initial popular support for the Iraq War was latent hostility against Middle Eastern Muslim nations from the 9/11 terrorist attacks (I think perhaps most humorously evidenced by a series of SNL episodes very positively portraying George W. Bush as an avenging cowboy and Dick Cheney bragging about defiling Afghani women -- all to audience cheers). Similarly, does it now seem odd to us that people got so upset over a Muslim community center blocks away from Ground Zero in crowded lower Manhattan? If the presence of evil calls for some sort of response, what should the nature of that response be? Punishment? Rehabilitation? Education? And is that something that should be imposed largely externally, or does the very banality of evil suggest that the best way to fight evil is to start in our own minds. In an interesting contrast for the calls for blood against the alleged Nazi war criminal found in Minnesota, this New York Review of Books article "‘Jews Aren’t Allowed to Use Phones’: Berlin’s Most Unsettling Memorial"describes the Places of Remembrance memorial:
Twenty years ago this month, Berlin-based artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock inaugurated their hugely controversial “Places of Remembrance” memorial for a former Jewish district of West Berlin known as the Bavarian Quarter. At the time, Germany had just been reunified, and it was one of the first major efforts to give permanent recognition to the ways the Holocaust reached into daily life in the German capital. The 1991 competition called for a central memorial on the square, but Stih and Schnock instead proposed attaching eighty signs hung on lamp posts throughout the Bavarian Quarter, each one spelling out one of the hundreds of Nazi laws and rules that gradually dehumanized Berlin’s Jewish population.
***"We took anti-Jewish laws and regulations. On one side we had text, which we took from the regulations but made it snappy and shorter, so people driving or biking by could read them fast. And on the other side we put a picture that illustrated it. [One shows a chalice and on the other side of the sign says, “The baptism of Jews and their conversion to Christianity is unimportant in the question of race.” Another shows a radio and the other side says, “Jews must give up their radios.”]"
"Over there you see a sign with a telephone—right next to the post office—and the sign says Jews aren’t allowed to use telephones. Everything was meant to exclude Jews from daily life, from social structures, and to threaten them."
Rather than focus on names, either of victims or perpetrators, they chose to focus on "social and legal structures: how could this ever have happened?" How might it have happened? Step by step. First target a group and blame them for evil actions. They have now become the source of evil. Next depersonalize them. At this point, the masses will accept that not only should these people be punished for their alleged evil actions, but that they are inherently evil and don't deserve to be treated with basic human dignity. If there are laws in place to maintain equal rights and due process, make it clear that those laws do not apply to evil people -- they're a special case which demands special treatment (laws are only made to protect the best of us, after all). The rest is just maintaining the illusion by making sure people never question the original premise of evil. For instance, one of my favorite regulations was against Jewish ownership of pets, and for a very practical reason:
The reason for that is that first the animals had to go and then the owners could be removed. Because if animals would stay in an apartment, they wouldn’t get food, they’d make noise, this would cause a commotion. Maybe the Aryan neighbors wouldn’t care about the Jewish neighbor being deported but they would truly care about a little cat meowing.
But do we really need constant reminders of our own collective and individual capacities for evil? Haven't we moved past all of that?
When we were installing it, suddenly someone opened a window and yelled out: Haut ab, Judenschweine!—“Go away, Jewish pigs!” Our two workers installing the signs with us, they were completely shocked. They had thought the project wasn’t important until then and had been saying, “Come on, everyone knows this, why are you bothering?” They were speechless.
We do need reminders. And in a way that's why I think it's one of the worst times to be a sociopath -- because people have forgotten their own capacity for evil. Perhaps now more than ever people have isolated themselves from ugly aspects of the world. They eat meat raised and slaughtered out of sight, their countries fight wars in countries that they cannot point out on a map, and their sense of morality has never been tested (unless by Milgram or at Stanford), so it's very easy and convenient for them to convince themselves that evil exists outside, not in. In contrast to most people's high estimations of themselves, the straight-talking sociopath must seem like an abomination. And how should one react to an abomination? Track them down and make them suffer? Extradite that 94 year-old man and make him finally pay for his crimes? Because he's the reason that bad things happened, right? People want to believe that the only problem with evil they have is in identifying it and eradicating it in others.
Or course nobody likes to confront their own capacity for evil, and so that's why the artists for the Places of Remembrance (manipulatively) downplayed their proposed plan:
During the process they asked the artists to present their work at a public forum. We showed little drawings, not the real size, which is fifty by seventy centimeters. The drawings were like fine watercolors. They gave the pictures a softness. This was very good because everybody focused on the art. Here, in real life, it looks like brash pop art, but at the presentation it was different. It was of course a trick. You have to be very careful when you present because otherwise you’ll scare people.
It was sneaky enough to work at the time, but people seem even less willing to confront these issues:
I have to say that in 1993 the society was open—kind of not secured. It was right after the Wall had opened. I don’t think we could do it today.