Banality of Evil


When we studied Hannah Arendt, the concept of “the banality of evil” was brought up. The quote comes from Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem and was used to describe Adolph Eichmann’s role in the Nazi concentration camps as an administrator of the concentration camps. Arendt, applying the concept of “the banality of evil” to Eichmann’s role, claims that Eichmann was “just doing his job” and was being a good bureaucrat. In order to carry out his job, Eichmann had to ignore the evil that was involved with his job. The idea of ignoring evil so that one can go about life describes the concept of “the banality of evil”.
I became interested in “the banality of evil” because I have just finished reading the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and I felt that what I read in the book directly related to Arendt’s quote. The book was published last fall and describes the author’s experiences with vegetarianism, animal rights, and most of all, today’s meat industry. Throughout the book the author tells how he visited factory farms across the United States and describes the horrors that he witnessed. However, I do not feel that in doing so the author wished that he would convert his readers into vegetarians. Rather, I interpreted the author’s message as a warning or that he is alerting us to something about ourselves. I feel that his goal is to get the readers to think about what we eat and where it comes from, instead of ignoring it.
There were many instances mentioned in the book where workers had to ignore what they were witnessing in order to do their job. Some examples that I can think of off the top of my head are: the amount of space given to factory farm animals, a large amount of animals cannot move their bodies because their genetics have been altered to the point where their skeletons cannot support themselves, some animals can no longer sexually reproduce due to the poor conditions, factory farms animals live off medicine and antibiotics, etc. Jonathan Safran Foer also tells of health inspectors inspecting these farms and their tolerance of these conditions. It seems to me that on many levels, people are ignoring these animal abuses so that meat can be produced and money can be made. Also, I do not believe that this animal abuse is news to the public. There has been a good amount of media coverage of factory farms, yet no one is taking any action to stop what is happening. On a personal level, I admit that I too am participating in ignoring what is happening and continues to happen. I feel that what I can do to help fight these evils is to either stop buying meat or to buy meat that is produced on family farms- where animals are treated much better than on factory farms. However, I have read this book and I continue to purchase factory-farmed meat. I suppose that it at least good that more word is being spread about the conditions of the meat industry and I am starting to think about what I eat. I think that atleast it is somewhere to start from.


One Response to “Banality of Evil”

  1. akolot Says:

    I think this can be connected to ‘Arendt and Clicktivism’ in it’s discussion of self regulation. The workers must self regulate and ignore the cruelty of their job, making sure to turni a blind eye on the problem and expect someone in power to seize the day. The self monitoring is important to recognize because it seems prevalent in our culture to avoid confrontation/action; in a way the discussion of a forbidden topic might seem adequate enough, but the counter action, or as Arendt puts it “thinking” is too much to bear. What Eichman is guilty of is ignoring evil yet confessing to it – not for a moment did he stop and consider his actions.

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