Conspiracy is an intriguing 2001 HBO film on the Wannsee Conference, called to resolve (as referred to in the movie) the “Jewish question.” Based on the only surviving transcript of the event, it ends with an agreement to carry out the “Final Solution,” leading to the murder of six million Jews.
Strip off the glamor of the actors portraying the movie’s true to life characters (Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth, Tom Hiddleston), one chillingly realizes how utterly unremarkable, how petty, many of the attendees to that meeting were. Smug government bureaucrats, arrogant military men, academics greedy for acknowledgment of their expertise.
In short, Conspiracy was a filmization of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil,” the idea that supposedly ordinary people — under specific conditions involving restrictions on freedom, a political environment that devalues critical thinking and opposing thought, as well as diminishing the value of human beings and human dignity — could be led into doing atrociously evil acts. In interviews and lectures, Dr. Jordan Peterson reminds people of the need to be vigilant with regard to the exercise of virtue and to be aware of the lessons of history. Doing so, Dr. Peterson claims, would make us realize that many of us, had we been living during 1930s Germany, would have supported Adolf Hitler.
Statistically, this is plausible. In the early 1930s, the Nazi party garnered votes from around 30-40% nationwide along its rise to power. By 1940-41, Adolf Hitler was said to have a personal popularity of 90% amongst the German population.
Philippine history has its parallels. For all the indoctrination mainstream media and the academe have imposed on the young, still it cannot be denied that Ferdinand Marcos garnered 61% of the votes cast in the 1969 elections (beating Sergio Osmeña, Jr.), his Nationalista party won six of eight seats up for election that year (with 70.8% of the popular vote); 95.3% of the “citizen assemblies” ratified the Marcos-backed Constitution. A six out of 10 Supreme Court majority upheld that ratification. Martial law, imposed in 1972, lasted nine years on the basis of either popular support or by silent acquiescence.
The point is, despite many of today’s people confidently proclaiming their willingness to fight for freedom and rights, most will likely side with tyranny. Or, at least, as Dr. Peterson points out, many will just be cowed and do nothing. Inevitably, it is a very rare individual who would stand up and defend right when such a position is unfashionable, unpopular, or even dangerous. Princeton’s Robert P. George once related: “I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly against it.
“Of course, this is nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of them, or of any of us, would have spoken up against slavery or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them — and us — would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefited from it.”
Unfortunately, this world’s “longest lockdown” our country is going through just demonstrates this truth all too clearly: the rise of irrationality and fear masquerading as “science,” the willing disregard of liberty and the rule of law inanely justified to ‘save all lives,” and the livid demand for homogeneity of belief in the liberal progressive narrative regarding COVID-19 and the public wearing of masks.
Filipinos in the future will look back at this time and be astounded that our countrymen meekly agreed to being locked up for no good reason, that a minority of narcissists were allowed to bully everyone into wearing masks, face shields, and even hazmat suits just to go to the grocery (despite near consensus by peer reviewed studies on the futility of public mask policies), and that our government actually encouraged citizens to snitch on their neighbor.
Social media is replete with supposedly “tolerant,” “inclusive,” and liberal-minded individuals shrieking death for others simply because the latter pointed out that tuberculosis is more lethal than COVID-19 and similarly transmissible.
Local public commentators have been seen loudly (if quite derangedly) wishing for the death of every person expressing sympathy for US President Donald Trump when the latter was infected with COVID-19.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his The Gulag Archipelago, wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
We have to improve our civics knowledge, to support familial and religious formation for our citizens, and vigorously uphold the idea that dissent is the heart of our constitutional democracy. Otherwise, we might end up not only banal but evil as well.
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.