Two faces of rage

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
—Hannah Arendt
Deaniac highlighted a particularly egregious exchange between Justice Antonin Scalia and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during Tuesday's ACA hearing before the Supreme Court. Just to refresh our memories, I quote it here.
GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It's because you're going -- in the health care market, you're going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow -- that -- to which we've obligated ourselves so that people get health care.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don't obligate yourself to that. Why -- you know?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I can't imagine that that -- that the Commerce Clause would --would forbid Congress from taking into account this deeply embedded social norm.

JUSTICE SCALIA: You -- you could do it.

As a corollary to the above exchange, and following the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, I present this image, posted at The Obama Diary.

Richard Mondale yells at a Obama health care supporter during a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, March 27

I'm sure that if Mr. Mondale found himself in Justice Scalia's position, he'd have much the same reaction to General Verrilli's assertion that as a society we are obliged to care for those who are without resources: "No, we're not."

Let's look closely at Mr. Mondale's face. Look at how it's twisted in anger, yelling at a political opponent. Is the thought of striking her crossing his mind? Does he see her as an existential threat to his way of life, deserving of any fate that befalls her? It is a face of pure rage, of blind animus. One can surmise that he sees the unnamed ACA supporter as not merely someone with whom he has a political disagreement, but as someone so other, so outside of his conceptual world that it might be permissible to exact an even greater assault on her, rather than just the verbal one he's meting out.

What did that protester do before going out to stand in front of the Supreme Court building, hurling invective at strangers who disagreed with him? Did he kiss his wife? Did he call his children? Did he say "I love you" to those he loved? I would wager that he did all or some of those things. He surely doesn't consider himself a monster, nor evil. Yet his actions are serving to perpetuate an evil impulse: one that says "We're all on our own". It's positing a societal selfishness that says that we owe nothing to one another, save perhaps refraining from killing each other or taking others' property. But besides that, we're on our own. There is no social compact. It's the law of nature, red in tooth and claw. That social Darwinism—and I don't mean to besmirch Darwin's name—led, eventually, to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. We're still fighting the same war. If we owe nothing to each other as human beings, then anything is permissible: someone dying outside of an ER because she doesn't have the money to pay for emergency treatment, or a black teenager shot in Sanford, Florida, for wearing a hoodie and being out after dark.

Justice Scalia does not look like a melodramatic villain. He's educated. From all reports he's cultured. He's probably a loving husband, father, and grandfather. All that is irrelevant. His actions towards those outside of his immediate circle speak to a disregard for any societal norm that says that the weak must be protected and the strong must be circumscribed in their power by law. We saw this with Citizens United, and we're seeing it now with health care. As the quote that opens this piece indicates, the vast majority of those who perpetrate evil don't decide: I will be evil. But by culture, by upbringing, by trains of thought current at their time, they fall into patterns that, in the end, push evil results. Condemning millions of his fellow citizens to existential uncertainty isn't a difference of political philosophy; it is, purely, evil, when the means to alleviate that uncertainty are at hand, the means are moderate, and the means are working.


Adolf Eichmann wasn't a hulking monster. He was a banal little man who, through being in the right place at the right time, having a talent for organization, and a belief in the philosophy of the time, was able to grease the rails for evil to occur. 

For all this, I still have faith in most of my fellow citizens, despite being in a darkened mood for much of the time since Tuesday morning. Justice eventually prevails. But the day's events serve to remind us of Hannah Arendt's sad truth: evil isn't superhuman; it's all too ordinary.