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Monday, April 17, 2023

Tossing The ‘E’ Word About–Giving Evil A Bad Name

Donald Trump, say his detractors, was not simply a bad president, a flouter of laws and democracy, an immoral politician who used intimidation and threat to demean and dehumanize legitimate opposition but an evil man.  

His misogyny, homophobia and racism were not products of his age – the Forties were, after all, an era of desperate housewives, closeted homosexuals, and invisible black men.  It would not be surprising for someone of that generation to mistrust women, dismiss gay men as psycho-sexual aberrations, and to endorse the 19th century European conviction that the African was somehow less than par.  Shameful perhaps, but then again cross-generational moral judgement is always self-serving. 

Hubbard's ReelzChannel picks up Miss USA pageant after Trump flap

The progressive who is convinced that systemic racism in not an American problem but a human one is going to find something objectionable in heroes and villains alike, in every last one.  Jefferson was a racist first and foremost because of having sex with a slave.  All Southerners before (and to many after) the Civil War will never retreat from their prejudice and racial hatred. All black men are, as descendants of a superiorly sentient, intelligent, and morally attuned race, good.  Not only are moral values relative - despite progressives absolutism- but such relativity is confounded by revisionism and political myopia.

It is political expediency at its worst to ignore socio-cultural influences on morality, ethics and intent.  To judge the behavior of hundreds of years ago by the standards of today makes no sense whatsoever.  Few would argue that there is a universal absolute morality – that good in fact is a philosophical, redeemable entity and not subject to passing fancy or relativism.  

History has been a chronical of human nature writ large – aggression, territorialism, defensiveness, and self-interest.  While one is quick to suggest that Hitler was evil, what to make of Genghis Khan who took ethnic cleansing to its extreme.  He and his 14th century Mongol-Turkish armies slaughtered everyone in their path, impaling severed heads on stakes and setting them like flag standards or lamp posts on the road to the conquered city.  What about Caligula, Vlad the Impaler, Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin?  They all were devastatingly inhuman in their pursuit of and hold on power.  Or White Wolf, the Comanche chief who raped, eviscerated, disemboweled pregnant white women settlers in his bullheaded desire for tribal hegemony?

Genghis Khan | Biography, Conquests, Achievements, & Facts | Britannica

There are at least two ‘holocausts’ in recent memory – Hitler’s and Pol Pot’s – for both used mass killing as a purifying ritual for political ends; and then there were the indirect holocausts of Stalin and Mao who caused millions of deaths through engineered starvation, impossible socialist reforms, and downright disregard for those under their rule.  Each century has had its debatable wars, including the 20th.  Were millions of deaths really necessary in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq?

Describing acts as ‘evil’ is a way of qualifying the most egregious acts in society.  Cheating and stealing are minor, everyday crimes; but when Bernie Madoff cheated his friends and fellow Jews out of millions of dollars in savings, he was beyond secular justice and deserved spiritual opprobrium.  He was evil.  Government officials, trade union leaders, and municipal administrators who siphon off public funds for their own personal profit are evil because they have willfully and deliberately bilked needy citizens from their rightful due.

Catholic priests who abused children are called evil because they betrayed not only a civic trust but a religious one.  These were men of God, anointed as vicars of Christ to do his will on earth, to follow his example of goodness and charity. When they seduced young, innocent boys and used their secular and religious authority to corrupt them, they were evil.


The acts of Bernie Madoff and Catholic priests, however, are not evil at all.  Human beings have behaved in dishonest, predatory, and selfish ways since the beginning of time.  It isn’t just kings and emperors who betray, defile, and savage others.  Commoners are quite capable of the same moral delinquency.  They are evil only in the scope and scale of their crimes, not in the nature of them.  Evil is simply Number 10 on a moral scale of 1-10 where 1 is pilfering a few of the company’s pens.

The issue of whether evil does or does not exist in the world has been the subject of philosophical debate for centuries, with little conclusion.  Previous centuries’ theologians who began with the a priori assumption that God exists had a particularly prickly time justifying the existence of evil.  The emergence of St. Augustine’s thinking – and one which has dominated the Christian Church ever since – is that there is no such substantive, distinct thing called ‘evil’.  It is just the absence of good.

As a young man, Augustine followed the teachings of a Christian sect known as the Manicheans. At the heart of Manichean theology was the idea of a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. This, of course, proposes one possible solution to the problem of evil: all goodness, purity and light comes from God, and the darkness of evil has a different source.

However, Augustine came to regard this cosmic dualism as heretical, since it undermined God's sovereignty. Of course, he wanted to hold on to the absolute goodness of God. But if God is the source of all things, where did evil come from? Augustine's radical answer to this question is that evil does not actually come from anywhere. Rejecting the idea that evil is a positive force, he argues that it is merely a "name for nothing other than the absence of good".

However, Augustine was aware that everyone ‘knew’ that there was evil in the world.  Whatever they called it, however they conceived of it, people observed the most horrific examples of anti-human behavior – Godless behavior, many thought; and since God was good, then there had to be a devil, somehow set up in his own kingdom as a kind of semi-autonomous state performing the necessary task of challenging ordinary mortals.

Augustine’s account of evil is, of course, metaphysical rather than empirical. He is not saying that our experience of evil is unreal. On the contrary, since a divinely-inspired world is naturally oriented toward the good, any lack of goodness will be felt as painful, wrong and urgently in need of repair.

How St. Augustine Got Its Name | Visit St. Augustine

This explanation has stretched the limits of believability.  There are too many inexplicably, pure diabolical events that occur, say many believers and non-believers, to label them ‘the absence of good’

We may demand a better account of the apparent positivity of evil – of the fact, for example, that holocausts and massacres often involve meticulous planning, technical innovation and creative processes of justification.

So, the world still tends to fall into two camps, one which believes that evil does exist and is the product of this semi-autonomous Devil; and the other which believes that evil does not exist but is simply an exaggerated expression of the human nature which is in all of us.  

Hannah Arendt wrote of ‘the banality of evil’ – that is, all of us are capable of evil acts; but she too had taken a position and counted herself among the few who actually knew what evil was.  She was not so much interested in the psycho-social, genetic dispositions to ‘evil’, for that would negate the force of her argument, so siding with the evil-believers, she simply extended the trait to us all.

All of which is to say that today’s facile progressive assumption that a clown, a buffoon, braggart, and pompous know-it-all, Donald Trump, has been branded evil, is ridiculous at best, ignorant at worst.  There is no historical basis for such a frivolous extension of the idea, no philosophical rigor behind it, no sense whatsoever.  Such a thought – that this stubborn, venal, selfishly venal man could be evil – has gained currency in America thanks to sanctimonious repetition. 

The Reverend Al Sharpton, ambulance-chaser, and moral bully, stony faced, chicken-necked, and faux serious to his innards perpetuates it.  He, a man of the cloth must know what he is talking about, but any credibility was lost in his youth when he devised his black-at-any-cost defense of a lying, ambitious black girl.  He found that such an argument –white cannot be trusted, and the only way to describe such systemic racism is the ‘E’ word.   

The liberal media found racism a cash cow, and the branding of this one and that one evil, was a definite money maker.  There was no room on MSNBC for historical reasoning.  Liberals are afraid of Donald Trump, desperately afraid, and can devise no logical or legitimate strategy to neuter him and thus resort to the ‘E’ word.  Perhaps that will send shivers down the spine of Americans.

Al Sharpton - IMDb

Trump- bashing has become the meme of righteousness.  Anyone who voted for Trump – or even considered so doing – is automatically branded evil and placed in the same camp.  The South as a region has been condemned, isolated, and marginalized for its slave-owning depravity.  Only if it is erased and cancelled can things be made right.  There is no such thing as penitential reform, only prospective reform – the radical readjustment of American society in a new, progressive image.

Evil is a social construct, and given the fluidity of definition and the various, fascinating permutations of history which still enable man’s worst expression of his human nature, it is even harder to imagine let alone tolerate the sanctimony and hypocrisy of the Left.

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