Monday, December 12, 2011

Part of the 99%? Don't be quick to say so ...

"There is nothing more terrifying than ignorance in action."

- Johann Goethe

Admittedly, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) generated some sympathy because of their sustained effort and determination. And do I believe the top 1% of earners should pay more in taxes? Absolutely. But, the entire OWS movement could be progressing to a problem beyond levels of current protest.

The bulk of Americans worry about problems such as mortgages, job security, providing for a family, etc. Perhaps that reason alone is enough to identify with OWS and it's protestors. These protestors, however, now border on a dangerous direction with their movement. The claim "We are the 99%!" has gained traction in the nation and seems to actually move America into precisely the state of class warfare the Republican party has railed against. While I support OWS and taxing the wealthiest earners, my fear is now the '99%' will transform into a mob that will blame the remaining 1% for all their problems. Sounds impossible, right?

Human history, if nothing else, teaches us not to underestimate the lengths people will go to with respect to scapegoating the '1%'. Before I move into the comparison I'm about to make, I apologize in advance (mainly because the group comparison is drastically overused).

In the 1920s, a little known political party rose to power in Germany and dominated its destiny for the better part of two decades. You need not be an expert in history to know I'm referring to the Nazi party. Part of their appeal to the masses? You guessed it: "We are the 99%!"

Are you sure you want to be part of this?
Most people (outside Iran, anyway) know the crimes of the Nazis, but one fact escapes the public. Prior to Nazi control of Germany, Jews represented 0.007% of the population. They were the '1%'. Part of the broad appeal of the Nazis was convincing mainstream Germans that Jews were somehow to blame for the worldwide depression, the poor conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, and the overall decadent social condition of the nation. Jewish economic success during the interim between the two world wars helped make the task of the Nazis relatively easy.

Creating a scapegoat for the nation involved persecuting a tiny fraction of the public. Percentages suggest that a German living in 1932 probably did not even encounter a Jew in everyday life unless they lived in an urban area.

Perhaps critics would suggest our culture and society would never stoop to the level of bottom feeders like the Nazis. If this is the case, you're in good company, because most Germans never believed they would stoop to the level of the Nazis either. Many Germans of the 1920s believed much of what Hitler and the Nazis espoused was rhetoric, meant only to garner votes.

After all, Germany had a history of culture. Germans excelled in art, music, literature, psychology, physics, film and architecture. Berlin could have easily been considered one of Europe's most sophisticated cities.

Also, history demonstrates Germany society did not change overnight. For example, the first concentration camp did not open until 1933 and when it did, the captives consisted of mostly political prisoners. In fact, physical violence was not instituted on a large scale until Kristallnacht in 1938 -- six years after Hitler became chancellor of Germany.

If you don't believe America could fall victim to the same problems of Germany, you might be too late. Care to examine a uncomfortable aspect of our culture? Can you guess the percentage of Muslims out of the American population? According to most figures, including the CIA Factbook, Muslims account for 0.6% of the population.

Perhaps we do have a history of discriminating against the 1%.  Moreover, during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt saw fit to have Japanese Americans rounded up and placed into camps. 

I'm not of the belief that the United States will fall into great peril over the OWS movement, but I did want to point out the dangers of blaming a small minority of the population and our society's capabilites.  Marinate on that for a while.

Are you certain you are all right with being part of the 99%? You could find yourself in poor company.

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