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Empirical falsifiability

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

So, Jesse Walker recently sent out his fraternal seasons’ greetings by posting a link to rathergood.com’s Communist Christmas over at Hit and Run (2008-12-15). I thought it was pretty funny and cute (kittens!). Right up until they dropped the joke about being worked to death in the gulag, at which point it lost its savor. I’m just mentioning this as a report on my reaction; I don’t have any worked-out analysis or theoretical explanation about why that would be.

But one way or another, before I ever clicked through from Google Reader to the original post, I already knew that the post would immediately provoke Internet Libertarian Trope #426 in the comments — the alleged softball treatment that Communist totalitarianism gets in pop culture compared with Nazi totalitarianism. And I was right. Thus, observe the second and third comments posted in the thread:

Er?@c3;bf;k Gabhran Boston, Esq. | December 15, 2008, 5:53pm | #

OK, who will be first to speculate on exactly what kind of shit would hit the fan if someone did that with the Nazi party?

Brandybuck | December 15, 2008, 5:59pm | #

Communists are the good totalitarians, so it’s okay to poke fun at them in a good natured and respectful manner. But Nazis are bad totalitarians, and humour is not allowed where they are concerned.

Oh, really?

Look, it’s certainly true that there are many cases in American pop culture where the Soviet regime is treated with a respect (or at least an indifference) that it doesn’t deserve. And if you just mean to say that this particular video turned out not to be funny in the end, because, you know, a lot of people died, and that’s used as a punchline, and jokes like that tend to suck, well, I’d probably agree with you about that much.

But while I’m sure you learned from the radio that all this has come about because the evil P.C. thought police who direct this culture of ours misspent their youth learning at the feet of a bunch of tenured deep cover foquistas and Cultural Revolutionaries — thus filling them with wistful nostalgia for Bolshevism and a big fat double standard in their indignation at the Nazis — well, I’m sorry, but as far as this case goes, your ideological indignation doesn’t actually have much of anything to do with the way the world is. And empirical reality will out eventually. And there’s no sense in just making shit up for rhetorical purposes.

12 replies to Empirical falsifiability Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Nick Manley

    I live in a “Red” household. My stepmother was an anti-draft activist who is now a labor lawyer. My dad was a community organizer and now works for The Teamsters — yes, he talks to Jimmy Hoffa’s son. I feel so close to establishment labor power circles ( :

    We’ve had discussions where Communist states get a pass for universial healthcare or something. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t Marxist-Lennists or anything. They dislike the dictatorship and violent bloodshed.

    That said, it’s still kind of weird to hear Castro get a pass for allegedly having a great healthcare system. I never hear the self-proclaimed Nationalist Socialists of Nazi Germany get praised for their welfare statism. Nobody ever says that Nationalism Socialism was great in theory but bad in practice. On the other hand, it seems cliched to say that Communism as defined by actually existing revolutionary leaders who erected government in its name was great in theory but bad in practice. What sounds great in theory about a “dictatorship of the proliterait”? Seriously.

  2. Nick Manley

    National* I am not saying they were actually socialists — that’s a long running left-right debate I don’t want to get into right now. It’s just what they called themselves. Hitler was quite verbose in his rhetoric attacking capitalists and capitalism. In the end, the Nazi state arguably co-opted business interests rather then trying to completely destroy them though.

  3. Dave2

    I doubt the claim that jokes with great suffering as a punchline tend to suck (or at least the claim that this is why they tend to suck — maybe jokes in general tend to suck).

    The claim that offhand jokey references to “drinking the Kool-aid” are callous has, I think, a good measure of plausibility to it. In such jokey references, after all, the horror of Jonestown gets inexplicably overlooked. But the problem isn’t that it’s using human suffering as a punchline, it’s that it’s casting the human suffering as irrelevant.

    But with other suffering-punchline jokes, like the one in this animation, the comedy works by way of emphasizing the human suffering and drawing our attention to it. In this animation, the comedy springs from the incongruity between a cheery Christmas song and the horrors of the gulags. It’s a cheap, hacky way to get the laffs, but that’s how it works. In other such jokes, like an instance of the Aristocrats joke, the jokesmith piles on horrifying detail after horrifying detail, and the audience gets put in a squirming, uneasy state of revulsion, which is stimulating (perhaps this is similar to the way in which a suspense or horror film can be stimulating), and can heighten the comedy.

    My strong suspicion is that these jokes wouldn’t work nearly as well on someone who is downright sociopathic, because you need to have basic compassion and humanity to get the incongruity or to be revolted by the suffering. At best, such a person would get the joy of taboo breaking.

    So, to be quite honest, I’d say that the problem with the Kool-aid jokes is that they don’t use suffering as a punchline enough.

  4. Kevin Carson

    IMO there’s a fundamentally asymmetry between Nazi and Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism, so that “commie chic” really is different.

    The “moral equivalency” arguments are based on the assumption that there’s some sort of symmetry between class struggle and racial struggle.

    But the totalitarianism and police statism that characterized M-L class war resulted from the perversion of a legitimate concept. While Marxists fail to properly identify the causes of class rule, waging war against an enemy class isn’t wrong as such. It is perfectly legitimate to classify those who live by exploitation as enemies, and to expropriate any illegitimate property they have acquired.

    OTOH, there’s no legitimate way of taking action against people based on their race.

  5. Bob


    I hear many people in both states I have lived in (Georgia and Mississippi) compliment fascism’s efficiency and Hitler’s “rebuilding” of the German economy after WW1. If pressed they downplay fascist regimes’ racism as not germane to the aspect they are praising. These fascist admirers are typically young undergraduate or high school men who do well in history classes. I think in a slightly different world I would be one of these armchair fascists. It is a humbling and frightening thought.

    Cheers, Bob

  6. JOR

    Well as long as we’re sharing anecdotes about people who admired the Soviets and Nazis, a relative of mine who’d likely identify himself as being on the Right (if anywhere on the conventional political spectrum) once praised both one Thanksgiving, maybe seven or eight years ago, commenting that Stalin’s collectivization would have worked if only the Russians had more tractors, and that the Nazis were right to imprison and execute dissidents (if not racial minorities as such).

  7. Joel Davis

    Oh really?

    Apparently, I just posted a bulletin on myspace featuring a youtube of hitler ranting about GTA IV, and almost immediately had two people de-friend me… that makes me frownie face :-(

    That you for ruining all my fake friendships with your horrible advice, Charles Johnson…

  8. Joel Davis

    thank* you.

  9. Joel Davis

    I’ll also point out that a fair amount of people also died during the forced collectivization programs as well.

  10. Bob Kaercher

    If mocking Nazis is, on net balance, more taboo than mocking commies in this country, my hunch is that it’s because it hits just a little too close to home.

  11. Bob Kaercher

    The first part of my reply was cut off for some reason. The above comment started with something like, “Bob: I used to hear the same thing growing up in northern Indiana. ‘Y’know, Hitler did a lot of good things at first…’ Yyyyyyyeaaaaahhhh…uh-huh…”

  12. Nick Manley

    Too many people sound like American Nazis these days..

    Primitive nationalism is all the rage.

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