Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What is Evil Anyway?


“When you rise in the morning, tell yourself: The people I meet with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and foul-tempered. They are like this because they do not know how to tell good from evil. But I have seen the nature of what is good and the ugliness of evil, and I have seen this not only in others but in myself.”
–Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I stood inside the black cube of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and wondered to myself what sort of thing could any people have done to warrant such insane, wholesale extermination? Typical pat answers flooded into my mind: the Jews had created envy and resentment with their accumulation of wealth and manipulation of the political system in Germany; they didn’t believe Hitler when he told them he was going to get rid of them…But was any of this–whether true or false–a sufficient “reason” for such monumental cruelty? Clearly it could only have been an excuse for something much darker and much emptier than the faults of a clannish people who sought their own advantage, and possibly sometimes at the expense of others. Can any of us say that we are not culturally and personally guilty of the same thing? At that moment, however, I had no answer, so I knelt and wept as the endless list of names were read over the disembodied sound system.

The ultimate answer to the evil that we see around us–from murder on a global scale to the financial deceits of corporate pirates, and the legal loopholes for bad behavior hoisted on us by those who think more freedom is the answer to evil–is not a pleasant one, and it takes us, much as Marcus Aurelius observed, to the ugliness of evil observable within ourselves. What might the classical world be able to tell us about evil in a day and age marked by suicide bombers, priestly pedophiles, road rage, gang beatings, sexual chicanery in the White House, and the recent genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia?

What is evil anyway? Do we need a devil with horns and a place with flames for those who don’t measure up to the mark? The educated Greeks and Romans really didn’t need Gods or demons (even though they had more Gods than you could shake a stick at) to see that evil was simply the absence of something good that might be present. Plato, for example, believed that evil was a deficiency of judgment resulting in ignorance, and that morality meant reversing the process whereby the appetites had overwhelmed reason. If the evil man or woman did what was wrong it was only because they thought that such a “good” appeared to be a greater good than it actually was. A man who steals, for example, thinks that such an act will bring him happiness and a better life. (Generally speaking, experience tells us that the exact opposite is the case.) False knowledge is for Plato a “sleep of ignorance” that must be woken up from with the more accurate and illumined knowledge of what he called virtue, which produces good results, as opposed to vice, or the bad habits that produce bad results. This excellent knowledge is recovered, according to Plato, through the soul’s recollection or what we might call today mindfulness.
Living, Plato indicated is an art, and the soul’s unique function is the art of living. This art is cultivated by having true knowledge of the soul. In the Republic, Plato describes the soul as having two parts, which he terms the rational and the irrational. The irrational is divided into appetite and spirit (what we might call the will today) and the rational part of the soul is the intellect. He uses the example of a charioteer, in the dialog Phaedrus, who is in command of the two horses of rationality and irrationality. You are the charioteer and you hold the reins to those horses. According to Plato, as the soul recollects itself–gazing as it were into the mirror of its own destiny–it develops a growing love for the transcendental realities of, Truth, Beauty and Goodness. This can only happen, however, by an ascent of the ladder of virtue, rather than a descent down the opposite ladder of vice.

Aristotle, perhaps less colorful than Plato, but more precise, described the soul as having five powers: the vegetative (growth) power, the locomotive power (the power to move), the sensitive power (which generates the five senses), the appetitive power (instincts and will) and the intellectual power of the mind. Acts of human evil, in the abstract, are simply deficiencies of some “good” in the operation of these five powers. The intellectual virtues of art, wisdom, science, understanding and prudence (the ability to govern oneself with reason) enable the intellect to be developed. It is an evil not to develop the intellect and it is from this tradition that the west places a high but confused value on education. (I say confused because some of the intellectual virtues are stressed in western education but the moral virtues are largely ignored.) The moral virtues such as justice, courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, honor, gentleness, continence, friendship, and truthfulness are likewise, habits that help regulate the appetites or the horse of unreasonableness. In other words, and for example, if a man was either ignorant or lacking in self-restraint in regards to the excessive accumulation of wealth, a vice known as greed, this was to be considered a deficiency of intellectual and moral virtue and good character, an “evil” as it were in relation to the individual’s potential to be a better human being. A physical defect was likewise to be attributed to a defect in the soul’s power or its ability to affect the body. A good analogy to help us understand Aristotle’s concept of the unity of the soul and the body is to think of the soul as a broadcasting station and the body as a radio or television. One makes little sense without the other.

The Christians of the Middle Ages adapted the concepts of Greek philosophy to the new
Triune God-centered religion, based on the mysterious concept of faith, founded by a Jew who made the extraordinary claim that he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah of the prophets; a claim I do not yet think has been properly understood (but that is another story in itself). The medieval scholastics, as they were later called, came up with a more perfect and succinct definition of evil–one that was told to me in Rome in the nineteen seventies by an old Catholic priest with the ironic surname of Cain– Evil is the absence of a good which could and should be present. Evil is, from the perspective of traditional Christian theology, rooted as it was in Aristotle, a privation of some good. The perfection of this definition was such that even as a spiritually confused twenty-year-old touring and studying in sunny Italy, it fell into my mind like a perfect diamond. Here was a definition that moved beyond the scapegoating of “the devil made me do it” to a deficiency in the will for seeking and attaching itself to less than what the mind might judge to be better. Do many of us not have this difficulty in regards to food, for example? We know we should eat less but we choose to eat more because it feels good. This is an “evil” in respect to our own bodies, inasmuch as overeating can kill you and create a host of other medical problems. What is smoking but a short term “good” with long term “evil” results? The problem with definitions such as good or evil is that they come with a lot of associated baggage. If you try to tell someone that certain choices might be “evil”, they look at you as if you are telling them that they might have horns. They can’t seem to get beyond the notion of evil as something allied with the devil and not necessarily evil, as in the choosing of some lesser “goods” than one might otherwise choose from a position of greater enlightenment.

Fast forward eighteen centuries and stop in France. What are we to make of the terrible stupidity of Rosseau in his book Emile, when he says, “man is a being naturally good, loving justice and order: that there is not any original perversity in the human heart and that the final movements of nature are always right”? Really, how does that explain, for instance, and as Peter Maas observes in Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, the behavior of a Yugoslav thug who wraps a strong metal wire around a Bosnian’s testicles and then drives off at full speed on his motorcycle? Oh yes, man is naturally good. This sort of liberalism–and Rosseau is the western father of liberalism–is beyond stupidity; it is juvenile metaphysical thinking at its worst.

If you have ever watched talk shows, you can see the confusion and inconsistencies in many quasi-intellectual positions by simply asking yourself: what is the greater good that might be served here? When a young girl on Rikki Lake says that it is okay to dance naked in front of her homeboys, she is making a statement about what she thinks is good. Clearly it is a subjective, short term “good” for her to dance in this manner. She gets adulation from the boys and possibly money but what is missing here? The question that never seems to get asked is: What is the highest good that might be served by this young woman? Would it not be a higher “good” for her not to arouse the lust of her friends? Such questions cannot even be entertained when sexuality is viewed as a kind of private toilet function, not to be scrutinized by any moral thinking. Prostitution, likewise, might be thought of in terms of being “good” for those who think they need to be “serviced” and “good” for those who get paid for such services, but is it really good or does it create the potential for other evils? Keeping in mind that ecology is defined as the relationship of an organism to its environment, one might argue that there is an ecology of good and an ecology of evil, with each being an evolutionary ladder to a certain kind of moral development. In other words, there is set of good habits that can take you up one of those ladders and another set of habits that can take you down the evolutionary ladder.

The linking of an ecology of the greatest potential “good” with sexual and other appetitive energy use in a public moral code that might serve us publicly as a nation is sorely needed. Walter Lippmann noted this need many years ago in his book, The Public Philosophy. “When reason no longer represents society within the human psyche, then it becomes the instrument of appetite, desire and passion.” (He might just as well have added laziness to that list.) Prudence is defined in the dictionary as, “the ability to govern and discipline oneself through reason”. Do we see this today with rappers and rockers shouting out with unrestrained lust just what it is they want to do to their women–or any woman? Do any of the young Divas bumping and grinding their buttocks and salaciously touching their breasts and privates have any idea of what they are saying to young men driven sexually crazy by testosterone? The message is not treat me respectfully; it is: do me now, whether I want it or not. What has all of the crotch grabbing by the music crowd got to do with young killers who enjoy discharging guns at human beings in drive-by shootings in America? Is there a world-wide link between penises and vaginas that imprudently do whatever they like, to foul mouths and hands defaming and beating others? What connection is there between sexual and other forms of appetitive overindulgence and violence? There seems to be a terrible inability of educators and politicians the world over to see any connection between aggressive and unrestrained sexuality and violence. “They do not know,” as Aurelius says, “how to tell good from evil.”

There are those who will say that the suppression of sexuality in Moslem countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia has resulted in the oppression of women and created tremendous pent-up frustration, but these same individuals will neglect to mention that masturbation and even bi-sexuality in these countries is endemic and may itself contribute to the suppression of women. Any man who looks upon a woman as his bitch or thinks his genitals have parking rights with the loins of all women is not far from the paternalistic oppression noted in these Islamic countries, which has been rightfully criticized by the women’s liberation movement. Has it ever occurred, however, to social critics that the ability to re-locate and root the sexual appetites in marriage (no matter what religion is professed) might serve the higher good of appetitive restraint and impulse management in general? “Oh no,” we are told, “sex is good” and the more of it you can get without babies the better. Masturbation is always to be encouraged under the Rosseau “nature is good” system because whatever nature wants is good. What happens when nature wants something bad? What happens when you want a little bit of violence or murder with your sex, and what happens when the products of casual sex become inconvenient? I am reminded of the cartoon that shows a snake in the Garden of Eden tempting Eve: “Take it, it’s organic.” As a red-blooded American, I can’t think of anything more agreeable from the perspective of raw desire than raping, pillaging and destroying but does that mean I should engage such impulses? What will prevent me from engaging such desires, unless I have a moral code that puts a leash on appetites knowing full well that many impulses born of nature are nowhere near what we might term “good”?

By this I don’t mean to suggest that masturbation or other forms of sexual relief might not be thought of as limited “goods” within the highly subjective sphere of individual sexuality, but it is important to relocate our sexual energy, so to speak, into a context where it might be more productive, and tend more towards the moral and even spiritual perfection of our humanity, rather than being simply a sexual relief valve. Marriage tends to integrate sexuality in a way that is biologically healthy and it certainly can provide some serious protection against disease. Additionally, marriage functions as a tremendous school for impulse management. A friend in California once told me that if you can perfect any relationship that you will become enlightened. Perfecting the relationship with a spouse is a life-long task and that, along with the rearing of children, tends to integrate and domesticate sexuality. Men who are busy working, and raising and spending time with their families, generally speaking, have little time for mischief.

Single men and others with unrestrained appetites and nothing productive to do are a rich source of recruits for belief systems that require cannon fodder and are the “useful idiots” referred to by Lenin. Islamic militants who think they will go to heaven for blowing themselves up and Christian evangelists who think that God can be invoked while they are having sex on the sly and stealing money from their congregations, to Jewish militants who think that somehow, Palestinians have a different set of human rights than they themselves do, requires a moral ecology of good and evil for these belief deficiencies to be put into rational perspective. How might we begin to talk about a moral code that might be universally applicable to all men and women? How might we talk about what unites humankind as opposed to what divides it?

The beginning of an answer to these questions may be found in an analysis of Plato’s Symposium in The Four Cardinal Virtues by Joseph Pieper. The scene is a bunch of friends at a banquet and a man by the name of Agathon makes a toast in praise of love. What is unusual to modern eyes about the toast is that he organizes his praise around the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance (self-restraint in regards to pleasure). This was not unusual for the men at this gathering in 375 B.C. because these were common concepts in currency at the time. The doctrine of virtue as it has been called was one of the great discoveries of the ancient world and one that might be reintroduced to western culture with beneficial effects. When, for example, was the last time that you heard a modern psychologist or a politician speaking about the four cardinal virtues? Justice we hear much about, but justice without prudence, or the ability to govern one’s appetites is blind, and prudence without fortitude (the strength to keep doing the right thing, to just do it as they say) and temperance (the ability to exercise self-restraint in regards to pleasure) goes nowhere. How might we speak of good and bad habits today?

There is an amazing diversity of opinion on what is good and what is bad in America because there is no common denominator for evaluating either evil or good other than the asinine social contract theory, which proposes that all law is simply “positive” meaning that it has no significance beyond the elements of and the parties to the agreement itself. Modern law does not point beyond itself to the potential causality of a higher good. Indeed, modern law is hostile to such a concept. The insanity of the O.J. Simpson trial to Bill Clinton’s famous line: “it depends on what you mean by is” is indicative of modern law’s separation of itself from any concept of a higher good or even causality. What you can manipulate is based on a written calculus of sophistry. Taint the evidence, degrade the meaning of words, taint the intentions of witnesses; taint everything that you can, and then degrade the “evidence” because there is in fact nothing beyond the shifting sands of words within the confines of modern law. Devolving theologies and psychologies likewise seem to have denuded themselves of causality and common sense, leaving us in an Alice in Wonderland state of affairs where everything is just as you want it to be. The semantic and legal reduction of all meaning to linguistic analysis, which in turn deconstructs meaning is in fact the resurrection of the ancient enemy of irrationality now elevated to god-like status. It is almost as if the collective appetites of man have appeared in the form of solid waste masquerading as human consciousness. Such appetites are essentially the incarnation of a giant backside waiting to evacuate on mankind. Socrates himself had to deal with such sophists–men like Zeno who claimed that motion was impossible and others who indicated that virtue was completely useless. The sophists of Socrates day would be right at home in the legal profession in America; it would all seem so familiar. The only way out is as Socrates recommended: through the looking glass of our higher selves, or to use a more ancient term, the soul. The recollection of the soul that both Socrates and Plato speak of can only occur in a mind that is conscious of the energy of both ego and a higher self. This energy is subject to the laws of conservation of energy and has an ecological relationship with both body and soul.

This is of course a kind of New Age spirituality with a Greek twist but don’t let the terminology obscure the argument. Clearly, science is trying to grasp a new paradigm, whereby the data from scientific observation is welded into a new synthesis using the metaphorical data from the internal metaphysical observations of various pioneers of consciousness. In other words, metaphysics and science as metaphor can lead us in directions that science as the applied digestion of data cannot. Who is not vaguely disturbed, for example, with the reams of data gibberish that are turned out by many (but certainly not all) of the journals of social science? It is no accident that the number crunching function of the human mind is the easiest mental function to duplicate in machines. I remember being astounded at Aristotle’s claim that the ability to reason metaphysically involved a higher mental function that the ability to do mathematics. When you think about it for a moment, it becomes self-evident. Computers cannot think and the calculating of functions is not thinking but merely the abacus-like processing of existing patterns of mathematical reality.

The energy of sexuality might be thought of as relating directly to morality and the psychological health of individuals if the unseen helmsman of the higher self or soul could be shown to be dependent for its existence and clarity on that same energy. Kinetic energy, for example, is scientifically described as the energy of motion, and unless the motion of the life force or soul can be related kinetically to the body, then it is without useful significance. The Greek word Cyber means helmsman, so we might call the higher self or soul, the Cyber Identity and the energy that runs the soul, Cyber Kinetic energy. You might want to call it life force energy, the energy of the Id, or Chi, but call it something. Energy runs the universe and it is scientific obtuseness to pretend that some kind of life energy that we have not yet properly identified is not required to run the operations of the human mind and spirit.
There will be those of course who will refuse to accept the possibility of the existence of Cyber-Kinetic energy or anything like it simply on the basis of it not being scientifically verifiable. This is a legitimate objection but one that can ultimately be dissolved by hard science. The direction that science might take to identify the possible nature of life force energy and the existence of the Cyber Identity comes from some remarkable new research in Quantum Physics. Michio Kaku in his book, Hyperspace makes the following startling statement, which I will paraphrase. “With the addition of dimensions higher than the four of height, length, width and time, suddenly many of the intractable problems of modern physics become solvable.”

Let me furnish you with an example of the revolutionary significance of this statement from another book by William Abbott called Flatland. If you visualize a two dimensional dot imprisoned inside of a two dimensional box, you might ask yourself how that dot might escape, if it wanted to. Clearly it cannot go up because it only knows the dimensions of length and width, not height. Now go in and take the dot out of its prison. What have you done? You, being a three-dimensional creature, have no difficulty taking the dot out of its prison because height is a third dimension that you function in. But how does the dot’s escape look to the dot? A shape appeared out of nowhere and moved the dot onto another two-dimensional landscape! Now imagine yourself in a four dimensional prison. How would you get out? Perhaps if you had access to the fifth or a higher dimension, you could walk through your prison walls. If a five dimensional being took you out of your four dimensional prison, you would think a miracle occurred. Likewise, you may want to think about Cyber-Kinetic energy and the soul in the same way. They are five plus dimensional artifacts and we can only infer their existence from a four dimensional perspective. Indeed, one might infer that many of the problems of classical metaphysics much like physics suddenly become solvable with the addition of higher dimensions. The theory of the soul makes little sense, except to intuitive reason, unless it is understood as having a multi-dimensional identity. Once the soul is grasped as the hyperspace template of the body, suddenly its links to the ephemeral transcendentals of truth, goodness and beauty, and indeed to some uncaused shimmering Source beyond itself appears as a radiant and rational possibility.

Once the possible existence of the Cyber Identity of the soul has been postulated in multi-dimensional space (hyperspace), and the multi-dimensional kinetic energy that the Cyber Identity requires for the maximum development of virtue is further identified, then we can talk about the moral ecologies that might help steer the Cyber Identity into the wakefulness of recollection that Plato and other ancients have spoken of. We might also take a giant step forward by adopting such a model as a framework for the development of national standards of moral and psychological health and development. By adopting such a working framework, we will at last have some means of identifying evil, searching out what is merely good from what is better, and finally, putting to rest at last, the ancient antagonism between science and religion.
I am of the opinion that Sigmund Freud was onto something of extraordinary significance with his teaching on the cathection of instinctual energy. The Id, as many of you will recall, is Freud’s designated repository of instinctual or psychic energy, which in turn gives rise to the Ego and Superego. The difficulty with Freud’s teaching is that he didn’t go nearly far enough. The concept of cathection within a closed system such as Freud developed, in the final analysis, goes nowhere. If you take the concept of cathection and apply it to the energy dynamics of the Cyber Identity or the soul, suddenly you have an extraordinary new way of looking at how the Cyber Identity makes its connections to the world. The famous “I am that” of the Hindu sages is the epistemological cathection that the Cyber Identity makes on a daily basis. The moral of the story is: be careful of what you know!

Ultimately, and by having a moral grid on which to plot right and wrong actions, we might also identify and catalog the various kinds of cyberpathology that on some occasions may also give rise to mental illness. One has only to read, for example, the latest biography of Howard Hughes to grasp that there is in fact a preventable daisy chain of cathections to appetitive indulgence that lead from sanity to madness. Indeed, the unregulated cathections to the appetitive power of the soul have not to my knowledge been investigated by the social sciences as causal in any way of certain kinds of mental illness. Strange compulsions, attractions to self-destructive actions and the physical mutilation of the so-called “cutters” is in fact more indicative of the danger of unregulated cathections to the appetitive power of the soul than is the search for a biological basis for the etiology of certain kinds of mental illness. How might we describe, for example, a person who starts out as a simple coward and ends up in the folds of paranoid delusion and phobia? The continuum between a developing Cyber Identity and a devolving Cyber Identity may yield rich metaphorical clues for the solving of formerly intractable problems. Aristotle may have the final word here. Quoting Evenus in the Nichomachean Ethics, he says, “I say that habit’s but long practice friend, and this becomes men’s nature in the end.”

There is a marvelous paragraph in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons that captures the nature and possibility of moral recollection for those caught in the four dimensional prison of vice. Moore says to Norfolk: “And what would you do with a water spaniel that was afraid of water? You’d hang it! Well, as a spaniel is to water, so is a man to his own self. I will not give in because I oppose it–I do–not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do–I!” Moore goes up to Norfolk and feels him up and down as if he were some kind of animal and says, “Is there no single sinew in the midst of this that serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise my lord!” Note the extraordinary and simple distinction that Bolt creates by differentiating Norfolk’s vice ridden ego from his hidden self that Moore tries to so desperately awaken–not for his sake but for Norfolk’s. This is superb virtue in action, because if you recall, Moore was to be beheaded for his moral stance against the sexual predations and spiritual pretensions of the English King, Henry the VIII.
There is an extraordinary line in Aristotle’s Politics that goes to the heart of Moore’s struggle with moral corruption. He says, “Democrats take equality for their motto; oligarchs believe that political rights should be unequal and proportional to wealth. But both sides miss the true object of the state, which is virtue. Those who do most to promote virtue deserve the greatest share of power.” The real evil in the political process is that those who could do the most to promote virtue are generally speaking, excluded from the process with the constitutional separation of church and state, which has unfortunately, and in some very strange way, become in reality a separation of morality and the state, and a breeding ground for a multiplicity of social evils. Who is not appalled, for example, at the peculiar legal logic that allows one human being to be imprisoned for stealing a pen from the post office and yet at the same time, allows a man who beats his wife regularly to continue to freely walk the streets?

There is in Bolt’s vignette about Moore and Norfolk, everything we need to know about combating evil and discovering truth. The weight of authority cannot stand against the man or woman who holds fast to the good that his or her own souls recognize and possess with cyberkinetic force. If Socrates could drink poison and Christians die in the blood soaked arenas of Rome for the sake of higher goods, then we may view the moral and spiritual development of mankind as challenging the ancient plantation mentality of the vice-ridden earthly lords of evil. Rise up; you have nothing to lose but the chains of their egos.

About Sean J. O'Reilly:
Sean Joseph O’Reilly is the Author of How to Manage Your Destructive Impulses with Cyber-Kinetics (How to Manage Your DICK), editor of many award-winning travel books ( including The Road Within, Testosterone Planet, The Ultimate Journey, Pilgrimage, and The Spiritual Gifts of Travel. An active member of the Society of American Travel Writers, he lives with his wife Brenda and their six children in Arizona. He is also the founder of the new science of Quantum Cyberdynamics and Fifth Access, a think tank dedicated to unlocking the benefits of multi-dimensional thinking.

No comments: