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depths of evil? still unplumbed

Yesterday I returned Eichmann in Jerusalem to the library. I had got it out to learn about the banality of evil (the phrase coined by Hannah Arendt, the book's author)--because that seems to me to be what a lot of evil is like--and I did learn some eye-opening things, but not what I expected.

The book is about the trial of Adolf Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust. He doesn't ever *get it* about what he did--just feels sorry for himself as a victim of circumstance. He describes himself as a really decent guy who had great relations with the Jewish leaders... it's pretty mind blowing. And there are all sorts of nuts and bolts about what happened when, about how the Nazi government was structured, about the particulars of laws and people's statuses, and how that affected what happened to them... and it's all so concrete. For me, born almost twenty years after the war ended, it all seemed, in my childhood, like a まぼろし, like a hallucination of horror and evil--but it was real, daily life--for everyone! That's mind blowing, too.

It was also sobering to see how different countries reacted to the Nazis' call to participate in the "final solution." Some participated with no qualms to speak of or were even eager--others threw up roadblocks or practiced noncooperation or even outright refused. Why couldn't we all be like the latter? If we all were, these horrible things would never happen. But they do happen.

Well... I still don't think I know, though, why some people end up not resisting things that are clearly wrong, or even participate in them, and others don't. And, I don't have any sense that one can ever tell... it seems to me that you might turn around and find yourself slipping into some kind of evil before you knew it... so, well, it seems like you have to be pretty vigilant. Live like you're awake and like you care...

But, also, it seems to me that forgiveness is also a good thing... because, it's so easy to slip. Not that I'm being so presumptuous as to say that I or anyone should forgive mass murderers--that's maybe between them and God, or between them and their victims (but I really don't know--I just can't say)--just, for the more workaday evils, and even for the slightly larger evils that still don't rise to mass murder... since we can all fall so easily, perhaps we need to forgive, too...

So difficult to talk about.



( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 22nd, 2006 12:00 am (UTC)
See, this is why I deliberately remain ignorant of much history, because large swathes of it are incredibly depressing. *shudder*

Nevertheless, I read Rise and Fall of the Third Reich a few years back, which was enough misery to last me for another decade. Though, it was probably more interesting than your book, as there was a lot of political and military background, which was fascinating, in an awful way.

I'm with you on forgivenss. In the right circumstances I'd do things as evil as anyone else, I'm sure. **sigh**
Nov. 22nd, 2006 01:50 am (UTC)
Yup, feet of clay--that's definitely me...
Nov. 22nd, 2006 01:13 am (UTC)
That book sounds really interesting. I should try to read it when I have time--the banality of evil really aligns with the way I see the world.

Isn't that funny? I decide how I see things, then I find data to back up my perceptions!
Nov. 22nd, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
I decide how I see things, then I find data to back up my perceptions!

Haha! I think that's how most of us are; you just recognize and acknowledge it. Why do you think I picked up the book? Same reason.

But, in our defense, if something suddenly strikes you as making a lot of sense--an idea of some sort--it's natural to want to see how other people have expressed the same or similar idea...
Nov. 22nd, 2006 02:00 am (UTC)
I often get the sense of, "That make sense! But why?!"

What's extra strange is when you make an even larger change - like, changing your religion or political affiliations - and you get the feeling that the new philosophy is so much a better fit for you! Or you can change and feel like it's not so good. It's like shoe-shopping, and that's really unnerving.
Nov. 22nd, 2006 09:18 am (UTC)
I don't think I've had that last one (changed and realized it didn't work)--or maybe, come to think of it, I did once, but the switch back (or away from the change anyway) happened so gradually that I only realized it way after the fact. On the other hand, I have a good friend who changed their political affiliation, and I keep waiting for him to see the light... or for lightning to strike ME so I can understand better!

How about you? When did you make a shift and notice it didn't fit? (If it's shareable....)
Nov. 22nd, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
Actually it's still going on. My parents were really conservative, then I became a libertarian -- at first a very conservative liberatarian, then I sort of trained myself out of that. (Politics have a lot to do with habit, I've found!) After that, I found myself basically surrounded by liberals with a semi-compatible political philosophy, and I sort of drifted into liberalism for a while, thinking it might have been just my upbringing that had me using libertarianism as a gateway philosophy, before realizing that I actually really hate it and it's not for me at all.

It was actually exposure to liberals talking among liberals that turned me off, as opposed to liberals on their best behavior trying to impress outsiders. I grew up with conservatives, so there was no mystery there, and I guess I was just attracted to the unknown. That's what it will feel like in retrospect. Right now it feels different.
Nov. 22nd, 2006 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can imagine that they'd be a pretty unappealing bunch. I can't stand know-it-alls, especially ignorant ones, and unfortunately that's what a lot of college-grown liberals are, just spouting nonsense. (Not all, of course, but in my experience, the conservatives I've known have been more thougtful and well read than the liberals. Maybe it's because I myself am pretty liberal* (but see asterisk), so the conservatives I hang around with are the more thoughtful sort (for mutual tolerance reasons...)

*and yet, I find in ultra-local (neighborhood) politics, I tend to be more conservative and libertarian-ish, (as in, no, we can't regulate that, no we can't just institute a fee, etc.) I wonder what that means...
Nov. 22nd, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
the conservatives I've known have been more thougtful and well read than the liberals.

I haven't had that experience myself. It really depends on the person, and I've known both liberals and conservatives to spout patently ridiculous statements as if they were facts. Like you say, people soften their rhetoric when they're talking to people they know will disagree with them, and are more wont to admit their doubts or things they are confused about. I prefer that kind of honesty.

One difference I've observed is that conservatives laugh at themselves more! I know, it's kind of against stereotypes. But, it's like, humorists tend to be liberal, and tend to spend a lot of their time mocking conservatives; hey, check out most political humorists. SNL is funnier when it mocks conservatives because the showmakers are liberal. Bill Clinton was a walking joke, but the George Bush imitations were actually funnier. And conservatives love it. My very conservative brother-in-law, a vote-for-the-ban-on-gay-marriage type, saw an American Dad episode about gay Republicans and thought it was absolutely hilarious (he loves Family Guy, too). My conservative sister thought "Borat" was really funny. My dad, life-long conservative and fundamentalist Christian, loves SNL. He tapes the election special every year, and he loved the Church Lady. And one of the primary audiences for All in the Family was people who actually agreed with Archie Bunker. Some people say that they don't get the joke, but I don't think so.

I remember, being in a pretty liberal mindset then, telling my brother-in-law that he shouldn't be laughing at American Dad because they were making fun of guys like HIM: white, Christian, anti-gay, pro-military conservative Republicans. He said sure he could laugh at it; he said they were making fun of gay stereotypes as much as Republican stereotypes, and sure he could laugh at himself. I said that I was pretty sure the showmakers wanted to upset him, not make him laugh, and he said he didn't care; he knew the makers were liberal, but all that mattered to him was that the show was funny.

And I realized I needed to lighten up.

Weird experience.

(This threatens to become a journal post.)

and yet, I find in ultra-local (neighborhood) politics, I tend to be more conservative and libertarian-ish, (as in, no, we can't regulate that, no we can't just institute a fee, etc.)

Actually that sounds pretty liberal to me. More emphasis on centralized regulation than local.
Nov. 22nd, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)
I love long replies, actually :-)

And re: local politics--I meant I didn't want *any* one to regulate it (it being things like... what you have in your yard)--not just the local folks!
Nov. 22nd, 2006 03:30 am (UTC)
why some people end up not resisting things that are clearly wrong, or even participate in them, and others don't

This is the most important question in the history of mankind, imo...

Nov. 22nd, 2006 09:14 am (UTC)
Yes indeed. I was just writing to beast_666, I wish there was a way I could do exercises to increase my spiritual strength, so I could stand up for things I believe in.
Nov. 22nd, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
to increase my spiritual strength

... and also the wisdom to know that the things we believe in, are good things...
Nov. 22nd, 2006 02:06 pm (UTC)
oh yes
that one too... our understanding can be so limited...
Nov. 22nd, 2006 04:43 am (UTC)
Damn..The Holocaust.. One of my favorite topics for Discussion..Yet one of the topics that really moves me when I pause to think of it..You might like to read Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth or QB VII by Leon Uris.. Both books are stories set during the Holocaust, and are well written..

"Well... I still don't think I know, though, why some people end up not resisting things that are clearly wrong, or even participate in them, and others don't."
The problem with us humans id=s that we tend to take the easy way out of things, just like nature, we choose the easiest path of least resistance..Irrespective of our conscience..

"But, also, it seems to me that forgiveness is also a good thing."
Does it always work? And are the guilty ones really aware o their guilt?
And most importantly,, do they accept their guilt?? I nhte end, forgiveness does not help either..
So difficult to talk about.
\that is the main reason why, even after half a decade after the Holocaust, we still are no able to discuss where we went wrong, an d how we can prevent this happening again in the future..And this is the reason why we sit still, our mouths shut, silenced, while there are people running around , claiming that the Holocaust was just a fictional Story, which never took place..
Nov. 22nd, 2006 09:11 am (UTC)
Does it work? Are the guilty ones aware of their guilt?
That's a really good question you ask. And as I think about it, I think often--very often--they aren't, or they are only to the extent that they have a thousand excuses and justifications ("s/he drove me to it!" "I myself was abused as a child" "I was going through a hard time and was drinking" "everybody was doing it" "it's not as bad as [fill in w/something else]" and so on)

Do you know the movies of Miyazaki? Princess Mononoke (in Japanese, Mononoke Hime), Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kami Kakushi)? Not so much Howl's Moving Castle (but somewhat), but very much his earliest, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind? In them, there are people who feel like bad guys--they do bad things--and yet they also do good things, and more importantly, the protagonists treat them as people with worth and people with good in them.

I think... but I may change my mind, and I'm not sure... that this is a model for us. It lets us try to find something positive and go forward. But it's very very hard, because the wrong things that people do can be so wrong, and the anger we feel, feels so good and strong and right. But if in cleansing anger we were to strike down all wrongdoers, there'd be very few or none left standing, I think, so I think that lovely feeling of righteous anger is just a sweet temptation.

This is a pernicious thing to say in the context of something like the Holocaust, and if anything makes me doubt my idea, it's something like the Holocaust. Thinking about THAT is what makes me realize that we must strive with all our hearts and all our strength NOT to do the easy thing and the path of least resistance that you were talking about. Even if it means we're going to be ostracised or even die, we have to try. But I'm terribly worried about my own weakness. I need to find a way to build up my spiritual strength...
Nov. 22nd, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Does it work? Are the guilty ones aware of their guilt?
I agree with what you say, and I too feel we must move on with life, and cannot go about trying to keep prosecuting those guilty of the crimes, but my main point earlier was that we need to focus on the real underlying issue, which happens to be man's dignity and one man's respect for other human life.
And it's not just the Holocaust anymore..It is a plea against all hate crimes going on around the world..We need to learn to talk about these issues. painful as they are, and learn from them.And we need to make the next generation aware of the magnitude of the problem, which has manifested in a whole new dimension..
Nov. 22nd, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Does it work? Are the guilty ones aware of their guilt?
I agree completely: we have ALWAYS to respect human dignity and life. No treating people as means to an end, or tools for a purpose--as "human resources"<--a phrase I detest.
Nov. 26th, 2006 10:49 am (UTC)
When I look at the feelings of poeple in Germany at this time. I imagine with a little discomfort that I would have been sweapt up in the wave of Furer hysteria.
I imagine as the war continued and you learnt about the atrocities then at first you would deny it. It would be like your religion being overturned and finding out you had been serving a false cause when you thaught you were right. I think allot of Germans experienced this. I think that Rommell was involved in a assasination attempt on Hitler. I dont know if this is true.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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