I’m often in two minds about Giles Fraser’s columns in The Guardian. He’s always thought provoking, sometimes insightful, but sometimes completely wrong.
His unwavering humanitarianism and willingness to speak truth to power can be genuinely prophetic, especially when he speaks about subjects such as the current refugee crisis. Rather less attractive is his anti-science and anti-technology Luddism, which can be as deeply reactionary as his humanitarianism is progressive.
His recent joyless piece on Bowie was one of the worst things I’ve read on the subject; Giles Fraser came over as claiming Bowie was bad because he sang about space, and that was a sinful distraction from more important things. Keep your head down and focus on your chores, rather than look up to the sky or dare to dream. He compounded that by singing the praises of Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, who set gritty social realist lyrics to what to my ears was always drab and colourless music. I have never had much time for puritanism, in whatever form it manifests.
His piece published on Holocaust Memorial Day about the last letter from convicted war criminal Adolf Eichmann is on far more solid ground.
“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders,” Eichmann’s letter pleaded. “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”
In other words: not my fault, I was only obeying orders. His self-delusion was unassailable, even at the end. Eichmann’s request was denied and two days later he was hanged in Ramla prison.
In her famous account of the trial, the philosopher Hannah Arendt described Eichmann as a small-minded functionary, more concerned with the managerial hows of his job than the moral or existential whys. According to Arendt, Eichmann wasn’t a man for asking difficult questions, he just got on with the job of managing timetables and calculating travel costs – thus her famous phrase “the banality of evil“
I can’t help but think yet again of Iain Duncan-Smith’s regime at The Department of Work and Pensions. No, his treatment of the disabled, callous and inhumane as it is, cannot be compared in scale to the industrialised mass murder of eleven million people. But when it comes to the banality of evil, and the indifference to suffering caused as a direct result of his actions because it all happens out of sight, the parallels are obvious.