In the four decades after WWII, not including “police actions” and “armed interventions,” there were 142 wars fought and only 26 days of global peace. 26 days out of 40 years or, 14, 600 days.
Aggression on any point of the scale, from passive to active, would appear to be one of the traits we share in common with everyone – no matter what their race, class, culture or religion. And yes, even Tibet has quite the bloody history, monks and all. Whether the act of aggression is “good” or “evil” literally depends on who is doing the evaluation.
I have finished the Baumeister book and was surprised by his conclusions. Surprised and a part of me was elated because he reiterated something that I have long held to be true. He said that one of the most dangerous aspects of our modern culture, particularly the American/Western culture is the emphasis that we put on trying to “understand” violence, evil and cruelty. Understanding, he says, opens the door to forgiveness and with forgiveness comes permission to use rationalizations to recreate the evil. He points out that without the boundary of firm morality, of drawing a line and saying “there is nothing in the world that can make this permissible or understandable” we create ambiguous areas of behavior. The more ambiguous the definition of morality, the greater the potential for evil to occur again because the greater the possibility of rationalizing anticipatory guilt to relieve or avoid after guilt.
In assessing the potential of evil in the world, country by country, he predicts that of all the continents it will be Africa that will see the sharpest decline in evil (as they are going through the process of ridding themselves of totalitarianism and dictatorships while maintaining moral boundaries). Russia that has the greatest potential for beginning a third world war or at least a significant genocide (because they are moving into the exact same position as pre-WWII Germany). America that will continue to see a steady rise in violence because we have become culturally wedded to the idea of self-esteem (to the sacrifice of self-control and responsibility) and China, well…China he talked about rarely and in the conclusion he said why. China he rates as the country singularly responsible for the greatest numbers of murder, evil, theft, disregard and lack of responsibility. He cannot see anyway in which China will change and that it will remain the wild card in any attempt to resolve global issues, particularly those of conserving resources.
He points out that the post WWII era (up to modern time) is the first century in which the actions of those living are going to harm those who will live in the future. At no other time in human history were the war mongering and intrigues of the centuries such that they had an extreme impact on the safety and survival of the future. We have, he says, guaranteed a future of world wars over water and arable land.
Our legacy, our heritage is ensuring the survival of evil over life.
Makes you stop and think. Makes some stop and think. Makes others run off to their yoga mats and Ohm their way into ignorant bliss. Yoga mats, by the way, manufactured using methods that harm the environment and used in Yoga studios that are a phenomenal and arrogant waste of space, land and resources.
Given all this, what does one do? It is not realistic to go green to the point of not participating because frankly, that will start another war – it may not be a war of guns and lives, it may be one of legislation and perception, but war it is. Not consuming is a betrayal, an act of a traitor towards the economic health of our societies. Yet the act of consuming is also an act of evil in that it supports and justifies endless acts of harm toward people and the environment.
The solution is never as easy as a bumper sticker would lead you to believe.
The key point he always returns to, the foremost defense against violence, cruelty and evil is – self-control. Now, self-control is not self-denial. Meditating to the point you can shut out the world and manage your breathing is not the kind of self-control that he is talking about; in fact, an emphasis on that type of self-control actually increases the potential for evil because it removes you from participating in the events around you. It roots you in the present and in your body to the extent it denies being able to imagine the “big picture.”
He points out that our greatest moments in history in which someone has stood and defeated or defused evil have all been defined by the person having a strong ability to exert self-control defined by a clear sense of morality, of what is right and what is wrong. They perceived it as applying to everyone (whether they liked them or not) and in every situation (no necessary wars excusing people from “thou shalt not kill) even if it meant forgoing something that they would prefer. Self-control is defined by being able to imagine the future, to see beyond the moment.
But morality is a dirty word these days and has been for decades for morality implies saying “No.” It also says that you are not the most important thing on earth – your self-esteem and your self-realization and your self-expression cannot come at the expense of others. That everything we do comes with the weight of responsibility for its effect on others and that, particularly in the American culture, is not a popular idea.
Just look at how the presidential campaigns are shaping up. One side would have you believe that the other side is solely responsible for creating our mess in under four years. If that were true I would say, “Damn, keep ’em in office because if they can completely screw things up in under four years imagine how fast they could fix it.” But the very messages of the campaign hopefuls embody the basic evil afflicting our nation – blame.
Blame. Abdication of responsibility. Forgiveness of what should not be forgiven.
Once you can blame someone you are free to act in any way you desire without thought of consequences.
Pete the Moose lives in Vermont on a private reserve. Pete the Moose is half-tame. He was found as a (whatever you call a baby moose) injured and dying after having been attacked by dogs. The owners of the reserve nursed him back to health and he has been quite happily living on their 600-acre preserve, along with a host of other imported (but indigenous) animals.
The state legislature has decided that all the wild animals on the preserve must be killed because there is a chance they could catch diseases from the domestic animals. Of course, there is a big battle going on over this, but in the end, they did make a change and Pete’s life has been spared.
We have a tendency to kill animals that have created an inconvenience for us. The practice of “culling,” where special permission is given to go kill a type of wild animal to prevent overpopulation (and starvation among the animals) has been proven to be a theory of bunk. Nature, who has been around far longer then we have, has ways to control populations. Yet because these animals create an inconvenience to us – through messing with domestic herds and farms, we decree it is not fast enough and choose to slaughter them.
All, by the way, in the name of the good of the animal and preventing their suffering.
But Pete the Moose will live. Long live Pete the Moose. Saved because we have managed to give him a name and make of him a pet. The nameless animals, the ones we have not “humanized” in some fashion, will most likely be killed.
What we choose to do or not do not only defines who we are, but shows what we will permit.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe All Rights Reserved.