Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I am a little eichmann

"When human beings are in [codependent] relationships with a huge corporation, the corporation can cause immense harm, far more than could be caused by individual human beings. Individuals have been 'caught in something larger than themselves.' This fosters a collective mindset...'People are relieved of their individuality, along with their sense of judgement and choice.' Knowingly or unknowingly, those who serve a corporation without questioning its effects in the world adopt the corporation's collective ideology and values. Willingly or unwillingly, they work to serve its purpose and extend its power. They are complicit in what the corporation does."

--from Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado

on the whole I'm impressed by delgado's book but I'm uncomfortable with a tendency I sense throughout it, probably because I'm prone to it myself: confusing the employees of a place and their values with the values of their organization. in several places she covers her ass by noting that people involved with corporations are "not exceptionally immoral: they are, on the contrary, quite ordinarily moral." but she leaves the morally offended employee with only one presumed way out: sever the relationship.

twenty years ago, that was my answer to such a conflict. if you don't like what your job entails or the impact your company has on the world, starve the beast by leaving it. someone will take your place but the evil will be his and not yours. but even then I knew the situation was more complicated than that: my mother taught school and my father retired a bank vice president and people I knew worked for mcdonald's and ibm and even I knew I would eventually end up making money the only way I knew how, by being a faceless prole at the business end of some implement.

the term "little eichmanns" came into public use in 2001 when former professor ward churchill infamously wrote "If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers [than flying planes into them], I'd really be interested in hearing about it" (although the epithet "eichamann" had been used previously in the same way by public intellectuals lewis mumford and john zerzan).

it's to my credit I recognize the little eichmann in myself but it doesn't excuse me or my eichmann. many of us should consider ourselves damned by churchill's articulation that we are a part of "a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire...and [do] so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to 'ignorance' – a derivative, after all, of the word 'ignore' – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see." it's true, the beast I feed is a comparatively benign one--the college where I teach has no defense programs, say--but I am teaching corporate behavior and goals at the same time as I'm teaching writing. and my calling as a minister is no different: it might seem easier as I'm not a xian not to have the example of jesus before me all the time, but it's actually worse since I've also the words of buddha and allah and zoroaster and krishna to contend with. all of them point in the same direction. if you help to do evil, you are evil.

-what hope then is there for a little eichmann like me? delgado is silent on this issue. we are in the position of the walmart customer who hates everything about walmart, and whose only store in town is walmart. do we give up eating? we could--we could grow and kill everything on our own. do we also make our own clothes and utensils and sunscreen? what time is left to do good work? also, that seems counter to making the beloved community--we would leave it to be less contaminated by the evil choices others make.

if there is a mark of mature faith it is this. it recognizes the little eichmann in us and refuses to allow him to give a pat answer.

1 comment:

  1. wow, that's powerful and realistic! Churchill's quote is similar to my sense of who was truly responsible for the Twin Tours: me and my use of the system with knowledge of the harm it brought the rest of the world. In my theology, when the Towers fell, I prayed, "forgive us our sins."