Hannah Arendt and the banality of soy


28 May 2013 | 16:28


Some of you by now will have seen von Margarethe von Trotta’s movie on philosopher Hannah Arendt.  As a fan of her work – I particularly liked On Revolution – , I hesitate to go see it. I am enough snob to I think there is no need to waste two hours of my time before being able to say that her ‘books are better so much better than the film’.

The film focuses on the period in her life when she reported on the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem. Her original report for The New Yorker, was later reworked into Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963). She got a lot of criticism for this work, particularly from people who had lived through the Holocaust and saw her account as providing an excuse for the atrocities committed.

With the power of hindsight, we may say that she was probably fooled by the acting of Eichmann. He successfully positioned himself as a grey mouse, a tiny wheel in the mighty machinery of Nazi bureaucracy. Therefore Arendt’s idea, that Eichmann was evil primarily because of his blind obedience is perhaps not accurate. Yet her general observations about evil are very valuable. She pointed out, that evil can be an output of a faceless bureaucracy, and coined the phrase the banality of evil. In her own words: ‘The greatest evil in the world is the evil committed by nobodies’.

How very true.

Last weekend, we saw an interesting protest against US company Monsanto. In 436 cities around the world, some two million protesters gathered to raise awareness for what this company is doing to our public domain. Most people know, that this company is stretching the boundaries of intellectual capital by claiming rights on (crop) genetics and species. Monsanto successfully sues small farmers out of existence when they can prove that their ‘property’ is found on the farmers’ lands, even if it gets there by accident (the way things tend to happen in nature). All of this under the blanket of their heart-warming corporate social responsibility strategy, that they are Producing more, Conserving More, Improving Lives. That is sustainable agriculture. And that is what Monsanto is all about.(sic)

I am sure you are just as curious as I am,  who in this case the nobodies are that make it possible that this company steals from all of us?  I guess they are to begin with all the people that make money from Monsanto:

–          First of all of course their lawyers, who have no problems twisting ideas of what private entities could legally own (the right to a species? WTF?) and will ask no questions as long as they are paid. The logic of the lawyers (including the judges) is quasi economical, and seems to make sense. As Chief Justice Roberts asked in the case Monsanto vs Bowman:

“Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”

A funny question, since in many parts of the world this is exactly how it works and should work.

–          Then of course there are the bankers and consultants, who for fat fees help Monsanto to acquire new businesses and spread their practices across the world

–          Let’s not forget the investors and families, who sell their businesses to Monsanto at very high profit multiples.

–          And  the ‘creative’ people, who make adds and web sites for them, with tag lines and pay offs that will bring tears to your eyes.

–          And the ‘Scientists’, who publish about the need for Monsanto’s practices if ‘we want to feed nine billion people’.

The evil Monsanto thrives in this ecosystem of nobodies.

These nobodies are not easily recognizable criminals. They carry no guns and have no tattoos. They are ambitious house fathers and mothers, with decent suits and ties that are trying to make a good living.  And why blame them? No one ever hired, paid or promoted them for being critical about clients’ ethics.

So why would they?

Unless, of course, one day there will be a trial against them.

Wouldn’t that be great?

Ebel Kemeling