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Friday, October 31, 2014

Four Faces of Evil (continued)

In the last blog, I identified four evils. I use them as "ideal types" to help explain, but not totally exhaust particular characters. The particular may range between, among, or beyond these types and are better described in narratives and other art forms.

The types help me understand a bit more the undermining of a democratic government in Guatemala by the United Fruit Company and its US agents. They help me understand why Iran is attempting to become a nuclear power. They help me understand why the US is distrusted and hated by many throughout the world. And they help me think about ethics in politics.

To identify a behavior or a character or an organization as evil is of course a judgment--an affirmation applying evidence using criteria (principles or standards) that distinguish what should be done from what should not. Where those criteria come from and what they are is the work of ethics. Some say they are self-evident by the general population and discoverable in their morality. Some say they are revealed by God by prophets and holy scripture. Some say they are to be found in nature through the understanding of the human animal in science and philosophy. Some say they are negotiated by persons in community--local, national, global--and articulated in laws.

And so we collectively develop and adopt codes of ethics to guide the behavior of nations, organizations, and professions. We argue to these codes based on an understanding of human nature informed by science including biology, psychology, and anthropology. In this effort we glean data from diverse cultures including our religions and moralities. And we appreciate the role of conscience, the awareness that accompanies a person's behavior.

What is common about the four types of evils I identified? Is there a definition of evil that underlies all of them? I think so and, not surprisingly, it comes from my ethics of integrity.

My own ethical theory is based on an analysis of human existence as a tension between being and non-being (to be or not to be is the tension) with many dimensions: four of which I propose are 1) the tension between inner subjectivity and outer objectivity, 2) the tension between individuality of self-personhood and the communality of society, 3) the tension between past and future, and 4) the tension between real and ideal. In the dynamic tension of existence arises the moral imperative, an awareness that accompanies (con-science) every conscious human act of the holding in tension across (trans) inner and outer, self and other, past and future, real and ideal.

Evil is the collapse of that tension in which inner awareness and exterior perception are destroyed by the refusal to think about what we are doing.

Evil is the collapse of the tension across individual personhood and the personhood of others by identifying the social and its good with our selves.

Evil is the collapse of the tension between past and future by denying history and its influences and being careless towards the future and the consequences of what we are doing now.

Evil is the collapse of the tension between the real and ideal by denying or acting as if there is no ambiguity and that we are absolutely right because our concept of reality is the ideal.

Evil finally is the denial of conscience and the refusal of transcendence in the flight from existence between being and non-being.

In each of the four types of evil that I identified (banal, pure, trivial, sincere) I discover a collapse of the tension of existence in one or more of its dimensions. Can you?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Four Faces of Evil

I always thought that Hannah Arendt's treatment of the "banality of evil" in Eichmann in Jerusalem was insightful. But now reading The Brothers for a class on John Foster and Allen Dulles, I realize the insufficiency of treating evil as banality. I suggest three other kinds of evil in human behavior.

Arendt's insight into Eichmann during his trial was that he was unthinking in his bureaucratic function for the Nazis in organizing the death camps for the Jews. If, in considering the Nazi phenomenon, she had written on the F├╝hrer Hitler himself and his key henchmen, I am sure she would have described them as the shapers of the policy much differently. And I think Hitler's Secretary Bormann represents an evil apart from both Hitler and Eichmann. And Field Marshall Rommel is completely separate.

1. The Banality of Evil is for the 95% of us who go along without noting the consequences for others or really caring about them. We just want to earn our living. It is to our interest to follow orders. We accept what we are told by the media and pass along our opinions without questioning them. We live the unexamined life. We accept the official version of history with its stereotypes and categories. We are patriotic. We behave and accept the prevailing morality that separates the good guys (us) from the bad guys (others) no matter what it is.

2. The Purity of Evil is practiced by the shapers and architects--those who have moved themselves into a position of uncontaminated power. They create, know, and promote the Truth. They are the Righteous who decide the Right. They are the True Patriots who teach what true patriotism is. They are the Saviors of Civilization and will use whatever means desirable to achieve their goals. The Enemy is anyone who obstructs or counters their vision of the True and the Right. They personally identify their success in power and wealth with that of their party or corporation or nation.

3. The Triviality of Evil is carried out by those who enjoy the game. They focus on their ability to make things happen for the Shapers by manipulating the Go-alongers. They are focused on winning whatever game they are called upon to play, knowing how to move the pawns, and even check the kings of the other side. The are comic figures. They are the strategists and the organizers who get a kick out of seeing things happen by their mechanizations which sometimes work, but often fail.

4. The Sincerity of Evil belongs to those who think, who understand consequences even those unintended, who have a sense of ambiguity about the world and its evil, and who could make a difference but choose to go along with the Shapers and Gamers. They think they just use, but are usually used by, the Shapers and Gamers. They are the ones about whom tragedies are written.

The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer is the story of how we got where we are today and especially how George Bush and Barack Obama were faced with and made terrible choices in regards to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the US role in the world. The characters in this tragicomedy are John Foster Dulles who represents the Purity of Evil in his missionary zeal to make America the Jerusalem on the Hill that defeats all contenders. Allen Dulles represents the Triviality of Evil as the playboy womanizer gamer who loves to develop strategies that sometimes win and often lose, but certainly sets up the US as the mover and shaker of the world. Eisenhower (and Kennedy and Johnson to follow) represent the Sincerity of Evil, the "realists" who reluctantly buy into the world vision of Dulles and their plutocratic friends' (we call them both "neocons" and "neoliberals" today).

Then there are the publishers, the editors, the reporters, the politicians, the bishops, the professors, the managers of companies, labor leaders, the generals, and the rest of us who went along. Back to the Banality of Evil.

Yes, there were courageous theologians and clergy, students, labor leaders, artists who protested the vision and actions of the Dulles brothers and their circle of elite friends. Just as in Nazi Germany, Poland, and France. But hardly enough. And the American Century and American Exceptionalism was born to thrive and fall as is happening as I write.

(To be continued

  • what these evils have in common
  • how can we confront these evils
  • how ethics and politics connect)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thinking Like a Jesuit

Classmate John Thissen sent an article from America which quotes Pope Francis as saying: "We should care more about Jesus than we do about the Church." He also said "I think like a Jesuit."

My late brother-in-law used to joke with me that he went to a Catholic University (Notre Dame) not a Jesuit one. And indeed I fell right into his humorous stereotype when I told him that I have left Christianity including the RC Church, but I shall always remain a Companion of Jesus.

Indeed I do not want to be known as "Christian" mainly because I do not want to confuse myself with many who do call themselves Christian. And I no longer participate in Roman Catholic ritual or language (hierarchical, sexist, dominating) because frankly I was tired of confronting it as a good reformer should and as do my Catholic friends admirably carrying on the spirit of Vatican II.

But like Pope Francis, I am still "a Jesuit at heart." And I wish him and those in communion with him godspeed.

They say it is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius that forms Jesuit-think. I also believe that it is the long tradition of liberal education, the attempt to reconcile contemporary thinking (and especially the new science) to traditional beliefs, the focus on poverty and the poor, outreach to other cultures by going in through their ways of seeing the world, and appreciation for diversity in thought and behavior. Nevertheless, the Spiritual Exercises is a good place to start to understand thinking like a Jesuit.

A popular image of the Jesuits is that of great intellectuals. Yet the Spiritual Exercises do not focus on intellectual reasoning but on imagination and feeling. They consist of imagining walking with Jesus in his time, feeling his passion for justice, for the poor, for equity, for the earth and then making a decision regarding your own calling in walking with him in our time.

Ignatius and the early Jesuits did add "thinking with the Church" and "blind obedience" (two phrases I despise) to the Spiritual Exercise for they were in a time of Revolution and counter-revolution with the papacy and the Inquisition. To survive, many of them curried favor with powerful princes of the Catholic world. It is not all a happy history and one most of us like to forget or paper over. It carried on in the Irish Church as well exemplified by James Joyce. See his Jesuits in "Portrait."

But with the triumph of the Enlightenment, the final self-destruction of doctrinaire religions through the European Religious Wars, New World revolutions and the growth of secularism, and in the US Church link to immigrants, labor, and the poor, in France the priest-worker movement, and in the Philippines and Latin America liberation theology and the base community movement, contemporary Jesuits were liberated to be the best they could be. And I am proud to be associated with them as Companions of Jesus as they name themselves.

What attracted many of us young pre-Peace Corps Ghetto Catholics to become Jesuits were not so much the great theologians and philosophers but the Waterfront Priests (John Corridan), Youth Action Priests (Dan Lord), Labor Priests (Ed Boyle), Anti-war Priests (Dan Berrigan), and our young Jesuit scholastics promoting social justice and marching for Civil Rights.

My own developing imagination of Jesus in my ongoing spiritual exercises has been fired by a lot of scholars including the historical criticism of the New Testament and other early accounts of Jesus, the reconstruction of the history of the Church including the Fathers of the Church, the works and actions of other great spiritual leaders, the study of culture and religion in culture, sociology, social psychology, neuroscience, and yes lots of philosophy--which at its best is critical thinking, i.e. questioning, everything. And of course my imagination of Jesus grows as I carry out my own vocation.

I don't like the image of Jesus as the Prophet, the King, the Redeemer, the High Priest, the Savior, or God. And I don't think he thought of himself that way. Though clearly his biographers used those images.

I like the image of Jesus as a sort of an ancient cynic (the "hippies of the time) traveling around with his possessions on his back in tune with the earth and its bounty. I see him as a rebel confronting the patronage system of Rome, a revolutionary identifying with those who are excluded from or dominated by that system, and a prophet challenging the morality and the religious sanctification of that system. I image him as a peacenik who condemns violence even to the point of accepting it on himself, a humanist who sees that everyone is fundamentally worthwhile and blessed, a skeptic questioning all the truths of the mighty, and an organizer who gathers people together to question, confront, challenge, and live with him. I also imagine him as a secular here-and-now person, not a otherworldly wait-for-later person when/if he used the language of freedom, justice, and heaven or kingdom of God.

That's the Jesus I choose to walk with along with my other companions.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Living Past 75

Reading at 76 Dr. Emmanuel's "Why I hope to die at 75" stimulates some reflection.  I was reflecting on old age and life's end anyways. 
  • I recently returned from a class reunion in Detroit where we talked about those who are no longer with us and planned our next reunion deciding not to wait the traditional 5 years. 
  • A couple of days ago one of those classmates, Bill Dwyer, died at 76 in his sleep without warning of pains or sickness.
  • Bernie and I just moved into a continuum of care retirement community where I constantly point out to her: "Wow, look at all these old people!"
  • I'm in process of taking a course on Satire in the Enlightenment and just reread Swift's Gulliver's Travels including the visit to Luggnagg where the struldbrugs grow old but never die.
  • And last week in Pittsburg we were playing a "wish game" and my 10 year old grandson Remy said that his wish was that I don't grow any older. 
That latter event hit me especially hard because now I knew that he saw me slowing down, not as ready to throw him about and wrestle and play monster games. I saw myself through his eyes and it's bad enough looking in the mirror.


I feel good. I run 20 miles a week, take bike rides, and in my new old folks home intend to do pool laps regularly. (Everybody says that you die very fit here!)

I read lots, fiction and non fiction, belong to a book club, keep up with the news, go to lectures and plays, regularly visit the wonderful museums in DC, and take advantage of other learning experiences.

I volunteer in housing and community development, my lifelong vocation, in one of the DC neighborhoods through our church's affordable housing development organization and serve on a few community boards.

My wife was and my children are very successful in their careers. I have no idea how much money my children make. But it seems to be enough and they seem very happy with what they are doing and our grandchildren are the best. Now with us in this continuum of care retirement community, they won't have to worry about us. (I wish everybody who wanted it could have this opportunity and that we as a people would provide it, say, through Medicare.)

But Dr. Emmanuel, I'm 76 and over your hill. I don't particularly want to die. And I know that is not what you are saying. You are pointing out that I probably have shot my wad and it's time to let go. I agree. But I have different or perhaps added reasons than those you give.

Yes, I don't want my grandchildren to remember me as a bumbling, stumbling old man. But on the other hand I do hope they can see me as a person who knew how to grow old with some grace and gratitude. I watched my father die of Alzheimer's and my mother after a stroke and it was very, very painful. But that was just an episode. It is not at all how I encounter them today in my dreams and memories. In fact my image of them keeps aggrandizing as I get older.

I will not write that great book or found that big organization or save the world as I thought I would. No, I will not achieve Fame and Fortune--at least no more than I already have; and that's not much. But you know what?  I no longer care. I do want to keep trying to make contributions and think I can in much smaller ways than I once fantasized. I am close to coming to terms that I am a speck upon a speck upon a speck upon a speck upon a speck as one astrophysicist has summed it up. But I am still curious and fascinated by all those specks.

At 76 I intend to take no extraordinary means to prolong that speck. If I am diagnosed with cancer, I will not try to cut it out or stop it with chemotherapy or radiation--unless it be to lesson my pain and promote my tranquillity. If I have a massive stroke or heart attack, let me go where it will take me. And so on. And so on.

And though my life is but an instant of an instant of an instant of an instant of an instant, I enjoy in my instant the warmth of the sun and the breeze caressing my body, the touch of my lover, the sound of falling water, the company of good friends. I am in awe of my brothers and sisters who have nurtured their children, built their communities, composed concerts, choreographed dances, meticulously detailed or boldly splashed paint on canvas, constructed theories, exercised leadership, risked failure, and co-created my world. My instant passes into the next. I am grateful for my instant and will continue to be as long as I live. 


And then there is the matter of Swift's struldbrugs, the immortals of Luggnagg. They are not exactly the same that the AI or Singularity people envision as they work towards human immortality through better and better technology. Yet they do present a cautionary tale for the geeks for everlasting life to consider.

Would it not be a horrible place if humans stayed around forever? Would there not be a disincentive for innovation? Look today how hard it is to get past old ways of thinking and behaving. New birth opens to new possibilities. And keeping old people around forever would suppress new birth.

I doubt we would have had the Axial Revolution much less the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution if the old entrenched group had not let go by dying off. The abolition of slavery, the development of republics, the decline of superstition, the liberation of women, the weaving of a safety net of guaranteed income and health and housing, the openness to diverse religions and lifestyles would still be held back if the Tories had their way. 

Even now old white Christian men in the West along with Islamic fundamentalists in the East fight against change which they think is the cause of all the world's ills. When they themselves in their reliance on violence to protect the way things were and maintain their dominating narrow habits of thinking and behaving are the real problem. Yes, that includes me and all of us over-75ers. We must die and make room for innovation.

I would like to think that we still have a contribution to make if perchance we live past 75 and if we so choose. That contribution is to let go, make room, pass on the torch, and help the new generations to do the same.