Do We Live in Evil Times?

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A few years ago, I started writing and talking about evil and sin.  Some of my friends questioned my use of these typically religious terms.  They wondered whether the secular complaints against modern society that I was making were amenable to such terms as sin and evil.  I would have agreed with them many years ago but more recently I began to think somewhat differently.  No, I did not get “born again” or discover Christ or God.  I have never found either of them and I stopped looking many years ago.  What I did discover is that there is something sublime about the concepts of sin and evil that can be very useful in discussing modern problems in the world.  Today, I would like to focus on evil and how it relates to the problems facing us today. 

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What is Evil?

Evil is taking advantage of other people when the outcome will be win-lose.  Meaning that you win, and they lose.  Evil is disregarding the needs of other people and putting your needs first.  Evil is deliberately hurting other people either physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially.  Evil is killing your children to get even with your ex-wife or spouse.  Evil is harassing or sexually intimidating women and gays.  Evil is putting people of other ethnic backgrounds or color down and abusing their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Evil is a willful and volitional violation of the rights of any other group, religion, or country for the pursuit of your own well-being. 

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”  — ― Mahatma Gandhi

The Four Types of Evil:

I have thought about the differences we see in the world in terms of evil.  Primarily with a leaning towards understanding the causes of evil.  I suspect that evil might exist apart from causes, but I have not found any examples yet.  Evil is either caused by passion or intellect.  Smart people and stupid people can be equally evil.  A college degree, a Ph.D. or a Nobel Prize does not suffice to distinguish who might be evil and who might not be evil.  The four types of evil that I have found are as follows:

  1. Principled Evil
  2. Passionate Evil
  3. Greedy Evil
  4. Ambitious Evil

“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.” —  Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Principled Evil:

Principled evil stems from taking your own beliefs and ideology and expecting the world to be molded to them.  It sounds good to be a person of principle but as Aristotle noted evil can come from extremes.  When I believe my principles are so righteous and significant that they should replace your principles I am headed to a stairway of evil. Evil starts at the first step and may be barely noticeable but as it progresses it becomes more and more tyrannical and vicious.

The Nazis were a prime example of a philosophy or ideology that started with some semblance of rationality.  However, it gradually devolved into a belief that relegated any non-Nazis to a state of inferiority.  Under their belief system, the Nazis came to accept that anyone who did not subscribe to their principles could be murdered and eliminated from the face of the earth. Their adherence to a set of rigid principles allowed the Nazis to take over the government of a country which had sympathy for their beliefs.  The result of their principled beliefs was one of the greatest evils that the world had ever seen.

Today, we still have many groups in America who think the Nazis had the right idea.  Their belief in principles of blood, soil and country lead them to tyrannize those who do not look like them or think like them.  We call these groups by various names: Neo-Nazis, Alt-Right, White Supremacists and simply racists.  In recent times, we have seen a resurgence in terms of an acceptance of the principles that these groups stand for.  Many people believe that this resurgence is because the White Majority in America is threatened by an increased influx of minorities.  Regardless of the reason for their popularity, these groups are a danger to democracy and any rule of reason and justice.

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Passionate Evil:

Sean Jean marketed his products with the byline that “Life without Passion is Unforgiveable.”  I have a bottle of his perfume which was of course called “Unforgiveable.”  A great marketing idea and a rather catchy phrase which I still think has merit.  We all want and need passion in our lives.  Passion adds color to our days and nights.  It makes us excited about life and steers us to spend time with those things that we value.  Passion is one of life’s beautiful things.  Unfortunately, passion can be dangerous.

The South was passionate about their way of life and a system of economics which depended on slave labor.  They were so passionate that they were willing to die for their ideology.  The war for a lifestyle which the Civil War embodied never really ended.  Over a hundred and fifty years later and the beliefs that underlie the civil war seem to be almost as strong as they were back then.  The racism that many in the South held onto after the war was more based on passion than logic.  The KKK was a prime example of this passion.  A group of white people driven by passionate adherence to protect an idealized lifestyle and their right to dominance.  Blacks, Jews, and Northerners were considered inferior or to lack the sophistication that the Plantation Mentality bestowed on the South.  Any time one group for whatever reason thinks they are superior, it is a formula for terrorism and violence.  The passion of the South has played out over the years in a plethora of laws, court cases and behaviors that have had the effect of murdering and tyrannizing primarily Black people in America.

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Greedy Evil:

Whenever I think of greed, I think of the story about Silas Marner by George Eliot.  Silas sat at his table each evening counting his gold pieces.  He was lonely and he had no life except for his gold coins.  Then there is the story of King Midas whose greed for gold turned everything he loved into solid unfeeling gold.  I think the greatest sickness in America today is loneliness.  Loneliness drives much of the unhappiness and anger that is so evident in American politics.  The rise of “Identity” politics is based on a desire to belong.  The way to belong is to acquire things, stuff, money, positions.  The concept that “he who has the most toys wins” is proof of the belief that the way to win and to be accepted is to have more money or things than anyone else. 

“Where do the evils like corruption arise from? It comes from the never-ending greed. The fight for corruption-free ethical society will have to be fought against this greed and replace it with ‘what can I give’ spirit.” — A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

I often wonder if we now live in the greediest period of history.  Driven by an incessant stream of advertising that we need more and more and more; we seem less and less happy.  Commercials 24/7 exhort us to buy, buy, buy.  To spend, spend, spend.  We can only be happy if we have more than our neighbors.  Our kids need more.  We need more. 

Of course, greed has always been with us. Greed is mentioned over twenty-four times in the Bible. 

Book of Job (600-400 BCE) — 20:15 “He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly.”

In Buddhism, the 3 poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion are thought to be the root cause of all unnecessary human suffering. 

In the Quran it says: [9:34] “O you who believe, many religious leaders and preachers take the people’s money illicitly and repel from the path of God. Those who hoard the gold and silver, and do not spend them in the cause of God, promise them a painful retribution.” 

In Hindu theology, the six enemies of the mind are: desire, anger, greed, arrogance, delusion, and jealousy.

I talked about greed quite a bit in my previous two blogs on morality.  I suggested I would propose an answer to the prevailing winds of greed that blow us from one purchase to another. I think we need leadership to do this.  However, our present leaders lack the desire and skills to take us out of this wilderness of greed that we are in.  Some people may find their way out, but I fear that these individuals are a minority.     

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Ambitious Evil:

Ambition is another one of those ideas which we are taught when we are young is a positive attribute.  We are told that to be ambitious is desirable.  Who would admire someone who lacked all ambition?  Nevertheless, ambition can be dangerous.

Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar delivers a eulogy for Caesar and says:

“So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.”

Ambition has been the ruin of many a man, Shakespeare’s MacBeth was another man undone by ambition.  The men who ruled Enron destroyed a company because of ambition.  There is a fine line between greed and ambition, and it might seem as though they could not be separated.  I see greed as more a penchant for money and things and ambition more a penchant for status and power.  You can have a great deal of money and still lack status.  Perhaps that is behind the term nouveau rich as contrasted with established wealth.  The Bush family was established wealth.  Elon Musk is nouveau riche.

“Nouveau riche is a term used, usually in a derogatory way, to describe those whose wealth has been acquired within their own generation, rather than by familial inheritance.”  — Wiki

One hears the term “unbridled” ambition to refer to extremes of ambition.  These extremes are usually dangerous not only to the ambitious but also to those who depend on the ambitious.  American politicians who continue to pursue election after election may not suffer from an abundance of greed, but they are certainly rife with ambition.  I continually hear calls for term limits today along with age limits.  The average age in the US Senate is 64.3 years.  Twenty-six senators are over the age of 70. — “How Old is the 117th Congress?”

I think it is safe to say that many if not most of the older US Senators are out of touch with the US Population.  If their wealth was not enough to make this statement true, I think the age and lack of interface with the daily life that most people face would cement my assertion as a fact. 

I will make the following statement: “We will not be able to save American democracy with the people and demographics that we now have in Congress.” 

Unless we make some major changes in institutions that have existed nearly two hundred years without change, we are going to see the decline of the American dream.  The dream will have succumbed to ambition and greed if not passions and principles. 

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