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AdLib On February - 19 - 2014
Banksy's "The Banality of the Banality of Evil"

Banksy’s “The Banality of the Banality of Evil”

When I mention accommodating evil, I’m not describing a stay at a Travelodge (though I could be). What is intended is the kind of game that our society willingly participates in, validating and rationalizing what most of us recognize as evil, as being an acceptable argument against what is not evil. It is as if there is an architectural contest and those constructing buildings are seen as equal competitors with those demolishing their buildings. It is apples and oranges, dogs and cats, Ted Cruz and sanity.

There have been philosophical debates since the dawn of reason about whether people are born to be good and through life experience, are turned to do bad things or vice versa. The problem with such a proposition may be its absolutism, perhaps people are not born to be good or evil but possess the potentials to give into good or evil urges depending on their psychology, life experiences and the situation at hand.

When there is a disaster or people suffering, we always witness compassion that surfaces in others, without any other instigation but their own conscience and desire to help other human beings. We also see a smaller number of people look at such a situation as an opportunity to serve their selfishness and greed, scamming victims and those donating or fighting in Washington D.C. to prevent victims from receiving aid just to further their self-centered agenda.

We experience temptations all the time to do the wrong thing. Some people might keep an overpayment of change from a cashier who will get in trouble for such a mistake. Some people might eat or over-eat foods that are bad for their health even when their health is already suffering. Some people might have affairs on their spouses, others might take out frustrations on their children. Human beings are flawed by nature, we can’t be perfect, that’s part of the definition of being human. It would be unfair to judge others on their occasional failings as if we did not have our own.

In other words, we all fuck up sometimes. But for most of us, they are exceptions, not the type of thing that’s normal for us to do in most areas of our lives.

When we do the wrong thing, we may rationalize it at the time or be in denial over it, giving ourselves a pass to overlook it in ourselves but not extending the same immunity to others. We don’t think it’s cool if someone else walks away from us with an overpayment of change we gave them, a loved one in bad health is eating foods that could give them a heart attack, our spouse is having an affair with someone else or a neighbor is venting their frustrations on their kids.

If we were to see these choices in others, we are likely to have a similar response, that these things are all wrong to have done. Since we no longer have subjectivity interfering with our thought process on ethical and moral judgement, as a group we would find ourselves pretty much concurring on what is generally good or evil.

Hannah Arendt covered the trial of the World War II war criminal, Adolf Eichmann and wrote a widely read book afterwards, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, coining the latter part of the title as a poignant quote. The Banality of Evil referred to her proposition that some of the greatest evils in human history were accomplished not by the madmen and extremists (though they may have been the promoters of them) but by the ordinary people who accepted what their leaders or government represented as the right way to see things and thus these ordinary people justified their evil words and deeds as just being “normal”.

It has become a very lazy and hysterical tactic to compare those who someone doesn’t like as being like the Nazis, almost instantly disqualifying whatever complaint is being made. Instead, in this instance, we are talking about the kind of human behavior that allows evil to become the status quo in a society and lays the groundwork for evil to be done.

It would seem likely that a broad majority of our nation, if polled apolitically and just inquiring as to one’s moral views, that all of the following would have a strong consensus:

a. Lying is wrong.

b. Stealing is wrong.

c. Greed is wrong.

d. Sharing is good.

e. Caring about others is good.

f. A better future for our kids is good.

Without it having political overtones, most Democrats and Republicans would likely be right alongside each other affirming all of the above (with 1%ers claiming they’re being victimized by answering “No!” to all of these).

And yet, in the political arena, it is the banality of evil that wins out over many Republicans. Like others throughout history who have sought to bend the thinking of many to support their sociopathy, the most prevalent voices behind the GOP have established their own society within our American society. It is one that exemplifies daily in the media and on the political stage, that it is normal to lie, steal, be greedy, refuse to share, refuse to care about others and reject a better future for their children.

When Republican politicians, spokespeople or pundits appear in the media, it appears widely accepted by hosts and viewers that they are not expected to tell the truth. It’s taken for granted that their lying and deceiving in the name of a “good” cause is just part of the game and the conversation becomes all about combatting their lies rather than disqualifing out of hand whatever they say because they are unethical and no longer credible because they are lying. And there is no social price to pay for Republicans who lie (Democrats seem to have more ethical expectations), they are not held to even the standard of a five year old child who claims a man broke into the kitchen and ate all the cookies.

For example, in order to sabotage a fair vote by auto workers on whether or not to unionize at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, Senator Bob “Pinocchio” Corker uncorked a blatant lie, saying that if workers voted against the union, Volkswagen execs had told him they would build an additional model of vehicle at their plant which would give them greater job security. This was a 100% manufactured, unquestionable lie, used by this Republican to corrupt an election and his justification after the fact was that he was just exercising his right to free speech. And will Corker pay a price with Republican voters for lying, cheating and trying to sabotage a free and fair election in America? Of course not, the banality of evil insulates Corker from voter reprisal because within Republican society, lying and playing dirty to get what you want is normal.

Consider the tactics and sway of the Tea Party Republicans who have built another society within that unethical Republican society, in which it is normal to threaten and endanger the United States government, its economy and the livelihoods of millions of Americans in order to get what they want. And consider all the Republican politicians who have had to scramble to show that the “normal” of the Tea Party sociopaths is their normal too.

The rise we’ve seen in expressing open racism towards President Obama and others who aren’t white, bigotry towards women and gays, is evidence of how such people see such statements as normal. If the same people thought that expressing hatred of others based on how different they are from straight white males was not normal, they would naturally feel more hesitant about openly broadcasting it. Those who have propagated bigotry and hatred for profit like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have so saturated society with it, that people who join that horrible chorus feel that they are just doing the normal thing.

And the trap here is that the American public has become so accustomed to seeing the Right Wing lying and hating that it has become grudgingly accepted as “the other side of the debate”.

This is where I would disagree, it is a big societal and democratic problem to give up and accede that dishonesty and hatred must be accepted as “normal” opposition just because they are so pervasive. When political people lie to advance their cause, the issue at hand is their lack of ethics and the immorality of trying to accomplish a selfish goal through lying to the public. Sometimes we’re too cynical for our own good, cynicism changes nothing and in fact is an obstacle to change. There needs to  be a putting aside of the cynicism that things are how they are and that’s that. What is needed instead is a rejection and de-normalization of unethical and evil things, people and politicians should be held to a higher standard, whatever party they belong to and held very accountable for their deceptions and corruption of character.

Right now, we may be seeing a bit of a turning of the tide on this. What is happening with all the scandals surrounding Chris Christie is a glaring example of the banality of evil. Christie’s entire administration now appears to have been operating in such a bubble, all the vindictiveness, corruption and abuse of power that has gone on under his leadership…was normal. The obvious and ongoing lies that Christie still employs to avoid taking responsibility for his actions and leadership, in itself an example of unethical behavior, are normal to him. Throwing his friends and closest aides under the bus so that he can keep his own ambitions for the Presidency alive? That’s a normal thing to do in the GOP and in Christie’s arena.

When the penny finally drops on Christie’s orchestration of creating an atmosphere in his administration of evil as normal, it would be a very appropriate time for the American public to take a moment and consider what we might want to be the new normal in our politicians. If we act like cynical citizens and throw in the towel on holding politicians responsible for being dishonest and unethical, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, if we consider what our tolerance of evil has led us to, the degree of corruption and dysfunction so much of our democracy has fallen into, perhaps we can take back a bit more control over our destinies by not accommodating evil and instead, attaching a heavy political price to be paid for displaying it.

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

16 Responses so far.

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  1. gyp46 says:

    “CONSTITUTIONAL CONSERVATIVE”!! I saw this phase on an election billboard in southern Oregon yesterday and it got me thinking. What does a constitutional conservative have that we constitutional progressives do not? Answer: NOTHING, except propaganda. And in that department the ‘right’ is way ahead of the ‘left’. When you have a network at your disposal 100% of the time, when you have a section of the nation that listens to nothing except right wing talk radio and that aforementioned TV network, you have a recipe of winning at the local level at least, just look at the ’10 elections if you have any doubts.
    Now how many of you do not stand for the ‘constitution’? Very few I would bet, yet if you listen to your neighbor who is plugged into the propaganda machine of the ‘right’you would come away thinking all progressives were communists at heart. Hitler learned early on that repeating negatives works, and our ‘illustrious’ republicans have also learned that very lesson with the help of that ‘network’ and it’s owner. Never in the over 50 years of watching and participating in our elections have I seen such vitriol and hate that is so prevalent today.
    So again, CONSTITUTIONAL PROGRESSIVES need to step up and speak out about our belief in that CONSTITUTION, we must not relinquish the debate to the ‘right’ !!

  2. monicaangela says:

    Great article Adlib,

    I attribute this type of thinking to addiction. Have you ever noticed or heard of how some people can take a drug and not become addicted, can move on chalking the experience up to lessons learned, while others indulge and almost instantly become hooked? I believe those that follow what some, you and I included, would call obviously obscene behavior do this because they become comfortable with this type of behavior and receive some type of gratification from it. They appear to me to be no different than those who become addicted to drugs or some other types of co-dependent behaviors.

    The bad behavior you describe is an addiction IMHO and needs treatment just as alcoholism and drug addiction and other habits need treatment in order to resolve the problem. Maybe some day someone will devote the time and attention necessary to create a program to treat this condition.

    Just a thought. 😉

    • AdLib says:

      Monicaangela, I agree with you that the core followers of the Repubs are addicted to the racism, hatred and doing and saying anything as a means to an end that is today’s GOP. They have become hooked on the rush they get from Rush…and the other dealers in hate and dishonesty who give them the fix they so desperately need to block out the realities of the current society they unhappily find themselves in.

      The people I get more upset at are those who have become complacent and just accept that being deceptive and unprincipled is just “the way things are” in politics and an acceptable strategy for the opposition.

      There should be a stigma and a price to be paid for the liars and fear mongers out there, it’s up to the people to apply it since our media and politics won’t.

      • monicaangela says:

        I agree, although I don’t believe this will happen until the actual act is denounced for what it really is and considered a crime or an illness with mandatory punishment or treatment according to the classification. 🙂

  3. Great article Ad. As kes said, very thought provoking. I am always interested in such subjects as good and evil and how morality affects a society as a whole.

    I don’t really believe in the concept of “original sin,” the belief that we are born bad and need salvation. That concept is just too convenient for those in the salvation business, and there are far too many of those types of hucksters.

    Often, what we call evil has some sort of underlying physiological abnormality. Neuroscience has seen differences in brain structure in some cases of psychopathy and in extreme cases of sociopathy. I know that physiology doesn’t always explain such abnormalities in many, many cases.

    I think that we are basically born with a capacity for altruism, compassion and a sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves. Call it spirituality if you will.

    I think as a child matures, there are many outside influences that teach the child better behaviors and/or “bad,” behaviors. I do think that a certain amount of greed is inherent in us. I think we learn as we mature that greed is not a good thing for the “whole.” For a wide variety of reasons, many people don’t learn that valuable lesson. Desire is also something innate with us humans. I also think the allure of power deeply affects many of us. When these three “aspects,” combine in any individual, we get exactly what you have written about here.

    Kes mentioned Ayn Rand, and I too thought of her while reading your article. Here was a person that promoted greed and selfishness, as if human beings really needed prodding in those directions.

    I also think some vague form of tribalism among the GOPTPers is responsible for a lot of their nastiness. The fear of minorities growing in number scares the hell out of them. That same tribalism makes them very hateful of democrats and liberals because we favor diversity and multi-culturalism. This is why they are so against minority immigration.

    I have to add fear as another element in what makes these GOPTPers so nasty and adavistic. Fear is a powerful motivator and as we all know, the RW is very good at fear mongering, and creating an “other,” for their minions to dehumanize and hate.

    Last but not least is religion. I’m not talking about the many, many people in this world that are truely pious and attempt, every day to live as their faith teaches them. I’m referring to the hucksters and fanatics that think they have a lock on what’s moral and immoral. Those that take advantage of scripture by twisting it and bastardizing
    it to their own ends. I’m sure you know exactly the types I’m referring to.

    All of these “qualities,”, when combined in an individual, a group and a large segment of society are very dangerous and very formidable in trying to eradicate. Many things we learn along the way are better unlearned. The problems as I see it is how to unteach!

    I do believe, in a more hopeful way, that these sort of people, at least as a group, cannot successfully buck the tides of change for the better. They are like old, dried up trees that snap in the winds of change. it’s much better to be like the sapling, young, green and able to bend in strong winds.

  4. kesmarn says:

    AdLib, you’ve gone straight to the heart of the matter as far as the political landscape goes — not just here in America, but around the world. Kudos and many thanks for a really thought-provoking article.

    There’s been an interesting development in the TN Volkswagen case and the rejection of the UAW organizing attempt. It seems that the German executives of the company are less than pleased and impressed with the actions of Corker & Co. The dirty tricks they’ve pulled off are causing these execs to reconsider any future factory ventures in the South. Corker may have messed it up for TN and the South in general with his actions. Actions that the German managers apparently view as crossing the line — into the area of “unfair labor practices.”


    I think this must be totally astonishing to Corker and his cronies. Why the VW leadership would have any interest in a collaborative relationship with labor must be incomprehensible to people who view workers as people who need to be (in some cases literally) whipped into craven submission.

    I know that there has always been corruption in politics, but I have a feeling that things really started to go south when Richard Nixon was in office. Lies, break-ins, dirty tricks — they were all regarded as “nothing personal, just business.” It was during this era that the idea of dismissing people who had a solid sense of ethics (and even — gasp! — compassion) as naive simpletons really took hold in public life. Do people ever ask themselves whether this was the case because the man at the helm was a paranoid psychotic? I think they’re afraid to.

    Then Karl Rove and Dick Cheney brought Nixon’s amoral “leadership” style into the 21st century.

    The thing that always baffles me is that they’ve never even managed to figure out that — morality aside — simple pragmatism demands a certain level of ethical awareness and consistency. Even someone as nutty as Ayn Rand would likely recognize that enlightened self interest and/or the desire to make profits requires a functioning court system, government and banking industry. None of which can exist without a baseline level of trust and integrity. Otherwise, you have Somalia.

    I saw a documentary recently in which the downfall of Al Capone (who was so much nicer than Chris Christie) was examined. When the real history was uncovered, it turned out that Elliot Ness and the FBI had much less to do with it than the Chicago business community. They realized that the absolutely chaotic and violent wild west criminal atmosphere that prevailed in Chicago was starting to really hurt business. As most of us know, it was failing to pay income taxes that tripped up Capone, a fact that a doggedly determined accountant — who had been supported by the business community — had discovered.

    So, knowing that it’s futile to appeal to their hearts, we can only say that it would behoove the Koch brothers, Mitt Romney, Bob Corker, Sheldon Adelson, and the rest of the 1% gang to wise up. And recognize a simple fact (and they don’t even have to be a part of any religious organization to acknowledge this):

    When all’s said and done: bad morals are never good economics.

    • AdLib says:

      Kes, thanks so much!

      It’s hard for fellow Americans to understand how people in the South can so often vote against their best interests, one can’t blame VW from being in the same situation and even viewing the South as having a screw loose.

      Who would think that workers would vote for lower salaries, no power in the workplace and less safety? Not VW.

      It does make sense that TN would pay a price for representing such an anti-worker mentality, sorry that it falls on the workers in TN instead of the politicians like Corker but it does reflect how important it is for citizens and workers to take responsibility for educating themselves instead of blindly following or being manipulated by fear that is whipped up by their RW leaders.

      I agree, Nixon really set all of this in motion and the lesson learned seemed to be, you can do evil but don’t get caught. Haven’t most of the GOP leadership shaped themselves into the same paranoid psychotic Nixon was? Doesn’t he seem like a tame role model now, compared to them?

      I don’t know if it’s legal to use the words “pragmatism” and “Republican” in the same sentence. Sure, you and I and most other human beings have pragmatic sensibilities but Tea Partiers and Republicans simply want to hurt and damage the things that stand in their way of power and wealth. There is no pragmatism or logic in their minds, they can convince themselves that shutting down our government and refusing to pay our bills won’t hurt our economy because they want to strike out so bad, they’ll believe anything that makes it okay to do so. Is there anything pragmatic about attacking minorities and women when you need to win national elections? Ideologues are by nature, not pragmatic and have a twisted vision of themselves, their actions and what the results of their crusades will be. The GOP may be trying to pull itself back from the brink now but it is a party of ideologues who happily cut off their own noses to spite their faces.

      Very interesting about Capone, I didn’t know that the business community in Chicago had such a hand in putting him away. I don’t know that we could expect the same from today’s GOP business community because the Kochs and others like them have shown to be such convicted ideologues, they don’t care if they set a neighborhood on fire as long as they burn down voting booths.

      There does seem to be a gradual realization by some corporations that opposing Climate Change is bad for their bottom line and their greed could be leverage to get more support to combat…or at least prepare more for the effects of Climate Change. And some are tired of losing Presidential elections and what should have been slam dunk wins due to the radicalism of the current GOP. So, some may be seeking a tiny bit of moderation but they remain ideologues when it comes to power and enriching the wealthy and the blind hatred of the Tea Party is still the tail wagging the dog.

      I don’t know that any real change would or could happen until or unless the gerrymandering favoring Republicans is reversed to a degree (maybe after 2020?) and these Bagger extremists are stripped of the outsized representation they have in Congress. Then, once being extremist means losing seats, I think the GOP’s lust for power wil lead them to change.

    • Kalima says:

      Hi kes, maybe Corker and crew should have studied why Germany has such a huge manufacturing success for decades, and it’s because the workers actually get a say in the running of the company, and in many cases, own shares. I’m glad to see that VW brought their long time work ethics with them. Good for them to stick up for the workers, they know that without worker satisfaction, their productivity would suffer greatly and still take pride in what they produce. It’s what helped us build a foundation after the war.

      • kesmarn says:

        Like actual grown up human beings, Kalima, they recognize that partnership is much more efficient and humane than a master-slave relationship. The GOP South seems to be having a very tough time giving up that model.

        Strange… because it didn’t work out so well for ’em the last time they tried it. 🙄

  5. Kalima says:

    Exceptional article AdLib, and so true about the blind acceptance of what most of us know to be wrong.

    I have lived in a society where taking a stand is frowned on, but it has never stopped me from speaking out. Still, the reactions have been noteworthy, from shock to silence, change of subject, or sometimes even the patronising words that I’m a foreigner and don’t know how things work. Well I might be a foreigner but I’m not completely blind or deaf, understand and speak the language, and have lived here for over 30 years, so I don’t miss much. I see and hear the lies and corruption of the politicians here, see the RW influence on everything from nuclear power to the cutting of benefits for the needy, yes the RW are the same the whole world over, but the indifference to politics and important issues from the young here is frightening. The problem here is the education system, students are not encouraged to think for themselves, only to learn what is put in front of them, so thinking outside the box is rare. For those who do, the lure of foreign countries is the usual choice.

    Even more frightening is that although I pay taxes, I can’t vote or have a say in how the country is being led. Young people who can vote, are disinterested and don’t vote, and most of you in America can vote and have your say, yet some choose not to.

    So I agree that acceptance and complacency will be devastating, and things need to change so that the social ills can heal from the inside out. None of us should be afraid of speaking out against lies and injustice, after all, there are many more of us than there are of them.

    I’m still speaking out whether people turn their backs on me or not, at some point some of my words will sink in and so will yours. We have to keep elected officials accountable for their lies and actions, because everything they do for good or bad, impacts someone’s life.

    • AdLib says:

      Cheers, Kalima!

      It is amazing that a society can find social mores more important than allowing evil to flourish. Horrible things may happen to a nation but at least no one will have to be disturbed by honesty.

      We have that in the US too but in a different form, pundits may attack those who promote evil here but the TV news hacks here will sit right in front of someone spewing evil and portray it as simply the other side of a debate. Here, the appearance of being “fair” is more important than allowing evil to flourish.

      It’s like watching someone evil pouring poison into a city’s water supply and regarding it as valid opposition to the city’s water policies.

      People matter, their lives and futures matter, the legacies and futures of societies and countries matter, the truth matters. Being polite or appearing to be fair don’t matter and in the end when a society is corrupted by evil, they are laughable charades.

      I know how you are Kalima, I can’t imagine you conceding to sit by politely and allow wrongs to go unchallenged right in front of you. The Polite Squad have a lot more gasps and frowns ahead of them!

  6. Nirek says:

    Great topic, Ad. I was following the election for Union representation and am disappointed in the result. The workers have a right to a place at the table when a contract is being entered into. Now with no Union they will not have that representation.

    Unions have done so much good in the past and could do so much in the future.
    When I was a Union member with IBEW history was important to me. The Union made safety an important part of the work place. Before the Union telephone linemen had a mortality rate of 50%! One in two linemen died on the job. Mostly from falls from poles. The Union started the use safety belts while climbing poles. Guys used to get up the pole and stand on one leg and wrap the other around the pole to free up their hands to do the work. Safety belts stopped many of the falls. Hard hats and other safety devises were also invented because of the Unions. Now the mortality rate for linemen is less than 1%.

    My last two years with New England Telephone Co. I was the Safety Coach for the State of Vermont for Verizon. I taught lots of safety classes all over New England. Including “pole top rescue”, “man hole safety”, and “first aid, CPR”. Along with many other safety procedures.

    Unions have increased the wages of the workers and given them lots of benefits to boot.

    It is no wonder the GREEDY corporations want to “bust ” the Unions. That way they can get bigger bonuses!

    Thanks Ad, for this topic. The people in Tennessee have voted against their best interests and Corker has done them a disservice! He should be removed from office for his lies.

    • AdLib says:

      Nirek, thanks so much for illustrating so plainly how unions have bettered and even saved the lives of workers. We know that, the wealthy and RWs know that, this isn’t really about whether unions help workers or not, it’s about who has power in the workplace.

      After this vote, VW is bewildered and upset and now they’ve come out to actually say the opposite of the Corker lie, they now say they won’t be looking in the South for further expansion…because of the deceitfulness and interference of the RWs to manipulate the union election.

      I said above that there would be no price to pay for Corker lying and corrupting an election…that may be true but now it seems that the state he represents and the workers in it will pay a big price for his lies.

    • choicelady says:

      Nirek -- thrilled to learn you were IBEW! Our late and much loved bito was a union guy, carpenters I believe, and he and I shared a common event, picketing for the IAM during the Eastern Airlines strike. Always glad to see a union person give reflection on this topic.

      I am wondering since VW is so peeved whether it might not come down to an NLRB hearing charging Corker with unfair labor practices. It’s not impossible since with the union AND the company on the same side, he clearly meddled with threats and lies -- a serious no no under fair bargaining laws. Hmmm. That will be interesting…

      VW might very well place people at the table through stock ownership. That actually strengthens the union’s position since Taft Hartley forbade unions to strike or bargain on investment decisions but stock ownership permits them to be engaged. This will cause Corker to blow his cork if it occurs! It will be fascinating to watch -- blue collar people making investment and production decisions??? How can people who make slimy references to the ‘ownership society’ possibly refuse that now?

      All very intriguing thinking how it could play out. Corker may actually have done more good for the union movement in a new way -- promoting ownership and decision making -- than he could ever have predicted. I’m smiling as I write this. Rock on, auto workers. Rock on!

      • Nirek says:

        CL, Unions have had a great impact on the middle class Americans. More people like me went from poor to middle class.
        Unions could have an even bigger impact now if the GOP stayed out of the “union busting” business.

        • choicelady says:

          Back in 1975 when the first ‘blueprint’ for a global capitalist world was published, “The Crisis of Democracy”, the most important directive was eradicating unions.

          And we’ve moved on from there.

          The new Robber Barons want a world free from people with equal power. If we don’t wake folks up soon, we will all envy Oliver Twist.

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