Monday, November 21, 2016

What evil looks like

People who perpetrate cruelty do not look any different outwardly than anyone else. "We can all become beasts," said Chris Hedges.

Deborah Feldman:

"'Hitler had chicken feet, you know,' Bubby remarks. 'That's why he never took off his shoes. So they wouldn't see he was a sheid, a ghost.' She scrubs at the burned remains of chicken fricassee on the bottom of a cast-iron skillet, her calloused fingers marked by years of housework. I don't think this world is such a simple place, in which bad people have deformities that mark them as evil. That's not how it works. Evil people look just like us. You can't take off their shoes and know the truth."

Their problems are inside. They may be immature, naïve, not in possession of knowledge of any civil way to deal with their traumas. If they run the state, the state will be cruel.

Clive James:

"In the long run, the Banality of Evil interpretation of human frightfulness is not quite as useful as it looks. It helps us appreciate the desirability of not placing ourselves in a position where the rule of justice depends on natural human goodness, which might prove to be in short supply. But it tends to shield us from the intractable facts about human propensities. * * * Educated in a hard school of bombed refugee camps, the Arab torturer was trying to show his clueless American victim what it felt like to be helpless. It is possible that all torturers are attempting to teach their own version of the same lesson. But in that case we are bound to consider the further possibility that anyone might be a torturer. The historical evidence suggests that on the rare occasions when a state begins again in what a fond humanitarian might think of as a condition of innocence, a supply of young torturers is the first thing it produces. Certainly this was true of Pol Pot's Cambodia."

Yet their crimes may be unusual and elaborate, "interesting" in the cursed sense.

Norman Mailer:

"Eichmann, superficially speaking, was a little man, an ordinary man in appearance, and vulgar and dull, but to assume therefore that evil itself is banal strikes me as exhibiting a prodigious poverty of imagination."

Sources

Chris Hedges. I Don't Believe in Atheists, Chapter 4.

Deborah Feldman. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. pp. 95-96.

Clive James. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. (2007) New York: Norton, 2008. p. 277-278.

Norman Mailer. The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2004. p. 150.

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