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The Evil of Banality Paperback – 1 Jan 2017

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The Evil of Banality is a subtle, original contribution to a literature that attempts to make sense of people s evil-doings. The book approaches its main question, which it sets as guiding a years-long personal quest for an answer, from an Arendtian observation of Eichmann, which is that a necessary condition of evildoing is thoughtlessness. It refines this observation with Camus existentialist observations of choice. And it narrates an answer to its question using many and different examples, reflecting on them, and drawing conceptual distinctions that illuminate what banality is and how it is related to evil. --Bat-Ami Bar On, Professor of Philosophy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Binghamton University"<br \><br \>This is a brilliant, wonderfully written, and tightly argued book. The key concepts of intensive v. extensive evil and intensive v. extensive good are exceptionally useful tools for sorting through the ethical dimensions of ordinary lives in a way that puts all of us on notice that it is simply not sufficient to use categories of the unthinkable to distance ourselves from learning to think well, both separately and together. --Sara M. Evans, Regents Professor Emerita, Department of History, University of Minnesota"<br \><br \>While I believe it is an ever-present possibility that books can actually make us better people, I see it as quite rare that they either try to or are successful in doing so: I am convinced that this one can. --Stephen Bloch-Schulman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Elon University"<br \><br \>"The Evil of Banality is a subtle, original contribution to a literature that attempts to make sense of people's evil-doings. The book approaches its main question, which it sets as guiding a years-long personal quest for an answer, from an Arendtian observation of Eichmann, which is that a necessary condition of evildoing is thoughtlessness. It refines this observation with Camus' existentialist observations of choice. And it narrates an answer to its question using many and different examples, reflecting on them, and drawing conceptual distinctions that illuminate what banality is and how it is related to evil." --Bat-Ami Bar On, Professor of Philosophy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Binghamton University

"This is a brilliant, wonderfully written, and tightly argued book. The key concepts of intensive v. extensive evil and intensive v. extensive good are exceptionally useful tools for sorting through the ethical dimensions of ordinary lives in a way that puts all of us on notice that it is simply not sufficient to use categories of the 'unthinkable' to distance ourselves from learning to think well, both separately and together." --Sara M. Evans, Regents Professor Emerita, Department of History, University of Minnesota

"While I believe it is an ever-present possibility that books can actually make us better people, I see it as quite rare that they either try to or are successful in doing so: I am convinced that this one can." --Stephen Bloch-Schulman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Elon University

About the Author

Elizabeth Minnich received her doctorate from the New School under the direction of Hannah Arendt. Following twenty-five years as a Core Professor in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the Union Institute, she now divides her time between Charlotte, NC, where she is professor of moral philosophy at Queens University, and Washington, DC, where she is a Senior Scholar at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She is the author of Transforming Knowledge (Temple University Press, 1990, 2005) and co-author of The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy (Berrett-Koehler, 2005).

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended. 5 Jan. 2017
By Book Lover - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is well-written, and well-argued. It makes the reader think about evil in a different way, and is especially relevant in these contentious times. Highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative and timely. Written for the general reader although ... 30 Jan. 2017
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Provocative and timely. Written for the general reader although she is an academic. Thoughtful and at times challenging to allow oneself to stay the same in one's beliefs and activities.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must-read 10 Feb. 2017
By an interested reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an important book, a book for anyone who’s ever wondered how ordinary people, people who are otherwise good or at least not bad, do evil things. “Evil” not in the sense of a Hannibal Lecter or an Iago, but the garden-variety, commonplace kind we’re more likely to encounter. Minnich makes an important distinction between outsized, over-the-top evil and the more ordinary kind that requires the cooperation of vast numbers of people over periods of time, that’s likely to pass as “normal” (“extensive” evil) . The real danger is not in serial killers, but in recognizable human tendencies much closer to home, the tendency to go along with, to conform, to distance ourselves from the suffering of others.

What were they thinking, these people who participated in and perpetuated genocides, slavery, colonialism, systems that inflicted horrors? Minnich is not the first to ask this, but she sheds new light. Her title is a variant of the “banality of evil,” Hannah Arendt’s term for Eichmann. (Minnich was Arendt’s student, graduate assistant, friend.) Eichmann, on trial in Jerusalem, sitting in his glass booth, surrounded by people whose lives he’d destroyed, complaining that he had not received the promotion he deserved, when he’d done his job so well. How could a person get that out of touch and morally obtuse? Well… Minnich asks us to look at the tunnel vision of many a person caught up in pursuit of the American dream, zealously committed to making more and more money with little thought to what the product or service is doing to human beings or the environment.

One way we lapse into this dangerous myopia is when we allow pat phrases and formulations, clichés and conventional ways of speaking do our thinking for us. Terms like going global, growing the economy, creative destruction mask the reality that such processes may be destroying lives and communities; they normalize exploitation, allowing it to pass as normal, “the way things are,” allowing us to live “as if we didn’t know.” Thus a genuinely caring parent may participate in business practices dependent on the exploitation of child laborers. “Our real enemies are not human devils, but our own dumbest densest, out of touch, compartmentalized, autopilot, clichéd, conventional, inattentive, greedy, careerist, and…thoughtless selves.”

Careerism is not usually seen as evil, but after reading this book, you’ll see how it can prime people for participation in and perpetuation of systems that do extensive evil. A fixation on profit, status, career advancement, no matter how it is gained, requires that we compartmentalize and wall off: so what if others lose their homes and livelihoods, so long as we get that bonus? Add to that the thrill of being on the inside, the winning side, the intoxicating perks of privilege, you may end up with a human being as out of touch as Eichmann in his booth. “It does not take a Hitler” to do the work of extensive evil, says Minnich; “it just takes an ability to go along thoughtlessly…without paying attention, reflecting, questioning—to play the game as careerists everywhere do.”

What were they thinking? Minnich’s point is that they were not thinking, thinking in the fullest, deepest sense of reflecting, attending. The antidote to evil is thinking, remaining open and attentive to the reality of others, feeling their experience. For even in the most horrific regimes, there were always people who did not go along, did not anesthetize themselves to the sufferings of others, who resisted. How can we discover and develop those potentials within ourselves and others? This book explores these questions. A powerful antidote, an important first step, I’d say, is the analysis that Minnich offers here, that opens our eyes to how dangerous some of our most human and understandable tendencies can be, the desire to get ahead, and raises awareness of the way systems can normalize extensive evil by calling it something else. This book should be read by anyone who cares; it is far-ranging, well-informed, the writing is clear as a bell, and the warning it sounds has a terrible timeliness. Careerism, self-promotion, narcissism, the preening and pluming of ego are on a rampage; more than “normalized,” they’ve proven to be irresistibly seductive and dangerous indeed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In this difficult time, a helpful and hopeful book 9 Jan. 2017
By Grandfather To Three - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I found this book as gripping as a good novel. In this time in which so many of us are trying to understand the forces of darkness that are rising around the world, it gave me ways to try to understand what’s happening and why. Most importantly, it helped me think about what I can do, both on my own and together with my family, friends and neighbors, to help stop radical evil before it becomes entrenched, and how I can help create the kind of just, humane communities and societies we all want to leave to everyone’s children and grandchildren. In this difficult time, this is a helpful and hopeful book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Necessary and Timely Insight 6 Jan. 2017
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wow! Wonderful and, need I say, Timely! I’m only 1/3 in but I am loving how much it sounds like a real person. The style of the writing is so wonderfully not academic (I’m sure, on purpose). The points are clear, simple to understand and therefore devastatingly useful.
Congratulations! I hope it has a life in the general and not only academic world…many people need to understand this point. I will talk it up to friends and to a local popular bookstore.
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