FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Evil Ain’t Just an Anagram of Vile

by BEN TRIPP

Of late the definition of evil has become a matter of some concern, as evil itself has become a political issue; not since the Spanish Inquisition has evil held the world in such thrall, and yet nobody knows what the hell it is. Evil, like haggis, is largely a matter of taste. Are people who eat dogs evil? According to PETA, yes (and so are people who wear leather shoes and eat haggis); according to lovers of that subtle gaminess that comes with eating poochies, no. The relativist would say it’s only evil to eat pet dogs, or maybe to give them cute names and then eat them. Nomos over physis over Fido, to quote Protagoras.

Dr. Michael M. Welnel of the American Psychiatric Association proposes a ‘Depravity Scale’, whereby evil is measured like local precipitation. I am not pulling your leg. According to him, this scale would allow us to measure the degree of evil inherent in an act or individual. This is such tomfoolery it throws the legitimacy of the ASA into question, as does everything else its members get up to in the average year (measured by the Dipshit Scale, after Dr. Fritz Dipshit). We need a definition of evil, not a metric for it. A definition of evil that is broad enough to cover your average homicidal megalomaniac, yet precise enough so as not to tread on the myriad toes of cultural difference. Consider the Aztecs, who thought it was hilarious to use people’s heads as basketballs and once sacrificed 20,000 people at a go, apparently to see if they could make a bloodstain visible from outer space; these fun-loving folks were themselves wiped out by the Spaniards, who exterminated the entire Aztec race to see if they could beat the gold market back in Madrid. Who is evil in this scenario? Probably everybody. Evil is subjective.

I propose that evil is the extremity of purpose over price. Broad, yes, but a standard to which you can hold people, the way you hold your victim’s feet to the fire. Purpose over price is a piece of algebra, (which was evil when I was in high school): evil is when you do something for a purpose, and the price to others is far greater than the purpose commands. It’s cost/ benefit analysis taken to the limit. Thus it is not evil to kill your enemies in battle, because that’s what the occasion calls for. If you showered them with gifts and kind words the entire business would fall apart. It is however evil to show up in the defeated foe’s hometown and rape all the women, children, and cows and then burn them at the stake or similar. Because you didn’t need to, by any standards. It’s purpose (vanquish enemy) over extremity of price (vanquish enemy and slaughter everybody else in the geographic area).

Perhaps this is too abstract. Let’s take a hypothetical modern example. If an ideologue decided he wanted to be president very badly, and he would do anything to achieve this goal, already he’s lined up to get evil on us. But he’s not evil yet. Now imagine by some fluke such as interested judges shooing him into office instead of the guy who got more votes, he ends up actually becoming president (this is obviously just a silly made-up example as it could never happen). Still no evil, although you could call him an asshole without fear of contradiction, and those judges aren’t anything to write home about. But what if, because this installed president is not the man elected for the role and isn’t qualified, he does a crappy job at being Chief Executive? His poll numbers start to sink. He must respond. Then there’s a tragedy of incredible proportions and when he emerges from his secret bunker, he’s hit the trifecta. If this man moves forward and unites the nation behind a greater purpose to secure its safety and freedoms, there’s nothing evil about that (the worst you can say is it’s precocious).

But what if said man uses the tragedy as an excuse to advance an agenda which has little to do with his stated purpose, to secure our freedoms & c. from evil-doers? Like massive tax cuts, war upon uninvolved nations, and cloaking the government in secrecy and inaccessibility? What if that fellow goes even further, and eradicates the very freedoms he pretends to uphold, all the while filling the coffers of his cronies with mountains of war cash? This being a hypothetical example, let’s push it further, because I want you to decide when evil starts too set in.

Remember, extremity of purpose over price. So now in the putative name of safety and freedom this installed president has destroyed the freedoms Americans hold sacred, and through bellicose international adventures rendered the entire world unsafe for Americans. In the name of quelling terrorism (let’s say the big tragedy was an act of terrorism, just for yucks) he so wantonly pimp-slaps the culture from which the terrorists came that an entire new generation of highly motivated terrorists emerges, thirsty for pork-scented American blood. Are we into evil territory yet? Could be. An optimist, however, could argue that things are just off to a rough start, and it will all work out in the end. I’ll bet there were a lot of German Jews who said that fifty years ago. They ended up as lampshades.

But what the hell, optimists aren’t always wrong. Look at Jesus: here’s a guy who has been scourged, beaten, and crucified, he’s hanging naked by his wrists, and he’s probably thinking “It could be worse, it could be raining.” Actually it was raining, but the point is he did pretty well for himself eventually, and he was an optimist. So let’s say our hypothetical leader (and I thin k that describes him pretty well) is just an unbeatable optimist and he figures if he sets predator drone planes flying around watching the citizens, he monitors their every movement, purchase, association and conversation, at the same time invading suspicious countries and overthrowing leaders unsympathetic to American big oil companies, then he can weed out the wrong ‘uns. After which of course he’ll set everything back to normal and we all are safer and happier and the rest of the world, if not delighted, is at least impressed. Maybe he’ll even get elected legitimately next time! See, that’s optimism.

But evil is if really he’s just a greedy son-of-a-bitch whose values were shaped in the ultra-exclusive prep schools and ivy league secret societies where men are taught to be rulers, not leaders, and what he’s really up to is making as much money with as little accountability as he possibly can, regardless of the cost to the world or its peoples. That’s extremity of price over purpose: if it benefits his narrow clan, if it pleases the few powerful entities to whom he is accountable, no toll of deaths ?domestic or foreign- no ecological, social, or civic destruction is too costly to visit upon the world. That’s evil. Think about it, and see if you agree with my definition. Then all you have to do is make sure such a wacky hypothetical example never comes to pass, because if it did, hoo boy.

Luckily I’m an optimist, and I figure if a preposterous situation like this ever arose, we’d be intelligent enough not to let it get that far before we insisted on regime change. After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Einstein was a beacon to light the world, and he knew what evil looked like. Like him, we’d better learn to be beacons– if we want to avoid becoming lampshades.

BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter, political satirist and cartoonist. He can be reached at: credel@earthlink.net

 

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail