Sunday, April 4, 2010

Defining Evil


- What's new?
- Interesting scandal developing in the Catholic Church.
- I'm not interested. You're gloating because you're Jewish.
- What's new with you then?
- I am in love with the doctor!
- Jewish doctor.
- Yes
- Crazy whore.
- Evil Jew.
- Why is it evil for a husband to protest his wife's betraying their love?
- You're not a husband. You're a typical Jewish parasite, bankrupt, ruining other people's lives. You should keep to your principle of love....

That is the last conversation I had with my wife. Despite being absolutely certain that anger is always bad, I am always getting angry with her. From her point of view I as a friend should be happy about her new life possibilities. I know this, but not when I am angry. Getting angry I lose the chance to reasonably fight it out with her.

Any outbreak of anger is blind, as often as not based on misunderstanding (the person who is thought to be threatening may intend to help). Anger is instinctual. It is a response to losing security we have not made for ourselves, so feel no confidence in, don't know how to remake by ourselves. In action, it is violence, a primitive kicking away of what disturbs our security. In thoughts, anger is a sense of injustice, a belief that the rules in which we have been raised have not been respected.

A child's anger passes away, is not reflected upon. A cruel child may look for pretexts for anger, so as to do something that reminds himself of his strength. But this is not real anger - there never was prior fear, no threat to security. The act expressing superiority is played.

What a child cannot do is to deliberately incite real anger at injustice, for the sake of establishing anew his secure place among others.

German concentration camp commanders and guards had to overcome an initial resistence to torture and killing, but once they had, it became easier and even routine, a matter of efficiency. Seeing their victims as a cause of disturbing their security, responding with passion, feeling they had dealt with or were on the way to thoroughly dealing with the problem, they felt free, as if they had accomplished a ritual performance of re-birth from a sense of dying weakness. The ritual performance was then repeated with an increasing sense of strength, and the act of destroying the victim in that performance a mere element in a regular recurrence. The totality of their recovery of security pursades that the total eradication of the disturbing group was justified.

The performance remakes the roles, solidifies the place in the group. Children have not learned to use their memory in this way of organizing their passions together with ideas of security in social life. They do not say to themselves, if I let myself get angry at those people, I will get through this and I will be closer and safer among my friends, we will have something in common and more need for each other's support in passing through this and more entitled to each other's praise in having accomplished passing through this.

Developing such a deliberate use of passion is an initiation into adulthood. It establishes a new social role, outside of the unconsciously felt protection of the family. If a child can do it, he is no longer a child.

A child's simple malice or cruelty builds up an image of self strength, feeling weak seeks to make a proof of strength. There is no real sense of justice involved. It is not evil. The deliberate indulging in anger, with its sense of injustice, to re-establish a role in relation to other people, is what we think of as evil.

We know from early childhood that our anger leads us to attack our brother wrongly. We regret our violence. We see good in restraining ourself from this kind of blind violence. We think of evil as deliberately moving in the opposite direction, as deliberately choosing to be violent for the sake of re-establishing an arrangement between ourselves and others. It is forgeting our regret.

In evil, we knowingly work up anger at what seems to be disruptive of our security, and then repeat those same actions ritualisticly, routinely, thoughtlessly, enjoying a sense of self-produced confidence.

The Guardians in Plato's Republic are said to be like dogs, they love their masters because they are masters, hate strangers because they are not. They are defined by their spirited nature, their strength in anger, in defending what is just. But what is just is defined only as what serves those they belong to, what makes up their security. Good or bad does not enter into it. The city they protect in fact is an embodiment of this principle I have been defining: it is evil. It is created in enmity to all outside it, and maintained by an artifical affinity among the guardians supported by lies. Everyone in the city plays a role defined as feverish, dependent, in need of the other roles to play out its part, as weak in relation to each other and as having learned to practice their roles unconsciously. Since each role establishes itself against the other, each role is to those in other roles a means of recovery, everyone acts passionately to re-establish oneself, re-educate oneself in the proper role. In this republic politics is a totally a product of anger.

Anger sets up a particular kind of state in the name of justice. Plato's purpose in showing this was to point out that true justice begins in our rejecting the false justice we can understand, rejecting what we call evil.

Before I got angry I wanted to talk with my wife about the new development in the scandal of the Catholic Church. Accused of protecting their admittedly guilty priests from prosecution, a high official had just compared the criticism of the Catholic church to anti-Semitism.

My first reaction was, what outrageous hypocrisy! The priests, as is now known, in large numbers were making children the object of their sexual assaults. Children are by doctrine defined as ignorant and ignorant of doctine, are morally incompetent, non-participents in that obvious sense, they are disruptive of conformity. As strange as it seems, a priest's passion for children can become institutionalised, because all passions work to restore a social imbalance, right a perceived wrong, recover from insecurity protested against as unjust. The Pope as head of the Office of the Inquisition responsible for Church discipline executed a policy of protecting child molesting priests from prosecution, apparently reasoning that we are all guilty, and priests more subject to temptation in their chosen line of work should accordingly be more routinely forgiven. No attention was paid to whether this policy might lead to the harming of more children. The children, like the disturbing Jews to the anti-Semite, were the means for re-establishing solidarity within the church. Their life or death had only instrumental value.

When the church official compared the threatened legal prosecution of the Church to anti-Semitism, he was comparing the position of the children to that of the Jews: living in Christian societies, the Jews were an ever present disruption. They were made into symbols of the possibility of disruption. Children by definition are incapable of the passionate action of the sort the priests had taken against them that re-creates politics, the action that solidifies the church. The children were being seen as Jews, were being made the victims of the same kind recurrent assault as were the Jews. Children for the church had become useful, even essential symbols of disruption. Taking the side of the children was like taking the side of Jews. But all are one in the church. Thus the priest were the victims too of anti-Semitism!

This really was too much. Then I thought there was still something strange here. The idea that the Catholic church was the victim of anti-Semitism seemed crazily almost like something I would come up with. And then I realized why.

The Pope has said he believes his church is the only true inheritor of the Classical Greek traditions of reason and love. Mired in their new exposure, I saw that the priests of the church truly had placed themselve in a position similar to the Jews living among the Christians. The priests are perceived as engaged in a self protecting self benefiting conspiracy, as blood-maddened perpetrators of an outpouring of passion against defenseless children; they are seen as living within a tradition of reason and love which their irrational passions permanently disrupt. Anti-Semitism is distinguished from other varieties of racial hatred by exactly this quality of being a known, permanently persisting disruption from within. Because of its permanence, anti-Semitism has acquired the status as a name or symbol of a general behavior, that of deliberately maintained racial hatred used to re-construct a society.

The priests, assaulting children while teaching a religion of love, have become for the rest of the world a clear symbol of evil flourishing within a promulgation of love. They seem to know from their own long history of anti-Semitism what they've let themselves in for.

When Plato made a picture of a city built by injustice-inspired anger, it was merely a fiction, an experiment in thought done while trying to answer the question, what is justice? Clearly justice of a kind, the kind that accompanies anger, was to be found in such a city, but most people would not willingly live there. How do we define the kind of justice we all really would like to see in the politics we live with? Our tradition tells us that justice is acting with love. Our reason tells us further that justice is resisting as the young child already knows how to do the destructive, false sort of justice that leads him to blind anger against his brother, and also resisting the kind of anger that an adult is tempted by, that which creates new societies. This understanding is the self knowledge and moderation of the classical Greeks that the church has now openly put itself in opposition to.