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Question: What is the 'banality of evil'? Please explain the origin of the phrase and how this philosophical concept applies to our current world.
The term 'banality of evil' is a philosophical concept attributed to Hannah Arendt, a political theorist. The phrase was first introduced in her 1963 book 'Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,' where she profiled Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. Arendt's report challenged the common image of the 'monster' as the embodiment of evil, portraying Eichmann not as a psychopath or a sadist, but as an extremely ordinary, law-abiding man who carried out unspeakable atrocities mainly out of an unthinking adherence to the Nazi regime's orders. According to Arendt, Eichmann was not motivated by antisemitism or psychological abnormality, but was merely 'doing his job' without considering its moral implications. Arendt posited that evil can hence be banal, or ordinary. It suggested that anyone could commit evil under certain societal pressures or systems, particularly when they abdicate personal responsibility, relinquish their moral judgement and unquestioningly follow orders. In the context of our current world, the 'banality of evil' has several applications. For instance, it can apply to individuals who cause harm or oppression through their work within certain systems or structures (such as government, corporate, etc) but deflect responsibility because they're simply 'following orders' or 'doing their job'. It raises questions about the complicity of individuals in systematized evils and pushes us to reconsider assumptions about the nature of evil acts and their perpetrators. Thus, the concept of the 'banality of evil' remains a powerful tool for understanding how ordinary individuals can contribute to harmful acts and structures. It suggests the importance of critical thought, moral judgement and personal responsibility within societal and organizational contexts to prevent such evils.
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