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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Will of the Gardener (p. 589)

From chapter "Holocausts"

So far as destruction of the natural world, Hitler’s vegetarianism and pseudo-paganism have long been used as fodder for ad hominemattacks on animal rights activists and environmentalists: if Hitler was a vegetarian, the slur goes, then all vegetarians must somehow be Nazis. Well, chainsaws were developed under the Nazi regime, but I don’t see anyone conflating Hitler with Weyerhaeuser (although, now that I think about it, they areboth German). Hitler had no more connection to wild nature than any other civilized human being. The fundamental metaphor of National Socialism as it related to the world around it was the garden, not the wild forest. One of the most important Nazi ideologists, R. W. Darré, made clear the relationship between gardening and genocide: “He who leaves the plants in a garden to themselves will soon find to his surprise that the garden is overgrown by weeds and that even the basic character of the plants has changed. If therefore the garden is to remain the breeding ground for the plants, if, in other words, it is to lift itself above the harsh rule of natural forces, then the forming will of a gardener is necessary, a gardener who, by providing suitable conditions for growing, or by keeping harmful influences away, or by both together, carefully tends what needs tending, and ruthlessly eliminates the weeds which would deprive the better plants of nutrition, air, light, and sun. . . . Thus we are facing the realization that questions of breeding are not trivial for political thought, but that they have to be at the center of all considerations, and that their answers must follow from the spiritual, from the ideological attitude of a people. We must even assert that a people can only reach spiritual and moral equilibrium if a well-conceived breeding plan stands at the very centerof its culture.”

We still believe in the metaphor of the garden. There are useful species, off of which we can turn a buck, and, there are species in the way. Likewise, there are useful people—those who are instrumental, productive—and, there are those who clutter up land we could otherwise use. Now, though, the metaphor and reality of the garden has moved to its next stage, coinciding with the movement of our society. No longer do we as a whole weed by hand, which is far too inefficient. Now we have massive monocultural fields of plants genetically altered for resistance to Monsanto’s RoundupTMherbicide. The reasoning has progressed, the control has gotten tighter, the act of killing more abstract, the diversity diminished.

It is significant that oftentimes when Europeans searched for Indian gardens to destroy, they could not readily tell what was garden and what was forest (not that, ultimately, this stopped the Europeans, as, in time, they destroyed them both). To not see the world in strictly utilitarian terms is not to cease having preferences. It is merely to see that—and sometimes how—things (or, rather, beings) fit together, how they move in short and long patterns of rhythm and consequence. And it is to attempt to fit oneself into those patterns, taking care to not upset the sometimes delicate balance that must remain between those one considers friends and those one considers honored enemies. Hitler did not understand this, and, for the most part, neither do we.

But there is a difference between Hitler and us. Hitler did not have the capacity to irradiate the planet, nor to poison it (organochloride pesticides and herbicides came into common usage after World War II (and in fact were in many ways by-products of the gas warfare programs of World War I): prior to that, everyfarm was organic). He didn’t have the capacity to change the planet’s climate. He did not have at his disposal a standing army designed to fight two major wars in disparate parts of the globe at the same time. The Wehrmacht couldn’t even handle two fronts. The economy had not become so integrated, so rationalized—in other words, it had not lost so much of its diversity—as to be under the control of so few people who could kill millions of human beings—hell, who could kill the whole planet—by the merest extension of economic pressure.

In his analysis of the social effects of information technologies, Joseph Weizenbaum wrote, “Germany implemented the ‘final solution’ of its ‘Jewish Problem’ as a textbook exercise in instrumental reasoning. Humanity briefly shuddered when it could no longer avert its gaze from what had happened, when the photographs taken by the killers themselves began to circulate, and when the pitiful survivors re-emerged into the light. But in the end it made no difference. The same logic, the same cold and ruthless application of calculating reason, slaughtered at least as many people during the next twenty years as had fallen victim to the technicians of the thousand-year Reich. We have learned nothing.”