The Point of the Dagger

A dagger is pointed at the heart of America. Its point is the deliberate misuse of the English language for the purpose of influencing how Americans speak and think. If the dagger is driven home, reason itself will be the principal victim.

Reason is the human faculty concerned with forming good conclusions and making sound judgments.[1] It is the power of intelligent thought, and it takes us step by step on a journey to knowledge. We use words to take that journey because, as the English philosopher Francis Bacon once observed, words are the "footsteps of reason."

But, as Bacon understood quite well, words are a form of code. It is what they stand for that carries meaning, not the words themselves. Thus, to be meaningful, words must be faithful to what they describe. When words lack fidelity, they cease to convey authentic meaning and become an obstacle in the path to knowledge.

In America today, it isn't difficult to find linguistic infidelity. A few conspicuous examples suffice to illustrate the point:

  • Undocumented immigrants for illegal aliens
  • English plus for Spanish language education
  • Economic justice for criminally confiscatory tax policies
  • Tax rebates for government handouts to people who pay no taxes
  • Tax loopholes for legal ways that people can try to keep their own money
  • Affirmative action for legally mandated racism
  • Equal employment opportunity for legally required ethnic and gender quotas
  • Reproductive health services for abortion clinics
Each of these linguistic deceits is an individual affront to reason, as are thousands of others just like them. But what is more important is that they are part of a deliberate campaign to manipulate our language in order to control how Americans speak and think.

More than three hundred years after the death of Francis Bacon, another Englishman by the name of George Orwell warned about the dangers of totalitarian language manipulation. In his book 1984, Orwell described a society that controls what people think by the propagandistic use of a language called Newspeak.[2]

Newspeak narrowed the range of human thought and shaped how people perceived reality by using manipulative words and phrases instead of authentic vocabulary. In Orwell's book, any ideas that the power elite considered objectionable became literally unthinkable because "Big Brother" simply eliminated the words that expressed those ideas; and "Thought Police" made sure nobody used the remaining vocabulary in a way that expressed ideas the power elite considered unacceptable.

1984 was published in 1949, and sixty years later an Orwellian derivative of Newspeak is poised like a knife to strike at the vitals of America.[3] Of course, the modern power elite does not advertise itself as the ideological descendant of Big Brother, and its totalitarian functionaries don't call themselves Thought Police. But the purpose of their movement is to strip the English language of its ability to communicate in any manner that the power elite considers unacceptable,[4] and the apparatchiks of the elite are just as determined as the Thought Police to control how people speak and how they think.

We have all become familiar, of course, with the transformation of our language by political elites who habitually invoke the name of "the people" while governing in an arbitrary and dictatorial fashion.[5] In an excellent article for the National Taxpayers Union, Mark Schmidt cites a few examples of this phenomenon and concludes that if the Orwellian trend in American politics continues, "our language will ultimately be useless to express the ideas that form the basis of rational political discourse in a healthy republic."

The same process of Orwellian language manipulation is being pursued by America's religious elite. In an article entitled "Making a Revolution by Changing the Meaning of Words," Frank Mobbs alerts Christians to the fact that "familiar religious words have apparently lost their original meanings." Many leading Scripture scholars, he says, "continue to use orthodox-sounding expressions, but behind these are radically different intentions and definitions"

Yet, as alarming as Orwellian language manipulation is in politics and religion, it is even more insidious in the American education system. For at least thirty years, the education elite has been manipulating words, textbooks, and course curricula in order to fabricate a "narrative" that will reshape the thinking of American students in ways that the elite considers more acceptable.[6] In the process, the education establishment has produced millions of supposedly well-educated citizens who lack a critical understanding of the significance of Western civilization in general and American history in particular. Charlton Heston recognized this in a 1999 speech he gave at Harvard Law School, in which he called the education elite to account for subverting America's campuses with

"political correctness ... that's about to hijack your birthright to think and say what resides in your heart."

In his speech, Heston noted that PC-speak is part of a "culture war" being waged against America. A similar idea is expressed in a 2003 article for Newsmax by Paige McKenzie, in which she observed that by

"infiltrating ... the halls of government at every level -- along with the movie theater, the media, the work place and particularly the classrooms -- the radical left has taken control of America's culture, political language and national identity."

McKenzie's article goes on to supply some illuminating quotes from David Horrowitz's book Left Illusions.

Horrowitz, one of the intellectual luminaries of what used to be known as the New Left, provides valuable insight into the culture war being waged against America. He correctly observes that

"It is culture that is the crucial factor in shaping the American identity, not ethnicity or race ...The left's multicultural offensive is an attack on America's national culture, not on its racial or ethnic composition. ‘Inclusion' and ‘diversity' are not the real agendas of the left ... [Their] agenda is the deconstruction of America's national identity and culture and particularly the American narrative of inclusion and freedom. The multiculturalism narrative is not about the assimilation of minorities into the crucible of American freedom, but their liberation from American ‘oppression.'" [Emphasis added.]

In describing the agenda of the radical left as the "deconstruction of America's national identity and culture," Horrowitz exposes the real purpose of the Orwellian language manipulation we are seeing in our country today. But the end game of the radical left isn't just the deconstruction of traditional America; it is the reconstruction of America according to the precepts of a radical left totalitarian ideology. In a speech entitled "The Origins of Political Correctness," Bill Lind traces how traditional economic Marxism morphed into the "cultural Marxism" that drives the radical left's attempt to transform America today. In his speech, Lind notes that economic Marxism and cultural Marxism both:

  • Give special status and power to certain people at the expense of other members of society, not because they have earned it by their own merit, but because they are members of a "victim" group. In economic Marxism, it is the "workers" who are seen as victims and therefore entitled to wrest power from the "capitalists" and the "bourgeoisie." In cultural Marxism, it is blacks, Hispanics, feminists, homosexual activists, and similar "victim" groups who are entitled to take power from "white society." In both economic and cultural Marxism, anyone who objects to the totalitarian tactics used by the members of a victim group must be ridiculed, "reeducated" and punished.[7]
  • Look at history through the prism of a single-factor explanation. In economic Marxism, history is seen as being determined by who owns the means of production. Cultural Marxism says that history is determined by which group - defined in terms of race, sex, etc. - has power over which other group. Thus, "Deconstruction essentially takes any text, removes all meaning from it and re-inserts any meaning desired. So we find, for example, that all of Shakespeare is about the suppression of women, or the Bible is really about race and gender."
  • Rely on expropriation of wealth to empower members of the "victim" group. In Russia, for example, "... they expropriated the bourgeoisie, they took away their property.[8] In America, "when the cultural Marxists take over a university campus, they expropriate through things like quotas for admissions." In fact, "affirmative action in our whole society today is a system of expropriation."

Lind concluded his article by observing that although cultural Marxism is on the rise in America, "we don't recognize it because we call it Political Correctness ..."

He leaves his readers with this grim warning about political correctness:

"[I]t's growing and it will eventually destroy ... our freedom and our culture."

These are frightening words. And they might be prophetic unless the American people begin to resist the Orwellian language manipulation that is taking place in our country. To do that, we have to recognize that there is nothing "correct" about political correctness. It is a propagandistic use of language designed to influence how we think to such an extent that the cultural Marxists will have a free hand to deconstruct America and replace it with their own totalitarian vision of society.

In their war against America, the cultural Marxists are counting on the assistance of a powerful tactical ally -- the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.[9] That is why the cultural Marxists put such a premium on the propagandistic use of language in politics, media, and education. They know that if the people can be lulled into complacency about political correctness, the war is already half won. And they know that linguistic deception is the easiest way to ensure people's complacency.

The cultural Marxists also know that Truth is their enemy, but they do not understand that truth is more than a mere inconvenience -- something to be suppressed whenever they think it is expedient to do so. What they don't grasp is that Truth is a palpable reality, an actual force in the Universe; and it is far more powerful than the ideology of cultural Marxism. Unbeknownst to the cultural Marxists, Truth carries a unique resonance in the human heart, and regardless of how long it takes the conscious mind to receive the messages of the heart, anything less than the Truth will ultimately be perceived as dissonant and rejected by the human spirit.

Contrary to the view of cultural Marxists, it is the human spirit - not human ideology -- that is the infallible arbiter of human history. And human history teaches that when we lay the foundations of civil society on the ground of untruth, we build civilization on quicksand. No matter how many resources we devote to propping up such a construction, it will inevitably slip into obscurity. That is why the forces of cultural Marxism that are seeking to build a totalitarian society in America through linguistic deceit will ultimately fail. But the death of the noble experiment that is America may well be the interim price of their failure, and a great many American lives may end up being sacrificed on the altar of their totalitarian ideology before Truth can restore the balance.

Francis Bacon once said that "reason with speech" is a gift from God. By divorcing words from their true meanings and delegitimizing words with authentic meanings, the cultural Marxists are turning their backs on a divine gift and threatening reason itself. For those who understand that words are the "footsteps of reason," the lesson is quite clear. The antidote to cultural Marxism in America is an authentic vocabulary - one that vigilantly preserves linguistic fidelity. "It is time," as Wendy McElroy put it, "to reclaim the richness of the English language ... verb by verb, adjective by adjective." Anything less will be inadequate to stay the hand that holds the dagger that is pointed at the heart of America.

Jed Gladstein is an attorney, author and educator.


[1]  There is a school of thought that reason is somehow opposed to faith. However, reason is the mechanism we use to understand what is currently knowable at the empirical level. Faith is the mechanism we use to understand the exponentially greater part of reality that is currently unknowable at that level.

[2]  Largely by virtue of the book 1984, the word Orwellian has now achieved the status of a colloquial expression in the English language. It means the political manipulation of words by people in authority for the purpose of concealing the truth and eliminating ideas they consider objectionable. In 1984, any word, phrase or idea whose existence made it more difficult for the power elite to propagate and enforce its own point of view was ipso facto deemed objectionable.

[3]  America isn't the only country threatened by Orwellian language manipulation. It threatens all of Western civilization. Indeed, even the word civilized has now been delegitimized in England.

[4]  A recent example is afforded by Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano's refusal to use the word "terrorism" even once during her confirmation testimony before Congress. Although the primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security "is to prevent terrorist attacks" on America, and the department was created as a direct result of the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Napolitano insists on using the phrase "man-caused disasters" because "we want to move away from the politics of fear." [Emphasis added.] According to Napolitano, the American people are supposed to accept this Orwellian manipulation of the English language as a mere "nuance."

[5]  In a rare peek behind the façade of modern representative democracy, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently announced to a group of largely indifferent mainstream media reporters at the Washington D.C. Press Club that the Obama administration intends to "coerce people out of their cars." [Emphasis added.] The totalitarian thinking that lies behind LaHood's remark is the rule, not the exception, for the political elite in this country. Whatever one may think about LaHood's professed objectives, his evident willingness to coerce Americans, rather than persuade them, is inherently repugnant to anyone who honors free will and understands the proper function of law in society. (See: Law and Lawfulness in a Civilized Society)

[6]  Although individual instances are easy to find, it would be a task of almost herculean proportions to compile a complete list of Orwellian manipulations by the education elite in this country. There are, however, some excellent articles available on the World Wide Web, and there are many books that deal with the subject, such as Diane Ravitch's The Language Police - How Pressure Groups Restrict What Our Students Learn.

[7]  Lind notes that "terror against anyone who dissents from Political Correctness" is part of cultural Marxism, just as it has been part of economic Marxism. His criticism is harsh but suggestive. We don't have Gulags and involuntary commitments to "psychiatric hospitals" for social dissenters in America (at least not yet), but cultural Marxists are making significant inroads on our freedom of thought and speech. As Wendy McElroy notes, American students are often required to attend so-called "sensitivity training" sessions as part of a re-education process that includes public ridicule and humiliation for whites and males because of their race and sex. As for punishment, one only needs to look at what happened to Carrie Prejean, who lost the Miss USA pageant and her position as Miss California-USA because she publicly declared her non-PC belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

[8]  Expropriation is the preferred method for totalitarians on both the left and the right to seize power from those who disagree with them, and to secure the grateful obedience of their followers. It amounts to legalized theft and social bribery. It is actually a tactical maneuver of questionable strategic significance, but it has the short-term virtue of being easier to accomplish than creating new wealth.

[9]  Hannah Arendt coined the evocative phrase "the banality of evil" to describe the atrocities that can flow from "the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction."

A dagger is pointed at the heart of America. Its point is the deliberate misuse of the English language for the purpose of influencing how Americans speak and think. If the dagger is driven home, reason itself will be the principal victim.

Reason is the human faculty concerned with forming good conclusions and making sound judgments.[1] It is the power of intelligent thought, and it takes us step by step on a journey to knowledge. We use words to take that journey because, as the English philosopher Francis Bacon once observed, words are the "footsteps of reason."

But, as Bacon understood quite well, words are a form of code. It is what they stand for that carries meaning, not the words themselves. Thus, to be meaningful, words must be faithful to what they describe. When words lack fidelity, they cease to convey authentic meaning and become an obstacle in the path to knowledge.

In America today, it isn't difficult to find linguistic infidelity. A few conspicuous examples suffice to illustrate the point:

  • Undocumented immigrants for illegal aliens
  • English plus for Spanish language education
  • Economic justice for criminally confiscatory tax policies
  • Tax rebates for government handouts to people who pay no taxes
  • Tax loopholes for legal ways that people can try to keep their own money
  • Affirmative action for legally mandated racism
  • Equal employment opportunity for legally required ethnic and gender quotas
  • Reproductive health services for abortion clinics
Each of these linguistic deceits is an individual affront to reason, as are thousands of others just like them. But what is more important is that they are part of a deliberate campaign to manipulate our language in order to control how Americans speak and think.

More than three hundred years after the death of Francis Bacon, another Englishman by the name of George Orwell warned about the dangers of totalitarian language manipulation. In his book 1984, Orwell described a society that controls what people think by the propagandistic use of a language called Newspeak.[2]

Newspeak narrowed the range of human thought and shaped how people perceived reality by using manipulative words and phrases instead of authentic vocabulary. In Orwell's book, any ideas that the power elite considered objectionable became literally unthinkable because "Big Brother" simply eliminated the words that expressed those ideas; and "Thought Police" made sure nobody used the remaining vocabulary in a way that expressed ideas the power elite considered unacceptable.

1984 was published in 1949, and sixty years later an Orwellian derivative of Newspeak is poised like a knife to strike at the vitals of America.[3] Of course, the modern power elite does not advertise itself as the ideological descendant of Big Brother, and its totalitarian functionaries don't call themselves Thought Police. But the purpose of their movement is to strip the English language of its ability to communicate in any manner that the power elite considers unacceptable,[4] and the apparatchiks of the elite are just as determined as the Thought Police to control how people speak and how they think.

We have all become familiar, of course, with the transformation of our language by political elites who habitually invoke the name of "the people" while governing in an arbitrary and dictatorial fashion.[5] In an excellent article for the National Taxpayers Union, Mark Schmidt cites a few examples of this phenomenon and concludes that if the Orwellian trend in American politics continues, "our language will ultimately be useless to express the ideas that form the basis of rational political discourse in a healthy republic."

The same process of Orwellian language manipulation is being pursued by America's religious elite. In an article entitled "Making a Revolution by Changing the Meaning of Words," Frank Mobbs alerts Christians to the fact that "familiar religious words have apparently lost their original meanings." Many leading Scripture scholars, he says, "continue to use orthodox-sounding expressions, but behind these are radically different intentions and definitions"

Yet, as alarming as Orwellian language manipulation is in politics and religion, it is even more insidious in the American education system. For at least thirty years, the education elite has been manipulating words, textbooks, and course curricula in order to fabricate a "narrative" that will reshape the thinking of American students in ways that the elite considers more acceptable.[6] In the process, the education establishment has produced millions of supposedly well-educated citizens who lack a critical understanding of the significance of Western civilization in general and American history in particular. Charlton Heston recognized this in a 1999 speech he gave at Harvard Law School, in which he called the education elite to account for subverting America's campuses with

"political correctness ... that's about to hijack your birthright to think and say what resides in your heart."

In his speech, Heston noted that PC-speak is part of a "culture war" being waged against America. A similar idea is expressed in a 2003 article for Newsmax by Paige McKenzie, in which she observed that by

"infiltrating ... the halls of government at every level -- along with the movie theater, the media, the work place and particularly the classrooms -- the radical left has taken control of America's culture, political language and national identity."

McKenzie's article goes on to supply some illuminating quotes from David Horrowitz's book Left Illusions.

Horrowitz, one of the intellectual luminaries of what used to be known as the New Left, provides valuable insight into the culture war being waged against America. He correctly observes that

"It is culture that is the crucial factor in shaping the American identity, not ethnicity or race ...The left's multicultural offensive is an attack on America's national culture, not on its racial or ethnic composition. ‘Inclusion' and ‘diversity' are not the real agendas of the left ... [Their] agenda is the deconstruction of America's national identity and culture and particularly the American narrative of inclusion and freedom. The multiculturalism narrative is not about the assimilation of minorities into the crucible of American freedom, but their liberation from American ‘oppression.'" [Emphasis added.]

In describing the agenda of the radical left as the "deconstruction of America's national identity and culture," Horrowitz exposes the real purpose of the Orwellian language manipulation we are seeing in our country today. But the end game of the radical left isn't just the deconstruction of traditional America; it is the reconstruction of America according to the precepts of a radical left totalitarian ideology. In a speech entitled "The Origins of Political Correctness," Bill Lind traces how traditional economic Marxism morphed into the "cultural Marxism" that drives the radical left's attempt to transform America today. In his speech, Lind notes that economic Marxism and cultural Marxism both:

  • Give special status and power to certain people at the expense of other members of society, not because they have earned it by their own merit, but because they are members of a "victim" group. In economic Marxism, it is the "workers" who are seen as victims and therefore entitled to wrest power from the "capitalists" and the "bourgeoisie." In cultural Marxism, it is blacks, Hispanics, feminists, homosexual activists, and similar "victim" groups who are entitled to take power from "white society." In both economic and cultural Marxism, anyone who objects to the totalitarian tactics used by the members of a victim group must be ridiculed, "reeducated" and punished.[7]
  • Look at history through the prism of a single-factor explanation. In economic Marxism, history is seen as being determined by who owns the means of production. Cultural Marxism says that history is determined by which group - defined in terms of race, sex, etc. - has power over which other group. Thus, "Deconstruction essentially takes any text, removes all meaning from it and re-inserts any meaning desired. So we find, for example, that all of Shakespeare is about the suppression of women, or the Bible is really about race and gender."
  • Rely on expropriation of wealth to empower members of the "victim" group. In Russia, for example, "... they expropriated the bourgeoisie, they took away their property.[8] In America, "when the cultural Marxists take over a university campus, they expropriate through things like quotas for admissions." In fact, "affirmative action in our whole society today is a system of expropriation."

Lind concluded his article by observing that although cultural Marxism is on the rise in America, "we don't recognize it because we call it Political Correctness ..."

He leaves his readers with this grim warning about political correctness:

"[I]t's growing and it will eventually destroy ... our freedom and our culture."

These are frightening words. And they might be prophetic unless the American people begin to resist the Orwellian language manipulation that is taking place in our country. To do that, we have to recognize that there is nothing "correct" about political correctness. It is a propagandistic use of language designed to influence how we think to such an extent that the cultural Marxists will have a free hand to deconstruct America and replace it with their own totalitarian vision of society.

In their war against America, the cultural Marxists are counting on the assistance of a powerful tactical ally -- the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.[9] That is why the cultural Marxists put such a premium on the propagandistic use of language in politics, media, and education. They know that if the people can be lulled into complacency about political correctness, the war is already half won. And they know that linguistic deception is the easiest way to ensure people's complacency.

The cultural Marxists also know that Truth is their enemy, but they do not understand that truth is more than a mere inconvenience -- something to be suppressed whenever they think it is expedient to do so. What they don't grasp is that Truth is a palpable reality, an actual force in the Universe; and it is far more powerful than the ideology of cultural Marxism. Unbeknownst to the cultural Marxists, Truth carries a unique resonance in the human heart, and regardless of how long it takes the conscious mind to receive the messages of the heart, anything less than the Truth will ultimately be perceived as dissonant and rejected by the human spirit.

Contrary to the view of cultural Marxists, it is the human spirit - not human ideology -- that is the infallible arbiter of human history. And human history teaches that when we lay the foundations of civil society on the ground of untruth, we build civilization on quicksand. No matter how many resources we devote to propping up such a construction, it will inevitably slip into obscurity. That is why the forces of cultural Marxism that are seeking to build a totalitarian society in America through linguistic deceit will ultimately fail. But the death of the noble experiment that is America may well be the interim price of their failure, and a great many American lives may end up being sacrificed on the altar of their totalitarian ideology before Truth can restore the balance.

Francis Bacon once said that "reason with speech" is a gift from God. By divorcing words from their true meanings and delegitimizing words with authentic meanings, the cultural Marxists are turning their backs on a divine gift and threatening reason itself. For those who understand that words are the "footsteps of reason," the lesson is quite clear. The antidote to cultural Marxism in America is an authentic vocabulary - one that vigilantly preserves linguistic fidelity. "It is time," as Wendy McElroy put it, "to reclaim the richness of the English language ... verb by verb, adjective by adjective." Anything less will be inadequate to stay the hand that holds the dagger that is pointed at the heart of America.

Jed Gladstein is an attorney, author and educator.


[1]  There is a school of thought that reason is somehow opposed to faith. However, reason is the mechanism we use to understand what is currently knowable at the empirical level. Faith is the mechanism we use to understand the exponentially greater part of reality that is currently unknowable at that level.

[2]  Largely by virtue of the book 1984, the word Orwellian has now achieved the status of a colloquial expression in the English language. It means the political manipulation of words by people in authority for the purpose of concealing the truth and eliminating ideas they consider objectionable. In 1984, any word, phrase or idea whose existence made it more difficult for the power elite to propagate and enforce its own point of view was ipso facto deemed objectionable.

[3]  America isn't the only country threatened by Orwellian language manipulation. It threatens all of Western civilization. Indeed, even the word civilized has now been delegitimized in England.

[4]  A recent example is afforded by Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano's refusal to use the word "terrorism" even once during her confirmation testimony before Congress. Although the primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security "is to prevent terrorist attacks" on America, and the department was created as a direct result of the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Napolitano insists on using the phrase "man-caused disasters" because "we want to move away from the politics of fear." [Emphasis added.] According to Napolitano, the American people are supposed to accept this Orwellian manipulation of the English language as a mere "nuance."

[5]  In a rare peek behind the façade of modern representative democracy, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently announced to a group of largely indifferent mainstream media reporters at the Washington D.C. Press Club that the Obama administration intends to "coerce people out of their cars." [Emphasis added.] The totalitarian thinking that lies behind LaHood's remark is the rule, not the exception, for the political elite in this country. Whatever one may think about LaHood's professed objectives, his evident willingness to coerce Americans, rather than persuade them, is inherently repugnant to anyone who honors free will and understands the proper function of law in society. (See: Law and Lawfulness in a Civilized Society)

[6]  Although individual instances are easy to find, it would be a task of almost herculean proportions to compile a complete list of Orwellian manipulations by the education elite in this country. There are, however, some excellent articles available on the World Wide Web, and there are many books that deal with the subject, such as Diane Ravitch's The Language Police - How Pressure Groups Restrict What Our Students Learn.

[7]  Lind notes that "terror against anyone who dissents from Political Correctness" is part of cultural Marxism, just as it has been part of economic Marxism. His criticism is harsh but suggestive. We don't have Gulags and involuntary commitments to "psychiatric hospitals" for social dissenters in America (at least not yet), but cultural Marxists are making significant inroads on our freedom of thought and speech. As Wendy McElroy notes, American students are often required to attend so-called "sensitivity training" sessions as part of a re-education process that includes public ridicule and humiliation for whites and males because of their race and sex. As for punishment, one only needs to look at what happened to Carrie Prejean, who lost the Miss USA pageant and her position as Miss California-USA because she publicly declared her non-PC belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

[8]  Expropriation is the preferred method for totalitarians on both the left and the right to seize power from those who disagree with them, and to secure the grateful obedience of their followers. It amounts to legalized theft and social bribery. It is actually a tactical maneuver of questionable strategic significance, but it has the short-term virtue of being easier to accomplish than creating new wealth.

[9]  Hannah Arendt coined the evocative phrase "the banality of evil" to describe the atrocities that can flow from "the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction."