For the past few weeks my country of birth has been ravaged by ongoing unrests and wanton destruction. I had written a reflection on this but in the aftermath of a 3 day spree of looting, theft and destruction I decided against sharing online.
The following few days (weeks even) saw an overwhelming surge of cleaning and rebuilding of the suburbs and communities in the face of adversity. People rallied together to bring food and provisions to communities most affected by the carnage.
I penned a piece titled simply Ubuntu…
As more and more comments appeared, I shelved this one also.
Where is this all going you may ask ?
One of the people I follow in South Africa is PeterB.
He gave an accurate account of what was going on during the days of destruction as well as an informed assessment of what would come next.
This is a reflection he shared a few days ago.
Thought provoking (as always) 😊
For your musical accompaniment there can only be one…
Take it away Pete.
For many years I have been pondering and contemplating the fundamental difference between Tragedy and Evil. I suppose what prompted it was the ongoing and downright horrible dreams that I had in the early 1990’s. These for me were no doubt a consequence of being involved in actual war. I suppose that what got me thinking about all of this was the notion that dreams that were really awful essentially represented a reality that was also that dreadful. It was a time of change and incredible societal violence in South Africa.
What had prompted this?
What was the qualitative change in human capacity that this all represented… How could people go about their day to day lives without acting in any way that something fundamental was changing?
I still can’t figure out why that disturbed me so much when it didn’t seem to concern many others. I still ponder on it to this day and the effect of that I have tried to understand exactly what ‘Evil’ was because I have seen it, first hand and I know what it is.
The important question is what should be done about it?
The one thing that you can say about evil is that it is not academic! It’s not an intellectual issue, it’s an existential issue. It’s also not a theoretical issue; it is an issue that deals with the very Nature of Reality.
Before anyone begins speaking about Evil, you should do something like defining what evil is as a starting point. First of all we need to make the clear distinction between Tragedy and Evil.
In order to define the difference, we need to look at the essential existential condition of human beings. The nature of human beings is such that it consists of the confrontation of the Bounded Finite with the Unbounded Infinite, and those are the bare facts of the matter.
The world of experience as it presents itself to us is literally and not metaphorically complexed beyond our capacity to fully understand and that means that people deal in a real sense, on an ongoing basis with the infinite. That fact is the reason why religious experience and belief is endemic to mankind. It is a human universal, not because people ‘Believe’, it is because Human Existence consists of a confrontation between the ‘finite’ and the ‘Infinite’ and religious systems merely take that into account.
Our Finite existence in the face of the Infinite has some inevitable consequences and I would say that those consequences are the existential conditions of life. The first of those consequences is that the finite is always overwhelmed by the infinite.
It has to be because it can’t encapsulate it.
So what that means is that suffering is central to the nature of human existence. And suffering exists as a consequence of our limitations. Every single person that is alive is going to die and every person alive is going to deal with serious physical illness and mental distress.
Even if you are not directly ill at this moment, somebody around you, close to you, is.
So the fact of our mortality is not an academic issue, its central to the nature of our being and we are forced to deal with it on an ongoing basis. So we can say that insufficiency is built into human experience and there are existential consequences to that.
Now the majority of Religions teach that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent; so what does God lack? And the answer to that is ‘Limitation’.
This is a riddle and an answer of unparalleled brilliance because it speaks deeply about the central nature of existence itself; without limitation, there is no being. Now that may be a difficult thing to comprehend, but it can be explained in a number of different ways. If you go up to a person at a gathering and you say “Ok, we are going to play a game” and they say “Ok”… Then you tell them that they should ‘Move’ first! Well of course they don’t know what to do and the reason for that is because the limiting parameter of the game have not been defined and as a consequence of that they are frozen by their infinite freedom of opportunities to make the first move! What that means is that in the absence of serious constraint, there can be no choice, no freedom and no existence.
Another example is the contemplation of our children’s vulnerabilities in their infancy. What do we do to protect our children from these vulnerabilities? How far do we go without compromising our children’s ability to assimilate into the world, as it is?
One of the things that I realized was that as you remove the vulnerabilities with an intervention of sorts, you remove the thing that you love. This is where the realization that the vulnerability is a precondition for a human being and it’s a desirable precondition because the things about human existence that are wonderful and remarkable are so integral and part of our vulnerability as people. They are actually inextricable.
If you had no limitations, if you could do anything at any point and go anywhere at any time, if there was nothing out of your reach, you would have nothing to do because you would be everything at once! Without limitation there is no being.
So my question to you is the following; ‘Is there a way to conduct your life in such a manner that your intrinsic vulnerability that characterizes your life is rendered acceptable and desirable?’
This is the central question to existence because if you get it wrong, you are definitely on the wrong track and you will end up in a terrible place.
So this is where our life relates to tragedy because our vulnerability is related to tragedy. But if tragedy is the price that we pay for existence, so be it? So then tragedy itself can’t be regarded as evil. It’s just a condition of existence. So it is necessary to distinguish the tragic conditions of existence from evil before you can address the problem of evil.
To define events, Earthquakes are not evil, cancer is not evil, not even mental illness is evil, and predators (Wolves, Lions and Sharks) aren’t evil, they are just the way things are.
But there are certain categories of Human action that are definitely outside the parameters of mere tragedy and those are the things that we as leaders have to get a handle on. Evil is differentiated from tragedy by its lack of necessity and the voluntary manner in which a person chooses to partake in it.
It’s a tenant of modern materialist thought that there are social or material causes for actions and this has caused us to write off much of human misbehavior and attribute it to ‘insufficiencies in material conditions’ which is not an acceptable theory. Throughout history there have been many cultures that have been characterized by a virtually complete absence of material luxuries and these cultures were highly functional and highly moral.
To describe the propensity to misbehavior as a consequence of economic inequality is entirely incorrect.
Evil is more malicious than that which is generated by social inequality. It’s more appropriate to consider it as a demonically warped aesthetic. Let me give you a few examples because the manifestation of this warped aesthetic makes itself apparent under certain conditions. It made itself apparent when the first politician conceptualized the acronym ‘MAD’ for mutually assured destruction. That is an aesthetic of evil, to make a joke of a situation that catastrophic indicates the kind of malevolence that exists behind the fact that such a condition actually exists.
As is the Motto above the Gates of Auschwitz; “Work will set you free”.
That is a terrible ironic statement based on what happened to people that were forced to enter that place against their will. Let’s also consider the concentration camps set up in South Africa where the British Authorities incarcerated the wives and children of the men in the Boer Army and in that process, killed 35 000 innocent women and infants. This dark spot in South African history is glossed over although it’s horrific consequences are still felt, to this day.
This was evil as the British Empire at that time was already a world power and the decimation of women and children in the pursuit of the control of a mineral rich territory was without excuse.
I am trying to understand the developmental pathway that leads to events like that and indeed the evil that we are seeing become more and more prolific in South Africa at this very time. My research reveals to me is what lies at the motivation for the excesses of behavior that characterize evil are two tightly, causally related factors.
The first is Arrogance and the other in Resentment.
Both of those are tied up with the vulnerability of human beings in the face of the infinite, but also tied up with something more profound as well. The human self-consciousness is what essentially separates us from animals. Animals have no ability to distinguish between Good and Evil because a Predator is not evil, it’s just a Predator. The fact that a Predator, like a wolf, might be a tragedy for a rabbit is just the cycle of the food chain, but you can’t be assuming that the wolf is evil because it wants to eat the rabbit!
Self-consciousness is what separates us from animals and there seems to be the existence of a moral sense that is unique to Human Beings that has something to do with our capacity to reflect upon the mechanism of our actions and then for some reason to be able to modify our actions, to choose which actions to implement into the future. Functional culture is predicated on the notion that a person has free choice.
Let’s explore the human condition a little further. Historically, people knew that winter was lurking and they had to work in preparation for that. Animals don’t naturally work. They are just motivated to do whatever they do.
That means that they subvert their day to day motivations for the purpose of future security. And there is a real cost to that. You have to separate yourself from the normal flow of life and the consequence of being outside of that flow results in an amount of discomfort and suffering, but the advantage is that humans can plan for the future and that enables them to survive. Some try harder and survive better. A small percentage even thrives.
In order for us as people to progress, we need to make sacrifices. The historical evidence of this is overwhelming. In our families we all have to make sacrifices for the greater good of the family unit. That is how families grow and thrive. Reduce the sacrifice and service and the success diminishes proportionately. The success of an individual or group is directly proportional to the amount of suffering/service/work rendered by the individual or group. When called on to sacrifice, you have to give of your best because that is the requirement for you to get the best possible outcome.
If instead of sacrifice and hard work, if you rely on your own devious devices to navigate through your life, your life will not work and it will be obvious to any onlooker why.
Yet some people will relate that nothing that they want or need ever happens and salt will be rubbed into their wounds by their observation of those that have sacrificed and worked and enjoy the fruits of their labour. If you are down and out and someone reveals to you that the cause of your demise is your own choices and actions, the chances are that you will not accept that and you will not only lash out at the truth, the bearer of the truth but also the people that have not failed in their undertaking of sacrifice and work.
This disparity in humankind shows that there are two essential patterns of reaction to the self-conscious, vulnerable conditions of existence. One is a humble approach to infinity with determined attempts to make the appropriate sacrifices and the other is arrogance, resentment and the keeping of everything good for oneself and the degeneration of the soul to something that is homicidally murderous. The motivation that drives the commission of the worst human atrocities is the inevitable social consequence of the refusal of the self-conscious individual to make the sacrifices appropriate to establishing a harmonious life and their consequent degeneration into a murderous and resentful rage propagating endlessly through its variations in society until everything comes to an end…
It’s never somebody else’s fault. There is nobody and nothing to blame. You are either good and contributing to making things work or you are a parasite; an evil, bloodsucking parasite… And it’s all down to your own choice.
This piece really captures and shares many of the threads I often wax on about in my reflections , I hope it sinks in.
If not ….
Time for a quick shot ( Espresso that is!)
Last word …who else but a reflection by Seth Godin
“I don’t want to play”
Tactical approaches can undermine useful strategies.
And knowing your goals and the reason for the game are the best way to avoid the problem.
Tactical thinking forces us to think in innings. It says, “here’s a situation, what’s your best reaction/response?”
The strategic approach has a different question, “Does playing this particular tactical game get me closer to the reason I’m here in the first place?”
Strategies don’t change. They’re not a secret. It doesn’t matter if your peers or opponents know your strategy.
Tactics, on the other hand, change often, and are usually best kept quiet.
So why do we get so hung up on tactics?
It begins with: Strategies can be frightening. If we say what we want and how we hope to achieve it, two things could happen: we could fail, and that would disappoint us, or we could succeed, and that would frighten us.
It’s easier to simply react by engaging in another tactical round that the world has presented to us. You can spend your days doing nothing but playing with tactics, and never realize you didn’t even have a strategy.
What do you want? What change do you seek to make, how do you want to spend your days? How will get you there?
Figuring out which games you aren’t going to play is a fine step on the road to figuring out your strategy.