“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”
“There is no evil but want of proportion.”
-The Shape of Things to Come, H. G. Wells
The common way of knowing “evil” where I grew up is by defining it as the enemy, the other, that which you should not be. That darkness, whosoever else it was, was what we are not, and those who lived lives too overflowing with violence, or drug use, or breaking laws, or with the emptiness of the human experience, or other pulse-quickening activity we’re roundly “bad people”. Especially if their darkness was visible in our light. It could never overtake a truly light arena, but don’t tell my parents, siblings, teachers, peers, friends, or local government officials that. Evil was a threat. And the problem with evil was that it existed. Nothing less than malocide should suffice to solve it.
What I always found to be an abominable evil, that I never had much agreement on, was Christmas. All these gooey, uncharacteristically cheery people, lighting everything up and exchanging useless crap to the tune of a tradition of okay music, and too-full wine glasses clinking in the mirth. I hated mirth. It seemed so dishonest. I knew the adults and their miserable, banal glazes staring through the windows of their lives at its customers ringing through, one by one. The actual cashiers, but the cops, the prostitutes, the drug dealers, the broken-spirited iconoclasts all had no particular affinity for their life and situation. And I knew this. So to put that flab of life into a shiny corset at calendar intervals -or to generally live non-employed hours as if impenetrable to world-issues, personal and cultural dysfunction, and unhealthy dominance of consumption everywhere… and prickling every time such “sad things” were brought up… it was all hypocrisy! And it was unhealthy.
We’re right to see a bare dysfunction in the man who takes life out of a boredom, and a desire to feel elevated and powerful. this is depravity, no doubt. But to forget that humans area social organism, and that not only conscious informational message packets (memes), but also unconscious ones (norms), and the effecta of each of our behaviours on unique individuals (epi-genetic effects) ripple through the grapevine, and this depraved murderer did not congeal in a vacuum, nor did the bio-psycho-social pressures which developed him (which are him?). A great outline of structural and cultural violence is by Mark Vorobej (2008).
And we’re blinded not to act on the evident cold-comfort that is an existence of being overdosed with the uplifting, the stimulating, the engrossing, the placating. Acculturation to this gilded cage -hating the job we do, the people we know, the obligations we have, the very nature of the being we are (hairy, smelly, mortal!), and staying put in it all ’cause it’s comfortable- produced what I’ve called in my life ‘happy terrorists’. Using fear of their melting down, retaliating, lashing, they keep everyone around them “positive”, or affirming their truth. It’s a false positive. It’s livid fear squashed into Pandora’s box, and put in the corner. Just don’t touch it.
The problem, as the opening quotes hinted, is not in the existence of evil, or the ignorance of it, but in measured experience of all that life offers, far be it from me to make it ‘either/or’. When your guide is to do good, or to cast yourself against evil, or to uphold ‘order and justice’, or to destroy them, as your approach outright to life, you use a hammer for every stage of a complex construction. Or, to keep the opening metaphor, apply either strychnine or soda pop to every ailment.
I have a deep suspicion as much of those who would try to remove themselves from indebtedness to the universe, from their place in cycles of birth/death/rebirth (not as in reincarnation…) as those who narrow down to the most emotionally charging, basic elements of cruelty and chance. Those who seemingly never live, and those who only live once. I think I see them roughly peopled out in my life: the happy terrorists in those of my uncultured, poor family when they button up white shirts and pretend at their office jobs; the over-indulgers in the addicts to substance and pain… no real murdering types, though.
I have come to think that some element of what my culture calls ‘evil’ -I’ve preferred ‘darkness’ as a less weaselly word’- is necessary to have present in one’s consciously accepted and created experience (yer life) in concert with the affirmation of what by contrast we’d call the ‘light’ (though this sounds very woo-ey…). This is one of the reasons I”m no longer a vegan. An attempt to cleanse the non-human order of a very basic property (the killing and dying part) runs to extremes among the animal rights crowds I’ve known, and this feels unhealthy. Like trying to not shit, ’cause it’s gross and impolite an dour social values say “no”. You can’t construct social values in the path of nature. No, no one’s defending rape keep you unflattering underwear on straight. I won’t commit to delineating one act that is “too bad”, and one that’s “just bad enough’, ’cause more than anything, that’s not the point (and that’s an intellectually childish game of evo-psych sensationalism, quite friggin’ frankly). The point is that whatever conversation we have needs to talk non-judgementally about the fact that humans produce physical, social, and self-inflicted violence, as well as cultural and social violence on these bases, when should, doesn’t/shouldn’t, does is not satisfied in development. We need a space for the dark to exist without piling more fears on it in the form of social stigma.
This lacking in our personal lives is one of the very things keeping people-powered governance structures in such a piss-poor condition. The rule of not discussing politics or religion so long-dominant exemplifies our not wanting to even acknowledge being involved in the warping of Earth as we know it; corrupt, manipulative governing parties; classism; the value distortion of the monetary/ market system (or the separation paradigm, depending how far you wanna go). How can we attempt any of the issues so horse-blinded?
And though my people give this message off in overwhelming (and surprisingly hypocritical) abundance, I won’t give it much, save to state it for the record: don’t kill, or steal, or destroy, or be too contrary or stubborn, or superstitious, please. It doesn’t fare well for the lot of us.
The cultures I see, far west across my continent and then across the Pacific ocean, have a perspective that seems to align with this point I’m trying to make. The yin and yang show not only the light and dark coexisting, but existing even within each other. Someone has seen the evil of too much good, and the good that might come from what we perceive as a great evil. I’m sure many peoples throughout the world have lived based on this alignment first with what is, drawing social values and ideas of the sacred from what the experiences presently before them demanded. I fantasize about a time before humans were pulled, in the large share of their thought, word, and deed, by the strings of monolithic organized dogmas of a superstitious, or pseudo scientific, or anti-economic nature.
And I want tonight to ask submit not for a critical analysis, but for humble, earnest experimentation with the paradigm of a social value beyond good and evil.
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.”