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.