Imagine that you are in charge of shipping people to a concentration camp under the Nazi rule. You do not want innocent people to be placed in those ghastly conditions or worse yet, be exterminated. Howbeit, it is not your job to think or worry about that. Your job is to manage the transportation of the said goods — whatever the goods may be — in the most efficient way. Thinking about the ethics and morals involved is not your job nor is it your duty to think about the consequentiality of your actions at work! You are a ‘logistics guy’ and the only thing that matters is that you are good at your job. Period.

This is essentially how many of us carry out our jobs today. Whether we are bankers or engineers, diplomats or doctors, teachers or police officers, anthropologists or economists — we have one thing in common, our uncritical approach towards our jobs. Engineers do not stop to think where and how the very technology designed by them will be used. Bankers do not care how their hedging, speculation and commodity trading will affect poor farmers and mortgage holders. Diplomats as any good bureaucrat would follow their orders, and national policies blindly. I can continue with other professions but I guess you get my point.

Hannah Arendt, the famous 20th-century political theorist and philosopher coined the term, 'the banality of evil' to describe the inherent flaw in our understanding and conceptualisation of what 'evil' entails. Raising a very critical question, she inquires if evil is something radical within our character; that we actively act out or perhaps simply a result of thoughtlessness and conformity. Could it be possible that evil thrives in environments that lack reflection? There is a tendency in us ordinary folks to follow orders and rules blindly, she argues. We tend to conform to the opinions of the masses and/or authority without any critical evaluation of the results and consequences of our actions and inactions.

As I have explained above, it is a tendency that persists in many of us, across a spectrum of professions. The seemingly hypothetical scenario presented at the beginning was not actually a philosophical dilemma but the real case of a German officer known as Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann's example is the epitome of what I am alluding to; it highlights the role of uncritical compliance in the carrying out of the holocaust and more generally 'evil'.

It is quite easy to conceptualise evil, embodied in a physical entity, like the villain of a movie or the perpetrator of a cruel act, whereas seeing evil as something banal something systematic and structural as Arendt believes it to be is harder to grasp. It does not mean, however, that the former is true and the latter false. Eichmann's example shows us how evil is not a character trait in itself but a by-product of another factor — namely blind and uncritical obedience.

Shouldn't we then be more focused on disempowering systems and structures that serve as incubators of such uncritical obedience and compliance? That is if we are to uproot the banal out of the evil. Anthropologists social scientists around the world have outlined through their ethnographic as well as quantitative research, many such structures. These anthropologists have gone beyond the deconstruction of our work life and present compelling arguments in many other walks of life. From our uncritical understanding of gender to our naive and simplistic understanding of issues related to power, development and culture.

The complex times we live in require us to equip ourselves with a better understanding of everything that is human in a more human, more anthropological way.

Here are a few very easy reads to get you started:

Author/ Title/ Topic

P. Farmer/ Pathologies of Power/ Power and Violence

C. J. Pascoe/ Dude, You're a Fag/ Gender and sexuality 

D. Graeber/ The Utopia of Rules/ Culture and Politics

A. Sen/ Development as Freedom/ Development