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Mass atrocity requires three things: that violence be authorized by a legitimate authority, that the violent actions be routinized, and that the victims be dehumanized. Bauman recounts the experiments of Stanley Milgram in support of his argument. I add that, after weeks of chanting "Kill, kill, kill" over and over, and of hearing the "enemy" described as "dinks", "slopes", "gooks", "japs", "women", "niggers" and "injuns", I was able to sit through a lecture on the "law of war" in which my medic class was instructed that one of our jobs would be to execute wounded prisoners. Yes, that's illegal, immoral, and something terrorists do. Military training works. (If you respond that "war is hell" and that such things are normal, think of the fuss we put up about how our prisoners are treated.)
Military training works because normal socialization prepares us for it. Society, Bauman writes, silences morality. Rather than supporting our innate morality, society replaces it, teaching us what is good and what is bad, who is good and who is bad. It divides the world into the "moral universe", relatively small, and the universe in which we are encouraged to to act with amoral abandon. Take, for instance, the example of "family values". The moral universe cannot shrink much further. Yes, we should obey the law, if practicable, but only until we change it to allow us to do what we want. We certainly aren't responsible for anyone outside the family. Family values? Christ pointed out that even the heathen support that.
The answer to the social design and engineering which created the Holocaust is, Bauman suggests, unconditional responsibility. We, each of us as a moral agent, are responsible for and to everyone regardless of whether we believe them to be good or evil. We and they are human. It's a tough sell, but Bauman's argument that the alternative led to the Holocaust and will lead to more similar atrocities is convincing.
Bauman makes his arguments without jargon, with style and passion. This is a most important and compelling book. If you're going to read only one book this year, make it this one.
In this stunning, bold, and original work, Professor Bauman challenges this conventional wisdom. The Holocaust is not the story of European civilization gone awry; rather it embodies the most salient principles of modernity itself. It was "horrifyingly normal."
The logic of self-interest, rational management, modern bureaucratic order, technological efficiency, the relegation of values to the realm of subjectivity, science as intrinsically instrumental and value-free: such are the values comprising the shared vision of western civilization set in motion during the Enlightenment. And Bauman identifies the sum of these values as the necessary (but not sufficient) cause of the Holocaust. The SS exploited the logic of rational self-interest by making the cooperation of prisoners a condition for self-preservation. Death camps utilized the applied technology of mass production and transportation. The Third Reich was the picture of modern bureaucratic efficiency. All of this was done by highly trained engineers, technicians and doctors within an ethical framework consistent with modernity's moral relativism. And each of these conditions is still present today. This is a sobering, thought-provoking study of the Holocaust and its haunting resonance with the values of modern thought.
Although Bauman borrows researches and theories from others and his own former works to discuss this issue, he shows his originality by linking up the classical debate of community with his analysis of (post)modernity and the current social condition. He convincingly argues that modernization does not only dissolve all kinds of traditional communities, but also attempts to re-integrate all people into a wide variety of rational systems, such as industrial organization, school, urban society, etc.. The experience of modernity is a great transformation as well as a "great engagement". However, the failure of this modernity project leads to further intensification of the dilemma of security and freedom. The contemporary ghettoization, the massive obsession with local communities is a symptom or an aftereffect of this failure.
For Bauman, a "ghetto" is not a "community" at all; instead, it signifies the impossibility of community, i.e. another example of the failure of modernity project. It is evident that his analysis of contemporary community echoes his former discussions on postmodernity.
Bauman, although criticizes severely the notion of "multiculturalism" and communitarianism, he encourages us to have a new reflection upon community and hold the faith in cross-cultural dialogues. Readers might feel disappointed by the lack of a clear solution but Bauman still provides some directions for us to go beyond the current predicament.
Bauman gives an account of how modernity's emphaisis on the individual has resulted in the destruction of these norms all in the name of giving freedom and self-determination to the individual. However this freedom and self-determination is in many ways illusional. Society may have restricted an individual but in many ways it enabled the indiviual by supplying the support and infrastrcture for them to live their lives. Now indviduals are are on their own. They must construct themselves from the beginning without support and as Bauman points out they must not only construct themseleves they must construct the measures that allow them to assess the meaning and success of their lives. They are bound by their own freedom.
Bauman shows how the loss of interdependency is enabled by technologies that are not dependent on proximity. Long lasting relationships and societies are built by people who have to find ways to live together and face the exigencies of their physical and ecomomic environments. Woth modern technolgy the dependence on territory is diminished and the technologially and economically enabled can simply move from one opportunity to another and are not tied to the economic fortunes of any one partcular territory. Those tied to a territory are fated to experience booms and busts with no long lasting support from society.
The result of this according to Bauman is a society of individuals who are tied only to themselves and only to the present. They construct not cathedrals to the glory fo their society but talk shows which give them comfort by showing others lost in the problems of their indviduality. Humanity has given up Notre Dame to find comfort in Jerry Springer.
Bauman produces real insights in this book that explain many aspects of modern society. However his views tend to the extereme. Even the technological elite that he describes moving from one territitory to another are in reality bound both territorialy and socially. Knoweledge is created socially and the diffusion of knowledge relies on social conventions and proxmity. Bauman's views do not account for this dimension of tacit knowedge and social norms.
In this new book Bauman addresses the shifts in some of the large social concepts which effect human identity and our relationships with one another: emancipation, individuality, time/space, work and community. Bauman makes sense for me of the way the world is speeding up for some people whilst others are becoming immobilised: of what on the one hand seems to be "progress" and on the other seems to "annihilation of human care. He is very clear about the problematic of this, among other things, and often gives hopeful hints about ways to proceed.
This book is not a light read, thank goodness - but a thorough analysis of what at times seems so bewildering.
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These are not easy issues to address, but Bauman does a pretty good job in bringing it into language that most people will be able to understand, while not watering down the thoughts of postmodern ethicists such as E. Levinas, whose work Bauman admires. Since Levinas is so difficult to read and understand, I think that this book can serve as a useful introduction to his thought, the conditions surrounding it, and the thought of other such thinkers.
Bauman's work is of course informed by his own work and thinking on these subjects, and readers should also look to his book "Liquid Modernity" in which he presents his views. I only give this book 4 stars, however, because it remains difficult reading - it could have been slightly more well written.
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This book was completely difficult to understand and was much like swallowing a big pill. Every other word was long and could have been easily replaced with a smaller word to create a more fluent understanding of his thought processes.
The author uses a lot of references that one cannot understand simply from the print of his book, but necessitates a run to the Internet for understanding. I sat next to my computer the entire time I read this book to get through it. It was completely nonsensical work which needed much revision. It could have been a great book, if the author realized that everyone who reads his book would not have a complete grasp on the whole idea of globalization. I can not lay all the blame on the author, as the editor, and publisher should have done that themselves.
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