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The Damned

This morning I read this tweet from Fairfax journo Ross Gittins:

My first thought was, a new kind of human being has emerged. One without empathy. This is why we don’t care anymore. Our species is devolving.

For someone who only yesterday re-watched Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, my first thought rather remarkably disregarded history. Visconti’s film charts the moral and physical decline of a wealthy German steel manufacturing family between 1933 and 1934, contiguous with the Nazi party’s rise to power. It is an unrelievedly dark work that plumbs the deeps of most depravities, and it left me needing an afternoon ocean swim for the cleansing properties of sea water and sunlight.

Visconti’s film is hailed as an outstanding examination of moral decadence, sexual neurosis, narcissistic self-centredness and political opportunism, a string of descriptors that can be well applied to the US President and his Republican Party, and to not a few of our own politicians.

(If you don’t think the desire to control women’s reproductive health is symptomatic of sexual neurosis, think again.)

The movie put me in mind of the Trumps, and the current White House battles for power and position, the best analysis of which (so far) is to be found here at Vanity Fair. The immediate difference is at the moment we can still sneer in mocking disbelief at the Trump tribe’s incompetence and stupidity, whereas nobody in their right mind would sneer at the Von Essenbecks and the Nazi party. It is, however, perfectly imaginable that at the time, such people were regarded as idiots by those who would later suffer immeasurably at their hands.

Trump is still largely seen as a buffoon rather than something far more sinister, however, he is a buffoon with the ability to unleash nuclear weapons, and he appears to have willingly conceded unfettered power to his military hawks. They don’t have to ask him before they blow stuff up.

Thinking of the differences and similarities between the Von Essenbeck family and the Trumps leads me to speculate that as well as having lost much of our ability to appreciate the beauty of compassion and concern (that human talent being derogated by the neo-fascists as “elitist”) we have also become diminished in our capacity to identify and acknowledge the corroding powers on the human spirit of darkness and terminal decay. It’s likely impossible to become desensitised to horror without incurring an equal desensitisation to the sublime.

I think my reaction to Mr Gittens’ tweet was wrong. A new kind of human being has not emerged. The human being without empathy has always existed. The narcissistic, self-centred, sexually neurotic, morally decadent political opportunist has been in existence for as long as human civilisation. To think otherwise is to disregard history, and to disregard history is to ensure its repetition.

It is true that we used to care if people were starving, and now perhaps we do not care as much. It’s also true that before we cared there were periods when we didn’t care, and this periodic lack of care for others is nothing new. That doesn’t excuse it. There is no excusing it. However, it’s worth remembering this cyclical nature of compassion because we have, more than once, got ourselves out of not caring and back into caring again, and we probably need to remember how we did that, so we can have some hope of doing it again before it’s too late.

The most alarming difference between the Nazi Party and present day Republicans is nuclear weapons, from which there is, for most victims including the planet, no coming back. Once they are unleashed, we are most of us damned.

By the way, I note that the Trump family portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to the Von Essenbecks’ excesses of style.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. LOVO

    Pity this busy monster- man unkind.
    Just what the world needs, as we face the threat of CC, nuclear armageden!!
    The end is, indeed, nigh. ?

  2. Pingback: WE the Damned « SUSAN'S SPACE

  3. diannaart

    Trump … appears to have willingly conceded unfettered power to his military hawks…

    Anyone for a spot of coup d’état?

  4. Miriam English

    Jennifer, I care. You care. The mainstream media shout that we don’t care, but the bulk of people still do, it’s just that we’ve been shouted down so successfully we now doubt our brothers and sisters feel as we do.

    I once read a piece by a German who lived through the second world war and who marvelled that the mainstream media were so successful in shouting down compassion that he, and he suspects many others, felt they were in the minority, when they were quite possibly in the majority. Of course it was worsened at that time by the paranoia that if you spoke up you could end up tortured to death in prison. Nobody knew who would inform on others. That was extremely effective at gagging detractors.

  5. Terry2

    Seeing that photo of the US royal family and Emperor Trump is so offensive considering that the America went to war with England in 1775 to rid themselves of the imperial yoke imposed by George III and here they are back to an emperor who rules by Executive Orders and seems to completely bypass the Congress.

    Strange Times !

  6. wam

    eli nes a few years ago wrote:
    When a man is drunk any warm hole will do and it is not classed as ‘lying with a man’ in homosexual or biblical terms. Any indiscretion is easily absolved.
    That is the depth of man’s understanding of non-family women and for some men family is a source of relief.

    Almost all men and many women cannot control the urge to breed which makes a mockery of love in the mills and boon movie tradition.

    Drunk or sober, the need for ejaculation in a warm hole is firmly fixed in the male genes. Is it with the consent of women that man controls both the religious and secular societies?

    When will we resurrect the purple, green and white?
    When will we scream, ‘je suis pankhurst’??????

    Is the billions spent in europe, here and america on IVF, a factor in the women’s health issue?

    pps Terry2
    how strange is turkey? Indonesia will go soon???

  7. Nato

    It’s not “us”, it’s the people we know.
    Speak to an undergraduate radical and the concern is still there.
    That linked article could have been written at any time in the last thirty years. How many decades did it take until you were so desensitized the best you could do after reading it is waggle your fingers over a keyboard?
    “Now is not the time for donor fatigue”
    Why is he so heartless to ignore the plight of the Syrians?
    Doesn’t he care about the oppression of the Uigars?
    Venezuelans can’t buy even the basics like flour or toilet paper, but we’re expected to care only about the ones HE cares about?
    Such arrogance, while he lets innocent children suffer and die with less thought than crushing an ant as he walks.

  8. Nato

    I might have been a bit unfair there. I was thinking like a libertarian and not a Leftist. You might be right.
    Maybe “the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War” really is the perfect segue to Trump’s buffoonery.

  9. king1394

    We seem to have been caring about the victims of foreign famines, wars and disasters forever. Yes there is donor fatigue but the main reason is twofold. First there are so many charities and good causes all competing for our dollar. And secondly, so many of us no longer have a spare dollar for any giving or discretionary spending, thanks to our economic system that keeps so many of us under the poverty line, and where even working people are losing the wages that once allowed them to enjoy being generous..
    As more and more money is concentrated either in the hands of a few or in profit making corporation’s earnings, this can only get wose.

  10. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Hear, hear king1394.

  11. David1

    That was a damn fine read Jennifer, thanks for your post and the inclusion of the Vanity Fair article. I thought I had read about everything on that evil family and those who surround them. It appears the learning will continue for some time , silly me.

  12. Trevor Vivian

    Caring involves thinking. This is where it breaks down time and time again.

  13. Roswell

    There’s something about the Trumps that makes me want to puke everytime I see a photo of them. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because they pay less tax than me.

  14. Zathras

    Charities were mentioned above and I recall my surprise that The Queen herself was patron to 600 charities.

    Charities exist to fill the gap that our governments leave behind in their own selective policies or to compensate for the failure of such policies.

    What does the idea of 600 charities for one patron alone and the thousands of others that must exist say about the effectiveness of our civilisation? Something seems to be wrong there.

    Globally there are about 16.000 children who starve to death every single day while we sit back and watch reality TV shows about wannabe chefs and argue about how the food is presented on a plate.

    Nationally we are still arguing about charity beginning at home and leaving the undeserving poor subject to Overseas Aid to fend for themselves.

    Trump was largely elected by the growing number of working poor in that country lashing out and it’s the likewise disaffected that gave us Hanson.

    The voices of compassion are still there but probably can’t be heard above the constant whining of the others.

    Trump is the Kardashian celebrity equivalent of a leader – all image and narcissism with no ability.

  15. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Zathras is 100% correct. The dependence on charities to pick up the slack that poor governance has left behind is indeed a symptom of a poorly and lazily run society, economy and political environment. It’s Time to make revising the status of charities in our society and their socio-economic powers, an immediate priority.

    Much of the work foisted on charities are the natural duties of good governance. The difference traditionally has been that charities have delivered such services with altruism and compassion, although I have doubts about that in some places these days, as certain charities become more corporatised and headed by ex-business CEOs.

    What I want to see is our expectations for better governance to include 100% response to the wholistic needs of dependent people, so that they can become independent and robust with the same access to decent homes and meaningful employment as anybody else.

    When these aims are understood as 100% achievable in a job guarantee in socio-economic terms and every job (even every welfare job) becomes a paid position, our need for homegrown charity will be lessened and our emotional capacity to contribute to the starving poor in third world countries and other truly worthy humanitarian and environmental charities here and abroad, will be enhanced.

    The other by-product to the total overhaul of the so-called charity status of all charities and especially certain suspect charities, will eventuate in the weeding out of faux, fraudulent charities such as the IPA.

  16. helvityni

    As a newcomer to Australia, I was stunned by the numerous charities here, if you were poor, jobless, or keen to advance your sporting capabilities, you had to contact some charity organization to help you.

    There were pink Ladies and Blue, Salvation Army was the one to fix your problems.

    Was this some remnant of the old English custom of the wealthy upper classes giving left-overs or old clothes to the poor villagers: a box of something on Boxing Day….?

    I always thought it was the responsibility of the governments.

  17. Adam

    diannart, the “coup d’état” will come after the “military hawks” have used him for their purposes.

  18. diannaart




    Neo-cons/libertarians are in favour of leaving all support of lower income people to charities – all part of their small government ethos. Not specifically an Australian issue, part of the lurch to the right by USA, Britain, even Canada (Trudeau not as progressive as a truly free world needs right now).

    Re: Photo of Trump family

    Very ordinary men mixed in with very plastic women… same as it ever was.

    Only three months (give/take) into Trumpland and we are seeing a spike in military action and increased threat of nuclear war… so far no indication of American being great at much except antagonism.

  19. helvityni

    Visconti’s The Damned was a damn good movie, so was his Death in Venice.

  20. keerti

    The major cause of compassion is experience. 90% of australians don’t have an experience of abject poverty. (they might think that they do, but try being an ordinary person in a third world country), they don’t have an experience of needing to become refugees nor are they close to anyone who has. My parents did and some of the much maligned boomers did, but hardship for most people in australia hasn’t been anything like reality for a long time. Now the common thing is to want to protect money, goods, houses etc from those who might come and try to take them. Peter dumf…is a great example of this.

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