Some time ago, I listened to a discussion about the philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, which took me on this journey. In her report of 1961, about the war crimes trial of Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi operative in concentration camps, she described the banality, not in the act and effect of evil, but in the character of the man who spread and inflicted harm upon others, and I understand that description.
It was at school , in English literature classes I was introduced to the work of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. He was held for almost a decade in Russian prison camps during World War ll, so he experienced and witnessed the best and worst of human nature.
He wrote, “Ideology – that is what gives evil doing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors… Thanks to ideology, the 20th century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed.”
Dale M Kushner, (in ‘Why do we harm each other’), suggests “that this can happen when propaganda and the distortion of truth rule, when we have stopped paying attention to reality and have ceded moral reflection and self-awareness to an authority outside the Self”.
It is accepted that, to dehumanise and demonise others, lays the foundation to destroy them. Otto Kernberg suggests – There is a pleasure in hatred, and so it is self sustaining, even addictive. Bollas might add – its less work for the hater.
The paintings below, record the act of war and its effects .
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his Noble Lecture – “We shall be told: What can literature do in the face of a remorseless assault of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not and cannot exist by itself. It is invariably intertwined with the lie. They are linked in the most intimate, most organic and profound fashion. Violence cannot conceal itself behind anything except lies, and lies have nothing to maintain them save violence. Anyone who has once proclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose the lie as his principle… Violence [does not] always and necessarily lunge straight for your throat; more often than not it demands of its subjects only that they pledge allegiance to lies, that they participate in falsehood.