Monday, June 22, 2009

The Banality of Evil

They've been seeking him here,there and everywhere for years, but as this charming home video compilation recently shown on Bosnian TV suggests, Ratko Mladic has been hiding in plain sight and enjoying a normal life somewhere in the suburbs of Belgrade. The makers claim that some footage comes from late 2008. Naturally the Serbian government denies this.

The most wanted (but apparently least hunted) man in Europe seems remarkably at ease given the $5 million price-tag the US has placed on his head. Hard to believe that this loving Grandpa was the same man who ordered the execution of 8000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica over a 3 day period in 1995.

And this is what never ceases to amaze me about the human capacity for evil, is that generally speaking,its perpetrators are rarely, if ever monsters in any obvious sense. They tend to be ordinary people who, to borrow a metaphor from Kurt Vonnegut, have filed down the cogs on their humanity processing equipment so that racism, oppression and ultimately murder become normalised and accepted.

For Miladic, the Muslim men and boys he had murdered were 'less than cattle'. For Hitler and his buddies,the Jews and Gypsies were 'vermin'. I'm sure the Israelis have similar dehumanising metaphors for Palestinians.

The problem i that once you start to treat people in his way, to label and categorise them as anonymous, homogenous objects, all of whom bear much the same negative characteristics then you create the context in which it is no longer necessary to regard them as human beings. It is a process we call 'objectification.' Once you objectify a group, any obligation towards them that your common humanity imposes can be conveniently forgotten.

It is this process which, in every generation, furnishes us with our monsters. And when we stand by and allow that process to go on, we contribute to their emergence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's the small moments of letting things slip by, again and again, till you find yourself amongst those behaving far from decently - but remain somewhat bewildered as to how it was that you, an essential decent chap, ended up going along with some horror.
Easier each time to let things slip by.
Horrifying in the long run.