Civil Disobedience (2): Gandhi
Hemp: The Illegal Sacrament

Scapegoat Politics

Does "evil" have tangible meaning, if no-one thinks of themselves as evil? Many people believe they and those they know are good people, but few people believe that they and the people they know are evil people. Evil is an accusation we level against others, not an identity we take for ourselves - except, perhaps, in a game.

A peculiar problem with modern democracy is that all too often we let our representatives hoodwink us with tales of who and what is evil, rather than focusing on how to work for what we believe is good. It's far easier to point a finger, than to make something happen; far simpler to start a witch-hunt than to solve social problems. Fighting evil is the modus operandi of a comic book superhero; it should not be the role of a politician.


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Hi, Chris. Once again, I find myself hung up on definitions. The trouble is how one defines "evil," as well as how that buts up against ideas of right and wrong, sin and grace, etc. I suppose I am the exception here, or maybe I'm just too honest, but I do consider myself to be inherently evil. I struggle daily to be a moral and basically good person who "does the right thing" in spite of my natural instincts. I would not argue that all people are actually this way, because that smacks too much of original sin, and no one wants to get me started on that crock of beans.

Take the following, however, as true to my nature:
- Faced with the absence/lateness of a colleague/acquaintance/etc. who I don't like and who was meant to turn up for an appointment, I am likely to entertain thoughts of, "Oh, maybe he/she got run-over by a bus. That would be so cool."
- Faced with having my loved ones on the receiving end of cruel treatment by another, it makes me flinch not at all to shrug and say, "Maybe his/her kid will get cancer. That would even things up a bit."

You know that my world-views and spiritual beliefs are much more centered on what one does than what one believes/thinks, and this is why. What I believe and think are not worth showing the light of day more often than not, and I strive to be more worthy than I know myself to be. Does that effort make me good, or does it make me, as I self-identify, and evil person acting counter to my nature for the good of those I love?

What does this have to do with politics you ask? I'm honestly not sure. Although the vast majority of my beliefs are the consistency of Jello that has only had 20 minutes in the icebox, I do firmly believe in the infinite abundance of grace ... that is available to everyone except for politicians who will all inevitably burn in a very special hell.

Politicians get approval, and hence re-election, by fighting the perceived problems of the day - particularly if they are (or can be made to be) perceived to be problems by a large number of floating voters. Labelling the problems as "Eee-VIL!" gives a convenient handle, precisely because so few people think of themselves as evil - it makes a nice them-and-us split, with both the politican and the voters they are trying to influence on the "us" side.

Why is this a surprise?

TT: I'm sure many Christians view themselves as inherently evil, but that's not the same as *identifying* as evil. The ethics and politics of identity are quite different from the thoughts one has about oneself.

A person who identified as evil, for instance, would join an organisation such as "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" (assuming a mutant, I suppose) and presumably go on an "Evil pride" rally.

We just don't see this. :)

I greatly appreciate your description of your perspective here though - very interesting reading!

Peter: I never said I was surprised! :) Fighting problems is very different from labelling people as evil - fighting problems can be a way to work for one's perceived notions of good, of course. But when one's approach is to label people as evil or otherwise to blame them - as with the scapegoating of white farmers in Zimbabwe - we should draw a firm line and refuse to play along.

Thanks for the comment!

Rats - looks like something cleared my cookies! Anon above was me.

- Peter

Ack! The internet Cookie Monster! :o I have edited the comments to restore your name and honour. ;)

I don't believe anyone is capable of identifying themselves as evil - we evolved as social creatures, therefore we developed mutually beneficial forms of interaction, and we naturally tend to follow those and call them good - so the only person who doesn't do that is deviating from the course his ancestry has set his life, and is thus inherently unable to recognise the 'evilness' of his actions. I have, of course, just described a sociopath. Who don't recognise that they are acting 'evilly'.

Politics is a bit different - there we are suffering from the vast remove of the truly powerful from the everyday lives of those they have power over. That buffer zone lets them act as though it is all a game.

No one calls themself evil*. But different people mean very different things when they say good and evil respectively. Some of those things are compatible or even just different perspectives on the same thing. But some of them are polar opposites of each other, so that whenever one person does something good or improves somthing another person sees them doing something bad or making things worse. Evil in one system of ethics is a system of ethics that calls destroying good things and creating bad things or making things worse "improvement" or "progress".

*Ok, except a few people with internal conflicts. But as long as you are fighting that "evil" in you in order to good you are actually a good person.

zenBen: I take your point, but I reckon it's at least hypothetically *possible*. You just need a group of people willing to identify as evil in a manner which makes it the in-group, if you see what I mean. I doubt I could ever prove this, however. ;)

hej: you're a new voice in the comments, so let me welcome you here, even if you've actually been reading for a while! Always happy to hear from new people.

The issues you talk about here are reminiscent of what we were talking about here several months back at the start of the "Ethics Campaign" we're in the middle of at the moment. If you're interested, you can check out the piece on Relative Ethics here.

Hope you will continue to find things that interest you here at Only a Game!

Evil exists only in the eye of the beholder. yet it is very "real". I experience it as the assumption that certain people are working against MY notion of what would be good for my community.

Hmm i do not agree at all with what i just wrote in the post above. How weird is that?

Sankofa: thanks for your many comments to various posts... I have tried to curtail my responses, since the comments bar is in danger of overflowing (I wish I could expand it to more than 10 comments, but TypePad don't give me the option, alas).

I think it's great when people can disagree with themselves - too many people argue with the goal of winning, and not with the goal of exploring the issues. Anyone who can change their opinion so rapidly has great flexibility. :)

Your original comment that evil is subjective ("in the eye of the beholder") yet real begs the question: does the term 'real' apply to subjective content? If it does, then there are multiple realities. If it does not, then only the objectively measurable is real (this is what most empiricists prefer). Either explanation is valid in its own way, though.

Best wishes!

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