“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”
-- Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
-- Martin Luther King, from his Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963
Typically evil is understood in the context of spiritual belief and depends heavily on one’s acceptance of the ultimate division of reality into unseen forces of good and evil, God and Satan. The trouble with this analysis is that it completely eschews demonstrable phenomena that can help us understand the nature of the problem itself. There are things we can know about evil in a practical, provable way that provide both insight and remedy. These things do not require belief in a Supreme Being or faith in an afterlife.
The Leftist approach sidesteps evil altogether, looking instead for hidden psychological causes or deep-seated emotional problems to explain the erratic behavior of destructive people.
This is ridiculous. Evil exists, just not in the Manichaean way that George W. Bush chooses to characterize it. Let me give you an example. A few days ago the CounterPunch web site featured a brilliantly written article on torture, “The Invention of Porno Torture”, by Liaquat Ali Khan. “Porno torture” is a new addition to the Pentagon’s repertoire of abusive treatment of prisoners and takes place when sexual torture is “photographed, filmed, or videotaped.” These photos or films are then used to “degrade and torment Muslim men,” an effective tool in breaking down prisoners and extorting information from them. Khan suggests that the Pentagon is using porno torture for two reasons. First, there is some ambiguity about its legality under present treaty agreements (which gives the Defense Department a ”green light” to continue abusing inmates) and, secondly, because porno torture offends the “cultural-religious” sensibilities of its conservative Muslim victims. Both of these are correct, in some sense, but they miss the larger issue, the essential evil of torture itself, and its real roots in the heart of man.
We like to believe that we are reasonable creatures governed by the dictates of considered judgments and well-examined opinions that are grounded in objective observation and experience. In fact, we are quite the opposite. The German philosopher Nietzsche grasped this when he stated, “The ego is the mask behind which the instincts operate.” Man’s appearance as a reasonable creature is a pure sham, a protective outer-coat that conceals the darkly irrational tangle of instincts and appetites that drive his every action. Only the thin veneer of respectability and the law keep society’s thin thread from unraveling entirely.
Man is capable of great good; creativity, curiosity and compassion. But, that is only half the story. He is also capable of incalculable evil; torture, war and devastation. This evil seed in the soul of man does not emerge from a blighted childhood or some remote psychological disturbance. It is an integral part of his human make-up; a faculty for annihilation that is every bit as real as the gnawing hunger of a starving man. Evil and nihilism are a central part of man’s incomprehensible complexity; they cannot be dismissed as mere character flaws or aberrations.
The photos from Abu Ghraib express the unalloyed wickedness of torture. This is evil in the truest sense. The men who produced these horrors are not the victims of some unknown childhood trauma or buried dementia. They are men who take delight in inflicting cruelty and pain. This is important, because we are not looking to understand their twisted behavior, only for an effective way of stopping it.
Evil cannot be stopped by reason, but only by putting oneself in harms way and obstructing the perpetrator. Every act of non-violence diffuses the power of evil.
The heart of man reflects the vast and chaotic forces of the universe. It is pure egotism to think we can grasp this incoherent, labyrinth of primal appetites and infinite space. Non-violence puts these conflicted forces in line with a deeper sense of harmony, but it cannot be attained without great sacrifice.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: email@example.com.
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