There’s been something to write at length about every day for at least the last fortnight, whether it’s the rise in demands to be ‘positive’ or the looming realization that, if something doesn’t change, we may be seeing Greek people starving and freezing to death come winter. Watching a fascist thug belt a woman three times on television reminded many of us that the circumstances we find ourselves in today are not dissimilar to the run up to WW2.
The death of Gitta Sereny, a journalist and historian who focused on the study of evil, was announced today. Rather than just reporting facts in a pulp biography she purposefully got to know the people she researched and found that she understood them. Her understanding led many of her subjects to contemplate their lives and, in one or two cases, admit their guilt.
There’s a dreadful, mature wisdom that comes from knowing that the Nazi Commandant, Mary Bell, the children who killed Jamie Bulger are just the same as we are which is to say that we are just the same as they are. That’s a horrific pill to swallow but if we simply point and sneer and hate people who do terrible things we paradoxically become even more like them: we become individuals who are capable of destroying people who we no longer perceive as human at all.
I heard a neighbour say it last week. She is of the opinion that all homeless people should be ‘exterminated because they have bedbugs’. She said ‘exterminated’ a number of times, she knows what the word means, and she wasn’t laughing. She’s clearly thought about it. I don’t think she’d pull the trigger herself but perhaps she’d be proud to be a Hard Working Tax Payer making the uniforms for the people who would pull the trigger, or cooking their lunch in a canteen. There are increasing numbers of people like my neighbour: angry, dismissive, cynical, casually violent, displacing their fear and anxiety onto people at the bottom of the pile who cannot fight back, people that very few of us give a passing thought to.
Please listen to this brief interview on Gitta Sereny’s life.
and know that only in seeking relationship with the whole person who commits evil do we learn how close we are to it, and therefore how to avoid joining them.
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