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”

So Divided. So What?: Why Division is a Good Thing

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We are supposedly more divided, politically, culturally, even over stupid things like music and sports, than at any time in history. And as Americans, we are constantly bombarded from all sides with the message that this polarization is one of the pressing problems of our time.

Wouldn’t it be better, goes the conventional wisdom, if we could all join hands and want, think, believe, and act the same way towards the same goals?

Well, for starters that would be kind of beige. Second, it would probably admit “disappearing” everybody who disagreed with the prevailing norm.

And third, you have to ask: Whose goals? Whose “normal”? Whose “unity”?

I never understood the lamenting of this division as a concept. People disagree vehemently over what to eat for lunch, and you’re shocked that we can’t agree on the big things?

Yes, the things that we should do in order to have a wonderful society are relatively easy to figure out–be decent to everybody, don’t murder, don’t steal, and so on. But if 10,000-plus years of human history have taught us anything, it’s that human beings don’t play fair. We haven’t figured it out in all of this time. What makes the current purveyors of moderation think they have the answer this time?

Let’s just talk about politics because it’s on everybody’s mind just now, especially the United States. How could there not be division? Is division even bad?

I get into it with people who say they wish there was a “moderate party,” whatever that means, in the United States. Now what in the hell would a moderate party actually accomplish?

I get answers like, “Oh they would do what’s best, or what’s sensible.” But again: “Sensible” and “best” are subjective terms. Who’s defining them? I’m sure my idea of “sensible” is far different than that of a communist or a Scandinavian (but I repeat myself). I’m sure what I think is “best” is very different from what an Islamist thinks. Why the absolute living hell should I be forced to do what they think is right, and vice versa? Just for the sake of “playing nice”?

Why? Why should I be forced to agree with people who hate me? Why should you? Continue reading “So Divided. So What?: Why Division is a Good Thing”

Hatred and Revenge

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Must we hate?

If it’s our obligation to fight for what we believe in–to fight for what is right–how are we supposed to drum up the passion? Isn’t hate the best way to do this?

Fighting is by definition nasty. But there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to do it. So you’d better fight to win.

What does this matter? You’re never going to change most people’s minds, right?

True. But consider:

  1. You might be able to change some people’s minds; and
  2. You still have to live with people whom you disagree with, and real-estate is limited.

Familiarity and proximity breed contempt, and fighting is inevitable. Fighting, by definition, is nasty, but if you’re going to do it, you’d better fight to win.

Fighting is a necessary evil, and when engaging in a necessary evil, it needs to be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.

But there is danger in assuming malice and evil on the part of your opponents. If you view opponents as subhuman, you’ll do anything to them. Anything.

Hanlon’s razor is the name of this philosophical tenet: You shouldn’t assume malice when carelessness or stupidity will suffice as explanations.

I take that a little further. Most people believe that they are doing good when they fight for something or hold a particular position. Doing good is a much more sustainable motivation for most people than hatred and anger.

The trick comes, however, when the results of one’s positions are verifiably proven to be harmful. At that point, continuing to push for them may very well be the result of malice.

The trick has to be to fight for and against ideologies, not people.

On Fighting In General

For Christians like me, this might be a conundrum. The natural impulse–the natural necessity–to fight, to stick up for ourselves, is in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ.

Or is it?

As Jason Berggren puts it using the story of the adultress as an example, Jesus was the most judgmental person ever:

[T]he religious people in a specific town tried to entrap Jesus so they could find a reason to kill him. What they did was trick a woman into commit adultery, caught her in the act, and brought her to the town square to stone her (of course, the first question is, where was the guy?). In his brilliance, Jesus answers the religious people with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that, they all dropped their rocks and split.

But did you know Jesus judged the woman after all that? That’s right. The last words Jesus said to her was, “Go and sin no more.”

This shows that He did stand up and fight back, or be willing to fight back, too. And turning the other cheek was a prohibition against personal revenge, not a call for meek submission in the face of all aggression.

Love the sinner, hate the sin, right?

There’s also that little bit about vengeance being God’s domain and no one else’s.

So the problem isn’t fighting per se–just war theory, after all, was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The issue is with hate. Whether it’s war or politics, I argue that hatred, though a natural human inclination, is counterproductive.

In art, it’s a different story. Sometimes hatred can produce fantastic art (Pink Floyd’s late-1970s catalog is proof of this, as is most of Nine Inch Nails’ recorded output). But life is different.

I think most problems occur when we have malice in our heart. Continue reading “Hatred and Revenge”