We start with a personal experience and hope to illuminate it on a larger scale.
In 1965, one of us (RM) was in Munich Germany and reports this anecdote:
I decided one day for no reason to go to the beer hall called the Hofbräuhaus, Am Platzl 9, a Munich landmark and the place where Hitler read out the Nazi program of 25 points in February 1920. This beer hall was a major haunt or stomping ground of the Nazis. I sat quietly at a side table and nursed my Berliner Weisse beer.
An older man staggers past me, dressed in Bavarian lederhosen and for no reason sits across from me and starts making some small talk which I politely reply to. He asks me if I come from Berlin and to save time I say “sort of.”
Suddenly out of nowhere he says to me: “Let me tell you one thing. It all started in 1928.”
I ponder his words but have no idea what he’s getting at in his drunken maundering.
He then adds, “That’s when GM the American car company bought the German company Adam Opel.
He doesn’t explain what his family connection was to this merger and acquisition but one would have to guess someone in his family, himself or his father perhaps, got laid off.
(The preeminent business historian Alfred Chandler of Harvard Business School, who died in 2007, discusses this 1928 business merger in his books, but there’s no detailed description of secondary effects.)
The German uninvited interloper at my table begins to blame the merger on the Jews. I tell him that the car industry in America was itself very antisemitic with Henry Ford being the leader of this paranoia-based hatred. He answers cryptically, “you know what I mean.” His attitude is “don’t confuse me with facts.”
The German goes on and on with this Jew-bashing tirade and I finally get exasperated and say, “you mean people like me” do you?
He becomes whiter than a sheet and seems about to pass out. He gets out of his chair and stumbles and staggers out of the Hofbrauhaus.
I learnt from this experience that this man was probably not some evil madman but more likely “a little man” legitimately scared out of his wits by the global and local permanent instability in the economy at all levels and scales.
In fact, there’s a Hollywood movie, Little Man, What Now? based on the novel by the great German writer Hans Fallada, which depicts a young couple baffled and overwhelmed by the econo-gyrations of their moment in time.
Now we come to the perspectival question (i.e., the MetaIntelligence question): how to see this more clearly with some wider and deeper view?
We glimpse the deeper context in a book by the British historian David Thomson in his excellent England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914, where he describes how industrialization, trade and global trends became entwined. This is for England, not Germany, but could serve as a rough template for all modernizing countries undergoing deep transformations and facing anxiety-stoking unknowns:
The Englishman was now nakedly at the mercy of vast economic changes beyond the control of his own government. he had the vote, and could at elections choose between alternative governments but if none of these governments could provide him with the sense of social and economic security he desired, what was the vote worth?(David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914, Penguin Books, 1978, page 190)
Think of the German at the Hofbräuhaus as bewildered (not unjustly) by the “little man, what now?” permanent insecurity problem of the modern industrial world.
It’s probably not instructive to think of him as an evil hater but rather as a person frightened out if his mind, for real reasons. He takes as his symbol for all this insecurity the 1928 Opel acquisition mentioned above. This is an example of going from one person’s (garbled) experience to a wider canvas.
To make this canvas deeper, add the anxiety about science expressed in our science anxiety/Sōseki essay previously.
One then gets an inkling of the modern sense of dread based on various nerve-wracking perceived threats which cannot be laughed off or dismissed.