Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The devil in our mind

It has been a heavy time in a certain sense: Nagasaki, a few days later Hiroshima, and then last week ─ the remembrances of the other human made calamities were still fresh ─ Auschwitz. In all these cases people who had no personal relation to the killers, who had no personal relation to the motives of the killers were killed. They were victims in the most objective sense.
Hannah Arendt spoke once of the “banality of evil”, in the sense that this evil did not come from a diabolic attitude but from a kind of thoughtlessness. If that is true, it means that everybody can have a devil in his or her mind. Most people are lucky that he does not come out, but nobody can guarantee that his or her devil will never escape.
Sometimes I wonder why so few people try to take the other person’s perspective before they act. Actually, this was the kind of thoughtlessness that Arendt was referring to in this context. The question is, of course, as Arendt puts it, whether “the activity of thinking as such [could] … be among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing or even actually ‘condition’ them against it” (The life of the mind, p. 5). On the other hand, by taking the other person’s point of view, maybe they would realize that their own viewpoints are not as absolute as they think, and that there may also be some truth in the other person’s side. I do not want to say that this will make that the devil in our mind does not come out but I am convinced that it helps a bit.

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