Re: Henson on the Nazi meme

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Sun 27 Mar 2005 - 13:52:37 GMT

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    Keith Henson wrote:
    > The paragraph below where you quoted has a more definite example of the
    > Nazi meme spreading in more recent setting though it did not result in
    > gunfire.
    > "A fascinating footnote to the horrors of the German experience with
    > Nazism happened in 1969 when Ron Jones, a teacher in Palo Alto, exposed
    > a high school history class to an intensive, five-day experience with
    > the ideas that made up the Nazi meme. The experience of that week was
    > originally published as "Take as Directed" in the CoEvolution Quarterly
    > (CQ #9, p.152), and a few years ago was made into a TV movie, The Wave.
    > Over four days, Jones introduced and drilled his students in concepts of
    > Strength through Discipline, Community, Action, and Pride. (The fifth
    > day was devoted to showing them how easily they had started to slip into
    > the abyss.) The enthusiasm which most of the class adopted the memes and
    > spread them to their friends, swelling a 40 student class to 200 in five
    > days, made it one of the most frightening events the teacher had ever
    > experienced. Given the track record of the Nazi meme, the mini-social
    > movement his experiment set off is no more surprising in retrospect than
    > the medical effects would have been if the teacher had sprayed smallpox
    > virus on the class."
    > If you want to read Ron Jones' excellent story:
    > Keith Henson

    This story is certainly fascinating - and terrifying, if true, in its depiction of how swift and thorough the students' indoctrination was.

    I'm left wondering what it can tell us about the sort of environment in which memes best spread - and in this instance this seems to mean that they spread without being questioned. The key appears to be that the situation was set up in such a way that the vast majority of the students got so much out of it that they just didn't think of/want to question what was going on.

    As someone with a particular interest in, and experience with, gifted children, I was especially interested in the brief aside about the three brightest students who were left at a learning disadvantage in that environment.

    When I taught 13/14 year-olds about the Holocaust, I was strongly influenced by reading Primo Levi and used to try to present it in terms that they could relate to - a sort of slippery slope from bullying, standing by while someone's bullied, thinking oneself superior and one of the elite, etc. But clearly there is so much more to it than this.

    A lot to digest . . .


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