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The Mediocrity of Evil

Maybe you've heard the phrase "The Banality of Evil." If not, Wikipedia article . Basically, the idea is that all you need to do to produce evil on an industrial scale is convince your society that this is the way things are done. The vast majority of evil can then be done by punch-clock villains who were only following orders. They aren't bad people, as such. They just have a job to do, and if that involves hurting a few people- who are undesirables anyway, after all- well, this is unfortunate, but it's necessary to make sacrifices to preserve national security and ensure a prosperous economy.

They were just following orders. That doesn't explain the people who GAVE the orders, though.

I am writing this to explain what touched off my attempt at a poem yesterday. It was because I mentioned that Hitler didn't drink, didn't smoke, and claimed to be a vegetarian. To which one response was that I knew more about Hitler than was healthy for a normal person to know.

I had to blink at that one. It is as if Hitler were the Necrocomicon, and merely looking at him would whither your sanity and damn your soul. But no, when you look at what he was- what Hitler was before he became Hitler, if you will- what is most impressive is how unimpressive he was. A low-level soldier with combat experience and decorations for courage in battle. An artist of some small talent. No evidence of any particular criminal tendencies or any special skills. Some slight talent for public speaking, perhaps.

People like to call him a freak and a monster. This is comforting. It implies that there couldn't be others like him, or at least not many. It implies that we ourselves could never do the sort of things he did.

But the fact is that until he started to get a bit of power, Hitler was just an ordinary guy. I have a creepy feeling that we all walk past people as bad as he was back then, or worse, every day. Maybe a Hitler smiles and opens the door for you as you walk into the grocery store, or bags your groceries before you leave. The only difference is that circumstances never gave them that unquestioned power that lets people do what they really want, and so drives them mad- for which we, and they themselves, should be forever grateful.
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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
Hitler was human.
Trying to disconnect that from oneself lets us forget that anyone is capable of such deeds.
We all have it in us, we are human.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )