Desk Killer - a forthcoming book...
live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin’. The greatest
evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that
Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and
labour camps. in those we see its final result. But it is conceived and
ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed
and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails
and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”
Killing from a Desk
By shining a light into the world of the bureaucrats, planners and businessmen who contributed to Nazism and the Holocaust, the desk killer raises a critical question as to whether such an event can be viewed as a finished, historical episode or whether the psychology and behaviour that enabled genocide to occur then is not only still present today, but exists quite specifically both in the institutional culture of transnational corporations and in the mindset and activity of many individuals working for such corporations.
In post-war Germany’s attempt to come
to a reckoning with the Holocaust, particularly after the trial and conviction
of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 the term ‘schreibtischtaeter’ was
coined. This can be translated as ‘desk-murderer’. Strangely
this term has hardly ever been used outside Germany, despite its clear
relevence to much 20th century and contemporary capitalism.
“I see a man of around 50, coming back from his work in the City of London. It’s a soft summer’s evening, so there’s no need to put the car in the garage. He can hear the sound of his children’s voices coming from the garden, and he feels an acute sense of wellbeing as he walks around the side of the house, only pausing to smell the exquisite scent of the white roses he planted last year. Earlier that day, the man, a senior accountant at one of Britain’s leading oil corporations, had presented the final spreadsheets in the report which determined that a coastal area the size of Scotland in southern Nigeria would soon be developed. He cannot connect this fragrant evening in leafy north London with his work earlier that day. He cannot, or perhaps will not allow himself to, connect his life in London with the lives of those in Nigeria about to be devastated by his tapping at a keyboard.
Who was the senior accountant
who looked at the spreadsheets for this project?
|PLATFORM reasearch trip to Saurer in Arbon, Switzerland in August 2001|
Perhaps a starting
point would be to recognise a double proximity:
Firstly, the proximity of corporations to genocide. For example the enormous number of corporations, including many British and American transnationals, involved in supporting the German state between 1933 and 1939 - in some cases, quite literally fuelling Nazism. BP’s 3rd biggest oil market in the world in the 1930s was in Germany. Between 1932-38, almost mirroring the establishment of Nazism, BP’s oil exports to Germany doubled, with a particular increase in aviation fuel. In fact, in 1938, one of the most critical years in German re-armament, BP, Standard Oil (later Exxon) and Shell between them were supplying 58% of Germany’s oil.
“What for us today
appears to be the contradictory nature of Nazism in fact explains its
success: the connection between destruction and modernisation. Auschwitz
cannot be seen without the V.W. plant in Wolfsburg.”
Christian Pross, ‘Cleansing the Fatherland’
|Secondly, the behavioural proximity between
contemporary corporate mentality and ways of thinking supposedly from
a different time and a different culture.
“Had I been born twenty years later I would be a highly respected man today. Maybe the head of Daimler-Benz, Chairman of the Board of Hoechst, Chief Executive of Deutsche Bank.”
Albert Speer, quoted in ‘Speer’ by Esther Vilar
The prototype concentration camp? De Beers company compound, Kimberley, South Africa, 1880’s
A genocidal psychology does not come out of a clear
sky, but is the result of many years, often hundreds of years of prejudice,
oppression and violence. What has been the damage to our collective psyche
of hundreds of years of colonial-ism? What does it do to a country when
a pattern of ‘successful violence’ is repeated again and again?
On some days you can look around our society and almost everything seems
to be founded upon the suffering of others - be it the marbled buildings
of the City of London or the pillars of the Tate Gallery.
Yet how often do we really question the right of a British transnational corporation to be operating in a developing world country? In an era of ‘globalisation’ you cannot even ask this question. Of course there is consensus that the British Empire is over, only a small minority regret its passing - yet, at its root, perhaps military violence has simply been replaced by economic violence? Harder to see and for that reason more pernicious.
What has our material comfort been founded upon? What do we allow to happen in our name?
|“Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Buenos Aires
& Pacific Railway, City of Bahia, Durban Roodepoort Deep Ltd,
Indian Copper Corporation, Imperial Chemical Industries, Panama Corporation
Ltd... an inventory of the British Empire. Suddenly, momentarily,
I could see the skull beneath the skin...... I don’t feel we’ve
begun, as a culture, to ‘open our minds and spirits to suffering’
with regard to our history. And I often think about how our children,
and grandchildren will judge us in this regard - not just in our collective
failure to come to terms with our past, or even try to, but in what
this means to our relationship to the present. On some days the continuum
between the British Empire and British transnationals seems overwhelming.”
from the performance 'killing us softly'
The XV1 Brigade of the Colombian Army, closely associated with security for BP facilities, has been implicated in human rights abuses. Here soldiers and BP staff observe a community meeting about BP's oilfield developments.
Breaking through the Compartmentalisation of Mind
|“I accuse Shell and Chevron of practising
racism against the Ogoni people because they do in Ogoni what they
do not do in other parts of the world where they prospect for oil.
I accuse the oil companies of encouraging genocide against the Ogoni
people... The profits from oil come to Britain because it is their
technology that is keeping Nigerian oil going. So they have a moral
responsibility to intervene... My mission has been to inform the West
of the truth of what is happening in Nigeria, which has been hidden
from them. I believe if people knew they’d do something about
it and stop this robbery and murder that is going on in broad daylight.”
Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ogoni writer and anti-Shell activist, 1993, killed by the Nigerian Government on 10/12/95
“To reassure you however,
of the dreadful things I knew nothing. The Americans told me later
that they never thought I did. Even so, I’m not entirely content
to leave it at that, for I ask myself what, given my lofty position,
I could have found out had I wanted to. Even then, perhaps not everything,
but certainly a great deal... I saw my fate, if you like as God’s
judgement - not for having infringed any laws (for my transgressions
in that sense were comparatively minimal) but for the deeper guilt
of having so readily and unthinkingly gone along.”
Out of all the research
carried out so far in the desk killer into different
aspects of what is known as ‘perpetrator psychology’ the most
disturbing, and recurring, theme has been that of mental and emotional
compartmentalization - the process which allows a seemingly ‘civilised’
or ‘moral’ individual to participate in systems and organisations
which have terrifyingly destructive end results. Although such compartmentalisation
is a clear feature of both historical examples of perpetrator psychology
and contemporary corporate psychology, it is remarkable that so little
research has been conducted into this phenomenon.
With more analysis of patterns of deep-rooted psychology and behaviour, we hope to contribute to a significant shift in the way our society and its corporations function - that we may be able to contribute to a growing understanding of the hidden violence of contemporary capitalism.
|“The planet today is the battlefield of a 4th world war (the 3rd was the so-called ‘Cold War’). The aim of the belligerants is the conquest of the entire world through the market. The arsenals are financial; there are nevertheless millions of people being maimed or killed every moment... Globalisation is merely the totalitarian extension of the logic of the finance markets to all aspects of life.”||“.. The first step towards building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the world picture implanted in our minds and all the false promises used everywhere to justify and idealise the delinquent and insatiable need to sell. Another space is vitally necessary... First, a horizon has to be discovered. And for this we have to re-find hope - against all the odds of what the new order pretends and perpetrates.... The act of resistance means not only refusing to accept the absurdity of the world picture offered us, but denouncing it. And when hell is denounced from within, it ceases to be hell.”|
from an exchange of letters between Subcommandante Marcos and John Berger, 1999
In August 1999, PLATFORM walked between Goethe's house in Weimar and the Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany - a distance of 10,166 steps