Here’s another portion that elaborates on the point:
That evil, Arendt argued, originates in the neediness of lonely, alienated bourgeois people who live lives so devoid of higher meaning that they give themselves fully to movements. It is the meaning Eichmann finds as part of the Nazi movement that leads him to do anything and sacrifice everything. Such joiners are not stupid; they are not robots. But they are thoughtless in the sense that they abandon their independence, their capacity to think for themselves, and instead commit themselves absolutely to the fictional truth of the movement. It is futile to reason with them. They inhabit an echo chamber, having no interest in learning what others believe.
It seems to me to speak to many situations in our public life today. What do you think?
Organizers often cite the work of philosopher Hannah Arendt when they talk about the importance of reflection. Arendt wrote a book after she observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust. She shared that she had expected to see a monster. Instead, she was shocked to see a man who was mechanical, bureaucratic, and thoughtless. She began thinking that evil was more the result of the absence of thinking and reflection, which she described in a famous phrase as the “banality of evil.”
Though Eichmann is obviously an extreme case, this point is important for those of us who are not perpetrating evil, too. If we don’t think and reflect, we can be mechanical and live our lives by a formula. We can fail to calculate the consequences of what we do, and we can make the same mistakes over and over again that can lead to personal and, sometimes, social destructiveness. We can learn the facts, but miss the opportunity to develop an understanding.
A movie has come out about Hanneh Arendt, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.
I regularly highlight my picks for the most useful posts for each month — not including “The Best…” lists. I also use some of them in a more extensive monthly newsletter I send-out. You can see older Best Posts of the Month at Websites Of The Month (more recent lists can be found here).
Here are some of the posts I personally think are the best, and most helpful, ones I’ve written during this past month (not in any order of preference):
Earlier this week, I wrote a post about Hannah Arendt, the new movie about her, and how I use her writings in thinking about the importance of reflection.
That new movie is sparking a lot of articles about her, including this one in The New Yorker. They include an excerpt from one of her original dispatches from the trial of Adolf Eichmann, which included her describing two minutes of silence that was observed for Sergeant Anton Schmidt after a witness told his story.