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The Clown Behind the Monster is a Monster

By       Message Bob Alexander     Permalink
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Twisty The Clown
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Once upon a time there was a thoroughly mediocre man. He was incapable of finishing secondary or vocational school. By age 22, he found some small success as a salesman. He lived with his parents when not on the road making sales calls. Eventually he lost interest in the job, his performance dropped, and he was fired.

On the advice of his father's friend, he joined a political party. He didn't join out of any sense of conviction. He didn't even know the party's platform. He just wanted the sense of being part of something -- of belonging. When the party came into power he saw it as his best chance at some sort of success.

By his own admission he did best when he was told what to do. Projects he initiated failed. He did not have the capacity to think about what he was doing with any depth. His inability to speak coherently reflected his inability to think. He would obliviously string together contradictory ideas within a single statement. He was literally a thoughtless man.

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But he could carry out the tasks he was given as long as he operated within an established framework. He did not excel at his job in the same way a cog in a machine does not excel at being a cog. It simply performs as a cog should. He eventually rose to a low-level management position, and there he would stay for the rest of his career.

He worked primarily in transportation planning. In time he became adept at moving people from one place to another in the most efficient manner. To him the destination was irrelevant. Initially he was working on the forced emigration of Jews out of Germany. But within a few years, on orders from his superiors, the process was adjusted to transport Jews to death camps. And that is how Adolf Eichmann became The Man In the Glass Booth on trial for his life in Jerusalem in April 1961.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt traveled to Israel and covered the trial in a series of articles for The New Yorker magazine which evolved into her book Eichmann in Jerusalem published in 1963.

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Eichmann was portrayed in the press -- and perceived by most people -- as an evil, sadistic, Nazi mastermind finally brought to justice. Arendt saw someone ultimately more horrifying than that.

She originated the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe the phenomenon of Eichmann. She raised the idea that evil is a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to conform to mass opinion and obey authority without thinking about the consequences of their actions. The world wanted a monster. And she gave them one. But not the monster they wanted. And for that she and her book have been vilified for over 50 years.

The monster Arendt saw on trial in the glass booth was not a rare species of human. The horror of what Arendt discovered was that the world might be filled with Eichmanns. And social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1961 proved it was the non-Eichmanns of this world who are in the minority.

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures measured the willingness of subjects to obey instructions to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. The 40 men who participated in the Milgram experiment were from 20 to 50 years old, with differing educational and professional backgrounds.

The experimenter outlined the procedure. The participant was the "teacher" who delivered an electric shock to the "learner" who was in a different room, each time an incorrect answer was given.

Before starting the experiment, the "learner" informed the experimenter and the "teacher" that he had a heart condition. The experimenter assured the "learner" the shocks might be painful but were not dangerous. The participant believed that he was delivering real shocks to the "learner" but the "learner" was actually a confederate in the experiment and pretended to be shocked.

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Milgram's "shock generator" started at 30 volts and increased in 15-volt increments up to 450 volts. The switches were labeled "Slight Shock," "Moderate Shock" and "Danger: Severe Shock." The final two switches were ominously labeled "XXX."

As the experiment progressed, the participant would hear the learner pleading to stop, complaining about his heart. At the 300-volt level the "learner" banged on the wall and begged to be released. Beyond this point, the "learner" became completely silent and didn't answer further questions. The experimenter instructed the participant to treat this silence as an incorrect response and deliver another shock.

If the "teacher" balked, the experimenter issued these statements:

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Some 45 years ago I became aware of the fact that the government of The United States was trying to kill me. I wasn't paranoid or anything. I mean I knew the government wasn't out to kill me personally. They just wanted to kill as many Vietnamese (more...)
 

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