There’re just those times when we all have had that sense of dread; with a shudder, our reasoning seems to escape us, time slows, and our heart races. Our vision closes in on us, darkening at its edges, and the hairs rise on the back of our necks as we lose our sense of reality. Something approaches with an ominous presence.
We’ve all had this experience; typically, in some unfamiliar, dark place in which, what is best described as our soul, finds itself cornered by a thing unknown, yet seemingly deadly.
It is of little wonder that evil is more considered a supernatural being of reckoning and wreckage, than a diacritic event in one’s life.
History records two types of evil: natural evil and moral evil.
Natural evil refers to the detrimental effects of the natural conditions and forces of the Earth that pre-dates humanity. A hurricane or a fire, therefore, would be considered as a natural evil if it caused damage to human, physical infrastructures and possessions, or caused the injury or death of human individuals. This is an historical reference to evil that I would argue against as such events would have to be imbued with some quality of morality or, at least personality, which no natural phenomena could possibly be defined with. Natural events have no sentience with which to possess morals, ethics, virtues, or vices. Natural evil does not exist except in the minds of men. This essay is about the latter; moral evil.
While Western philosophers, still warm from the heavy blanket of Christian theology, enjoin in regarding moral evil as a singular expression imbued with some sentience of malevolence, the fact is that an act of evil is simply an event, an action in which context becomes the divining rod of truth. In no ways, should any one action be lumped in with others in defining and addressing an action that, by context, is either considered good or evil in nature. To do so, is to diffuse and obscure the truth of that event.
Hence, the words, good and evil, refer to contextual phenomenon (actions) arising from human behavior, with most secular and religious societies understanding this as a central principle. Though various, deistic religions desire to view good and evil in terms of a more absolute condition in practice, the context of an action is what determines how humans interpret such phenomenon; being either useful or harmful to the sustenance of that society or faith. A simple example of this is a reference I made in my essay, Scarcity – Chapter One, in which I noted, “…whether it be illegal acts between individuals and groups, or legal, military actions between social groups and countries.”
Killing a person is the ultimate aggression against our species. As social animals, we clearly understand that to permit the killing of any person is to condone the killing of ourselves in turn; people thinking alike in manner as they do. As this significantly goes against our attention to self-preservation, we discourage such activities naturally. We also acknowledge that we have a social contract in place for the good of the society. It is an understanding that the killing of a person brings about a certain amount of disorder and frequent retribution, resulting in further disorder. Humanity, through a lengthy phase in primordial history, assumed these social contracts that were brought about by and through genetic evolution of our species. In other words, the social contract of not killing a person is genetically buried within our physiological and therefore psychological constitution. It, like many conditions of humanity, are not susceptible to extreme behavioral realignments. The end result, to date, is a benefit to humanity’s survival; at least as a social species.
But what can be done, within the purview of human behavior, is to initiate or concede to differing contexts, or states of being, in which an action can take on a variety of meanings and purposes. A person killing another person for their basketball shoes is universally considered as murder. This is an action that breaches an implicit or explicit social contract within the society. It is classified as an evil, and some form of adjudication and punishment is required to satisfy the society’s demand for a norm in relations and adherence to the social contract. In a second example, a person killing another person, so that the former’s country is not successfully invaded, its government overturned, and its citizens slaughtered and enslaved, is universally considered as heroic, virtuous, and necessary. What’s the difference if a life is a life?
The difference is context. Now, "context" is defined as, “the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.” Context is one of the most important conditions by which the human species survives and flourishes. Everything initiates, evolves, and concludes by the physical and sociological properties of context. Swinging a bat and successfully propelling a baseball 400 feet on a routine basis is commendable, but doing so in Major League Baseball on a routine basis provides the hitter with a more than reasonable income, a good deal of fame, and a large measure of security. Power is security. In our judicial system, context plays a critical role in determining innocence or guilt, and to what degree a person might be guilty and to what degree a person might be punished.
Between April 6th and July 4th, in the year of 1994, approximately 800,000 citizens of the country of Rwanda were killed. They were the victims of a contagious and psychotic cocktail of racism, tribalism, fear, retribution, intimidation, obedience to authority, complacency, and a romanticized desire to belong. To interview those who participated would reveal a distinct context in which their social consciousness adapted and adopted to an old set of principles, redefined, that were expropriated from common, moral principles that were conceived to provide for the general welfare of a nation. In short, one group of people considered another group of people as a threat to the good of things valued in life. No one was immune.
A study at Princeton Theological Seminary was conducted in 1973, in which forty seminarians provided data for analysis. A first group of seminarians – individually processed – were asked to read the parable of the Good Samaritan from the New Testament. Afterwards each seminarian was asked to cross the campus to another building where they would give a short sermon on that parable. A portion of those seminarians were instructed to hurry, as they were behind schedule. The remaining portion were simply asked to head on over; no hurry involved. The second group of seminarians was simply asked to give a short sermon on job opportunities at the seminary. A portion of them were also told to hurry, while the remaining portion received no such instructions.
As each seminarian proceeded across campus they passed through an alley where, in a doorway, slumped a man; his head down, eyes closed, and lying still. As the seminarian came close, the man would cough twice and groan. The resultant actions that took place during that encounter were reviewed with each seminarian and a record was made of their reactions and responses.
Approximately 40% of the seminarians offered some form of assistance; 60% ignored the suffering man. Of the 40% providing assistance, 63% were not in a hurry, 45% experienced some hurried influence, and only 10% were strongly concerned about hurrying. Statistically, it made no difference whether the seminarian was delivering the sermon on the Good Samaritan or not.
During the genocide in Rwanda, a Catholic priest, Father Anthanase Seromba, gave sanctuary to 100 Tutsi men, women, and children in his church. When they were attacked by the murderous militia, Seromba “identified the weakest parts of his church as targets for the bulldozer drivers… He also later encouraged the fighters who charged the church to finish off any survivors, to whom he referred as cockroaches..."
How the concept of evil took on a supernatural status, at some point in human history, might well be exemplified in the story of the Rwandan genocide. It seemed a universal madness overtook them all; a delusional state of communed minds and hearts that vacated any responsible sense of being a social animal in a social state. While those who were part of such murderous actions achieved a sense of justification and righteousness, anyone who read the account of such a massive failure of our moral system could not possibly come away with any state of being other than one of complete desolation of the human spirit.
Ancient civilizations, lacking basic understandings of the world order, surely must has conjectured – as we know they did – that only vast powers beyond their comprehensions could possibly be responsible for such events as described by the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, as well as the greater and more systematic Jewish genocide in World War II, where over six million Jews were exterminated “as cockroaches”.
Here, we see that context is much broader and penetrative than the mere conditions of a society and the intrapersonal, daily activities of its citizenry. For such actions to take place, as just described, there are elements of human nature that are finitely primitive and metaphysical; genetically inbred, deep-seated, intrinsic, and congenital with each new human born into this world. Above all else, these primal elements that spawn a wide variety of behaviors, including all acts of evil, are decidedly stable, immutable, and reliable.
To upheave them is to only reveal them. Human nature is extremely accommodating to human aggressions, and our day-to-day experiences are replete with unconsciously calculated aggressions concealed within the normal and amiable, social discourse between individuals. In most cases, no harm is actually meant in employing this drive, though to a person employed by some psychosis, that arises in the abnormal interpretation and expression of human behavior, these innocuous aggressions are consistently weaponized. What are these abnormal expressions?
The science of psychology is a ranging field of research and application that attempts to understand how human relations create both positive and negative emotional states within people. The purpose is simple; to promote those behaviors that instill attitudes within the human mind that represent what is referred to as virtues, ethics, and moralities, and, of course, to suppress those behaviors that express any negation of the hoped-for, social contracts between individuals. The reasoning for the latter is quite simple; there are effects from such activities that are multi-generational, and it has been shown that these same expressions arise in future generations; thus continuing a chain of misanthropic interrelationships that demote the quality of life for these people, and have residual effects upon the society as a whole.
As all human expression is the result of the dominion of scarcity in our lives, there resides within us an extensive library of mental, verbal, and physical responses – unconscious and conscious – to perceived conditions that any human might encounter. There is but one condition that creates negative emotional states; the promotion of the self.
One cannot live unless one tries to live, and in the attempt to do so, one must consistently define themselves of greater value than their companions, within the day-to-day, non-lethal encounters of life. One must eat and drink, one must have clothing and shelter. Little else was necessary for primal humanity as life had few complexities. Things change, of course, and today this survival list is quite extensive; one in which what is considered poverty of today – the absence of necessary, sustaining things – would have been considered a confusing, incalculable wonderment, and most likely highly impractical, in those earliest of days. There was and is one central component though. To obtain the necessities always implants the necessity of hierarchy and resultant privilege. A person, in procuring the necessities, manifests one’s activities as the continual effort to physically locate oneself at the epicenter of supply, and supply is always the domain of the dominant individuals within any society, first by force, then by coercion, then by status; only then followed by compromise and subordination.
What this comes down to, in simplest of terms, starts with one’s mental attitude of, and focus upon, one’s self-perception within their sphere of presence and influence. Is the perception of one’s societal placement subordinate or superior, assigned or selected? Such continual calculations – many as simple as walking in a crowd of people, engaging in a conversation, or eating a meal at a restaurant – are in the mainstream of human assessment of quality of life. As a result, society is like a composition of waves of energy (people) of potentiality; intersecting continuously through cause and effect. In varying degrees, these potentialities either reinforce or diminish, strengthen or weaken, any one wave, or group of waves, in the process. Where a wave is strengthened, it is good. Where a wave is weakened, it is evil. This leads to the second condition that creates negative emotional states.
Frequently, within self-perception lies misinterpretations of meaning. Any strengthening of one’s ‘wave of energy’ that might be gained without any earned effort on the part of a person creates a hollowness within that gained strength. In other words, at least on an unconscious level, a person recognizes that their position within a society has a certain degree of falsity, and as such, it is available for exposure and ostracization. This is what we commonly refer to as guilt. Few people are honest enough to self-negate themselves for the treasures of virtue, and so, this false nature is perpetuated; often for the life of the individual.
The cause is the denial of truths, the effects are various expressions that are distorted by one’s sense of unconscious or conscious guilt. Because of passive or intentional denial, guilt overlays one’s perceptions and the resultant actions consistently, as an evolving paradigm and narrative, create misinterpretations and distortions within one’s social engagements with another person or group. The result is an expression from an affected person that is a negative distortion of the positive presence and influence that sociality is contracted to provide. A man, whose father physically abused him as a child, is frequently in possession of a struggle not to physically abuse his own son. A war veteran might find him or herself alienated from society in general. A woman, sexually abused by a relative, may never find a true capacity of love for a husband. An executive in a corporation is a bully. A young man is a liar and a thief. A society finds itself slaughtering its neighbors with machetes. And a man finds it necessary to shoot fifty-eight people to death from an upper floor in a Las Vegas hotel.
These negative, emotional states are drives that are constant in any person and constitute a large part of one’s personality. No person rises of falls within society without these drives as central to any effort and conclusion. They are, in three words: necessary, routine, and automatic; as some aid a person towards positive behaviors, and others towards negative behaviors. We cannot rid ourselves of one without losing the other. So, what can we do?
Modern psychology, to date, has done little to make repair to this universal condition. Instead, it has concentrated upon its mitigation and pacification on various levels of causality, reason, and spirituality. And, in truth, no immediate repair is possible for any near, short-term future; this problem being basic genetics more so than behavioral in essence, and in that realm of knowledge we are still terribly deficient, as well as the subject of eugenics being a political anathema.
This drive is deep within us all, and for most, it has a certain dimension of empathy, goodness, and self-righteousness built within its guilt-laden walls. In August of 2019, Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, author, and social personality, managed to firmly plant his smartphone in his mouth. After another mass shooting, social media exploded with many people expressing outrage; frankly not by the murders themselves, but rather by the frustrating truth that no wave of the wand would affect an instant cure to such events. Many people just wanted to inflict self-suffering upon themselves as a virtue signal, and so they did. Tyson took to Twitter (Instagram?) and noted the following (paraphrase):
“On average, across any 48 hours., we also lose 500 to medical errors, 300 to the flu, 250 to suicide, 200 to car accidents, and 40 to homicide via handgun. Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.”
The man was vilified.
For there to be any real advancement in curtailing human evil, it will have to come from the mitigation of the effects of scarcity; for short-term, behavioral modifications within the general population would be socially impossible due to current philosophical, public declarations of rights, freedom, and equality. It would therefore be quite fool hardy to undertake this course in any meaningful methodology; though social progressives are certainly giving it their best effort through our educational and political inventions. Scarcity, though, has nothing to do with ideologies and so they will fail. Scarcity created these drives, so it is only sensible to reason that the mitigation of scarcity will temper them and possibly eliminate them. Temper, yes, but to affect an elimination, we would assuredly expect to witness a creature before us that is decidedly other than human.
In the next essay, we will explore the history of this concept of good and evil – mostly the evil side of things – so as one might find themselves with a better knowledge of this human expression. To not appear but an academic, I do have an answer to the question I posed earlier, “So, what can we do?”. That will follow this upcoming discourse.
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