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Questioning the banality of evil
January 2, 2008 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Questioning the banality of evil. "There is a widespread consensus amongst psychologists that tyranny triumphs either because ordinary people blindly follow orders or else because they mindlessly conform to powerful roles. However, recent evidence concerning historical events challenges these views. In particular, studies of the Nazi regime reveal that its functionaries engaged actively and creatively with their tasks. Re-examination of classic social psychological studies points to the same dynamics at work. This article summarises these developments and lays out the case for an updated social psychology of tyranny that explains both the influence of tyrannical leaders and the active contributions of their followers." [Via Mind Hacks.]
posted by homunculus (107 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Somebody tell me what "functionaries " means so that part of the post makes sense.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:58 PM on January 2, 2008


What disturbs me is not the banality of evil, it's the evil of banality...
posted by wendell at 10:06 PM on January 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's not something one wants to accept, but I suspect a lot of the Nazis really felt they were living "normal" lives, pursuing "normal" goals, and doing a creative and engaged job. Actually, the part I *really* don't want to accept is that maybe they were.
posted by freebird at 10:31 PM on January 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Somebody tell me what "functionaries" means so that part of the post makes sense.

One who performs a function. Civil servants. Police. Workers. Soldiers. Prison guards. Ordinary folk.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:33 PM on January 2, 2008


Tyranny is merely the spoils of focusing and amplifying ordinary evils.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:35 PM on January 2, 2008


functionaries = people who were Nazi's; example: the officers and other people wearing the spiffy uniforms with the swastikas on them.
posted by daq at 10:37 PM on January 2, 2008


I'm surprised that the article doesn't cite Daniel Goldhagen's controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners which made a similar argument at length some years ago. Very well worth reading.
posted by washburn at 10:39 PM on January 2, 2008


Without comment, Ron Rosenbaum's take on "the banality of evil, written 7 and a half years ago in The Observer.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:43 PM on January 2, 2008


Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (2) (3)
posted by acro at 10:56 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, the part I *really* don't want to accept is that maybe they were.

My two cents is that you should accept it.

You can call these people inhuman, but that is false. They are human, and they manifest a potential that is within all of us. You can also call them evil and thus marked in some way. From this happy thought we may hope to scent evil and purge it from our world. But there is no such trail; there is no mark or scent. There are only people, and they are all people.

Once you let these two concepts go, you can start to shoulder responsibility. That is, you can ask what kind of world you want to live in, and how you are going to get it.
posted by Alex404 at 11:29 PM on January 2, 2008 [9 favorites]


This doesn't surprise me in the least.

I live in a state that has seen a lot of Hispanic immigration, much of it illegal, in the last ten years. I personally know several white men, who in the company of other white men, will express a sincere desire that every "cockroach" be located and shot in the back of the head. And that we should build a giant wall, and gun down anyone attempting to cross the border.

And they're not kidding. Not at all. They would do it happily, and go home at night and kiss their wives and play with their kids.
posted by ELF Radio at 11:46 PM on January 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


Even so, not all the guards went along with him. Zimbardo notes how some sided with the prisoners, some were strict but fair, and only a minority became truly brutal – notably one guard dubbed ‘John Wayne’ on account of his arrogant swagger. After the study, ‘John Wayne’ explained his actions, and it is apparent that he identified so fully with Zimbardo’s leadership that he fancied himself an experimenter in his own right – using his creativity and imagination to invent new humiliations and pushing people ever further to see how far they would go before they snapped (Zimbardo, 2007).

Wow. Was the guard's name Graner?
posted by dhartung at 12:15 AM on January 3, 2008


Didn't the Stanford Prison Experiment show that people, once they have taken on the role of authority, will actively innovate in the maintenance of that authority? When I worked in psychology labs, that was not my field, but I would be surprised if social psychologists had forgotten for a second that people get creatively vicious when that's what they think their role is supposed to be.
posted by Jpfed at 12:20 AM on January 3, 2008


From the article: People do great wrong, not because they are unaware of what they are doing but because they consider it to be right.

Heinrich Himmler, October 4, 1943, during his famous speech at Posen:
Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And ... to have seen this through and -- with the exception of human weakness -- to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. (...) We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who would kill us. (source)
posted by elgilito at 2:05 AM on January 3, 2008


"Banality of evil" - ? Pfft! That tired and shop-worn hypothesis is so "last century" - !

Nowadays, all the cool kids are devotees of the theory of the bananality of evil: they all hold that evil has a thick, yellow skin and is high in potassium. Furthermore it contains no seeds, but must be transplanted by human hands. Also monkeys like it - the cheeky little scamps!

Yet I myself am working on a new concept, that of the bananaramality of evil. Under this thesis evil has three faces, and lays in wait for Robert De Niro, who is "talking Italian". This tripartite evil is simultaneously insidious and infectious, and wears too much eye-shadow.

Of course, my colleagues at the University are all working on rival dissertations: dare I mention the ericbanality of evil (that evil is an green-skinned Australian who hangs out with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom); the B.A.N.A.lity of evil (that evil is represented on Earth by the British Acoustic Neuroma Association) or the Mr. beanality of evil (that evil is Rowan Atkinson's delightfully unlovable clown) - ? That’s the great thing about tertiary education: it actually makes you stupider.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:05 AM on January 3, 2008 [15 favorites]


Here's an alternative interpretation. We might not like it, but I think it's valid on the same facts: good works the same way. We're not good or evil by nature, we do what's expected of us. Raised in a society that clearly expects us to be considerate of others' rights, we rise to, even exceed, that expectation.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:10 AM on January 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Somebody tell me what "functionaries " means so that part of the post makes sense.

If you highlight the word and then press the power button on your computer this cool thing called the internet will access another cool thing called an online dictionary which will provide the definition.
posted by srboisvert at 4:49 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's like Grandma Braun always told me: if something's worth doing, it's worth doing korrekt.

But perhaps I've said too much...
posted by infinitewindow at 5:42 AM on January 3, 2008


I'm unclear on how this "questions" the "Banality of Evil", as opposed to elaborating the idea.

Also: It might be useful for people who are questioning the concept of "banal evil" to write out a definition of the term for themselves.
posted by lodurr at 5:52 AM on January 3, 2008


If you highlight the word and then press the power button on your computer...

... your screen will go dark and you will then be free to go to this cool thing called a bookshelf and pull down another cool thing called a dictionary and ....
posted by lodurr at 5:53 AM on January 3, 2008


I cannot let a recommendation to Hitler's Willing Executioners pass by without giving it an anti-recommendation and suggesting Ordinary Men instead.
posted by absalom at 5:55 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


That’s the great thing about tertiary education: it actually makes you stupider.

That's just 'cuz they don't learn you limeys up with no Mark Twain: 'Never let college get in the way of your education.'
posted by lodurr at 5:55 AM on January 3, 2008


Everything explained. The book compares Nazi doctors to the people who built the modern nuclear arsenal. Through a psychological "doubling" mechanism, the person at work literally has a different set of values and goals than the one who goes home to a loving family. Or, you could just say they're all nuts.
posted by localroger at 5:57 AM on January 3, 2008


An excellent article—thanks for posting it. I have to admit that for a while I was getting quite impatient with it, thinking it was simplistically setting up false dichotomies; I almost stopped reading when I got to this:

The message here is that even the most thoughtful and humane individual will become a brutal zombie if put in the wrong sort of group. Accordingly, tyranny is not something we have control over or responsibility for.

No, the message is that a lot of people will become brutal; saying "even the most thoughtful and humane individual" is setting up an obvious straw man. I expected it to go downhill from there, triumphantly coming to an easy answer by eliminating difficult facts. But it didn't; it took account of the difficulties and came to a nuanced and reasonable conclusion. This is vitally important stuff; if the human race is going to survive (at least as a species I want to be part of), we need to get it figured out and find a way to minimize the possibilities for brutality and mass violence.

Thanks for that review, localroger; sounds like an interesting book. This bit irritated me, though:

All the same, the comparison with the Nazi murderers is spurious, to say the least. ... The German physicians whom Lifton once interviewed and wrote about committed awful crimes; the "crimes" the lunatics and Strangeloves among us may one day commit haven't happened

Yeah, if you don't consider the murder of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians a crime. Yes, we considered it a necessity of war; that's exactly what the Nazis thought about killing Jews.

What disturbs me is not the banality of evil, it's the evil of banality...

Is that really all you have to say about this, a tired sub-Woody Allen bit of shtick? What happened to the New, Concerned Wendell?

posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I personally don't think that the two theories are incompatible. Well, obviously if you put "mindlessly" there as in "mindlessly conform to powerful roles". However if you drop that too "conform to powerful roles" the two are not incompatible at all.

So yeah, the "contradiction" here may be a false dichotomy designed to make the story more interesting.
posted by delmoi at 6:38 AM on January 3, 2008


Seconding Ordinary Men. Goldhagen's scholarship is not taken at all seriously by Holocaust historians at this point.

I almost put scholarship in scare quotes. Ordinary Men is brilliant, though. I was privileged to go to a talk by Browning last year and it was great. He signed my book!
posted by winna at 7:02 AM on January 3, 2008


Dark Helmet: So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph - because good is dumb.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:04 AM on January 3, 2008


And they're not kidding. Not at all. They would do it happily, and go home at night and kiss their wives and play with their kids.
posted by ELF Radio at 2:46 AM on January 3 [4 favorites +]


But that's the heart of it, no they wouldn't. The functionary isn't the one doing the killing. The functionary is the one who tracks the number killed and writes a weekly report summarizing the events for the file. The functionary holds meetings about most efficacious ways of disposing of the bodies after the fact. The functionary is the one who allocates enough materials to the chemical factory so that they don't run out of Zyklon B while at the same time making sure that the same factory doesn't fall behind in producing brake fluid. The functionaries are the bureaucrats who keep the engine of state running, but they don't make the decisions.

The easy thing to say is that if the masses making up Nazi government realized the horror of what they were supporting and collectively stopped working, the system would shut down. But that ignores the reality that by and large most people want to be left alone, don't want to stick their necks out, and want to make sure their families are safe.

What I don't like is the notion that these people are banal and therefore complicit in the 'evil'. They aren't. Not everyone who wore a Nazi uniform was an enthusiastic Nazi deep down in their hearts. Most of them probably put the uniform on so they wouldn't get imprisoned or shot. It's the same with most communists in Cold War occupied countries. An armed band rolls into your town wanting to know if you're with the revolution or not. Sure thing, comrade. Go get those capitalist pigs. Do you really think people should take a moral stand at that point, and get shot in the street, forgotten and left to rot?

If you really want a civil service of morally stalwart and righteous citizens, nothing will get done. And most people reading this don't want it.

Think of those pharmacists who refuse to sell the morning-after pill to pregnant women. Aren't these precisely the kind of people the article is applauding, with a very clear moral compass and a willingness to refuse to do their jobs when the job means for them to do evil? Oh wait, isn't the collective conventional wisdom in this case that they should just shut up and do their job?

And before anyone says that this is not analogous to the managing supplies for a death camp, yes, it actually is in the mind of the pro-life pharmacist. In the mind of the pharmacist, the abortion carried out by the pill is murder. Therefore, selling the pills to the public is enabling and facilitating many murders. They are refusing to perform their job in order to avoid committing murder. You can argue all you want about whether this moral code is right, but once you argue that the law should force them to do their job regardless of their moral code or else they should lose their job, you are essentially saying there is no place in a bureaucracy for worker's own individual morality.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2008 [12 favorites]


Some people are just assholes waiting for the opportunity to act like assholes. Think of all the sleeper assholes you've known who've never had the chance to act on their urges because they've never been in a position of power.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:12 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people are just assholes waiting for the opportunity to act like assholes. Think of all the sleeper assholes you've known who've never had the chance to act on their urges because they've never been in a position of power.

That'd be pretty much everybody who can call themselves human. Including (hell, especially) me.


posted by John of Michigan at 7:21 AM on January 3, 2008


In the mind of the pharmacist, the abortion carried out by the pill is murder. Therefore, selling the pills to the public is enabling and facilitating many murders. They are refusing to perform their job in order to avoid committing murder. You can argue all you want about whether this moral code is right, but once you argue that the law should force them to do their job regardless of their moral code or else they should lose their job, you are essentially saying there is no place in a bureaucracy for worker's own individual morality.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:11 AM on January 3 [+] [!]


Nonsense, Pastabagel. What if the pharmacist truly believed that disease is god's will and therefore filled antibiotic prescriptions with fake pills in order not to circumvent god? Or what if he believed that the newly-pregnant single mother was going to immorally bring another fatherless child into the world, and so he replaced her prenatal vitamins with RU-46? Simply calling something a "moral code" does not insulate all actions taken according to that code. The fact is that the law does make moral judgments. That's where the battle lies: making sure the law enforces the correct moral judgments instead of the incorrect moral judgments.
posted by footnote at 7:26 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's where the battle lies: making sure the law enforces the correct moral judgments instead of the incorrect moral judgments.
posted by footnote at 10:26 AM on January 3


That would be a neat trick, if it were even remotely possible. The purpose of the law is to maintain social order, NOT to enforce moral codes. If it did enforce a moral code, people who had a different and conflicting moral code would be morally obligated to break the law.

Your examples are fringe cases that are obviously ridiculous. They are the easy cases where the hypothetical I gave is the hard case. The moral position that abortion is murder is not on its face a ridiculous one, and even serious pro-choice advocates and judges acknowledge it as such. Furthermore, the country is so evenly split over this issue that it is impossible to say which morality is 'right'.

I was simply speaking about a specific example where one person's moral code defined something as murder, a particularly heinous breach of their moral code. Isn't the pharmacist morally justified, perhaps even morally obligated, not to fill a morning-after pill prescription if they think it is murder? Either answer is fine, but if you want a rule of general application, you have to apply that same answer to the Nazi bureaucrat whose job is merely to allocate the instrumentalities that lead to death, but who did not create those instrumentalities nor is responsible for the policies that authorize their use.

Both people's jobs are to move a Thing from point A to point B upon receiving a properly authorized request. They are either obligated to do their jobs and move the Things around without giving further thought to the matter, or they are obligated to realize that the Thing in question will actually end a life, and they should intercede according to their very likely shared moral precept that killing is wrong.

You can of course argue that the hypothetical is flawed because it presumes that the unborn multicellular whatever is a human life, but that doesn't matter. The issue requires you to view the case from the standpoint of the pharmacist who must make the decision to refuse to do their job on behalf of their morality or not.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:13 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nonsense, Pastabagel. What if the pharmacist truly believed that disease is god's will and therefore filled antibiotic prescriptions with fake pills in order not to circumvent god?
Then she would not have become a pharmacist to begin with, whereas she might well believe in the morality of using certain pills while disbelieving in the morality of others.

The fact is that the law does make moral judgments. That's where the battle lies: making sure the law enforces the correct moral judgments instead of the incorrect moral judgments.

This kind of blind trust in the State fills me with deep despair. If I were to believe abortion to be murder, I would consider it my duty to prevent these murders from happening to the limit of my ability, rather than putting my trust in a futile political struggle (you think the pharmacist in question is going to overturn Roe v. Wade? Really?). Would you tell Johnny Kraut to vote for more humane Nazis rather than question his orders?
posted by nasreddin at 8:24 AM on January 3, 2008


"That would be a neat trick, if it were even remotely possible. The purpose of the law is to maintain social order, NOT to enforce moral codes. If it did enforce a moral code, people who had a different and conflicting moral code would be morally obligated to break the law."

False dichotomy—maintaining social order is by default a moral code. And people who have a different and conflicting moral code to the one enshrined as law do have a moral obligation to break the law. See the Civil Rights movement.

However, people who have a different and conflicting moral code do not have a moral obligation to become pharmacists.
posted by klangklangston at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2008


I suppose instead of "…do have a moral obligation to break the law," I should have written "…can have a moral obligation to break the law." It would depend on the moral prior precepts.
posted by klangklangston at 8:31 AM on January 3, 2008


False dichotomy—maintaining social order is by default a moral code

Maintaining a social order has nothing to do with morality. It has to do with preventing the overthrow of the state and chaos in the streets. That law is presented as upholding the moral code of the 'common man' or 'good citizen' or whatever is theater. People with power make the laws, and people with money influence the laws. It has nothing to do with morality.

However, people who have a different and conflicting moral code do not have a moral obligation to become pharmacists.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on January 3


I would bet that most of them were pharmacists before the pill in question existed, just like many drones in the German government were there before they joined the party in order to keep their jobs. But in any case, you are suggesting then that the pharmacist has an obligation to refuse to issue the pill, which is fine and very consistent with wanting Nazi party hacks to stand up to Himmler's orders.

But in practice, this would never work. And the end result would be worse than you expect. As time passes, more and more government people morally offended by their government's polices refused to do their jobs and get fired. Who are they replaced with? Loyalists. Before long you have a government staffed from deep within the chain of authority with people who will not only do the job asked of them but believe that it is the right thing to do. Those people you can fairly call evil, I think.

In essence, I think there is a moral obligation not necessarily to stand up to 'evil' but rather to subvert it.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:43 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


As time passes, more and more government people morally offended by their government's polices refused to do their jobs and get fired. Who are they replaced with? Loyalists.

Excellent point.
posted by nasreddin at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2008


I think the reason studies like this exist is because we tend to start from the standpoint that capital E Evil is a rare thing to encounter in the world so there must be some reason why an evil person can accrue so much power in the middle of such a large group of good people. If we intend to adhere to a clear cut definition of evil, I'm personally more inclined to think that evil isn't such a rare thing and that the reason things like the nazi regime happen at all is not because good people accept it happening but rather because a whole lot of evil fuckers kill and imprison other evil (and good) people.

Did Russia become the Soviet Union because a bunch of evil people killed a bunch of good people to overthrow their government? no. it became the soviet union because a bunch of evil people killed a bunch of evil people to overthrow their government. it's not the amount of evil that changes, just the distribution of power.

that is, of course, if you want to have a clear cut definition of evil.
posted by shmegegge at 8:54 AM on January 3, 2008


Meh. Others have proposed that the ingenuity of Nazi functionaries came from the reversal that the Nazis represented: they took fools and incompetents and gave them an opportunity for power that they could never have had in a just world, and demanded only that they perpetrate injustice, become 'desk-murderers', to preserve their newfound positions.

What's extraordinary isn't that the genocidal bureaucrat competed with his fellow bureaucrats for the favor of their boss, it's that they succeeded in murdering so many. That's the beauty, and the horror, of bureaucracy, which is the greatest innovation of the twentieth century. The technologies of administration (efficient form-filing, accurate report-reading, and speedy paper-pushing) allow even incompetent functionaries and moral nincompoops to function in the service of some politician's will. What makes the Nazi regime interesting is the moment when the politician's will becomes divorced from the people's expectations, and no one reigns him in: instead, they celebrate his determination and leadership in the face of dissent.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:55 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Isn't the pharmacist morally justified, perhaps even morally obligated, not to fill a morning-after pill prescription if they think it is murder?

I don't get what you're saying. Are you saying that the all actions that are "morally justified" to the individual should be protected by the law? That makes no sense. That pharmacist surely has the power to refuse to fulfill the prescription, and of course that action would be morally justified to the pharmacist herself. But the law may embody a different moral code, one which values the patient's right to medical care over the rights of a fertilized egg. The fight over which moral code the law embodies is called politics. Barack in '08!!!
posted by footnote at 8:57 AM on January 3, 2008


The fight over which moral code the law embodies is called politics. Barack in '08!!!

How laughable. If the wrong guy wins, it's still your obligation to support his arbitrary imposition of his moral standard? What if the outcome of politics means you have to kill brown people or Jews?
posted by nasreddin at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2008


Are you saying that the all actions that are "morally justified" to the individual should be protected by the law?

I am absolutely not saying this. I am saying that if one believes that Nazis who stood idle in the face of evil are evil themselves, then one should also defend the pharmacist in my hypothetical. But my opinion is that I don't think this is a fair distinction. People have jobs because they need to eat and have a roof over their heads. They don't take jobs because they love them.

My opinion is you cannot call the Nazi bureaucratic drones evil simply for doing their bureaucratic jobs, because then lots of other people become evil. Furthermore, if you set the expectation that people should stand up to enforce their moral code, you will get a government that can do nothing (because there is always someone who is morally offended by anything serious or important the government does) and after all these righteous people get sacked you will get a government that not blindly but rather willingly and enthusiastically supports its leader.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:30 AM on January 3, 2008


You can argue all you want about whether this moral code is right, but once you argue that the law should force them to do their job regardless of their moral code or else they should lose their job, you are essentially saying there is no place in a bureaucracy for worker's own individual morality.

Interesting point, but I think that it is possible to leave aside the (state) law and consider (for example) the Hippocratic Oath, a "law" for healthcare professionals, which guides the practitioner to do no harm.

Deliberately withholding medical care is a wrong, which in this case is happening, if you consider the "morning after" pill to be a reproductive health treatment (which I do) and not a "murder pill". In this case, the pharmacist is violating his or her Oath by withholding medical treatment.

Are we homologous to Nazis for expecting healthcare professionals to follow their self-ascribed Oaths when practicing their care on us?

There is more than just state law when we consider moral conduct — there are unwritten (or certainly less codified) ethical concerns when we deal with other people, which factor into how a society operates.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:32 AM on January 3, 2008


My opinion is you cannot call the Nazi bureaucratic drones evil simply for doing their bureaucratic jobs, because then lots of other people become evil.

Well, perhaps not evil, but at least blameworthy. We can prosecute and punish them, if we wish, or grant them amnesty if we prefer that, but they're certainly not innocent. The admission that we -can- forgive them is an admission that they've done an injury in need of forgiveness. Thoughtlessly, perhaps, but no less wrong.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2008


Deliberately withholding medical care is a wrong, which in this case is happening, if you consider the "morning after" pill to be a reproductive health treatment (which I do) and not a "murder pill".

The whole point of that discussion just went sailing over your head.
posted by nasreddin at 9:35 AM on January 3, 2008


By the way, it was an explicit part of Nazi ideology and propaganda that the entire German people should be implicated in the acts of a relative few. They made this a goal because, towards the end, they reasoned that 'if all are guilty, no one is.' Following Arendt, I think that this kind of collective guilt is exactly the wrong way to approach the problem: the proper response to the Holocaust is to get really, really clear on what constitutes an evil or blameworthy act, to do all the research into records and evidence that the Nazis tried to render impossible: to remember what they wanted us to forget. That's why the trials of prison guards and functionaries like Eichmann were so important, and why Arendt was dismayed with the Israeli court tried to lay the whole Holocaust at the feet of this one imbecilic man, who they chose to portray as a monster and a demonic prodigy, rather than prosecuting him for the things they could actually prove, which were more than sufficiently atrocious on their own. That's where the 'banality of evil' comes from: it's the danger posed by this kind of Manichean thinking, not the truth of the matter or of Eichmann's guilt.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:41 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


The whole point of that discussion just went sailing over your head.

No, not really, but I'll admit that I wasn't being as clear as I could have been.

If you are going to a healthcare professional, you expect healthcare. It's not the pharmacist's role to decide what is ethical on the patient's behalf, but to act in the patient's best interest — which is the hypothetical pharmacist's ethical failure, in this case, because the pharmacist is acting in the pharmacist's best interest by turning medicine voluntarily requested by the patient into "murder pills".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:43 AM on January 3, 2008


Which is to say, irrespective of the law, there are larger ethical issues which make the hypothetical pharmacist not a great example of why we're a society of Nazis for wanting reproductive healthcare.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:49 AM on January 3, 2008


I am saying that if one believes that Nazis who stood idle in the face of evil are evil themselves, then one should also defend the pharmacist in my hypothetical.

Why? The pharmacist is standing idle in the face of the evils of the church. They're certainly not coming to their conclusions absent of authority. The pharmacist could parallel what the author calls "the true horror of Eichmann" in that they are not mindlessly obeying the orders of the church, but actually think it's the right thing to do. Though I disagree with that notion for what sounds like similar reasons to your response in that it is banal here

But my opinion is that I don't think this is a fair distinction. People have jobs because they need to eat and have a roof over their heads. They don't take jobs because they love them.

This part moves beyond what the article was getting at. Specifically it stated that there were cases where the actors moved beyond the orders of the state to a greater evil. Sure I'll agree that those who have immoral jobs because they need to eat are not 'evil'. A case for the pharmacist which would be comparable though would be something like not only refusal to fulfill the prescription but taking an active stance to deny they get the prescription filled by someone else, or hurting the person looking to get it filled. Which for now at least, goes beyond what the church is telling them to do. Then yes one could make a case that they were evil.

Isn't Albert Speer an example of someone who didn't go that extra mile and gets a pass on being evil?
posted by kigpig at 9:49 AM on January 3, 2008


How about if we allow people to follow their conscience when they're simply divergent from our own but coerce them when their moral codes are reprehensible. So, we can allow conscientious objectors and Amish educational separatism, but not allow monopolist pharmacies to help enforce patriarchy and misogynistic sexual violence? After all, we'd never allow a racist pharmacist to refuse to serve African-Americans, would we? Conscience or no?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2008


Alex404's point hit home to what I believe to my core. I might get flack for this but I witnessed the vitriol towards the Michael Vick case. Folks were lambasting him as inhuman and a terrible person. Willfully ignorant of the psychology behind his actions. I was going to try to make a point that I think he felt his manliness (amongst his circle) was beholden to the prowess of his dogs but I figured I better keep mum. As if one can't find an example of a man's worth tied to something outside of themselves. This is something we are all capable of. Furthermore, there are many, many example of animals we arbitrarily choose to domesticate, or eat , or slaughter to extinction. You Tube clips of pet hippopotamus, a marine biologist fostering growth of the lobster species and caring for the young, then the next clip she is savoring one on her plate without reservation. There can still be found examples today where dogs are a delicacy in many parts of the world. One poster went so far as to say we have pact with dogs we should honor, I was take aback to say the least.
posted by Student of Man at 9:56 AM on January 3, 2008


Pastabagel: I am saying that if one believes that Nazis who stood idle in the face of evil are evil themselves, then one should also defend the pharmacist in my hypothetical.

Not really. It depends on whether you agree or disagree with what you would have them oppose. If I don't like genocide, I might argue that complacent bureacrats who enable "evil" are party to evil, or even "evil" themselves. If I support abortion rights and see no problem with a morning after pill, I might argue the pharmacist has a professional and society obligation to dispense the pills when they're asked for. They're not really incompatible positions, given that much information.

In any case (and this doesn't apply only to what you've said), "evil" is a massively over-loaded term. If we've got ten people participating in this thread so far, we'd have at least nine definitions. After a while you can't treat "evil" as a logical variable anymore and you have to start thinking about what you actually mean by it. I think we got past that point before the discussion started, in this case.
posted by lodurr at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2008


How about if we allow people to follow their conscience when they're simply divergent from our own but coerce them when their moral codes are reprehensible. So, we can allow conscientious objectors and Amish educational separatism, but not allow monopolist pharmacies to help enforce patriarchy and misogynistic sexual violence? After all, we'd never allow a racist pharmacist to refuse to serve African-Americans, would we? Conscience or no?

I agree. I think there is room in the Nazi Party for both the right-thinking people, supporters of the Final Solution, and for the liberals, who just want confiscation and expulsion. As long as they're not too radical--how can a moral human being possibly tolerate the Jews, who conspire against the German people?

Why? The pharmacist is standing idle in the face of the evils of the church. They're certainly not coming to their conclusions absent of authority. The pharmacist could parallel what the author calls "the true horror of Eichmann" in that they are not mindlessly obeying the orders of the church, but actually think it's the right thing to do.

And there's another reason for you. Clearly the people who oppose cleansing the Fatherland of the vermin plague are just sheep being fed their silly beliefs by the Elders of Zion. Why should we have any respect for their views, when we're the ones who are really thinking for ourselves? They should come out against the crimes of the Zionist conspiracy.

Sieg Heil!
posted by nasreddin at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2008


nareddin: So your argument is basically relativism? Everybody finds something objectionable so there's no such thing as moral reasoning? Common sense doesn't exist, I take it, or is it simply an unjust imposition on your freedom?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The piece argues that value warping/substitution via group identification is the common element in the majority evil seen in the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Milgram Obedience Experiment, and Nazi functionaries. I'm skeptical of this interpretation of Milgram's work. This author's references to the role of group identification in Milgram's experiments only support the consideration of group identification as an additional influence. I don't have Milgram's data in front of me, but since one of the themes to come out of his work was how remarkably consistant the results were across different groups, I expect that the variation in group identification the author posits could have had little more than a marginal influence.

In the abscence of clear evidence of group identification altering obedience as observed by Milgram, I'm inclined to remain skeptical of this author's interpretation.
posted by NortonDC at 10:14 AM on January 3, 2008


I am saying that if one believes that Nazis who stood idle in the face of evil are evil themselves, then one should also defend the pharmacist in my hypothetical.

You still seem to be saying that "breaching your moral code is evil and so all acts in furtherance of one's moral code should be protected by law and society." What I'm saying is that there is no one definition of "moral" and that I have no problem with the law punishing civil disobedience when I agree with the law's moral code and not the resister's. I'm not a complete relativist -- I think we can all agree that the Holocaust is immoral -- but the most heavily contested issues of today involve issues with equally urgent moral codes on both sides.
posted by footnote at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2008


And there's another reason for you. Clearly the people who oppose cleansing the Fatherland of the vermin plague are just sheep being fed their silly beliefs by the Elders of Zion. Why should we have any respect for their views, when we're the ones who are really thinking for ourselves? They should come out against the crimes of the Zionist conspiracy.

Yes actually, people who opposed the Fatherland could have been (though weren't) sheep being fed their silly beliefs by the Elders of Zion. In fact a large portion of otherwise noble values appear to be poorly constructed mores if ever thought out at all. This does not suggest the people should abandon them. It would be great if everyone learned to think for themselves, but many don't and that may or may not be a choice. What exactly are you suggesting?
posted by kigpig at 10:30 AM on January 3, 2008


Worse, the hypothetical pharmacist isn't even acting on his or her own moral code, but is acting in the best interest of the Church — which is just another authority providing a moral code through its edicts, no different from the State providing its laws as a basis for conducting behavior.

It would be too easy to turn the tables with a fundamentalist theocracy, calling its citizens Nazis without too much critical thought, if a "reverse" pharmacist broke the rules and surreptitiously handed out morning-after pills instead of "rhythm method" calendars.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:32 AM on January 3, 2008



nareddin: So your argument is basically relativism? Everybody finds something objectionable so there's no such thing as moral reasoning? Common sense doesn't exist, I take it, or is it simply an unjust imposition on your freedom?


There's such a thing as moral reasoning. We make moral decisions for ourselves based on the things we consider important. The State makes its own moral decisions based on the things it considers important: efficiency of administration, docility and obedience on the part of subjects, gain for some of those at the top.

What I oppose is the attempt to legislate the uniformity of moral views using the State as intermediary. If you think your morality is just and common-sense and anyone who believes in anything else is a moral idiot or a vicious wretch, that's totally acceptable, and you may well be right. It is through encounters between such passionately held moralities that the most interesting bits of human culture are generated (as in The Brothers Karamazov, for instance).

But when you demand that your morality be enforced by the people with guns, you're not just drawing out a logical extension of your own moral beliefs; you are also alienating your responsibility for them and transferring it to the State (or Society, which is just the State but with the guns holstered). You are saying, not "This is morally wrong, and I will do what I consider morally right to stop it," but "This is morally wrong, and the State should take responsibility for squelching it." This is dangerous, because the State, remember, has its own interests; and it knows of far better ways of exploiting its newfound power of moral coercion than fining the occasional pharmacist.

Which brings me back to Eichmann. You do not become an Eichmann when you recognize the disjunction or chasm between your own moral views and those of the state--because at that point you try as hard as you can to walk the line between the two. But when you come to recognize the State as the arbiter of moral claims, you set yourself up for recognizing the moral legitimacy of its decisions, and suddenly it is no longer difficult to maintain the balance between your own morality and the State's: the two start to blend together. At the highest pitch of fascism they are identical, but this is not simply a fascist problem...
posted by nasreddin at 10:33 AM on January 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


nasreddin - so you don't think the state should enforce any laws that have moral motives behind them? that would get rid of most of the civil rights advancements of the past four decades.
posted by footnote at 10:39 AM on January 3, 2008


You still seem to be saying that "breaching your moral code is evil and so all acts in furtherance of one's moral code should be protected by law and society." What I'm saying is that there is no one definition of "moral" and that I have no problem with the law punishing civil disobedience when I agree with the law's moral code and not the resister's.

I actually agree with this, but I also have no problem with the law punishing civil disobedience I agree with. Repression is just what the state does. The act of civil disobedience only has moral value if it is not protected by the law and therefore requires some sort of sacrifice or commitment, a breaking away from the cozy protected sphere of the State.
posted by nasreddin at 10:39 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


nasreddin - so you don't think the state should enforce any laws that have moral motives behind them? that would get rid of most of the civil rights advancements of the past four decades

I'm an anarchist. I don't care what the state does; its activities are not subject to my approval or disapproval, since everything it does I oppose by definition. I only care about the personal, emotional, moral investment people make in it.
posted by nasreddin at 10:41 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


All I know is that I never want to be placed into a position where I have the opportunity to become institutionally evil. From the sidelines of powerlessness, I like to stand on my moral soapbox and state categorically that 'I would never!' because the horrors I am speaking of are almost always against others that are also powerless.

But I can also see my posting history and the number of times that I've wished harmed against hypocrites who have caused pain to people, and I wonder if given a chance to dispense some Justice (capital J to show how easily it become a misused iconic intangible), if I would take it.

Probably better for everyone if the option never comes up.
posted by quin at 10:54 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Patabagel: I was simply speaking about a specific example where one person's moral code defined something as murder, a particularly heinous breach of their moral code. Isn't the pharmacist morally justified, perhaps even morally obligated, not to fill a morning-after pill prescription if they think it is murder? Either answer is fine, but if you want a rule of general application, you have to apply that same answer to the Nazi bureaucrat whose job is merely to allocate the instrumentalities that lead to death, but who did not create those instrumentalities nor is responsible for the policies that authorize their use.

While I see your logic (in all your comments), that isn't really what this article is talking about. This article is talking about why the pharmacist believes that the morning after pill is bad in the first place and therefore denies it to someone (possibly at great inconvenience to that individual) for the sake of their ideology. The pharmacist believes this because (from the article): "...whether we listen to authorities or support victims depends upon the extent to which we perceive ourselves to share social identification with them (Turner, 1991)." Therefore according to your example, the woman is refusing to sell the pill out of her identification with a particular group of prolifers, and a lack of identification with the person requesting the pill, just as the Nazis in the article perpetrated evil acts out of their identification with the ideals of their party, and a lack of identification with the Jewish people. This pharmacist is not a rebel against a murderous act (as you seem to draw an implicit parallel about his/her right to do so, just as people have a right to rebel against the Nazis), but is a complicit identifier with a particular group.

Therefore this statement: "And before anyone says that this is not analogous to the managing supplies for a death camp, yes, it actually is in the mind of the pro-life pharmacist. In the mind of the pharmacist, the abortion carried out by the pill is murder" does not lead to the same conclusion you draw following: "You can argue all you want about whether this moral code is right, but once you argue that the law should force them to do their job regardless of their moral code or else they should lose their job, you are essentially saying there is no place in a bureaucracy for worker's own individual morality.".

The issue is that the pharmacists behavior is absolutely the same as the person ordering Zyklon B, and they both do their actions because they believe what they are doing is right. From the article: "In short, the true horror of Eichmann and his like is not that their actions were blind. On the contrary, it is that they saw clearly what they did, and believed it to be the right thing to do." They believed it to be the right thing to do because they were working toward a higher ideal.

The only difference between the pharmacist and the Nazi, is that the Nazi was acting with legal authority whereas the pharmacist in your example was acting with no legal authority. Your assertion about personal morality is interesting, but more relevant from a different perspective: is that morality actually personal? From the article:

Whatever is going on in the world, however great the crisis, it is still necessary for people to make sense of events, to explain how current difficulties came about and to have a vision of how they can be resolved. But we do not interpret the world on our own, as many social psychological models tend to imply. Rather, people are surrounded by would-be leaders who tell them what to make of the world around them. For this reason, the study of leadership must be a central component of any analysis of tyranny and outgroup hostility. Indeed, tyrannical leaders only thrive by convincing us that we are in crisis, that we face threat and that we need their strong decisive action to surmount it. In the BBC study, participants as a whole may have become relatively more authoritarian, but it still needed active leadership to exploit this and to make the case for a new tough regime.The role of leaders becomes particularly pernicious when they suggest that ‘our’ problems come about because of the threats posed by a pernicious outgroup. In this way they can begin to take the groups with which we already identify and develop norms of hostility against outsiders. Their role becomes even more dangerous when they tell us that ‘we’ are the sum of all virtues so that the defence of virtue requires the destruction of the outgroup that threatens us. These are the conditions which allow groups to make genocide normative and to represent mass murder as something honourable (Reicher et al., 2006). It was the logic to which Eichmann subscribed when, after the end of the war, he said: ‘If, of the 10.3 million Jews…we had killed 10.3 million, then I would be satisfied. I would say “All right. We have exterminated an enemy”’ (quoted in Cesarani, 2004, p.219).
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:21 AM on January 3, 2008


... but I also have no problem with the law punishing civil disobedience I agree with.

Interesting and uncommon position. I used to argue years ago that anyone engaging in civil disobedience ought to be prepared to be punished, and that lack of such preparation was basically the acid test for whether a movement was likely to have any success. People following Ghandi and King were willing to get beaten to death or go to jail; people protesting nuclear proliferation in the '80s (at least in the US) generally weren't, they'd do things like sue the government for damages if they got hurt during protests or get all bent when they got arrested.
posted by lodurr at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is that really all you have to say about this, a tired sub-Woody Allen bit of shtick? What happened to the New, Concerned Wendell?

Well, I actually did stop reading the article at the point LH almost did. "The banality of evil" is a lame cliché IMO and a badly inaccurate one. The human need to form into groups (at least among non-introverts unlike myself, harking back to my last post) is part of why seemingly decent people often join evil causes. But another, and the one I was once guilty of (as an employee of a company that irresponsibly financed annuities for disabled people with junk bonds in the late 1980's - unlike S&Ls, totally without guarantees), is that a person's interests, talents and need for validation can be just as influential. And, personally, it wasn't until I was called away from the work I really enjoyed doing to take a shift on the overloaded incoming phones to tell the justifiably upset callers that the company could no longer guarantee to provide the monthly check that was their only income, that I learned how easy it was to fall into the trap of doing what you love for a purpose you should be hating.

Which connects to another ongoing discussion here, because that was the first thing I though of when I saw the headline "Hedge-funders Use Their Skills for Good, Not Evil". But upon learning more through the epic GiveWell thread, I realized that applying the "Skills of a Hedge-funder" to something worthwhile like Charity can still be evil. To use another cliché, and one I think is more apt, "when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail", including people's heads.
posted by wendell at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love when people stare really hard at swastikas and try and pretend that "good/evil people" exist.

The root of human "Evil" as you call it comes mostly from this simple sentence: "but it's different when I do it."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Therefore according to your example, the woman is refusing to sell the pill out of her identification with a particular group of prolifers, and a lack of identification with the person requesting the pill, just as the Nazis in the article perpetrated evil acts out of their identification with the ideals of their party, and a lack of identification with the Jewish people. This pharmacist is not a rebel against a murderous act (as you seem to draw an implicit parallel about his/her right to do so, just as people have a right to rebel against the Nazis), but is a complicit identifier with a particular group.

I think your distaste for pro-life politics is compromising your stance on this issue. The fact that the pharmacist has no legal authority is precisely the crucial difference between him and the Nazis. While it is doubtless comforting to identify one with the other, you are evading your own identification with the state, at least on this issue.
posted by nasreddin at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2008


Thanks for the response to my uncalled-for snark, wendell. (Have you had a chance to read the rest of the piece? It really is much better than it seems up to that point.)
posted by languagehat at 11:34 AM on January 3, 2008


I confess to caring little whether the "banality of evil" concept is disproven or validated. I think I've read one of the pieces that has been linked by others as prior examples and really don't consider it all very highly on my not-a-speed-reader reading list. Which was part of why I made the original one-liner comment.

Also, I AM passionate about the Evil of Banality. Because American Idol starts again in a couple weeks... REMEMBER SANJAYA!!! Now HE is evil.
posted by wendell at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2008


nasreddin: I think your distaste for pro-life politics is compromising your stance on this issue. The fact that the pharmacist has no legal authority is precisely the crucial difference between him and the Nazis. While it is doubtless comforting to identify one with the other, you are evading your own identification with the state, at least on this issue.

I agree that the crucial difference between the pharmacist and the Nazis is legal authority. However, my own identification with the state on this issue (which I transparently indicated) is irrelevant to the fact that both the pharmacist and the Nazi are operating according to their affiliation with a particular group, and the means that this affiliation is created independent of so-called "personal moral authority."

You have argued that I identify with a particular group as well, which is true, and I am subject to the same psychological argument: my affiliation with a particular group is due to a set of fears and ideals by which I (presumably) carry out actions in support of. Carried to its horrifying conclusion, I too would be culpable for atrocities by the same mechanism as the pharmacist and the Nazi were I to act outwardly in a manner that was anti-utilitarian while maintaining my actions were for the greater good.

I disagree that my affiliation with a particular group compromises my stance on this argument, that is if the argument we are discussing is whether evil is the result of following orders, or if individuals perpetrate evil (and are even creative with it) for the purpose of a greater good.

In my comment I was attempting to explicate the points of the article and how they do / do not follow with pastabagel's comment, while also indicating that I think the article makes a good point. If we are going to take it to the personal level, the fact is I do have particular group affiliations, as I suspect everyone does.

The article, however, has made me reflect on these affiliations, what their value is worth, and whether any "personal moral" stances I hold are actually my own or the result of sympathetic alliances.

When it comes down to it, we have to make decisions on what is good and bad in order to live in the world and parse our experiences. However, and in light of the article, the way in which we choose to defend these moral decisions is a careful balance that seems to either lead to heroic rebellion or inhumane behavior.

It is unquestionable that the defending of a particular ideal and its consequences becomes exponentially magnified when perpetrated by an entire government. For this reason, I try to be a constant doubter, even of my affiliation with certain groups (including my prochoice tendency) in order to guard against thinking "in the absolute right" at any given time. I think many people are this way. I only wish our governments could be as cautious.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:11 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if you don't consider the murder of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians a crime. Yes, we considered it a necessity of war; that's exactly what the Nazis thought about killing Jews.

you're comparing apples (Washington's essentially racist disregard for Japanese civilian casualties of war, that made firebombing OK and nuking OK) with oranges (Hitler's genocidal game plan, ie the complete annihilation of the Jews). Truman's victory meant the Japanese stopped being killed by Americans. Hitler's victory would have meant that there would be no Jews to kill anymore because his annihilation machine (cfr our friend the late Prof. Hilberg) would have erased them completely from the face of the earth. is no doubt that the evidence of Allied troops disregard for the Japanese -- even POWs -- had racist undertones. But there never was a FDR-Churchill blueprint for their exctinction. This doesn't mean obviously that blatant war crimes were committed (Bomber Harris being an especially odious perpetrator) by the Allied. But disregard for the yellow peoples is massively different from Hitler's decade-old plan for genocide.

Making the world free of Jews wasn't a "necessity of war" for Hitler -- it was the point of the war itself, not collateral damage but the bull's eye itself.
posted by matteo at 12:15 PM on January 3, 2008


This doesn't mean obviously that blatant war crimes were NOT committed
posted by matteo at 12:18 PM on January 3, 2008



Making the world free of Jews wasn't a "necessity of war" for Hitler -- it was the point of the war itself, not collateral damage but the bull's eye itself.


No, the point of the war was winning Lebensraum for the Aryan race. The Jews had to be exterminated--as opposed to the other races, who could be tolerated--because they conspired against the Aryan race. It wasn't an end in itself.
posted by nasreddin at 12:23 PM on January 3, 2008


"Maintaining a social order has nothing to do with morality. It has to do with preventing the overthrow of the state and chaos in the streets. That law is presented as upholding the moral code of the 'common man' or 'good citizen' or whatever is theater. People with power make the laws, and people with money influence the laws. It has nothing to do with morality."

That is absolutely wrong—every social order carries with it an implicit morality, and every theory of the social order has to deal with the idea of privileges and grievances. The abrogation of responsibility in such a hand-waving phrase as "People with power make the laws, and people with money influence the laws" is staggering—it denies any agency or responsibility, and the only dodge against the political nihilism of that statement is how vague it is.

Every single law has a moral component, a moral value or goal espoused. Even legislation like the big farm bills is an argument over competing visions of resource allocation with a moral center that determines what we see as fair or right or equitable.
posted by klangklangston at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2008


The abrogation of responsibility in such a hand-waving phrase as "People with power make the laws, and people with money influence the laws" is staggering—it denies any agency or responsibility, and the only dodge against the political nihilism of that statement is how vague it is.

Just because pious radicals think we all have agency and responsibility doesn't make it true. I don't have any impact at all on the laws, neither does my morality. Political nihilism is the only tenable position, from my point of view.

Yes, laws are made with morality in mind. It is the morality of the people with power and money.
posted by nasreddin at 12:42 PM on January 3, 2008


Inertia is very powerful, and people tend to be risk-averse, especially in uncertain times. It gradually becomes clear to a clerk that he is part of a system that is engaged in monstrous acts of evil, or he develops qualms about the stated justification for those acts, or the system turns bad over time. He's not directly involved in those acts, but he's aware that by turning up he's complicit. He risks very real and imaginable poverty and social and personal penalties if he quits his job, penalties that also apply to people he knows very well, like his wife. In contrast the evil is far away, and happening to people he has never met, numbers and categories, not individuals. If he was offered the job knwing what he knows know, and feeling how he does, he would not accept. But now it's the default. It's the status quo, the routine, the everyday, the commonplace - the banal. Inertia has him.
posted by WPW at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's an alternative interpretation. We might not like it, but I think it's valid on the same facts: good works the same way. We're not good or evil by nature, we do what's expected of us. Raised in a society that clearly expects us to be considerate of others' rights, we rise to, even exceed, that expectation.

Since society rewards us for doing the things it expects us to do (not consciously, but in aggregation of the laws, institutional expectations and individual expectations) doesn't this essentially suggest that we can retroactively justify any of our arbitrary behaviors to ourselves, provided those behaviors resulted in pleasure center stimulation from the rewards we received in turn?

If so, I have to alter my theories of parenting a bit.
posted by davejay at 12:55 PM on January 3, 2008


nasreddin: Just because pious radicals think we all have agency and responsibility doesn't make it true.

And it's not automatically true that individuals do not have agency or responsibility just because a pious radical says that it is true.

Yes, laws are made with morality in mind. It is the morality of the people with power and money.

This is actually true, but not in the sense that you mean it. We all have power and money* in varying degrees. In most cases it's too small to influence anything purely through independent action, but action en bloc not only aggregates power and influence, it magnifies it.
posted by WPW at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2008



This is actually true, but not in the sense that you mean it. We all have power and money* in varying degrees. In most cases it's too small to influence anything purely through independent action, but action en bloc not only aggregates power and influence, it magnifies it.


Yes, this is the democratic dogma. I have never seen it work in reality except to the extent that the people in authority are afraid of havoc in the streets and losing their grip on power and hence placate or fragment or co-opt the movement. Doesn't mean they ever relinquish their rule.

And it's not automatically true that individuals do not have agency or responsibility just because a pious radical says that it is true.

Wow, really, boss?
posted by nasreddin at 1:23 PM on January 3, 2008


matteo Making the world free of Jews wasn't a "necessity of war" for Hitler -- it was the point of the war itself, not collateral damage but the bull's eye itself.
nasreddin It wasn't an end in itself.

I think it's more complex than that, it was an end that had to never quite be achieved in order to justify continuation of the means. Even if the Nazis had succeeded in murdering every Jew (and other categories of untermenschen) who had not fled German territory, they would never have said as such. They would have said that Jews remain in hiding amongst the German people. They would have believed this was true. It would have been true, until the very last Jew had been murdered. And in the absence of present Jews they would say that the Jews would sneak in over the border to plant bombs, and bombs would be secretly planted in German markets by good and enthusiastic Nazis, and previously captured Jews would be publicly tried for the bombings. Criminals, deserters and spies captured in secret would be circumcised, maybe even given nose jobs, and as soon as the wounds will pass casual inspection, there would be an announcement that Jews have been captured. All in order to keep the public aware of the Jewish threat and taking it seriously.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


nasreddin Yes, this is the democratic dogma. I have never seen it work in reality except to the extent that the people in authority are afraid of havoc in the streets and losing their grip on power and hence placate or fragment or co-opt the movement. Doesn't mean they ever relinquish their rule.

Only if you believe in an Illuminated Conspiracy. Democracies can and do change government and drastically change direction with that change of government. Keating to Howard in Australia; (hopefully) Howard to Rudd in Australia. Callaghan to Thatcher to Major to Blair in the UK brought major changes in policy with each change. And if you think Bush I to Clinton to Bush II represented unrelinquished continuation of power ...
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:01 PM on January 3, 2008


Bill Buford's Among the Thugs looks at getting caught up in antisocial behavior.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:04 PM on January 3, 2008


Just because pious radicals think we all have agency and responsibility doesn't make it true.

No, you're right, that doesn't make it true. What makes it true is that we do.

As a wise ass once said, "I refute it thus!" [kicks rock /]

Whether that agency is effective, and where exactly that responsibility lies, are quite separate issues.
posted by lodurr at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2008


davejay Since society rewards us for doing the things it expects us to do (not consciously, but in aggregation of the laws, institutional expectations and individual expectations) doesn't this essentially suggest that we can retroactively justify any of our arbitrary behaviors to ourselves, provided those behaviors resulted in pleasure center stimulation from the rewards we received in turn?

Well ... yes, though I think motivation is a great deal more complicated than "pleasure center stimulation". People do things that they think they should, that they do find personally unpleasant (which partly, but not totally, relates to the matter of evil and this discussion). People also avoid "pain center stimulation".

If you're suggesting that human beings can retroactively justify pretty much anything ... sure, I'll go with that, and I think the activity being justified doesn't have to be retroactive, it can as easily be present or planned in future.

But if you're looking for a way to justify moral behavior, and questioning whether what we think is moral, is actually moral, or just social expectations that condition us to pleasure and pain, I think that's akin to asking whether we're "afraid of the tiger", or whether "our perception of the tiger has stimulated our body to produce adrenaline". It's not an either/or, it's a matter of viewpoint.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:14 PM on January 3, 2008


“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”- Abraham Lincoln.

“all the cool kids are devotees of the theory of the bananality of evil: they all hold that evil has a thick, yellow skin and is high in potassium”

the quidnunc kid - did you have professor Fleegle or Bingo at the University?

“In essence, I think there is a moral obligation not necessarily to stand up to 'evil' but rather to subvert it.”
posted by Pastabagel

I prefer the Oni’s claw.

The question is not what others do, but what you yourself do. Most people focus on the strength it takes to master others. The how of it. Very few focus on mastering themselves. If you have mastered yourself and are sure of your own actions and satisfied with them, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else calls you. And they will surely call you many things from unpatriotic to, perhaps, evil.

But mastering yourself also means not falling to the temptation of doing “good” for others either.
Hell, there are people who will beg you to bind them, burn off their nipples and make their rectums bleed - and indeed there are psychological and political equivalencies to that - it doesn’t mean you have to do it. But (I agree with the article) many folks do things to become exemplars of a given group ideology.

In part the flaw in the study is not in the question of evil, but in the assessment that there are “ordinary” men or leaders or superior men. There aren’t. There are only people who have made certain choices.

“Man’s power of choice enables him to think like an angel or a devil, a king or a slave. Whatever he chooses, mind will create and manifest.” - Frederick Bailes

I agree with anotherpanacea on ‘not evil but blameworthy’, and on the practical response - explicit, clear, provable evidence of reprehensible acts that are prosecutable.
So you get down to really banal brass tacks - e.g. how much a party to evil is the guy at the gas station who filled the tank of the truck containing Zyklon B knowing what it was?
Howabout his assistant? Howabout some guy on a bike passing by who knew what the truck was but didn’t try to stop it?

There’s an expectation that people somehow do ‘good’ or at least resist evil - that is a component of doing evil here in the case of the folks who move beyond the orders of the state, that’s one of the factors.

That zeal in execution - (Jews are evil ergo we must work hard, creatively, etc. to kill them) applies to anything and is driven by those expectations.

We do have to rely on law and external judgement to codify actions (bearing in mind much of what the Nazis did was legal in their own country - and bearing in mind the practical realities such as the refusal of many countries to take refugees even knowing what was going on) but we have to live with ourselves.
So the crucial question is not how to prevent others from doing evil or following the ‘wrong’ moral code or group, but in how to attain mastery over oneself. How not to rely on others for one’s own sense of worth.

...naturally there’s a good deal of resistance to that because there’s so much investment in the conceptualization of group identification (from the idea of a ‘nation’ to the uses it has in advertising).

Indeed (given nasreddin’s comment on civil disobedience) that seems to be how free speech zones ‘work’ (that is, why people don’t tear them up). The group in opposition to whatever don’t necessarially want to engage in civil disobedience but merely distinguish themselves as opposition, establish their identity.

“The root of human "Evil" as you call it comes mostly from this simple sentence: "but it's different when I do it."”
posted by Uther Bentrazor

True. Seems to hold true for masterbation as well.

whimsicalnymph - well said. Knowlege without doubt is blind faith.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2008


homunculus, As usual, a stimulating post. The title alone is stimulating and haunted me since I read it last night. I like the article a lot.

I don't think evil is banal. And I don't think ordinary people, endowed with a healthy range of emotions, a true self and integrity, are, in ordinary circumstances, capable of evil. War is an extraordinary circumstance. But it too offers choices on either side of the enemy line.

Paradoxically, I do think the banal can be a sensory experience preferred by people capable of evil, such as in kitsch, in Halmarkisms, clicheed speech, muzac, industrial decorating, corporate ambiance. The banal deletes expression of individual quirkiness and personal significance. The banal is a Stepford Wives version of reality.

I think evil arises out of a loss of connection with one's true self, losing integrity, and an empathic disconnect from others in a humane way, leading to knowing about others' suffering and deliberately not caring, malicious scapegoating or heinous abuse based on a sense of entitlement ie pathological narcissism. For evil to go to the macro level it requires those who lose their way becoming enmeshed with pathological narcissists, taking a stance of determined blindness, or what Scot Peck called in his People of the Lie, militant ignorance.

As I've studied destructive personality disorders (NPD, ASPD, BPD and HPD) in the last 8 years, working on my own recovery (long history of being enmeshed with people with NPD) and being in discussion forums with others who have long histories or enmeshments with the NPDed, it's been natural to wonder about the dynamics of evil, co and counter dependence on both microcosm and macrocosm levels. I've labeled the dynamic between abusers and those who enable them abuse support networks.

It's a big and interesting topic.

Evil mindsets may include:
Nothing is You Everything is Me
Intimidating Rage Attacks
Grinning Spotlight Seeking Flaws in Others
Ridicule
Fun Ganging Up Against Another
Blunt Cudgel Bullying
Plotting and Getting Revenge
Stalking
Evesdropping
Two-faced Charm
The Chameleon Predator

Splintered Heart, Maddened Hand:
The Inner Dynamics of Vengeance

Craig Chalquist, M.S.

Not long after I began counseling angry men and women and
facilitating groups for convicted batterers, I noticed, permeating
and organizing their rage, a specific pattern of passions and
attitudes unilluminated by our usual explanations--or rather, excuses-
-for revenge and violence: socioeconomic status, history of child
abuse, family roles, absent father, etc. I also began to see this
pattern in raging people outside the therapy office, many in denial
about the depth of their anger or the forces intensifying it. In
spite of the domestic violence news splashed everywhere, the
understanding that even shouting is abusive, let alone going beyond
it to controlling, intimidating, isolating, or manhandling someone,
surprises many of us. We're that out of control, that used to abuse.
A corrosive pattern of injury, cynicism, splitting, denial,
righteousness, entitlement, obsession, emptiness, isolation,
passivity, deflation, guilt, and woundedness simmers in many of us
like a layer of glowing coals waiting for ignition into what we'll
describe as the syndrome of vengeance.


What is evil and how can it be quantified? A New York lawyer, Michael Welner, has worked on this aspect, quantifying evil, when it comes to legal situations. He calls it a Depravity Scale. It's a good beginning on how to discuss or deal with a "heinous crime" in a legal arena.

An author whose work I admire, Leonard Shengold, wrote about the society around and at the time Hitler. Soul Murder. In a grossly simplistic nutshell: people psychologically abused as children tend to support and become enmeshed with abusers, parentify them, pedestalize them.

Another good book: Defying Hitler: A Memoir, by Samuel Haffner

Not just another WWII book about concentration camps. It's written between the wars; a contemporary attempt to understand how Hitler grabbed the minds of so many people, and how those people felt, including Haffner, getting enmeshed doing things that they knew were not right or good, but doing them anyway.


The author of the OP article discusses an ‘agentic state’ in which people suspend their capacity to make informed moral judgments and relinquish responsibility for what they do to those in authority. Regardless of what it is that they are being asked to do, once in an agentic state, the person’s sole concern becomes how well they do the bidding of these authorities.

I get the impression from popular TV shows that taking responsibility for one's life is perceived as a punishment, an ordeal rather than a joy, something of profound value and beauty. I think this has a corrosive impact and leads to people wanting to hand over their power to an authority, to take care of the problems and inconveniences. Inconveniences are routinely perceived as obstacles, rather than an inherent part of life, so some sort of perfectionism sets in, a vision of a perfect life with no inconveniences, nothing mundane, nothing ordinary and this is, imo, a fascist fantasy, wanting to impose The Perfect onto the imperfect reality of life. On a micro scale the movie Falling Down depicts one man's devolving into a fascist, evil state of mind, when inconveniences and flaws become his enemy, rather than an integral part of life.

Observing how cults work is significant in comprehending these dynamics, people handing over their individual power to an authority. People can get high feeling a part of something greater than themselves, bigger, more important, more special, more perfect than their ordinary selves. And sometimes people feel the relief of not being responsible for the complexity or simplicity of their lives, surrendering to brainwashing. The medium for takeover is here. By the age of 16, children have spent 10,000 to 15,000 hours watching television-that is more time than they spend in school! In the average home, the TV set is on for six hours and 44 minutes per day-an increase of nine minutes from last year and three times the average rate of increase during the 1970s.

People may, in the cult of personality brainwashed world, forget the beauty of their ordinary selves, lose touch with the endearing nature of flaws in themselves and others, how awesome it is to have this life in all its ordinariness, in all the dishes washed, the laundry folded, the going to work, the Mister Rogers parts of life, the being patient with the cashier at the supermarket, allowing oneself to connect with a full range of feelings, the helping a friend, the being true to oneself and others.
posted by nickyskye at 2:36 PM on January 3, 2008


I prefer the Oni’s claw.

I have a smallish Siamese cat. My other three range in size from about 12 to maybe 14 pounds, whereas she is only nine or so. This size disparity does absolutely nothing to stop her from being the absolute alpha animal in the house. Out of two dogs, three cats, rats, birds, and a bunch of other assorted fauna, she is the queen of her domain and will pick, and win, fights with anyone who crosses her.

She is also one of the youngest, so it's not even a seniority thing, she just has a presence that radiates menace. I am the only one that she tolerates, even a little bit.

Were I to pick a pet that best exemplified what a complete and utter monster a can could be, it would be her without a seconds thought. She is, in a word, evil.

Her name, purely coincidently, happens to be Oni. Though when I saw her chief weapon being listed in a conversation about the evil that lives in the world, I was not really all that surprised.
posted by quin at 3:16 PM on January 3, 2008


"Just because pious radicals think we all have agency and responsibility doesn't make it true. I don't have any impact at all on the laws, neither does my morality. Political nihilism is the only tenable position, from my point of view.

Yes, laws are made with morality in mind. It is the morality of the people with power and money."

As for the second part, that the laws often reflect the morality of people with power and money, I agree (though I'd also point out that the interests of people with power and money are not always opposed to the interests of people without power and money).

As for the pious radicals crack, well, political nihilism is as moronic as any other nihilistic viewpoint, and anarchism of the form you've espoused within this thread is both naive and unproductive. But hey, it at least allows you to sloganeer against the state while enjoying the benefits of living in one!
posted by klangklangston at 3:48 PM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


two dogs, three cats, rats, birds, and a bunch of other assorted fauna

quin, Love hearing about your bestiary, even your Evil One of the Claw, Oni.

This is one of the best articles I've ever read about the dynamics between evil and those enmeshed, bullies, victims and bystanders, ranging from bullying in the playground to mass murder. The author unfortunately, imo, thinks the idea of evil places it beyond the pale of human understanding and thus beyond a possibility of resolution without divine intervention. I disagree with him but in the end think that is a matter of semantics, since the word evil has been so closely connected with theistic concepts of Good and Evil, rather than a secular evil with a small e.

THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE: CONVERGING PSYCHOANALYTIC
EXPLANATORY MODELS FOR POWER STRUGGLES
AND VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS

BY STUART TWEMLOW, M.D.

This paper demonstrates that several psychoanalytic models taken together converge to collectively explain school violence and power struggles better than each does alone. Using my own experience In doing psychoanalytically Informed community intervention, I approach the problem of school violence from a combination of Adlerian, Stollerian, dialectical social systems, and Kleiri—Bion perspectives. This integrated model is then applied to the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado.

posted by nickyskye at 3:56 PM on January 3, 2008


I've read a great many books on evil, and for anyone seriously interested in the topic, I recommend "Evil: inside human violence and cruelty" by Roy Baumeister as being one of the best.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:06 PM on January 3, 2008


What are the policy implications for this? If people who aren't attached to peer groups that reject behavior like torture, they're more likely to do it in the context of other groups. Therefore it's dangerous to allow any group to arise in which torture is seen as appropriate.

So what do we do?

Arab-American friendship societies?

What about here? Once the idea that torture is okay has taken root, and I heard someone advocating it just the other day, then what? How do you reverse that?
posted by atchafalaya at 6:28 PM on January 3, 2008


You can call these people inhuman, but that is false. They are human, and they manifest a potential that is within all of us.

Yes, one of the most striking things to me is remembering that Hitler himself was human. One of the most powerful things I've encountered about the Holocaust is Lee Miller's photograph of herself bathing in Hitler's bathtub. It gives me the chills like nothing else. Hitler was a human being with a bathtub, and a toilet in which he no doubt took a crap, just like the rest of us.

Puts it into a perspective that is nearly horrifying, given how we inherently want to think of him as a monster.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:40 PM on January 3, 2008


Puts it into a perspective that is nearly horrifying, given how we inherently want to think of him as a monster.

Given that we are all potentially monsters, we can take it as a warning instead.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:54 AM on January 4, 2008


Violence is inside, just as is softness, care and longing.
posted by nicolin at 3:31 AM on January 4, 2008


Hitler was a human being with a bathtub, and a toilet in which he no doubt took a crap, just like the rest of us.

Not quite like the rest of us.
posted by homunculus at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2008


Metafilter: the Mister Rogers parts of life

“medical historians are unanimous that Adolf (Hitler) was the victim of uncontrollable flatulence.”

The Moirae have a perfect sense of humor.


“Once the idea that torture is okay has taken root, and I heard someone advocating it just the other day, then what? How do you reverse that?” - atchafalaya

Been struggling with that one myself. Can’t kill them all. Oh, sure, I’d like to try, but y’know...
I gotta go with Franz Jagerstatter (virtually the only conscientious objector in Austria to Hitler's army, a stand which his entire village tried to talk him out of, and which ultimately had him beheaded) neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of his own free will. Either live in a world with torture or choose to do whatever it takes to see it otherwise. Some folks of faith take christ to be the symbol of the oppressed, the tortured, the victims of genocide, which is fine as far as that goes for motivation. For some reason people can’t see themselves in those victims.
They should.
(although sometimes it’s the same thing Mother Maria Skobtsova said each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world - she was an orthodox nun and was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck Concentration camp for harboring Jews)


"As far as possible, we ought to live as we believe we should live in a liberated world, in the form of our own existence, with all the unavoidable contradictions and conflicts that result from this...Such endeavor is by necessity condemned to fail and to meet opposition, yet there is not option but to work through this opposition to the bitter end. The most important form that this will take today is resistance."
-Theodor W. Adorno

"Nonconformity, Holy Disobedience, becomes a virtue, indeed a necessary and indispensable measure of spiritual self-preservation, in a day when the impulse to conform, to acquiesce, to go along is used as an instrument to subject men to totalitarian rule and involve them in permanent war. To create the impression of at least outward unanimity, the impression that there is no "real" opposition is something for which all dictators and military leaders strive. The more is seems that there is no opposition, the less worthwhile it seems to an ever larger number of people to cherish even the thought of opposition."
-A. J. Muste

"We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us up, and we will still love you."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:54 AM on January 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


(BTW - not advocating faith or secularism either way, but ‘the enemy of my enemy’ and all that. Nearly anything to put a stop to torture and the belief in using it)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:58 AM on January 4, 2008


Mother Maria Skobtsova

She was a fascinating woman; I'd do a post about her except that most of the good sites are in Russian. Her pre-monastic name was Elizaveta Kuzmina-Karavaeva. She was born Elizaveta (Liza) Pilenko in Riga, but spent her childhood in Anapa, a Black Sea port where her father was an agronomist; after he died in 1906 her mother took her to Saint Petersburg, which she hated. She was inspired by Blok, had an affair with Nikolai Gumilev (both of them wrote poems for her), and married Dmitri Kuzmin-Karavaev, son of a liberal politician, but split up with him not long after. She moved with her lover and her mother back to Anapa, where she had a daughter and was elected mayor in 1918, was arrested when the Whites took the town, and was sprung from jail by a member of the regional government, Daniil Skobtsov, whom she married. They left Russia and moved to Paris. I'll quote the rest of the story from this LH post, where there's much more detail (with links to pictures):
They had two children, but that marriage also broke up, and in 1932 she took monastic vows and became the Orthodox nun Mother Maria. (Oddly, her former husband Kuzmin-Karavaev converted to Catholicism and eventually became a cardinal.) In that capacity she worked to help poor emigrants, and when WWII came she joined the Resistance and helped Jews escape by providing them false papers and other assistance. Betrayed by a fellow emigré, she was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck, where she died in 1945 (perhaps volunteering to take the place of another inmate, though there's no proof).
I wish I'd known her.
posted by languagehat at 1:58 PM on January 4, 2008


Nifty languagehat, thanks.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:52 AM on January 5, 2008


Smedleyman, I'm kind of surprised to hear you advocating CO. I don't disagree, but...

I think CO is always going to be a marginal position in any war. Not that it's wrong, but I'm asking what sort of policy measures should a regular person support that reinforce community norms against torture and other symptoms of authoritarianism.

I remember in Bosnia people decided, postwar, to beef up policing in the country. Nip the civil unrest in the bud while it's still a police matter, and it won't turn into a war. I'd like to hear some suggestions for preventive maintenance to a democracy so it doesn't turn into a brutality.

There were German-American friendship societies after the war, which I guess helped integrate our presence there. What could we support now?
posted by atchafalaya at 11:54 AM on January 5, 2008


I favor the existence and legitimacy of conscientious objector status. I'm not advocating everyone go and do it. That'd be a personal decision.
In terms of Iraq, I understand and support folks like Lt. Watada who questioned the legality of invading Iraq - he did, by the way, offer to serve in Afghanistan.
By the same token I respect the service of the men who are following the lawful orders of their superiors and supporting and defending the constitution (in that, congress ordered them to go to war and they are not taking matters into their own hands by military coup).

I know more and more people, some currently serving, some vets, are getting more and more politically active and actually running for political positions. That, I think, is crucial.

But in terms of other kinds of resistance, no, I think it's your duty to resist an unlawful order or die trying. Torture for example. Genocide, etc. The key is knowing.
It's not like the Bush administration is saying "Yeah, we need to eradicate these people" the way the Nazis did. Even tacitly.
But were I in the field and had I seen any evidence of that, yes, I'd resist. By whatever means necessary.
As it happens, the solution I find most palatable, as a former military man, is non-violence.
Precisely because if one is in the military, the one thing you never want to happen - and this is what makes the U.S. military truly great and unique among all armies throughout world history - is for the military to take any position in political affairs and back those positions with force.
No matter how right they are in doing so, it would ultimately be wrong. It's supposed to be a democracy.
Now, if someone wants to shut down, go to the brig, passively resist, speak out against torture and so forth, no problem. They'd also have to resign their commission (if they have one) and cut those ties.

As to what the civilian population should be doing right now? Hell yes, they should be putting their boots up their politicians asses. And to their credit, many are. You're just not hearing or seeing it in any media coverage.
Which, really, is a failure of their imagination. Understandable.
I'm trying to hold up my end, but again, I'm really far too dangerous to be that useful. Maybe when I get old. Hell, Socrates did that. He was an old warhorse.

Incidentally, engagement is a good idea (ala' friendship societies) but as more and more troops return home, as the war plods on, the more exposure we will have to Middle Eastern culture.
Sort of self-correcting. (Stalin's solution was to kill vets who had seen the freedom and wealth of the west).
But it's a shame it takes so long and so many people have to die.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:35 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I will add - I'm absolutely opposed to the draft. So simply not signing up really... still seems like most kids are sitting on their asses or getting involved in petty candy ass causes and/or celeb culture. Could be a media/cultural smokescreen. I do see a lot of young folks working hard and politically aware.)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:37 PM on January 5, 2008


The Milgram Experiment Today?
posted by homunculus at 1:24 PM on January 7, 2008


That's an amazing link, homunculus, and shouldn't be wasted as an add-on comment that few people will see. I say post the sucker.
posted by languagehat at 1:31 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. I gotta second LH there homunculus. Post that.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:05 PM on January 7, 2008


Could one of you post it? I already used my chance to post today.

It was also via Mind Hacks, btw.
posted by homunculus at 5:28 PM on January 8, 2008


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