April 11, 2005

Not Always Evil 

I noticed first on LGF, there's a lot of commenters who are ready to attribute sinister and evil motives to anyone who does not conform to certain positions. I have even been labelled a dhimmi* (by one of the less bright bulbs in the box) because I stated clearly that I do not share the "nuke'em all and let Allah sort'em out" ideology.

Thus, I feel somewhat compelled to write down my opinions on the difference between true evil, and other occurrences such as stupidity.

The starting point is to notice that humans are very complex systems, and the exact behaviour of any single human in a given situation depends from a lot of factors: his (or her) personality, culture, knowledge, mental status, training, past experiences etc. I could cite examples for all these factors, but I think you can work them out by yourself.
Also, the concept of what is evil and what is not is fairly relative - I belive that is possible to work out a relative classification of goods and evils, but not an absolute one. Religious people, on the other hand, use the words of their God to estabilish what is good and what is evil in an absolute fashion. I think this is a chasm between me and them that cannot be filled. People are people, each one unique, and trying to reduce all of their behaviour to a simple evil/not evil dichotomy is preposterous to say the least. Sometimes people have to take extreme decisions, and basically choose between a lesser evil and a greater one. While I admire who is strong enough not to flinch in his belief even when faced by hard trials, I will not call evil, weak or coward everyone who gives in. Some of them surely are, not all.

There are some exceptions, like heavily indoctrinated people; they will have lost a great part of their individuality, and act in mainly as they have been taught. Interestingly, this is in part true also for trained people: for example, whoever has a hand combat training will do certain things if attacked regardless of their exact individuality.

Discussing good and evil at the level of nations (or hive-minds, in a sense), we must remember that nations have no friends, only interests. For self-interest, any nation on Earth is ready to ruin any other (some just lack the means), and moral considerations are rarely a barrier for trade, even of military equipment (check this story, for example). I regard self-interest to be basically neutral in a moral sense, but mostly each case must be considered individually. Would it be OK to trade with a mild dictatorial state when it's the only one owning certain resources? Yes. Is it OK to trade with a brutal, murderous regime only because pays the best bucks for certain goods? No.

The relationships betwwen nations can go all the way from a strong friendships (rare exception to the rule cited above), to close alliance, to mild hostility, all the way to relentless enmity and finally genocidal hate. Some people seem to forget all this, and see only the extremes of the scale.

There is also the issue that, especially in Europe (of the western world) governments often are not very representative of the people. They are principally representative of a self-sustaining, self-perpetuating elite of bureocrats and professional politicians. (EU anyone?)
The charges that Europe is hell-bent from 1500 years on the extermination of Jews, and always made it her first priority are borderline psychotic; surely the result of a heavily slanted vision of history. Yes, the Jews and Israel are not exactly deeply loved in Europe, I cannot deny that. But is the American left much different? Not at all, not the Left anywhere on Earth.

I think that certain decisions - like the Euro-Arab alliance, of whose existence I'm pretty sure now - are extremely stupid and will probably cause great harm. But they were not taken out of evil intent; only keeping shortsighted self-interest in mind. Otherwise, one may argue that America is evil because is financing the Saudis buying their oil. Actually, the USA does not buy so much oil from Saudi Arabia (I think the quota decreased since the 70s), and however a great part of the world's oil is concentrated around the Persian Gulf, so there isn't much to do about it - short of a war to seize the oilfields.

While some people embrace diversity, I embrace complexity. Much more difficult than accepting pre-packaged simplistic explanations, but also more rewarding.

*Dhimma is a word indicating the status of submission enforced by Muslims upon the Jews and Christians in Muslim countries during the Middle Ages. Dhimma refers to a precise set of conditions and a certain historical phase, but the word recently has been misused and abused and basically came to mean "anyone who does not say that the Muslims are followers of a satanic cult founded by a dirty, ignorant and brutal paedophile and should go back to their sandbox" (there may be some truth in this statement, but it's not the point now). To quote Stephen Schwartz:

The dhimma is now held out by a demagogic element in the West as a terrifying symbol of Islamic domination, and Western advocates of any rational approach to Islam short of a crusader war are regularly insulted as "dhimmis," or people who have surrendered to Muslim rule. One almost expects some of the anti-dhimma fanatics to label President George W. Bush a "dhimmi," but that may be left to the same liberal Democrats who proclaim that the democratic election in Iraq will lay the foundation for a theocracy. In reality, the two abusive propositions are the same, so there is no reason conservative Islam-haters should not adopt such an attitude about the situation in Baghdad, but for whatever reason, they have not.

Also horrible derivatives like "dhimmified" have been invented. Hence, I will not use any of these derivatives, and will use the word dhimma only to refer to the precise historical phenomenon.


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