Thursday, January 08, 2015


At one time I used to puzzle over the differences among natural law (like gravity), “divine” law handed down by God ("Thou shalt not kill."), and human law hammered out by governments trying to keep order.  Now I’ve added a new way of dividing the territory, which is “sin” versus “Evil.”  It’s really the same old “human law” versus “natural law” so I suppose the only change is some slight re-definition, and the elimination of divine law, which on examination turns out to be mostly institutional human rules anyway.  ("Thou shalt not wear mixed fibres." Leviticus 19:19)

If the dogs design Heaven, it will probably not be like this.

Human laws are negotiable and therefore controversial and liable to change.  They are generally “emergent” from a specific time and place where a certain set of persons in power can enforce what they think is behavior that will benefit at least themselves and possibly others, including the general state of things.  ("Thou shalt dress up when thou comest to the Montana legislature.")  One of my duties as an animal control officer inventing and guiding public and internal education was to support a citizen committee charged with rewriting the animal control ordinance for Multnomah County, which included the highly developed urban city of Portland as well as rural and even wilderness lands farther out, esp. up the Columbia Gorge.  It took a year.  I did a lot of research, not just on existing law but on what works and how and why.  It's easy to say dogs should go to heaven, but hard to decide how to define a leash length.  Is three feet too short?  Is thirty feet too long?

Burgwin, our boss, specifically hand-picked the members of the committee which was not a democratic thing to do except that it was meant to produce interaction that would serve everyone.  Therefore, he chose people from completely opposite sides of the problems but not the crazies, the parasites raising money, or the tools for outside organizations.  Looking back, it’s interesting that there were no clergy and no environmentalists, but it was the Seventies and those institutions had not yet begun to address animal issues.  We had an excellent chair, Francis Smith, who had proven himself as a calm lawyer friendly to both sides of animal issues.

The ultimate cubicle

So now let’s look at my distinction between “sin” and “Evil” and my theory that sin is about human-defined rules and Evil is about natural laws and forces gone wrong, mostly uncontrollable by humans but making laws crucial and inevitable.  Cruelty is Evil, emerging from emotional deformation in humans and inflicted on the vulnerable for no cause but personal gratification.  It can power laws like those imposing amputation for stealing and also laws that authorize the removal of children from their homes, even though the homes may also be cruel.  Of course, if the new alternative of fostering turns out to cruel, it is no improvement.  Whatever squats in our own culture to make us want to watch movies about torture, avidly follow cases of gruesome murders, use "disrespect" as an excuse to kill the innocent is Evil.  Sin is the labyrinth, Evil is the minotaur.  Sin is a construct, Evil is an unnatural force emergent through the natural.  The "natural" is neither sinful nor Evil -- it is a human construct, created by inventing the "unnatural."

H.M. King 'Abdul 'Aziz al 'Abdul Rahman al Faisal al Sa'ud
Chieftains can be modern if they want to be.

It is sinful to break into a magazine office and murder everyone there, obeying the laws of tribal chieftains millennia ago, not realizing that the template is old and broken.  Acting like the loyal subjects of a prophet defined by that conviction will not work in modern urban Paris.    Human laws won't allow it.  Not even if French bureaucrats act like ancient tribal chieftains in the Middle East, destroying villages.  Refusing to redefine Mohammed on deeper human terms for the greater good is the bigger heresy and an expression of the Evil of wanting to dominate everything without growing.  Good prophets , like good Popes, are not so stupid.

A Victorian patriarch, another broken template.

As the Montana legislature begins, some people -- mostly by polarizing and emotionalizing -- will try to make sins into Evil.  Sometimes this will be silly, misguided, ineffective, or resulting from the pretense that an institution (corporation), a pretense based on special interests accumulating power, is a “person” and entitled to all benefits accruing to a human citizen.  They don’t really mean “person,” they mean the privileges of the patriarch who controls his family, who are only incidentally human.  Patriarchs commonly sacrifice family members.

Both sin and Evil are survival-based, but sin and legislation tends to be confined to a specific delineated group while Evil in its purest form undermines the survival of the entire species, maybe -- in the case of climate change with the consequent impact on continents and oceans -- the world as we know it.  We can make laws against sins, maybe about carbon footprints or frakking, but we seem helpless against the great Evils of human greed and ignorance.  The cause of sins is almost always economic profit, but the Evil consequence is emergent, sudden, and lethal.  Must I point out ebola?  Not without pointing out our constant erosion of stable ecologies like tropical jungle.  Sooner or later the tipping point is reached.

On the other side, the virtue side, it becomes more and more possible to accumulate information and design governing principles that, after all, saves the soaring raptors, cleans the broad rivers, and connects the human planet via small handheld devices.  For all the warlords on their slimy thrones, there are still long tables where earnest people sit together and explore the possibilities of new rules and laws or new strategies of supervision, penalties, funding, points of view.  Who should be able to do what where and why.  Distribution.

The dead from a drone strike in Pakistan.
A website names the victims.  Know whom you kill.

Feedback loops are one key to success.  Incarceration for minor drug offenses (the War Against Drugs) turned out to be Evil.  But it produces so much profit that it’s hard to stop unless the feedback includes the suffering involved and the simple ineffectiveness of it, the encouragement of racism it supports.  Surprisingly, our appetite for witnessing suffering, as in movies like “Oz” or “Orange is the New Black,” has made us identify with forces for reform.  Seeing the results of a predator drone attack makes us question the use of such a dragon.

Returning to the local, I ponder the difference between the economic assumptions of the old agricultural order, the Jacob/Esau dichotomy that hangs on even in Euro vs. Native American assumptions:  wheat vs. wild grass, if you like.   I am the Paternal BIA or I am the obedient/defiant AIM son.  The survival of that order depends on the generational passing of lands without the fractionalizing of ownership that we’ve imposed on tribes.  It wasn't THEIR idea!  

The patriarch imposes his motives on his children with all the cultural entailments: the oldest son becomes the new patriarch, the daughters are excluded unless they use guile.  In Europe younger sons were confined in religious orders, sacrificed in the military, or reduced to employees.  Now on the rez they may simply be pushed to the margin, even off the rez, maybe even off the rolls when blood quantum provenances are changed.

Good and successful men of the ag life in Montana have lived through hardship and then industrialization of agriculture up against competing industrial natural resource development, even industrialization of recreation (transportation and the idealization of the natural) and animal management (going after wolves in helicopters to collar them), and the constant undeclared world wars.  They have concluded that their children could escape through education and professions.  But both of those have been captured and corrupted by the constant drive to commodify (more walls for the labyrinth).  It appears that the minotaur has slipped under the walls as toxins and infection, still claiming our young.

Every wall is a mirror.

We’ve been wall-builders, no better than Hadrian or the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang who began the Great Chinese Wall.  The walls shielding Israel and the US are not protecting them from invaders or illegal immigrants.  We attempt to make physical boundaries to protect from the sins of economic struggle (drug wars, for instance), when the real problem is Evil on the side that builds the wall, the side that is benefiting from a gradient.  The side addicted to power.  There is no law that can address drug addiction -- laws only increase the value of transgression.  Addiction is Evil.  The hallmark of Evil is its depth in our natures, in our old reptile brains.

Out-dated image.

How do we confront Evil?  The old ways, largely “religious” and institutional, don’t work anymore.  We’re too various and fluid now.  We can gerrymander our walls and laws all we want, but if the problem is Evil, it is a spiritual problem.  No amount of sitting around a conference table will make a difference.  

BUT, as is repeated over and over in historic wisdom, spiritual answers are fire, are wind, are emergent from the ordinary.  Mercy comes as gentle rain.  The more that human understanding and generosity are supported by laws and practices, the more survival will grow and prosper.  That doesn’t mean more land, more money, more control, more uniformity.  Fire, wind, grass are wild.  They are best described in images and music, not words.  They are a resource, not "ownable."

The substrate of religion rests on what it is to be a human being, not what it is to be God.  It is not a matter of divine command, but an emergence from the kind of creatures we are.   We are creatures of the planet, evolving from codes first etched in mud and now so elaborated that we can write code ourselves, even in our cells.  But the planet does not care what we do with that.  The planet will survive until the sun explodes.  It is not Evil.  It is our substrate.

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