocaust. I was aware of it as a child. Pictures could easily be seen in books. It was in documentaries.

    I’m going to stop for the time being. I’m technically at work on a holiday so I should do some. But I wanted to get this down even in poorly sorted fashion. THere’s something in the way this time and culture handles almost everything that jars me. I can just see the threads that connect it to everything from what Kirk thinks about the future of our society in terms of individualism to what T Greer said about the Chinese and their anime obsession. But I can’t see those threads very clearly. It’s a very different idea of time and history using media to form its own usable past, I imagine. I just think the past my parents and even I knew is being written out on even a conceptual level.

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