Friday, October 23, 2015

A Perfectly Clear Discourse on Evil

 Clearly, it seems to me that Hillary Clinton is: a) a liar and an amoral scoundrel who ought to be serving jail time; or b) an upstanding woman of the highest character and virtue and a paragon of honesty.”

I’ve seen that one-step-forward-two-steps-back syntax too many times in written and verbal statements. If something seems to be to a person, then it isn’t clear at all to him, regardless of the subject matter He is confessing that he isn’t quite sure what it is he is pronouncing judgment on. We can thank a long line of philosophers – for example, Rene Descartes – for making that contradiction of certainty-cum-doubt ubiquitous as a bad thinking habit, and as a repeated element in common language. We can also cite David Hume and John Dewey, among others.

It’s a far more grievous error than speakers and writers, in making comparisons, saying different than and not different from. Different than means absolutely nothing. As a conjunction, than is not synonymous with the preposition from.

It seems to me is also symptomatic of a lack of courage and resolve to be forthright in one’s statements. It’s a woozy approximation that is supposed to stand in for rock-solid certainty. It’s cowardly. It’s a half-full/half-empty glass of nothing. It’s like Michael Moore substituting for Cary Grant, or Rosie O’Donnell for Audrey Hepburn.

So, you’d never catch me saying, “Clearly, it seems to me that Barack Obama is evil.” I say that he is evil, and knows it. All the evidence – all his actions and statements over the last eight years – is incontrovertible proof of his evil, and of his evil intentions

What is evil? Wikipedia begins a description of it with “Evil, in a general context, is taken as the absence or complete opposite of that which is ascribed as being good. Often, evil is used to denote profound immorality.” Wikipedia offers only economy-sized definitions of good and evil.

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971), however, makes some critical distinctions:

A. The antithesis of GOOD in all its principle senses.

                1. Morally depraved, bad, wicked, vicious.
                2. Doing or tending to do harm; hurtful, mischievous, prejudicial.

The Oxford entry on good is one and a half pages long. So I’m going to settle for the Wikipedia treatment of the subject. It has this entry on the subject of good and evil.

These basic ideas of a dichotomy [between good and evil] has [sic] developed so that today:

  • Evil is typically associated with conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, discrimination designed to harm others, humiliation of people designed to diminish their psychological needs and dignity, destructiveness, and acts of unnecessary and/or indiscriminate violence.

It’s not a perfect definition of evil, but it’s acceptable for the time being. I'll write the OED a note about it.

There are two species of committing evil.

There is what I call the “passive” commission of evil. This is evil committed from ignorance of its consequences, from a failure to identify them, from a habitual disinclination to face facts, or from a refusal to think. It’s people voting for Obama a second time after they’ve seen the disasters of his first term in the White House. People who commit passive evil do not originate the evil. They simply cash in on it, oblivious or indifferent to its maleficent consequences. They do not originate evil, but enable it.

The evil can also be mistaken for being a good, again, because of an absence of any critical thinking or the absence of all but standard values that could serve as a measure of what one stands to gain or lose if the evil is enabled. The perceived “good” could be a second term of Barack Obama, again, in the face of overwhelming evidence that his first term has caused incalculable damage to the nation, to the economy, to people’s lives, including the lives of those who voted for him twice. It is choosing him with the knowledge that he is also a liar and a fraud.

These are the kinds of people who will vote Democratic no matter what, even when a liberal (just “a totalitarian screaming to get out”) campaigns for office wielding a whip garlanded with daisies and bluebells.

The second species of evil is that originated by those who consciously wish to do harm, the achievement of such harm being integral and even intrinsic to an evil person’s reason for living and acting. This person is a nihilist, a destroyer who acts to destroy the good for being the good, who lives to instigate destruction in any realm. This is the kind of person who will paint a moustache on da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or add tennis shoes to Michelangelo’s statue of David.

This is the kind of person who, like Barack Obama, will act to destroy a nation and turn it into a continent-sized correctional facility in which few or no individual rights exist, in which the economy is driven by “capitalist cronies,” financial fraudulence, and is a parasites’ paradise in which the unearned is created and paid for by a shrinking productive sector. Obama wishes to fundamentally “transform” America from one once anchored to the principles of limited government and the rule of law into one which is lawless and governed by unlimited government power.

I think it is fruitless to try and choose who have been the most evil political leaders in recent history. One would need to begin with Barack Obama. He is the one Americans are most familiar with. His Canadian clone, Justin Trudeau, recently elected in part with Obama’s help, as the new prime minister, wishes to be a kind of white Obama, friendly to Islam and “climate change,” and is also out to “transform” Canada, just as Obama wants to “remake” America.

Then we could toss a coin or two for the ones we don’t know as intimately: Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, and even Angela Merkel. There is small fry like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and big fry like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the “supreme leader” of Iran, and his equally malevolent predecessor, Ruhollah Moosavi Khomeini, are in a special class of evil all by themselves.

Choosing to initiate evil can begin in a person as early as pre-school, sometimes in adolescence, and definitely in adulthood. Wanting to destroy the good for being the good can begin with envy or jealousy or hating the sight or knowledge of happiness in others. I think the best literary description of how an evil person develops is Ayn Rand’s account of archvillain Ellsworth Toohey’s growth from childhood up to adulthood in The Fountainhead.

Ellsworth Monkton Toohey was seven years old when he turned the hose upon Johnny Stokes, as Johnny was passing by the Toohey lawn, dressed in his best Sunday suit. Johnny had waited for that suit a year and a half, his mother being very poor. Ellsworth did not sneak or hide, but committed his act openly, with systematic deliberation: he walked to the tap, turned it on, stood in the middle of the lawn and directed the hose at Johnny, his aim faultless – with Johnny’s mother just a few steps behind him down the street, with his mother and father and the visiting minister in full view on the Toohey porch. Johnny stokes was a bright kid with dimples and golden curls; people always turned to look at Johnny Stokes. Nobody had ever turned to look at Ellsworth Toohey.

Little Ellsworth faces his parents and the minister, states that Johnny Stokes is a bully at school, and awaits his punishment.

The question of punishment became an ethical problem….it seemed wrong to chastise a boy who had sacrificed himself to avenge injustice, and it was done bravely, in the open, ignoring his own physical weakness; somehow, he looked like a martyr. Ellsworth did not say so; he said nothing further; but his mother said it. The minister was inclined to agree with her. Ellsworth was sent to his room without supper. He did not complain. He remained there meekly – refused the food his mother sneaked up to him, late at night, disobeying her husband. Mr. Toohey insisted on paying Mrs. Stokes for Johnny’s suit. Mrs. Toohey let him do it, sullenly; she did not like Mrs. Stokes.*

In Ellsworth’s mother we see how a passive sanction of evil promotes and enables an active instance of it. From there on Ellsworth Toohey developed into a full-scale villain. To Ellsworth’s mother, the bold, undisguised destruction of a value – not even her own, but Johnny Stokes’s suit – is a sign of virtue, of goodness, of almost sainthood. Ellsworth’s willingness to be punished for it is also, to her, a sign of self-sacrifice, what her minister doubtless preached in church was a moral ideal. To her uncritical, unthinking mind, her son is moral person who deserved praise, not condemnation or punishment.

Assiduously created and maintained multiple layers of fragile onion skin can hide the core evil of such men from themselves and from others: special attention to social decorum, public appearances, dinner table etiquette, kissing babies, political speeches, perhaps a smartness in dress – these and other ostensive marks of a civilized, nominally cultured person go into the task of disguising a core soul and ultimate ends. Peel away the layers and one will finally come to the poisonous glop that is the driving force in all that such men do or say. It takes a lifetime to refine these layers to erect and sustain an elaborate façade and pretence of a “good” person who seems to be the epitome of benevolence. But, beneath the polish is festering putrescence.

The maquette that presents itself to the world and preaches sacrifice and the sly but “harmless” corruption of values – or even the wholesale, wide scale sacrifice of them, such as Merkel’s willingness to sacrifice Germany and the rest of Europe to the Muslim hordes, who are themselves venomous malignancies – hides a very real monster, a nihilist, a destroyer. He is small in his own and in others’ eyes, he assumes a deceptively modest mien, but his ambition is not modest and retiring.

His evil is clear and writ large in today’s culture, here and abroad.

*The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. 1943. New York: The Centennial Edition, Plume/Penguin, 2005. P. 301

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