Sunday, May 11, 2008
The Ordinary Face of Everyday Evil
Photos courtesy of captivefldschildren.org
Havin' a good time, guys? SWAT operators wearing Nazi-style bucket-head helmets enjoy a mirthful moment on the YZF Ranch as child "protection" workers prepare to kidnap the FLDS community's children.
What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique ("a great task that occurs once in two thousand years"), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did....
Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!
Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
The unremarkable face of unspeakable evil: A Sheriff's Deputy stands ready to use whatever force may be required to compel an FLDS mother to surrender her children to the State.
Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends… [I]n periods when millions are slaughtered, when torture is practiced, starvation enforced, oppression made a policy, as at present over a large part of the world, and as it has often been in the past, it must be at the behest of very many good people, and even by their direct action, for what they consider a worthy object.
Isabel Patterson, “The Humanitarian With the Guillotine,” from The God of the Machine, 1943
Terry Secrest, a 54-year-old social worker from Austin, Texas, is having a hard time sleeping at night. Many of her professional associates share that affliction, and for the same reason: Like Secrest, they have been assigned or have volunteered to work with mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) whose children have been stolen from them at gunpoint.
Mrs. Secrest and her colleagues and, from all indications, essentially decent people. The same is probably true of the hundreds of people mobilized by the State of Texas to carry out this scheme of mass child abduction under the color of "compassionate" care.
Stipulating that all of us are fallen, flawed, sinful people, it's still true that, as Isabel Patterson pointed out decades ago, there just aren't that many genuinely wretched and vicious people in the world (in proportionate terms, of course).
It's likely that nearly every individual involved in the seizure of the FLDS children -- from those who passed along what was, in all likelihood, known to be a bogus phone call from a "victim" of domestic abuse at the FYZ ranch, to the overgrown adolescents in SWAT regalia who participated in the paramilitary assault on the religious community, to the CPS workers who used threats, lies, manipulation, and finally brute force to steal more than 400 children from mothers who loved them -- believed himself or herself to be animated by the purest motives on behalf of a worthy object.
And yet, at least some of them are now suffering long-deferred misgivings about their actions.
"Experts" -- ah, yes, those emissaries from some transcendent realm -- "say many of those professionals [working with FLDS mothers and children] may be suffering from secondary traumatic stress, a condition that affects people working with victims of trauma," reports the Austin American-Statesman. "Symptoms include anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares and intrusive thoughts."
One source of this unexpected emotional turmoil is found in the fact that while social workers generally can offer at least a plausible explanation for the seizure of children from their homes, in this case "they didn't know the details of the investigation or what led up to the mass removals," explains Vicki Hansen, executive director of the Texas chapter for the National Association of Social Workers.
"These workers are used to going into homes where things are really bad and feeling good about moving children from risk and danger," Hansen continues. "This situation is completely different. To look at the mothers and children, you would see love and affection and bonds, plus children who appear to be in good physical condition. It was wrenching to pull children away from their mothers."
Not surprisingly, at least some of the FLDS mothers are "showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as having flashbacks of the raid on their ranch," as well as increasing anxiety over the prospect of never seeing their children again.
For the suffering of the mothers -- entirely understandable, given the criminal violence inflicted on their families -- there is little official sympathy. Most of it has been directed, Himmler-style, at those who committed that criminal violence, or who have been required to clean up the mess once the deed was done.
This spectacle of inverted sympathy is both familiar and disgusting. It must be said, however, that beneath the emotional contrivances there is an elemental truth -- the irrepressible human conscience. At least some of those involved in this massive crime are suffering because the capacity to identify good and evil has yet to be seared from their souls.
Once this is understood, the key question becomes: Why didn't anybody do something to stop this crime, before it was consummated?
Handiwork of the "rescuers": A ruined safe, its contents seized by the armed "law enforcement" officers who raided the FLDS religious community, lies discarded on the floor. Elsewhere kids' rooms were ransacked and their private possessions rifled by the raiders. Odd, isn't it, how often "law enforcement" actions resemble acts of routine criminal thuggery?
Of the hundreds, or thousands, of people implicated in this crime, there must be at least a few dozen as decent as Mrs. Secrest appears to be. Why were they silent?
What might have happened if only one of the many people called upon to execute the raid on YFZ ranch have said, "I'm sorry -- but this just isn't right"? Granted, there were probably many others willing to take the place of anybody who suffered a sudden attack of conscience. Still, under the right circumstances, the refusal to carry out patently illegal orders can become contagious. Unfortunately, although Mrs. Secrest and some other social workers display all the symptoms of coming down with a painful case of decent shame, the people who ordered and carried out the raid and abduction seem to have developed an immunity.
There is at least one other group of people who tried to do something to stop the criminal assault on the FLDS mothers and children while it was in progress -- and the treatment they received reveals a great deal about the mechanisms of organized evil that carried out this abominable act.
After the FLDS children were seized at gunpoint from their eccentric but loving mothers, they were confined -- imprisoned, really -- in temporary shelters under the control of the Texas Department of Child Protective Services. Employees of the Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center (MHMR) were assigned to help the CPS see to the needs of the abducted children and their mothers.
As medical professionals bound by an exacting ethical code, the MHMR personnel understood their task to be to look out for the best interests of the children as individuals. The CPS officials, by way of contrast, work for the State, which meant that their prime directive was to uphold the interests of that monstrosity. If in doing so their actions were to the benefit of the children and mothers of YFZ ranch, so much the better; if not, those under CPS control would simply have to suffer in the interests of the "greater good" -- as defined by the State, naturally.
These conflicting visions resulted in predictable tensions between the humanitarians of the MHMR, and the collectivists from the CPS, and those tensions were resolved in predictable fashion: The State officials first forced the mental health workers to sign non-disclosure agreements, and then threatened to have the state's hired thugs arrest any medical professionals accused of "interfering" with the CPS officials.
Oh my stars and garters! Who would ever want to "interfere" with the CPS -- that cadre of self-sacrificing public servants, pure of motive and overflowing with supernal compassion?
At least nine of the MHMR employees assigned to help CPS care for the FLDS children, that's who.
They described the needless and illegal seizure of the FLDS children as an atrocity, and the treatment of the children in CPS custody as an exercise in gratuitous cruelty.
Notes the Houston Chronicle: "All nine reports [from MHMR staffers] expressed varying degrees of anger toward the state's child welfare agency for removing the children from their communit, separating them from their mothers or for the way CPS workers conducted themselves at the shelter."
"I have worked in Domestic Violence/Sexual Abuse programming for over 20 years and have never seen women and children treated this poorly, not to mention their civil rights being disregarded in this manner," wrote one MHMR worker. Others described how CPS employees routinely and deliberately lied to the mothers in order to make it easier to consummate the plan to kidnap the children. Several of the mental health professionals reported that CPS denied the mothers access to legal counsel.
Anybody familiar with conditions in a day-care center knows how they quickly become incubators for sickness. So it's not surprising that cramming several hundred children (even exceptionally clean and healthy children) into a makeshift shelter in a sports stadium resulted in an outbreak of chicken pox and upper respiratory infections.
It's tempting to think that this demonstrates the "good enough for government work" ineptitude of Texas CPS -- but some MHMR workers believe that the CPS deliberately created these conditions as a form of low-intensity biological warfare: "The more uncomfortable [the children were]," one mental health professional wrote in disgust, "the more CPS thought they would talk" about the abuse they had supposedly suffered.
Had a parent deliberately exposed his children to highly communicable childhood diseases as a psychological manipulation tactic, the children would be seized from him and he would probably wind up in prison. But the Texas CPS saw nothing amiss in torturing other people's children -- having just recently nursed three of my children through severe bouts of the chicken pox, I think the word "torture" applies here -- and they wouldn't countenance any criticism of their methods. One report pointed out that "The entire MH support staff was `fired' the second week; we were sent home due to being `too compassionate.'"
Referring to the reports from MHMR staff, submitted anonymously because of the non-disclosure agreement, hospital board chairman John Kite remarked: "We were literally astounded at what they told us. They are trampling all over human decency and those people's civil rights.... We should not just sit here and watch it happen."
To the considerable credit of the MHMR staffers, they were more than merely passive witnesses to acts of surpassing viciousness. But unless something is done, very soon, to return these children to their mothers and punish those responsible for conceiving and carrying out this crime, the outrage expressed by Mr. Kite and the anonymous whistle-blowers will quickly dissipate without leaving so much as a stain on the drab, gray edifice of the official child "protection" bureaucracy.
When one thinks of it, the official color of collectivist evil is not Marxist red or fascist black; it is bureaucratic gray. Evil makes plentiful use of banners drenched in red or saturated in black, of course. But its real work is carried out within the warrens of official bureaucracy, with the eager help of normal, upstanding people who crave the safe anonymity of cooperation, and don't have the courage to make themselves conspicuous by naming officially approved evil for what it is.
Our conditioned expectations of evil lead us to look for the lurid and obvious, rather than the mundane and unexceptional. We are taught to expect evil to come in the guise of the Bizarre Outsider -- a visibly deranged dictator with an odd haircut, or people from a socially isolated sect who wear funny clothes and eschew popular culture.
A symbol of obvious evil -- But it was the phlegmatic evil of Senator Palpatine, not the flamboyant evil of Darth Maul, that was the real Menace.
But wrapping our expectations about evil in such convenient packaging can be deadly. Yes, there are times when Evil gives us due notice by following the accepted blueprint, and incarnating itself in the frothing tyrant or the dead-eyed cult leader.
But a figure of that sort is a mere catalyst for the evil that coalesces out of the collective efforts of common people -- many of whom are otherwise decent people who believe in the principle of absolution through mass conformity. It's because we expect that Evil will always materialize as a leering apparition that we become blind to the ordinary face of everyday evil.
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Dum spiro, pugno!