Thursday, July 20, 2006

Grappling with Evil

Moral dilemma: If there are objectively evil people, are they a phenomenon that can be fought and destroyed? If not, can they be changed and brought back into the category of “good guys?”

If the evil people think they are doing good, and I think the good people are doing good, but the people I think are good, are saying and doing the opposite of what the evil people are doing, who is helping and who is damaging? Are such questions the logical result of evil, “relativist” thinking? Or are they part and parcel of the paradoxical connectedness of all things, subject to the immutable laws of harmony and balance?

I think Bush, Blair, Ahmadinejad, Olmert and all the rest of the people in the world who make wars large and small, actually believe that what they are doing is good and right, and will somehow bring about peace, justice and security. I don’t think they’re smart people, or perceptive, or aware of the abysmal history of warfare as a means of achieving peace.

They are short-term thinkers, playing whack-a-mole but without ever catching on to the rigged nature of the game: bean one mole, and another mole will always pop out somewhere else. It’s hard to see how Bush can veto stem-cell research because he thinks it’s wrong to take innocent life, and on the same day he can support Israel’s bombardment of civilian non-combatants – parents and children, hospitals and bridges in Lebanon, as being a necessary price to pay for Israeli security. And I don’t get how they can commit and support these bombardments without realizing that thunderstorms raining death make the victims and survivors not only dead and sad, but also angry and hungry for revenge.

But I do think they are sincere, in the midst of their intellectual and humanitarian ignor-ance. They really do want the bad guys gone. I can relate to their fervent desire for that outcome, intensely. Except I desperately want the bad guys to be made not-bad, rather than made…not.

Received wisdom, or at least the heroic war stories handed down to us as official history, make my position naïve. As my friend Hal sometimes screams at me: “But what are you gonna do about these crazy dictators that go around killing everybody??? I hate war! I love peace! But sometimes you gotta have war to get rid of them and stop their bloody massacres!!!”

I launch into my tired refrains about prevention: that the Hitlers and Husseins and Pinochets and Stalins of history arose from very specific cultural circumstances, and their followers suffered very specific humiliations and deprivations, and their ideological opponents made very specific strategic choices and oversights while the “bad guys” solidified their power. The bad guys aren’t born. They are made, and no one has more to gain from making them, than those warrior types who intend to define themselves solely in opposition to them.

Prevention is a difficult case to make, however. It implies that we have to ride out the last waves of retribution by unilaterally refusing to defend ourselves, diverting resources to nonviolent community building instead, and that's a scary, scary thought. The accumulated rage of human history is unfathomably large, and there's always a chance that the "other" sides will take a long time to lay their weapons down beside ours. But maybe the turning point is upon us, and the global critical mass is just a few souls shy of reached.

I’m reading the new translation of Don Quixote, and pondering Miguel de Cervantes’ personal story, as a soldier, slave and prisoner, as that story seeps out through the novel.

Marauders are real. Where there are people, there is both hunger for basic necessities, and greed for personal gain. As many cultures have in the past, on a smaller scale, exhausted the resources in their own geographic regions and moved on to plunder the land and labor of other people, now that scarcity looms before the entire planetary population at the same time.

Marauding – for fertile land, fresh water, timber, oil and other resources – has become a huge, huge undertaking.

Are there ways to organize human civilization, in a non-compelling but cooperative way, so as to minimize marauding and maximize strategic, sustainable resource management and distribution? Are most people willing to work on that project, while abandoning the marauding model? Is there time to find, develop and widely implement such models, before civilization collapses?

Most importantly, is there a mechanism to capture, control, persuade and re-integrate marauding hold-outs? Does restorative justice, as developed by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, exemplify such a mechanism? Is there any way to stop the war cycle that uses up so much of the things we need to create and sustain life, and leave it behind with dignity?


  • hey there. great great post. I just wanted to let you know that my brother posted a little excerpt of it over at our site. http://transafixion.com/2006/07/22/grappling-with-evil/

    Keep up the great work.

    By Anonymous Ian, At 7:45 PM  

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