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 Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 22:35:45 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

People are fond of viewing other people as evil. At least in the US this appears to be true.

Conservatives, especially religious ones, view everyone else as evil (or at best misguided and/or deceived by Satan  - which is about the same as being evil).

Liberals listen to conservatives, can’t imagine a world where the conservative viewpoint is sane, and view conservatives as evil (or at least incurably insane – which is about the same as being evil).

So what’s with the “evil” thing?

Well, like almost everything, it depends on a certain point of view.

From a subjective point of view, anyone you don’t know is potentially worthy of your fear or hatred. In theory they are equally worthy of your love or compassion, but human nature tends to default to the fear response thanks to our genetic fight-or-flight programming.

This is reinforced by the rhetoric flying around in the media and the blogosphere. Someone you don’t know, but whom you believe to be outside your political or religious group, is easily dismissed as being potentially dangerous and worthy of fear and hatred.

The thing is, once someone from side A gets to know an individual from side B, that individual ceases to be abstract. You’ll often encounter religious conservatives who acknowledge that individual Muslims can be decent people, but that the rest of the Muslims in the world are evil – or at least irredeemably corrupt and unsavable. Similarly, you can easily find liberals who acknowledge that their few conservative friends are merely misguided people, but who wouldn’t shed a tear if masses of conservatives disappeared off the face of the earth.

So at the subjective level there are two aspects, bound together by the level of abstraction. In the abstract, a person of persuasion A tends to view people not of A as being evil. But at the individual level they make exceptions, acknowledging that the specific individual is somehow “different” from the other people in their group.

There’s also the concept of objective evil. Or societal evil. At some basic level there’s general agreement, at least within a nation’s culture, that some things are or are not evil. In the US wonton murder is evil. Genital mutilation is evil. These things fit that definition for people of virtually all political or religious persuasions.

Unfortunately, extremists in both the conservative and liberal camps sometimes paint other people as being murders or rapists or torturers. Thankfully, the vast majority of US citizens, regardless of political or religious viewpoint, never fit this definition of objective evil.

Consider that roughly half the country is basically liberal, the other half basically conservative. If conservatives really were wife-beating sadists, half the country would be evil. But think about your neighbors and the people you work with. Are half of them evil? Doubtful.

Finally there’s the concept of super-objective evil. I use this phrase as an extension of super-natural. Super-objective evil requires an assumption, or belief, that there’s some morality imposed on the universe that transcends humanity. Some believe this morality comes from a god or gods. Others believe it is due to some natural order, or the programming of the human brain.

Regardless of its source, super-objective evil is defined outside human relative terms. Conservative Christians use this definition to condemn gays. There’s no objective human rationale for homosexuality to be considered evil, but there are passages in the Bible that might suggest that God created a large group of people just so they could go to hell. Very odd, but that’s religion for you.

Super-objective evil isn’t found as much in the liberal (or at least rational) world, because rationality and logical thinking tend to preclude super-anything as a justification for a viewpoint.

However, there are liberals who use super-objective thinking to grant plants and animals human-level rights. There’s no objective rationale for such a concept, but there are spiritual or philosophical reasons for such viewpoints – and again we’re into the super-objective.

So what’s interesting about all of this, is that the subjective abstract fear-hate-evil response is tied deep into the reptile brain at the core of our minds. Giving in to it is natural, but fighting and overcoming it is one of the primary parts of being civilized. Of transcending our base, animal natures.

The subjective familiar exception-to-evil response is also natural, and is tied deep into the social-animal part of the brain. Humans are social animals, and once they adopt an individual into the group, that individual ceases to be a source of fear and instead becomes a source of comfort.

The objective fear-hate-evil response comes from a collective societal definition. This definition is often codified into law, or at least social mores, and is generally a good thing. Societies need common morality to function.

The super-objective response is irrational. It may be unavoidable, because there’s some evidence that a large number of people in the world are unable to cope with reality unless it is wrapped in some type of mythology. It is this response that is most dangerous overall, because it isn’t driven by animal instincts, nor is it controlled by societal consensus. Instead it is created and fed by extreme viewpoints that are always irrational and are always in conflict with reality itself.

When confronted with the choice of accepting reality, or needing to try to warp reality to meet mythology, too many people choose to warp reality. Due to this you end up with Muslim suicide bombers and Christians murdering doctors and blowing up clinics. None of these people have a grip on reality, and rather than getting a grip, they are trying to warp reality to match their twisted mythologies.

If anyone is evil - these are the people who meet the objective definition.

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