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Gypsies. Adolf Eichmann. Erich Fromm. Hannah Arendt.

The banality of evil.
Fear of freedom.
... to live a leaderless and difficult individual life ... I would receive no directives from anybody

Decades ago I read Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem in the New Yorker. She'd been sent by the New Yorker to cover Eichmann's trial for his role as one of the architects of Hitler's, the Third Reich's, Final Solution.

I was quite taken by Arendt's description of the little rituals of Eichmann's everyday life in prison. Every day, it seemed, he swept his cell ... so many strokes this way, exactly, so many strokes that way, exactly. If anything disrupted this little act of housekeeping, disturbed his exactness in its execution, Eichmann went into a rage.

I have always hated housekeeping because it is humble, insignificant "women's work." Actually it isn't, but I was damned sure that it was NOT MY GOD-GIVEN WORK as a woman. It is not my destiny to be a colossus of housewifery. I am a slob, a deliberate slob who lives in chaos. My dear Swedish-born mother inculcated in me a healthy distrust of the proclivities of the Teutonic hausfrau -- and she brought me up to be an irresponsible, lazy brat. There was also a taint of anti-Germany feeling that carried over from WWII.

My mother, nevertheless, was an excellent guardian of order in the household. She freed me from these concerns and enabled me to roam like a baseless gypsy over the landscape in all kinds of weather. Because of that, my heart has always been that of the gypsy, the Bohemian, not the respectable, actual Bohemian of the former nation of Czechoslovakia who is regular in his or her daily behavior, tidy in household, well-regulated all in all, but the French corruption of the word:

the description of a certain kind of literary gypsy, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or "littérateur" who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art.

I constantly wrestle with a state of personal chaos because it truly is not sensible. A certain amount of order is required but ... enforced order, compulsive order, obligatory order. The spirit revolts.

I went onto other concerns, such as actually doing a bit of housework and other things, and I missed the ongoing discussion that Arendt provoked with her articles. Many questioned her use of the phrase, "the banality of evil." I found it to right on the mark. It's right under our noses. We, each one of us, is capable of it if WE DO NOT GOVERN OURSELVES. Or, more to the point, We Ourselves Govern.

The discussion goes on to this day, most recently in the New York Times

The movie “Hannah Arendt,” which opened in New York in May, has unleashed emotional commentary that mirrors the fierce debate Arendt herself ignited over half a century ago, when she covered the trial of the notorious war criminal Adolf Eichmann.
Arendt, to my satisfaction at least, illustrates the act of the unconventional, the self-governing individual, against the compulsions of convention, custom, what everybody else does, in the story of Sergeant Anton Schmidt of Vienna, who was executed by his superiors in Vilnius, Lithuania for helping 250 Jewish men, women, and children escape from extermination by the Nazi SS during the European Jewish Holocaust. He did this by hiding them, supplying them with false ID papers and helping them escape. Schmidt's message to us all, the action of an individual human being:
I have only acted as a human and I did not want to hurt anyone.
Not following orders. Contrast that with the telling words of Eichmann, how he fears not being governed externally:
... to live a leaderless and difficult individual life ... I would receive no directives from anybody...
Perhaps the wild card, the gypsy card is in Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom.
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Comment Preferences

  •  I showed my nice tidy cursive writing to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jabney

    my 6th grade teacher and he said,

    "Do you now what all geniuses have in common? They're messy! Now, are you going to mess this up?"

    I did, and he was right, the mind has to be free-form to create, or it will be reduced.

    It's like that line from the book 'Dune', where the guy goes from rebel to emperor and his fate is slowly crushing him.  He takes to wearing his old flight-school jacket from his smaller days before any of this happened; when his wife asks him why he's wearing it, he says "Even an emperor can have a favorite jacket" and she cries to see him  reduced to that.

    "The war on drugs followed by the war on terror has eliminated protections we have had since the Magna Carta." -Horace Boothroyd III

    by mookins on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:50:36 AM PDT

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