staring blankly
January 11, 2011, 7:31 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

When the Iraq war started, we began to see the American heart more clearly.  During this time, if I spoke out, I found myself taunted – both for my immigrant status and my beliefs – in the small thuggish design office I worked in at the time, full of self aggrandizing ivy league graduates, aggressing for partner attention, banking their lives on strenuous opinions of taste, committing no small error to make sad, lousy products.   All the pettiness went on full display at our Christmas gift exchange game:  a large circle of the self satisfied and opinionated each needing to elucidate her arrival in the blessed state of tastefulness.

After the game, partners sweated worry that minutes weren’t being billed, and the rest of us resisted:  snacked and chatted.   I had had enough and – like a good soldier tossing a grenade – brought up the war:  its fundamental wrongness.  At the time I had no idea it would take seven long years for the country at large to finally, sort of, begin to admit that, maybe, it had been a mistake.  One of my more opinionated colleagues, whom I had wrongly pegged as sympathetic stated categorically, without a whiff of hesitation, in thrilling smugness, that it – the war – was just a job.

Handy!  Convenient!  The soldier with his orders taken and his head down has no responsibility.  And the professional back home who has successfully skirted military service has no responsibility.  And the citizenry (also sometimes called consumers), who for seven long years willfully ignored evidence of illegality, has no responsibility.  And that’s saying nothing about public and private leadership.  It’s just a way to earn a living.  It’s just a job.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, bankers were asked lots of questions.  When ethical practice was raised bankers stared blankly.  We bear no responsibility, except to our shareholders and the bottom line.  It’s just a job.

Hannah Arendt wrote about how the processes of work – hiring, salary, supervision, promotion –  parallel the amoral exactness of the administration of war:

“what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide […] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.”

Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt, Dragon Slayers, Corey Robin, London Review of Books

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