When Hannah Ardent wrote about Adolf Eichmann, she coined the phrase, “the banality of evil.” Eichmann was a man more at home in logistics than he was in the real world. I don’t mean this in any way to say he was misjudged. He was the archetypical, “I’m just following orders,” person.
The banality of evil
I don’t want to look anymore at Eichmann, more at the phrase, “the banality of evil.” The phrase is much under-utilized. We can use it to describe many situations in our lives. It would allow us to help unearth the horrors that happen because politicians do nothing or worry about votes. We’re not saying these people are evil monsters, just that the acts perpetrated in their name are.
We might want to use the banality of evil to allow us to look at mass atrocities and how they happened. It is a reasonably good way to see how mild-mannered types suddenly ended up as amoral monsters. However, let us look at smaller incidents, the recent Covid deaths in the UK.
In the Covid cases, we see a move from, “I was only following orders” to, “We have to think about the economy.” The people who make decisions that will result in death and harm always want to abstract themselves out of the equation.
We have to think about the economy
The following orders argument, as made by Eichmann, is a call to a higher power. You were a small cog with no real power in the machinery that you found yourself embedded within. Saving the “economy” is another one of these higher power calls. You could do nothing as you were a small cog trying to save the machinery.
We never thoroughly learn what these people mean by saving the economy; it becomes a vacuous term. It is a nebulous abstraction that is by design hard to pin down. Do they mean keeping GDP high? Do they mean keeping unemployment down? Do they mean sopping businesses folding? What measure are we using as the one to measure their success at saving the economy?
All the while deaths mount up
We can argue whether the way Covid deaths are recorded is a fair representation or not, but the fact is the numbers are rising. We can see they are growing all over Europe, but the UK is not part of mainland Europe.
The UK is an island. The UK had advance notice of Covid coming. The UK could have shut down its external borders, like New Zealand. It chose instead to prioritise the economy. As such, a bureaucrat’s decision led to people dying unnecessarily. That is by and affects the banality of evil. People can claim they didn’t mean to kill tens of thousands of people, but their decision did send those people to their graves.
The September debacle
We also saw the government try and argue they followed “the science.” Which is another abstraction designed to remove oneself from the equation. Sadly for the government, the scientists decided to prove that the government was not following their advice. The government then decided for whatever reason that many people had to lose their loved ones in an argument to save an abstract.
We don’t see our government as amoral monsters, but by not following advice and beholding themselves to an abstract ideology, they are the banality of evil.