The Banality of Evil.

Not so long ago, I wrote a blog post entitled "The Latest Victim", which relayed the plight of Mark Wood, a man who had had his sickness benefits withdrawn despite, by all accounts, being incapable of work. The final upshot of this was that Mark very sadly passed away. Whoever, or whatever, was ultimately responsible for this cannot, I suppose, be precisely calculated, although doctors said that the traits of his mental illness became worse along with the strain of having his money withdrawn.
In a recent edition of "Dispatches" on Channel 4, it was revealed that 49 such deaths have been recorded by the DWP. All, it seems, in some way connected to the changes being wrought in the benefits system. The programme highlighted the plight of another man, severely physically disabled, who had had his Employment and Support Allowance sanctioned and who also had to pay the so-called "bedroom tax", and was therefore living on virtually zero income. What finally happened to this man the programme did not divulge, but he was in arrears with his rent, and therefore the only outcome that I could predict for him was a descent into homelessness and destitution.
To think that such things happen in 21st century Britain is appalling beyond belief. That we then have to put up with the likes of Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVey telling us that benefits sanctions are necessary in order to motivate people to find work is also, I find, beyond description. They tell us that there really are no targets set for the number of people who have to be sanctioned, despite having this view (or should I say, lie) consistently contradicted and undermined by the testimony of those who've actually worked at job centres. Indeed, it's as if we are distracted from the fact that people may have died as a result of having their income withdrawn by arguments which simply centre around the bureaucracy of it all.
So, when I watched a film about Hannah Arendt, the influential German-Jewish philosopher who reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the "New Yorker", I was bound to draw certain comparisons between her findings then and our own situation in Britain now.
For a man who sent so many to their deaths, Eichmann appeared to be somewhat unexceptional. As Arendt says in the film, he was "no Mephisto". He was, in fact, according to Arendt, a "nobody", a faceless bureaucrat, an observation which led her to coin the famous phrase, "the banality of evil." As the trial unfolded then, Arendt noticed more and more how the mediocrity of the man contrasted with the enormity of the evil of his actions. Her explanation for this was that Eichmann was preoccupied with the bureaucracy of the Nazi enterprise. It appeared that the main thing he was concerned about was that the trains to Auschwitz ran on time. In this way he was able to distance himself from what was actually happening and detach his conscience from his actions. Arendt seemed to argue that it was precisely such interest in banal detail that allowed the whole evil machine to operate. Eichmann claimed that he was not personally an anti-Semite, and that he never personally harmed any Jewish person, and so all the time, by hiding behind the veneer of bureaucracy, he was able to deny, if only eventually to himself, that he had sent countless numbers to their deaths. Eichmann and his like were also supported by relentless propaganda which dehumanized the Jewish people to the extent that their annihilation seemed only correct and logical.
So, what has this to do with today's Britain? Well, I find that there is also a propaganda machine in operation now. Those on benefits are often referred to, in certain parts of the media, as "cheats", "work-shy", or "scroungers". It is clear to me that with such negative reporting, an element of our society is being dehumanized. The line between "the self" of the well-to-do and "the other" of the benefits cheat or scrounger is being well drawn, both by Tory politicians and the media. The wider the gap between the self and the other becomes, the easier it is to just pass off the deaths of those receiving benefits as a thing which doesn't really matter. Human life becomes like so much expendable trash, and the evil being perpetrated hides just under the radar, being rarely reported in the news. Is this not, in some way, comparable to the way the Nazis dehumanized the Jews, creating attitudes and hatreds which paved the way to the chilling final solution?
With such propaganda on their side, it seems that our current government can create a whole bureaucratic system which, intentionally or not, can result in people having little money to live on while simultaneously having serious problems with their health, which in turn can result in fatalities. I know that 49 deaths is not 6 million, and while I would draw comparisons with the methods used, perhaps the intention is not the same. However, I wonder how many there are who, like Eichmann, can hide behind a bureaucratic machine and do little to actually examine precisely what is being done to whom and why, and therefore have their conscience remain unbothered. Indeed, as I watched the film about Hannah Arendt, which contained actual footage of the Eichmann trial, I wondered what it must have been like to be there and witness the horror unfold. I wondered, without the benefit of hindsight, how this would have felt. We all now know of the evil of the Nazis, but events don't quite happen in the way that we might think, do they? As Arendt attested, the bad guys don't go around with horns sticking out of their heads, and some things would seem to happen slowly, almost imperceptibly, until one day we all wake up to find that evil has been having its way right under our noses.
Indeed, Arendt also made, I think, some controversial points about the sort of complicity of some Jews in their own tragedy. And, I can't help but wonder, that as we sit and watch the likes of Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVey go about creating their very own bureaucratic nightmare, how will history judge us? By putting in place stigmatizing propaganda and a bureaucratic framework of oppression, are some of our MPs becoming the Adolf Eichmanns of today? Is their faceless bureaucracy hiding a deeper evil? Has their work ethic become something altogether more sinister, a sort of "arbeit macht frei" for our own times? And, as the general election approaches, do we vote to allow things like this to continue, or do we finally kick against it, because, as the old saying goes, all it takes for evil to exist, in all its prosaic banality, is for good men to stand by and do nothing.                         

Comments

Dixie@dcrelief said…
Dear David, it was easier for me to use this format than forget my train of thought mid-stream. I've taken quotes from you ["..."] and then added my thoughts/ opinions after an arrow > sign. Hope that's okay?


["So, when I watched a film about Hannah Arendt, the influential German-Jewish philosopher who reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the "New Yorker", I was bound to draw certain comparisons between her findings then and our own situation in Britain now."] > David I concur, and see that happening over here as well.

Catch phrases/ Buzz words:
["Relentless propaganda - dehumanized - annihilation - "cheats", "work-shy", or "scroungers".]

> The new ones over here:
1 - "Useless eaters" - those who cannot work but receive benefits. Ironically, I have a family member who feels that way about me. I had worked 30 years before becoming disabled. Her opinion is hurtful, harmful, and I feel is dangerous thinking.
2 - "False entitlements recipients," but they mistakenly include people who have already worked, paying into the system over their lifetime, so they are benefits not entitlements.

["The wider the gap between the self and the other becomes, the easier it is to just pass off the deaths of those receiving benefits as a thing which doesn't really matter."] > Over here as well.

["...creating attitudes and hatreds which paved the way..."] > Absolutely here.

["...one day we all wake up to find that evil has been having its way right under our noses."] > Scary.

["...all it takes for evil to exist, in all its prosaic banality, is for good men to stand by and do nothing."] > It is really getting scary to me. I am very concerned.

Side note:
A friend of mine has never been able to buy health insurance, but she does not qualify for Obamacare. The IRS is penalizing her over $300, unless and until she buys a policy. She's always been a stay at home Mom, with three children. I suspect we'll see people inprisoned because they cannot pay the IRS. Still the well-to-do think this is okay. Wait until the prices get outrageous. They might change their tune, but will anyone be left to fight the system then? Brings to mind another correlation with Germany of the 1940's.

Thank you for accepting my response in this manner.
Most sincerely,
Dixie
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Thank you for your comment.
In fact, I felt as though I may have gone a bit over-the-top with this posting, but it appears that you can relate to what's happening here and that such concerns exist in your own locale.
I think that some may find my comparison ridiculous, or even offensive, but I do feel that the methods of dehumanizing propaganda together with a sort of form of bureaucratic oppression are being used now, even if the intent to actually cause people's deaths may not be there. Despite this, though, people are still dying, and to my mind, one death is one death too many.
Lastly, please don't feel too scared, it wasn't my intention to induce panic!
As ever, your blogging pal,
David.
Dixie@dcrelief said…
Dear David,
>>..."Lastly, please don't feel too scared, it wasn't my intention to induce panic!"

No, I'm not panicked. But I do wonder how often history must repeat, before certain insanities, from supposed normal people, stop?!?

I truly appreciate your opinions.

Most sincerely,
Dixie

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