“I have two enemies, the southern Army in front of me and the financial institutions in the rear. Of the two, the one in the rear is the greatest enemy.” –Abraham Lincoln, November 1864.
In 1946, Dr. Gustav M. Gilbert, an American psychologist fluent in German, was assigned by the U.S. Army to study the minds and motivations of the Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg tribunals. What was it that set into motion the wide-ranging extermination of Jews? Why did so many comply in this extermination? How could anyone be complicit in such terrible things and feel no remorse?
The following year, Gilbert’s Nuremberg Diary was published, containing transcripts of his conversations with the German prisoners including Rudolf Hess, Hermann Goering, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, and Franz von Papen, among many more. In his Epilogue, Gilbert concluded, “Most of the defendants acknowledged that there had been horrible crimes committed, but claimed that they had individually acted in good faith according to the standards of their respective positions and professions. The generals had only follow orders; the admirals had done no more than other admirals; the politicians had only worked for the Fatherland; the financiers had only attended to business” (429). And as Gilbert later concludes about Hermann Goering, “His own utterances, than and in his testimony, show his interest was primarily economic—how to get their property and how to force them out of the economic life of Europe….his guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man,” (437).
Gustav Gilbert’s character was played by Matt Craven in the 2000 film Nuremberg. In one key scene, he tells Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (played by Alec Baldwin), “I was searching for the nature of evil and I think I’ve come close to defining it: a lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants: a genuine incapacity to feel for their fellow man. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy” (Nuremberg).
Often, the causes of evil are raised when such horrific events as the Holocaust and other genocides, or events such as 9/11 or school shootings occur; how such atrocities toward humanity can be carried out on such a massive scale, what conditions are necessary in terms of cause and effect in order for these slaughters to unfold, how the acts can rise without detection, and how they can continue to go on, are all subject to scrutiny and debate. Violence, death, and murder, especially when it happens in the thousands or in the millions, are the place where the nature of evil is studied most intently.
It is interesting to trace the long, deep literary path of this root of all evil. In some of the earliest literary references, the abuse of money at the expense of the people came with usury—that is, the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans through the use of excessive or abusive interest rates. Aristotle, in Politics, Book I, Part 10, states, “The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest,” and “of any modes of getting wealth, this is the most unnatural.” Aristotle’s voice had a profound impact on the society of his time and well into the Middle Ages. As Murray N. Rothbard notes in Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, “The views of Aristotle are particularly important because the entire structure of his thought had an enormous and even dominant influence on the economic and social thought of the high and late middle Ages, which considered itself Artistotelian.”
For Potter, the bottom line is paramount, religious as a point of worship. Similarly, George Banks, the empathy-challenged banker father in Mary Poppins, sees the institution of the bank in religious terms; when entering the bank, his church, he solemnly whispers to his children, “Remember that the bank is a quiet and decorous place, and we must be on our best behavior” (Mary Poppins).
The humanities and critical thinking skills pose threats to the sanctity of the corporate state. Without critical thinking skills and a knowledge of the past, without the ability to assess direction for the future, there is no fight, because the reasoning necessary to establish a criteria for even drawing a fight never materializes. Why? As Hedges explains, “The elite, and those who work for them, were never taught to question the assumptions of their age. The socially important knowledge and cultural ideas embodied in history, literature, philosophy, and religion, which are at their core subversive and threatening to authority, have been banished from public discourse” ( 113). Or, at best, the little public discourse on these matters that goes on is largely unnoticed, relegated to harmless journals such as this, or if noticed, castigated as left-wing rhetoric, with little or no action taken toward reform. In short, there are too few critical thinkers able to go up against the banks, even in such impressive numbers as the protestors of Occupy Wall Street.
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