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On Viciousness

What is truth? If we're honest, we say that it is an assessment of how well something inside of our heads corresponds to the world outside. We say something is true when it will be borne out in reality, meaning the physical (and possibly other dimensions, although they will correspond to the same organizational principles of the physical world for the most part) world in the passage of time. Truth compares our ideas to the external world, and only that world - not our in-head "truths" - reveals how accurate they are.

What is evil? Evil is untruth for short-term and/or personal gain. I say this not in a dualistic sense, but in the same way that truth describes our ideas contrasted to the external world, evil can be an assessment of our thoughts and actions. If something is billed as one thing, and performs another with negative results, we can see it as evil; I assess this evil in holistic terms more than personal, meaning that someone ripping off someone else is not as important as a false idea impacting the whole of our human endeavor. Evil illustrates to us why it is important not to assume that something labeled "Good" is in fact not evil, as the easiest thing in the world is changing a label.

Examples of evil that most (thinking, intelligent people of noble character) will find realistic: dumping toxic waste for $500 off the books; stealing supplies from hospitals; killing a neighbor to enslave his wife in a basement sex nest; torching a forest. Evil is denial of the holistic truth for personal gain, in this context. Since we have choice about not only what we decide to do, but how we label objects and ideas, evil is a choice possible at every step of our lives.

And what is viciousness? It might be said that it is a tendency to gain regardless of assessment of good or evil. It is not caring if what one does is good or evil, as distinguished from death and life by their influence on the course of human lives. True viciousness is a defensive reaction, a neediness and a fear, that comes of feeling (truthfully or not) that one is under attack at all times, and is forced to respond in a manner of self-preservation at all costs. Viciousness requires this justification, although a hollow one, because every person feels morally correct in responding with force when they have been attacked first.

So far, we have confined ourselves to definitions on which most functional intelligent people agree. Now we shall get into the deeper waters that provoke troublesome worries, as definitions reveal a truth that is no longer as it is labeled; good shall become evil, and vice versa. Prepare yourselves with a fortifying intoxicant, sexual act, or religion of your choice - it does not matter, as nothing will stop this chain of thought. You can even stop thinking about it. You have the rest of your life to wonder, and if you stray far from this thought, don't worry - it will find you (unless you are not intelligent, in which case you have already turned on the TV).

There are two dimensions to every evil act: its method, and its outcome. Intention is secondary. If I drive a truck full of napalm into a nursery school and immolate it, it does not matter that I didn't "mean to" torch the preschoolers. They're dead. Similarly, while basting someone in napalm and flicking a zippo is clearly a horrible thing, if I drive a truck full of napalm into a horde of murderers before they can commit their dastardly acts, it would be good via evil method (unless, of course, they were going to murder other murderers). Even moreso, if I bring a Bible to the New World to save souls, and it turns out the Bible is infected by smallpox, I've committed evil via good method. What an interesting paradox, if you're thickwitted.

When considering viciousness, we have to look at outcome and not method, as illustrated by the parable of napalm truck versus murderers above. Clearly their removal is a positive thing, all silly sanctity of life arguments aside (and what sensible person believes that, in a world of seven billion?). Maybe I damaged my soul by using this evil method; more likely, whether I lock them up or set them ablaze is inconsequential: I have interrupted and prevented their intended course of life. Is it vicious to commit a good act viciously? Conversely, is an evil act committed without viciousness indeed evil?

Much as we have two ways (method and outcome) of assessing an act, we have two degrees of scope in which to consider it: the individual, and the world as whole (collectives, as groups of individuals, belong to the former category). If I am in a sinking submarine with ten other people, and a flooded compartment must be sealed from the inside, we have a literal, binary choice: one person can give up her life to seal the damn thing, or all eleven of us can drown. If we use the principle that each life is sacred, we reach a paradox, because we cannot give up a life - yet we have to, to preserve others. The interests of the whole therefore come before the interests of the individual.

So... what if a vicious act must be applied to some individuals, to avoid a vicious act being applied to all? Back on the submarine, supposing that we must seal the forward bulkhead in three seconds to prevent the entire ship from sinking, but the people behind that forward bulkhead will take eighteen seconds to evacuate it? We might fudge a bit, and say we let the first three through, but if there are ten people in the forward compartment and five hundred in the rest of the ship, it becomes immaculately clear what must be done: we condemn them to death and listen to them drown. Gurgle glub!

It is the same way in a modern time. We have made some horrible errors that have allowed us as a species to get too big to continue; if we want to preserve our natural environment, we must convince most of our population not to breed or, more likely, since they're not going to accept that, force them to. What to do? It's such drama for those who haven't thought it through, but in this case, we have a situation where murder is the giving of life. A vicious act has a good outcome. Or rather, a vicious act for some has a positive outcome not just for all who exist now, but for an unknown amount of future generations (who knows how long the future lasts?).

Some would say this is vicious, and that we need "proof" of the truthfulness of our statement. I would say that the proof is there but is invisible to most people; it requires smart and strong leaders to interpret. But it is an unpopular verdict! Well, so it is. They will demand proof up until the point where proof arrives and then, well, the bad events in waiting will have happened, and it will be a moot point. How hilarious self-defeating. It's like a man covered in napalm refusing to not smoke a cigarette until he's on fire.

Although we have through wealth and the size of the world been able to avoid this point so far, we have now reached the point where things are not only not as labeled, but not as they appear. Death can be life. Life can be death. It's important to realize this means the fourth age of definitions of good and evil has arrived.

I. Man Versus Nature

At first, our conception of good and evil was pure mysticism: small familial bands roamed and had to fight off sabre-toothed tigers and fatal diseases. We needed each other so much that person-to-person evil was relatively unknown. So evil meant the unknown: disease, predators, insanity, hemorrhoids, weird things howling in the night.

II. Man Versus Other Man Outside Civilization

Before permanent civilization, larger bands of humans roamed and sometimes clashed. At this point, we had our first definition of human evil: the outsider. Someone not from our tribe might kill us, giggling like a schoolgirl, in fact. And what of people among us who transgressed? They were the few who had gone insane - see definition I - because to do so was to be without a band of humans in a time when there were still enough animals that this was a bad idea (now, it's a moot point, since just about everything wild enough to eat us is dead, except AIDS).

III. Man Versus Other Man in Civilization

This is where it gets interesting: Judaism and Christianity belong to this age. Once people decided to settle down in large groups, we had civilization. Civilizations got attacked, but it was less frequent than before, because established towns and cities had strongholds, which meant less frequency of success for the intruders - like a burglar staring down the barrel of a shotgun after stumbling into a dark room, lockpick in hand. This meant that, statistically, there was a greater chance of facing badness within civilization from without. Whether it was farmer Josef ben Meshuggah stealing your grain, or a wandering Hittite clocking you on the head and taking your wife, it was evil from within. Christianity tried its best to limit this with absolute, contextless rules like "Don't kill" and "Don't steal." Because these rules represented a fundamental paradox with the rule of force, exceptions were made for war and the courts, and force was deprecated through a series of rules designed to construe he who used force first as the aggressor, no matter what went before. I might have been stealing your grain for twenty years, but the instant you whap me with a shillelagh, you're the goddamn barbarian and you'll burn in hell, you pig-fucker.

IV. Man Versus Other Man via Civilization

You can tell in any article when the author starts mentioning something in increasing frequency that it's probably the main point, or something like it. What about this things-as-labeled nonsense? That brings us to the fourth moral generation of good 'n evil, or the time when people use civilization to commit viciousness to one another. It might be legal to buy out someone's ancestral home, for example, or to buy up forest and chop it into pressboard, but is it not vicious? We've found ways of using society against one another, in part based upon that last principle of the previous age, namely that "he who uses force first is the aggressor." That gives us license to do whatever vicious and vile things we desire, so long as we don't use force (it's unclear whether dumping toxic waste in pristine rivers is "force," but we're polluting rivers to avoid that paradox). This is the Nietzschean age, in that he was the most identifiable philosopher who pointed out that passivity - provoking the other guy into using force by doing what is unjust - is now a bigger plague than the moral transgressions Christianity so strictly outlined. God is dead, indeed.

If I have to leave you with any conclusion to all of this, it is this argument: It is more vicious to be selfish and untruthful (using society against others, passively) than it is to slaughter some so that the rest can live well. We're overpopulated. Even worse, the majority of our population are so devoid of inherited intelligence, nobility, beauty and strength that they are always viciously and passively attacking those that they perceive to be above them (blonde jokes, anyone?). Given that our population will inevitably expand to take over more territory than permits nature to renew itself, we should stop this now before things go awry.

Older generations are so afraid of this logic that they simply shut down, mentally, when it is mentioned. They cannot process it. However, we the people who have inherited the earth (meek or not) have to think about it, and to act on it. We're the army of setting things right by clearing away undermen and the corrupt society (money = power, passive = not vicious) that fostered them. What we need to do cannot be expressed in third generation morality; what we need to do can only be understood below the clear appearance but ambiguous meaning of things-as-labeled. We must look to reality, and do what is right, for the preservation of a future in which sane, intelligent people would want to live, or we forever lose that option.

February 9, 2006