Sunday, December 19, 2021

Explaining & Explaining Away

- Look at that. The whole bench along the wall is occupied with them.
- By 'them' you mean those in Beverly Hills who sleep on the streets, or rather on the sidewalks.
- Riding my bike here I almost ran over one.
- Which one?
- How do I know? All I saw was a form buried under piles of filthy blankets.
- This Starbucks is incredible. Across the street is the Peninsula hotel, just behind the cafe building is the Waldorf Astoria, two of the most expensive hotels in the city. Look at those guys getting out of their Mclaren super car, hundreds of thousands of dollars. This place stinks. But that won't stop this country's intrepid rich from stepping right into the miasma for their coffee.
- The word 'evil' comes to mind. 
- Does calling the rich 'evil' explain anything?
- If we want an explanation of the orbits of planets, we find one in a law of gravity. But if we want an explanation of how an object moves from one place to another, we rely on what we call energy, force, momentum, sorts of things which we have no explanation of.
- Explanation meaning we can tell a story in the form of general rule relating one thing to another at one place or another.
- Yes. So if I offer an explanation of the indifference of the rich to the massive misery piling up around them, we place the rich in a certain orbit where they are subject to certain 'forces' of indocrination which convince them that it's those people's own fault, the misearable deserve to be miserable, by being punished for their error they are motivated to make corrections. Their indifference explained. Or not? Don't you still want to call them 'evil'?
- Absolutely. 
- So again: does calling the rich 'evil' explain anything, anything more than saying they are suffering from the disease of pleonexia: excessive or insatiable covetousness, from the Greek pleonektein (to be greedy), from pleion (more) + ekhein (have).
- I think it does. 
- But there's a paradox here. It seems possible to make the attribution of the word 'evil' come and go, depending on how one looks at the world. Something like when we are in the presence of beauty we see it, it gives us pleasure, it is seen as warranting the attribution 'beautiful'. Yet we can explain away the beauty by seeing instead regular relation, geometric forms, well-functioning, losing thereby both pleasure and the consideration of the object as beautiful. What if the same happens with evil? We see it, the evil in the object, we feel pain in the act of perception. Yet we can if we like shift our way of looking, see instead pleonexia, and lose both the sight of evil in the object and our pain felt in having the perception.
- How does that get us anywhere, your claiming that how we explain is up to us, is our own doing?
- It's not obvious.
- Not to me. Isn't it crazy, aren't we crazy, to be having this kind of conversation right in front of these people?
- Pretending our ideas are important when faced with all this evil going on around us?
- Yes. 
- Think about the two kinds of explanation we've talked about. One stops short of satisfaction, leaving us with unexplanable force, in the case of the indifferent rich the pleanexia 'forced' upon them by capitalism, the stock market, family, advertising, movies, etc. The other gives us a clear sight of a meaningful object and corresponding strong feeling.
- But, I don't understand. If explanation is telling a story, where's the story in choosing to see evil when we don't have to?
- When we see evil as evil we are not seeing the regularity of law, and the resulting mystification of forces responsible for the application of law to the individual, but instead, seeing evil we experience the perception as complete in itself, feel what it is to be a human being.
- The story is that the indifferent rich have chosen to live in a world they see wrong, and by calling them 'evil' we remind ourselves not to follow in their path.