“The banality of evil”

“The banality of evil”

I’ve been listening a lot the last few days to Mr. David Sylvian’s latest album, ‘snow borne sorrow’, and one of my favourite songs goes by the name of “The banality of evil”. This phrase was first used, I think, to describe what men like Adolf Eichmann did, and it appears in the title of a book from Hannah Arendt (apparently she never uses the phrase herself in the text of the book).

Many years ago I saw the film The Specialist which tells the story of the trial of Mr. Eichmann. Eichmann was one of the organisers-in-chief of the Nazi party, and ensured that all goods reached their destination with the minimum of distribution — no matter if those goods were Jews on the way to extermination camps. It was just a matter of organisation, no? Men can be evil without being malevolent, that was the revelation. It was just an every-day, ordinary kind of evil, which could come about because Eichmann and his colleagues were locked into in an enormous process which had effectively separated them from all moral responsibility.

The text of Sylvian’s song is for sure inspired by these stories, he sings ‘I’ve got me a badge a bright shiny badge/[..]I’ve got me a club an exclusive club’ and then towards the end of the song he tells us that ‘your skin is dirty and your gods…don’t look like gods’. Of course the sub-text in all of the songs on the album is Sylvian’s separation from his wife of 13 years, so every surface has more than one interior, and every song can be read in more than one way.

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