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Author: sonofed Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 53806  
Subject: Re: To kill or not to kill Date: 7/12/2005 10:21 AM
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TJ,

I think asking whether man is fundamentally evil or fundamentally good is pursuing the wrong question, and is fundamentally circular since "good" and "evil" are constructions of man influenced by social mores of the civilization he has formed. In short, if you travelled around the world you would find places where acts we consider completely evil (e.g cannibalism, infanticide), are the normal course of business. We are all human and so it stands to reason if we have such widely divergent views of what constitutes evil, that our definitions of "evil" and "good" are socially based and not fundamental to us.

More to the point, I think the nature of man is a game theory problem. Certain behaviors result in stable societies, certain behaviors do not. Those behaviors that result in the most stable societies for a given environment prosper over time through a process akin to natural selection. The end result is a complex system of social mores. Over time, we come to accept those behaviors with which we are familiar as the "correct" behaviors and form our conception of good and evil accordingly.

The bottom line is that man is an animal. An animal with high brain function and self awareness, but an animal nonetheless. We are guided by our instincts and embedded cultural memories of what behavior has helped us survive and prosper in the past.

The evil man-theorists, less nuanced to be sure, simply blame terrorists and the lack of moral and civil boundaries which failed to check their baser desires.

I have no sympathy for the terrorists we are fighting today. That said, I think dismissing them as evil is a dangerous oversimplification. In their own minds they are not psychopaths killing for the sheer joy of it. They are religious fundamentalists doing what they believe is the work of their God in driving the crusaders from the Holy Land and in attacking the fabric of the infidel society.

Are their methods evil? From my perspective they certainly are. However, the idea of evil is not a simple thing.

Was giving Indians blankets infected with smallpox evil?
Were slave owners in the 1820s evil?
Was dropping a nuclear weapon on a Japanese city evil?
Were the Irish resorting to terrorism to throw off the yoke of Britain evil?

I think you could make a case that each of these was evil if you were of a mind to, and yet none of the people who committed these acts would have considered themselves a bad man or consider what they were doing to be truly evil in any meaningful sense of the word.

Rather than look for simple answers in the concepts of good and evil, I think the way to approach terrorism is to consider what they truly want. What are their aims? If those aims are anathema to our interests, then it doesn't matter why they are fighting. All that matters is that they be destroyed. If their aims are not in direct opposition to our real long term interests, then we should be willing to seek an accomodation.

For my own part, I think the terrorist organizations we are fighting against have aims much larger than forcing the US out of the Middle East. I think even if they succeeded in driving us out, they would need to continue to mount attacks to prevent their organizations from dissolving. I think they continue to represent a threat to Western civilization even if we left them alone in the Middle East.

The only answer, therefore, is to destroy them and to reform or destroy the culture that creates them. They don't need to be "evil" for me to want to destroy them, they only need to be a continuing threat to our way of life.

Do armies create war or do lack of armies create opportunities for those who have them?

I think it is quite clear that a lack of armies creates opportunities for war. The allocation of scarce resources is never equal. There will always be haves and have nots. If the potential economic cost for the have nots to take from the haves is too low, then they will take. The result is civil disorder internally (high crime) and war externally.

The purpose of an army (and of a police force for internal matters) is to raise the economic cost of "taking" to the point that most people decide there are better ways to get the stuff they need.


It seems though this is an either/or belief system

I think it is a false dilemma. As I said before, deciding whether man is fundamentally good or fundamentally evil is a pointless exercise since there is no absolute measure of good or evil. There is only man and the 100,000 years of societal development that have brought us to where we are today.

Lay aside the need to define man as good and evil, and think instead in terms of ingrained behavorial preferences and perceived interests and I think the problem, and the solution, becomes more clear.

Perhaps a good litmus test is your response to Bush's "Your either with us or against us."

This particular phrase has always rankled me. I put it up there with the "Axis of Evil". It is this sort of simplistic thinking that leads to intractable problems. After all, only a fool negotiates with Evil, leaving, or course, force as the only option.

That brings the "with us or a'gin us" mentality into much sharper relief because what it really says is "You're either in favor of prolonged campaign of violence or you're with the terrorists". It is a false choice and a very dangerous way to think.

Steve
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