Jojo Rabbit: A Choice Between Authentic and False Community

“You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a ten year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.”

Jojo Rabbit

“Love is the strongest thing in the world.”

“I think you’ll find that *metal* is the strongest thing in the world, followed closely by dynamite, and then muscles.” 

Jojo Rabbit

You know it’s a good movie when you clap spontaneously, laugh like a maniac, and feel your heart torn to shreds in the same two-hour stretch.

Jojo Rabbit is that movie.

Saw it last night and have a lot to say about it. If you haven’t seen this wonderful movie, stop reading, watch the trailer, and get your tix. If you have seen it and want to discuss, keep reading.

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SPOILERS BELOW

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This is a movie about the choices between authentic living and belonging and the false kinds of life and belonging offered in conformity to the mass. In this case, that mass is totalitarian Nazi Germany’s obedience and death cult.

The Default: Belonging to the Mad Collective

The movie starts with young Johannes (Jojo) heading off to summer camp to “become a man,” (despite not being able to tie his own shoes) sprinting away to the delightful tunes of The Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” in German.

Turns out summer camp is more like a Hitler Youth training camp for 10 year-old soldiers. The sad (and hilarious) absurdity of the Nazi’s doomed experiment is quickly apparent, even though Jojo tries to go along with it all.

But he refuses to do one thing: when ordered to kill a defenseless rabbit, he refuses. That earns him the nickname “Jojo Rabbit” from the older Hitler Youth bullies in one of the first scenes of overt monstrousness. In an attempt to strike back, Jojo decides to double down on the “brave Nazi warrior” thing and wounds himself with a grenade.

We see that Jojo is evidently different. He is gentle. He is sincere (if sincerely brainwashed). And he isn’t exactly fitting in – he has precisely one real friend.

Did I mention his other friend is an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler?

Jojo heads into this story longing for acceptance and belonging in the suicidal death cult that is his culture. It’s hard to imagine that so many other kids shared the same backdrop for growing up, but that’s why this film is so important.

The Choice

We soon learn about one big reason for Jojo’s decent heart.

His mother Rosie (played by Scarlett Johansson) is a woman of kindness, independence, ferocity, humor, and imagination. In other words, she is everything the Nazis are not. Humor and imagination are bulwarks against tyranny in Rosie’s home, and her playful, loving interactions with Jojo are some of the most touching moments in the film.

We also learn that Rosie is part of the German resistance, and (much to Jojo’s horror) she is hiding a young Jewish girl in Jojo’s deceased sister’s bedroom.

Determined to write a book on Jewish people (all the better to defeat them, to his mind) Jojo begins to get to know the young woman, whose name is Elsa. Terror turns into curiosity, curiosity turns into tolerance, and tolerance turns into friendship – and later a serious crush.

As Germany falls apart in the latter days of the war, Jojo experiences a central transformation: from imaginary friendship (with Hitler) to his true friendship with Elsa. He finds true belonging in a human relationship with an unconquered individual with a rich inner life. At the same time, the false sense of belonging in the world of Nazi-dom loses its luster.

Then Rosie is hung for her participation in the resistance, and the Nazi dream (nightmare, rather) of Germany is falling apart all around Jojo’s ears. Kids, civilians, and old German shepherds (actual shepherds, not dogs) are conscripted to defend the city in a last desperate fight. Little boys who stayed in the “club” of the Hitler Youth are used as cannon fodder – a horrifying look at where inauthentic “belonging” ends up.

Authentic Living and Belonging

When the dust settles, Jojo and Rosie have each other. And though Jojo is afraid, he makes the decision to set Rosie free.

Before he does so, a brain-spattered Hitler – once his imaginary friend – warns him that unless he chooses the totalitarian way, he will end up in a “desert of insignificance.” It’s notable how the affable and goofy Hitler of Jojo’s earlier imagination has become something truly worthy of hatred and resistance.

Jojo responds appropriately: he kicks imaginary Hitler out the window with a well-placed foot to Nazi nuts.

In a perfect closing of a loop, he ties one of Elsa’s shoes for her as she prepares to step outside.

And then they dance.

Jojo goes from being his society’s false idea of “being a man” to “doing what he can” (as good a definition of true manhood as any).  Elsa, who had a childhood denied to her, found her imaginative inner life in Jojo and now takes a step into free womanhood in the outside world.

But more importantly, both found what it meant to live authentically and to belong authentically.

This movie shows life’s resilience and beauty despite tremendous evil. Rosie knew that:

“As long as there’s someone alive somewhere then they lose.” 

When evil seems most powerful, we all have to remember to keep our inner lives alive, as Rosie did, as Elsa did, and as Jojo did.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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How to Deschool Yourself for Success and Satisfaction

Most of us spent at least 15,000 hours of our childhood and adolescence being schooled before we turned 18. Now in adulthood, we may need to unlearn some of what we were taught and embrace self-education for career success and personal fulfillment.

Much of what we learned in school was dictated by others, disconnected from our own passions and proclivities. We were taught what to learn, and we learned to be taught. With self-education, we take back control of our own learning, exploring topics and skills that matter to us, free from coercion. In many ways, pursuing self-education is the difference between learning in a library and in a school. A library offers abundant resources to support our learning, including tangible and digital tools, optional classes, and helpful facilitators, but it is free from compulsion. Unlike K-12 schooling, we are not required to learn there under a legal threat of force. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, winner of the 2015 National Book Award:

I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. (p. 48)

Granted the freedom to learn, our true talents and ambitions can begin to emerge. But first, we need to deschool ourselves and shed some of the common myths we may have internalized about learning that could get in the way of our self-education and related success:

Myth #1: Color Inside the Lines

One of the first things most of us learned as a tot when we stepped into a classroom is to color inside the lines. Follow instructions, be neat, do what everyone else does. Now as we embrace self-education and discover our full human potential, we need to do the opposite. If everyone is coloring in the lines, we should be coloring outside of them. We should be looking at opportunities for creativity, not conformity. What do we see that no one else does? Where is the market possibility there? Coloring outside the lines may be messy, but it can lead to original ideas and novel inventions that make our lives and those around us better off.

Myth #2: Ask for Permission

In school, we quickly learn to ask for permission. Obedience is heartily rewarded, and non-compliance is swiftly punished. If we want to succeed at playing the game of school, we learn to be led. Now, as a self-directed learner with personal and professional goals, we need to be bold! If we wait around for permission to pursue those goals, we won’t get anywhere. Be intrepid.

Myth #3: Be Quiet and Stay Still

This schooled expectation is getting even worse than it was when many of us were kids. We were all taught to be quiet and stay still (especially when forming those straight lines in the hallway), but today young children are increasingly being diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD when they don’t keep still and remain attentive. Aside from the tragedy of medicalizing what, in many cases, is just normal childhood behavior, we become conditioned to stay passive.

But to achieve our audacious goals in adulthood, what we need more than anything is exuberance. We need to be constantly moving, constantly questioning, constantly exploring new pathways. Energy and agility are critical characteristics for achieving success in a fast-moving, always-changing world.

Myth #4: Don’t Read Ahead

Remember this one? We were often given reading assignments of certain pages or paragraphs with the warning to not read ahead. Now, of course, we need to be curious instead of compliant and seize all opportunities to read ahead! Digging deeply into topics that matter to us or reading a wide variety of different materials to broaden our worldview can help us to uncover our enthusiasms and crystallize our goals.

Myth #5. Winners Never Quit

One of the more pervasive myths we hang onto from childhood is the belief that we shouldn’t quit. Yet, some of the most successful people are those who stopped wasting their time and energy in jobs or activities that were not meaningful to them. As Rich Karlgaard, the longtime publisher of Forbes, writes in his new book Late Bloomers:

“How can the curious and creative, the searchers and explorers, jump off the dominant culture’s conveyor belt and begin shaping our own fates?” We do it by quitting. Quit the path we’re on. Quit the lousy job. Quit the class we hate. Quit the friends and associates who hurt us more than help. Quit the life we regret. (p. 148)

Myth #6. Failure Is Unacceptable

Failure can be as valuable as quitting. Contrary to what we were schooled to believe, failure is an important part of risk-taking and experimentation. If we spend our adulthood seeking only gold stars and Good Job! stickers, we may find only hollow rewards.

The first step in taking charge of your learning and livelihood is to shed these schooled myths and become adept at self-education. Trade conformity for creativity, obedience for curiosity, and compliance for exuberance. Don’t be afraid to quit or to fail. Setting your own path requires a great deal of coloring outside the lines. Don’t wait for the teacher or the buzzer to tell you when it’s time to go.

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Trial and Error

Nobody asked but …

Almost two months ago, I wrote a blog article in which I felt gratified that my teen granddaughters were experimenting with civil disobedience.  They participated in the worldwide climate strike.  It is OK if they took the wrong side, because they were right to speak out.  Experimenting is good.  The worst thing that can happen is that they might favor a wrong philosophy, but never re-examine that decision.  People who never re-examine their positions are candidates for the Darwin Awards.

In a more recent blog, I admitted to some egregious naivete, in the past, and I promised to address it directly in a future post.  In retrospect, I have always been an individually conscious voluntaryist, but I admit to the following mistakes along the way:

  • I liked Ike, but was too young to vote,
  • I would have gone all the way with JFK, but was still too young to vote,
  • I was atracted to the non-authoritarian hippy lifestyle, but I was anti-war (for the wrong reasons),
  • I was pro LBJ, before the Gulf of Tonkin incident,
  • I voted for Nixon, in the mistaken hopes that he would quickly end the Vietnam War,
  • I voted for Carter, in hopes of ending White House corruption,
  • Until 2008, I voted, believing in the system, and that the right POTUS would not be incentivized toward war, irrationality, and corruption,
  • Until 2000, I believed that history could show us examples of successful POTUS’es.
  • Now I know, beyond believing, that no human can be a successful master of other human beings.

Each of these mistakes taught me a lesson.  I will continue to try, and err, but I will not forsake my hard-won principles of anarchism.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Big Business: Recasting the Anti-Hero

Tyler Cowen’s previous book, Stubborn Attachments, is right in general, but wrong on particulars.  His latest book, in contrast, is largely right on both.  The world needed a new book to be pro-market and pro-business at the same time, and Tyler’s Big Business delivers the package.  I’m almost tempted to quote Keynes:

In my opinion it is a grand book … Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement.

Highlights include:

1. A popularization of Bloom and van Reenen’s work on the power of management:

We must take a moment to appreciate the particular character of American business. By global standards, its overall performance is remarkably impressive. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom and a group of co-authors studied and compared management practices in some of the major economies, including the United States. Their survey assessed how well a workplace uses incentives, the quality of performance measures and reviews, whether top management aims at long-term goals, whether top creators are well rewarded, and whether the firm attracts and retains quality employees, among other relevant metrics…

So at the end of all of these measurements of management quality, which country comes out on top? The United States is a clear first…

Management really matters. Let’s say we take two American plants producing comparable wares, but one of those plants is in the 90th percentile in terms of productivity, while the other is in the 10th percentile. The former plant will have a productivity level four times higher than the latter plant, due to superior management practices. It has been estimated that Chinese firms could increase their productivity by 30–50 percent and Indian firms could do so by 40–60 percent merely by improving their management practices up to an American level of quality.

2. Business practices and promotes good manners and civility.  Despite modern political hysteria…

the world of American business has never been more productive, more tolerant, and more cooperative. It is not just a source of GDP and prosperity; it is a ray of normalcy and predictability in its steady focus on producing what can be profitably sold to customers. Successful businesses grow dynamically, but they also try to create oases of stability and tolerance in which they can perfect their production methods and which help to attract and retain talent…

American big business in particular has led the way toward making America more socially inclusive. McDonald’s, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and many of the major tech companies, among many others, were defining health and other legal benefits for same-sex partners before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage… This push for tolerance shouldn’t come as any surprise. Big business has lots of customers and relies on the value of brand names. It doesn’t want any group of those customers to feel put out or discriminated against or to have cause for complaint…

3. Some deliberate (?) understatement on fraud:

Most of all, business is criticized for being fraudulent and ripping us off. While there is plenty of fraud in business, the commercial sector isn’t any more fraudulent than individuals in other capacities, and it may even be somewhat less fraudulent.

I’d say there’s no “may even be somewhat less fraudulent” about it!  Who wouldn’t trust Amazon or Uber or Airbnb over a random American who promised to provide the same product?

4. Business thinks long-term, usually:

It can be very difficult to distinguish between short-termism and an inability to see into the future. The failed Netflix competitors were mainly not venal rip-off artists; rather, most of them genuinely did not see that providing massive amounts of streaming content would prove to be a winning strategy. If half of the time businesses think too short-term and the other half of the

time too long-term, there will be thousands of valid examples and anecdotes about excessive short-term thinking and planning, and they aren’t necessarily related to CEO dishonesty.

And:

Of course, markets also think long-term when it comes to successes, and that long-term mentality is encouraged through CEO pay structures. Consider Amazon, which has a stratospherically high share price, even though the quarterly earnings reports usually fail to show a sizable profit. Whether you think that valuation has been justified or not, it is a clear example of how markets can consider the broader, longer-term picture. Circa 2018, Jeff Bezos ended up as the richest man in the world, and he achieved that status by sticking with some long-run goals.

5. Employment may not be fun, but it’s meaningful and prevents misery:

Another way to think about the non-pay-related benefits of having a job is to consider the well-known and indeed sky-high personal costs of unemployment. Not having a job when you want to be working damages happiness and health well beyond what the lost income alone would account for. For instance, the unemployed are more likely to have mental health problems, are more likely to commit suicide, and are significantly less happy. Sometimes there is a causality problem behind any inference—for instance, do people kill themselves because they are unemployed, or are they unemployed because possible suicidal tendencies make them less well suited to do well in a job interview? Still, as best we can tell, unemployment makes a lot of individual lives much, much worse. In the well-known study by economists Andrew E. Clark and Andrew J. Oswald, involuntary unemployment is worse for individual happiness than is marital divorce or separation.

6. Even much-maligned low-skilled jobs have unsung psychological benefits:

In contemporary American society, poorer individuals are more likely to have problems with divorce, spousal abuse, drug addiction in the family, children dropping out of school, and a variety of other fairly common social problems. These problems plague rich and poor alike, but they are more frequent in poorer families and, furthermore, very often wreak greater devastation on poorer families, which have fewer resources to cope with them. The workplace, however, is a partial equalizer here. At least in this sample, the poorer individuals found relatively greater solace in the workplace than did the richer individuals.

7. Employers’ alleged mistreatment of individual workers is often for the greater good of their whole team:

Along these lines, I hear so many criticisms that companies do not give workers enough personal or intellectual freedom. For instance, many critics have noted that companies have the right to fire workers for their Facebook or other social media postings. Surely that sounds like an unjustified infringement on freedom of speech. But on closer inspection, the stance of the companies is often quite defensible. Unfortunately, a lot of workers put racist, sexist, or otherwise discomforting comments and photos on their Facebook pages, on Twitter, or elsewhere. When employers fire them, very often it is to protect the freedom of the other workers—namely, the ability of those other workers to enjoy the workplace environment free of harassment and threats. It’s not always or even usually a question of the employer versus the workers, or the old story of a struggle between worker and boss struggle. Rather, the boss is trying, sometimes in vain, to adjudicate conflicting notions of workplace freedom among the workers. In other words, the firings are in part an employer attempt to take the overall preferences of the workers into account.

8. Big business is often the cure for monopoly rather than the disease:

[Y]ou can think of Amazon and Walmart as two big reasons a lot of collusive and price-fixing schemes don’t work anymore or don’t have a major impact on consumers. Amazon and Walmart are the two biggest retailers in America, and both compete by keeping prices low—permanently, it seems. Their goal is to become dominant platforms for a wide variety of goods and to use low prices to boost their reputation and their focal status as the place to go shopping. By now both companies are old news, and it is increasingly difficult to argue that their strategies are eventual market domination and then someday super-high monopoly prices. Instead, their strategies seem to be perpetually low prices, followed by taking in insanely large amounts of business and using data collection to outcompete their rivals on the basis of cost and quality service.

My main criticism: Tyler is so pro-business that he often forgets (at least rhetorically) to be pro-market.  He spends minimal time calling for moderate deregulation – and even less calling for radical deregulation.  So while he effectively calls attention to everything business does for us, he barely shows readers how much business could do for us if government got out of the way.  Above all, Tyler mentions the following only in passing – or not at all:

1. The evils of housing regulation.  Business is ready, willing, and able to build mega-cities worth of affordable housing in the most desirable places in the country – the moment land-use regulations permit.

2. The evils of immigration restriction.  Perhaps to broaden his audience, Tyler fails to mention the eagerness of business to provide international workers with the opportunity to use their talents for the enrichment of mankind.  If I were him, I would have highlighted (a) how much business has done to increase immigration, and (b) how much business has engaged in righteous civil disobedience by hiring workers despite our unjust immigration laws.

3. The evils of labor market regulation.  Tyler barely mentions the many awful side effects of much-loved labor market regulations.  This was a mighty missed opportunity to lambast the horrors of European labor market regulationBig Business was also a great opportunity to explain why discrimination is usually bad for profitability, making anti-discrimination regulations superfluous at best.  Indeed, Tyler could have used the ubiquitous employment of illegal immigrants to illustrate these truths.

Fortunately, it’s not too late for Tyler to correct his unfortunate omissions on his blog.  Big business has been miscast as an anti-hero, but populist regulation is a Thanos-level supervillain.

P.S. Exercise for the reader: Name a better book cover than Tyler’s!

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Climate Strike

I was the chauffeur last Friday who took my youngest granddaughters to the Climate Strike demonstration in front of the Fayette County, KY, Courthouse. I did this at the request of their mother, my daughter, the hydrologist who works for the Kentucky Environmental Protection Agency.  The young women are a teen and a pre-teen on the cusp.

These may seem to be odd arrangements and relationships for someone, such as I, who has a very decided stance on global warming. Just last week, I wrote a blog entry that criticized those who would hide behind complexity.  But I will hasten to add that global warming is very complicated — too complicated for humans, apparently.  Let me make some observations:

  • I supported my granddaughters and my daughter because I support their spirit of civil disobedience.  The point of the climate strike was that school children would skip school to express their impatience with the seeming complacency of their elders.
  • I was concerned for the safety of my granddaughters.  This turned out to be misoverestimated, but I am a contemporary of those gunned down at Kent State University, so I always get queasy when people come up against the police state.
  • I had lots of time on the 60 mile round-trip to Lexington to share information with my granddaughters — and I have the rest of my lifetime as well, just so long as we expect one another to be rational.
  • Most of our climate information comes to us from people whose hair is on fire — the media, the deniers, the protesters, the promoters, and the politicians.  How many pictures have we seen just this year of the edge of the ice.  There is always an edge to the ice!  Somewhere!  The Earth is not covered in solid ice.  Yet these photos are presented to us as evidence that all the ice in the world is melting at a breakneck pace.
  • At demonstrations, you will nearly always hear that you must vote.  I pointed out to the young women that those of us who are over 18 only get to vote against Mitch McConnell once every 6 years, while the coal industry gets to vote every day, with dollars.  The deck is stacked.
  • One of the entities at the Lexington event, distributing flyers and speaking through a bullhorn, was the Kentucky Democratic Socialists.  They claimed to have an environmental project to justify their presence, but one suspects they have a project for every occasion.  Their agenda suggests that they were politicizing this event.
  • The crowd was underwhelming.  About twenty minutes in, I counted just over forty people, and school children were less than half of that number.
  • Three suits watched us from the vestibule of the federal courthouse.  US Marshals?  FBI?
  • Most of the high school students who spoke at the event were articulate, but they are the outliers.
  • Although I am a scientist, I am jaded about people who claim that authority as their main argument for a holding.  As a scientist, I always suspect fortune telling and handwaving.
  • It would not surprise me if the world were indeed in a warming phase, of some finite duration.
  • It would surprise me to find that there is some set of incontrovertible evidence predicting the future.  I am reminded of Butch Cassidy‘s movie prognostication that “The fall will probably kill ya.”  Are we sure that nothing else will get us before global warming does?
  • Do we think that politicians even care?  Do we think that corporate CEO’s, who are concerned only with this year’s books, care about the future?
  • Anthropogenic is the 50 cent word we use to show we are smart enough not to insist that humans take the blame for global warming.  Human nature is part of Nature.  We are the ones who buy extended cab pickup trucks and Mercedes SUV’s as soon as gas prices dip slightly.
  • Do we think that people, who have been engaged in war throughout their history, will suddenly do something that makes sense?
  • Do we think the Earth was created only for the short term health and welfare of the few generations living today?
  • I am not a denier.  I am not a decrier.  I am not a seer.  I am not a fearmonger.  I am not a scientist who thinks he is part of a priesthood.

— Verbal Vol

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The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC

Washington’s political establishment went berserk when US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) publicly noted that US-Israel relations are “all about the Benjamins”  — slang for $100 bills, referring to money shoveled at American politicians by the American Israel Public Affairs Group (AIPAC).

Omar was accused of antisemitism — immediately by Republicans, shortly after by members of her own party — and bullied into apologizing. She may or may not be prejudiced against Jews,  but even if she is, that wasn’t her real offense.

Her real offense was  publicly mentioning the irrefutable fact that many members of Congress take their marching orders from a foreign power’s lobbying apparatus (an apparatus not, as required by law, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act), at least partly because those marching orders come with promises of significant donations to those politicians’ campaigns.

AIPAC itself doesn’t make direct donations to political campaigns. But AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbying groups like Christians United For Israel punch well above their weight in American politics, largely by motivating their supporters to financially support and work for “pro-Israel” candidates in general elections and help weed out “anti-Israel” candidates in party primaries.

By the way, “pro-Israel” in this context always means “supportive of the jingoism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party,” and never “supportive of the many Israelis who’d like peace with the Palestinian Arabs.”

One AIPAC supporter  alone, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, spent $65 million getting Republicans elected, including $25 million supporting Donald Trump, in 2016.  But that $25 million was only put into action after Trump retreated from his early position of “neutrality” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, publicly prostrated himself to AIPAC in a speech at one of its events, and pronounced himself “the most pro-Israel presidential candidate in history.”

But: We’re not supposed to talk about that. Ever. And it’s easy to see why.

If most Americans noticed that many  members of Congress (as well as most presidents) are selling their influence over US policy to a foreign power, we might do something about it.

For decades, howling “antisemitism” any time the matter came up proved an effective tactic for shutting down public discussion of the “special relationship” under which Israel receives lavish foreign aid subsidies, effective control of US foreign policy in the Middle East, and lately even state (and pending federal) legislation requiring government contractors to sign loyalty oaths to Israel’s government.

The Israeli lobby’s power to prevent that discussion seems to be slipping, however. Why? In part because the lobby’s money and political support, which used to be spent buying both sides of the partisan aisle, has begun tilting heavily Republican in recent years, freeing some Democrats to not “stay bought.” And in part because the newest generation of politicians includes some like Ilhan Omar who aren’t for sale (to Israel, anyway).

Decades of unquestioning obedience to the Israel lobby has drawn the US into needless and costly conflicts  not even remotely related to the defense of the United States. We’ll be better off when the “special relationship,” and the corruption underlying it, ends.

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