One of the superb thinkers in philosophy was the German philosopher, Hannah Arendt who was a student of the learned German thinker, Martin Heidegger (see Heidegger’s, phenomenal work, “Being and Time”; for me the best book on philosophy; for a good summary of that text, see, “Existentialism: A Guide for the Perplexed” by Steven Earnshaw).
To understand why ordinary men and women with families that they love and who do not care about fame or fortune become evil, Arendt explains it using a concept she invented and which has found a permanent place in political theory. Arendt, in studying Adolph Eichmann, after covering his trial in Israel, wrote a book on him and coined the term, “banality of evil.”
She broke new ground in the study of the evil mind by arguing that, contrary to popular understanding, evil does not only reside in those who crave power and spend their lives hurting people to get it.
She posited that an ordinary, mundane bureaucrat, without any dreams of wanting to be noticed or be known, could be capable of immense evil because such a mind simply follows instructions.
Arendt experienced immense scholarly attacks for her concept from 1963 when she adumbrated her theory and it continues to this day, (philosopher Alan Wolfe in his 2011 work disagrees with Arendt on her interpretation of evil; see his book, “Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It” ). Since 1963, the debate has gone on but there is a middle way that has gained ground thus saving the concept of the banality of evil and giving Arendt credit for inventing it.
The Arendt supporters argue that the concept is valid and workable, only that Arendt misapplied it to a Nazi killer. So while Arendt was wrong to see Eichmann as your typical robotic civil servant, there are in fact robotic, ordinary people who are capable of carrying out horrible acts of murder and they are not predetermined monsters.
Forty years after Arendt looked at Eichmann in the dock in Israel, observed his mannerism, countenance and deportment and came up with the concept of the banality of evil, the Croatian novelist, Slavenka Drakuliæ in 1999 had the same uncanny experience with a war criminal from Serbia in the dock in the Hague. On trial was Goran Jelisiæ, and after observing him at the trial, she brought new life to the 1963 concept of Arendt. Drakuliæ titled her book on Jelisiæ, “They Would Never Hurt a Fly.”
The banality of evil is very much a strong concept in political theory. As we go into a third month of a disastrous attempt to rig the national election in Guyana, the banality of evil is ubiquitous in this country. Enter Joe Harmon.
He said one of the most horrible lies ever told in the history of political competition in this land. Sadly ordinary decent humans who support the PNC and AFC will accept Harmon’s egregious diatribe and could very well hurt other people. This is where the banality of evil comes to Guyana.
Harmon said that the votes of the disciplined forces did not count in the recent election because they were not stamped. This is an unscientific impossibility. Harmon was unleashing a destructive game on Guyana.
It is not scientifically possible to locate the ballots of soldiers and policemen because they were the first citizens to vote before polling day. Then those ballots were mixed on polling day with other ballots across Guyana.
So if you emptied the ballot boxes for Xanadu School and you open them, there was no distinction between a civilian ballot and a military ballot because there were no such different ballots. The counting officer and the presiding officer would not have been able to distinguish a vote by a soldier from a vote by a businessman.
Arendt and Drakuliæ have stated that ordinary people are capable of the massive evil a sick tyrant can heap on others. Since the 2020 poll ran into a rigging cul-de-sac, Guyanese with top class education, housewives who would not harm a fly, policemen who are dedicated civil servants, trade unionists who are well known, university teachers, among other groups of non-political souls in Guyana and the diaspora, have trampled on their conscience and are coming close to manifesting the features of the banality of evil.
Day after day in this country, some of the most incredible lies are regurgitated by people who have refused to recognize the rights of humans to vote and have their vote counted. Decent folks, incapable of killing even a mosquito believe these evil lies. They themselves are evil too.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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