[The following was inspired by an objector to this piece, who called me “stupid” to compare the fascistic slanders and deceits of the anti-GamerGate forces to the Big Lie technique championed by chief Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels. -- FWP]
“Well, darling daughter,” he said through a half-regretful smile of remembrance, “it’s like this.”
“A long time ago,” he said, “everyone understood that we can all make mistakes, that no one can be all-knowing, and that it’s a decent person’s responsibility, no matter how strongly he feels about something, to remember that he could be wrong. It was an important piece of a child’s education to learn that no matter how good he is at something, there’s almost certainly someone who’s better at it – and that it’s guaranteed that lots of other people are better than he is at lots of other things. You see, when you know that you could be wrong, you have to admit that other people could be right, so it would always be wrong to try to force someone else to accept your point of view. A young boy or girl who accepted those truths would normally grow up to be courteous to others, even others he thought were really, really wrong about something important.
“Now, not every child really believed and accepted those truths, but so many did, and upheld them so firmly, that the children who didn’t believe them were compelled to act as if they believed them too. No one would let them get away with the kind of behavior that said otherwise. They didn’t like it – no one likes being compelled to hide his feelings – but they went along because the punishment for not going along was so much worse.
“But one day there was a big war. It happened because some of the children who refused to believe that they could be wrong became politically powerful. They went to war to force their neighbors to give them stuff they wanted but didn’t deserve. The war was terrible. It went on a long time and killed a lot of young men. At the end, everybody was really tired. And some other children who didn’t believe that they could be wrong, and who liked to write and talk a lot, started saying and writing that it wasn’t because the children who started the war didn’t realize that they could be wrong. They said it was that everybody was wrong about everything – that the war had proved that there was nothing anyone could believe.”
He paused as he shuddered afresh at his horror at learning how the mental disease that had been mislabeled skepticism had unraveled the whole of the civilized world. He reflected on his efforts to preserve his daughter’s innocence. How he’d fought to protect her from the juggernaut that had rumbled over the world! Yet forces far larger than he, and events beyond his power to control, had made all his struggles moot.
“But a funny thing happened. It turns out that if you accept that everybody is wrong about everything, then it doesn’t matter what you believe. And that meant that it doesn’t matter what you do. Whether you’re good, respectful, and kind or mean, hateful, and brutal just doesn’t matter.”
He drew a deep, shaky breath, let it out slowly, and did his best to smile at his daughter as he continued.
“Anyway,” he said, “if it doesn’t matter what you do, then all that really matters is what you want and whether you have it. Lots and lots of people started to think that way. Then they started to live that way. They would do whatever it takes to get what they wanted, no matter what that did to other people. And things got bad. There was another war, even bigger than the first one, and then lots of little ones – so many little ones that there was never a place or a time when people weren’t fighting. No one could feel safe any more. Yet no one could see what was happening, even though it was right in front of them.
“You see, when people understand that they could be wrong, they leave other people alone, unless those others try to hurt them or steal from them. That’s what we mean by freedom. But once enough children had been raised to believe that everything everybody believes is wrong, lots of people who wanted stuff they didn’t have and couldn’t get felt it was okay to take them anyway. After all, who was going to tell them they shouldn’t? And for some of those people, what they wanted most was to force other people to think and live just like them.
“You want to hear something funny, dear? Those people – the ones who wanted to force everybody else to think and live just like them – liked to say they were ‘fighting for freedom.’ Really! Of course, the kind of ‘freedom’ they wanted meant that no one else could be free. But that didn’t slow them down at all. They just kept fighting, and when they won they’d make the people they’d beaten say and do exactly what they commanded. Anyone who refused – who said he just wanted to be left alone – would be killed.
“Anyway, it went on for a long, long time. More and more people were conquered, more and more people were killed, and the people doing the killing became more and more powerful. Eventually they came to our part of the world, and when they did, we didn’t recognize what they were doing in time to stop them. Maybe we couldn’t stop it. Maybe they had already become so powerful that nothing we could do would have made a difference. We’ll never know. But it all started with a few children refusing to believe that they could be wrong. Because that, darling daughter, is where Nazis come from.”
He slipped a hand through the bars between their cages, tousled her hair, and won a brief smile from her. “And that is why you and I are going to die this morning.”