When she coined the phrase the banality of evil in relation to Adolf Otto Eichman, political theorist Hannah Arendt raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness—the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.
As we witness with increasing frequency, the declining values in our society in which taking ownership for one’s conduct has been replaced by an attitude of entitlement, with questionable behavior if not justified, then being explained away by claims of freedom of speech or mental illness, one can only wonder if Arendt’s banality should be one centered on self-interest and myopic apathy versus evil. Or, as some might contend, are attitudes of entitlement the personification of personalized evil that unlike the German population blindly following the oligarchical totalitarianism of its twisted leadership, has each of us as to a certain extent becoming a dictator of questionable morality and diminished values in the closed circle of our own lives? In essence a corrupt cog in the collective dysfunction of a society that appears to many, to have lost its way.
From Wall Street malfeasance, to bullying in our schools and the over-prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to children as young as 3 years old, has Western society fallen victim to an avarice that is measured more in expectation than in actual effort and accomplishment?
Certainly my frequent reference to L.J. Hanifan’s concept of Social Capital seems ineffectually quaint and out of touch in today’s self-centered world of convenient interactions and relationships.
For those unfamiliar with Hanifan, in 1916 he presented his theory of Social Capital as “. . . that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit… The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself… If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors.”
There is little evidence that such camaraderie exists in an increasingly globalized community, at least on an overall societal scale.
In our January 10th 49th Parallel Forum Broadcast, in which we asked the question Have we all become too soft?, I now believe that he appropriate question is not one that asks if we have indeed become too soft, but why have we become soft in the first place.
In Hanifan’s 1916 world, he reflected on the vulnerability of the individual who stands apart from his or her community while still maintaining a strong sense of personal responsibility, versus today where such isolationism is more the result of individualistic interests taking precedence over community or collaborative oriented considerations, despite the expanded connectiveness afforded us through the Internet.
Think about it for a moment, how many people weigh the consequences of their actions on their community. I would even go so far as to suggest that very few actually weigh the consequences of their actions on a personal level, choosing instead to engage the community only after the proverbial train has jumped the track and, with the expectation of being bailed out. With politicians eager to win office, and in the process over-promising services, you now find that governments particularly at the State and Municipal levels are scrambling to avoid bankruptcy. This means that the “someone else will bail us out” mindset that permeates our culture will reflect back upon ourselves the obligation of facing and addressing what in a good number of instances, are the problems of out own making.
This is further proof that the have your cake and eat it mindset is indeed an untenable situation.
So what’s the answer?
Joining me on Saturday, May 28th at 9:00 PM EDT will be a distinguished guest panel who will provide their take on the question of individualistic interests in an increasingly globalized community, and why it may mark the end of Western influence and dominance in a rapidly changing world.