Thursday, May 24, 2018
3:40 a.m. I will go back to the three bullet points you gave me Tuesday, but I want to discuss the insight I had yesterday. I think it cuts closer to what you’re trying to get across.
Closer to one aspect of what we’re trying to get across, yes.
Yesterday morning I spent 70 minutes in the dentist’s chair having a molar extracted, then more time at an oral surgeon’s to finish the job of getting the last bit of root. No complaints about any of it – I like my dentist and her staff, and I liked the oral surgeon and his staff. I wasn’t frustrated that what might have been relatively easy turned out to be difficult, and I was astonished and gratified that my dentist didn’t charge me after working all that time because, she said, I’d have to pay the surgeon and it wouldn’t be fair to make me pay twice for the same tooth. In all, very pleasant human interactions amid an unavoidably unpleasant physical incident.
But that’s a lot of time in the chair, and one’s mind will follow its own associations. At one point I was thinking of the difference between inflicting pain unwillingly as an unavoidable side-effect of helping, on the one hand, and the inflicting of pain deliberately, sadistically, as an end in itself and perhaps also in pursuit of doing further damage (breaking one’s will, perhaps).
I know it sounds like the basis of a joke about dentists, but it is a serious point and illustrates a serious point, I think, and not only about intent.
Yes, only spell it out. You think you have said it, but it’s still implicit.
So it is. I see that as you say it, and, indeed, I had thought I’d said it. Very well, my thought is merely this: The kind of person who inflicts pain for its own sake, the sadist who delights in hurting others – not to mention the type of person who doesn’t enjoy hurting others but doesn’t mind it either – reflect, express, part of the vast impersonal forces around us. Those forces support good and evil, pleasant and unpleasant. And in fact separating them into that polarity represents the effect of Adam and Eve having eaten of the fruit of the tree of Perceiving Things As Good Or Evil, but can’t really be helped.
So that’s the best I can do. Over to you.
Tangentially, note how convenient the story from Genesis is when you need to allude to something in the human condition in a few words. That’s why complicated explanations get encapsulated into stories, only it’s important to know the difference between mythos as illustrative dramatization – which it is – and mythos as literal history, which it is not.
Your insight is correct and in most ages would be totally obvious. In your own age, it is totally obvious to everyone except a relative few (New Agers, Transcendentalists, etc.) who know there is something wrong with what they see as the conventional view of good and evil but have somewhat hastily decided that “evil is only the absence of good” rather than being the polar opposite.
As I was writing that out, I got that their objection to seeing it as polarity was right, only their conclusions aren’t, and the reason why has to do with definitions.
Which is what this whole long conversation spanning 25 years has been about: redefining. When you come to undo a knot, you don’t aid the process by tugging on either end of the rope – and of course still less by tugging on both. The only way to untie a knot is – you might say – to re-think it, to un-define it as a knot by reconceptualizing it as rope, so you can see how to undo the knot without doing violence to the rope.
Somehow that got more complicated than it needs to be, I think.
Possibly. But anyway, true dilemmas can never be solved by logic at the same level from which they have sprung into awareness. The only way is to work your way back along the definitions until you find out which relatively-but-not-absolutely-true definition or definitions caused the problem. Change your definitions by seeing more clearly into the nature of things, and certain problems reveal themselves as other than they appeared to be. Impossible contradictions resolve into inadequately understood ambiguities.
To stick closely to the point here, what is perceived as Evil may not be precisely what it appears to be, and may not have the same causes or expression as is assumed, but nonetheless it does exist; it does manifest. And no matter what one’s philosophical position, it is all around you.
I have always attributed anyone’s denial of the existence of evil to ignorance of history or to blind adherence to concepts not well understood. The 20th century was loaded with evil. This century is doing pretty well itself. How, in the age of Stalin and Hitler, anyone could not see the existence of evil in our times, escaped me except as a function of people (a) not knowing of the Gulags or concentration camps, to say nothing of other evils, or (b) refusing to see the evil therein, as leftists condemned rightists and vice-versa but never admitted that their own side did the same thing.
All true, but not quite relevant here. Here what is relevant is that some individuals enjoy causing pain, doing damage, breaking down their fellow human beings. In other words, we are not here speaking of “doing evil that good may come” but of doing evil that evil may come.
How is it that some people say, “Evil, be thou my good”? How is it that some people are true to their own nature by being and doing evil? Let’s define it closely for the moment and call as evil only the infliction of pain (of any sort) upon another for reasons of the person’s own enjoyment. By leaving out so many borderline conditions, we may be able to put it into clearer relief.
Yes, we eliminate indifference, ignorance, collateral damage, and willingness that others suffer so long as we get what we want, and we wind up with those who enjoy inflicting pain.
It points up the problem. Once the underlying dynamics are clear, then the principles may be applied to less clear-cut examples.
Your lives are not simply your own affair. Your composition is not under your own control at the 3D level, of course—you are what you were created as, plus or minus whatever you have done to yourselves by your lifetime of decisions – and what you came in as has been affected not only by your decisions but by the winds that blew while you were here, to quote Thoreau.
“Our thoughts are the epoch of our lives. All else is as a journal of the winds that blew while we were here.”
Yes, slightly different context, you see, and vastly different conclusion. Thoreau as Transcendentalist knew that the simplistic judgmental Christian theology that surrounded him in his New England homeland was inadequate and even bigoted. What he did not recognize was that Thoreau as Abolitionist was expressing the very same simplistic judgmental attitude – inadequate and even bigoted – whenever the subject came to Southerners and slavery. His level of being was different, and so was his attention, but he expressed the attitude of the times (call it that) just as did everyone else. If you’re going to live in the 19th century in the US, you’re going to live among certain winds – certain environmental factors – and so is everyone else there. Slaveholders would be tempted into the exact same attitudes, only of course they would channel them differently. So would slaves, so would whites of all political persuasions North and South.
Those vast impersonal forces that invisibly shaped people’s lives shouldn’t be thought of as good or evil – they are well beyond that. But they express as good or evil, depending upon what they encounter, in other words depending upon the makeup and will of the people living.
Evil exists. People willing to do evil as a necessary thing to get what they want, exist. People enjoying inflicting evil for its own sake and for their own aggrandizement exist. You can’t talk them away. Only, be sure you know what you are seeing and describing.
There is more to be said, but not now, and perhaps not next time, for there is still the matter of the bullet points to pursue. But enough for the moment.