Friday, June 3, 2011

Faces of evil

Evidence of ethnic cleansing in Rwuanda right after the mass murder of Tutsis, (1994).

After our discussions about determinism and/or freedom, it's too easy to report that "this is the way we are" (obvious & uninformative) or that evil cannot exist without good (axiomatic & lazy), or Facundo's interesting point about the evil's "gray areas, " i.e., the uneasy cohabitation of good and evil.

Here are my ten cents:

What is evil? This is. And this, and this  and this.

Wait... it's too easy! Those above are limit cases. We are not that. Instead, let's look for the average kind of evil, the sapping everyday evil that becomes almost invisible, the sort who-me? evil that lurks and surprises, in other words, our shocking daily companion.

I will propose a very simple idea. Evil consists of "merely" treating people as a means to an end. See that the common factor present in both limit cases and average cases is precisely that.

The world is a jungle. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we have to choose1 to treat a person as a means to an end. It becomes unavoidable. What to do then? This is dharma, as momentous as it comes. We cannot become an ostrich and sink our head in the sand. so, we face the situation and try our best to practice ahimsa, i.e., we'd act in such a way that it minimizes treating a person "merely" as means to an end. This is what does violence. 

Is it evil? Maybe, but then it will make a difference between necessary 2 and unnecessary evil. We have made the right choice. We can feel the instant as we own it, flowing through our veins.
The second interesting point is, where is this evil coming from?

Let's dispel the myth: It's not that we're intrinsically evil -or good for that matter. That's too melodramatic. We just EXIST. And to exist means to deal with our history: past, present, and future. There is past (our embeddedness), present (our surprise) and future (in the form of de-liberation).

Embeddedness is the world we inherit (not necessarily our choosing). Surprise, because this boring world, which seemed so uneventful up to this moment has suddenly become dangerous. Now we're scared shitless. Deliberation3, because this is our now-or-never moment. We'll define ourselves in the act of choosing NOW.

And who chooses? Was there really a solid "me" -valiantly defined, self-assured- before this moment?  Bollocks. This now is always anew. This door is for me!

By the way, this is not my post #3, which I'll post later today.
1Sartre's fundamental existential motto: l'homme, par ses choix, définit lui-même le sens de sa vie (our choice defines the meaning of our life). The idea is that not choosing is not an option because by not choosing we automatically choose. 2Obviously, necessary evil is that which can prevent further evil, or bring forth good. Unnecessary evil is simply unredeemed. 3Look what a rich word this is. De-liberation. It comes from lat. deliberatus:de- libra (scale), it also brings forth liberatus, akin to liberty.


Jose Brown said...

The idea is that not choosing is not an option because by not choosing, we automatically choose...

So choosing is not really an option either, considering that for it to be an option, it's alternative has to exist.

So, choosing isn't really a choice? That's funny.

A.T. said...

So choosing is not really an option either, considering that for it to be an option, its alternative has to exist.

Subtle point Jose. I'll try to get Sartre out of the hole. Remember, the embededness of this definition is the Nazi-occupied France of WWII. He is making a political point. There was amongst many French (and Germans in post-WWII-Germany) this attitude of "I did not collaborate," which for Sartre was a foil to avoid a deeper responsibility (which is a form of self-deceit = mauvaise foi).

When I choose, I choose the world. Say that I am a mountain-climber, and come to a precipitous rock. It is not, in the vulgar sense, my "choice" that it shall be unscalable, but its unscalability is relative to and dependent on my choice of climbing. Again, suppose that I am tortured by the Gestapo. I have chosen myself as heroic or weak, and therefore chosen the conditions which bring out these qualities. The torture is a mere situation for my project of "squealing" or keeping silence. In a sense, I'm as responsible for the next hurricane in Miami (since I've chosen a hurricane-path region as my residence) as much as the next war in which I am involved as much as the Prime Minister who declared it (for the possibilities of desertion or exile, or suicide were after all open to me).

I don't know if this helps at all.

Jose Brown said...

It makes perfectly pragmatic sense, professor. But did you really choose to be a mountain climber?

FacundoRaganato said...

I think he chose to be a philosopher, Jose, lol :) great point about the choosing matter; I really can't into this cuz I believe we don't choose; "to choose" is just the illusion of believing that we are independent to everything that surrounds us and affects us, but of course, no one is an island.
My argument is sustained by cause and effect, if we had the free will to choose we would create effects without causes, is there anything in existence, anything at all, that does not have a cause?

Anyway, I share the same philosophy with your answer professor:
"When I choose, I choose the world"

Jose Brown said...

Facundo, I was talking about the theoretical mountain climber from his example and trying to get at precisely the point you're making which is we don't really choose.
And if you study the spontaneous decaying of atoms you'll notice there are some things in nature which appear to happen spontaneously (without cause). Of course, you could say that there may be some kind of unknown cause that we've yet to develop a system for observing, but this of course would be an assumption, and we're philosophers, right? :)

FacundoRaganato said...

Exactly! how mysterious :D

Jose Brown said...


Rosa Villa said...

This is irrelevant, but I've never heard an artist cry through his music like Rachmaninoff does here

FacundoRaganato said...

You are irrelevant