Monday, June 05, 2006

Thomas Merton's "Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichman."

The image feature for this post is, apparently, disabled. Please see Feel free to complain to Goggle or blogger. Hackers may continue to tamper with the texts. Also, I am in receipt of an e-mail informing me that a person claims not to have received an item purchased from me on E-bay. I do not sell items on line and do not have an E-bay account, so that I have never received money from anyone for an Internet sale. I understand (or hope) that E-bay is "looking into it." What a strange experience. I wonder why it happened just now? There are also days when I am prevented entirely from gaining access to my blogs. I wonder why that is?

Thomas Merton, "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichman," and "Auschwitz: A Family Camp," in The Non-Violent Alternative (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971).
R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (New York: Pantheon, 1967).
Soren Kierkegaard, "Conversation with a Hegelian Walking Stick," in Roger Poole & Henrik Stangerup, eds., The Laughter is on My Side: An Imaginative Introduction to Kierkegaard (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 183.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening (Princeton: princeton University Press, 1980).
Professor Rick Roderick, "Lecture on Kierkegaard," in Philosophy and Human Values (Teaching Company Letures and )

We speak of sanity distinctly from spiritual and ethical values. We think of the concept of sanity as a scientific one, which can be divorced from all "subjective" value-concerns. Of course, when it comes to human beings, inner-awareness cannot be eliminated from considerations of sanity or health, since what is essential to human beings is the capacity for subjective experience, especially love. Human beings are persons; and persons are beings capable of subjectivity, subjects. We tend to forget that scientists are also human beings, so that they can never step outside of the human realm in order to examine it. Sanity is a forensic and moral concept, not a biological one since it is a value judgment.

The would-be scientific "observer" of a person -- who happens to be a person also, since even scientists are alleged to be persons -- is, thus, necessarily involved in what he or she observes. There is no non-human "space" to which a scientist removes his human lab specimen (like a cat with a mouse in its jaws), so as to avoid contaminating that specimen by the very process of observation in relationship. (See "B.F. Skinner's Behaviorism and Evil" and "R.D. Laing and Evil.")

I often find myself speaking of spiritual poverty or deformation. This condition is the Sartrean "bad faith" of falling into the status of, say, a computer performing calculations in discharging a human task. (See Albert Camus, The Fall.) Are judges getting this? This condition and form of despair is an epidemic in today's world. It is a condition that explains the lives and pains of millions of lawyers, engineers, managers and others in society who -- in Camus's terms -- by "failing to heed the call of the Other," lose themselves. Laing's clinical term for this condition is "petrifaction" in The Divided Self.

Such a loss of self may be conducive to material success and favorable job-evaluations in a society which has become highly technological, celebrating instrumental values (often assuming that there are no other values) and mistaking such dispassionate meticulousness about "means" for rationality or intelligence itself, apart from "ends." In law this tendency expresses itself in an obsessive concern with procedure, disregard for substantive purposes, impersonality, efficiency at the cost of justice. ("The Wanderer and His Shadow" and "What is Law?")

All of this becomes clear when examining the life and trial of Adolf Eichman. It is important to remember, however, that there are Eichmans all around us. They are among the clerks in government offices, judges, lawyers and bank personnel, even physicians and pharmacists with whom we interact during the course of our days. Worse, this means that each of us is in danger -- especially in our most official ways of "being-in-the-world" -- of becoming Eichman at any time, for a long or short while, possibly without realizing it.

"The greatest danger," Kierkegaard tells us, "is that we will lose our souls. Any other loss, a wallet, five dollars, we are sure to notice, but not the loss of our souls." (See "Is New Jersey Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz unethical or only incompetent?" and "Sybil R. Moses and Conduct Unbecoming to the Judiciary in New Jersey.")

In seeking to come to terms with this phenomenon of self-loss in the person of Eichman, Thomas Merton notes:

If all the Nazis had been psychotics, as some of their leaders probably were, their appalling cruelty would have been in some sense easier to understand. It is much worse to consider this calm, "well-balanced," unperturbed official conscientiously going about his desk work, his administrative job which happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state. He served his government very well.

It is this "sanity" which finally baffles Merton:

The sanity of Eichman is disturbing. ... It begins to dawn on us that it is the sane ones who are the most dangerous. ... The whole concept of sanity in a society that has lost its spiritual values it itself meaningless.

R.D. Laing reminds us:

The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind, is the condition of the normal man.

Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.

Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.

Our behavior is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things.


IF OUR EXPERIENCE IS DESTROYED, [for example, through violence or rape of a child, whether male or female, or torture] WE HAVE LOST OUR OWN SELVES.

We see Eichman sitting at his desk, coping with the annoying difficulties of getting all those Jews to the camps, promptly and efficiently, on trains that "run on time." We see his pride in complying with all of the administrative regulations and rules, keeping copies of all documents neatly filed and indexed. Eichman even made a visit to the camps to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of "procedures" that he had put in place, finding the experience "unpleasant." One must not allow personal feelings to get in the way of responsibilities and professionalism, of course, so Eichman carried on. Curiously, this was also Himmler's reaction:

See and then ask the powerful, why? (Nina Bernstein, "9/11 Detainees Describe Abuse Involving Dogs," The New York Times, April 3, 2006, at pp. B1-B2; and May 6, 2006 "Unethical? Corrupt? Human Rights Violations? All of the Above." )

We find an Eichman-like spirit in those decisions by U.S. courts upholding the death penalty and turning to the instrumental or administrative challenge of designing procedures to ensure "fairness" and mechanisms for the neutral and objective application of "guidelines" to impose death sentences with maximum speed, efficiency and fairness, without allowing bias or other subjective factors (like a concern for justice?), to interfere with the application of the ultimate penalty.

Torture in our jails or in information-gathering is unfortunate, of course, but it is said to be "necessary and effective," especially when "plausible denial" is an option for judges secretly authorizing torture. Those same judges, who are capable of such intellectual dishonesty, will then swear-in witnesses required by law to speak the truth when testifying. Wisely, judges and lawyers make no such promise. Hence, their acceptance -- at least in New Jersey -- of cover ups of "crimes against humanity," together with a blissful unawareness of their hypocrisy. (See "Psychological Torture in the American legal system.")

This concern for impersonality explains the legal fondness for circumlocution and hideous jargon:

Officialese, Merton writes, has a talent for discussing reality while denying it and calling truth itself into question. This [legal] doubletalk is by its very nature invested with a curious metaphysical leer. The language of Auschwitz [-- and of Apartheid, American racism, Abu Ghraib, or U.S. death penalty jurisprudence --] is one of the vulnerable spots through which we get a clear view of the demonic.

Here is what the demonic looks like:

Outside the gas chamber and crematories where mothers and children were sent immediately upon arrival. The mothers sometimes tried to hide the children under piles of clothing. "Sometimes the voice of a little child who had been forgotten would emerge from beneath a pile of clothing. ... They would put a bullet through its head."

Sometimes children were not sent at once for "special treatment." They might be kept handy for medical experiments. In the interests of science! ... And finally this from a witness: "Early in the morning I saw a little girl standing all by herself in the yard ... wearing a claret-colored dress and [she had] a little pigtail. She held her hands at her side like a soldier. Once she looked down, wiped the dust off her shoes and again stood very still. Then I saw Boger [an administrative or supervising guard] come into the yard. He took the child by her hand -- she went along very obediently -- and stood with her face to the Back Wall. Once she turned around, Boger again turned her head to the wall, walked back and shot ..."

That child shot in the back of the head was Christ. The Christian or any religious judge must bear in mind the uncomfortable thought that a human being executed by the State, at his or her instruction, is just as much a child of God as is the victim of crime. The same is true of the tortured person, of family members cruelly separated by pointless rules and regulations, and of those whose legal rights are violated at the "secret" request of courts. And yes, religion is a symbolic language of love and redemption that allows us to speak of such things without falling apart.

What sort of symbolic statement do we make by killing a killer? Do we not legitimate violence and murder? Do we not teach the lesson that killing is a legitimate way of expressing outrage or anger? I think the death penalty is just the opposite of progress. In fact, in some ways, it is WORSE for the State to kill a human being in cold blood than for a desperate person to do so in rage.

When a person sentenced to be executed happens to be innocent of the underlying offense -- which is the case with Mumia Abu-Jamal -- what will we say? Mr. Justice Thurgood Marshall posed this question in opposing the death penalty and offered this ironic response: "Ooops, sorry about that." You can help in Mr. Jamal's legal struggle, see Merton adds:

At this point there swims into view a picture taken at another investigation, (hardly a trial) in the state of Mississippi. We see the smiling, contempuous, brutal faces of the police deputies and their colleagues who are allegedly the murderers of three civil rights workers in the summer of 1964. Whatever may have been the facts of the case, one feels that in Mississippi and Auschwitz, [or New Jersey and Abu Ghraib?] the basic assumptions are not very different.

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