Monday, December 16, 2019


A running controversy about the nature of Evil is whether it is a malign purpose of the essential universe itself, or whether it is a human concept personified by the Devil.  Other possible positions to take include the rational conclusion that the universe is not capable of human emotions and imposes death and suffering on humans without any purpose at all, only a consequence.  Or the more Asian and indigenous ideas are that one allows evil by wanting things so it's wise to eliminate desire or that the whole thing is a big joke and one's best defense is laughter.

If the purpose of life is most purely survival, because otherwise life by definition is lost, then what is moral is what supports survival and what is evil is whatever cuts against survival.  Ironically, much evil comes from the effort to survive in terms of a specific group, maybe at the expense of another.

Humans are vulnerable.  In fact, of  the close to a hundred hominin variations we know about, all but ourselves have lasted for millennia but then in the end have not survived.  Is that evil?  Or has the struggle and happenstance of survival been a purification that left us standing alone until we are snuffed by something better?  If we define ourselves as a specific creation, a precious accomplishment of a supernatural hominin, then the loss is an evil interference with creation.  But if all these others were merely rough drafts, then they were outside morality.  No one is shaken by the loss of Nutcracker Man or Lucy and others of the Olduvai Gorge.

It's not hard to understand that the current American determination of Republicans is to hold onto the power they think preserves them by any means necessary.  So far they have not overtly killed anyone, unless you count collaborating Russians and Mafia, but they have let death happen and sacrificed thousands of people to dictators and famine.  That's evil.  In the process they have destroyed what were once the defining characteristics of the Grand Old Party.  Evil. And ironic.  Trump is accusing of even changing the name, and he has certainly destroyed them as a party.

What is deeper and harder to assign any kind of demonic purpose is the dissolution of morality that has come from technological advances like contraception, the internet, transnational corporations, and fossil fuel.  Old gender arrangements arising from sexual anatomy and capacity, have made old morals --  like the capture and assignment of females and their babies or the monetizing of sex to make money -- unbalanced and even unreasonable.  They are no longer enforced moral norms arising from stigmatizing sex, which were far too susceptible to gaming anyway.  Despite frenzied efforts to impose romantic notions like "one true love" and supernatural participation, some people defy the rules.  Others do things like burning unwanted wives alive.  It's hard to argue that's not pure evil.  Death and suffering oppose survival, but humans have always been willing to eliminate those who threaten them, maybe by burning heretics at the stake or by shooting home invaders.

Until now we have not been able to threaten the survival of the planet.  We have not even been able to wipe out all humans, just all of many other species.  We still cannot kill the planet, but we are destroying the part of the planet that sustains us, like the quality and temperature of the atmosphere.  We have always been willing to prevent survival of those we call "immoral" which is part of survival on the broadest social terms,  saying those who have no right to live must be controlled.  The final result of this is that the stigmatized and endangered categories of people have evolved in unpredictable ways.  Some have left all moral constraints and act only on their individual behalf.  Others have participated in the development of rules and governance that improve life for everyone.

One of the practices of survival is becoming wealthy and powerful.  Badly managed, this can easily become evil by disregarding the interests of everyone but the guy who controls the wealth, legally or otherwise.  This often pits the ambitious individual against the larger community, however it is defined.  If the larger community is all humans, that may seem a happy consequence, but it can destroy both other life and the land from which humans arose, the land-scape.  Destroying whatever attachments humans have, whether to place or wealth or each other, is a key to the description of evil.

Using the terms of justice or even legality addresses evil at this level, but doesn't go to the most basic level of human affinities which are the source of the social structural arrangements that guide and protect us.  When an affiliation or institution -- whether genealogical derivation or labor unions or religion -- offers help in surviving and in WANTING to survive, then we feel it is by definition "good."  But the corruption of a common good into a cabal of greedy individuals can only be evil.

It is not only the goals of society but also the means they use that qualifies them to be called Evil.  Means that include murder and suffering, whether direct violence or what I call "pencil murders" by cutting off funds, are evil.  People who consciously do such things are evil.  But the means we use to oppose and diminish them can also be evil -- whether shooting them in the streets, incarcerating them in hellholes (even children), or portraying them as subhuman.  Sometimes these evil means are not conscious or seem blindly justified or have become a pattern outside human control.  That's when it likely that evil will be seen as originating in the unliving universe.

Attachment, sometimes in the form of love and other times a kind of loyalty, must be a means of survival or it would not be so persistent.  They say that maybe one out of a hundred people is a sociopath, someone who cannot attach to other people because of organic damage or experience that taught them not to care whether or not they or others survived.  If that's true, then this village of several hundred must include several sociopaths.  Group pressure and standards hold most of them in place though they may create a certain amount of suffering and death.  If there begin to be a higher proportion, then we will have a corrupt community until we rise up to take action.

I remember always Bob Scriver's two observations:  one can do anything until someone stops them; and if you do something outrageous enough, no one will take it seriously.  All this seems highly relevant right now.  And evil.

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