I’m very sad to even talk about this subject. I hang my head in misery contemplating writing out a response to something that should be blatantly obvious. It would not be so bad, except that the story is so gruesome and grim, it makes the stakes incredibly high.
If I was discussing lunar landing deniers, I would relish the opportunity to do the research, and come to a conclusion independently. However, the topic today is Holocaust deniers.
There are thee approaches to dealing with deniers. Wikipedia says it best:
Scholarly response to Holocaust denial can be roughly divided into three categories: Some academics refuse to engage Holocaust deniers or their arguments at all, on grounds that doing so lends them unwarranted legitimacy. A second group of scholars, typified by the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, have tried to raise awareness of the methods and motivations of Holocaust denial without legitimizing the deniers themselves. “We need not waste time or effort answering the deniers’ contentions,” Lipstadt wrote. “It would be never-ending…. Their commitment is to an ideology and their ‘findings’ are shaped to support it.”A third group, typified by the Nizkor Project, responds to arguments and claims made by Holocaust denial groups by pointing out inaccuracies and errors in their evidence.
I would love to take the first approach. Unfortunately I cannot. As someone deeply committed to the quest for truth, I must investigate. No idea is above scrutiny.
I grew up Jewish and learned about the horrors of the Holocaust. In my high school years at an after school program, it was mentioned that people do exist that deny the Holocaust. Of course, their claims, arguments, and evidence were never mentioned, only that they were of course wrong. At the time, it didn’t even occur to me to doubt the Holocaust. Now I’m older and dumber…
I’ve now done the research myself; as I must. Even if I discount the testimony of survivors, I can’t discount the speeches of the the executive board officers. Even if I assume the living conditions of Auschwitz were humane as the deniers would claim, I can’t deny the testimony of the Germans who operated the gas chambers and handled the Zyklon-B. The more I learn, the harder it is to justify denying it. Eventually I have to outright disregard evidence because it doesn’t support the claim, or lie about reality (Time Traveling Lizard People One-World-Government stuff).
This was a painful experience. Painful, but necessary. I felt a continuous struggle, like I was swimming upstream. I had to force myself to consider the view of the other person. This open-mindedness was a serious burden for me.
In the wonderful, enlightening book HPMOR. Harry actually befriends Draco. Draco, of all people! Draco is still a racist (he hates “Mud-Bloods”). In the regular Harry Potter series, Draco spends 7 years hating Mud-Bloods simply because his dad taught him to, and he never took the time or effort, or had any incentive to reconsider. This is the natural state of man: semi-rational. In HPMOR, Harry cleverly maneuvers alliances so that Draco and Hermione (a “mud-blood”) have to work together. Draco is then forced to reconsider or break alliances. I won’t spoil it by telling you which one he chooses, but what a world of difference! The main key to getting Draco to open his mind, is that Harry had to open his. He had to consider if Draco was right to hate Mud-Bloods. He had to allow for the possibility that he might be wrong. Namely, he had to doubt.
Now, I can’t do all of this independent research for every single subject. It would be impractical. There is a comical, probably fictional, anecdote about Pyrrho, the original skeptic. The anecdote recounts how Pyrrho bumbles around town, Mr. Magoo style, nearly falling off cliffs and pissing off large animals because he doubts their ability to do him harm. This could just be a cautionary tale, which I assume it is. At some point, for somethings, you have to decide that it’s worth taking someone’s word for it.
Now, all of this being said, the last thing I want is making denials of the holocaust illegal. That would prevent me from doing my independent research! Gah! You’re shooting me in the foot! It’s dangerous to not doubt your beliefs!
All in all, I’m glad I did this exercise. I applied the methods of rationality, and I feel intellectually stronger because of it.
What have you doubted recently?