So I was reading Darin Strauss’s The Banality of Butter: What Hannah Arendt Can Tell Us About Paula Deen in The Atlantic Wire and I reached this section:
… sometimes what we call evil — and what can bring about the most horrible outcomes — can often more accurately and simply be thoughtlessness of a sort. That is to say, people, and communities, are often no good at the kind of abstract thought that helps us understand the experience of others. [italics original]
This lesson comes from Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and as Strauss says in his Atlantic article, it’s absurd to compare what Paula Deen did with what Eichmann did.
I’d like to pause here to emphasize that: for Strauss, the point here is not to compare what Deen did with what Eichmann did, and I have no interest in trying to compare what serial harassers inside SFWA or other convention spaces with what Eichmann did. That would be absurd.
But the way that communities react to these issues is very much to the point. Deen’s supporters have refused to acknowledge that her behavior was worth condemnation, or that their assertion that what she did was no big deal stems from a cultural abscess that should have been lanced a long time ago.
Again, Arendt was perhaps the first to write coherently about the trouble communities have in seeing the world as being something other than what they have been conditioned to see — without any kind of cultural empathy.
Isn’t that what we see from the harasser-apologists? People with no empathy for the way women are treated in their shared spaces, and who think women should just suck it up, or laugh it off, or consider that maybe possibly kinda could this all be a misunderstanding?
It seems to me that there are few more effective ways to rile up a bunch of people than to puncture their self-image as people of virtue.