Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The banality of evil - Hizdahr zo Loraq

When Adolf Eichmann, one of the main culprits of the horrors, tortures and mutilations of the holocaust, was captured by the Israeli secret service Mossad and put on trial in Jerusalem, the Jewish political scientist Hannah Arendt was there to watch. She expected to see a monster in human flesh. Instead, she saw a middle-aged guy trying to weasel himself out of responsibility by referring to orders and the general “everyone did it”. She dubbed that she saw “the banality of evil”. If there were ever a trial for the masters of Meereen, Hizdahr zo Loraq would be one of the many, many banalities of evil.

You have to look at the life of the man. Hizdahr was born into one of the wealthiest and noblest families of Meereen, but he didn’t have to actually do all that much. His life was one of pleasant luxuries, cultivated boringness and casual violence. Hizdahr carries himself with the certainty of nobility, knowing full well that on the ladder of social relationships and rank, he occupies the top.

When Dany attacks Meereen, he is deposed, but not himself hurt. He loses some members of his family, I’d wager, but that only pushed him right on top of things, a position for which he was ostensibly prepared his whole life but has no real mental capacity. This of course opens the door wide to all kinds of people who actually did set their minds on what to do next. These people are Reznak, the Green Grace and the Wise Masters of Yunkai. For all of them, the idea of an amenable king on the throne is quite intriguing. They know him, he knows them, and there is a gentleman’s understanding about the insurgency at work. Masters don’t betray themselves to the usurper queen.

So they take the pleasing, harmless, courteous shell of a man that is Hizdahr zo Loraq and send him to Dany. Most likely he thinks it’s all his idea. He’s courting her to reopen the pits. For Hizdahr, the pits represent what he loved about the Old Way. Fun and games. He has no capacity for empathy with the pit fighters at all, because he’s friends with the top celebrities in the usual way that rich guys are friends with the lower classes. Those celebrities of course are the few winners of the system, working to uphold it because it benefitted them. It’s like Calvin Candie thinking that he gets along quite nicely with blacks because he befriends that badass black slaver Django, taking it as proof that the system works to their mutual benefit.

Hizdahr is no complete idiot, of course. He recognizes Dany’s weaknesses, and when he brings his celebrity friends along, Dany buys into the idea that her own people want her to reopen the pits. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but Hizdahr – always having an eye for appearances – seems to buy into her revolution, even shaving his hair and getting rid of the other symbols of old Meereen for her.

But don’t be fooled by a minute there. As soon as Dany agrees into the marriage pact with Hizdahr, he reverts back. Now it’s her who has to wear the “floppy ears”, not him. He rides around in a carriage carried by “free men” who have the choice of dying of hunger or carrying a rich dude around. And in the arena, he blatantly disregards Dany’s wishes about everyone fighting voluntarily because he never imagined she’s earnest about it. For him, two dwarves killed by lions aren’t people, they’re entertainment. And the same is of course true of his celebrity friends. When Barsena is killed by a boar in a gruesome fashion, he has no discernible emotional reaction to it. Hizdahr has reached all he wanted to reach. The Old Way he craved for is back, and all without a shot fired. Isn’t life great?

But Hizdahr’s callous disregard for the meaning of Dany’s revolution to which he only ever provided lip service becomes even more apparent once Dany is gone. Hizdahr instantly takes on slave prostitutes, only casually trying to preserve the fiction that there is no slavery in Meereen. Illyrio spelled it out for Tyrion: “There is no slavery in Pentos. Yet, they will not refuse you.” And isn’t that a comfy arrangement for a man of means, taste and culture like Hizdahr? Indeed, everything is going along quite nicely.

Had Hizdahr possessed more of a mind, if he really was the Harpy that Skahaz mo Kandaq is selling him as, then he would have secured his reign. He wouldn’t lazily talk about killing the Dornish, he wouldn’t be mildly annoyed by Barristan, he wouldn’t just put Skahaz on hold. But of course, Hizdahr isn’t the Harpy. He’s utterly lost in a position of responsibility, and you can see how his self-confidence immediately cracks when the Yunkish mercenaries, going rouge after the plague hit the camp, bring down the fine gentleman’s agreement that he made with all of them and that promised to restore all of their lives to the pleasant, stable removal of actual responsibility for anything that was before Dany’s conquest.

When Barristan, himself in over his head in the net of lies spun by the Shavepate, bursts into his room and rips away the veil of everything – Hizdahr’s sex slaves, his useless bodyguards, his lack of any control, his lack of any knowledge of pretty much everything despite what he wants to do – all of this comes crashing down. One could imagine him played by Dominic West, standing there and asking “What the fuck did I do?” What indeed? When Skahaz will come for him as soon as the battle with Yunkai is started, he will be genuinely surprised.

Yet, one shouldn’t have too much sympathy with the fool. It’s enablers like him that profit of a system of systemic cruelty and exploitation, and it’s people like him who give it a veneer of legitimacy and who stand in the way of meaningful change, unable to even comprehend what they are doing. They are serving evil, they are doing evil, they are evil, but they’re not even aware of it and unable to even take basic responsibility for their acts. Their banal, in every respect, and such, they represent the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt was writing about.


  1. Nice article! I still don't think the Shavepate is the "bad guy". He has everything to loose when Daenerys and her people leave or die.

    1. It's difficult talking about "bad guys" on this context. Please bear in mind that the Shavepate tortures indiscriminately, and that he wants to stage a massacre under the whole ruling elite, including all children. That's not exactly easily chalked off by "he wants to survive".

    2. I should have said "The Harpy" instead of "bad guy"! That's what I meant to say.

  2. Great article! Love your blog :)
    I think that overall it is a very interesting subject. I would say, though, that there is one major difference between Hizdahr and Eichmann, which lies in the intent and motivation . While Hizdahr was more of a 'useful idiot' as you say...Eichmann was acting with extremely high motivation and ideoligical belief in the 'cause' of exterminating the jewish race from the face of the planet. He used to take pride in his efficient work and was always willing to put in extra hours if it meant advancing one more step in the path of the final solution. I don't think that Hizdahr is capable of such a state of mind.

    1. I would never suggest such a thing. The Eichmann comparison was solely for the banality aspect.