Afternoon InquisitionAnti-Science

AI: Nazis! And Jenny McCarthy! And You!

Lately, among all the other stuff that leaves me offensively over-committed, I’ve been working on a documentary. A movie. Because I’m famous. Also because it’s about vaccines… and it seems I’m known around town as the crazy vax lady.

Yesterday, after a meeting with the planning crew, we went out to lunch. Lars, the producer, said something that I found interesting. He said that the Nazis’ mistake was that they killed too many people. That going around the world, exterminating entire populations of human beings, is likely to cause one to grow unpopular. There’s a tipping point, somewhere between zero and seven million Jews, where you go from a legitimate political movement to being “Nazis”. And Hitler tipped. By a whole lot. Had they not gone all Auschwitz on everyone’s asses, we’d be debating Nazi politics today.

He was wondering what that point is where we look at Jenny McCarthy and say, “Holy fuck! This needs to stop!” Do we need to hide in our neighbor’s attics to escape small pox and meningitis? How many people need to die before we see how horrific the anti-vax movement is?

When you take over the world, how much genocide will you practice? Are non Jew-exterminating Nazis a little cuter?  Do you think the anti-vax movement could hit that tipping point?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. (First: to be fair, the Nazis murdered not just Jews, but other groups of people: Roma, gay men, disabled people, Polish citizens of any faith, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The total of non-Jews killed was something like 5 million altogether.)

    Sure, I think the anti-vax movement could get super ugly. At some point, more children (and adults) could be dying from measles than living with autism, and no amount of magical McCarthy-approved vitamins will convince her followers otherwise. And when diseases start spreading and being given the chance to mutate, so that even vaccinated folks get sick and die, more serious action will hopefully be taken to get her to knock it off. Because I don’t think any group, not even non-vaccinating people, deserves to die in large numbers. Except animal abusers. :(

  2. Really? Are we seriously comparing Jenny McCarthy to Hitler now? Hitler wanted to kill Jews. McCarthy doesn’t want to kill children, she’s just really, really stupid.

    Besides, the Nazi theory is likely wrong. The fact that they killed millions of people made the Nazis *more* evil, but genocide is seen as evil even if only few people are affected. If Germany decided that Jews were evil again and killed half a dozen, all hell would break loose.

    There’s another aspect to this: Killing children by not vaccinating your kids is a crime of omission, and humans tend to look at that with a lot more leniency (i.e. not saving somebody you could have saved is seen as more acceptable than killing somebody, even if the end result is the same).

  3. I have to agree with Lukas, the crimes are completely different in nature and scope. As bad as the whole vaccine thing is, the comparison to genocide is a bit over the top.

    McCarthy is a moron, but she does seem to genuinely believe that she is saving children. I sincerly doubt the nazis thought they were saving Jews, homosexuals and the Roma.

    I guess that is one of the things I find most madening about this whole mess. The anti-vaxers are doing a lot of work for a cause they believe saves lives. Their hearts are in the right place even if their heads are up their asses.

  4. When you take over the world, how much genocide will you practice?

    Well, the global population is several billions too many, and people just keep on popping them unnecessary babies out without rhyme, reason, or rationale, pop pop, pop pop, so perhaps I’d wipe out about 70% of all races, cultures, religions, ideologies, etc., etc., etc., just to be fair. Or maybe settle on some specific allowable remaining headcount number per race, culture, religion, ideology, et al, like 500,000, or something. Tabula almost rasa. And just to be fair fair I’d phase myself out too — wouldn’t want to look elitist or anything.

    But that would just be so nasty; so Godwinny; so Republican, or something.

    So really I guess when I take over the world it’s going to be free birth control, abortion clinics and vaccines for all, with a heavy, heavy dose of edumacation on the perils of pernicious overpopulation, and the positive promise of herd stuff.

    Are non Jew-exterminating Nazis a little cuter?

    Huh? What’s so special about jews? Or any other goofball religion? Extermination is extermination, isn’t it?

    Do you think the anti-vax movement could hit that tipping point?

    That’s a difficult question. For one thing, how would we determine what/when the tipping point was? It’s also a difficult question because aren’t tipping points mythological anyway? Just another of Gladwell’s make-believe phantasms? Or at least a “thing” that is only ever noticable after-the-fact? And isn’t one person’s tipping point another person’s un-noticed social shift another person’s past history, yadda yadda ya….?

    Actually, I think I agree with @Lukas

  5. If When I’m world dictator, I promise to bring genocide down to *cough* acceptable levels.

    I suppose that is the problem with any reality-deficient world view – if it becomes popular enough, it will inevitably fail under its own popularity. When an ideology can’t even pretend to promise that it can deliver what it claims, then that seems to be the tipping point (or maybe past it). Hopefully the current whooping cough epidemic is that tipping point, but I try not to underestimate the woo-woos.

  6. @John Greg: “non Jew-exterminating Nazis” aren’t Nazis who exterminate non-Jews. They are Nazis who don’t exterminate Jews. I think Elyse forgot the Nazis also exterminated non-Jews, so I don’t think just reducing their body count by a mere 60% would make them cute. If she actually meant Nazis who didn’t exterminate anyone, they still wouldn’t be cute, unless you’re hot for teabaggers.

    For the rest of Elyse’s questions, 1) as for personal genocide, some days I think all or nothing. That is, the entire human race. Give the Bonobos a do-over. Or maybe the porpoises or mice.

    3) Tipping points seem to be highly variable. In some contexts, millions of people can die without anyone batting an eye, and in others a little kid fallen down a well captures the world’s attention. Often at the same time. Reminds me of the scene in Love & Death where Boris and Sonja are sitting over Napoleon’s unconscious body, debating the morality of killing him, and almost absentmindedly bashing him on the head every time he starts to come to.

  7. It wasn’t killing jews, gypsies, gays or jehovah witnesses that got the nazis in trouble. It was invading other countries and taking them over. You can kill as many people as you want to as long as you stay inside your borders. You can line up every person with red hair and freckles and shoot them in the square at hign noon and then feed their remains to school children as bar b que as long as you don’t try and take over other countries. Most people didn’t even know about the extermination camps until after the war. They were fighting the axis becuase it was invading their country.

  8. @Gabrielbrawley:
    Actually, that would be incorrect. Tactically, many of the Nazi generals were very much aware of the internal processes utilized by Hitler. They also met with him on many occasions to vehemently protest the amount of men and power he was utilizing to keep such camps functioning, including the stalags.

    Seizure is not an issue if you don’t terrorize and give your captives reason to stand down. For example, in France, the Nazis threatened if any man raised his hand to a German soldier, they would kill his wife and children first. Then they proceeded to do it anyway, hence taking away the fear effect and making retaliation a survival tactic.

    Also, the Russian failure had more to do with poor military planning on Hitler’s part. Had they attacked during a more favorable time of year weather wise, the German army would have easily seized Russia.

    Hitler’s own arrogance was the failure. His generals were superior to the rest of the world, he should have listened. They could have been a modern Rome.

  9. @SpiralArchitect:

    I think Gabriel meant people outside of Germany – as in the enemy, those fighting the nazis, the Allied forces. I think what he’s saying is that they didn’t know about the extermination effort until after the war, and therefore, they were at war with germany because it was invading other countries, not because it was conducting genocide.

  10. @Gabrielbrawley:
    I’m not sure it was even that, the Soviets killed a lot of Ukranians, Poles and other non-Russians but communism doesn’t carry the air of evil that fascism does, especially Nazism.

    I think it was that they did those terrible things and lost a war. I can easily see an alternate history where the Nazis beat Russia and force Britain to concede Nazi control of Western Europe. In that world I’m sure Nazism would have had plenty of apologists, just as communism did for decades.

  11. Agree with James K about the Nazis being bad and losing the war.
    Re: “nicer Nazis”, ie. those that did not exterminate Jews, Russians, Homosexuals and other Untermenschen; they existed, they were Mussolini’s fascists in Italy. Obviously, in the end, they were definitely not “better”, and they also lost the war, so became unspeakables…
    Re: Hitler’s Russia campaign being lost because of his arrogance; that’s clearly so; even under the circumstances, they could have still won the war, if instead of attacking at three points (North, Leningrad; Center, Moscow; South, Ukraine, then Stalingrad) they had concentrated on one.
    And finally, one of the reasons for which Stalin and the USSR was never vilified as much as Hitler’s Germany, it’s because only thanks to the Soviets’ advance on the Eastern front Hitler was defeated. The Anglo-American Western front was always a sideshow (just check the figures, or remember all those movies where a German officer is threatened with being sent to the Eastern front… I wonder why…)

  12. @Buzz Parsec:

    I think Elyse forgot the Nazis also exterminated non-Jews, so I don’t think just reducing their body count by a mere 60% would make them cute.

    I didn’t forget. I just thought that for brevity to start a conversation, you would all be smart enough to figure out the question without me listing every single group targeted by Nazi’s.

    And no, I am not comparing Jenny to HITLER. I am talking about numbers of deaths. In fact, I think it was pretty clear that I don’t think Jenny is anywhere near Hitler… otherwise I wouldn’t have to ask where the tipping point it. IT WOULD ALREADY BE TIPPED!

    Disease kills indiscriminately. Nazis killed discriminately.

  13. These kinds of questions often lead to false comparisons, speculative alternative histories, etc. I prefer to deal with the history we actually have.

    To address the initial point: was the Nazi’s “mistake” that of “killing to many people” the answer is a bit more complex than raw numbers. They killed to many Western European people. Genocide of greater and lesser numbers of other than European people took place during the 20th century. Targeting millions of people who look and live much as we do had a much more powerful effect than the genocide of a South American tribe of several hundred members or many millions of people in the Belgian Congo. No one associates Leopold III’s Belgium with death and horror despite the fact their body count was much higher.

    To address the other half of Lars’ question, when lots of middle class people start to drop from preventable disease in the U.S. the first reaction will be to blame immigrants. Only later will public health measures come to the fore. Only after lots of people die (can’t put a number on it) and some anti-immigrant hysteria will we see a concerted effort to publicize exactly why McCarthy et al are all bat-shit crazy.

    To address Elyse’s question, if I were evil dictator of all the world, I would deal with all who make evidence-free irrational arguments that can’t pass objective verification with a trap-door over a shark tank.

  14. Elyse asks: where is the tipping point?
    I think it depends. Take the role of the Church historically, ie. what’s now the Catholic Church (the Vatican).
    In their heyday they probably killed a lot more people than Hitler (or Stalin or anybody else, maybe not Genghis Khan…) through the Crusades, the Inquisition, and generally opposing anything that could improve the lot of human beings.
    Yet there isn’t a generalized idea that they are worse than Hitler — in part because they claimed to be doing it for the good of the people — is that because they spread their killings over a long period of time? Or because there were no Mass media then? Well, it’s known now what they did — as well as other religious criminals of a different persuasion. But those (we) who are willing to indict them are really just a minority.
    Even now — see Dawkins’ speech in London against the Pope — while we denounce them, there are lots of people who bow to them.
    McCarthy (what a revealing name!) is probably not as bad as the Vatican is, yet.

  15. The only reason the workd turned against the Nazis was the Black Uniforms and the Deaths Head insignia. If you are going to dress like bad guys…

  16. I don’t know if it will actually be deaths that change minds. Among the anti-vaccination people I know, they credit the lack of deaths to disease to other factors like improved sanitation or nutrition, or claim that those diseases just aren’t that bad, so there’s proof vaccines don’t work. And when more people get sick and even die, then they just say it’s because vaccines don’t work, regardless of statistics about percentages of populations that vaccinate.

    I think it’ll more likely be the increased health care costs and actually seeing people suffer the full effects of diseases and resulting disabilities. Right now what McCarthy and her ilk have in common is that many parents fear autism more than they fear measles or polio. But if there’s a living example of the horrors those diseases can cause, the line doesn’t work so well. It’s kind of like how even though seat belts don’t work all the time, and sometimes even cause injuries or deaths, you don’t see the same numbers of people fighting against their use because just about everyone in a first world country knows at least one person who’s been hurt or killed in a car accident.

  17. @k-rex:
    (First: to be fair, the Nazis murdered not just Jews, but other groups of people: Roma, gay men, disabled people, Polish citizens of any faith, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The total of non-Jews killed was something like 5 million altogether.)

    So good to see this as the first comment. Two of my husband’s great grandfathers were among the Polish nationals killed in concentration camps. Incidentally, genocide is my main interest of study.

    I think there’s really something to be said for the query of tipping point. I mean, was there really some grand awakening between 1914 and 1938 which taught humanity that “extermination of any kind is unacceptable!”? It certainly didn’t stop the American government of the time (or governments in the Americas for nearly 500 years prior). It didn’t stop King Leopold. It didn’t stop the Young Turks. Speaking of which, it was Hitler himself who said “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” I think it was a question of a tipping point. It certainly made a lot of news, but how many schools teach Rwanda? How many fewer teach that 94 wasn’t the first genocide there? How many cover the current crimes in the DRC and their connection to Kagame? Sure, it’s on the news now, but it’s not in schools, even those with Holocaust classes. How many people are really familiar with what happened in Bosnia? We know there was a war.

    Genocide hasn’t ended. If it wasn’t the numbers, we would have to see evidence in overwhelming public outcry and international acts of solidarity and judgement. Sure we have the ICC, but not all that much in the way of mass public outcry. Especially not when American Idol is on.

    I do think it’s a bit over the top to discuss Jenny McCarthy and Hitler in the same sentence, though I think the malignancy that’s assigned to Hitler is also over the top. I mean. He was a bad person. But he’s not some super-human evil. It’s far too convenient to assign all the guilt for humanity’s history of xenophobia to one man. The monster is us. But will there be a tipping point when people start realizing the harm that anti-vax brings? I hope we never get there.

    And as to your first question, I will start with big box managers. (This joke is getting old and it’s starting to unsettle me.)

  18. @whatbluedot: I clicked through to your blog, which reminded me of something that sometimes gets lost in the noise. What more people need to keep in mind is that every one of those 7 million Jews and 5 million others and all the millions of Armenians, Bosnians, Rawandans, Sudanese, native Americans, etc., etc., etc. was just as loved and needed as your aunt Ellen.

    The difference is that everyone recognizes that cancer is a terrible thing and wants to find cures but we just don’t know how yet. Genocide, on the other hand, is trivial to cure. Since it is entirely a volitional act by human beings, people can cure it by just not participating, and by imprisoning, as sociopathic murders, anyone who does. There’s no deep scientific or medical mystery. Reminds me of an old 60’s bumper sticker, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

    Okay, nothing original here, but I think it bears repeating.

  19. @Buzz Parsec: if the bonobos ruled the world , it would be amazing. Imagine the senate, instead of fillabusters, massive fucking would break out.

    During riots, someone would yell WHY CAN’T WE ALL GET ALONG … and massive fucking would break out.

    Rivals at sporting events would yell FUCK YOU … and massive fucking would break out.

    Bonobos rule!

  20. Numbers are so abstract and impersonal especially when they are so high. History is riddled with extremely high death counts for various atrocities and disasters but you don’t look at the number and from that truly comprehend how horrible that situation was.

    Comprehension comes from experiencing the situation first hand. That’s why as verterans and survivors die off people begin to forget, and it takes another war or disaster to get the population caring again. Look at the increase in Remembrence Day ceremony attendence we had after troops were sent into Afghanistan.

    Likewise, people won’t start to truly comprehend how horrible the anti vax movement is until their loved ones start suffering and dying because of it. It’s going to take some more serious outbreaks of outdated diseases as a reminder.

    I guess the tipping point could be the point when enough people have been personally affected by the movement, and that will unfortunatly be a high number. But it won’t be the high number itself that promts people to care enough to fight back against anti vax, it’ll be because someone they love has sufferend and/or died.

    So the question isn’t ‘what’s the number’, it’s ‘what’s the ratio’? How many people in the population have to get sick or die so that almost everyone else at the very least knows about someone who has been affected?

  21. @Buzz Parsec:

    You’re right. That does often get lost in the shuffle. It’s a big part of the genocide studies world to share the stories of individuals to remind us why we do what we do.

    Since it is entirely a volitional act by human beings, people can cure it by just not participating, and by imprisoning, as sociopathic murders, anyone who does.

    It’s a bit more complicated than that, unfortunately. It’s not a matter as simple as criminals and mental illness. In the case of the leaders (and there’s always a responsible hierarchy), sure. But genocides cannot be carried out by a few individuals. They’re carried out by large groups of people who have been spurred into action by long campaigns of dehumanization and threat. They are convinced that the target group is distant and monstrous (the word “cockroach” is a shockingly common feature). They’re told that this group is plotting to destroy them. Then they’re given a way out of this certain doom. Just eliminate this invading force of subhuman creatures. In my opinion, and I’m still a nascent scholar, it’s an extension of self-defense, which under ordinary circumstances would be socially accepted. It seems horrifying, but there has to be a reason why so many ordinary people would participate in such atrocious activities. Particularly in Rwanda, these aren’t soldiers, conditioned to take orders and having diminished reaction to horror. These are ordinary people committing extraordinarily awful deeds. They can’t all be insane. These are people often with no criminal record whatsoever. And as far as locking them up, a huge percentage of the population in Rwanda was involved in these crimes. Is it really reasonable to try and punish upwards of 175,000 persons in a nation that needs every available hand to rebuild the economy? Add into that calculation the fact that the Hutu were an oppressed majority underclass for hundreds of years because of colonial manipulations. Add to that the genocide of Hutu in Burundi in 1972 and 1993, and the threat of annihilation by Tutsi becomes less of a specter.

  22. For the record, in response to the genocide court load Rwanda officially abolished the death penalty and set up a novel court system based on tribal tradition and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission system called Gacaca. It has a strong focus on reconciliation and not retribution, but does have the ability to sentence up to life in prison. However, in reality, it has been loaded with false accusations and a 20% acquittal rate, nevermind the thinly veiled retributive crimes being committed by the government which may have and may continue to amount to genocide and are STILL destabilizing the area.

  23. Luciano,
    I think it’s the time frame. Hitler was very efficient in killing people. He was responsible for however many deaths in 12 years.

    My question has always been how long would we have waited had Japan not attacked us. Would we have waited so long that Europe was a lost cause? Or would the be speaking russian in Paris right now?

    As far as the vaccination this, I think it’ll take a true epidemic of something that is preventable. Not exactly The Stand or I am Legend, but something like 1918.

    But how many people have died in Ca. of whooping cough this year alone?

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