Sunday, April 29, 2018

Yes, there was a Holocaust

Some months ago, I was targeted by some Nazi trolls. Their pitch to me was that (a) Amazon's dropping of some pro-Nazi titles constituted censorship and ALA should do something about it, and (b) if I would just read some key Holocaust denial works (thoughtfully appended), I would agree with them.

Of course, Amazon isn't a library. It isn't even a public entity. As a private company, it doesn't have to carry products it doesn't want to, or that it fears would offend the majority of its customers. So it didn't really fall in ALA's wheelhouse.

You just have to wonder, though: why would anyone want to stand up for one of the most compelling instances of evil in history? One clue could be found in the ludicrous "fact-finding" of one of their "researchers." A woman called us, demanding to know my "ethnic background." She complained about "disgusting" images of people with dreadlocks on the ALA website. She wanted to know if librarians had something against people with pure, Norse lineages? This same woman was later banned on Twitter for hate speech. In other words, the motives were a fairly transparent racism.

But I found myself thinking afterward about just what I am obliged to do when challenged by someone making wild claims. Clearly, not all beliefs, just because they are widely held, are true. Sometimes historical revision is justified. For instance, the genocide of Native Americans by white settlers was covered up for far too long.

Yet there are some truly looney opinions out there. There are still people who believe, or profess to believe, that the world is flat. Often, the wilder the beliefs, the more likely the believer is to suffer from logorrhea: an inability to stop writing and writing and writing.

So on the one hand, when somebody challenges a library book, the first thing I ask is "have you read the whole thing?" If not, they lose credibility. You can't judge a book by one or two random passages, although lots of people try.

On the other hand, isn't it hypocritical for me to reject the works on Holocaust denial if I won't even explore their literature?

After long thought, I have decided that the answer is "No." Why? First, if I were to spend all my time reading the ravings of madmen, I would never have time for anything else. Second, it isn't necessary. In just an hour or so, I can usually identify and test the claims of extravagant positions.

So let's say you're encountering Holocaust denial for the first time. What are they saying? The three pillars seem to be these:

  • Hitler didn't call for genocide
  • There were no gas chambers
  • "Only" a million or so Jews died

With just a little Googling, you can find the raw footage of Hitler calling for the extermination of the Jews. You can find ample evidence of the existence of gas chambers. Through several demographic methods, it's clear that more than 6 million Jews were deliberately exterminated - and not "just" victims of typhus in concentration camps.

So the claims of Holocaust deniers are false. You don't have to wade through thousands of websites and spurious documents. The Wikipedia or Snopes articles list the source material, and often the refutation has been around for decades. There not only isn't extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims, there isn't any proof at all, just laziness and lies.

The odd thing to me is that disproving the claims doesn't seem to stop people from repeating them. And that's the best reason I can cite not to spend much time with Holocaust deniers. They are impervious to the evidence. The arguments don't go anywhere.

So that's my thinking. Sometimes, intellectual open-mindedness means you have to be willing to seriously investigate a surprising opinion. But intellectual integrity does not require you to be held hostage to years of crackpot literature (unless you enjoy that sort of thing). Instead, identify the premises, check out the evidence for them, make up your own mind, and don't get caught up in endless, repetitive recitals of the obvious to people who have chosen an invincible ignorance. - Welcome

In November of 2018, I left my position at ALA in Chicago to return to my Colorado-based writing, speaking, and consulting career. So I'...