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Evil, Radical Evil, the Banality of Evil and Fiona Apple
I've been thinking a lot about evil lately. mainly it's because I'm reading Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem" subtitled "The Banality of Evil". Now that subtitle caused quite a stir (in fact the whole book pissed off a lot of people). I think Arendt is a genius. I read her book "On Totalitarianism" (which is actually three books, one on anti-semitism, one on imperialism and one on totalitarianism). if you want a purely objective viewpoint on a highly emotional point of history, read that book. even if you don't, read that book.
I think the term "Evil" gets used and abused just like "Depression". what I hate about this overuse is that it obscures the true evil in the world. the best definition I ever heard of what constitutes evil is - 'the infliction of pain for no reason other than to inflict pain." in other words sadism or cruelty are the manifestations of a truly evil person. I do think that there are some broken machines out there, psychopaths and sociopaths (again two terms that seem to be overused to apply to anyone who cuts in front of a line or does any other remotely undesirable thing). but these people go more towards Arendt's reformulation of Kant's "Radical Evil".
Arendt's version of Kant's radical evil is when humans (either through conditioning (i.e. brainwashing) or fucked up genes (psychos)) view other humans as superfluous. this is the terrifying trait of perversions of religion (jihads) and totalitarian governments. what really turns into the ultimate terrifying evil is when the person views himself superfluous (as is usually the case in jihads and totalitarian governments - think of "dying for a greater cause").
this radical evil can lead to concentration camps and mass extermination. the purpose of the concentration camps and death camps was to make the human superfluous. technically the sadism and cruelty engaged in those places had a purpose (whether the individual actors even cared is another matter), namely to break the spontaneity of the individual. to make him think that no matter what he did, his fate was determined. what's the use of spontaneity in that type of a world? it is, of course, involved in the cruelty of ensuring that everyone in those camps knew that there were fates far worse than death and that those fates awaited them right around the next corner.
that is why I am so against authoritarian china and Russia. people confuse it in our overly PC world as if I were against the Chinese people or the Russians. not at all the case. it is because I care about them, as individuals that I hate their governments. Russia is kind of broken at this point and is really just a pesky fly, but china, china is formidable. what is the most terrifying thing about china is that it is an authoritarian regime with a SURPLUS of people that they can make superfluous.
Arendt mentions that one of the reasons that Nazism was not completely genocidal during its time was because it simply did not have enough people. she cites documents that very clearly showed that Nazism's aim, had they prevailed an instituted the dominant regime they had envisioned to last 1,000 years, was to begin to exterminate "undesirable" germans. you see the nationality was not the ultimate goal. that was just an earlier rallying point. the goal was to create a master race. so those with alcoholism, bad hearts, bad lungs, bad anything could not be tolerated.
I don't have very many beliefs that I truly hold onto. I think that is a sickness normally found in the corner of every "ism" in this world. but one belief I really hold on to is the priority of the individual over everything else. this is why I think racism, sexism, any sort of ism that denigrates the individual to the generalities of his/her class is sick. there is nothing worse than taking away a person's individuality. taking away their agency, their dignity by lumping them into some stereotype. or, even worse, using them for some "lofty" purpose like the propagation of a master race or the inevitable, Hegelian dialectal outcome that history is inexorably pushing towards (conveniently this end culminates in China being kick-ass).
so the banality of evil is the most misunderstood concept ever. (well maybe not but allow me my hyperbole!). people think that it somehow lets the nazis off the hook. that they were unwitting actors in some masterminded scheme, puppets in a play. that is not at all what Arendt meant by that term. the banality of evil is essentially the means by which radical evil is brought into this world.
the einsatzgruppen, who murdered jews (and other undesirables) with guns started having psychological meltdowns. there was rampant alcohol and drug use amongst their ranks to cope with what they had done. in other words, it was not sustainable. so what's the solution? make it more banal (and I'll get into what is meant by that in a moment). push some papers around, oh look 200k people just disappeared off the face of the earth.
again, there are very few, maybe 1% of the population who can turn into concentration camp guards. the trick is to find these people already predisposed to using people as a means to an end and let them exercise their sadism. and the more people did that, the more they could justify doing so.
take Rudolf hoess, the commandant of auschwitz. sure you can take his testimony as mere blame-shifting but look into it. how he stresses that there was no cruelty in the camps. HE WOULDN'T PERMIT IT. it was strictly an "operation". this of course blurs the whole picture which is that he was responsible for the deaths of millions!
that is the banality of evil. you do something without looking any further into it than what is directly in your purview. because if you really were to critically look at the evil that you are committing it would become absurd. evil does not allow for true introspection. speak to any racist (and I have believe me) and they get very agitated the moment you start making them look at their hatred.
so now you're saying, well you've just confirmed what you said you wouldn't, namely that these people are just puppets. task given, task executed (quite literally). where is the personal responsibility in that? WE WANT THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBLITY anything less offends human nature.
I don't know. maybe I just talked myself into a corner (see that's why I am always open to challenges to my beliefs, except for a few inviolate ones that I think I can defend quite well). but isn't that ever the more reason to be critical of authoritarian regimes? to uphold the individual and her inspirations, ambitions and spontaneity as sacrosanct? to decry any regime that wishes to clump people together under the auspice of an "ism"? only then can we hold the individual truly responsible. otherwise, we're just satiating some urge that seems primal but seems to have less and less tangibility in the reality of human nature.
there is no sexier song than "criminal" by Fiona Apple. not just the lyrics but Fiona Apple. god damn. I was 16 when that cd first came out (that's right I said CD). I remember this girl in my school, who I swear to god looked like Fiona borrowed it from me. I remember lamely saying something like, "haha, you look like her, why don't you just sing." ugh, a sign of my current dating prowess. I remember she lost that CD and said that she would make it up to me.
did you know that fiona apple was raped at the age of 12? that is why she was always so skinny. she said she did it to make herself unattractive to men as a sexual object. can you imagine that? can you imagine making such a song like "criminal" after experiencing that? I am in love with Fiona Apple, but maybe I'm just still in love with that girl from high school and her recompense to me.