The Banality of Evil OR “I’m just doin’ my job.”

One of the many issues that lie beneath the surface of our political discourses, not to mention our everyday lives is the idea of the banality of evil.  What do we mean by that?  Often in our rhetoric and conversations is the idea of the big bad capitalist, the evil polluter, or power-hungry politician.  These types of people certainly exist.  However, in constantly referring to our opposition as such, we bring into being the idea that our enemy is only those whose intent is to be bad or evil.  However, in life people are motivated by man forces and intentions.

Behind, or rather underneath, the big capitalists and powerful, are those who, perhaps unknowingly or unintentionally, prop-up this system of oppression.  The most obvious manifestation of this is the idea – “I’m just doing my job.”  Most people have been on the receiving end of this justification.  When we see the system as a whole we see that it requires the, mostly uninterrupted, working of all its parts.  That is, if at any point someone refuses to participate than the system stalls or stops.  Of course, it is true that in a lot of cases there is another person waiting to take your place should you choose to take a stand.  However, it is not an excuse to do something that is wrong simply because if you do not than someone else will.  While it is our intention not to have the wrong thing happen – it is also our intention to not be apart of the wrong choice ourselves.

This is also part of the mentality that change starts at the top.  Meaning, when we have the choice to make a stand or say “I’m just doing my job,” we may justify the latter by thinking that we have no power in the situation.  We may think “who am I to do something about this?”

But just because like almost everything else the few direct the many and at all time the many may over turn the few simply by virtue of their majority.

What we are trying to get at is that part of the power of the system lays in everyday or common occurrences that support oppression and exploitation.  We may tend to agree that oppression happens, but it happens “elsewhere.”  While at the same time looking past all of the oppression that happens around us.  This is most likely because we are only taught about oppression as an abstract concept and all of it that goes on around us is nearly constantly justified by the society around us.

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful

and powerless means to said with the powerful,

not to be neutral.”

Paulo Freire

In is quote we can see the same idea.  By saying “I’m just doing my job” one is “washing one’s hands.”  The person is trying to be neutral by saying “I’m just doing my job.”  The fight is between you and them, they are saying.  When in reality that person is participating – they are carrying out the will of the system or the powerful.


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