Saturday, February 22, 2014

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, The Banality of Evil

The shocking truth is evil exists, is not supernatural, and is, largely, boring.

Evil presented to most American audiences has a kind of cool, a chic attached to it. It’s administered by chiseled actors, snarky lines, to the hip-twisting sounds of distorted guitars.

Not true in real life.

Evil, it turns out, creeps.

It is slow, methodical, and resides in institutions of trust and authority. Evil is bureaucratic, strategic, relentless.

In order to understand the world, it is crucial to digest what the late political scientist Hannah Arendt described as “the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.” It’s a classic line, oft quoted from her early 1960s controversial study of Eichmann’s trial for war crimes.

Wouldn’t it be too easy, a just-so story, to equate Nazism and the likes of Eichmann to aberrational evil, the kind associated with mythology? 

I think so. 

And when I watch Holocaust movies I do find them lacking in this important regard. HITLER WAS ELECTED. The Nazis were extremely popular and mainstream, and Germany of the period was a relative cultural and scientific Mecca.

Yet, European Jewry had to go – simple as that.

The whirlwind of statecraft, the assumption of collectivism, allowed the scourge of Nazism to grow and flourish. It would be nice to think such a scenario was a one shot deal.

Uh, no.

A lesser known corollary is the connection between monetary policy and evil.

Money has its place in the popular Judeo-Christian imagination’s conception of evil, for sure. The lone idea and existence of money is itself an evil, according to these folk (Christ’s most vivid story arcs come when he overturns tables in the Temple and when he is ultimately betrayed for a petty sum). That’s not at all what I mean. Not even a little bit.

Governments the world over use monetary policy to create the kind of banality I do mean to convey.

If you listen or read carefully to the costs of governmental programs, an instinctive question arises. 


Like, how does the government fund everything from social engineering programs (general welfare, education, etc.) to military adventurism (bases across the globe; wars in Iraq, Afghanistan; police actions in Pakistan, Libya, etc.)?

The answer is governments inflate.

Consider how impossible it would be for a government to do any of the above if the average tax payer had to flip for the bill in real time. 

No deferments. 

Before launching into another mandate, before rushing to sack a foreign power, … what if the government had to get the dough UP FRONT from you? 

Imagine the conversation, if it would ever happen, going something along the lines of, “Uh, Mr./Mrs. American, we need you to pony up $150,000 so we can defend your freedom in/from Iran.”

I think we both know Mr./Mrs. American’s response, gentle reader.

Shit you not, the whole goddamn machine would grind to a halt. 

Right. Fucking. Now.


The practice of inflating a currency is ancient. Roman times found Cesar shaving coins ever-so in order to stiff the eventual holder and finance Rome’s folly (it’s probably the reason later coins have notches or ridges). So the concept is not new.

Governments have to try and find balance. They’ve got to print money (in the digital age it’s not necessarily a printing press, per se – sometimes it’s just a simple exchange of blinking cursors) in order to FEEL wealthier, and yet they’ve got to mind the gap because the person who has the newly printed dollar last is, well, fucked. HIS dollar loses value the most.

I guess that’s the most obvious point, huh? 

The dollar, you know without any economic theory, loses value every year. You might not know exactly why, but you do feel it when this year’s dollar cannot buy as much as last year’s. You know this is true just by purchasing candy. That Snickers isn't as cheap as when you were a kid, right? Why? Jesus? Nature? Don't be stupid.

The greatest inflationary impact comes by way of credit and what classical economists have termed mal-investment. 

Inflation is a kind of easy credit, loose money, or soft money. And the more money in circulation, the richer people assume they are … when in fact they’re actually poorer. People spend. They give businesses cues, signals, as to what to stock (the more shit you buy, the more businesses want to make sure it's there for you next time). Inventory goes in the direction of consumer demand. Businesses hire and fire based upon the signal. 

Now stop for a second. Consider what started this chain: inflation, money printing.

The American housing crises is a textbook example. 

Political pressure on banks made lending for homes a priority. Governments perpetuated credit in that direction, artificially inflating the value of the market. For as long as I can remember, EVERY American presidential administration has pleaded for more and affordable housing.

And so houses sprung up around the US, and businesses invested in real estate, as did the average laborer (in terms of skill and employment). 

An entire market was blown up, like a soap bubble, as a result of political whimsy. The problem was NOT the eventual bursting of the bubble, the Great Recession, or whatever you’d like to term it (in the end, markers must be paid for any economic system to work, right?). 

The problem was the BOOM, the completely fictional rise. It’s very, very difficult, almost impossible, to explain the evil of inflation to people caught up in boom times (and if you listen closely, you’ll hear commentators’ nostalgia for boom decades even in the face of said boom’s disastrous consequences years later).    

It’s a boring topic to most people.

It’s boring until their home is foreclosed.

It’s boring until they’re fired.

It’s boring until they realize their money is near worthless.

It’s boring until they lose a loved-one in military service.

It’s boring until their village is bombed.

Banal, plain, vanilla. Evil.

And I mean it.



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