The Banality of Violence.

Our troubling indifference to suffering.

A man putting his head in the sand. Image Description: A man putting his head in the sand.

Summary: Watching Sean Hannity casually ask Curtis Sliwa to turn the cameras toward Sliwa’s Guardian Angels crew “taking down” a person they perceived to be an undocumented migrant in the streets of New York stuck with me. This particular moment falls so far down on the list of horrifying takes from Hannity and Fox News but for some reason it hit a nerve. The detached indifference of the brief affair prompted me to revisit the writings of Hannah Arendt, one of the great 20th Century philosophers who tackled totalitarianism and morality. This sent me on a journey to examine the way in which the tragedy in Gaza is covered, how we speak about undocumented migrants in this country and our relationship with violence in general.

“The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” -Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Amidst the daily pressures of life, the 2024 election looms like a dark cloud on the horizon; inescapable and foreboding. A fractured American electorate will be herded together like zombies on a single day to cast their lot with two nearly indistinguishable political apparatuses. It’s little wonder why polling data is so untrustworthy—we’re all mad at the same people for different reasons. Awash in anecdotes that promote confirmation bias, the American people are united in their disunity and struggling to piece together a semblance of order.

Dumb content from dumb people relentlessly streaming through smart phones and smart TVs, pounding away at us like a hailstorm. Chopped up stories of manufactured outrage have only accelerated in the age of artificial intelligence that makes it easy to conceive, package, distribute and promote noxious hot takes through the media hellscape governed by tech overlords. And thus, we are uncomfortably numb. Numb to the horrors unfolding in the world around us. Numb to the images out of Gaza that flood our social media apps. Numb to the bodies we step over in the street. Numb to the violence in rhetoric, legislation and actions of our fellow travelers on earth.

Since October 7 of 2023, 1,130 Israeli citizens have been killed by Hamas. In response, the number of Palestinian casualties as of this recording are as follows:


  • Killed: 28,340, including 12,150 children and 8,300 women.
  • Injured: : 67,984, including 8,663 children and 6,327 women.
  • Missing: 7,000 (presumed dead)

The Occupied West Bank

  • Killed: 390, including 102 children
  • Injured: 4,450

On February 14, 2024, the U.S. State Department announced that Mohammad Ahmed Mohammad Khdour, a 17-year-old Palestinian American and U.S. citizen was shot in the head by the IDF while sitting in his car in the Occupied West Bank.

Last month The New York Times ran a rather optimistic piece titled “The Decline of Deaths in Gaza.

“For more than a month now, the Biden administration and other allies of Israel have been urging its leaders to scale back the war in Gaza. A more targeted battle plan, these allies have said, could reduce civilian casualties while still weakening Hamas. Some Israeli officials have made the same argument.


“It’s now clear that Israel’s leaders have followed the advice, at least partially. The Israeli military announced a strategic shift two weeks ago. It has reduced the number of troops in northern Gaza. And the most tangible sign of the change is the decline in deaths among Gazan residents, as reported by the Hamas-controlled local government.”

And yet, while 123 million Americans tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, a record viewership, Israel commenced a bombing campaign in Rafah located in Southern Gaza. This is where the vast majority of the displaced Gazans from the north were told to flee as the IDF leveled entire cities, hospitals, every single university and even cemeteries for good measure. 16 cemeteries to be exact. Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu blithely stated on U.S. television that the refugees in Rafah were given plenty of warning to return to the north in advance of the bombings. Of course, there is no place for these refugees to go and no ability to get there. And so they waited. And more were murdered.

And there it is.

The right word.


The word The New York Times conveniently omitted when talking about the carnage in Gaza. A “decline in deaths.” Death is the result.

He died.

Really, how?

Heart attack.


He died.

Really, how?

He was murdered.

Very different narratives.


The way we talk about conflict and violence matters and yet we have become so immune to horror that we don’t think twice when reading something as benign as “a decline in deaths.” Apart from tone, frequency matters as well. As The Intercept reports:

“In the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, the words “Israeli” or “Israel” appear more than “Palestinian” or variations thereof, even as Palestinian deaths far outpaced Israeli deaths. For every two Palestinian deaths, Palestinians are mentioned once. For every Israeli death, Israelis are mentioned eight times — or a rate 16 times more per death that of Palestinians.”


Numb to the banality of violence.

Hannah Arendt remains one of the most important historians and philosophers of the 20th century. She’s responsible for the phrase, “The Banality of Evil”, which is taken from her book of the same name in which she reflects on the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi credited for architecting the Final Solution.

Judith Butler, a modern day giant in the fields of philosophy and gender studies, understands Arendt as deeply as anyone. In The Guardian a few years back Butler offered this view of Arendt’s work:

“Her indictment of Eichmann reached beyond the man to the historical world in which true thinking was vanishing and, as a result, crimes against humanity became increasingly ‘thinkable’. The degradation of thinking worked hand in hand with the systematic destruction of populations.”

No need to wonder what Arendt would make of our society today.

As a German-American Jewish scholar writing in the mid-century, Arendt had many thoughts and connections to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. While she favored the creation of a safe haven for the Jewish people, she was hardly a fan of the Zionist project and thought the native Arab population should live equally among Jewish refugees in a secular political state that was collaboratively formed. Even during Eichmann’s trial, Butler writes:

“Arendt did not think that the history of anti-semitism or even the specificity of anti-semitism in Germany could be tried. She objected to Eichmann's treatment as a scapegoat; she criticised some of the ways that Israel used the trial to establish and legitimate its own legal authority and national aspirations. She thought the trials failed to understand the man and his deeds.

“The man was either made to stand for all of nazism and for every Nazi, or he was considered the ultimately pathological individual. It seemed not to matter to the prosecutors that these two interpretations were basically in conflict. She thought that the trial necessitated a critique of the idea of collective guilt, but also a broader reflection on the historically specific challenges of moral responsibility under dictatorship. Indeed, that for which she faulted Eichmann was his failure to be critical of positive law, that is, a failure to take distance from the requirements that law and policy imposed upon him; in other words, she faults him for his obedience, his lack of critical distance, or his failure to think.”

This is Thoreau’s civil disobedience to the Nth degree. Support for the war in Gaza among Israeli citizens remains incredibly high, a sentiment Netanyahu does not enjoy as his approval ratings continue to falter. Support within the halls of power in the United States remains just as high despite the obvious collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

A growing number of young voters and ethnic minority groups are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza at a minimum. But the Biden administration appears ready to ride out the storm and hope that the slaughter turns to background noise by the time of the election. Even our supposed allies in the region are incapable of changing the administration’s calculus in Gaza.

Taking the podium at the White House after a meeting between leaders, King Abdullah II of Jordan implored a visibly uncomfortable President Biden to take action to halt the genocide. Before Addullah took to the podium, Biden offered his own remarks. They began with the usual both sides-ism admonishment before acknowledging the imminent assault on Rafah and included another verbal gaffe in which he referred to it as “our military operation.”

Biden: “The King and I also discussed the situation in Rafah. As I said yesterday our military operation of Rafah - the major military operation of Rafah - should not proceed without a credible plan, a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of more than 1 million people sheltering there. Many people there have been displaced, displaced multiple times fleeing the violence to the north and now they're packed into Rafah; exposed and vulnerable. They need to be protected, and we have also been clear from the start, we oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.”

And yet, with America’s eyes trained to Taylor and Travis, the operation began. Are we really that powerless to change the facts on the ground in Gaza? I know this much: our money and our mouths are in two different places. We’re saying one thing but funding another as the Senate just wrapped up another bill to send money to Israel and Ukraine.

The powerful in this country are riding roughshod over the objections of the people. And as righteous as many are in calling for an end to the atrocities, the leaders we elect to represent us are making us complicit by proxy through money and munitions. We are one step removed from the IDF soldier who partakes in the massacre of children with American weapons. The same soldier who is failing to “take distance from the requirements that law and policy imposed upon him,” as Butler suggests. Arms length distance in the United States makes us less complicit than those who pull the trigger in blind obedience, but complicit nonetheless. This is a national disgrace.

Mercenary Mindset

We need a better class of leadership in this country. But do we deserve it? There are barbarians at the gate scheming to manufacture the next atrocity for profit. Take Erik Prince who recently proclaimed on his own podcast that perhaps it’s time for us to recolonize parts of Latin America and the whole of Africa.

EP: “All this, all this talk of illegal migration in Europe, in the United States. It ultimately comes down to a contest of what is governance who is govern, which countries are governed well—and if so many of these countries around the world are incapable of governing themselves, then, then it's time for us to just put, to just to to put the imperial hat back on to say we're going to govern those countries if you're incapable of governing yourselves because enough is enough. We're done being invaded.

Interviewer: “Because our own National Security risk is at stake.”

EP: “Exactly.”

Interviewer: “Our own national security interests are at stake.”

EP: “You can say that about pretty much all of Africa. They’re incapable of governing themselves and benefiting their citizens because the governments there are all about looting and pillaging and lining their pockets and going shopping in Paris instead of actually… making their country better.”

Interviewer: “Hold on a second, now people on the left are going to watch this they're going to say wait a minute Eric Prince is talking about being a colonialist again.”

EP: “Absolutely.”

The pretense for this statement was a discussion about the U.S./Mexico border. Prince blames what he calls ungovernable countries for global migration crises rather than the destabilizing effects of capitalism, neocolonialism and climate change. Prince is currently the head of a private equity firm but he’s most known for his connections to several armed mercenary groups such as Blackwater, which he founded. And here’s why this douchebag’s sentiments matter.

First off, he is referred to as a shadow advisor to Donald Trump. So his star may be on the rise once again. Second, these kinds of destabilizing war efforts are familiar to him. He’s not just some talking head, he’s literally the godfather of modern mercenary warfare. Oh, and he’s Betsy DeVos’s brother. But here’s the part that I found most dangerous about this conversation:

EP: “Some countries are really getting it together. Look at what El Salvador did with Bukele. Murder capital of Latin America. He said no more. Now El Salvador is safer than Prince William County.”

I mentioned Bukele of El Salvador in the newsletter a couple of times now. His staggering reelection numbers are a big deal in Latin America and we need to pay attention to them here in the United States as well. For years, El Salvador has been one of the largest countries of origin for migrants entering through the southern border. According to State Department data, “El Salvador went from fourth largest source of migration to the United States in 2020 to 11th largest source in 2023.”

Credit is being given to the administration of self-styled CEO and tech bro Nayib Bukele who refers to himself as “the world’s coolest dictator.” Bukele rose to fame as a dynamic mayor of a relatively small town all the way to the presidency where he has stymied political opponents and traditional parties every step of the way. Aside from flashy projects and declaring Bitcoin a bankable currency, Bukele has captivated the imagination of Salvadorans through his extreme incarceration policies of gang members. Of all the dubious rankings to achieve, El Salvador now has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.

Over just a couple short years Bukele has turned El Salvador into a veritable police state rounding up tens of thousands of citizens suspected of having gang affiliations. As a result, crime has plummeted, the economy has gained traction and Salvadorans no longer fear for their lives on a daily basis. A clear tension for those who value civil liberties, habeas corpus and natural rights.

This is different from admiring Orbán of Hungary or Kim Jong Un of North Korea. These leaders might captivate the likes of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump but they occupy relatively little space in our collective minds. Bukele, on the other hand, is very much in our orbit because of the number of Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S. and its geographic proximity. But mostly because it’s offering conservative figures a blueprint to reform our border policies.

Liberals have long made the case that perhaps fewer people would try to seek asylum in the United States if we stopped destabilizing Latin American economies and supported them instead. Neoliberal exploits of the past aimed to overthrow democratically elected regimes in order to denationalize industries. Today’s inverted totalitarian state run by oligarchs is content to sell arms and tactical training and expertise to dictators. No need to hand over the keys to your primary industries.

Practically speaking we might not be able to secure the southern border with a wall or enough drones, but we know how to foment civil war and overthrow regimes in the southern hemisphere. Erik Prince is just saying the quiet part out loud here. Bukele’s success through authoritarian means will undoubtedly inspire neighboring nations who have seen an upsurge in migrant activity as their economies struggle. All eyes on Ecuador and Honduras, both of which have experienced political instability and upticks in violence in recent years.

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine many Americans even caring if this comes to fruition. The other night Sean Hannity was interviewing former New York City mayoral candidate, talk show host and face of the famed Guardian Angels Curtis Sliwa. During the interview, Sliwa pointed behind the camera and told Hannity that some of his guys were “taking down” a migrant at which point Hannity asked him to move the camera in that direction.

Several of the Guardians were pummeling a citizen they assumed was an undocumented immigrant. Turns out it was just some dude from the Boogie Down Bronx who was trying to disrupt the interview. Hannity shrugged it off. Fox issued a half-hearted apology the next day. The Guardians went about their merry way and the man who was accosted was given a summons for disorderly conduct. And the world kept turning.

Hannity’s nonplussed response to a man being beaten on camera is all of us.

Imagine years from now Palestinians putting us on trial, showing us footage and asking us what the fuck we were thinking allowing these atrocities to happen. They would point to corporate oligarchs like Erik Prince who darken the hallways of power and speak about imperialism with impunity. They would enter our treatment of migrants into evidence. Condemn our obedience, our lack of critical distance, our failure to think.

The recent special election in New York’s CD-3, the infamous George Santos district, was itself a condemnation of our humanity. Journalists, pundits and pollsters are twisting themselves in knots to analyze the results and glean insight into Tom Suozzi’s winning strategy. I said prior to the election, as this is my district, that it would be treated as a bellwether. In the end, the preposterous amount of money that was poured into the race was the difference as the Democrats spent millions of dollars flooding the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes and inboxes.

The Republican differentiating message was to paint Suozzi as a woke politician who supported Joe Biden 100% in his previous terms. Laughable if you know Suozzi. The Democrats pounded the Republican candidate Mazi Pilip with abortion ban fear mongering. But it’s where they campaigned on common ground that reveals the true story. Immigration and Israel.

As the special election headed into the final days it became a contest of who could support Israel more vociferously and who would be tougher on undocumented migrants. In the end, Suozzi’s name recognition and financial backing spoke the loudest. Even The Daily Show joked that it was a foregone conclusion because Democrats are supposed to win in New York.

Whether you think this race was a bellwether and a roadmap for Democratic victory, name recognition of an incumbent or a victory for fundraising prowess, what should concern us all is that both campaigns were covertly militant and hostile toward suffering.

Indifference is complicity.

Here endeth the lesson.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).