The Banality of Evil Creeps into those Who Believe They Are Good

You can have my social worker credentials when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

I was at a city hall meeting in Beaverton, Oregon, the other day when a few questions I had for the presenters dropped jaws. We’ll get to that later, the jaw-dropping effect I and those of my ilk have when we end up in the controlled boardrooms and chambers of the controllers – bureaucrats, public-private clubs like Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and both political operatives and those who liken themselves as the great planners of the world moving communities and housing and public commons around a giant chessboard to make things better for and more efficient in spite of us.

Look, I am now a social worker who once was a print journalist who once was a part-time college instructor (freeway flyer adjunct teaching double the load of a tenured faculty) facilitating literature, writing, rhetoric classes, and others. The power of those “planners” and “institutional leadership wonks” and those Deanlets and Admin Class and HR pros and VPs and Provosts to swat down a radical but effective teacher/faculty/instructor/lecturer isn’t (or wasn’t then) so surprising. I was one of hundreds of thousands of faculty, adjunct,  hit with 11th Hour appointments, Just-in-Time gigs and called one-week-into-the-semester with offers to teach temporarily. Then, the next logical step of precarity was when a dean or department head or someone higher got wind of a disgruntled student, or helicopter (now drone) parent who didn’t like me teaching Sapphire or Chalmers Johnson or Earth Liberation Front or Ward Churchill in critical thinking classes, it was common to get only one or many times no classes the following semester. De facto fired. They fought and fought against unemployment benefits.

Here’s one paragraph that got me sanctioned while teaching in Spokane, at both Gonzaga and the community college:

As for those in the World Trade Center… Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

We are talking 17 years ago, Ward Churchill. The Little Eichmann reference goes back to the 1960s, and the root of it goes to Hannah Arendt looking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, more or a less a middle man who helped get Jews into trains and eventually onto concentration camps and then marched into gas chambers. The banality of evil was her term from a 1963 book. So this Eichmann relied on propaganda against Jews and radicals and other undesirables rather than thinking for himself. Careerism at its ugliest, doing the bureaucratic work to advance a career and then at the Trial, displayed this “Common” personality that did not belie a psychopathic tendency. Of course, Arendt got raked over the coals for this observation and for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

When I use the term, Little Eichmann, I broadly hinge it to the persons that live that more or less sacred American Mad Men lifestyle, with 401k’s, trips to Hawaii, cabins at the lake, who sometimes are the poverty pimps in the social services, but who indeed make daily decisions that negatively and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. In the case of tanned Vail skiers who work for Raytheon developing guidance systems and sophisticated satellite tethers and surveillance systems, who vote democrat and do triathlons, that Little Eichmann archetype also comes to mind. Evil, well, that is a tougher analysis  – mal, well, that succinctly means bad. I see evil or bad or maladaptive and malicious on a spectrum, like autism spectrum disorders.

Back to Beaverton City Hall: As I said, last week I was at this meeting about a “safe parking” policy, a pilot program for this city hooked to the Portland Metro area, where Intel is sited, and in one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon. Safe parking is all a jumbo in its implications: but for the city of Beaverton the program’s intent is to get three spaces, parking slots from each entity participating, for homeless people to set up their vehicles from which to live and dine and recreate. Old Taurus sedans, beat-up Dodge vans, maybe a 20-foot 1985 RV covered in black mold or Pacific Northwest moss. The City will put in $30,000 for a non-profit to manage these 15 or 20 spaces, and the city will put in a porta-potty and a small storage pod (in the fourth space) for belongings on each property.

This is how Portland’s tri-city locale plans to “solve” the homeless problem: live in your vehicles, with all manner of physical ailments (number one for Americans, bad backs) and all manner of mental health issues and all manner of work schedules. Cars, the new normal for housing in the world’s number one super power.

This is the band-aid on the sucking chest wound. This is a bizarre thing in a state with Nike as its brand, that Phil Knight throwing millions into a Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor’s coffers. Of course, the necessity of getting churches and large non-profits with a few empty parking spaces for houseless persons is based on more of the Little Eichmann syndrome – the city fathers and mothers, the business community, the cops, and all those elites and NIMBYs (not in my backyard) voted to make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle along the public right away, or, along streets and alleys. That’s the rub, the law was passed, and now it’s $300 fine, more upon second offense, and then, 30 days in jail for repeat offense: for sleeping off a 12-hour shift at Amazon warehouse or 14-hour shift as forklift operator for Safeway distribution center.

So these overpaid uniformed bureaucrats with SWAT armament and armored vehicles and $50 an hour overtime gigs and retirement accounts will be knocking on the fogged-over windows of our sisters/ brothers, aunties/uncles, cousins, moms/dads, grandparents, daughters/sons living the Life of Riley in their two-door Honda Accords.

Hmm, more than 12 million empty homes in the richest country in the world. Millions of other buildings empty. Plots of land by the gazillion. And, we have several million homeless, and tens of millions one layoff, one heart-attack, one arrest away from homelessness.

The first question was why we aren’t working on shutting down the illegal and inhumane law that even allows the police to harass people living in their cars? The next question was why parking spaces for cars? Certainly, all that overstock inventory in all those Pacific Northwest travel trailer and camper lots would be a source of a better living space moved to those vaunted few (20) parking spaces: or what about all those used trailers up for sale on Craig’s List? You think Nike Boy could help get his brethren to pony up a few million for trailers? What worse way to treat diabetic houseless people with cramped quarters? What fine way to treat a PTSD survivor with six windows in a Chevy with eight by four living space for two humans, a dog, and all their belongings and food.

The people at this meeting, well, I know most are empathetic, but even those have minds colonized by the cotton-ball-on-the-head wound solution thinking. All this energy, all the Power Points, all the meeting after meeting, all the solicitation and begging for 20 parking spaces and they hope for a shower source, too, as well as an internet link (for job hunting, etc.)  and maybe a place to cook a meal.

While housing vacancy has long been a problem in America, especially in economically distressed places, vacancies surged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. The number of unoccupied homes jumped by 26 percent—from 9.5 to 12 million between 2005 and 2010. Many people (and many urbanists) see vacancy and abandoned housing as problems of distressed cities, but small towns and rural communities have vacancy rates that are roughly double that of metropolitan areas, according to the study.

This is the insanity of these Little Eichmanns: The number of cities that have made homelessness a crime! Then, getting a few churches to open up parking slots for a few people to “try and get resources and wrap around services to end their homelessness.” Here are the facts — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states there are over 200 cities that have created these Little Eichmann (my terminology) municipal bans on camping or sleeping outside, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Theses bans include various human survival and daily activities of living processes, from camping and sitting in particular outdoor places, to loitering and begging in public to sleeping in vehicles.

I am living hand to mouth, so to speak. I make $17 an hour with two master’s degrees and a shit load of experience and depth of both character and solutions-driven energy. This is the way of the world, brother, age 61, and living the dream in Hops-Blazers-Nike City, in the state of no return Nike/Oregon Ducks. Man oh man, those gridlock days commuting to and from work. Man, all those people outside my apartment building living in their vehicles (I live in Vancouver) and all those people who have to rotate where they live, while calling Ford minivan home, moving their stuff every week, so the Clark County Sheriff Department doesn’t ticket, bust and worse, impound.

I have gotten a few teeth – dentures — for some of these people. Finding funding to have a pretty rancid and nasty old guy in Portland measure, model and mold for a fitting. That’s, of course, if the people have their teeth already pulled out.

Abscesses and limps and back braces and walkers and nephritic livers and dying flesh and scabies and, hell, just plain old BO. Yet, these folk are working the FedEx conveyor belts, packaging those Harry and David apples, folding and stacking all those Black Friday flyers.

Living the high life. And, yet, these Little Eichmanns would attempt to say, or ask, “Why do they all have smart phones . . . they smoke and vape and some of them drink? Wasteful, no wonder they are homeless.”

So that line of thinking comes and goes, from the deplorables of the Trump species to the so-self vaunted elite. They drink after a hard day’s work, these houseless people. Yet, all those put-together Portlanders with two-income heads of household, double Prius driveways, all that REI gear ready for ski season, well, I bicycle those ‘hoods and see the recycle bins on trash day, filled to the brim with IPA bottles, affordable local wine bottles, and bottles from those enticing brews in the spirit world.

So self-medicating with $250K dual incomes, fancy home, hipster lifestyles, but they’d begrudge houseless amputees who have to work the cash register at a Plaid Pantry on 12 hour shifts?

I have been recriminated for not having tenure, for not being an editor, for not retired with a pension, for not having that Oprah Pick in bookstores, for not having a steady career, for working long-ass hours as a social worker. The recrimination is magnificent and goes around all corners of this flagging empire. Pre-Trump, Pre-Obama, Pre-Clinton, Pre-Bush. Oh, man, that Ray-gun:

He had a villain, who was not a real welfare cheat or emblamtic of people needing welfare assistance to live back then in a troubling world of Gilded Age haves and haves not. That was January 1976, when Reagan announced that this Welfare Queen was using ”80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Four decades later, we have the same dude in office, the aberration of neoliberalism and collective amnesia and incessant ignorance in what I deem now as Homo Consumopithecus and Homo Retailapithecus. Reagan had that crowd eating out of his hands as he used his B-Grade Thespian licks to stress the numbers – “one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Poverty rose to the top of the public agenda in the 1960s, in part spurred by the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Harrington’s 1962 book made a claim that shocked the nation at a time when it was experiencing a period of unprecedented affluence: based on the best available evidence, between 40 million and 50 million Americans—20 to 25 percent of the nation’s population—still lived in poverty, suffering from “inadequate housing, medicine, food, and opportunity.”

Shedding light on the lives of the poor from New York to Appalachia to the Deep South, Harrington’s book asked how it was possible that so much poverty existed in a land of such prosperity. It challenged the country to ask what it was prepared to do about it.

So, somehow, all those people reminding me that my job history has been all based on my passions, my avocations, my dreams, that I should be proud being able to work at poverty level incomes as a small town newspaper reporter, or that I was able to teach so many people in gang reduction programs, at universities and colleges, in alternative schools, in prisons and elsewhere, at poverty wages; or that I was able to get poems published here and stories published there and that I have a short story collection coming out in 2019 at zero profit, or that I am doing God’s work as a homeless veterans counselor, again, at those Trump-loving, Bezos-embracing poverty wages.

Oh, man, oh man, all those countries I visited and worked in, all those people whose lives I changed, and here I am, one motorcycle accident away from the poor house, except there is no poor house.

Daily, I see the results of military sexual trauma, of incessant physical abuse as active duty military, infinite anxiety and cognitive disorders, a truck load of amputated feet and legs, and unending COPD, congestive heart failure, and overall bodies of a 70-year-old hampering 30-year-old men and women veterans.

They get this old radical environmentalist, vegan, in-your-face teacher, and a huge case of heart and passion, and I challenge them to think hard about how they have been duped, but for the most part, none of the ex-soldiers have even heard of the (two-star) Major General who wrote the small tome, War is a Racket:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War I a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy?

How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.

They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

More fitting now than ever, General Butler’s words. Structural violence is also the war of the billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us, marks and suckers born every nanosecond in their eyes. Disaster Capitalism is violence. Parasitic investing is war. Hostile takeovers are was. Hedge funds poisoning retirement funds and billions wasted/stolen to manage (sic) this dirty money are war. Forced arbitration is war. PayDay loans are war. Wells Fargo stealing homes is war. Lead in New Jersey cities’ pipes is war. Hog  excrement/toxins/blood/aborted fetuses pound scum sprayed onto land near poor communities is war. Fence lining polluting industries against poor and minority populations is war.

So is making it illegal to sit on a curb, hold a sign asking for a handout;  so is the fact there are millions of empty buildings collecting black mold and tax deferments. War is offshore accounts, and war is a society plugged into forced, perceived and planned obsolescence.

Some of us are battle weary, and others trudge on, soldiers against the machine, against the fascism of the market place, the fascism of the tools of the propagandists.

Some of us ask the tricky questions at meetings and conferences and confabs: When are you big wigs, honchos, going to give up a few hours a week pay for others to get in on the pay? When are you going to open up that old truck depot for homeless to build tiny homes?

When are you going to have the balls to get the heads of Boeing, Nike, Adidas, Intel, the lot of them, to come to our fogged-up station wagon windows in your safe parking zones to show them how some of their mainline workers and tangential workers who support their billions in profits really live?

How many millionaires are chain migrating from California or Texas, coming into the Portland arena who might have the heart to help fund 15 or 30 acres out there in Beavercreek (Clackamas, Oregon) to set up intentional communities for both veterans and non veterans, inter-generational population, with permaculture, therapy dog training, you name it, around a prayer circle, a sweat lodge, and community garden and commercial kitchen to sell those herbs and veggies to those two-income wonders who scoff at my bottle of cheap Vodka while they fly around and bike around on their wine tours and whiskey bar rounds? Micro homes and tiny homes.

My old man was in the Air Force for 12 years, which got the family to the Azores, Albuquerque, Maryland, and then he got an officer commission in the Army, for 20 years, which got the family to Germany, UK, Paris, Spain and other locales, and I know hands down he’d be spinning and turning in his grave if he was alive and here to witness not only the mistreatment of schmucks out of the military with horrendous ailments, but also the mistreatment of college students with $80K loans to be nurses or social workers. He’d be his own energy source spinning in his grave at Fort Huachuca if he was around, after being shot in Korea and twice in Vietnam, to witness social security on the chopping block, real wages at 1970 levels, old people begging on the streets, library hours waning, public education being privatized and dumb downed, and millions of acres of public sold to the “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge” big energy thugs.

I might be embarrassed if he was around, me at age 61, wasted three college degrees, living the dream of apartment life, no 401k or state retirement balloon payment on the horizon, no real estate or stocks and bonds stashed away, nothing, after all of this toil to actually have given to society, in all my communist, atheistic glory.

But there is no shame in that, in my bones, working my ass off until the last breath, and on my t-shirt, I’d have a stick figure, with a stack of free bus tickets, journalism awards, and housing vouchers all piled around me with the (thanks National Rifle Association) meme stenciled on my back:

You can have my social worker and teaching credentials and press passes when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

Paul Kirk Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. His book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his autobiography, weekly chapter installments, at LA Progressive. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.