|New Civilization News: What is Evil?|
Category: Counseling, Psychology
46 comments29 Sep 2004 @ 22:27 by jstarrs : When I stub my toe...
...on a chair leg, the chair-leg, for just a few seconds, becomes inherently evil.
Luke-warm bath water can take on the dimensions of liquid Hannibal Lecter.
But over-cooked spaghetti - I'm on the phone to the Vatican for their best excorcist!!!!
29 Sep 2004 @ 23:22 by Gunter @184.108.40.206 : A task for you
Flemming, very good post, but now I have a task for you. Put this information into the form of an allegory.
Old master like good old J. or B. had the right idea by passing on their wisdom in form of allegories. They just work better because they anchor the wisdom to something already experienced, and they last longer. Even if the outer form gets garbled over time, there is a much better chance that the gist of the story - the pay-load so to speak - remains intact.
It's very noticable how well this works with kids. I for example try not to tell Zen all the things he should learn directly - I package them in stories, and he remembers those - I doubt that he would be able to re-tell me a sermon I had given him just five minutes later, but when Old Shatterhand with his Red Indian friend Winnetou go after the evil railroader in the wild west - he remembers that.
Sometimes the abstraction to his own life lags a little (or a lot, as the case may be). Once, I was so proud of the story that I invented where his super hero Alan Tracy from the Tunderbirds learned a great lesson on what damage unneccesary lying can cause. One minutes later, we get out of the car, I ask him something - and he lies... Boy, do I have to work on my story telling skills.
30 Sep 2004 @ 00:54 by ming : Stories
Yeah, you're right, a good fable with a moral just teaches better. Is more easily remembered at least. And doesn't meet much resistance.
Like, here it could be the story of two friends who go for a walk while discussing good and evil. One person believes that people are good and is optimistic about life. The other one doubts it and complains about all the bad things in the world. While they walk they run into a series of other people. Each one does something apparently bad to them. Cheat them out of money, gives them wrong directions, trip them so they fall, etc. And the gloomy guy decides that, see, everybody's just evil, so why not be the same. And he goes off an does something really mean, sets somebody's house on fire or something. But immediately after that it becomes clear that what each of the "bad" people did really was something entirely different from what it seemed. Some revealed context brings to light that they really were saving lives and doing extraordinarily nice and self-less things. Or they had a stomach ache or were sad because somebody died or something. And afterwards it all becomes really clear. But it is too late, and the guy who misunderstood it all and did what he thought was the same stuff is put in jail or jumps off a cliff or something. And all the other guys turn out to become great friends and have a party around the camp fire, and have spaghetti that is cooked just right.
Ok, gotta work on the details for it to make sense. But I can see how it can work.
30 Sep 2004 @ 06:36 by Tim @220.127.116.11 : Objective
I really enjoyed this article Ming. It would be great if people could be less reactive to what they *perceive* as being evil, and really *look* at what's
actually going on.
30 Sep 2004 @ 10:41 by jmarc : The story thing
looks like it could shape up well. I can see your sense of humour shining through in it already. Maybe as an example of evil you could bring forth the instance of a spammer that stops by peoples logs, like three times in a day, giving them false hope that someone was actually interested in what they said, only for them to find it was another ad for some canadien pharmaceutical...
30 Sep 2004 @ 12:08 by jwwells : Very good
I like the article. Have you read Peck's "People of the Lie?" It is an attempt to create an objective definition of human evil.
There are two SF books which also do a good job of framing the concept of evil, those being Niven & Pournelle's "Inferno" and Chaulker's "Midnight at the Well of Souls."
In Inferno is one important concept that never leaves my mind: A man is chained to a bicyle with noxious fumes pouring into his face if he stops peddling. The story goes that he was an important leader of the environmental lobby: He knew his actions in opposition to nuclear power caused harm to innocents, but continued his actions because "without the movement, I would have been nothing." That concept is crucial to understanding the concept of "knowing" in regard to the leaders of all human groups. There are far too many who know their actions cause harm and continue for only their own personal reasons: Their continuance is one form of evil. Understanding continuance-evil (and how to counter it) is crucial to understanding the problems we have in reducing our child-abuse rate.
Placing these concepts into stories is a fantastic idea!
30 Sep 2004 @ 13:17 by Stephen Heyer @18.104.22.168 : What is Evil?
An interesting and thoughtful, post but I have one more factor to add that I think makes it more complete. Recently I've recently noticed something important.
Most of the world's evil is built up of a myriad of small selfishnesses and attempts to gain advantage over others. Over time, these many small acts of selfishness quietly, imperceptibly, generate vast social harm, much more harm than deliberate acts of evil.
Nearly everyone is carefully selectivity blind to this process and especially to their own or their group's contribution. This is of course driven by the relentless, unconscious ape competition for reproductive advantage.
Societies that are able to decrease this competition to some extent by methods such as a suitable religion and social pressure are generally both more successful and more pleasant. There really is a point to the "tall poppy" syndrome.
Harm from non-human sources is tragedy, not evil.
30 Sep 2004 @ 17:24 by ming : Selfishness and competition
I think there's an important dividing line, which is maybe hard to find. The point where trying to do as well as possible turns into making sure others don't do as well as possible. See, I think that in itself it is a good thing that humans are trying to do better and improve their situation. It is a great thing. A drive towards making things better. Likewise I think competition for who can find the best ways is a healthy and useful thing.
But in typical economic competition we right away see many instances where that line is crossed. McDonalds doesn't put another of their fastfood restaurants right next to an existing Burger King in order to serve us better. They do it to hurt the other guy by taking away their business.
But if it is, say, a film festival where we compete to make the best film, it doesn't hurt you per se that people might like my film better. Quite possibly we both made better films because we were very motivated to do so.
Is it better to have 20 books about french cooking in the bookstore than one? Yes, of course, at least if I have enough information to make a choice about which one I prefer. Competition can reward good work and discourage bad work.
No, it is when people start trying to hold others back, rather than being the best they can be, that the game turns sour.
And, yes, I think you're right that there are a myriad of small ones, and they add up. Little dirty tricks that make us look better than others, without being better. Covertly hostile conversational techniques. Information we just pretend to forget to pass on. Actions that really have a different purpose than what we pretend they have.
All of that sabotages our natural tendency to pick the best and most beneficial options. And sometimes truly lousy choices become what a majority will pick, even though much better alternatives are available. Because somebody clawed themselves into a certain position they didn't deserve.
So, the tricky part is how to find the sweet spots, where people are stimulated to do the best they can, but where there would be little advantage in cheating. Like, a soviet style communist society was very bad at giving most people a reason to do well. And, likewise, a globalized U.S. style market tends to encourage cheating, rather than simply doing great work.
And sometimes incredible productivity indeed comes from forgetting about any competition and all working together for a common goal. Often works best when there's a big outside threat, like a war, or a somewhat cultish religious belief that is trying to save the world. I.e. when there's big time competition on the outside, we might drop our inside competition and work together.
Anyway, what is interesting is to pursue how we might find a better way of being together, socially, that naturally will maximize the doing-good.
30 Sep 2004 @ 17:34 by jstarrs : Self-cherishing or....
I saw a street ad today by a socially conscious association for equitable commerce.
It showed an agricultural worker from some under developed country and the caption was "You'll eat when you're competitive".
30 Sep 2004 @ 21:22 by Adi @22.214.171.124 : evil is ...
evil is anti Divine Will ~
it was created by some of the gods of the orion system who were bored as the ultimate adversary ~
to make it real, they had to give it its own powers to be, etc....
subsequently it has increased its own powers and influence, and run rampant throughout the entire orion system and beyond ...
five years ago the Alpha and the Omega finally 'closed the door where evil dwells' as per the Great Invocation http://www.lucistrust.org/invocation for this planet ~
since then it has just been running on its stored up forces throught this planet ~
as this planet continues to ascend it will become purged of all evil and other negativiies ~
here is another invocation which clears any evil influences ~
"Kadoish, Kadoish, Kadoish, Adonai, Tsebayoth!" which means Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts!"
This is Hebrew or possibly Essene!
I think that it is from the Keys of Enoch http://www.keysofenoch.org
1 Oct 2004 @ 00:53 by astrid : Dual....>
Devil > Double > Double Standard. That's all what's evil. Think about it for a moment... Sure It can take on some monumental expressions!....We've seen that, and besides; History is FULL of it: "It's OK for ME to do/act/express my self this way(-usually in selfish, brattish ways, that are LIFE-DESTROYING in character) BUT NOT FOR YOUUUUU!!!!/NOBODY ELSE!!!!!!" Simple.Isn't it?
1 Oct 2004 @ 07:55 by b : Nice essay Ming
I am glad I can see your log again. Thanks. I think evil is best defined as mean and cruel. So it is easy to spot and even teach children that it exists. When meaness and cruelty become intense something has to be done to prevent it.
1 Oct 2004 @ 14:55 by Stephen Heyer @126.96.36.199 : Selfishness and competition
Living a good life is a balancing act, there are no simple rules to follow though some, such as the civil parts of the Ten Commandments, can be useful general guides. So yes, striking the right balance between self-interest and the interest of others is essential, but very, very hard, a fact not helped by the way what is the correct balance differs with every change of circumstance.
And yes, I'm one of those who believe that balanced self-interest is a good and noble thing. One not only has a right, but a duty, to care for oneself. Also, of course, tremendous advances of all sorts come from the drive to do better than one's fellows, advances that eventually benefit everyone.
But that is not what I meant by the statement "Most of the world's evil is built up of a myriad of small selfishnesses and attempts to gain advantage over others. Over time, these many small acts of selfishness quietly, imperceptibly, generate vast social harm, much more harm than deliberate acts of evil."
Although the building blocks of this phenomenon are individual, the expression is largely at the group level.
To give a concrete example, after WWII here in Australia state and federal governments developed a number of policies such as the release of large areas of land that were designed to keep the price of housing very low. They succeeded brilliantly, and Australians became a nation of homeowners.
However, as time went by, the generation of home owners who had been subsidized into cheap housing came to believe that increasing housing prices were somehow a social good. Well, it made them richer, didn't it?
There was no central conspiracy, few people admitted what they were doing even to themselves, but gradually policies came into place that led to higher, then much higher, then really, really stupid housing prices.
It is easy to see how this came about: Most of the people making decision at all levels of government, and commenting on those decisions in the media, were not only home owners, but also tended to own investment properties, or at least aspired to do so. Naturally, any decision that tended to increase house values was seen as good and in the community (their) interest and thus adopted.
As most ordinary citizens, except the young, already owned, or rather were paying off houses, there was no argument from the people on the street: They loved watching the value of their houses double and triple.
It took forty years, but the final result is a society where young people are going to have enormous trouble affording to buy a house unless they are of the professional classes. Worse, the whole economy has been dangerously distorted as almost all middle class investment flows into investing (actually, speculating) on housing.
A good part of what should be the more creative part of the population spends its time watching TV shows on renovating houses to increase their value. Even more worryingly, the whole population has been lured into a vast debt trap.
The debt trap part is a but too complicated to explain here, but is a direct result of house prices that have reliably increased by very large amounts for a very long time.
The whole society has become more and more dependent on everything continuing to go just right. A quite modest economic shock could tip the whole thing from prosperity straight into long-term economic disaster. Come to think of it, didn't something of the sort, though involving different economic fundamentals, happen in Argentina?
Anyway, you get the idea. Each individual act of self-interest is well below the ethical radar, but over time many acts by many individuals can result in monumental evil.
1 Oct 2004 @ 16:07 by ming : Selection
I tend to believe in the magic of a free market. That the collective result of many individuals making even quite self-interested decisions can be a good thing. But I think that the reason why it often isn't working is that what is created usually isn't just the result of those many individuals making little decisions.
Like, in that case, somebody set up the system they're doing it within. There's a financing system in place that charges interest for loans, and that allows property to appreciate, and makes it desirable for the owners when it does. That sets up a system with certain traits to it. It makes certain choices logical and others not logical. Of course, if I have the choice, I'd prefer owning a house that's worth three times as much to owning a house that keeps the same value. But I didn't choose the system itself. Somebody did that for me, on a centralized basis, without predicting and taking responsibility for the full consequences.
So, yes, the individual actions might not quite predict the end result, and the end result might be bad. But from a systemic level, it would also be predictable by somebody who thinks about things at that level.
The creators of a system bear an enormous responsibility. It is often not looked at at all. One looks at the results, but forgets to examine how the system was created in the first place.
1 Oct 2004 @ 23:31 by Derek @188.8.131.52 : Evil Magnets
I think one strange side effect of our society is that we've created a number of institutions that attract psychopaths. I think they're attracted to power and money (those that aren't into straight killing), and the ability to drain the life and joy out of others in those positions.
Perhaps we can use this disproportional density to our advantage somehow.
2 Oct 2004 @ 11:21 by jwwells : Psychopaths
Psychopaths exist and are one piece of the puzzle. We must remember that evil among humans is a rather complex jig-saw puzzle, each small piece and each subassembly affecting both the whole and other pieces.
There was a study recently published on psychopaths and their effects in the workplace: There is real and measurable loss of humanity and efficiency in workplaces affected by psychopaths. Unfortunately, the only measure of psychopathy we have, the Hare, is not reliable with females, so we do not know the real picture of psychopaths in the workplace.
Each time we put some of our thought into understanding evil we take a tiny step towards understanding society. I think, the approach of thinking of society as a single complex machine helps in this understanding.
We can say evil is:
the result of tiny innocuous-in-themselves items,
the actions of psychopaths,
the actions of those who know better, but choose to do evil,
and ??????? There are many more pieces.....
27 Jan 2005 @ 20:25 by IcyBy @184.108.40.206 : Thanks
You explains exactly what I was thinking, I agree with your whole idea of evil. That's fantastic because it will spare me the time required for me to write it down, and I guess you wrote it better then I would have any way.
Now, what's also interesting in all that is the fact that evil is not the opposite of good. So what is "good"?
Very good work.
27 Jan 2005 @ 22:38 by ming : Good
Well, if we try to avoid the polarized way of defining things, we could say that everybody's trying to make things better, if nothing else for themselves. So, a certain built-in tendency to pick the better of any set of choices one is presented with, based on what one happens to know about them. Or we could say that "good" is an observation about how constructive or useful or enjoyable something is. And there'd be varying degrees of that. And some experiences or some choices might be destructive or unpleasant, and we might say they're "not good". Doesn't make them evil, just not supporting what we're looking for.
And, again, I'd say that "evil" is when one has misunderstood the whole thing, and one thinks one has to be evil in order to fight back against all the other evil people, who really aren't the way one thinks they are.
1 Aug 2008 @ 03:51 by Edward @220.127.116.11 : The thing about logics and economics
Just a preface I may have gotten the fact that a number of you say that economics can be good wrong but that doesn't mean my writing is entirely without merit, it just means it is a little off point. The concept are interesting though.
Yes a number of you point out that a logical economic system based on selfish decisions creates a good force. However, what I would be concerned with is the where this logic comes from. Logic can justify almost anything when it is put to task. Logic I would argue is immoral and depends on the individual using it. So when someone says the economic system should be good based on these decisions seems logical. But it all depends on who regulates the system and their interests. For example a large company like the Hudson Bay Company or East Indian Trading Company would think it logical for them to have a monopoly because their job is to benefit the most. The problem with believing that an economic system is logical and reasonable is that it depends on lawmakers and people with power to make decisions. What is in their interest may not be in their interest. However, you may point out that that is true in the short-term but not the long term. You are right, unless the law is applied unevenly, or corruption takes place or people decide to sacrifice short term gain at the cost of the long term. In fact the last example is an econometric idea that states when given a choice between having chocolate or fruit right now normally chocolate is chosen. But when given the choice to have chocolate or fruit a week from now you choose fruit. However, you take the chocolate now at the expense of the fruit later. Just like a credit card transaction buy now but pay later at a worse cost. The concept is well described on this site: http://harvardmagazine.com/2006/03/the-marketplace-of-perce.html
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