Everyone do the Eichmann!

February 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

My dear friend, Tim just got a new blog and has insisted that I update, being that he’s my biggest fan and all. All modesty aside, clearly. So, let me tell you some recent postulations I’ve been having. Ever heard of “The Banality of Evil”? It’s a term coined by philosopher Hannah Arendt, when trying to explain that a perfectly average person is capable of atrocious acts. Arendt used Eichmann, the guy basically responsible for organizing the concentration camps in WWII as her central character. During his trial it was determined he was completely average and psychologically “normal”. Of course the question then was how could a normal person do such horrible things? I suppose the disconnection Eichmann had by being behind a desk and never actually taking part in the everyday slaughter of the Jews certainly helped, but my grandfather was a German soldier and it honestly doesn’t take a lot to make a person with no particular conviction one way or the other do something.

Subsequently, this brings me to experiments made in attempts to understand this ease with which a “normal” person can slip into evil acts. Subtle manipulation, rewards, verbal authortive power and peer pressure seem to warp our so-called morals. The psychological experiments of Milgram and Zambardo in the 60s and early 70s seem to focus on this question, with shocking results even for the most jaded individual.

The Milgram Experiment can be described rather easily, a man in an official looking white lab coat (an actor), the subject who takes of the role of “The Teacher” and another man (also an actor) who takes on the role of “The Learner”–the decision of who is teacher and learner is made to seem random when actually the subject is always The Teacher. The Learner goes into a separate room supposedly hooked up to a electro shock machine and The Teacher sits at a desk infront of a machine that has switches for voltages from minor to fatal. The Teacher is then given a small shock so they feel what it’s like. The Teacher then asks The Learner a question through a microphone, whenever The Learner is incorrect they’re given a dose of electricity (not actually but as far as The Teacher knows they are). Progressively the voltages get higher as The Leaner continues to answer incorrectly and The Teacher hears the pre-recorded sounds of The Learner screaming in response to the shocks. In the end nearly everyone under the pressure of the actor in the lab coat were willing to give the full voltage. One of the only people who stopped early was an electrical engineer, and he said he knew how much damage those voltages could do. Dr. Milgram was utterly shocked at the results. Under the pressure of a guy in a white coat, people were willing to kill someone.

The other related experiment is The Stanford Prison Experiment, which can be better explained in a video, found here. Super interesting stuff I promise.

So, lateral thinking has brought me to methods with which dystopian and dictatorships (cough, NAZIS) use to break down morale and create a power structure. This led me to the idea of pointless labour. Jews in camps were forced to build and tear up roads for no reason over and over. Perhaps this is why I always hated math class… we never did anything purposeful. Anyway, this seems to coincide with the Marxist ideas of labour, especially if you look at assembly line labour. People do the same thing on the assembly line, but they’re completely disconnected from the whole thing they’re building and half the time they don’t even know how it works. I’m digressing somewhat here.

Anyhow, I created an art project based on a lot of these ideas. I will be posting photos of it tomorrow or thereabouts.

I have a lot to catch up on in posting, I’ve just been so busy.


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