Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Neema Parvini and the Pitfalls of Literary Scholars Doing History

There's a British Shakespeare scholar named Neema Parvini who has made a second career out of far right commentary on a YouTube channel called Academic Agent. He Tweets under the handle OGRolandRat.

As I've written here before, I share something in common with Robert Faurisson and Grover Furr -- and it turns out with Parvini as well. That is, all four of us took our advanced degrees in literary studies. (In the case of Furr, we both wrote our dissertations on certain aspects of medieval literature.) I mention this fact because a recent interaction I had with Parvini on Twitter called to mind why history is perhaps something best left to people with actual historical training.

The issue at hand was the issue of the shrunken heads presented as evidence at Nuremberg. Our own Sergey Romanov put in his typical yeoman's work discussing this incident, so I'd refer the interested reader there. When I was tagged into the Twitter discussion by a follower, Parvini was vehemently insisting that the shrunken heads were fake. His objection seemed to come down to the following issues: 1) the shrunken heads were presented as evidence alongside purported lampshades made from human skin, the latter of which were later demonstrated by DNA testing to be fake; 2) both the heads and lampshades were presented at Nuremberg, which Parvini considers to be an entirely tainted proceeding; and 3) according to Parvini, the Nazis would not have made shrunken heads in any circumstance.

The problems with these three issues are the following, in order.

1) Just because one piece of evidence turns out to be bogus is no reason to dismiss all of the other evidence, although there is certainly good reason to be suspicious. In the case of the shrunken heads, since 1946, additional evidence has come to light suggesting that the shrunken heads were indeed real. Thus, whereas the human skin lampshades have been conclusively proven to be false, the shrunken heads cannot be similarly discarded. Rather, what the shrunken heads have that the lampshades lack is corroboration. In particular, there is corroboration in the form of documentary evidence. When I made this point to Parvini ("Yeah, that's kinda how history works. We use documents."), he dismissed the document I provided as "just a court record," despite the document not coming to light until decades later.

2) The issue of Nuremberg as a bogus proceeding is more complicated and would require too much time and effort to go into here. The underlying assumption is one of dishonesty, and certainly we can point to instances like the Soviets' inclusion of the Katyn Forest Massacre as a crime committed by Germany (when it was they who were the actual culprits) as reason to believe that all was not above board at Nuremberg -- certainly it was not. However, there is simply no reason to believe that the American prosecutors who presented the shrunken heads and lampshades were deliberately presenting false evidence. In fact, given the verified provenance of the shrunken heads, there is every reason to believe that the lampshades were believed to be just as real as the shrunken heads turned out to be. Presented together, they tell a particular story about man's inhumanity to man as practiced under Nazi occupation. That story is no less true if one of the pieces of evidence is ultimately disqualified. There's enough evidence remaining to make the case.

3) The point of whether the Nazis would make shrunken heads is the one over which Parvini lost his temper. As I stated in a thread, why wouldn't the Nazis have made shrunken heads from dead Poles? Does Parvini hold the Nazis to some elevated standard? Is this more of the old "Germans wouldn't have done it this way" garbage that deniers routinely spout, not understanding even for a moment how ad hoc much of what the Nazis did was or how often individuals on the ground acted without the prior approval of those above them? It really is a simple question. If the Nazis would engage in human experimentation of all grotesque sorts, what would stop them from shrinking a couple of heads? After all, it's not like other parties in the war didn't engage in trophy hunting in combat, notably Americans with the Japanese. American GIs routinely sent Japanese ears and skulls back to friends and family stateside. But we are to assume that a handful of Nazis experimenting with making shrunken heads is simply beyond the pale?

Much of what I argue here has been said at this blog multiple times before (often by me over more than a decade). In this particular case, I do think Parvini is blinded by his lack of historical training and his inability to understand how pieces of historical evidence are weighed and assessed. His arguments were loaded with logical fallacies -- primarily a flat-out appeal to incredulity -- that showed no real familiarity with the larger context of what he was trying to argue. One had to wonder why he was even bothering.

The other part of the story here is that, in Parvini, we have yet another case of a semi-prominent person on the far right dipping his foot into denial but not taking the big plunge. We've seen this pattern already with Paul Craig Roberts and Ron Unz (the latter of whom eventually did take the plunge). Parvini is a bit more clever, but he does have a bit of a record that precedes him.

For his own part, Parvini denies being a Holocaust denier and has threatened yours truly with a lawsuit should I even dare blog about him. I'm not prepared to say he's a Holocaust denier, to be clear. I am prepared to say that he's out of his depth debating this material and, further, that he's likely a deeply unpleasant person given the below tweets. 





Whether he's aware of it or not, Parvini is using techniques of soft denial that most of us here can smell a mile off. He may not be a Holocaust denier, but absent his protestations, he sure as hell sounds like one.

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