Novelist And Poet Says Google Books And The Kindle Are 'Nazi' Technology

from the hello,-luddite dept

If you thought that author Sherman Alexie’s views on the Kindle were quintessential luddism, you haven’t seen anything yet. Reader JonMontgo alerts us to a rather stunning opinion by novelist and poet Alan Kaufman who goes into full rant mode, calling Google Books and the Kindle to be the end result of Nazism. It’s hard to read this and not wonder if someone flipped a bit somewhere. He goes on and on, making wild cognitive leaps that have no basis in reality. The basic summary is that Nazis used “high tech” methods to more efficiently exterminate the Jews, and thus, pretty much any modern technology that hasn’t been carefully reviewed to make sure it can only be used for good purposes, is a continuation of Nazi efforts. Furthermore, the Nazi’s hated books, and thus, these new technologies are really designed to kill books, and claims that paper books are killing trees are simply propaganda from people trying to destroy books. Seriously. Here’s just a bit:

Today’s hi-tech propagandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form that society would be better off without. In its place, they want us to carry around the Uber-Kindle.

The hi-tech campaign to relocate books to Google and replace books with Kindles is, in its essence, a deportation of the literary culture to a kind of easily monitored concentration camp of ideas, where every examination of a text leaves behind a trail, a record, so that curiosity is also tinged with a sense of disquieting fear that some day someone in authority will know that one had read a particular book or essay. This death of intellectual privacy was also a dream of the Nazis. And when I hear the term Kindle, I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit.

Now, to be sure, there are reasonable concerns about the electronic trail we leave in using technology. And there are concerns about who really “owns” the digital book you access, and how much control you have over it as well as how much data you send back. But comparing it to the Nazis and concentration camps? That goes way overboard. And yet, Kaufman hasn’t just leapt off that board, he’s done so gleefully, in great detail:

The Nazis often were, by their own lights, well-intentioned idealists working for a better tomorrow. And their instrument was modern technology, aspects of philosophical and aesthetic modernism and the old religious concept of supercession implicit in the Christian notion of progress. Jews were outmoded, useless, they said. Most high level Nazis, like Himmler or Heydrich or Eichmann, did not feel visceral hatred towards the Jew. Rather, they looked upon them coldly as something that simply needed to disappear so that the new life could get on its way. And the means by which they sought to do so was first through a propaganda campaign that portrayed Jews, in Wagnerian terms, as a drag on the visionary energies and bursting vigor of the new Aryan man, and then by the implementation of this decision to eliminate Jews through ever more sophisticated state corporate and scientific technological means. And yet, during the war crime trials at Nuremberg, while Nazi Jurisprudence was tried and hanged, Nazi technological attitudes were not put on trial.

The victorious Allies did not mandate that technology, which had been turned to such murderous ends, must pass an ethical standard review from an international body, like a UN of technology. No such body of decision came about. To the contrary, even while the war crime trials of Nazi chieftains were in session, American and Soviet governments were recruiting high-level Nazis to their intelligence services, military armaments industries, and space programs. So that, while in jurisprudence terms Nazi social and political values were delivered a blow, the Nazi fascination with technology merged seamlessly with that of their conquerors: us.

Normally, I would just call Godwin’s Law, and move on, but this is just beyond bizarre. Automatically assuming that all new high tech is a straight line from the Holocaust is just sickening and delusional beyond pretty much any level of standard luddism.

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Comments on “Novelist And Poet Says Google Books And The Kindle Are 'Nazi' Technology”

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fogbugzd (profile) says:

Why it isn't Nazi

Nazi’s burned books. As Steven Colbert said, “You can’t burn a Kindle.” Actually, you can, but the point is that once something is an ebook and on the Internet, it is virtually impossible to destroy all the copies. Strike one against the Nazi argument.

The Nazi party were fascists. The real definition of fascism is that the government is run for the benefit of business rather than the citizens. I’ll let you jump to any conclusions you want to from that.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Oh, you hypocritical author type...

I sure as shit hope you don’t use an evil computer to type your writings there, Sparky. Didn’t you know that IBM, popularly considered the company that propelled the world towards the personal computer, got their first really big break selling their computer punch card system to the Nazis?

What did they want the computer for? Well, they needed an efficient way to figure out the transport ligistics for the millions of Jews they were gathering in those little sports camps they put together (aboslutely true story, other than the sports camp part, obviously).

So that righteous tool had damn well better be writing on a typewriter, or better yet, pen and paper. Ooooh! Also no using the major brands of offset printing presses or binders, since they’re mostly German too! Hand labor only!

Maybe he should put together his own sports camp to do all of this work for him….

aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile) says:

Re: Oh, you hypocritical author type...

Beside the point, and something I honestly don’t care about: Logistics, not Ligistics.

A lot of the offset presses are Japanese, like the Akiyama presses. The best one I ever had the pleasure of working on was a Heidelberg. It was built years before I was born, made from what looked like cast iron and steel, and even though it was slower than the modern presses we used it never had any down time while I was working at the print shop.

Besides, I can commit many more gruesome atrocities with a simple hammer than I can an ebook reader.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh, you hypocritical author type...

Really, Dark Helmet?

The commercialization of computer technology started around 1983 when Apple partnered with Japan’s NEC to mass produce the Macintosh. And over the years, in a way, it has made presses and their end product less valuable, and to some extent, obsolete. For the past few decades, they have coexisted, but as evidenced by companies that depend on physical printing such as books, magazines, newspapers, digital distribution has become more valuable to the consumer. The media has changed, Dark Helmet, and those who don’t see it, and respond accordingly will ultimately be left behind. In many cases, this means re-inventing the whole business and partnering with companies that have the eyeballs and market share.

You used to be funny, now it seems you’re coming off as racist, or maybe you’re just very frustrated.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Oh, you hypocritical author type...

Mrs. Coward:

As a few other people have pointed out, you’re both wrong and you missed the point. Commercial computer technology began with punch cards. Yes, most of the “customers” were either governments or government-run companies, but they were made by IBM, a privately owned company.

And I was sarcastically telling this idiot that if he wants to take this moral highground, he better not be using a computer. It was sarcasm.

And racist? Please! I’ve been called an Obama lackey, and one guy way back when accused me of supporting Zionist efforts. It’s amazing how you can confuse people with a little sarcasm….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Oh, you hypocritical author type...

I think you may have missed his point. Read it again, but try to put the DH sarcasm on it. This is the way I read it:

Dear Author,
If you’re using a computer to write your book then you’re a hypocrite. Here are the reasons why. Get your facts straight before being a jackass.


Then again, maybe I missed his point. Maybe he’s saying we need to exterminate a bunch of people who like sports.

Darren says:

It’s one thing to be put out when new technology means the world isn’t quite the way you would like it to be. But to shoehorn the Nazi regime in to your argument is both ludicrous and disgraceful.
I’m not Jewish myself or have Romany blood. I haven’t got a disability and I’m heterosexual but I still find myself offended by Kaufman’s disregard for the huge suffering of all those peoples and more. This is the worst kind of tabloid style reasoning.

TFP says:


>The hi-tech campaign to relocate books to Google and replace books with Kindles is, in its essence, a deportation of the literary culture to a kind of easily monitored concentration camp of ideas American and Soviet governments were recruiting high-level Nazis to their intelligence services, military armaments industries, and space programs

Also true. The rest sounds pretty insane, it’s obviously the illuminati doing everything…

Fogbudz said >The real definition of fascism is that the government is run for the benefit of business rather than the citizens.

Hey, welcome to the UK 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

The Nazi fear mongering and nastiness aside… the article strikes me more as Big Brother conspiracy cry more than any thing else.

It appears that Mr. Kaufman is, rather poorly, trying to say that he views the digitization of books as a methodology of control. That with a book, or other textual work digitized, a digital fingerprint is left behind whenever you access a work. And that those digital fingerprints can be tracked.

I think he is trying to paint a picture to illustrate that when/if all physical texts (read paper books) are eliminated and only digital texts remain, then some authoritarian dictatorship of the future would be able to keep track of what its citizens have read.

But… it also seems that the nut is liking all modern technology, much of which could possibly be abused by government, as a evil that will inevitable be used to subjugate the citizenry.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think he is trying to paint a picture…

I think you’re making some valid arguments against the Kindle which were never raised in Alan Kaufman’s bizarre screed.

Alan Kaufman’s screed was purely ad hominem. Nazi’s used technology for nefarious purposes, therefore all technology is used for nefarious purposes… even the use of space heaters. Which he contradicts himself by posting his screed on the internet so everyone can easily read it.

Which is exactly what Google is trying to do. Making it easier to find information in books, not destroy books. Which is what Amazon is trying to do, making it easier to find, buy, and transport books, not trying to destroy its cash cow.

Imagine if Alan Kaufman had argued that 2+2=4 solely because his farts make it so. The fact that he was utterly correct that 2+2=4, it does not make his insane augment any more valid.

In other words, the Kindle may be an awful product, but you’ll never know it after reading Kaufman’s screed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

>>That with a book, or other textual work digitized,
>>a digital fingerprint is left behind whenever you access
>>a work. And that those digital fingerprints can be tracked.

You can almost bet that this may not used only under the broad term of “safety” and “security”, but also is used created for reasons that are political in nature. If true, the best solution is to consider creation of a third political party which understands technology, and won’t be tempted to use such technology under a veil of political secrecy.

Consider that there are many political implications of this: maybe in 2012, the library records of a candidate will be leaked to the press to find answers about why so-and-so borrowed books that don’t tow the party line.

If government can’t secure passport records of both Presidential candidates, why should it be expected that private business can do the same? In a political campaign, there is no time to get in front of a story, and/or file a lawsuit against leaking of personal data. Take Tiger Woods as an example. How were the Chinese able to get a “Sims Expansion Pack” out before the story?

Until there are very strict laws and fines imposed enacted regarding leaking of any private information, including credit card purchases, and data, it’s tough to get a-board the Digital Express.

cc says:

He has an interesting argument, actually, even though the Nazi metaphor is rather unfortunate.

He talks about _intellectual privacy_ and the fact that anything we read on a computer is being logged somewhere. He tries to invoke a Big Brother sort of image, equating books with thoughts, and concluding that anything you think is being recorded. He’s saying that technology is evil because it can — in theory — be used for evil.

He may turn out to be right, though I think he’s more afraid ebooks will supersede paper books some day, and we can’t have that.

Blatant Coward (profile) says:

It's proven to work!

My Mom was a data punch/data entry/system programmer specialist for NOAA from the early 60’s to 1980 or so. The lengthy job title is how her job changed in that time. To begin with she worked with wire encoders, then paper cards, then paper tape, then magnetic cards, then magnetic tape.

She entered weather measurements from hundreds of weather reporting stations from all over the US so that they were recorded for posterity, and studies.

So yah, while ’83 may have marked the usage swell for the personal computer, mainframes were well emplaced in commerce and government from the 50’s on.

Laughingdragon (profile) says:

Kindle and Nazi-ism

Paper lasts hundreds of years. A Kindle book is held at the pleasure of Amazon. Paper books can be given, lent or resold. Kindle books cannot.
Kindle gets between the author and the reader in a very intrusive way. The author must pay a fee for selling a book through Kindle. The reader must submit to having their privacy invaded and having not absolute ownership of the book they bought.
Yes, it’s true the Nazi’s thought they were improving a lot of things. And they only wanted to get rid of a few problems. Jews, disabled, aged, unemployed, gypsies, political opponents…
Why buy a e-reader when you can buy a PC-Tablet and read your book in any format you want? Why let someone else control your memory circuits and storage? The e-readers now on sale are mostly small screened and black and white.
They aren’t good for children because small type makes children nearsighted. They aren’t cheap, despite being cheap to manufacture.

Fentex says:

The extracts printed here aren’t as ludicrous as the articles introduction suggets they are.

The poet is essentially right in characterizing the wholesale adoption of Kindles as a wholeslae surrender of intellectual privacy.

That this concerns him more than other people doesn’t make his concern a insane invention.

Suppose Kindle like devices, from which a remote presence can delete texts at will, becomes predominant.

An oppresive state (and if you don’t believe in them I don’t think you’ve looked through a window onto the world often enough, recently enough) could one day acheive substantially improved control of it’s subjects through such devices.

Being leery of such is not irrational, it’s perfectly sane.
Control of copying used to control the only thing most people ever read – their Bibles. Which helped the church in it’s role as the states enforcer.

So we’ve seen cheaper and easier copying undermine the vice on peoples minds over the last five hundred years to all our benefit. But those who want to tighten the vice are still there, and they will turn it every chance they get.

People reading this column know full well of ACTA and other draconian attempts to restrain the genii of free acts and sharing of unlimited wealth, to push peoples opportunities into restricted spaces.

Do such readers really beleive that given the chance the aristocrats and oligarchs with a will for power wouldn’t use it to rule?

Orwell feared it would be done by force, Huxley feared that people would willingly give up freedom for bread and circuses. Huxley seems the one more prescient today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The issue people have, the one that causes them to question his sanity, is his bringing Nazis, the Holocaust and Auschwitz into things. Not his assertions as to the evil certain technologies COULD be put to. Do you really believe that WWII Nazi leaders are aiming orbital mind control lasers at your tender grey stuff?

Anonymous Coward says:

no #34, im including is viewpoints of technology being evil.

its no more evil than a rock. no one would blame the rock if i picked it up and bashed your head in just like no one would praise the rock if i used it as part of a bridge in order to span a river or killed a snake that was threatening to strike at you.

its a rock… and technology without intent is just as evil/good as a rock.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

You know who wrote a book? Hitler! Do you know who owned and were proud to own books? The NAZIS! You know who else occupied the space-time continuum? Hitler! Please! I want to get more Godwin points than that guy but I can’t do it! More seriously, I would not be caught dead with a Kindle. I buys my books so that I can always have them available. So I will be buy a Kindle when they actually give me the file for the books so I can back it up and especially when I can take my legally obtained textbooks and reference books in pdf form and put them on the device.

Nraddin (profile) says:

Nazi's where not the tech friendly

It’s a misreading of history that leads people to believe that the Nazi’s where huge friends of science. It turns out that the Nazi’s spent less as a % of GDP on Science than Germany did before they took over, and that many of the high tech wonders the Germans used in WWII where invented dispite the Nazi govt not because of it.

The Nazi ideal in fact had little to do with Tech, looking down on the brainy science guys of the world and holding up as the uber-human those that worked hard with their hands. Posters of the day show young german men working hard in rolling fields with hand tools (No tractors or mechanical equipment) or men with shovles and picks working on new roads or other contrution projects.

I find the references people make to the Nazi govt of Germany as sick, but even more than that I find that most times they are just wrong. The fundimental misunderstanding of what happened in WWII is a sad state that leaves me with fear about our future.

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