A heartwrenching account of evil

Interesting reading on Night and the ideas of indifference and evil. The word ‘banal’ is used in this article and if you are unfamiliar with the word it can be defined as “so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring.”

Night, by Elie Wiesel, is a powerful indictment of how a society’s indifference to the suffering of others permits “the banality of evil” to take hold, writes Steven Carroll.

When the philosopher Hannah Arendt was watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann, she knew him to be a man responsible for unspeakable evil. Yet the more she watched him, the less she saw him as a monster. “Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth (or) Richard III.” The question that obsessed her in the wake of that trial, held in Jerusalem, was how did one explain the “monstrous deeds” that were committed by people who, extracted from the context of war, seemed so “normal” and “ordinary”.

She eventually concluded that Eichmann embodied what she called “the banality of evil”, a chilling phrase that rang through the latter part of the 20th century, four bonerattling words that should never be forgotten. One must, she suggested, resist the temptation to mythologise evil or to see evildoers as monsters or servants of the devil. This, she seems to imply, is too grand for evil, almost a kind of romanticisation that distracts us from its true nature.

Rather, one must try to look upon evil as a kind of fungus – or bacteria – that can not only lay waste to humanity, but the whole concept of humanity. Yet at the same time a fungus that in itself has no complexity or depth. It is “thought defying”. It is utterly banal. Only its opposite – good – can have complexity or depth of thought.

Read the rest here.


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