Some weeks ago, I witnessed, at Croatian-Slovenian border a mild act of what would belong to “Banality of Evil”, by Hannah Arendt. I witnessed a very unimportant event, almost an everyday circumstance of yet another uninformed driver passing through Slovenia. I was sharing a ride with a driver from Europe, driving through Slovenian highway, who was stopped at the border for not having a vignette (The vignette is a tolling sticker that enables usage of Slovenian motorways and expressways during a limited time period to all drivers of vehicles whose maximum permissible weight is up to 3.5 tones., description taken from official site of DARS d.d.). Driver, according to my experience was obviously an inexperienced driver who hasn’t informed himself about the tolling system of Slovenia. I didn’t doubt his honesty at the border crossing for he was very surprised and disturbed when he found out that he must pay 150 EUR fine at the spot. Being uninformed in 21st century has its price. His documents were taken away from him and he would receive them only after he pays the fine. Without a driving license he cannot continue his journey, and without an ID for sure he cannot cross the Schengen border with Croatia.
--- while writing, I am using the impersonal form of writing – a passive form in English his documents were taken away from him, obviously for no reason, cause that is the way something is simply done in writing, that is a proper way of informing in many languages, that’s a norm prescribed by the expository style of writing ---
In reality, the documents of the driver couldn’t just jump out from his wallet, jump out there in the place of the great Unknown. When you work with children, you start getting it again, cause they ask you, Why? Or How? And the story can’t continue without an answer, or developing another story from an initial story.
So WHY and HOW did those documents jump out of the wallet somewhere out in the unknown Universe.
The European driver handed his documents dutifully in the hands of fine lady working for DARS, a Slovenian state company that is in charge in tolling system of Slovenia. The lady employer of DARS was very kind, although the driver obviously was very upset by the fact that there was no easily visible sign that anyone using Slovenian highways is obliged to buy vignette. The lady even agreed with him trying to soften his growing anger caused by a belief of injustice. There was no visible sign! How could I know?, he almost yelled. I understand you mister, but these are the rules and I cannot do anything about it., said the DARS lady. You will be given your documents back after you pay the 150 EUR fine.
--- You will be given. --- instead of --- I will give you back the documents. --- for it is the lady who has the documents, who is entitled to (somebody obviously must have entitled her too) take and return the documents. ---
The photo was borrowed from https://internationalman.com/articles/the-highwayman/
So this everyday drama through which DARS is collecting money from ignorant drivers went on for some 30 minutes until the driver finally gave up, paid the fine and drew away.
The DARS lady employer was kind up to the moment she got irritated too, using the very well-known discourse of many working at similar positions: Mister, you are complaining to me in vain, because I have nothing to do with making up the rules. You are free to write a complaint. I have absolutely nothing to do with it.
She has absolutely nothing to do with it.
The same way the driver had nothing to do with his inexperienced act of entering a highway without informing himself on time.
In good old times we had highwaymen; today we have taxes and tolling systems. In good old times, if someone robbed you; if a highwayman robbed you and he or she was caught, he or she would be responsible for the act of crime; later on punished or killed.
But the injustice of fines in a tolling or tax system cannot be punished or killed.
And all those working in that system are highly NOT-responsible for the money they are collecting from the travelers.
I was irritated on the other hand, from both sides, drivers ignorance, and Lady employer’s indifference, and tried out a little trick while translating free of charge and informal for the lady and for the driver – yet fully responsible for my translation! And fully responsible for the act of provocation I did to see what would happen. After the driver paid the fine, while receiving a receipt, I informed the DARS lady that we are planning to write a story about this event in the newspaper. In that very moment, the DARS lady changed her behavior completely, yelling at me as a threat: I give you no permission of publishing my name in public! If my name ends up in newspaper I will sue you! There is my name at this receipt and if you publish it, I will sue you!
I, the irritator, responded:
But how, if you are not responsible for what is being pursued here, Mrs. XY, I read her name from the receipt. It’s just a name and you’re only a worker, you said it yourself so many times. You have absolutely nothing to do with how DARS is charging fines, you’re only stopping cars, taking documents and collecting money. You have nothing to do with it, indeed. You are not, by your will, part of the action that seems suspicious from another perspective, and maybe even from your own perspective. You are kind and full of understanding and you are just working here. I wish you a good day Mrs. XY,, for your task is not easy at all! I understand you!
In comparison with so many others, we can consider ourselves lucky that we could cross the border at all.
You’re lucky as long there is someone unluckier than you; that will say, someone who was made or even born unluckier than yourself. This situation with DARS is actually ridiculously unimportant even to be mentioned. Still, it carries something universal in itself for many border crossings: that someone tells you what to do and what not to do. State borders are the best places for the demonstration of power. And this power, as a very abstract phenomenon in its essence, channels through all those individuals who have absolutely nothing to do with it, those individuals who are performing the power consider themselves not be the source of the rule they are performing, or the source of the power. They claim not to be having any responsibility while being directed by a certain rule as puppets without further influence. They are equal to machines that receive a certain input and create an output.
Similar to family separations in USA; there is a puppet at the border crossing who has to separate a child from a parent, puppets who have to use their hands and engage their body musculature and the central nervous system in order to take the child from a parent who is crossing the border without a permit. And we will read the news: Children were taken away from their parents.
--- A certain individual separated families having absolutely nothing to do with it. ---
An individual diligently following the given task. The given task, more precise put, the task another individual passed on to him or her, from a puppet to a puppet. No responsibility at all of grabbing a child and driving it to many unknown districts where they have been kept for months. A cruel act, an inhuman act, an act of crime, an act of evil, separating a child from a parent, legalized from the state. And some individual puppet did it, without any problem, as Hannah Arendt put it, through thoughtlessness and inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else, another ordinary bureaucrat or an ordinary performer of rules, normally performing a given task without questioning it.
Photo borrowed from: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/07/family-separation-border-lawsuit-630368
Recently on Facebook this photo popped out. A photo of special troops of the state Brazil moving the Kayapo tribe from their ancestral territory.
Photo taken from Facebook
This photo captured very clearly a young police officer performing a given task, removing people from the land that according to law of Brazil obviously doesn’t belong to them anymore. I am stunned by the clarity of this young man’s face. I am sure if someone sues the state for deportation of Kayapo people from their land, this young man wouldn’t have absolutely anything to do with it. His personal decision that he will be recruited for this job wouldn’t play any role whatsoever. Although his hands were crucial in taking away a Kayapo person from the land, his body musculature and his will to use his body musculature in exactly the way which would result that not a single Kayapo tribe member would be standing on that piece of land anymore.
The clarity of this photo captures me!
The clarity of this photo captures me through the clarity of the young men’s personal responsibility in the same way the photo captured the young man in his personal decision to support the given order; the order someone gave him. The clarity of the photo is the clarity that a personal responsibility is equal to responsibility of a highly ranked individual who created the rule; is equal to the responsibility of the communion and is equal to the source of the power. The only difference is that capturing the young man (or any other individual system puppet) as it used to be done with highwaymen, wouldn’t solve the whirling source of power wrapped and supported with violence and terror. The abstract power beyond you and me. The power you serve to. You and me, only ordinary thoughtless highwaymen, bureaucratic highwaymen, servants, mechanisms and well programmed puppets are channeling the abstract notion of power through a violent act. We will be living lives knowing the power is not in us, and will spend lives chasing that power which is out of us, somewhere out and will be playing power games and will be trying to capture the power. To capture the clarity of power. The closest we can get to that power will be only by identifying ourselves with the power, and the definite proof for that will be that under us in hierarchy there are many individual puppets who have absolutely nothing to do with source of the power. The source of the power which, by some chance and through many acts of violence, treasury, societal vampirism and deceits has been borrowed to us – borrowed to the picture of us, the picture of me, to self-notion, to our identification.
In that moment I am the one who has captured the whirl of the power, I am Hitler and Staljin and Mao Tze Tung, and The Young Man from the photo. I am the One! I am responsible! I have the power! I! The power is mine!
The picture of power as a picture of threat and welcoming death, the photo captured while I was performing, it is I, The Young Man and my hands that separated the children and parents, pulled the triggers, moved the tribes, killed, enslaved, raped, made the rules. We are the same. We are all caught in one photo. The responsibility is only one. The clarity of responsibility is only one. And that is an individual one, a personal, that one which has absolutely everything to do with what I have done and what I have used my body for and my hands and my legs, my eyes, my mouth, my words and occasionally, my own driven thoughts.
The photo captured me the same way I captured the people from the tribe. I am the One. I am responsible. And You! You are responsible too! You!
--- while writing, I am using the personal form of writing driven occasionally by my own thoughts ---
More on Kayapo people: http://www.kayapo.org/index-3.html