The Banality of (Financial) Evil   (November 9, 2010)

The financialized American economy and Central State are now totally dependent on a steady flow of lies and propaganda for their very survival. Were the truth told, the status quo would collapse in a foul, rotten heap.

Google's famous "don't be evil" is reversed in the American Central State and financial "industry": be evil, because everyone else is evil, too. In other words, lying, fraud, embezzlement, mispresentation of risk, material misrepresentation of facts, the cloaking of truth with half-truths, the replacement of statements of fact with propaganda and spin: these are not the work of a scattered handful of sociopaths: they represent the very essence and heart of the entire status quo.

Hannah Arendt coined the phrase the banality of evil to capture the essence of the Nazi regime in Germany: doing evil wasn't abnormal, it was normal. Doing evil wasn't an outlier of sociopaths, it was the everyday "job" of millions of people, Nazi Party members or not.

Not naming evil is the key to normalizing evil. Evil must first and foremost be derealized (a key concept in the Survival+ critique), detached from our realization and awareness by naming it something innocuous.

Here is a telling excerpt from the book Triumph of the Market:

Normalization of the unthinkable comes easily when money, status, power, and jobs are at stake.... Intellectuals will be dredged up to justify their (actions). The rationalizations are hoary with age: government knows best, ours is a strictly defensive effort, or, if it wasn't me somebody else would do it. There is also the retreat to ignorance, real, cultivated, or feigned.

Can any of the tens of thousands of people working on Wall Street or in the bowels of the Federal Reserve, Treasury, Pentagon, etc. truthfully claim they "didn't know it was wrong" to mislead the citizenry, the soldiers, the investors and the buyers of their fraud? On the contrary, every one of those tens of thousands of worker bees and managers knows full well the institution they toil for is doing evil simply by hiding the truth of its operations.

The entire status quo of the American Empire is built on lies. Now the dependence on lies, fraud and misrepresentaion is complete; Wall Street and the Empire itself would fall if the truth were finally revealed and properly identified as evil.

Lying has been derealized; itis now the expected norm. To tell the truth--on your resume, on your loan application, on your tax form, and about your own actions-- is now tainted and suspicious; the truth-teller is reviled as "putting on airs" of moral superiority, and they will be shunned and cut off by the liars around them.

Cheating on tests no longer carries any stain of ethical corruption; "everyone" cheats lest they fail to get into the university of their choice, the one that represents "the short cut" to a "good job" with excellent pay: yes, a job doing evil every day. But we no longer care about doing evil; we avoid it as a moral slaughterhouse we prefer not to see. Let the butchering of the moral heart of the nation be hidden from our delicate eyes and quivering guilty consciences.

The idea that we might not be able to buy the McMansion/auto/tattoo/toy we "deserve" enabled our killing of truth on the application. Deprivation is a greater evil than the loss of personal integrity, and so hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans went along with the lie and sacrificed their integrity to support it, feed it, breathe life into it and then pass it on to the next liar.

So the mortgage applicant lied, and the mortgage broker lied by accepting a document he/she knew was false. And so the lie grew heavier as it passed from hand to hand, and the truth became lighter than air and floated away long before the falsified mortgage was originated, packaged, tranched and sold as a AAA "safe" investment.

We now say and vouch for whatever it necessary to "win," whatever "winning" is in a universe with no moral compass. When the entire system depends on the steady relentless flow of lies--from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the Pentagon, the banks and Wall Street, the ratings agencies, the accounting depeartments, every nook and cranny of the American economy and empire--then no one is willing to sacrifice their own livelihood because they know it wouldn't stop anything. The machine would continue on, processing lies, fraud and propaganda, without them. but they would be outside the lucrative heart of darkness, and no longer able to buy their coveted McMansion/auto/tattoo/toy that defined who they are.

Integrity has become as light as the truth itself, and both have floated away, unnoticed and unmourned. Hannah Arendt wrote about the Great Evil, Nazi Germany, and "The Final Solution" of death camps. But the Nazi machine spewed plentiful opportunities to practice the banality of evil, and the death camps were simply one division of the daily grind of pressing one's palms on evil and passing it on to the next "good German."

Here is a memorial outside the village where my brother lives in France. It is a typical village, quite small, perhaps a few hundred residents. The memorial commemorates three young French civilians who were taken out and shot by Nazi soldiers, either for suspected "crimes" or as a "lesson" to the civilian populace.

The routine killing of civilians went on day after day; it was the "day job" of the occupying troops.

Americans toiling away in their various departments of evil excuse their complicity by telling themselves, "nobody died because I lied" (except in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who am I to stop what goes on there?). Hiding the truth carries no penalties or remorse because it is SOP now, standard operating procedure.

The moral slaughterhouse is filled with corpses. We don't really know what our Central State is doing in the world, in the Mideast or Afghanistan. We also don't know what the Central State/Wall Street partnership is doing, either. Those inside know, of course, but very few are telling, because the see-saw is just so imbalanced in a system which depends on lies and the distortion of truth to continue its domination.

The truth-teller will lose their prestigious position, their generous salary and the acceptance of their peers. In exchange for this sacrifice, the truth-teller receives only the glowing, ephemeral shards of his/her integrity: in the American culture and economy, that literally has no value. The machine will grind on without them, impervious to the tiny pricks of truth; the machinery of propaganda, artifice, misdirection and misrepresentation is well-oiled and masterful in the reach and scope of its operation.

Lest you think this an exaggeration, please watch The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg was only one of thousands of "good Americans" doing their job in a war machine built entirely on lies and propaganda. Only one citizen out of those thousands, or tens of thousands, was willing to trade his career for his integrity and conscience.

That's how the banality of evil works. Maybe someday someone will break free of the culture of lies and propaganda in the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, Wall Street and the "too big to fail banks" and tell the truth. They will be hounded, discredited, scorned and reviled for telling the truth, and the truth will quickly be covered up or shredded.

That's how the banality of evil works. Truth has become too dangerous to the status quo, so it must be strangled every day, by tens of thousands of people, and its limp corpse hidden away.

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