[February 3, 2023] Is there a way to conduct your life in such a manner that the inherent susceptibility that characterizes your life is not just acceptable but desirable? That is the central question of existence.
With regard to tragedy, humans are vulnerable. And that is tragic. But if that is the price we pay for existence, then okay, as long as existence is justifiable. Tragedy itself, which is mere exposure of our vulnerability, can’t be regarded as evil.
And so, it’s necessary to distinguish the tragic conditions of existence from tragedy (as a condition of existence), and you should be capable of distinguishing it from evil before you can even address the problem.
This means that you should not blame the terrible failings of humanity that can be laid directly at the feet of human beings. For example, earthquakes aren’t evil, mental illness is not evil, cancer is not evil, and predators aren’t evil. They are part of the way things are.
Certain actions by humans are definitely outside the scope of the mere tragedy, and those are the things we really have to get a handle on.
Evil is different from tragedy by its lack of necessity and its conscious application. One of the unintended consequences of that is that we’ve tended to ignore much of human misbehavior and attribute it to insufficiencies in material conditions, which is not an acceptable theory.
Many cultures were characterized by a virtually complete absence of material luxury, whose cultures were highly functional and highly moral. And to describe the bias toward misbehavior as a result of economic inequality is entirely wrong.
Evil is more malignant than that which is generated by social inequality. Evil is more. The motto on the gates of Auschwitz during WW2 was Work will make you free. It’s a terrible ironic joke, and it’s helpful to think about what kind of human arrogance would tell such a terrible joke. The concentration camps were classic examples of evil. And yet, the Soviet Gulag system was worse in terms of human lives destroyed.
A developing but strong movement in academia has revealed what appears to lie at the bottom of excesses of behavior that characterize evil. The two are tightly and perhaps causally related. Arrogance and resentment. Both are tied up with the vulnerability of humans in the face of a dangerous world.
As far as we can tell, stories of evil are very old. Evil stories predate Judaism (the world’s oldest monotheistic religion) and go back as far as perhaps the capacity of humans to tell stories. And people can easily remember these stories.
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