The roots of the new work trace back to the 1920s and the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who said the human mind was shaped by social activity and culture, beginning in childhood. The self, he hypothesised, was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, the cognitive territory just beyond reach and impossible to tackle without some help. Children build learning partnerships with adults to master a skill in the zone, said Vygotsky, then go off on their own, speaking aloud to replace the voice of the adult, now gone from the scene. As mastery increases, this ‘self-talk’ becomes internalised and then increasingly muted until it is mostly silent – still part of the ongoing dialogue with oneself, but more intimate and no longer pronounced to the world. This voice – at first uttered aloud but finally only internal – was, from Vygotsky’s perspective, the engine of development and consciousness itself.
August 27, 2019
Another good essay in the Atlantic analyzed the use of the word "evil" in response to the recent weekend of mass shootings. It found that the word was used as a way of avoiding clear and difficult thinking and action. An excerpt:
But there is a difference between acknowledging evil and using it as a scapegoat. There is a difference between the evil that is invoked to inspire conversations and the evil that is invoked to curtail them. Many of the weekend’s political deployments of “evil” served to proclaim the innocence of the system that has allowed mass shootings to become reliably atmospheric occurrences. An unbelievable amount of evil that we cannot comprehend. It conveys an easy kind of ignorance. Crime … boy, I don’t know.
Evil, summoned in this way, is an extension of thoughts and prayers. It suggests, in the face of human-made terror, not only a kind of complacency, but also a kind of helplessness. It treats the violence of mass murder—the shock; the grief; the two-month-old baby whose fingers are broken because his mother, fatally shot, apparently fought desperately to shield him from the bullets—as an abstraction. Evil is its own explanation, the logic goes; it is not interested in causes or effects. It does not want to talk about the violent ideology of white supremacy, or the mechanics of double-drum magazines, or the fact that, in the United States, a person can go to a store and purchase a military-grade weapon with the convenience of benevolent legality. Evil does not want to talk about the National Rifle Association. It makes no room for the uncomfortable details. Evil, used as a talking point, both throws up its hands and washes them.
This is the use of bad political language that Orwell warned us about. Or the use of cliche that shuts down thinking and empathy that Hannah Arendt warned us of in Eichmann in Jerusalem. Thank goodness we have her analysis of the banality of evil. Yes, these attacks are evil, but evil is not something incomprehensible about which we can do nothing effective. Evil is banal and we can rid ourselves of it by taking the right steps.