CHY 4U 2012: The Banality of Evil

Paper via Flickr, by Keone

The term Banality of Evil was first used by writer Hannah Arendt to describe a new kind of horror epitomized by the Holocaust: the actions of men who were part of a bureaucratic mechanism responsible for horrible atrocities. These desk murderers, or Schreibtischtäter, killed through paperwork; they signed documents that authorized millions of deaths, but rarely dirtied their own hands.

We will read an overview of the Banality of Evil in the context of the Holocaust. We will then see how this term may or may not apply to other examples of bureaucratic destruction, such as the firebombing of Japan and the behaviour  of some modern corporations.

Finally, I’d like us to consider how the global nature of our culture may allow us to make seemingly innocent decisions at desks (and other locations) that harm others.

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