The Great UnReason of 2020: The 'Curious, but Quite Authentic, Inability to Think'

Remembering Hannah Arendt.

Upon the Nazis’ rise to power, Hannah Arendt, a Jewish woman who would go on to become a considerable 20th century philosopher, had to flee with her family from her native Germany. 

Once the war was over and some prominent Nazis were brought to justice, Arendt attended the trial in Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust.

The experience left an indelible impression upon her, one that would shape the trajectory of her philosophical thinking.  What she observed was that, much to her surprise, Eichmann wasn’t the incarnation of evil that she expected to encounter.  His actions were monstrous, yes; but he was remarkably ordinary or “banal,” to use Arendt’s term of choice.

What struck Arendt was Eichmann’s “curious, but authentic, inability to think.”

However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.” 

Eichmann didn’t subscribe to any “theory or doctrine,” exhibited no “particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction;” his “only personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness.”

Note, Arendt did not intend her characterization to be interpreted as commentary upon Eichmann’s IQ.  Nor, for that matter, did she mean to suggest that he was literally incapable of thinking critically.  Rather, her point was that Eichmann showed no will to think beyond the clichés—the memes, bumper sticker slogans, and hashtags—of his day.

Because of his reliance upon “clichés,” “stock phrases,” and “conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct”—all of which “have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality,” “against the claim on our thinking attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their existence”—numerous “inconsistencies and flagrant contradictions” littered Eichmann’s testimony in court.

Yet he showed no signs of being in the least “bothered” by them.

Upon her experience with Eichmann, Arendt began to revisit an ancient thesis, one taken for granted by earlier generations of philosophers, that between the will to think and moral character there is an inseparable connection.

“Is evil doing, not just the sins of omission but the sins of commission, possible in the absence of not merely ‘base motives’ (as the law calls it) but any motives at all, any particular prompting of interest or volition? Is wickedness, however we may define it, this being ‘determined to prove a villain,’ not a necessary condition for evil-doing?”

Continuing, Arendt writes:

“Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it ‘conditions’ men against evil-doing?”

It is crucial for the reader to recognize that the phenomenon that she witnessed in Eichmann she knew was one that is endemic to human beings generally.

In other words, Arendt knew that there was nothing unique at all about Eichmann.  Quite the contrary: He was ordinary, all too ordinary, to paraphrase Nietzsche.  But this was the problem.

As we reflect upon the readiness with which most of America (to say nothing of that many more millions in countries throughout the world, including the Western world) have acquiesced in what amounts to a sort of internment that has been imposed by their governments upon them in the name of keeping them safe from getting sick, it is imperative that we familiarize ourselves with Arendt’s insights, for there can be no question that “the curious, but quite authentic, inability to think” that first grasped her attention in Eichmann is as ubiquitous and glaring today, in our midst, as it has ever been.

It can, and already has, led to incalculable pain and suffering.  It is no stretch to call these evils.  Consider all that has occurred over the last six or seven weeks or so, since the dawn of The Great UnReason:

(1Thirty million Americans have been forced into the ranks of the unemployed by government fiat;

(2)Hundreds of thousands of small business owners, upon being forced by the same governmental decrees to close their doors, have been divested of their livelihoods, robbed of the blood, sweat, and tears that they spent years investing in pursuit of their versions of the American Dream;

(3)The Constitutional rights and liberties that define America as the unique nation that it is and for which generations of Americans have sacrificed their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” have been indefinitely revoked by politicians who pledged to protect them;

(4)All of those associations, the myriad of communities that, comprising as they do the whole of civil society, constitute our very identities as the unique human beings that we are; those relationships that transfigure us from the atomistic individuals of liberal political theory and the two-legged animals of Darwinian biology into persons and citizens—these have been substantially eroded by “social distancing;”

(5)People with serious, potentially terminal medical conditions in need of life-saving treatment have been either denied this treatment by hospitals that have cleared the way for COVID patients or they have been discouraged from seeking out that treatment by merchants of fear in positions of power;

(6)Domestic violence has increased substantially;

(7)Suicides are undoubtedly on the rise (though exact numbers are not yet forthcoming), but “news of suicide linked to the COVID-19 crisis have swept the globe” since late March “and sadly show no signs of abating.”

(These suicides, incidentally, are caused both by the panic stoked by a fear-mongering media as well as by the dread of the isolation produced by what Drs. Fauci and Birx and their supporters euphemistically call “mitigation.”)   

(8) Depression, anxiety, dejection, despondency, loneliness—all have been observed to have “spiked” in the UK, and in the US;  

(9)The wearing of facial coverings in public, by definition, are responsible for reinforcing alienation, distrust, and fear—characteristics that do not a civilization make.  While The Virus is most definitely nothing even remotely comparable to the Spanish Flu of 1918 in its lethality, the social repercussions that ensued in the wake of the quarantining that occurred a century ago are almost certainly occurring as a consequence of the “social distancing” orders that are being imposed today;

(10) Due to these “lock downs” of countries throughout the world, hundreds of millions could face “acute hunger” by the end of this year alone, and by virtue of this massive disruption in the “supply chain,” hundreds of millions more could face starvation in the Third World;

(11)Informers have made their appearance in America (and beyond) as the panic-stricken and the virtue-signaling alike have availed themselves of “snitch lines” to report violators of “social distancing” protocols.

And on and on.

Here’s the point: While those in Big Government and Big Media are of course responsible for all of these types of pain and the fundamental transformation of the country that, some are candid enough to admit, they hope it brings about, culpability lay not with them alone.

The masses of Americans who have bought hook, line, and sinker, without a moment’s hesitation, the Zombie tale of an Apocalyptic Virus are as well responsible for the immense suffering that their endorsement has left in its wake.

The Great UnReason is nothing less than that “curious, but quite authentic, inability to think” that Arendt first noticed in Eichmann now held under a magnifying glass and writ large in the average American’s response to the narrative of “The Coronavirus Pandemic.”

Flatten the Curve! Stay at Home! Avoid Non-Essential Travel! Save Lives!

The inability to think on the part of the average American who spends every moment living in fear of contracting The Virus has rendered him oblivious to the contradictions of Experts like Dr. Fauci who, despite scaring the public with the claim that The Virus is ten times deadlier than the seasonal flu, quietly conceded in The New England Journal of Medicine, along with his co-author, Dr. Redfield, director of the CDC, that for all they know, it may have a mortality rate comparable to that of seasonal influenza: .1%

Flatten the Curve! Stay at Home! Avoid Non-Essential Travel! Save Lives!

The inability to think of the average American has left him unaware of the world-distinguished epidemiologists, virologists, microbiologists, bacteriologists, and other medical experts whose views contravening the official account of COVID-19 have been suppressed by Big Government and Big Media (One list of these specialists and their remarks can be found here).

Flatten the Curve! Stay at Home! Avoid Non-Essential Travel! Save Lives!

The inability to think of the average American has rendered him silent in the face of the harassing, shaming, physical attacking, arresting, and even killing of their fellow Americans who they, or the authorities, charge with being in violation of Social Distancing guidelines.

Flatten the Curve! Stay at Home! Avoid Non-Essential Travel Save Lives!

The inability to think of the average American has made him compliant as his local grocery store is transformed into something eerily reminiscent of East Germany during the Soviet-era, a place where customers are corralled into lines and presided over by armed security officers.  

Flatten the Curve! Stay at Home! Avoid Non-Essential Travel! Save Lives!

The inability to think of the average American (including the average Christian American) keeps him from scarcely batting an eye as churches close and remain closed for Easter!

Flatten the Curve! Stay at Home! Avoid Non-Essential Travel! Save Lives!

Edmund Burke famously remarked that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. His point was similar to that of Arendt’s.

Shame on those otherwise decent human beings throughout America and in other formerly free societies that have since been converted into virtual internment camps. 

Shame on them for their curious, but quite authentic, inability to think.

* * *

Photo by Ryohei Noda

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