The Rise of Evil, Part 2

Not many disagreed with the claim in my previous post that evil always wins.

Maybe it’s more obvious than I thought. Everybody knows it, and your reaction upon seeing that I have discovered it, too, is “Duh.” On the other hand maybe this bleak side of Jones is too much of a downer. You don’t believe me, you think that Good can triumph and you don’t have time for an intervention right now.

But Theresa and Emma Goldman (whom I crudely call “Goldie”) both stood up for the forces of Good. My first reaction was “What planet are they living on?” Years ago, even before I read Crime and Punishment, I had a theory about how you could have anything you wanted in life. It was so simple I couldn’t believe everyone wasn’t already implementing it. Here it is: Take whatever you want by force and kill all the witnesses. I had noticed that hard work and talent do not necessarily lead to success in this world, so I was thinking of ways to get stuff, in case my own hard work and talent failed.

Stealing it was one of the options. Hey, it had to be at least considered. In considering it, one of my very first thoughts was “What if I get caught, and go to prison, and end up with a boyfriend?” This line of thinking lead to my theory. Criminals get caught because witnesses tell on them, therefore you should get rid of all the witnesses. Not just bribe them or threaten them, but kill them. That way you get to keep the spoils, and there are no repercussions.

I never put my theory into practice though. I didn’t want to kill anybody. I didn’t even want to steal the material things I wanted. I wanted to earn my own way and have the respect of others, and as Goldie remarked (sort of) in her comment, I wanted to be able to look in the mirror without cringing at the sleazy, double-dealing murderous thief I had become.

As a result I haven’t gotten rich or powerful. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t return my calls, because she knows in advance that she doesn’t want to meet me. Probably if I had followed my theory – with some modifications to account for security cameras and DNA tracing – I could have had Gwyneth in so many ways by now. But I opted for living the good life instead. Damn those Catholic schools.

But even though I am not much of a player, it seems obvious to me that if you’re willing to resort to cheating, lying, stealing, threatening and actually causing physical harm to others (in other words, if you’re willing to do Evil), you can come out on top in competitive situations, which is what life is. A dope like me would feel so bad about this that he would not be able to do it for long without breaking down and confessing, and then doing prison time. In my previous post I gave four simple examples of how this works, so I won’t belabor this here.

I suppose what Theresa and Goldie are trying to say is something along the lines of “If we’d all play fair, carry our own weight and help each other, it would be a better world.” Granted, and I’m all for it in principle. But if one guy decides to take what he wants and kill all the witnesses, he can negate a million good deeds.

And sadly, that guy is always out there.

Share this:

23 Replies to “The Rise of Evil, Part 2”

  1. I think good pays off in the long term and evil pays off in the short term. Everything comes to light with time.

    And maybe it’s not even about good and evil anymore. Maybe it’s about survival. Do you not feel the Darwinian free market breathing down your neck as those with more than you try to take what little you have?

    Good and evil, as concepts, may just be outdated. I think we’re in a world of protect yourself or be the victim.

  2. Good and evil obsolete concepts? Or is it that they are inconvenient concepts? Survival has always been difficult. We must, and yet we are not told how to do it. Every generation has to figure most of it out anew, as the world morphs from what it was when our parents were trying to make their ways. But now do we wish to put aside concepts of morality in exchange for an ethos that says “Do what you must to survive”? This is what the fundamentalists accuse me of, and I don’t buy it. I have some kind of morality. It’s just taking me a long time to figure out what it is.

  3. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying this is the way the world is. I look after my loved ones first. After that, if I’ve got anything left to help out the good people, I do. But how do you define who is good and who is evil?

    Good intentions are not enough. The people of Germany had good intentions and they put into motion one of the most horriffic genocides in history.

    Both Iraq wars were supposedly fought with good intentions; to help people. The only thing those wars are doing are helping people die and sell stock and employ people who make weapons.

    Is the poor schmuck who is still paying off his computer programming degree and working at Lockheed-Martin to make bills and feed his family evil because he programs air to ground missiles that have high collateral damage?

    Is every poor, ignorant soul that believes that this nation’s current government only has their best interests at heart evil for giving their elected leaders four more years?

    Who decides who or what is evil?

    The answer is every single human being on the planet and each of those indivicuals does not seem to be doing a very good job of it.

    I’m not saying morals and ethics are a thing of convenience, but of survival.

    Cut and run. Stand or fall.

    Too many people lack the courage of their convictions, and that is why evil usually wins, until years later when somebody else will apologize for it and all of the offfending parties are dead and buried.

  4. In a way, you make my point for me. I was never trying to say that evil is good and good is evil. I wasn’t trying to claim that the triumph of evil all around us is a positive thing. I was trying to say that it’s happening, that’s all. If we are all in charge of deciding what is “good,” and we are doing a bad job of it, what hope is there? The major religions aren’t working. Government isn’t working. Higher education isn’t working. Popular culture isn’t working. Do we have an instinct for wanting to do the right thing, or don’t we? And if I’m doing the right thing, being kind and generous and trusting, can’t any asshole run right up and cut my legs out from under me whenever he wants, take my money, my car, my wife? If he feels bad about it after, what good does that do me?

    Why should I not be the asshole?

  5. You don’t have to be the asshole. Assholes take what they desire or what is necessary to them. Make him understand that the risks far outweigh the rewards. Make him understand that it isn’t necessary.

    But if that doesn’t work, at some point you’ll have to take the hit. But knowing that the hit is coming gives you the edge. You can counter. You can defend yourself. This is true in martial arts as it is in business and personal interactions.

    And this doesn’t mean macho fighting bullshit. This means protecting yourself by paying attention to the assholes and your environment.

    Politics are bullshit. Too many people with their hands out wanting a cut. The same with religion.

    We can only rely on ourselves and the few people we love. Everyone and everything else is either a potential threat or a potential friend. It all comes down to our on responsibility and judgement.

    Obtaining or preserving anything of value, be it family or a home or even one’s finances or reputation, is never easy. And a lot of evil arises from too many people trying to take the easy way out of everything.

  6. off the subject: Love your new blog pic…

    On the subject: I love the matter of fact’ness’ of this piece. The, no beat around the bush reality of it. But it takes all kinds to balance this world of ours out. The good, the bad, & the indifferent. We don’t get to choose for others (obviously) & some of us who are good- have seen so much bad lately that it pushes us toward indifference as a coping mechanism.

  7. t1 – Good point. You can only fight the power so long, and lose, before you give up and try to sidestep the issue as much as possible.

    It seems to me that that might be the true definition of a leader: Someone who can, for a moment, galvanize the activists as well as the indifferent dropouts and bench-warmers to mobilize and bring real change.

  8. Your argument implies that there is a notion of progress that is relevant here, and that one can assess whether good or evil is winning by examining the direction of the progress (i.e., toward good or toward evil). Part of the challenge, though, is that it’s not at all clear that we could or would recognize “progress” were it to be sitting on our laps. In other words, evaluating the notion of more or less good/evil requires that we be able to measure or quantify it in some way, and we could have a duel here in the comments about which things should be included in that calculus.

    My favorite example is “Brave New World.” In the society Huxley imagines, nearly everyone is fed, clothed, housed, engaged in productive work that is challenging enough but not too challenging, and, by and large, happy. Is the world he envisions good or evil? Certainly much progress toward things we regard as good is evident–people aren’t starving, or oppressing each other, or killing each other, for example, and there really isn’t any stealing or the like. So why does that world feel not-quite-good?

  9. Change becomes harder and harder to affect because to change makes things difficult for people, and people don’t want difficulty.

    If you don’t believe me, just look at the culture: People don’t even want to live their own lives anymore – They just want to sit on their asses and watch reality TV and see someone else live a life they’d want to experience instead of doing it themselves.

    We want what we’ve always had, just with less work and more flash. That’s why we’re getting less competition in the workplace, more mega-banks and mega-corporations, and less fulfilling products, services, and lives.

    And when this happens, when we get in this funk, we turn to any schmuck with some personality hawking Jesus and salvation. Just have your credit card ready…

  10. I think what appeals to people who like the “Revelations”-type ends–the whole “left behind” pile of crap–is that one is relieved of the responsibility of assessing good/evil: all one must do is have faith in a deity, and the deity will sort it out. Much easier than taking responsibility for one’s own actions and certainly easier than muddling through tough questions like “what counts as good/evil/progress?”

  11. Goldie – Surely you’re not trying to say that there is no way to assess progress, or make a determination as to whether an act or a condition is “good”? I mean, granted you might not want a government to care for your every need, including emotional and intellectual, but isn’t there something between (or aside from) an endless Darwinian survival battle and a lifelong womb existence?

    Adreeyin – You could be our New Leader, if you lose the horns. We have no leaders right now. There is much discontent, and things could change over the coming generation, if a motivator comes forward.

  12. Oh, absolutely, Larry–I have a number of ideas about what constitutes progress, or, at least, good and evil. But not everyone agrees with my ideas, not by a long shot. (We’d all be happier if they did, but whaddya gonna do.) I’d say that a substantial part of small-p (and, maybe, capital-P) politics is sorting out that stuff, trying to evaluate whether a given policy or action or whatever is likely to (or already has) contribute(d) to good or evil. What do we want which collective to do? What are the proper roles and responsibilities for individuals? I have opinions about that, as do many of the people in the comments section, and we can all make dramatic examples out of our favorite egregious bit, but no matter what, we still have to sort through it all.

    To maintain the good/evil questioning, however, part of what makes the current administration so evil is that they have managed to redefine so many pieces of the public discussion about these issues.

  13. Goldie – Regarding your last point: I hope that redefining is not evil in itself. Because I believe that the moral and political policy discussion needs to be redirected – redefined, if you will – again, only in a new direction. Perhaps this redefinition is only a tactic, but without a definition, you will be asking a lot of people to make up their minds more or less in a vacuum. That is, without a framework (because, frankly, they are not, shall we say, interested enough to study and create their own platform from which to make their moral choices.

  14. No, redefining is not, in and of itself, evil. Neither is redefining for “political” ends, necessarily. My short argument is that the current administration is evil because they have redefined the terms of the debate in ways that are Orwellian in multiple dimensions.

    It occurred to me that the confusion here might be a result of saying that “evil always wins”–which I do not think is true, not least because we never know how things WILL turn out (especially after we’re gone)–and saying that “at least sometimes, evil will beat good,” which is demonstrably true. the former construction makes it futile by definition (and is basically an argument for people like Doctors w/o Borders or the American Friends Service Committee to just pack up and go home), while the latter construction admits that evil keeps popping up, i.e., it’s not clear that we can somehow eliminate evil from human behavior but nevertheless leaves room for fighting evil when it shows up.

    And I don’t think it’s a distinction w/o a difference, either. The first says that all good is a hopeless endeavor, while the latter says that it’s a constant battle.

  15. This pessimistic, hands-in-the-air vision of the world is depressing. Instead of seeking solutions, you’re wasting your brilliant energy convincing yourself that it’s okay to give up and give in. Of course you’ll lose. All quitters lose, my dear.

    Or you can acknowledge your vast power, as well as your limitations. You can set an example, interrupt negativity, and expect the best out of people. And if someone disappoints you, you can make them cookies … because it’s really difficult to continue to be evil when your tummy is full of tollhouse goodness.

    Furthermore, reevaluate what it means to win. Is having the most stuff and being the biggest big-shot the definition of true success? Maybe to some people, but you know better than that. It’s about knowing how to make the best cup of coffee, sitting in your favorite second-hand chair, listening to a Cello concerto as a cool breeze lofts through the window, and realizing that this is your best day.
    Baby, evil can’t touch that!

  16. Goldie – So you just don’t like their definition. Nonetheless, the redefining that has been done over the past forty years or so will turn out to be one of the great political stories of the century. For example, most people now actually think the word “liberal” means “traitor,” while the current corporate welfare programs are thought of as tax “relief,” and ordinary people feel relieved.

    Your logic is correct in the second part of your comment, and I am busted. I must now admit that evil does not always win. But it does take over wherever it appears, like rust under your paint, spreading and corrupting, and it is relentless and seductive to so many of us, and those whose consciences permit them to employ it enjoy an advantage over me.

  17. Theresa – Bless you, Angel! Just when this theoretical discussion had almost floated away like a runaway weather balloon, you touch it with humanity. There’s a time for talk, and there’s a time for cookies, I know.

    I do make a bad cup of coffee, and I’m waiting to hear that cello.

  18. It’s more than “I don’t like their definition.” I believe that their definitions intentionally lie, mislead, and mislabel. If I were living in a society that said openly that greed is good, that the most greedy should be rewarded, etc., I might (nay, would!) disagree strongly with those principles, and I would try to show the flaws in the assumptions and arguments. In contrast, the current folks create programs that do exactly the opposite of what the programs’ supporters claim will happen. IIRC, at the intro to 1984, Orwell basically said that you could define complexity away, you could eliminate freedom by eliminating any way to talk about it, for example. (Wittgenstein says something related, though he was talking about complex language and complex life being inextricably intertwined.) IOW, what you can say and what you (can) do are deeply intertwined. Thus, a political party–like the current administration–that basically lies about its programs and the effects of those programs is engaging in a different kind of deception–evil, let’s call it–than is a political party that is trying to make a case for a program with which you disagree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.