Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Roots of Evil…
Since the posting of my blog on “Faces of Evil” , my philosophers mind can’t help but wonder about the causes for evil actions and people in the world. I am a “cause and affect” kind of guy, not believing that many things happen just by chance. I believe there is a reason for what happens in the world, and by that belief also feel that reason and thought can overcome irrationality and insanity over time…IF we allow ourselves to reason.
Judeo Christian tradition suggests that perhaps “knowledge” is one of the main roots of evil. In the tradition of “Adam and Eve”, it was their curiosity about the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” that led them to the first disobedient act against their maker. The story seems to suggest that the original man and woman had no knowledge of right/wrong, good/evil. Probably many of us wish we could have such a simple existence where we had no knowledge of the evils perpetuated in our world and so much guilt associated with it. It’s as if somehow our exposure to evil is so overpowering that we will have no resistance to doing wrong, or “sinning”. We strive at bringing up our children as protected from knowledge of evil as possible, yet most religions demand that we go through a process of repentance and forgiveness from our humanity. We are looked at as forever flawed…which arguably almost justifies our acceptance of evil in this world we live in. Yet I still grapple philosophically with the question of are we born evil and learn to do good, or are we born good and innocent but end up tainted by all the evil in the world and living in reaction to it?
As I think of potential root causes of evil, I think of the following potential causes:
Anger: Personally I think anger is one of the most common motivators of evil in the world today. You see anger in big and small ways everywhere you look in our world, from killings in the street to the frequent flip offs and cursing in traffic here in the streets of Panama. Anger is an emotional reaction to circumstances around or inside us. External forces such as people, governments, religions, hunger, poverty etc can all cause angry emotions/reactions. We also can be angry at or about ourselves. Our limitations, our looks, failures, or continual criticisms can cause anger directed back at ourselves. Whatever the source of the reaction, anger can cause us to lose reason. We have all heard of “blind rage” or “unbridled anger”. While anger is a very human emotion, it is quite another thing to be controlled by it. Yet…I think most murders and physical attacks are motivated by some form of “anger” that has gone out of control. Anger CAN be a positive emotion, if we use it in positive responses. There is the concept of “righteous anger” which comes out either in self defense situations or when we get angry enough at ourselves or others to motivate us to actions for change. So, in essence, there is good anger and evil anger. Perhaps the difference is what actions or reactions that anger leads to…whether building up or tearing down.
Fear: Many evil actions or people may find “fear” to be at the core of their evil. Fear of others and “otherness” is what drives up walls and divisions between humans. We tend to fear that which we cannot understand and those that are very different from us. Out of fear, many of us never objectively examine ourselves, our beliefs or even our past decisions. It’s much less painful to justify or blindly accept rationalizations for ourselves, our beliefs and values. Fear keeps many of us from pursuing our dreams or ambitions…we might fail. Fear keeps us from knowing other people and having meaningful relationships…because we might be rejected. Fear keeps us from examining the beliefs and traditions of others…because we might find our own lacking. When fear turns into the ultimate extremes of phobias, paranoia and persecution complexes…it can cause some of the most evil actions towards self and others. There is no doubt in my mind that fear has been a root of many genocides and evil wars in our recent and ancient histories.
Oppression: is the act of using power to empower and/or privilege a group at the expense of disempowering, marginalizing, silencing, and subordinating another. Oppression occurs when racism, sexism, extreme bigotry or even political movements are institutionalized and forced upon others. Oppression can be individual or on a mass scale. Oppression can lead to colonialism, imperialism and totalitarianism which often lead to angry and violent responses. I believe oppression of governments over their people or some minorities such as religion, races or cultures has caused much of our world’s large scale conflicts. In a majority of cases, the oppressor’s motivations are “evil”, and unfortunately evil begets evil. The responses can be equally violent and evil, even if occasionally justified.
Power: We examine power as perhaps the core cause of oppression. It is a human trait and one of the core drivers of human behavior. The lust for power is arguable number one in our lives before money, sex and others. Power in and of itself again is not evil. Most of us want power and influence to coerce good causes and positive results in our lives. Freedom is power…the ability to go where you want when you want in this life is arguably the epitome of freedom and power. Power can also be demonstrated in “benevolent dictatorships”, which some would argue is the best form of government. Since people cannot control or determine for themselves, they need a leader or government that forces them to “stay in line”, save for a rainy day and protects them from their enemies. While governing powers such as this can be a good thing…unfortunately those humans who come to power in governments and institutions too often become control freaks and egomaniacs. This is when power becomes evil and blinds those in power to the realities of the people they rule over or govern. This is when “power” becomes the impetus of many evil acts.
Insecurity/inferiority: These sentiments can be solid sources of evil behaviors in people. Many of the world’s most evil historic rulers had childhoods of extreme insecurity or sense of inferiority. As the human pendulum swings, when some of these former downtrodden rise up or manipulate themselves into positions of power and influence…the inferior starts thriving on being superior and many irrational and evil acts rise from the source of this historic insecurity. Democracy and liberty are definite threats to these kinds of leaders who want to bolster their own image and self delusion to the exclusion of all others.
Lust: Lust and even “additions” can lead to many evil acts. While rape and murder are internationally agreed upon against nature and legally accepted behaviors, we still live in a world that arguably has pandemic proliferation of rape and murder. Lust for life causes many of us to pursue highs that aren’t necessarily natural…smoking, drug use, sex…can all be used to placate our lust for life and/or help us escape from life’s realities. When our minds are filled with these pursuits, we often do not act rationally, become more aggressive about our needs and pleasures, and for sure the sensitivity and care for others quickly goes down the tubes of consciousness. It’s all about OURSELVES, and our concern about right/wrong, good/evil escapes our senses for the moment. Blind lust can lead to all kinds of evil.
Pride: As in most of these factors, pride in and of itself is not evil. Taking pride in one’s self, accomplishments, or abilities is not a negative. The problem arises when pride becomes so dominant in our minds that we see nothing but ourselves, and deem all others to be inferior or less deserving than ourselves. This sense of position in life can lead us to many irrational acts and a lack of values where others are concerned. Pride of country, nationality, religion, education, class and culture when blown out of proportion leads to many forms of isolationism, bigotry and evil.
Money: Obviously, money can be used as a fuel for many of these attributes. As stated in a previous blog, it is the LOVE of money that causes all kinds of evil. Money can be used for good or evil. Yet, in most cases what money means to us is a keeping of score between us and other people. In business, we get our money by beating out the competition for buying our services or products. Our winning a deal usually means many others LOST. And in many cases, the more one gets the more one wants…and the whole of life is made up of the pursuit of money…sometimes to the point of forgetting what or why we needed money in the first place. The evils of robbery, dishonest business practices, graft and corruption all have their roots in the lust for money. Certainly some people truly need more money in this world. Most of the money is in too few hands. If that was only because those few won the money fair and legitimately, it wouldn’t cause so many evil deeds. But…because so much money and possessions in the world are illegally gained and hoarded…money truly has become a core cause of most the world’s evils.
Yes, the world is full of evil. The question is does this evil have to be inevitable? Do we truly need to give in to the destruction of our world by evil forces and people? After all, it is HUMANS who sit in the seats of decision…decisions of who we will follow. Decisions on if the nuclear button gets pushed or not. Decisions about whether to invade your neighbor or not.
To the extent that we can examine ourselves and others objectively and rationally, we just might have a chance to fight evil with good. If we can just start by controlling our own evil impulses, that would be the first step that obviously any of us can take to overcome evil. To the extent that we can be honest and accountable to our families and friends, we can conceivable get their support for overcoming our own demons. In a world of cause and effect, we each can do our little bit to overcome evil and do good. Maybe it starts with just talking or writing about it…together? As it was once said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”…both for good and for evil.