Saturday, February 02, 2013

The banal nature of evil

Many years ago I tried to understand some usefulness in this funny idea of good and evil. Mystical and semi-mystical ideas around gods, devils, super-powers etcetera have never seemed to me likely or useful and usually break down under the simplest application of logic or observation.

I looked at good and evil in terms of motivation and found them just as counterfeit in terms of being opposites as democracy versus communism (both the same in theory: government by the people, and yet both transparently corrupt in normal practice, to those who care to see). I looked at good and evil as essentially the same: The practice of getting what you want. The good actions are those done for the immediate benefit of another and secondary, or long-term benefit to the doer in terms of garnering return favours and bolstering reputation. Evil is getting what you want by taking it directly. It all seemed the same thing in essence. Take what you want unapologetically or get what you want by trading favours. It seems good and evil reduce down to cooperation versus competition, and what’s the big difference there, if the goal is the same? Cooperation seems like less work overall perhaps, but I’m not so sure about that. And if it is true, if good is easier than evil as a societal mode, then how is it any nobler? Imagine the worst state possible: a society where the easy “good” way was the standard but in which people routinely cheated (evil) when they were confident they could get away with it. Hmm… Look at the prisons, the scandals and look at anonymous behaviour: How horrible are people’s behaviour when anonymity is practically assured. Look at the greedy actions of motorists or if you really want to be disgusted, look at the state of internet commentary, so stupid and vile and disrespectful. Look too, at your own heart if you dare.

Conventional thinking falls prey to that disastrous idea that god made man in his image and so folks are basically decent.  I’ve observed too carefully and contemplated too courageously to possibly fall prey to these mistakes. Every action by every other species is instinctive and self-evidently selfish and uncooperative and almost every action of normal human behaviour can easily be traced to, or theorized as, selfish instinct, including most of the apparently-good deeds.

Ask yourself this: How often do you help someone completely anonymously and then not mention it (brag about it) to anyone? I can count my own contributions of that sort, at least those which come to mind, on one hand and I’m practically a self-declared professional do-gooder! (And so often a charity case, to be clear.)

In practice our lives are almost entirely directed by such super-structures as politics, religion, media, pop-culture, education, corporations and the marriage tradition. Look too closely at any of these structures and we see that they are rife with the same conflicting phenomenon. They all demand the appearance of honesty; subscription to the rules while offering every temptation to cheat. They all seem to manifest according to a cheat-but-not-get-caught model.

Of all species, only humans have a considerable consciousness (though still new and tiny in the scheme of evolution and potential in my estimation) and only humans - while sometimes cheating and sometimes not and sometimes cheating subconsciously and sometimes giving generously and sometimes doing so in a calculated way, knowingly or not - no matter, only we seem to have regard for the concept of goodness. We have the capacity to like it and be moved and inspired by it. These twin privileges of nascent consciousness and marginal capacity for goodness (empathy/love) surely do not seem like coincidence to me.

I have fought like hell to know my instinctive mind; the dark mind; my devilishness, and it seems impossible. The most I can do is deal with circumstantial evidence as bravely and honestly as possible. I know the dark mind keeps secrets from the conscious awareness. But consciousness does inform the instinctive mind, and indeed influences it. That a normal human is so much more evil than he thinks, is no tragedy to me. We are blind rationalizers. Evil is nothing but pristine normalcy. Instead it is the authentic good; that stemming from empathy; the chief of consciousness’s rewards, no matter how rare, even when it only manifests as a lovely idea, that is interesting or meaningful to me. Thus humans are more beautiful to me than ever, even as I perceive them as so far less decent than I once did.

Good, godliness, cooperation, consciousness: a remarkable evolution.
Evil, devilishness, competition, instinct: the natural state of the universe.

This new evolution is to me miraculous whether you attribute that quality to exceptionally rare circumstance or to divine initiation, though what does it matter - in terms of how we choose to proceed from here?

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