Friday, March 3, 2023

Dean Johns does it yet again! You've GOT to read this one, folks...

The BNality of evil
Dean Johns | Malaysiakini | 27 May 2009

On this glorious autumn morning in Sydney, an absolute cliché of a perfect day, the air as clear as crystal and the sky a stunning blue.

By rights I should be revelling in the feeling that it’s great just to be alive. And I guess I am, in a physical sense.

But emotionally it’s another matter entirely, as with this column to write, I sit here cheerlessly confronting the cold eye of my computer screen and its mindlessly blinking cursor, struggling to strike a spark of inspiration from an uncooperative keyboard.

But I can hardly blame an innocent computer for the contrast between the brilliance of the day and the bleakness of my mood. In fact the fault is entirely my own.

Somehow I’m constitutionally incapable of the feeling that ‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world’ when the same alleged God that some imagine created this heavenly day perversely permits such hellish situations in so many other parts of the world.

Sometimes it seems that evil lurks almost everywhere on earth

There seems no end to the pain and suffering and death that it causes, and no sign that any amount of intervention, divine or otherwise, will ever diminish it, let alone bring it to an end.

And for those of us who are driven to write or fight against it, it has an extra and especially excruciating dimension: it’s incredibly, endlessly boring.

The phrase “the banality of evil” is as apt today as it was back when Hannah Arendt coined it to describe the personality of Nazi genocide organiser Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann, she claimed, committed his atrocities not out of hatred for his victims, but out of a lack of imagination so total as to deprive him of any shred of empathy for fellow human beings.

I don’t believe that all of today’s major-league evil-doers are as motiveless as Eichmann, but they’re every bit as callous, banal and ultimately boring as he was in their insatiable cravings for power and feelings of self-importance.

Surely the most vivid embodiment of the banality of evil in the world today must be Kim Jong-Il (right) of North Korea. A man, like his father before him, who has enslaved and starved his people in his demented quest to maintain a million-strong army and build a nuclear weapon for the single, pathetic purpose of expressing his paranoid egomania.

Then there’s Robert Mugabe (left), driven by a hatred for whites that Eichmann, according to Arendt, lacked for the Jews he slaughtered, but every bit as empty as Eichmann of any capacity for sympathy or empathy with anyone but himself and the supporters he needs to survive.

And he is as boring as every other tinpot dictator I can think of in his greed for such banalities as grand mansions, branded merchandise and shopping sprees for his stupid wife.

The leaders of Iran are another case in point, still tediously employing timeless sectarian hatred and insane religious extremism in the pursuit of sordid, mundane cravings for some shred of self-esteem.

And so it goes around the globe, such an endless parade of banality and evil as to disgrace the human race and bore us columnists - and our unfortunate readers - to tears.

Beyond banality

Of course the most crying shame of all to me, because I happen to read and write about it so much, is the chronically tedious situation in Malaysia. After more than half a century of monopolisation by Barisan Nasional (BN), the situation has gone way beyond banality to utter BNality, and seems to get more evil by the day.

The whole country is held to ransom by a bunch of people so BNal that all they can muster in the way of a slogan for a nation they’ve so strenuously kept divided all these years is a ludicrous lie like ‘1Malaysia.’

And all these so-called leaders seem to care about are BNalities like money, ridiculous titles, luxury cars, big houses, offshore holiday retreats and overseas junkets for themselves and their families.

The BNality of evil; the evil of BNality. Have you ever heard or read an utterance by a BN politician that wasn’t so dim, dull or such a litany of obfuscation and outright lies that it was anything but stupefyingly boring?

And no, fans of Dr Mahathir Mohamad (right) needn’t claim that their hero is an exception, as his every utterance is drearily, predictably false and sarcastic, and thus not a whit witty.

BNality of speech is, of course, just a symptom of BNality of thought. And just as I’ve never heard an even remotely interesting remark from a BN politician or official, nor have I seen evidence of a single creative idea.

There’s been no shortage of projects, I grant you. Like the Twin Towers, for example, which have proven a big tourist attraction. But they were built by Japanese and Korean contractors using mostly Indonesian labour, and when it came to the BNality of who paid the bill, the evil fact is that the Malaysian people did, through Petronas accounts so compromised that they’re an official state secret.

So, as with every project on which the BN government spends public funds, there’s no accounting for how much loot was siphoned-off in kickbacks, ‘commissions’, fraud and embezzlement. Just as there’s no way of telling which individuals and corporations evade tax by paying bribes in return for deep discounts.

But the greatest cost of all this venality isn’t financial, it’s social. For evil of such BNality to prosper and perpepuate itself, the populace has to be deprived of such safeguards as a proper police force, honest judiciary, trustworthy media, enlightened education system and independent civil services.

Deprivations that lead in turn to rampant corruption, uncontrolled crime, ceaseless suspicious deaths in custody, growing risk of arrest and detention without charge, heavily-skewed elections and, as recently experienced by the DAP, police harrassment of opposition politicians and supporters.

As I write this, people are being arrested in Ipoh for participating in a hunger strike to protest the recent power-grab in Perak. So at least I haven’t entirely wasted this beautiful day by spending it at the keyboard.

As long as courageous activists keep on fighting and we critics keep on typing, someday the majority of Malaysians will finally revolt against the intolerable reality - not to mention the flagrant immorality and growing illegality - of BN evil and banality.

[First posted 27 May 2009]