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Badges? We Ain’t Got No Badges   Ordinary Essay   Rosemary Dunn Dalton: Introduction   WWJD?   The Case of the Missing Parenthesis   When in Rome

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Badges? We Ain’t Got No Badges

Twilight in the New Concentration Camp

by Melissa Lórien Michaels

Beginning in 1938 and continuing until its defeat in August 1945, the National Socialist Party forced the individuals imprisoned in its concentration camps to wear badges identifying their particular offenses. The authorities had designed a color-coded system of symbols to classify these people, whom—thanks to the highly effective habits of propagandists—enough Germans had been convinced were not human beings, but vermin, degenerates, terrorists, and, perhaps most reprehensible of all, intellectuals.

But you already know that story. You may even know the one I’m about to tell. Unlike the first story, this one is fiction.

In 1940, the Wehrmacht invaded Denmark. That part is true. The part coming up, the one we wish were true, is about how an entire people—and even, most surprisingly of all, its reigning monarch—courageously chose to ally itself with the meek, the defenseless, and the tyrannized. In the legend, when the Nazis issued a decree requiring all Danish Jews to wear yellow armbands to identify themselves, the Danes not only refused to comply, they exposed the preposterous nature of the very request itself. From the dairy farmer to the schoolteacher to King Christian X, the gentiles expressed their solidarity with the Jews by donning the armbands themselves. In one version of the tale, the people and their king marched to the synagogues on the Sabbath. Everywhere the Wehrmacht looked, people were wearing the yellow armband, until it grew impossible to tell who was the Jew, who was the gentile. Faced with the choice of arresting the entire population of Denmark or withdrawing their bogus edict, the Nazis chose the latter.1

It’s a nice story. So what if it isn’t true? It’s a hopeful example of how ostensibly powerless individuals—We the People—creatively resisted a cataclysmic force whose greatest power over the people was the illusion of its power, which, when pricked, proved itself to be as ersatz as its Austrian autocrat.

The New Model
As Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn discuss the new concentration camp in their prescient My Dinner with Andre , Andre quotes an eighty-four-year–old English tree expert he met at Findhorn:

I think that New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing that they’ve built—they’ve built their own prison—and so they exist in a state of schizophrenia where they are both guards and prisoners. And as a result they no longer have—having been lobotomized—the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made or even to see it as a prison.

A quarter of a century later, are we living in the extended version of that stark hypothesis?

Fear Is the Mind-Killer
As cult leaders know, people are most vulnerable to inculcation when suspended in a state of fear, terror, or dread.2 Whether calculated or coincidental, attacks on the Reichstag and the Pentagon served as propitious catalysts for seizing unprecedented powers.3 Those misfits who aren’t exported to the clandestine concentration camps of Guatanamo or Abu Ghraib for extraordinary rendition are subjected to the decrees of the societal ward. What was once the land of the free has become the land of the indentured, the suspicious, the self-censoring, and the belligerent.

Arbeit Macht Frei
Kept in a state of perpetual exhaustion, the bottom 90 percent are too weary from servitude to their corporate overseers to reflect on their irrational state of existence. Slavery may have been abolished on paper, but the demands for mass labor have only escalated, and those demands must continue to be satisfied. Present-day slaves are supplied by prisons, economically disadvantaged nations, and conventionally enforced rituals that condition people to proffer their own lives for the sake of their employers’ profit margin.

Bedtime for Amerikans
Comedian-seer Bill Hicks identified the third ingredient in the recipe for citizen control—distraction:

Go back to bed America, your government is in control again. Here, here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed America, here is American Gladiators, here is fifty-six channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their flippin’ skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go America—you are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!

Framing the Intelligentsia
Fear, exhaustion, and distraction (FED) are beloved weapons of the tyrant, but they would be ineffectual without ignorance. As early as 1963, Richard Hofstadter identified the emerging Anti-Intellectualism in American Life . The cultivation of this antagonism toward thinking and subsequently toward thinkers—tagged elitists by the actual elitists,4 whose fragile grasp on power depends on the masses’ oblivion and obeisance—served not only to divide the “regular joes” from the “ivory tower intellectuals,” but also to prevent the populace from becoming cognizant of their acculturation into a pathologically amoral system that prizes stock shares over human beings.5

Enemies of the State
Who are the oppressed of today? You will see they are not much different from the vilified of the Third Reich. To identify the contemporary scapegoat, ask yourself, “Who threatens hegemony?”

Loner LONER = Black inverted triangle

The irascible individualist (in corpspeak, “non–team-player”) who doesn’t automatically submit to the prevailing group. Anyone who prefers solitude to partying, creating to watching, questioning to following is perceived as a threat and therefore must undergo a cultural program of ostracization and obloquy.6

Intellectual INTELLECTUAL = Red inverted triangle

The dangerous contemplative (“intellectual elitist”) who reflects on the meaning behind the mechanisms. Discussion of causes, avenues of reconciliation, or the manipulation of events by the media is forestalled by red, orange, and yellow terror alerts.

Offender OFFENDER = Green inverted triangle

The brazen noncompliant (“druggie,” “radical,” “punk”) who declines to respect a set of arbitrary laws. Designed to entrap the ill, the desperate, and the impoverished, these laws help supply the global slave labor pool required to sustain megacorps.7

Foreigner FOREIGNER = Blue inverted triangle

The noticeably dissimilar (the ever-fluctuating Other) who looks or sounds enough like the currently defined bogeymen to threaten the indoctrinated. Contempt and fear of those associated with the perceived enemy intensify during times of conflict.

Vagrant VAGRANT = Brown inverted triangle

The shamefully or willfully dispossessed (“transient,” “undesirable,” “hippie”) who has either been ejected from or consciously rejected the grid. Unfit for corporate exploitation, these individuals are viewed as the “dregs of society” and a “drain on the system” by those who conflate morality with socioeconomic status.8

Heretic HERETIC = Purple inverted triangle

The ethical dissenter (“secularist” or Christian of conscience9) who questions the program of state-church inculcation contrived to foster obedience. Those who call attention to the countercultural words and deeds of Christianity’s namesake are tagged heretics by the right-aligned.10

Deviant DEVIANT = Pink inverted triangle

The sexually anomalous (“degenerates” and “reprobates”) who fail to supply progeny for the military-industrial juggernaut. Unapproved family configurations are targeted because they imperil the entrenched Strict Father model of the nuclear family.11

The Moral of the Stories
Seven decades after the National Socialists usurped the German government, we are watching the first story being retold, this time in a republic once purported to be a representative democracy. As for the story of the yellow armbands—the jetlagged reverie of a world too mortified by its past abominations to accept its complicity in their execution—we now have an opportunity to transform that myth into history.

We are poised at the twilight described by Justice William O. Douglas: “As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

One way to inoculate ourselves against intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance is to wear visible badges of the invisible biases propagated by a coercive regime. Rather than acquiescing to the sociopolitical onslaught against the most vulnerable in our communities, together as individuals we can voice our disquiet by appropriating the very symbols once used to oppress us. Whether this takes the form of verbally identifying yourself as a loner, siding with the “foreigner” in a conversation propelled by propaganda, or getting to know your local vagrant—each modest act becomes a daub of light on the canvas of encroaching darkness, until the chiaroscuro twilight transubstantiates into (could it be?) dawn.

1. While no such blatant act of heroism actually transpired, there was indeed a Danish resistance. Growing from 8 to 20,000 members, the resistance successfully transported 7,000 of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews to Sweden during World War II.

2. Learn more about such strategems in Douglas Rushkoff’s highly illuminating Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say. And then see how coercion and competition play out over the course of human history in The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution, by Andrew Bard Schmookler.

3. See Thom Hartmann’s “The Warnings of History: When Democracy Failed 2005” for an extensive comparison of the two administrations.

4. This is a common coercive tactic. Whether salesman, cult leader, or pundit, the magician-trickster disarms and gains the confidence of his victims by lamenting the very evils he is perpetrating behind their backs—or even in plain sight. Listen to the transgressions the present powered most fiercely decry, and you will hear a verbatim description of their own daily grievances.

5. Joel Bakan’s book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, and its accompanying documentary make a bloodcurdling case for the diagnosis of corporation as psychopath.

6. Read Anneli Rufus’s A Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto for a thank-God-somebody-finally-said-it treatise on the joys and traumas of lonerdom.

7. See Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country by Peter McWilliams, tragically martyred by the very absurdities he exposes in this book.

8. To learn more about this bizarre association of morality with wealth (via Adam Smith, Darwin, and Puritanism), see George Lakoff’s Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think or for a shorter treatment, Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.

9. To name a few: Wendell Berry, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Sister Helen Prejean, Denise Levertov, and U. A. Fanthorpe. Salient articles from this emerging constituency include John Dear’s “Pharisee Nation,” Walter Wink’s “Jesus & Alinsky,” Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s “A Voice from the Christian Left,” Gary Vance’s “Wasn’t Jesus a Liberal? (Part 1 and Part 2 ),” and Guy Reel’s “Woe to the Hypocrites,” all of which are available on

10. In Holocaust: A History, authors Debrah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt offer a fascinating analysis of how national leaders pervert Christianity to induce well-intentioned believers into executing genocidal pogroms.

11. Again, see Lakoff’s Moral Politics to understand the cognitive and behavioral differences between the Strict Father model, which emphasizes obedience to authority enforced through punishment, and the Nurturant Parent model, which teaches empathy and responsibility through open communication, mutual respect, and trust.

Segdab on Tog T’nia Ew Segdab?

Get back to where you once belonged. Reading is fundamental. Go forward. Move ahead.
Badges? We Ain’t Got No Badges   Ordinary Essay   Rosemary Dunn Dalton: Introduction   WWJD?   The Case of the Missing Parenthesis   When in Rome

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