The case of Adolf Eichmann and industrial education
I can say without hesitation that A Little History of Philosophy is the best introductory philosophy book I’ve ever read.
The author of the book, Nigel Warburton, has managed to explain the most important ideas of the history of philosophy in an enjoyable and immersive way, without using an esoteric jargon that is hardly understandable for a lay reader.
35th chapter of the book describes a case that I find very striking to highlight the industrial mindset: The man who does not ask questions!
Adolf Eichmann was a high-ranking bureaucrat in charge of European railways during the Hitler era.
Due to Eichmann’s meticulous work and oversight, all train routes in Europe at that time worked like a clockwork, so that hundreds of thousands of Jews and other “lower races” collected from all over Europe could be transported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe without serious technical problems.
You know the rest of the story: Most of the prisoners, including many women and children, who were brought to the concentration camps in crowded cattle wagons were murdered with poison gas in special shower rooms. Some of these prisoners were used as guinea pigs in most perverse medical experiments. Only a very small minority of the captives could survive these hideous concentration camps. These few survivors were in an extremely miserable condition when they were finally rescued at the end of the Second World War.
Eichmann, who, like many post-war Nazis, fled to Argentina after the war, was captured by the Israeli secret police Mossad in Buenos Aires in 1960, and brought to Israel to stand trial.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-75) dealed personally with the Eichmann case. What kind of a maniac, pervert and sadistic person should he be to have brought hundreds of thousands of people to torture and death without blinking an eye?
During the trial, Eichmann’s personality is scientifically examined by the philosopher Arendt and expert psychologists. The emerging conclusion shocked everyone:
Eichmann was not at all the maniac, pervert or sadistic person one might expect. Eichmann could hardly be called even a typical Nazi. First of all, he was not a hardcore racist; he did not feel any hatred or enmity towards the Jews.
He had not visited the concentration camps even once, because he did not care about what was going on there, and preferred not to know so as not to strain his mind and conscience.
Anyone who knew Eichmann wouldn’t even call him a bad person. His manners looked quite decent, polished and polite.
But Eichmann had one trait that made him more dangerous than the the worst kind: He didn’t ask inconvenient questions, he didn’t question order. He was simply fulfilling the duties assigned to him in technical perfection as an exemplary bureaucrat and technician would do, that’s all.
Personality tests revealed that Eichmann, the perfect technician, had weak imagination. As you can expect, Eichmann had focused entirely on his technical education in his youth, and did not waste his valuable time with “useless occupations” like philosophy, art and literature that would enrich his imagination.
Eichmann, who was too conservative a technician to question whom and what he served, was actually a very ordinary person. There were millions of people who would have done the same if they had been in Eichmann’s place.
That was the question: How did Eichmann become so awfully commonplace? What made millions so commonplace?
Why did the imagination, critical questioning ability and courage become so shriveled in a person who had extraordinary technical knowledge and skill?
The answer is quite simple: Through industrial education that exalts narrow-minded technical expertise (Fachidiot in German), and over-specialization in narrow fields with rigid disciplinary boundaries.
To give a modern example, the kind of education that produces genetic engineers who don’t have a solid understanding of evolution and ecology, and who don’t question ethically why they work for GMO and pesticide companies…
Primary function of industrial education is to train tamed technicians who can do colorless, meaningless, routine and boring jobs, that insult basic human nature, without complaining and rebelling, and who can work in this manner for many years without asking whom and what they work for:
“I close my eyes and ears, and just do my duty.”
Primary function of industrial education is to engrave into the minds of children from an early age that it is an inevitable fact of life to work in colorless, unlikable and monotonous jobs in order to make a living. Because schools prepare children for professional life, they must be colorless, unlikable and monotonous as well, with plenty of drudgery. Serious learning must never be an enjoyment; it must be a drudgery that requires dogged perseverance like the jobs they are designed for.
In summary, the aim of industrial education is to turn humans into expert robots by purging them of their ideals, emotions and tastes. The industrial order does not need sensitive philosophers and artists to turn its wheels; it needs robots specialized in certain narrowly defined tasks.
In the past, there were physical slaves who drew water from the well and carried it to the farm under the constant threat of whipping. The industrial revolution, especially the mechanization and automation, brought the following “progress” to humanity: Physical slaves were replaced by mental slaves. And the threat of whipping was replaced by the threat of losing the job.
You cannot employ young people who have been engaged in philosophy, art and sports, and who have received a versatile holistic education, for a long time in the unsavory offices of industry, banks, insurance and tobacco companies. Therefore, industrial education should not only equip young people with technical knowledge and skills, but also erode aesthetic pleasures, free thought, empathy and imagination.
In this regard, industrial education behaves rather cunningly; it doesn’t openly denigrate art. It only categorizes it as a hobby, as a nice and prestigious decoration, that could be practiced in “leisure times”. Leisure time is by definition, the time left over from really important tasks that matter. This is how industrial education reduce the priority of fine arts to trivialize and obscure them.
Meanwhile, allegedly responsible families who constantly advice their children like “first school then hobby”, or “first lesson then play”, make a significant contribution to their children’s ignorance in almost every aspect of life excluding the boring staff imposed by the technical industrial education.
Most students who are not encouraged by family or school will follow the herd, and will not give due importance to pursuits such as philosophy, art, plays and sports that are necessary for their personal development.
However, there will still be some students with diverse interests and passions like philosophy, fine arts, music, plays and sports, who don’t want to compromise their personal development by dedicating all their time and capacity to school. How shall these rebels, who will constantly cause malady in the industrial order, be disciplined for good?
Here, too, the deep cunning of the industrial education comes into play: With truck loads of homework and drudgery, plus ruthless competition in the form of a rat race, it leaves no time and energy at all for personal development. Just think of the central university selection exams (e.g. in Turkey) that suck up all the time and energy of young students.
Sometimes one hears nice words like universities aiming to have “creative and entrepreneurial” graduates. However, what is meant here is “creativity and entrepreneurship” in the narrow industrial and business sense. That is, “creativity” is not meant to produce original works in philosophy, art or literature, but to develop new corporate tools and services that will make more money for some industrial cartels. As if we don’t already have enough corporate tools and services (technology) in our lives!
Ideological blindness to the value of nature is an essential component of industrial education. As an example, students should think of only “corporate production”, that is, goods that can be sold and purchased on the market, when someone talks about production. Students should not have the acute awareness that nature is the primary producer. Likewise, students should not be aware of the reality that there are non-monetary sustenance economies, like growing vegetables in your garden for your own consumption.
The solution of industrial education for ensuring the necessary blindness is technology fetish combined with ecological illiteracy. An ideal student of industrial education should believe that all problems of humanity, including the social and ecological ones, can be solved with economic growth (i.e. GDP growth) and technological progress. Business malarkey like “innovation, advanced technology, added value, green growth” must sound like poetry to an ideal student of industrial education.
Written by Tunç Ali Kütükçüoǧlu
Note: I wrote the original article in Turkish that was published in 2016 in my Turkish blog site: Soru sormayan adam: Adolf Eichmann. This article is a translation of this original article in Turkish.
You may search for keywords like “banality of evil”, “mediocrity of evil”, “Hannah Arendt” and “Adolf Eichmann” for further reading about the subject.