The Devil and Ideology

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If I seem obsessed with evil lately, it’s only because it’s an important idea to understand. Evil takes many forms, and one of the most prevalent being ideology.

You see, the devil–or whatever you want to call that malevolent part of humanity–isn’t a guy with horns and a pointy tail living in a place full of fire. And the devil doesn’t do stuff to you or force you to do stuff. It’s worse.

The devil makes you choose, of your own free will, to do stuff that’s bad while thinking it’s really, really good.

Tempter . . . seducer . . . dare I say it, the champion of convenience.

This is how we get a world where, for example, babies are killed in the womb in the name of “liberation,” and we all just go, “Meh.”

The worst part of this, the most devilish of all, is that, since no one likes to change their minds, ever, any such behavior that leads to bad results is nearly impossible to reverse.

I’m sure you can see the connection between devilishness and ideology now.

Ideology, and we’re talking political ideologies here, box you into a way of thinking that’s tough to break out of, no matter how consistently bad the outcomes are. It’s the old saying about how when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail come to life.

Ideologies can be useful. They provide a framework for seeing the world, for conceptualizing causes and effects, and for proposing solutions.

In a way, though, they are like science, or at least what science should be: constantly tested, constantly revised, and in danger of being falsified. In short, they should be flexible in light of new information and evidence.

Instead, ideologies become rigid, entrenched, and oddly antifragile. Indeed, it seems that the more holes you poke in a given ideology, or the more flaws you point out, the stronger its adherents devotion. They become highly dogmatic and, dare I say it, cult-like.

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“But Alex, aren’t you a Christian? Isn’t religion just another ideology?”

In short, no. Christianity is (1) a highly individualistic religion, (2) not concerned with political structures, (3) is reliant on a person’s own actions and faith for salvation, and (4) doens’t require forcing every other person on Earth to live the exact same way you do. Other religions might be more akin to an ideology–I can think of one, in particular, that just can’t seem to keep itself out of the news–but I leave further discussion to the experts.

Back to the secular, and smellier, realms of law and politics. Whether you’re a hardcore free-marketeer or a Marxist, your answer to everything is more of the same. The market-worshiper is just as apt to lament “We’ve never had really free markets!” as the communist is to whine “We’ve never had real communism!” And in both cases, there is a strange belief in the magic power of laws, as though laws are powerful spells that can compel proper behavior if only we use the right combination of words!

More, more, more. Hammer, hammer, hammer. Continue reading “The Devil and Ideology”

Beige Evil

Nobody sets out to be evil. And nobody thinks that they’re evil. But would we even recognize evil when we see it?

I’m not just talking cartoonish, Pennywise the dancing clown evil, but the more insidious kind that often comes wrapped in the mantle of goodness and virtue.

I’m no Hannah Arendt scholar, but she is the philosopher who coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” In interviewing the architects of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews and other undesirables, she was shocked to discover that these people weren’t the garishly sinister figures she expected. Instead, they were ordinary, nondescript, and even kind of boring.

Weird, right? But then again, so few set out to be the villain. Other people use that term. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” might have been a stupid thing to say after 9/11, but it actually describes how people see themselves.

(Now, taken out of context and as a blanket generalization, ignoring questions of who or what is actually right and good, the statement is obnoxiously relativistic, but I digress.)

Evil seeks to come in two main varieties: cartoon evil and beige evil. The former is rare and easier to detect. The latter is, sadly, far more common.

Cartoon Evil is big, bold, and knows it’s causing–and reveling in–mayhem and bloodshed. Think ISIS. Of course, they think they’re doing Allah’s work or whatever, but they totally enjoy the killing and the torture and the rape. Hey, they’re just doing what their Prophet says, so why not have fun?!

The thing is, most functioning human beings recognize ISIS for the evil that they are. They’re an easy one. Both the Nazis and the various horrific communist regimes (Russia, China, Venezuela, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, and so on) are a bit trickier to classify because they cloaked themselves in a mantle of faux-sophistication and academic-sounding justification. But they’re still evil.

Beige Evil, on the other hand, is creepier. It worms its way into you to eat you from within. And Beige Evil is usually pushed on you from without. Comedian George Carlin commented that when fascism comes to America, it’ll be in “Nike sneakers and smiley shirts.” He was on to something. Continue reading “Beige Evil”

Other People

It’s always about “other people,” isn’t it?

When we judge, we act like we alone are uniquely above any criticism. Everyone else is the problem. We’re the solution. 

We all do it, even those of us who try to be aware of it

Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Words to life by right? 

Yes. But this isn’t a command to never judge–take a look at the next part:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

–Matthew 7:1-2

In other words, be very careful what you say to others. And don’t be a hypocrite. 

Of course, evil should be judged harshly. Or things that can lead to evil. But don’t be so self-righteous to think yourself immune from this, or bristle when you get the same treatment from others. 

To many, evil is subject to interpretation. I tend to stick with immutable principles like those given by God, but your mileage may vary. 

So that’s evil. But what about stuff you disagree with? Or that you just find silly or annoying?

What about other people’s habits and mannerisms that just irk you?

“They do this, they do that, they just piss me off!”

But maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you.

If what other people do doesn’t affect you, or isn’t evil or doesn’t lead to evil, who cares?

In other words, pick your battles. Make them worthy of your time, energy, and judgment. 

As with most good things, though, this is easier said than done. 

I fall into this all the time. Social media makes it easy. 

Mockery is fun. Ridicule is a coping mechanism. Complaining lets off steam. 

But I wonder: What do people say about me and people like me?

Probably stuff I would object to as untrue

Exactly what other people say. 

Someone has to be right though, don’t they? Something has to be true and the other false. 

Usually. 

I know we’re a divided nation, and that’s fine. There needs to be a contrast between different ideas and their consequences. 

This is why my maxim is to attack ideas and not people. Continue reading “Other People”

But You’re Still Here: The Nature of Despair

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Modern society has given us so many benefits, but as with anything, you have to take the good with the bad. Levels of depression and other mental health issues has jumped over the past century, accelerating towards a singularity  rivaling even that of the technological revolution and our coming robot masters.

Okay. Maybe that’s hyperbole. And modern society is actually really good in so many ways. One of these ways is, believe it or not, social media.

I’ve been meeting some interesting people on Gab. It’s a very active and engaged group, and while more politically oriented than Twitter, if you can believe that, discussions run the entire gamut of human thought.

One recent discussion involved the nature of nihilism and despair.

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This made me think about my position, which is good. Social media can keep us honest, remember?

It’s true that some people might honestly reach the conclusion that there’s no God, or meaning to life, or hope for humanity, and so on. It’s a free country and we all have free will. Who am I to force people to agree with me?

And anyway, these aren’t exactly the kind of thoughts and feelings one can persuade another to change. That has to come from within.

But it does make me sad that people think this way. And yet, most people who claim to be nihilists and embrace the despair don’t seem to really live like it.

How can I say this? Simple: Because they all haven’t killed themselves yet. 

Whoa. This got dark fast. But hear me out. Continue reading “But You’re Still Here: The Nature of Despair”