This blog is about evil, though it strays off topic sometimes, but the flip side of evil is good. And by understanding one, we may better understand the other.
To be good, you first have to want to be good. It has to be a high priority. One book that helped me in this direction was titled Willpower by Roy Baumeister. He says that research shows that willpower can be exercised, just like a muscle. So I have tried doing that. Whenever I feel like taking short-cuts, either ethical or otherwise, I make a point of using what willpower I have to do things correctly, ethically and otherwise. This helps in being considerate of others, for example.
To be good, we have to realize that man is an imperfect creature.
And we have to pursue truth.
Imagine if a docudrama of your life comes out, and you take your family to see it. To your horror, you are portrayed as a villain. The other actors in the movie are all real people, with real names, and some basic facts are correct, but the biographer, whether out of malice or some other reason, has gotten the fundamentals wrong. The good guys are the bad guys, the bad guys are the good guys, and the motives are wrong. You look around you at the enthusiastic audience, and want to shake each of them by the collar and yell – this is not true!
That audience is all of us.
I am bored with the various Middle-East conflicts – with religions that I do not believe in, and the people who follow them.
The young men and women who flock to ISIS may think they are being good. They are re-creating Mohammad’s dream, or at least his historical environment, on earth, which presumably is what Allah wants them to do. This dream includes killing infidels, taking captive women for slavery etc. and carrying out every Koranic command to the utmost. Their religion and ideology, in my view, corrupt whatever is good about them, but there obviously is courage and idealism in some British Pakistani who purposely goes to a war zone to fight for Allah. Likewise, there was courage in the 19 men who flew the airplanes into our Pentagon and World Trade center.
George W Bush described those 19 men as being “evil and deluded”.
They certainly were deluded. More than a billion people revere the words of a man who told them that he was a prophet, who ordered his followers to kill non-believers or make them pay tribute, who had multiple wives captured from victimized tribes (including Jews), who had sex with a nine year old girl (Aisha), etc.
Because of this belief, vast numbers of people, including Muslims, have met a premature end.
This is an extreme case – but even those of us who say they prize rationality are often very wrong.
I started reading a book by a Jew (Tuvia Tenenborn) who pretended to be a German to Palestinians he spoke with, and they told him that ‘you Germans are good people, for killing all those Jews’, and he also talked to Germans who told him that Jews control the world financial system. Its news to me (being Jewish) that I control the world financial system. In fact, I’m allergic to anything involving gambling, stocks, etc.
There are a substantial number of Muslims who believe, even today, that the Jews killed non-Jewish children for their blood, which they supposedly drank on Passover. More sophisticated Muslims may believe the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which supposedly reveals the Jewish plot to control the world.
Brendan O’Neill says this about Britain (in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal)
Everywhere, from the spittle-flecked newspaper commentary to angry street protests, the old view of Jews as infanticidal masterminds of global affairs has been cut-and-pasted onto Israel.
I believe that these British protestors would not care at all about Palestinians if Palestinians were murdered by other Muslims, as is shown by the fact that they did not march when Jordan killed a substantial number of Palestinians, or when Palestinians were kept from being normal citizens with equal rights in Lebanon. Marchers against racism did not march when millions of blacks were killed by other blacks in the Congo. Perhaps people have a herd mentality, and follow the fashionable causes of the moment.
So we need to have a “double-standard detector”. And we need to expose ourselves to political (and other types of) debate. If we are able to use logic in buying a car, or persuading our friend not to text and drink while driving on a cliffside highway, then we have to not abandon that ability to use logic when dealing with other types of belief etc.
And we should question even those people who we respect.
We should also understand that what people call compassion often has perverse effects. To take one example, several countries have found that if you feel sorry for single women with children, and give them free housing, that other single women will deliberately have children to get themselves free housing away from Mom and Dad.
Part of the human condition is that you can be only a few feet away from another person, and look into his eyes, and not know what goes on behind them. Probably in my life I have walked by murderers, assassins, spies, call girls, Jihadists, crooks, bullies, psychopaths, saints, and heroes, and not had a clue. Sometimes I do have a clue, as when I walked by a young black man in Harlem who was promising on his cell phone that he could get “bitches” for whoever was on the other side of the line. But one belief I have, that has been partly formed by experience, is that people really do vary tremendously in their ethical makeup, their motives, their moral logic, their temperament, and that we do not understand evil people as much as we think we do.
So to recap – a desire to be good, a desire for truth, a willingness to question even those you revere, and willpower – these all help in living a life that at least you won’t be ashamed of.
It’s Britain, So the Anti-Semitism Is More Refined:
Perverse incentives to have fatherless children: http://townhall.com/columnists/phyllisschlafly/2005/05/09/federal_incentives_exist_to_make_children_fatherless
Willpower by Roy Baumeister
I Sleep in Hitler’s Room – Tuvia Tenenborn