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.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Within these walls

After 2 decades of teaching almost exclusively in university environments to audiences of super-selected adults or near adults, I've just finished a 6 month stint teaching A level students in an FE College somewhere in the south of England.

I'm not a parent so my experience of teenagers until recently has been limited to Xmas visits at my sister's house when I'm usually the benign uncle handing out quirky but thoughtful gifts from across the Irish Sea. Apparently they like it when you give them shiny things or anything with an apple logo on it.

However, I digress. From a professional point of view the last 6 months has been pedagogic experience like none I've ever had before; exhausting, enervating, exasperating and occasionally exhilarating. I have never been so challenged as a teacher, nor have I ever found myself so emotionally engaged with the people making up my classes.

Anyway, just when I thought it was over, the local flea-pit decided to show this:

Teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau plays a version of himself in the Palme D'Or winning film of his own book which takes place over the course of a school year in the multi-ethnic 20th arrondissement in Paris.

This scene from near the beginning of the movie perfectly captures the reasons why teaching this age group evokes the 4 'E's mentioned above.

Take my word for it, Laurent Cantet has taken cinema verité to a new level. Two hours of this movie were as exhausting as a term at the chalk-face. Believe me, I've been there and survived to tell the tale. As the final credits rolled, a trickle of sweat was still running icy fingers down my spine.

What surprised me more than anything was how similar the Parisian teenagers in this film were to my charges in commuter belt Kent. They're smart and sassy and they know it all, but contradictions unsettle them, or at least they unsettle the ones who can see beyond the next text message or Facebook wall. Unlike the average university undergraduate, they are walking, talking bullshit detectors with a keen and oft-expressed sense of injustice, especially when it applies to them.

I hope they learned as much from me as I did from them and if they'll have me back,I'm going.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A considered object to possess

For some reason known only to themselves and the fat controller, this morning the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 did a piece about the importance of Factory Records to the 'Manchester renaissance'. Made me think of this poster, a stained and ratty copy of which used to be in my possession. It was stolen from the Russell Club for me by a good friend since deceased.

I was at one of these gigs I can't remember which. Possibly the one where Jilted John made his debut. I later bartered it for love, music or alcohol, or maybe a mixture of all three. I likewise can't remember. Which is a shame because a copy sold for £1500 on ebay a while ago.

Anyway, a good excuse to slip a little bit of these lads onto the site