Monday, December 20, 2004

Faces of Evil, Part Deux 

This rather scholarly perspective on evil comes from Professor Edward Hinchman of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, passed on by a friend of mine:

Being good – at least, avoiding evil – therefore begins in the thought that you must sometimes give others’ perspectives on you normative standing as such; you mustn’t view them solely through the lens of your rationalizations. What we might call proto-evil lies in the conviction that you can avoid evil without ever thus being normatively receptive to the wills of critical others. It is a most general refusal of empathy. As Hume saw, it is not enough to sympathize merely with potential victims; you must sympathize with potential critics –themselves perhaps in sympathy with the victims – to get a motive sufficient to forgo the tempting bad act. I’ve defined evil from the perspective of its victims, but an evil agent will prove just as incapable of resonating to the perspectives of critics. The problem is not that the criticism can’t reach him but that he won’t let it. He isn’t deaf but inwardly shouting it down. The insensitivities to victim and critic are two sides of a single deliberative disposition. A secular analysis of evil [PDF file]

The article itself glosses over some important practical aspects of the problem of evil, methinks. But it's worth a visit. What’s of particular interest to me, following on Lambert’s post referent to POTL, is that 1) it’s a secular analysis flowing from a logical axiom, 2) it posits that seeing the world solely through the lens of rationalization precludes avoiding evil, and 3) it points out that a willful aversion to criticism is a logical aspect of “proto-evil,” that, taken to an isolationist extreme, can only produce willful harm.

In other words, Bubble Boy meets OBL, Rumsfeld meets Saddam, meets... it fits the fundie framework perfectly.

Makes Viktor Frankl’s work on responding to evil worth another look, maybe. I mean, if we’re grappling for frames of the problem and of a rational response to it. Or Frankl answering Fromm—“If I am what I have, and what I have is taken from me, what then am I?”

Of course all of this requires critical thinking, something that’s increasingly hard to do in a world where the norm is to accept as doctrine that which is spoken by authority. Critical thinkers may soon be forced to wear special clothing and ring a bell when they come to town…

UPDATE Alert reader Mr. Jones cites an interesting article about Frankl here. Would take a historian to dope this out, though.

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