When Adolph Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem for his role in the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt, a respected Jewish scholar who fled Nazi Germany, wrote of the “banality of evil”, which, among other things suggested the former SS official was just an ordinary person who simply followed orders because he was unable to think for himself. Why was he unable to think for himself? Because evil had become so common place in Nazi Germany as to be accepted as the norm.
Not to diminish the horrors of the Holocaust, but a parallel to this can be found right here in Saint John today where citizens are so used to giving the Irving’s anything and everything they want, they no longer see it as undeserved special treatment but normal, acceptable behaviour. It has now become common place for local politicians, apparently with the approval of citizens, to circumvent laws and regulations to ensure that billionaires get wealthier while thousands of children in the city go hungry because of their family’s limited opportunities.
It is no secret that Saint John has the highest child poverty rate in all of Canada, not to mention the highest rate of family violence, all in the shadow of one of the richest industrialists on the continent, who, by the way, squirrel their money away in offshore bank accounts. And yet it wasn’t that long ago that the city, with the blessing of the province, gave the Irving’s a $200-million tax break on their LNG terminal after being lied to and bullied into submission. Now, council is discussing whether to change the rules once again to favour the Irvings, to give them a variance (an escape clause) on heritage zone regulations for a new world headquarters building in uptown Saint John. That it is too tall and too close to the sidewalk means nothing to anyone (except one brave heritage property developer who is appealing it) although, I believe, similar reasons were given previously for rejecting construction of an IMAX theatre on the site of the old Woolworth’s building. Of course, the Irvings weren’t involved in that plan so no special treatment was requested, nor given. Nor did citizens rally in support of the project, although it would have potentially launched an innovative theatre district and led to a boom for local businesses that so often complain how Saint John is “dead at night”.
Ms. Arendt, in referring to Adolph Eichmann, noted that his inability to think for himself was exemplified by his consistent use of “stock phrases and self-invented clichés”. The same could be said for many Saint Johners today as they spout off all the reasons why Irving should once again be afforded special treatment. “If we don’t show our support for things that hopefully will come to Saint John, then nothing will happen,” said June Croft at a recent rally in support of the project. “We need it a lot, like, you see everything closing around us,” said another supporter.
Lost somewhere in the translation is the fact that “everything is closing” despite the fact that the Irvings have already been given the shop. In other words, licking the boots of the city’s wealthiest family has done nothing to improve the lot of the common man or woman. And yet, today, we have a caretaker council with just a month left in its mandate, once again prepared to bow down to the will of the Irvings. Shame on them all and shame on all those citizens in sheep’s clothing; always so ready, so willing, to express their banality. So normal, so very, very normal in the face of all that is so extraordinarily abnormal.