The word evil, if not readily definable in clear, comprehensive language, is at least roughly understood in concept by a person of normal intelligence. The purpose here is not to endeavor to define the term explicitly, but to examine the use made of it by men and nations and specifically by ours.
Stark and unambiguous as the general idea is, its use as a descriptive is governed by a deeply-rooted, inherent human trait: unconditional defense of the self, the paramount duty of self being its own preservation.
Excepting rare pathologies and cases of suicide, ego, which guards the self, does not permit attack by the self on the self and no human ever categorizes himself as evil. Rash, cruel, furious, possessed, vengeful, insane, even murderous, all that can be admitted. But being evil..? Never.
Hannah Arendt talked of the banality of evil by which she seemed to mean that all evil inflicted on the world was of a piece, hence not remarkable. It was a flip, arrogant trope which didnʼt actually mean anything except that, for her, there was nothing to understand in her twisted Nazi subjects.
Very clearly, evil in human beings–be they Nazis, Hutus, ISIS headsmen, or U.S. drone operators–is never an attribute of self but always of the other. And what is true of humans in this particular is true of cultures and nations.
Patriotism is to nations what ego is to people: the reflex guardian of their essential character. Its function is to prevent attack on a nation by forces or blocs within it and without. It has a potent political anitbody function.
The reality is that both the individual ego and national Patriotism can be, and often are, dead wrong about what is best for the health and survival of the self or the nation. It is therapeutic for the self to break free of blind ego control and, indeed, the only way it can ever hope to develop its actual potential. The same is true of a people in thrall to mindless Patriotism.
For nations, as for persons, the idea that their behavior, by any objective assessment, is evil is anathema to them and inadmissable, and there is not a single example in history of a nation acknowledging itself to be evil.
Think about it. Not one. Yet it couldnʼt be more obvious that nations, like people, do evil continually. Government is, by definition, a population- control system run by a power elite in its own interests. Major elements of every such system are designed to be unethical, unjust, and vicious at home to keep control and privilege where it belongs, with the owners. In foreign relations, states act out of the perceived self-interest of the ruling elite, without regard for the rights and interests of other states.
So, if the doing of evil by governments is universal, on what basis can one make distinctions among them, if at all?
Here, evidently, one has to employ the criteria of mass and velocity, as one might in a problem in physics. While this formula can only be approximate in the scientific sense, the idea is defensible as an approach to analysis.
You see where this leads. The nation that can and does invest the greatest mass of deadly resources at the highest, most continuous rate of delivery in inflicting its will on other states must generate the greatest energy for evil.
Can it be said this equation describes Ecuador or Latvia? Iraq, perhaps, under Saddam, or Libya, Afghanistan or Syria? What of the heavyweights: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel? No. There is, we are hourly assured, only one Superpower, one “indispensible”, one “exceptional” nation.
Evil, you see, is us. The American state is and has been for generations the greatest, most brutal, most despised perpetrator of pure transparent evil among nations, bar none, and all the world knows it except Americans.
We donʼt say it; donʼt admit it. “We”, the deep state, never will. And with the totalitarian apparatus of the National Security State in absolute control of our ignorant, intimidated people, to speak this reality could be to risk all. And yet, can one see it and be silent and live with oneself? Chelsea Manning couldnʼt. Edward Snowden couldnʼt. There will be others.
Paul Edwards lives in Montana. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org