Archive for September 1st, 2011

Women Taking Charge to Save the Environment

Women Taking Charge to Save the Environment


Posted 01 September 2011, by Cesar Chelala, The Wip,


The growing worldwide demand for resources is threatening the world’s environmental health to an unprecedented extent. Unless new policies are set in place, this situation could have devastating implications for human development. In this context, women and children can be very active participants in the defense of the environment and stop, or even reverse, the degradation of our natural resources.

At a worldwide level, there is a growing awareness of the need and importance of making women contribute to the identification of environmental problems, as well as in the planning of activities geared at the sustainable development of their communities.

Over the past 200 years, industrial processes have been responsible for increasing levels of pollution and for the degradation of air, water, and land. In addition to unrestricted exploitation of natural resources, unsound agricultural practices have had devastating effects on the environment and on people’s health and quality of life. Women and children have been particularly affected.

Women, especially those pregnant, are particularly susceptible to several environmental threats, particularly women living in rural or marginal suburban areas in developing countries. Until recently, women had few choices about the kind of lifestyle they wanted to lead and fewer opportunities to change unsatisfactory conditions and improve their families and their own health.

Because of their roles as home-managers, economic providers, and their role in reproduction, women are susceptible to health problems and hazards in several situations. The reproductive system of pregnant women is especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants. Every step in the reproductive process can be altered by toxic substances in the environment. These toxic substances may increase the risk of abortion, birth defects, fetal growth retardation, and peri-natal death.

Although for a long time women have been considered passive recipients of aid rather than active participants in development, their role is crucial both to the economies of developing countries and to the future of the environment. In that regard, as environmental educators and motivators for change, women are key agents in the processes leading to a more sustainable and healthy development of the planet.

Women are traditional protectors of the environment. A world survey on public attitudes on the environment sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program showed that women, when compared with men, are more likely to choose a lower standard of living with fewer health risks rather than a higher standard of living with more health risks.

Perhaps the best example of women’s participation in environmental activities is represented by the work of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt movement. Through her efforts, more than 30 million trees have been planted by participants in this movement in public and private lands. Her work has led to the restoration of Kenya’s rapidly diminishing forests and has empowered rural women in environmental preservation techniques.

In Nepal, Saraswoti Bhetwal has been able to survive as a farmer thanks to techniques learned at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), such as roof water harvesting, drip irrigation, composting and leveling terraces. In Latin America, indigenous women have become more active in the use of poverty reduction and sustainable development strategies.

In addition, the increasing participation of women in think tanks and in environmental training activities is allowing them to educate both the public and policy makers about the critical link between women, the use of natural resources, and sustainable development.

In that regard, women have better access to local environmental issues and how to approach them than men. Women have often had a leadership role in reducing unnecessary use of resources, promoting an environmental ethic, and recycling resources to minimize waste.

There is growing evidence that women in several countries around the world are taking central roles in the grass-roots environmental movement. And there is increasing belief that development policies that do not involve women and men alike will not, in the long run, be successful.

As stated by Diane Reed, President of the Cree Society for Communications “Now the women are rising up. And when the women rise up from a nation, they are the strongest voice that can be heard and it’s a voice that cannot be silenced.”

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international medical consultant and the author of the Pan American Health Organization publications ”The Impact of the Environment on Children’s Health” and “Maternal Health.”

While Politicians Deliberate Climate Change, Others Adapt


While Politicians Deliberate Climate Change, Others Adapt


Posted 01 September 2011, by Kristin Palitza, InterPress Service (IPS),

CAPE TOWN , Sep 1, 2011 (IPS) – While many scientists, academics and politicians still theorise about ways to adapt to climate change, a South African civil society organisation has launched a hands-on project that mobilises communities to take easy steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Called the Project 90 by 2030, it encourages individuals, organisations and companies to change the way they live and operate by 90 percent by the year 2030. The idea stems from the suggestion environmental activist George Monbiot makes in his book “Heat” that industrialised nations need to reduce their carbon footprint by 90 percent by 2030.

“It’s a goal-oriented, praxis-oriented approach. It’s actually very simple,” says Project 90 by 2030 director Brenda Martin.

The project’s main purpose is to challenge South Africans to change the way they live and how they relate to the environment, she explains. “As the biggest carbon emitter on the continent, South Africa has the biggest responsibility in Africa to fight climate change,” Martin notes.

With the firm belief that every person can make a small contribution to a healthier environment, Martin suggests that individuals start by reducing their carbon footprint by just 10 percent a year and “keep at it, until they reach 90 percent over several years.” It’s about setting achievable goals, she explains.

Still, Martin is keenly aware of the urgency of preventing further climate change. “If we move as slowly as we do now, we will run out of time to reduce carbon emissions,” she says. “But I do believe that we can make a change. There are sufficient clean energy supply options available to us.”

To set an example, the Project 90 by 2030 initiative has built 15 renewable energy demonstration sites throughout the country over the past four years. The sites showcase affordable, practical solutions, such as biogas digesters, solar panels and solar water heaters. This way, the organisation wants to demystify renewable energy generation for the public and show how renewable energy can provide sufficient, reliable and cheap energy that will not impact negatively on professional activities.

“We want to show people what they can do to reduce climate change on a day-to-day basis,” explains Martin. “Everyone can and must do something. While decision makers continue to deliberate, we are getting on with it.”

One of the demonstration sites is the Johannesburg Zoo, which installed 15 large solar panels on the roof of its education centre to reduce its carbon footprint.

“At the moment, the solar power is fed into the electricity grid, but in future, we hope to make the centre entirely carbon neutral,” says the head of the Zoo’s green team, Lorna Fuller.

The zoo is also running its restaurant with the help of a biogas digester. “We feed kitchen scraps and animal waste into the digester to convert it into gas that we use for cooking in the restaurant,” explains Fuller.

Participating in the initiative was a no-brainer for the zoo management, Fuller says, since “we worry about the impact climate change will have on the environment and the habitat of animals.”

Since the zoo has half a million visitors a year, Fuller hopes that its environmental showcase will find many imitators. “We show visitors how it all works. Some people visit the zoo especially to look at our green installations,” she says.

Project 90 by 2030 is also running 30 school clubs where children get involved in simple, hands-on climate change projects, such as energy saving drives or recycling projects. The only condition: the projects need to have a wider impact than just on the school. They need to benefit the entire community around it. “That’s how we ensure we achieve a broad effect on large groups of people,” Martin explains.

Once projects are up and running for several weeks, the pupils learn how to assess them and measure how much energy, water and carbon emissions have been saved.

“We decided to work with school children to help create a next generation that is more aware of climate change and what can be done,” says Martin. “We want to shape young people and encourage them to create a better world.”

At the Springfield Convent Senior School in Cape Town, a group of pupils started their Project 90 by 2030 involvement with a ‘green audit’ to assess their school’s electricity and water usage as well as how much waste they produce.

The outcome was worrisome, and the learners decided to make some important changes to how their school is managed: they installed low-flow showerheads, geyser blankets as well as a water metre for the river that flows through the school ground, which they use to irrigate the gardens. They also started to recycle waste and use less paper.

“We put an emphasis on individual actions that become a lifestyle and have a collective effect,” says the schools head of geography Fiona Smith, who facilitates the school club. Many of the pupils have also begun to implement similar initiatives in their homes.

Says Smith: “We hope our pupils will grow into adults that treat our planet with more care.”   (END)


Native Americans and First Nations to be arrested at White House

Native Americans and First Nations to be arrested at White House

Photo Credit Milan Ilnyckyj: Clayton Thomas Muller, Cree, delivering letter to Canadian Consulate in DC on Wednesday.

Native Americans and First Nations To Be Arrested at White House Protesting TransCanada Keystone XL PipelinePosted 01 September 2011, by Brenda Norrell, Censored News,

WASHINGTON — Native Americans and First Nations will be arrested at the White House on Friday, urging President Obama to say “No”‘ to the Keystone XL Pipeline that threatens Indian country and the enormous Ogallala aquifer in the heart of the nation.Urging an end to the pipeline and the dirty tar sands already destroying First Nations homelands in Alberta, Indigenous Peoples join the two week sit-in on Friday, Sept. 2, 2011.

Representatives of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations and the US National Congress of American Indians, along with Tribal and First Nations community members with the support of the Indigenous Environmental Network, will be arrested in front of the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.”President Obama will decide the fate of this massive project later this fall. Representatives have traveled to the capitol city to wrap up two weeks of the largest mass civil disobedience the United States has seen organized in decades,” the delegation said.

First Nation and Native American arrestees will be holding banners saying “Obama honor the Treaties” and “Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline” until they are arrested on Friday.

The delegation invited members of the press to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House in Washington DC, for a press event to hear statements from Tribal Leaders and community representatives that will start promptly at 11:30 am on Friday.

On Wednesday, the Council of Canadians, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Greenpeace Canada presented a letter addressed to Ambassador Gary Doer at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. demanding an end to lobbying in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Ambassador Doer has publicly recognized he is actively lobbying for Keystone XL,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “To pitch the tar sands as the answer to American energy security ignores the destruction of the tar sands and turns away from the sustainable energy future Canada and the U.S. need.”

In May 2011, Alberta saw one of the largest pipeline bursts in the province’s history when 28,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the local ecosystem near Peace River. In the past year, TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline has spilled crude oil at least 12 times and contaminated water, air and soil in nearby communities. The spills resulted in catastrophic effects on wildlife and the quality of life of nearby farmers, landowners and Indigenous communities.

First Nations delegates with the Indigenous Environmental Network will also be present outside the Canadian Embassy. They have come to Washington to share their testimonies of the damaging social and health effects the tar sands are having on their communities.

“With the onslaught of tar sands exploitation, we are seeing more people developing serious respiratory illnesses. People of all ages are developing types of cancer that we have never seen in our area, as we have seen the tar sands industry expand,” said Gitz Crazyboy of Fort McMurray, in the heart of the Alberta tar sands.

“What we see is alarming – we are witnessing the complete destruction of the boreal forest as tar sands operations expand.”

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. The controversial 2,736 kilometre project threatens to pollute freshwater supplies in America’s agricultural heartland and spike air pollution in the Gulf Coast. The pipeline would cross Indian-US treaty territories, water aquifers, rivers, grasslands, cultural sites and ecological sensitive areas. Tar sands operations and its associated infrastructure projects.

Interviews available upon request, please call:
ClaytonThomas-Muller-Indigenous Tar Sands Campaigner
Cell: 613 297 7515 or email
Or Visit or

(Ed Note: Please visit the original site for more content associated with this article.)

How Capitalism Works

How Capitalism Works


Posted 31 August 2011, by Bruce Morgan, OpEdNews,


There is a lot of misinformation and there are even outright lies being perpetuated by the media about the economy. Similar observations even show up in the liberal blogosphere. In this article I will offer a different, uncomplicated perspective. My purpose is to make a deliberately abstruse topic more easily understandable. I will try to avoid value judgments, and simply report on the way I have observed the economy to behave. It is not meant to be an economic treatise, nor to advance any particular school of thought, such as Neoclassicism, Keynesianism, the Chicago School, the Austrian School or Marxism. I hope my observations will be of use to some, though I am sure many will take exception to my comments.

Because of capitalist hegemony, I will restrict my comments to capitalism; specifically laissez-faire capitalism since the U.S. economy is headed in that direction.

There are really only two things that most people need to know about laissez-faire capitalism (in the future, when I mention capitalism, I will mean laissez-faire capitalism.)

First, under capitalism, only money has value.


  1. Other items have value only to the extent they can be converted to money or can generate money. This includes things such as labor, commodities and property.
  2. What cannot be converted to money has no value and is often eliminated. This can include people.
  3. Profits are more valuable than the ecosystem or worker safety.

Second, the purpose of capitalism is to move as much money to the top 0.1% of society, from those who are not (and will never be) at or near the top.


  1. Wealthy individuals, with few exceptions, do not come by their fortune by their own productive labor. Instead, they appropriate as much as possible from other people’s productive labor. Capitalists themselves believe that they are entitled to this wealth; even if they did little to earn it.
  2. Illegality for the elites is inconsequential. Even if something is technically illegal, if it is not prosecuted it becomes de facto legal.
  3. Governments work either for their people or for the rich, they cannot work for both. In virtually all western societies, the ultra rich (individuals and corporations) have captured their governments, to a greater or lesser degree. For the U.S. federal government, this capture is virtually complete. Once the privileged class has control of the government, they can have whatever laws passed that they want, including those that make their crimes retroactively legal.

There, in 241 words (Principles and Corollaries,) is the essence of capitalism as actually practiced. Once these points are understood, the machinations behind current events in the areas of economics, politics and foreign affairs become evident.

This article was deliberately presented in black and white. Those who want grey can get it from the main stream media.

Bruce is a retired university professor who has been actively supporting populist progressive positions for the past ten years.

Besides teaching, he has spent almost ten years in the Marine Corps, including more than two years in combat, and has lived overseas for a decade; in addition, he has spent two decades in hospital management.

A secular humanist, he has no objection to any religion until they try to force others to conform to their religious values.

After retirement he has spent most of his time as a “student”, trying to fill in the gaps in his education as an autodidact.

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

A New Collective Mind for a New World

A New Collective Mind for a New World


Posted 31 August 2011, by , The Huffington Post (AOL Lifestyle),


We all share a common psychological environment that many of us, most of the time, take for granted. We often underestimate, or even neglect, the power of destructive thought and “mental pollution” upon the sensitive and responsive human membrane that constitutes our “social biosphere.” How we are taught (or conditioned) to think will affect how our species manages cultural development and the culture’s subsequent intervention into Earth’s living systems.

It can be stated that, for the most part, humanity unknowingly participates within a cultural hypnosis. From early childhood, our experiences are established to conform to our specific cultural norm — any anomalies are usually corrected, and the corrections then reinforced through various socializing processes, such as family, school, friends and such. Thus, our “world” is often given to us through the medium of particular cultural filters, and so each of us is literally hypnotized from infancy to perceive the world in the same way that people in our culture perceive it.

This is a very powerful behavioral and perceptual socializing mechanism. To break from this indoctrinated perceptual environment is extremely difficult and often beset with many personal problems arising from peer pressure and ties to friends and family. A shock is often necessary in order to catalyze one’s own change of mind.

For a new mind to emerge during the times ahead it will be necessary for people to take power back into their own perceptual mechanisms, to empower themselves by withholding legitimacy regarding old and outdated modes of thinking. Social philosopher Willis Harman has described this by stating, “By deliberately changing their internal images of reality, people can change the world.” This change, then, requires us to take back our rightful legitimacy unto ourselves, to decide carefully what we think, how we think and which beliefs we choose to adopt.

This also concerns our opinions, agreements and support, which we have previously been all too ready to give away. Our beliefs, perceptions and state of mind are crucial for how we understand the world around us. Thus, giving away our right over the power to choose how we wish to perceive the world serves to empower others over us. This, in essence, is the crux of social control, and this mechanism belongs to the paradigm of the old world and will have no place in a post-transition world.

Many of us are unsuspecting as to the degree of insecurity that governs our perceptive abilities. We focus on the immediate and seemingly ignore the long term, despite the long term having the greater urgency in scale. Our social institutions and media continue to reinforce the immediate and short term, thus strengthening our social myopia.

Our early history equipped us to live in relatively stable environments within small communities. Challenges were in the short term and nearby. The human mind thus evolved to deal with low-impact, short-term changes. The world that made our mind is now gone, and the world we have created around us is a new world; paradoxically, it is a world that we have developed limited capacity to comprehend.

It is fair to say that we now have a mismatch between the human mind we possess and the world we inhabit. Most of the momentous changes in our cultural history have taken place in the past 100 years. These days, we don’t have that luxury of time as events (with long-term consequences) are rapidly changing around us, before human cultural evolution has had time to readapt.

Cultural evolution has worked more or less well until the present century; now, it finds itself hampered by an outdated human perceptual system. Contemporary society still relies too heavily — and unconsciously — on ancient modes of thought and ancient styles of thinking. This begs the question: Can a collective and rapid change of mind occur on this planet? In the words of neurologist Robert Ornstein, “Conscious evolution needs to take the place of unconscious cultural evolution.”

Our old mind was set up to be on the lookout for insecurities and fear-inducing situations — it was our survival apparatus. Yet this apparatus has continued to be reinforced through social conditioning. What is required now is a reinvigoration of vision: Everything that we have culturally achieved has been the result of human vision. The human imagination is a primary force; it allows the intervention of energies and guidance. It is both creative and destructive, and through it we are able to manifest the world we envision.

We now need to upgrade our visionary capacity, to open up more fully to inspired thoughts and guidance. To fail to do so will be a great loss for our species, as these are critical times for the instinctive perceptual faculties, and we need to bring these new organs of perception into being. In Masnavi, a three-volume work of mystical poetry, the revered Persian poet Jalalludin Rumi writes:

New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity.
Therefore, O man, increase your necessity, so that you may
Increase your perception.

Every change requires a change in consciousness — this has always been the case. The 21st century will not be a place for business as usual; it will be a new epoch, and as such, it deserves a corresponding consciousness.

Follow Kingsley Dennis, Ph.D. on Twitter:


Related Articles:

Dr. Judith Rich: Are We Being Good Ancestors?

Are we being good ancestors? Or will we go down in history as the generation that sold out to greed, who allowed our nation to ignore the needs of the many?

Andrew Z. Cohen: The Evolutionary Need to Understand Consciousness

In light of the reality of our postmodern predicament, engagement with spiritual inquiry becomes very potent and inherently meaningful.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: How Our Consciousness Affects the Environment

How can we then “face the facts” and take real responsibility for our outer situation if we do not know or acknowledge what is happening in our inner environment, in the inner world of our own soul and the soul of the world?

Sandra Ingerman: How to Be Harmonious in a Changing World

As we continue to experience change to the Earth due to climate changes, it is important for us to shift our perspective about what is happening.

Plastics Industry Influencing CA State Environmental Education Curriculum

Plastics Industry Influencing CA State Environmental Education Curriculum


Posted 30 August 2011, by Californians Against Waste, The Ecology Center,


Early in August, Rolling Stone Magazine reported that single-use plastic bag manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council have launched well-funded campaigns to overturn bans on plastic bags and “cast doubt on legitimate scientific studies” by anti-bag activists. As a result, California’s Environmental Education Curriculum, a program launched by California’s Environmental Protection Agency to raise awareness and activism regarding climate change in K-12 public schools, contains what Californians Against Waste deems false and misleading information.


Plastic bag lobbying group influences curriculum


Posted 19 August 2011, by Susanne Rust (California Watch), San Francisco Chronicle(Hearst Communications),


Under pressure from a lobbying group for the plastics industry, California school officials edited a new environmental curriculum to include positive messages about plastic shopping bags, interviews and documents show.

The rewritten textbooks and teacher’s guides coincided with a public relations and lobbying effort by the American Chemistry Council to fight proposed plastic bag bans throughout the country, including one eventually approved in San Francisco.

But despite the positive message, activists say plastic bags kill marine animals, leach toxic chemicals, and take an estimated 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.

In 2009, a private consultant hired by state school officials added a new section to the 11th-grade teacher’s edition textbook called “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags.” The title and some of the textbook language were inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the chemistry council.

The additions included: “Plastic shopping bags are very convenient to use. They take less energy to manufacture than paper bags, cost less to transport, and can be reused.”

Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year – almost all of which are thrown into the garbage. Grocery stores and other retailers spend about $4 billion a year to purchase the bags for customers.

“The American Chemistry Council obviously got engaged to protect their bottom line,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County), author of the 2003 legislation requiring that environmental principles and concepts be taught in the state’s public schools. She was unaware of the lobby’s efforts until contacted by California Watch.

Testing the curriculum

The environmental curriculum, which took seven years to develop, is being tested at 20 school districts that include 140 schools and more than 14,000 students. An additional 400 school districts have signed up to use the curriculum, according to Bryan Ehlers, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant secretary for education and quality programs.

Of those 400 districts, three are in the Bay Area – New Haven Unified School District in Union City, Napa Valley Unified School District and Guerneville Elementary School District, the agency said.

“Parents should be outraged that their kids are going to be potentially taught bogus facts written by a plastic-industry consultant suggesting advantages of plastic bags,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a recycling and environmental lobbying group.

The chemistry council declined to comment in detail about its work on California’s environmental curriculum. But its views were made known to the state during a period of public review and comment on the curriculum.

The group said it “takes exception to the overall tone, instructional approach and the lack of solutions offered – most especially the lack of mention of the overall solution of plastic recycling,” wrote Alyson Thomas, senior account executive with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, a lobbying firm retained by the trade group.

Removing the additions

Kenneth McDonald, spokesman for the California Department of Education, said he was not aware that the trade group’s edits had been included. He said the development and editing of the content was Cal/EPA’s responsibility.

The education department’s sole duty was to review the curriculum for accuracy, content and overt bias, he said. “Whether or not there was corporate input, nothing problematic was seen,” he said of the changes.

After hearing from California Watch about the chemical industry additions and edits, Pavley said she would write to Cal/EPA to ask officials to remove some of the trade group’s additions. She said the rest of the curriculum was excellent.

As Cal/EPA began preparing the curriculum in 2004, it called together industry trade groups and environmental organizations to provide advice on writing the new curriculum.

A representative from the American Chemistry Council was present at the meeting. So were representatives from oil giant BP, National Geographic and the California Ocean Science Trust. The American Chemistry Council did not provide any financial backing for the development of the curriculum.

By 2009, the curriculum was mostly written, and the chemistry council once again weighed in with criticisms and suggested edits for a section in the 11th-grade text that portrays plastic bags as harmful to the environment.

At the time, the trade group was fighting state and city plastic shopping bag bans across the country. In 2010, it successfully squashed legislation that would have banned plastic bags in California. It was unsuccessful in San Francisco and Los Angeles County, which in recent years have imposed bans.

Although the group will not say how much money it spent on advertising and lobbying the issue, state documents show it has spent more than $9 million lobbying government agencies since 2003.

Control over edits

The state had handed the bulk of the curriculum development and editing responsibility to Gerald Lieberman, director of the State Education and Environment Roundtable, a nonprofit group working to enhance environmental education in schools. Lieberman said the state gave him discretion over whether to include editorial suggestions and comments from outside sources.

The first edit of the teacher’s edition had been highly critical of plastic shopping bags. It highlighted the long decomposition rate of the bags and their threat to marine life and ocean health. That information remains in the text.

A letter with the chemistry council’s comments about the 11th-grade curriculum was presented to Lieberman in 2009 as submissions during a nine-month public comment period. “I never made changes to the text anywhere, in any of the units, that I didn’t see as improving the educational value of the materials, or I would not have made the changes,” he said.

Lieberman incorporated almost all of the trade group’s suggestions into the teacher’s edition, which provides the context and lesson plan for the course. He added the section on the benefits of plastic bags after the chemistry council complained in a letter: “To counteract what is perceived as an exclusively negative positioning of plastic bags issues, we recommend adding a section here entitled ‘Benefits of Plastic Shopping Bags.’ ”

California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Contact Susanne Rust at

This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


(Ed Note: Please visit the original site for a photo gallery and other content associated with this article.)

Hannah Arendt’s Challenge To Adolf Eichmann


Hannah Arendt’s Challenge To Adolf Eichmann


Posted 31 August 2011, by Judith Butler (The Guardian), The New Significance,


In her treatise on the banality of evil, Arendt demanded a rethink of established ideas about moral responsibility.

Hannah Arendt

Fifty years ago the writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the end of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major figures in the organisation of the Holocaust. Covering the trial Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil”, a phrase that has since become something of an intellectual cliche. But what did she really mean?

One thing Arendt certainly did not mean was that evil had become ordinary, or that Eichmann and his Nazi cohorts had committed an unexceptional crime. Indeed, she thought the crime was exceptional, if not unprecedented, and that as a result it demanded a new approach to legal judgment itself.

There were at least two challenges to legal judgment that she underscored, and then another to moral philosophy more generally. The first problem is that of legal intention. Did the courts have to prove that Eichmann intended to commit genocide in order to be convicted of the crime? Her argument was that Eichmann may well have lacked “intentions” insofar as he failed to think about the crime he was committing. She did not think he acted without conscious activity, but she insisted that the term “thinking” had to be reserved for a more reflective mode of rationality.

Arendt wondered whether a new kind of historical subject had become possible with national socialism, one in which humans implemented policy, but no longer had “intentions” in any usual sense. To have “intentions” in her view was to think reflectively about one’s own action as a political being, whose own life and thinking is bound up with the life and thinking of others. So, in this first instance, she feared that what had become “banal” was non-thinking itself. This fact was not banal at all, but unprecedented, shocking, and wrong.

By writing about Eichmann, Arendt was trying to understand what was unprecedented in the Nazi genocide – not in order to establish the exceptional case for Israel, but in order to understand a crime against humanity, one that would acknowledge the destruction of Jews, Gypsies, gay people, communists, the disabled and the ill. Just as the failure to think was a failure to take into account the necessity and value that makes thinking possible, so the destruction and displacement of whole populations was an attack not only on those specific groups, but on humanity itself. As a result, Arendt objected to a specific nation-state conducting a trial of Eichmann exclusively in the name of its own population.

At this historical juncture, for Arendt, it became necessary to conceptualise and prepare for crimes against humanity, and this implied an obligation to devise new structures of international law. So if a crime against humanity had become in some sense “banal” it was precisely because it was committed in a daily way, systematically, without being adequately named and opposed. In a sense, by calling a crime against humanity “banal”, she was trying to point to the way in which the crime had become for the criminals accepted, routinised, and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance.

If Arendt thought existing notions of legal intention and national criminal courts were inadequate to the task of grasping and adjudicating Nazi crimes, it was also because she thought that nazism performed an assault against thinking. Her view at once aggrandised the place and role of philosophy in the adjudication of genocide and called for a new mode of political and legal reflection that she believed would safeguard both thinking and the rights of an open-ended plural global population to protection against destruction.

What had become banal – and astonishingly so – was the failure to think. Indeed, at one point the failure to think is precisely the name of the crime that Eichmann commits. We might think at first that this is a scandalous way to describe his horrendous crime, but for Arendt the consequence of non-thinking is genocidal, or certainly can be.

Of course, the first reaction to such an apparently naive claim may be that Arendt overestimated the power of thinking or that she held on to a highly normative account of thinking that does not correspond to the various modes of reflection, self-muttering, and silent chatter that goes by that name.

Indeed, her indictment of Eichmann reached beyond the man to the historical world in which true thinking was vanishing and, as a result, crimes against humanity became increasingly “thinkable”. The degradation of thinking worked hand in hand with the systematic destruction of populations.

Although Arendt focuses on Eichmann’s failure to think as one way of naming his ultimate crime, it is clear that she thinks the Israeli courts did not think well enough, and sought to offer a set of corrections to their way of proceeding. Although Arendt agreed with the final verdict of the trial, namely, that Eichmann should be condemned to death, she quarreled with the reasoning put forward at the trial and with the spectacle of the trial itself. She thought the trial needed to focus on the acts that he committed, acts which included the making of a genocidal policy.

Like the legal philosopher Yosal Rogat before her, Arendt did not think that the history of anti-semitism or even the specificity of anti-semitism in Germany could be tried. She objected to Eichmann’s treatment as a scapegoat; she criticised some of the ways that Israel used the trial to establish and legitimate its own legal authority and national aspirations. She thought the trials failed to understand the man and his deeds. The man was either made to stand for all of nazism and for every Nazi, or he was considered the ultimately pathological individual. It seemed not to matter to the prosecutors that these two interpretations were basically in conflict. She thought that the trial necessitated a critique of the idea of collective guilt, but also a broader reflection on the historically specific challenges of moral responsibility under dictatorship. Indeed, that for which she faulted Eichmann was his failure to be critical of positive law, that is, a failure to take distance from the requirements that law and policy imposed upon him; in other words, she faults him for his obedience, his lack of critical distance, or his failure to think.

But more than this, she faults him as well for failing to realise that thinking implicates the subject in a sociality or plurality that cannot be divided or destroyed through genocidal aims. In her view, no thinking being can plot or commit genocide. Of course, they can have such thoughts, formulate and implement genocidal policy, as Eichmann clearly did, but such calculations cannot be called thinking, in her view. How, we might ask, does thinking implicates each thinking “I” as part of a “we” such that to destroy some part of the plurality of human life is to destroy not only one’s self, understood as linked essentially to that plurality, but to destroy the very conditions of thinking itself.

Many questions abound: is thinking to be understood as a psychological process or, indeed, something that can be properly described, or is thinking in Arendt’s sense always an exercise of judgment of some kind, and so implicated in a normative practice. If the “I” who thinks is part of a “we” and if the “I” who thinks is committed to sustaining that “we”, how do we understand the relation between “I” and “we” and what specific implications does thinking imply for the norms that govern politics and, especially, the critical relation to positive law?

Arendt’s book on Eichmann is highly quarrelsome. But it is probably worth remarking that she is not only taking issue with the Israeli courts and with the way in which they arrived at the decision to punish Eichmann to death. She is also critical of Eichmann himself for formulating and obeying a noxious set of laws.

One rhetorical feature of her book on Eichmann is that she is, time and again, breaking out into a quarrel with the man himself. For the most part, she reports on the trial and the man in the third person, but there are moments in which she addresses him directly, not on the trial, but in her text. One such moment occurred when Eichmann claimed that in implementing the final solution, he was acting from obedience, and that he had derived this particular moral precept from his reading of Kant.

We can imagine how doubly scandalous such a moment was for Arendt. It was surely bad enough that he formulated and executed orders for the final solution, but to say, as he did, that his whole life was lived according to Kantian precepts, including his obedience to Nazi authority, was too much. He invoked “duty” in an effort to explain his own version of Kantianism. Arendt writes: “This was outrageous, on the face of it, and also incomprehensible, since Kant’s moral philosophy is so closely bound up with man’s faculty of judgment, which rules out blind obedience.”

Eichmann contradicts himself as he explains his Kantian commitments. On the one hand, he clarifies: “I meant by my remark about Kant that the principle of my will must always be such that it can become the principle of general laws.” And yet, he also acknowledges that once he was charged with the task of carrying out the final solution, he ceased to live by Kantian principles. Arendt relays his self-description: “he no longer ‘was master of his own deeds,’ and … he ‘was unable to change anything’.”

When in the midst of his muddled explanation, Eichmann reformulates the categorical imperative such that one ought to act in such a way that the Führer would approve, or would himself so act, Arendt offers a swift rejoinder, as if she were delivering a direct vocal challenge to him: “Kant, to be sure, had never intended to say anything of the sort; on the contrary, to him every man was a legislator the moment he started to act; by using his ‘practical reason’ man found the principles that could and should be the principles of law.”

Arendt makes this distinction between practical reason and obedience in Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963 and seven years later she began her influential set of lectures on Kant’s political philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In a way, we can understand much of Arendt’s later work, including her work on willing, judgment and responsibility, as an extended debate with Eichmann on the proper reading of Kant, an avid effort to reclaim Kant from its Nazi interpretation and to mobilise the resources of his text precisely against the conceptions of obedience that uncritically supported a criminal legal code and fascist regime.

In many ways, Arendt’s approach is itself quite astonishing, since she is, among other things, trying to defend the relation between Jews and German philosophy against those who would find in German culture and thought the seeds of national socialism. In this way, her view recalls that of Hermann Cohen, who argued tragically in the early part of the 20th century that Jews would find greater protections and cultural belonging in Germany than in any Zionist project that would take them to Palestine.

Cohen thought universality belonged to German philosophy, rather than considering internationalist or global models that might provide an alternative to both nation-states. Arendt lacks Cohen’s naivete, and sustained an important critique of the nation-state. She reformulates Cohen’s project in a new social and political philosophy: truly staying with Kant or, rather, reformulating him for a contemporary social and political philosophy in a true sense would have stopped Eichmann and his cohorts, would have produced another kind of trial than the one she saw in Jerusalem, and would have redeemed the German-Jewish philosophical vocation – one that she tried to bring with her to New York. What had become banal was the attack on thinking, and this itself, for her, was devastating and consequential. Remarkable for us, no doubt, is Arendt’s conviction that only philosophy could have saved those millions of lives.