Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Banality of Good: Watching our neighbors go to their doom

The banality of good is happening everywhere, notably in schools where ordinary employees and board members continue to live their lives, not much disturbed by the fact that thousands of children that could have been saved are passing through their schools and heading toward lives of poverty, failure and, in not a few cases, crime.

It is vile. Not vile beyond all vileness, but definitely vile.

I feel that publishing my blog is somewhat like the writing of postcards by the heroes of this novel.

The Banality of Good
The New York Times
May 3, 2010

What was it like? I would ask myself, the years I lived in Berlin. What was it like in the leafy Grunewald neighborhood to watch your Jewish neighbors — lawyers, businessmen, dentists — trooping head bowed to the nearby train station for transport eastward to extinction?

With what measure of fear, denial, calculation, conscience and contempt did neighbors who had proved their Aryan stock to Hitler’s butchers make their accommodations with this Jewish exodus? How good did the schnapps taste and how effectively did it wash down the shame?

Now I know. Thanks to Hans Fallada’s extraordinary “Every Man Dies Alone,” just published in the United States more than 60 years after it first appeared in Germany, I know... It was vile beyond all vileness.”...

“Every Man Dies Alone” recounts how a working-class Berlin couple, Otto and Anna Quangel, are stirred from acquiescence to anger by the death at the front of their only son. The action they take is minimalist — writing postcards denouncing Hitler and depositing them at random — but contains the immensity of defiance in a world where disobedience equals death...

The postcards were almost all handed in to the police by terrorized Berliners. But humanity is Quangel’s disciple. For the “preposterous comedy” continues here and there and terror still poses the existential dilemma: decency and its (mortal) dangers or conformity and its comforts?

As Hannah Arendt once observed: “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not. ... Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”...

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