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Monday, March 2, 2015

Evil as Ignorance

Yesterday's Post carried an article that might serve as a parable for international relations. It told of the slaughter of a pastor, health workers, and educators in the small village of Womey, Guinea. They had come to warn and teach the villagers about Ebola. But because they were strangers, the rumor ran that they were coming to bring Ebola and kill the villagers. "What do you do when they come to kill you?" The villagers asked. "You kill them first." So a mob of villagers hacked the strangers to death with machetes and dumped them in ditches filled with human waste. As a result, many villagers have been chased from the village to languish and die in the bush. While none of them have died from Ebola, the author of the article considers them victims of the disease as victims of fear.

It is not the first time that the messenger or teacher or prophet was killed bringing the information that would dispel ignorance. It raises the question of the link between ignorance and evil.

Evil has been classically defined as a negative, an absence of good, just as dark is an absence of light. In classical philosophy, evil is an absence of Being or reality. In contemporary science all things, the total multiverse of beings, all matter and energy, from the smallest particles to the largest galaxies, consist of information. So if Evil is the absence or negation of Being, it is the absence or negation of information--in other words, ignorance.

For ignorance to have moral character, i.e. to be culpable, it would need to be chosen: willful ignorance or the refusal to pursue knowledge. It is good for us to know that we do not know, in other words, to acknowledge our ignorance as a requisite to pursuing knowledge or truth. It is when we think we know better that we are most in danger of denying, avoiding, or refusing information. As did the villagers.

I see this as a parable for those calling themselves neoconservatives who promote a "muscular" policy towards Iran, ISIS, and Moscow. They want us to bomb, invade, arm, go to war rather than contain, negotiate, and co-exist. They use, I would say mis-use, categories like "appeasement," "leadership of the free world," and "resolute decision-making" adopted from other times and circumstances to hype up belligerence.

There are definitely times when you need to defend your boundaries even with force. There are times when you need to intervene even with force to stop the stronger from overpowering the weaker. But those defenses and interventions must be well thought out--deliberative and limited. Never out of hatred and the desire for revenge.

The fight or flight instinct, emotionalized in fear and hatred, will probably always be with us. We can discern much fear and hatred in the response of ordinary people reacting to the fear and hatred of other ordinary people. Only thinking, the attempt to seek knowledge and question your conclusions, and law, formed in thoughtful deliberation to limit activity the reacts without thought, are the ways beyond the ignorance which is evil and the evil which is ignorance.

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