Is Will Smith Right about Hitler?

There’s been a kerfuffle about a comment the actor Will Smith made about Hitler. He said, some believe, that Hitler was a good person. This accusation is, he says, “an awful and disgusting lie.”

Reading his original words, I can’t see that he he’s guilty of something heinous. His ‘crime’, I think, is innocence. But the ideas he expressed do Let’s merit some thought:

Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, “Let me do the most evil thing I can today.” I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was good.

So which is it, do you think?

1. Hitler actually intended to do evil (not good)?
2. Hitler actually intended to do good (though his view of what is good is what most people think is evil).

Smith’s problem – if it is a problem – is that he’s too decent a person to accept that human malevolence can exist. In his happy experience people always at some level mean well.

No me, I fear. My vote goes to another option. Any guesses?

(Incidentally is that duper’s delight we see on Hitler’s face as he shakes the hand of the appeaser Chamberlain?)

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Photo: Rare Film of Hitler & Co. found in Staten Island, New York, originally uploaded by nyctreeman

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103 Responses

  1. […] Dr.Steve wrote an interesting post today on Is Will Smith Right about Hitler?Here’s a quick excerptThere’s been a kerfuffle about a comment the actor Will Smith made about Hitler – he said, some believe, that Hitler was a good person. He says this is “an awful and disgusting lie.” I can’t see that he he’s guilty of something heinous, … […]

  2. The eyes aren’t creased and the head’s not thrown back, so I doubt if it’s duper’s delight. Seen it before, now that you mention it.

    A woman who used to read the news on Germany’s equivalent of BBC TV has been hounded out of broadcasting forever for her views on Hitler, among them that his measures promoting larger families and stay-at-home mothers was well-intentioned.

    Hitler is simply radioactive. You can’t even hint that you think anything he did was positive, otherwise you are branded a neo-nazi. It will always be thus.

  3. I don’t think it is duper’s delight, personally.

    After many attempts to answer your other question about Hitler, I can’t say. I get caught up in the fact that people like Hitler were definitely mentally ill, and the implications of mental illness on right and wrong — good and bad– gets me going in circles.

  4. ian. Yes. The truth is harder and harder to tell in this new world of simple black-and-white political correctness.

    If Will Smith has a problem, it’s with the media’s rapacious appetite for scandalous events–which the media will create when it can.

    Hitler’s not evil in the Arthur Machen sense of the demonic. Hitler was clearly paranoic relative to both self and state and given to rages and grandiose delusions–to the extent that at the end he felt the German people should die because they failed the state. Look at all the myth, insignia, superstitious nonsense, and I think you see, at minimum, a borderline paranoid schizophrenic in possession of awful power to transform delusion into reality. I’ve never met any devils in this world, nor any “mean” people so thoroughly in the service of a delusion. I think Will Smith was probably right. But Hitler’s Good was entirely subsumed by the monstrosity he’d created as the State.

  5. ian – Hitler is radioactive: this is generally true. On the one hand I don’t feel good about this taboo, on the other hand I do empathise.

    On top of this, the strange phenomenon of black antisemitism (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=27378) made it particularly unwise for Will Smith to even go there.

    Jewish writers have more lee-way. Mailer and Ron Rosenbaum have both written fascinating books trying to understand Hitler.

    (So, not duper’s delight, just delight at duping!)

  6. eyes – I keep promising to write something about evil. If – and it’s a big if – one can come up with a notion of evil that is not spiritual or religious but moral/psychological, then there might be a way to get out of the circle you describe.

  7. dm-smith – Continuing my reply to ‘eyes’, it would be very useful to have a non-spiritual notion of evil to help us.

    I’m not sure if you’re saying that you don’t believe that one can be devoted to doing evil, but that one is either mentally ill or possessed or being good by different standards…

    I say that one can be. Here’s an example: officers in the Rhodesian special forces used to have what they actually called ‘think evil’ sessions where they would devise operations not to achieve military goals but to inflict the most damage on the enemy with the lowest risk to their troops.

  8. Evil has traditionally been understood in metaphysical (religious) terms; it’s difficult to find a secular definition with the same connotative power. In secular terms, wrong behavior is typically ascribed to psychological/physiological bases for which individual responsibility is questionable. How evil can a person with diminished capacity be?

    I think it is possible to define evil at the extreme in secular terms with the understanding that such would be as rare as demonic evil, which is doing evil (as religiously defined) for its own sake, as one does good for its own sake–generally also rare in the extreme. I think I’ve said this about evil previously: I would consider someone to be evil who gratuitously inflicts pain and suffering upon others (any animal)for no purpose but the enjoyment of inflicting it, and who is sane enough to know exactly what they are doing.

    I wouldn’t consider inflicting the most damage on the enemy with lowest risk to be either independent of military goals or necessarily evil.

  9. dm-smith – But wait a sec, we do have a tradition of talking about morality which need not go into either or religion or psychology or both. And employing psychological terms doesn’t at imply pathology or diminished capacity, right?

    Yes – gratuitous, for its own sake – that’s what I mean. Why you would think it rare I can’t imagine. If I make a cutting remark in what ways is that not evil? Why can we call small good acts good, but only huge evil acts evil?

    Sorry to disagree again. Poisoning corpses to infect comrades, dismembering corpses to frighten locals…literally terrorising with the full knowledge that there is no military advantage (indeed the opposite) and knowingly calling this evil…I don’t know.

  10. dm-smith – So I’ve been thinking about my last reply and was left with an uneasy feeling/thought. Something like: ‘dm-smith goes to the trouble of writing such stimulating comments, will my last comment seem brusque?’.

    So decided to come back and make reparation. Maybe you didn’t find me short, maybe you did – either way I need to get a grip on how I transmit my intellectual excitement.

    I mean that. But let’s imagine a different scenario. Imagine one or the other of us viciously flamed the other – called the other the most hurtful name thinkable and then ceased to communicate furher. What an awful feeling that would leave; and that feeling would be precisely the intention of the flamer, right?

    Now, my thoughts about evil seem to apply here. One can try for something good or one can try for something evil – gratuitously hurting someone.

    That makes me think of something else – unless we allow that each of us is regularly faced with the good/evil choice then I think we are left with only diminished responsibility or demonic possession – not very helpful notions. Everything else is people meaning well.

    Your comments are a great stimulus for me – ta!

  11. I think good and evil have to be earthed metaphysically (all puns and contradictions intended) otherwise it really is just a matter of opinion. I realise that this is in some sense taking on most of western philosophy. The metaphysics may not need to be religious.

    Question: What do you get when you educate a devil?
    Answer: A smarter devil.
    I think those who are ‘psychologically sick’ can be good or evil.

    For me the most useful quick definition is: hospitality is good and demeaning (destruction or reduction of the whole) is evil. Levinas has an approach like this. Or at least so I’m told – I find him incredibly difficult to read so I don’t claim to understand him thoroughly.

    Dealing with intention is very difficult. In public policy it is probably not helpful.

    I think this is an incredibly important subject, I am very glad we are having this conversation.

  12. evan – Me too.

    I too have heard that Levinas is important on ethics – and that’s about as much as I know!

    “A smarter devil” – I laugh in order, I suspect, not to cower, shrink, recoil, shy away, flinch, blench, draw back, shake, tremble, quiver, quail, quake. (Thank you, Thesaurus).

    I’m interested in your idea that we have to go the metaphysical route. I’d like to know more.

    I don’t know where this fits in, but can’t there be Western philosophical ideas/traditions to do with ethics/morals/good faith which might be helpful?

    I can see no way that public policy can properly be derived from all this, though.

  13. ian and dm-smith – Re Hitler talk being risky/verboten, see this:

    http://agentbedhead.com/index.php/archive/will-smith-did-not-say-frohe-weihnachten-to-hitler/

  14. Dr. Steve: Don’t worry about it. I can give as good as I get, but as a rule, I don’t put my ego where it doesn’t belong, and internet exchanges is one of those places.

    What bothers me about your view of evil is it seems to me to lack the magnitude appropriate to its metaphysical analogue. Your Rhodesian Special Forces example is suasory, but it (your evil) is still in the service of a cause. I find your example of us flaming each other and causing hurt grossly lacking in the magnitude of the personal deviancy of the author of the act that I associate with evil. A loss of temper is not an evil act in my book.

    If we need the term for secular use, shouldn’t it be an analogue in the secular world of the metaphysical usage? I think so. And for me, as for Arthur Machen–I will stop dropping his name as of NOW–encountering evil should produce a shudder of revulsion, at the total unnaturalness of the act. I have a shudder of revulsion when I read the Red Cross accounts of the rape and sack of Tibet by the Chinese Communists. Example: The soldiers reciting Mao’s “Let a thousand flowers bloom” in response to watching the heads of the targeted monks and nuns explode. That is horrendous and monstrous, and to my mind, unnatural. But as Joseph Campbell comments, the western mind is not suited to judgment of the East, where life and death have always been shadow-play. Were those soldiers evil? I think not.

    I think evil has to be intentional, recognized as something deeply perverse and immensely offensive to human nature, and glorified and reveled in for being exactly that. The Devil would do no less regarding divine nature. So if we don’t have that kind of author/act in mind, we might as well just use adjectives like, horrible, terrible, inhuman, etc.

    By the way, I agree with both you and Evan: some metaphysical grounding is imperative for all value terms. Which I appropriate for my argument: justifications for moral terms are always analogs of religious values. So, we should use them appropriately. Viewed from a purely secular perspective, Hitler, Stalin, and Maoist purges of millions of people had a quite positive effect upon the over-population problem. Secularism, typically materialistic, must smuggle in it’s value terms from religious values. It’s sky is empty.

  15. dm-smith – I’m totally on board with you, except for the question of magnitude. I can’t see the justification for it. You criterion of shuddering doesn’t only occur when heads explode. It occurs when confronted with sleaziness and manipulation…I could go on. Indeed I shudder at some of my own acts – sometimes because of the consequences, always because of the intention.

    A cutting remark is not “a loss of temper”. That would be anger. Anger, hatred, etc. these are human emotions and therfore neutral. Evil is to do with cruelty, spiteful behaviour, envious acts.

    There’s plenty of evil going on in our everyday lives, in my view.
    ———————
    Now here’s a curly one! (I’m thinking on your SUP-SUP principle): I know of a psychiatrist who says that borderlines are evil. Let’s not get too hung up on the merits of this – I bring it up because I wonder whether your (excellent) notion of keeping away from dysfunction is connected to your notion of shuddering in the presence of evil.

  16. One more post echoing those above — glad there’s public discussion on this.

    Moral relativism leaves me cold.

    With the assassination today of Ms. Bhutto, (not that that is any worse than anything else in history), I think the whole –“well, they’re doing the right thing in their own mind” — should be discussed fully and totally discredited.

    Mr. Smith is probably too good a person, most people are thank goodness.

    Genocidal maniacs use pro-social propaganda as an instrumentality. So saying Hitler’s policies were “good” is only saying “Hitler duped the German public by playing on their goodness”. Islamic extremists use some form of religious mumbo jumbo to dupe their target market of potential suicide bombers.

    But, evil? Or sick?

    I vote evil. If you consciously choose to harm others for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, to me, that’s a pretty good definition of evil.

    It’s a sliding scale. Neurological disorders argue for diminished capacity. Lower sentence or hospital.

    What a find with the photo. How chilling. I think it is Kabuki theater — Hitler looks like he’s acting magnanimous. Chamberlain is submissive in posture — so is he really duped? I can’t tell. Or is he resigned knowing he’s dealing with a liar, and begging for mercy.

    Bill Clinton has a great duping delight face — and when he’s caught his face says, “Aw, ya got me!”. Totally different from the current presidential candidate from that family.

  17. Hi,
    Never read Mailer or Ron Rosenbaum on Hitler, but I have done both volumes of Ian Kershaw’s Hitler biography – Hubris (vol.1) and Nemesis (vol 2). Kershaw is interested in the historical facts of the man and his times, not the psychology so much or the magnitude of his evil. He does mention – almost in passing – that Hitler was the epitome of malignant narcissism, his destruction the inevitable result of what could happen if such a person were given the free reigns of power.

  18. swivelchair – You say: “Genocidal maniacs use pro-social propaganda as an instrumentality.” Now and then readers have a way of putting things which as succinct and as true as any fine aphorism – this is one of those!

    Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s piece of face-reading? (it’s on gladwell.com). There Paul Eckman, the great expert on lying and micro expressions analyses some footage of Bill Clinton and sees something very similar to what you see when you say: “Bill Clinton has a great duping delight face — and when he’s caught his face says, ‘Aw, ya got me!’.”

  19. ian – Do you recommend Kershaw’s biography? (I suppose you do if you’ve read two vols!)

    Malignant narcissism – it does fit. I guess we (I) should beware of thinking that because of the magnitude of what he’s responsible for he must get our worst diagnosis – either psychotic (mad) or psychopathic (bad).

    People do tend to revolve around narcissists and they can be fascinating (in a different way to psychopaths)…

    An interesting thought experiment would be to take each diagnosis in the book and imagine “the inevitable result of what could happen if such a person were given the free reigns of power”.

  20. Dr.Steve, Yes I did see that microexpression analysis! Wow, see? Lodged in a brain cell some where — in fact, after I read the article I went around town looking for microexpressions (you know, once you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. . . )

    And glad I had one moment of clarity — which I guess brings up a point: if prosocial propaganda is a “tool”, isn’t everything the psychopath says really a “tool” for more power?

  21. swivelchair – “Everything looks like a nail” – wise words I need to keep in mind. At the moment my interest is psychopathy and it won’t do anyone (including my dream-life) any good to see that everywhere!

    Yes, everything is a power-tool (I’ve just come up with that – brilliant) for the psychopath, including all of speech! That’s why I’ve made such a big deal a while ago suggesting that we not waste the words ‘lie’ and ‘liar’ on the psychopath – their ‘lies’ and their ‘truths’ are simply feints, moves, tactics.

    (Have you seen my email, by the way?)

  22. Hi DrSteve,

    On western philosophy. In my (not so) humble opinion Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the best philosophy book ever written. It is about a metaphysics of quality and (relevant to this discussion) the inclusion of the true within the good (this is reason for the form of the book).

    My own opinion is that we are social-individuals. The emphasis on creativity and agency is right, true and important. But not the whole story. In my once again (not so) humble opinion gestalt field theory is the best formulation to deal with this.

    This social-individual insight is the link to public policy. Eg Michael Marmot’s book on health policy The Status Syndrome. It really is a hugely important book – and accessibly written thank goodness.

    Hope this response makes sense and is helpful.

  23. Evan: Your response makes sense to me–I’m something of a Persig fan. (I also emphathized with his problems with McKeon at U. Chicago. That’s not a condemnation of McKeon; just sympathy for a disallusioned grad student. I’m not sure what, given Persig’s temperament, he expected from a department of neo-Aristotelians.) Persig, in spite of disclaimers, toes the zen line pretty closely, or if you prefer, the radical empiricism of James. As F. S. C. Northrop notes, the oriental sages are the epitome of radical empiricism. Persig is a far better explictor of zen than Alan Watts or other popular writers. His approach to quality is a brilliant insight.

    But I also think there is danger in “cultural imports.” Perhaps the same danger as “the hammer” discussed above. Daisetz Suzuki, Northrop, and Joseph Campbell all contributed to the popular myth that the cultural divide is absolute; in the East all is egoless enlightenment whereas in the west all is ego driven. But oriental wisdom literature was not for export; it was to “save” all the ego-driven sinners of the orient. There are as few true holy men in the East as saints in the West. Ego is a human condition and the philosophical/religious literatures of the East and West are two contrasting social ways of dealing with ego. Neither is necessarily superior to the other; perhaps true enlightenment is to be found in a third or synthetic direction. The Orient (or China, in Chairman Mao’s view) is the origin of socialism, collectivism. In that setting, the depreciation of ego has been associated with a depreciation of value of the individual life. In the West, psychological individuation has been valued, resulting, in Campbell’s view, alienation, angst, lonliness and all that goes with the freedom Fromm has us trying to escape from.

    Transcendence of the subject-object dichotomy may be an interesting experiment for western philosophy, but we have a pretty good demonstration of where it leads. I’ve spent many years on both sides of the issue, and settled not where I began, but in the West. I think the best human hope was the American dream: a social order devoted to promoting individual freedom and self-fulfillment. But that was murdered by the business (economics) of politics–i.e., the dark side of ego, greed. Perhaps the last politicians who could be trusted to uphold the ideals of the framers were the framers. So I agree Persig’s work on quality is very important for the age, but perhaps less as a cure than as a diagnostic tool.

  24. evan – Ah, Pirsig! I loved that book even before I could make head or tail of the deeper points being made – such a beautifully told story! (I’ve tried getting into ‘Lila’ a few times without success. Is it worth persevering with?)

    It just shows what a snob I (inadvertently) am, though! I re-read his book every couple of years and am moved and provoked by it. And yet I’ve never cited him in anything I’ve ever written; nor even knowingly used his concepts to help me think through anything I’ve written or talked about! Somehow I must have imbibed an idea that he’s not respectable or serious, somehow – too popular. A bit like (and rather different to!) Camille Paglia.

    Chastened, I proceed – determined to do differently. Seriously, thanks. And thanks for the reference to marmot – I’ll have a look.

  25. dm-smith – Your east/west theorising is thoughtful, intelligent, and sane. Loved it.

    Do really think the American dream has been murdered? My contact with regular Americans (a non-scientific study, to be fair) has highlighted two things:
    1. the tremendous optimism, energy, and good-will liberated by the deep belief that “you can be what you want to be”, and
    2. the underbelly of that too.

    One thing that surprised and impresses me is the extent to which regular Americans give money to charity and time to their communities. One could say, “Well, they have to because the state doesn’t look after the unfortunate,” but the truth is they don’t have to. (I bet charity-giving in Russia shoddy by comparison.)

    Having said that, when things go bad, they can go really bad – the checks and balances can never reign in the rapaciousness which free enterprise also liberates.

    Anything can be misused, I guess.

    Moving ‘eastwards’ I come across meditators who are beautiful people. And also some who are horribly passive aggressive, other who are avoidant of life, and the most uncanny ones where there’s no-one home.

    So, McKeon is the bad old prof in the book, hey? I shall wiki/google him.

    “The Orient (or China, in Chairman Mao’s view)” – brilliant!

  26. I love the American people; they deserve a better government than they get. I spent most of my life fearing _1984_ or _Brave New World_. What a waste. The future is “Rollerball,” the “friendly fascism of the merged government, the media, and the corporation. If you’ve not seen it, the old one, the James Caan version, is better.

    An acquaintance (a prodigy who never suffered fools gladly) studied rhetoric with McKeon and found him an ideal mentor. On the other hand, McKeon was noted for terrorizing grad students. Someone told me Persig taught rhetoric, so perhaps that interest brought him to McKeon. Otherwise, they seem in different universes to me.

    Chairman Mao’s essays (if he wrote them) on contradiction, the dialectic Hegel would come to embrace, are true gems. No where in “On Reconciling Contradictions Among the People” is a hint of the Monster of Tibet. His “applied” reconciliation theory was quite different.

  27. Hi DrSteve,

    I think Lila much inferior. I wouldn’t persevere.

    To dm-Smith and Dr Steve,

    On the East/West divide. I think it’s a crass generalisation. Christianity (my own faith) started eastern and then went western. Acupuncture works as well on Australians (my own country) as on the Chinese – though shallower needling is more effective on westerners in my view.

    In my view (contra that academic neurosis called ‘post-modernism’) there is a humanity we all share which lies deeper than (and is expressed beautifully through) any culture.

    I find polarities useful to thought. From an outsiders perspective America promotes individualism (a good symbol of this is the western hero – the lone gunman (of which weapon much could be said)) but it is actually profoundly co-operative: from the churches to lodges to local charities – America is held together by co-operative associations. This polarity is not much acknowledged at the level of rhetoric and this can lead to problems. As well as the irony of GW (for global warming) Bush criticising the Chinese for saving too much – damn capitalists!

    I think agency and creativity (the ‘positive ego’ in a sense) are foundational and the gift of the west’s enlightenment to the world. Their importance can’t be underestimated. I find the diminishing of the ego to be politically suspect (as was some of the dogma promoted (and in some place still promoted) by the churches). This dogma can be followed under dictatorships – this makes it individually useful and politically suspect.

    This is a long comment already, so I’d best stop. Once again I’m very glad that we are having this conversation.

  28. dm-smith – A ‘Rollerball’ world, hey? When I take a macro vire that’s what I see too.

    However, at the micro, interpersonal level I wonder how much people have changed. (Mm, that sounds rather fogey-ish.)

  29. evan – Interesting, as per usual.

    I’d be interested to know in what ways pomo is a neurosis.

  30. evan – Any ideas why shallower needling is better for Westerners?

  31. The questions here are difficult to answer – what is evil, who is evil. I don’t even want to try. Generally I have thought of non-human entities, e.g. corporations, as evil, for their placing of profit and other values above humanity. I would say that is an evil decision, but as it is a collective result, how can you attribute it to one single person?

    Then I remembered a piece by Kurt Tucholsky in which he sets out to review a new book which has as it’s antagonist which he says is completely new in literature: the diffuse, anonymous system. All the individual people are good, and would like to change things, would like to correct the evil that the system perpetrates, but no one person has the power to.

    Here’s a link to the piece (in German):
    http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/Tucholsky,+Kurt/Prosa/Hermine

  32. Indie: What an interesting idea. Thanks for the reference. I’ll have to get my dictionary out and limp through. The evil may be new to literature, but we do have zero tolerance policies in grade schools.

  33. I have a site where I’ve posted translations of Tucholsky, though I haven’t done mich with it in the last year and a half. This Hermine text is one I would love to tackle.

    kurttucholsky.blogspot.com

    The zero tolerance policy sounded evil to me when I read about kids being expelled/suspended for bringing a nail file or aspirin to school.

  34. indeterminacy – Evil as diffuse, good as individual, that is intriguing. I must give it some thought, thanks. A quick query in the meantime, how does this model not let each of us off the hook, morally?

    (Though she wouldn’t talk of good an evil, Camille Paglia puts it the other way round: people are naturally driven by their impulses, it is culture which helps to civilise them – to stop us from taking exactly whay we want when we want.

    And then there’s Freud’s distinction of the herd and the horde.)

  35. dm-smith and indie – If I understand you right, when some individuals are affected unfairly by a social policy designed for the greater good that can be regarded as evil?

    Inneresting. How is this different from the surgeon who knowingly causes pain in the service of the patient’s long-term health – is that evil? If not why not?

  36. A good intention does not necessarily design a good policy. Zero tolerance substitutes blind policy for rational decisions, and the awful result is frequent and evident: Children expelled and arrested while school officials wring their hands and declare there is nothing they can do. I’m not sure such abuse of children is evil, but at least it’s damned wrong. Still one more abdication of responsibility in a society over-burdened with lawyers seeking employment. The more I think about it, the more the diffuse evil system behind the particulars sounds exactly like what indy was describing. Welcome, Kafka, to the 21st century.

  37. dm-smith – Taking the big picture view does make one rather pessimistic and fearful. (Which may be why I tend to focus narrowly, chicken that I am.)

  38. dm-smith – Oh, on Kafka. Great genius that he undoubtedly was, he was something of a blamer some would say.

    Here’s a quote I was saving for another occasion:
    “[A letter from Kafka to his father] is an extremly cruel document, which shows a smattering of psychoanalytic knowledge, and is an early example of the painful truth that Freud gave sadists a new weapon by enabling them to disguise themselves as hurt children” (Rebecca West).

  39. Wow, this thread is great. But there is so much to respond to.

    On evil. The big challenge about evil in our bureaucratised and de-individualised world (the enlightenment is a part of this story) is whether it can be meaningfully corporate. The most vivid example is Eichmann. He could validly protest that he had never killed anyone. He only arranged rail timetables (that the trains were carrying millions to their death was beside the point). Can evil be ‘just signing another form’. Our traditional moralities think in individual terms and in our situation we need to address the collective. This is a huge project for western ethics. For me the starting point has to be that we are social-individuals. Homo (allegedly) sapiens is a tribal species, or we are designed for communion by a personal god (whichever can become the basis for an ethics beyond crass iindividualism).

    Shallower needling. Western cultures extravert their energy and live closer to the surface. Inscrutability won’t make it as a value in the West anytime soon. This varies between individuals of course.

    Post-modernism. In the pomo world we are all sophisticated decoders of meaning: childhood does not exist in this world. [The intellectual triviality of this nihilism is breathtaking. Why can’t they see that ‘there are no foundations’ is a foundational statement.] Does it present as rational? Of course, every neurosis does. What need does it serve? To avoid confrontation (everyone can agree and be equal – the academic surveying all options – and refusing the risk to judge between them, to live their own values). This is the dark side of collegiality – everyone in the club is OK, whatever they think or believe. It is helpful to observe the polarities. Academics talking about the acceptability of different value systems (all written according to the Harvard citation protocals). [I’m reminded of the academic fascination with violence. Napoleon and such have lots of books written about them. Their claim to notoriety and being worthy of study is at least partly the piles of dead they created.] One humorous incident in Australia was a case of plagiarism by a woman novelist called Demidenko. When the literary critics who denounced her were asked about the death of the author and such their response was a kind of sub-Victorian moralising: she knew she was cheating. Pomo thinking (if it can be called that) really is that trivial and shallow.

    Trust this makes sense. Happy to (attempt to?) clarify if it doesn’t.

  40. Dr. Steve: I take Otto von Bismark’s view on laws and sausages when it comes to artists: I don’t want to know. In support of that, I rather like T. S. Eliot’s view (paraphrased) that artists do not have a personality to express, but only a medium.

    Everybody (Well, anyone who found this topic interesting): Take a look at indie’s site:
    kurttucholsky.blogspot.com. The relevance of Tucholsky to the current subject is immediately clear. With the perspective of German post-war consciousness, he understands clearly that evil is to be found not only in what one does, but also what one tolerates, either in evil acts or in a system that works evil. Now we must add to our criteria for evil, how far are the people who know the system is evil obliged to go to avoid being charged with being evil. Certainly, it was likely at the cost of your life that you would oppose the Nazi regime, whether as civilian or soldier. Are those who did not give their lives, with very little hope of changing anything, evil? Where does social responsibility end, and the individual right to one’s life independent of social madness begin? Germany went mad and no one or a thousand lives could turn it around. What does the individual owe? And to whom?

  41. Evan: You and I share antipathies for the PoMos: Never have so many wasted so much worthless verbage on an idea that was simply stupid. Already educated beyond their capacities, they shared ignorance on the incomplete theories of Saussure, took language as the alpha and omega of culture, and went down-hill from there. It’s enough to make one repent universal education.

  42. evan – You say: “Why can’t they see that ‘there are no foundations’ is a foundational statement?” Precisely! (Try this one sometime with a pomo and watch the side-stepping begin.)

    A bit like asking Marxists back in the day about the horrors of communism pretty smartly and you’d hear, “Yes, but that’s not true communism”. As late as 1991 I had a friend say, “Apparently Albania really has got it right…”!

    The death of the author – watch them scream if they’re asked to publish without bylines.

    My experience is also that most pomos do it because that’s what is done these days; it has very little to do with their lives. (There may be a few who really do take it on borad – I pity them because when the fashion changes they’re going to either have massive personal crises or spend the rest of their lives piping up irrelevantly about the good old days.)

  43. dm-smith – thanks for that first point. I try to hold to that position too about artists and cry foul when a writer’s ideas are rejected because of something in his personal lives. And then I slip into it again – it’s so damn tempting to explain (away) things!

    And thanks to you and indie for the Tucholsky link. All the difficulties you raise are profound mind-benders. (One thing I’d insert, though, is that apparently there were very very few repercussions for Nazi soldiers who refused to commit atrocities. If that’s right, then the matter becomes even more troubling. There, but for the grace of…!)

  44. dm-smith and evan – I’ve mentioned before to someone, but it’s apt here. I studied once with a poststructuralist authority. He personally had arrived there via mainstream sociology, psychoanalysis, and then Marxism. (I don’t mean that he was trendy, but that he had some solid scholarship behind him.) A student without much intellectual basis (no, smart-arses, it wasn’t me) asked to do his postie course and his response was: “No. If you go in there you won’t find your way back”. Correct and responsible, I thought.

  45. Dr. Steve: It’s my understanding that the old guard Prussian military ran a tight and honorable war, and under their leadership,committing atrocities was a great way to get court martialed or summarily shot. So was disobeying an order. Atrocities were largely the province of the Gestapo and exercised principally in civilian, prison camp, and occupational operations–which increased as the military folded near the war’s end, and the Gestapo gained power–even to the point of revenging themselves upon “obstructionists” among senior military officers. I’ve no way of knowing if this is true, or just one more story. Germany was a very complicated place in 1945.

  46. I’m with Ian, the whole psychoanalyzing Hitler is a right kettle of fish fraught with the potential for horrid misconstrued misunderstandings, both accidental and purposeful.

    But the topic brought to mind a quote “That Touch of Mink” (Doris Day, Cary Grant, Universal 1962).
    Audrey Meadows’ character says, “Does a snake know he’s a snake? He crawls on the ground & thinks he’s a king!”

    I always thought there was a certain rationale & logic to that statement.

    And my mother always said that she believed that everyone thought themselves to be good, even if they aren’t. Her reasoning being that they wouldn’t behave badly if they felt it was bad.

    I think this is true to an extent at least.

    After all, a sociopath doesn’t FEEL like a bad person… That would require emotions like shame or guilt, which the sociopath doesn’t have!! LOL

    That all said, what Hitler’s mental issues were, and what they would mean to his disposition and point of view, I’m unable to comment. Not because of the potential for misunderstanding, but because I just don’t know enough personal information about the man to really hypothesize, (though it’s an interesting prospect). Does anyone really have enough information to do so?

  47. dm-smith – My bad! It’s coming back to me now…It was concentration camp guards who (so I read) were not obliged under threat of harsh punishment to take part in atrocities. (Best if I try to recall where I read it.)

    Your picture of the different ethics in the German military makes sense.

    So how did the Gestapo selection happen? Was it ‘just’ another unit which had a, shall we say, unfortunate ethic which attracted good soldiers who were firm enough believers to take on this ethic and do the deeds that followed? Or was the Gestapo brimming with psychopaths, and if so, how did they get selected?

    Or maybe it’s like Abu Graib and the Stanford prison experiment. Only certain types of people apply for those jobs and then if the opportunity arises their inner predator emerges.

  48. chloe – Thanks for this, you get to the heart of trying to understand this.

    At bottom, I think, is the concept of evil – whether or not one can counternance it. In my next few posts I will try to get into that. Thanks for sparking my thinking!

  49. Dr. Steve:
    Am I mis-remembering Victor Frankl, or did he say the Kapos were crueler than the prison guards? And we must not forget the major author-group of atrocities, the SS of the Nazi party.

  50. dm-smith – Ah, my beloved wikipedia tells me that Frankl wrote about this in ‘Man’s search for meaning’.

    A quick google reveals one way the Frankl/kapo issues is being used today (you might be taken aback): http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/02/the_lefts_identification_with.html

    Christ, yes, the SS. OK, how were they recruited?

  51. DrSteve: to shoulder into your gestapo/ss conversation, I’m leaning towards explanation #3 – Stanford prison experiment explanation. People at the top allowing inner predator underlings to emerge… and even the people who applied for the job that weren’t of “that type”, can find themselves in a moral atrophied state, like you’ve talked about on another post.
    Not that it excuses anything, nor absolves anyone of responsibility for their own actions. I’m thinking about a purely explanatory theory.

  52. I know only two things about the SS: they were a direct arm (the enforcers) of the Nazi party (and so I suspect its troops were not recruited but political appointees), and it eventually subsumed the Gestapo and all its duties.

    I forgot who said “Psychology, that whore, is free for everyone to use,” but I say politics is the oldest profession’s pimp.

    The last time I saw the Stockholm syndrome serving political ends, it was the liberals who were the captors and university faculties were the captives. And so it goes. Some decades back in a study of persuasion/propaganda I saw a Freudian politics chart, perhaps based on Fromm’s matriarchal-liberal/patriarchal-conservative values. What you Freudian psychoanalysts hath wrought! :=)

  53. If I were to believe in signs, I’d quit this topic. This is my third effort to overcome crashes, different computer log-ins, etc. Such is the stuff of hubris.

    I think we need to give up on Hitler as demonically evil person. Will Smith is right. After all, Hitler was (minimally) a neurotic ascetic, and whatever he had in mind was a long ways away from materialistic self-aggrandizement. You can’t look at all that mythic and metaphysical paraphenalia of his Nazism and not conclude that he was on a spiritual mission–no matter how insane it may have been.

    I’ve been worrying this topic of evil–especially the contributions of ian, indie, and Chloe–and I think we have to isolate evil from it’s author’s intentions, as we do poetry–art–from the author’s intentions and psychiatric conditions. (So long Machen, but I wasn’t going to cite him again anyway.) Untimately, evil is manifested in the effects. So lets judge those, anchored in some moralistic position.

    For that position I propose a time honored one, that of the ancient Greek notion of hubris. Probably most of us know hubris from drama classes where we learned that, according to Aristotle, the tragic hero was flawed, as Oedipus was flawed and committed the crime of hubris. What we observe in Oepidus’s story is the old worldview in which all the powers were allocated their proper spheres and domains: Zeus to Olympus, Poseiden to the sea, etc. Heraclitis wrote that if the sun (Apollo) overstepped his boundaries, he’d be punished by the Furies–who were the enforcers of Moira’s allocations of proper domains, or “Fates.” Even the gods had to stay in their proper places.

    Oedipus’s ordained fate was told to him by the Sphynx: he would marry his mother. Now that was an abysmal fate, but it was his allotted fate, and his crime was trying to avoid it. (As with narcissism, Freud has a penchant for getting his myth all wrong for the point at issue.)

    In sum, I think the crime of hubris is an obvious reaching beyond your status as a human. I suggest Hitler’s hubris was taking upon himself the role of a god to enable his “mission.” We can all agree, at least in retrospect, That Hitler’s allotted fate was certainly not that of a god, one with a reasonable expectation of the right to exterminate millions of fellow humans for whatever his purpose may have been. Hubris was his crime. But unlike Oedipus, his crime went beyond merely trying to cheat his fate, but was rather taking upon himself a power allocated to the gods.

    The magnitude of his crime has to be judged by its effects. Oedipus blinded himself, which had minimal effects upon others, but he was still tormented by the furies. How much worse torment does Hitler deserve for playing at being a god? (Incidentally, a quite different perspective is offered in the Bagavad Gita, where Arjuna is frightened (analogically) of the potential crime of hubris and is reassured by Vishnu (Krishna) that he, the god, is the real author of the destruction of the enemy. But we’re westerners, right?) The elevation of self above all other humans–entitled to exterminate millions of other humans, and to do so through the vagaries of politics–seems to me clearly hubristic and appropriately termed “evil” regardless of the benevolent, or high-minded goals of the person. It is a crime crime committed by Hitler, again by Stalin, again by Mao, and again and again by the politically empowered in Africa and elsewhere in the modern world. But political empowerment does not elevate one to the status of a god. We do not have to be superstitious or religious to understand the wrongnesss, the evil of such hubris.

    What think you?

  54. chloe – Your comment reminds me of a local alternative community which for years was seen as a truly ‘higher’ place – until the sex with children came to police notice and several senior figures were jailed. Turns out it was something of a cult. But as someone who was around at the time said to me: “That place attracted people who wanted to act out sexually.”

    Another example of: certain types + certain situations = trouble.

  55. dm-smith – After extensive research into the ss (thanks once again Professor Wikipedia) I have learned the following;

    “Initially smaller than the Ernst Röhm’s Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers), the SS grew in size and power due to its exclusive loyalty to Hitler, as opposed to the SA, which was seen as semi-independent and a threat to Hitler’s hegemony over the party. Under Himmler, the SS selected and trained its cadre as per the ‘Aryan’ racist ideology. Developing elite police and military units such as the Waffen SS, the SS would parallel the Wehrmacht (Army) in strength and command greater political influence. Himmler also used the SS to develop an order of men claimed to be superior in racial purity and abilities than other Germans and national groups, the model for the Nazi vision of a ‘master race.'”

    So, a particular type is selected and then particular features are developed under the guise of ‘loyalty’, ‘superiority’, and fancy uniforms. That combination on it’s own will probably produce something potent.

  56. dm-smith – Lovely stuff! Hubris. This notion takes us a very long way.

    I’ve cut an rearranged three quotes from your comment to show where I’d deviate, though.

    1. “The elevation of self above all other humans–entitled to exterminate millions of other humans, and to do so through the vagaries of politics–seems to me clearly hubristic and appropriately termed ‘evil’ regardless of the benevolent, or high-minded goals of the person.”

    OK, say that for the reasons you mention above a man destroys his family’s lives. That meets your criterion of hubris and therefore is evil. I can follow you so far.

    2. “Ultimately, evil is manifested in the effects.”

    Now you’ve lost me. Say another man behaves exactly like my man above, but his family is more resilient, manage to get away, whatever. So far out guy hasn’t had much effect – but he’s still the same guy and he’ll try again with the next woman. Not evil?

    3. “The magnitude of his crime has to be judged by its effects.”

    I concur. But I also notice that you move from ‘evil’ to ‘crime’.

    I’d put it differently:
    Ultimately, evil is a potential which may or not manifest at all. If it does, there is intention (Cs or UCs). A crime may be committed. But the evil and crime aren’t necessarily linked.

  57. Dr. Steve:

    “But the evil and crime aren’t necessarily linked.” Yes, that’s what I was trying to convey, but evidently didn’t do it very well. And I did use the terms “crime” and “evil” sloppily because I was thinking sloppily about he crime of hubris (agrainst the natural order) and crime against the state–criminal crime.

    Again, the hubris of Oedipus was what he did in trying to avoid his personal fate. That was a pretty low degree of evil, but was still hubris and was not a civil crime, but a crime against the natural order. In the view I’m advancing, hubris and evil are both “crimes” against the social order, but are not, per se, criminal.

    I don’t want to reify hubris; I’m using it as a metaphor for something else I don’t have a term for. It is a crime to kill someone, and there are state prescribed penalties for doing it. In the concept I’m grasping for, it is an act of hubris to abuse someone verbally for their social or economic position. It may not be a crime, but it is an offense to the contemporary social order. As the magnitude of the “hubris” increases, however, so does the likelihood of criminality and evil; if you casually brutalize or kill someone as if they were unimportant, the degree of the offense to the social order, both hubris and evil are worse than, say, brutalizing or killing them in a robbery. The “gratuitous violence” we discussed earlier is relevant.

    Considered as crimes, punishments may not be that different for the two types of assault or murder. But we commonly recognize a difference and the difference is in the direction of evil. I’m opposed to hate crimes because they turn out to be thought crimes–poliitical crimes–and we end up with political prisoners. Both hubris and evil are involved in killing someone because of their sexual preferences or race, but I don’t think either either hubris or evil should be factors in defining crimes or determining criminal sentences. So again, hubris and evil are not linked to crime, but tend to link to each other, and at extremes are likely, but not necessarily, to run afoul of the law.

    I’d agree with your last paragraph regarding evil potential, but I don’t think personal intention, conscious or unconscious is a factor in the evil done or its magnitude. Hitler may have envisioned a wonderful world but became a puppet of the evil monstrosity unleashed by his hubris. I think evil may result from the unintended consequences of good intentions. Coming back to that “shudder:” the experience of evil is of that nearly supernatural quality, whether in magnitude or grisliness that separates what was done (and its doers) from the norms of ordinary social life. Regardless of their states of mind, it’s the work of an Ed Gein, a Jeffrey Daumer, an Auschwitz commandant.

    I don’t know if I’ve made things clearer or murkier.

  58. dm-smith – Clearer, thanks. Especially this: “As the magnitude of the “hubris” increases, however, so does the likelihood of criminality and evil”. (Especially as the stupidity rises).

    At first I wanted to object to your word ‘casual’, thinking about how intent and determined people can be. But there is a casualness with which social rules are brushed aside, you’re right. Does it cause a shudder? For me the casualness certainly causes fear.

    I know this is the Greek view – the tragic flaw, etc. – but don’t you feel the absence of something here. Something about guidance for living – besides implying that we should pull our heads in and not be ambitious.

    As I’m writing I’m wondering whether we’re coming up with explanations for two types of evil: 1. the evil of the apparatus – to do with hubris, and 2. the evil of the individual – to do with intent.

    That helps me a lot because I’ve had to put aside Tucholsky-type ideas, not being able to say much about them. And yet looking at the macro always lets the individual off the hook and I am determined to understand more about why/how people avidly do what they know to be wrong and harmful to others. Poe’s ‘imp of the perverse’.

    What do you think?

  59. DuMaurier-Smith: You seem to have merged the philosophical & spiritual, and then married it to the practical. And in a logical fashion.
    I salute you!

    That’s a very profound explanation of “hubris”. And I’m with the ancient greeks, hubris is the worst crime, because the crimes that sprout from it are the most terrible and damaging, and often the most insidious.
    I think this is another reason I like the phrase, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
    It’s all wrapped up in hubris.

    And that’s why I have to disagree with you about hate crimes.
    The hubris of it makes the effect of a hate crime worse than a mugging. The ripple effects of a hate crime in a community are devestating far beyond just the person who was attacked or killed. It ignites an atmosphere of fear & cruelty in a community that effects everyone, and of course most particularly everyone who might be in the same group as the victim. It curtails freedoms. It’s a crime against freedom.

    As for the gestapo, naturally I think birds of a feather flock together. But that can’t explain every single Nazi soldier, of course, that was my point. I think there were active members of the Nazi party that were either a tad slow on the uptake, clueless by default, frightened for themselves, or just morally atrophied.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least one person in that “alternative community” cult you speak about, that wound up mixed up in that because for whatever reason, they’d fallen in love with an unscrupulous person, and became mentally/emotionally unable to safely disentangle themselves when the attrocities started to occur.

    DrSteve: In response to your confusion here:
    2. “Ultimately, evil is manifested in the effects.”
    Now you’ve lost me. Say another man behaves exactly like my man above, but his family is more resilient, manage to get away, whatever. So far out guy hasn’t had much effect – but he’s still the same guy and he’ll try again with the next woman. Not evil?

    No, it is evil, because the effects were evil. If I punch you, that punch itself is the effect. (As opposed to an intention or goal.) Whether or not you get a black eye or a broken nose, the fact remains the punch occurred. That’s where the evil effect lies.

    This goes along with my other thing…
    Attempted murder is not attempted murder because your goal was to kill someone. The actual act of attempted to kill is the sin.
    You’d be charged with attempted murder because you actually attempted to kill someone. Not because your intention was to kill someone – but because you actually attempted it.
    Result again!
    If you merely sat in your house and planned the murder in your head, no matter how excellent & diabolical your plan, you wouldn’t be charged with attempted murder if you took no actions at all. IE: No effects to anyone in any way.

    Intentions are irrelevant. It’s the actions/results that count.

  60. chloe -Thanks, that’s useful. Planning (in one’s head) and attempting are different, I’ll concur.

    Can intentions and acts really be sharply distinguished, though. Thinking evil thoughts is probably bad mojo because how can it not infect who I am and what I do?

    I don’t mean the odd mean thought, etc. I mean full-on rumination which involves elaborate pleasurable fantasies of evil acts and consequences. Do I not become that person – the one who broods away evilly? Will I not, at the very least, be giving people the evil eye as a consequence?

    Far better to hit a punching bag or something, I’d say.

  61. This is where I think our idealogies diverge drastically.

    Yes, I remember seeing a documentary that said that crazed rapists fantasize and masturbate to violent rape fantasies before they ‘graduate’ to actually committing the act. But I think both the acts AND the thoughts are seperate entities that happen to both be symptoms of a root issue in the person.
    I don’t think the thoughts necessarily cause the actions, but that they’re both the result of something else.

    And that something else is to psychology, as ‘before the Big Bang’ is to cosmologists, or “who created the creator?” to theologians. heehee. 😉

    I’m against the idea that thoughts or feelings are right or wrong. Only actions can be truly judged by your fellows.

    Desires are another story. I think desires lead into actions. But that’s only important to the person having those desires. Because it’s impossible to really get inside anyone else’s head anyway, to examine, desires, thoughts, or feelings in any meaningful & determining way.

    The only reason I can see looking at the thoughts of another as being bad or good, is if you believe in some supreme being, almost human-like, that’s interested in your every fleeting notion, and ready and ABLE to judge you for them. My religious beliefs negate that type of “concept of god”. But even if I were to go along with that type of god… I think if you go so far as to concern yourself about the goodness or badness of another’s thoughts, you’re kind of putting yourself in the shoes of that supreme being who would be capable of that. So you’re in the wrong again, aren’t you, playing god…

    The thoughts I have, that I choose to share with you, are a gift. As I see it, you have no business judging the ones that you surmise might be in there.
    Basically, bottom line, if I have private ungenerous thoughts about you, that’s none of your damn business.

    Now I see nothing wrong with pondering on, and discussing, other people’s thoughts or what they might be thinking, behind their back. But judging them as you would actions, I find somehow distasteful and the top of a very slippery slope.

    And it’s certainly not the business of any authority to judge thoughts.
    I believe freedom of thought is the most basic, sacred, and #1 human right there is.

    Have you not read 1984?

  62. Chloe: Thank you for your kind comments. I’m not sure I fully understand what I wrote. But I’d like to persuade you that hate crime laws are bad laws. To begin with, I think we all have the right to our thouights and emotions, that we are free to hate and to express that hate. The only way any proof of hate can be obtained is by a person’s expressions of hate. Extra punishment for presumably feeling hatred is a violation of freedom of conscience and thought and inevitably involves punishment of speech. Hate crime laws also run contrary to established jurisprudence. Historically, crimes of passion have received lesser, not greater punishment on the assumption of diminished rational capacity. Finally, because hate crime laws invariably work to protect members of groups, they are essentially political laws priviledging some groups, and are patently unconstitutional for that as well as violations of freedom of speech. So though I think hate crimes are hubristic and evil, I do not believe thoughts and feelings are appropriate for government efforts to control.

  63. I’m glad my Tucholsky translations could add to the discussion. What makes these texts so remarkable is they were written before the fact. Tucholsky died in 1935, committing in Swedish exile.

    What he wrote in the 1920’s was eerily prescient – he saw exactly where things were going with the Nazis. For that reason the texts are much more effective and believable than anything written after the fact. The particular piece I mentioned here anticipates the excuse of “just following orders” in that it documents a system forcing everyone to behave in a certain manner. It is available in English translation in the volume “Deutschland Deutschland über alles”, University of Massachusetts Press (1972). (Originally published 1929).

  64. Chloe: ?????

    “I believe freedom of thought is the most basic, sacred, and #1 human right there is.
    Have you not read 1984?”

    But apparently feelings and thoughts of hatred are not so sacred.

    And: “I’m against the idea that thoughts or feelings are right or wrong. Only actions can be truly judged by your fellows.”

    But you apparently think hate is wrong enough to up the penalty for a crime?

  65. DuMaurier-Smith: With the hate crime thing, you’re falling into the same pitfall as DrSteve with the “intentions” & thought mix-up.

    Hate crimes don’t prosecute people for hating. You can hate all you want and never get arrested!

    In fact, I consider hate crimes to be an unlawful act of civil war. And there’s nothing you can say that would convince me that’s no worse than a simple mugging by a drug addict looking for money for a fix.

    A hate crime is an act, not a thought.

  66. For me I’d distinguish crime and evil. Crime being a matter of lawyers, parliaments and such who I would be reluctant to apply the label ‘good’ to.

    I’d be very reluctant to remove intention from the understanding of evil. This would effectively make evil social and collective and it seems to me that individual plans can most definitely be involved. Imagining and planning the torture and death of someone may well be evil (though not a crime I think – I find the notion of thought crime (to which some ‘security’ legislation comes close in my view) terrifying. It will likely do more damage than the low risk of threat from terrorists in my humble opinion – though this is of course just my guess.).

  67. A notion of evil that includes the individual gives a place for opposition to the state. If it is only social then evil is equivalent to crime (made by legislators, contested by lawyers and so forth). This ways lies the tyranny of society and social groupiings.

    Perhaps a definition of evil that includes the individual is a necessary part of individual dignity(?).

  68. Dr. Steve,
    What do I think? I read my first Poe story, Berenice, my first trip to my small town’s Carnegie library at age 8. And I think ever since my companions have been the imp of the perverse and the demon in my view.

    About hubris: older societies typically identified their social order with the natural or divine order. No need for guidelines; You were what you were born to. Until fairly recently, the affairs of gods and men weren’t that distinct. Sulking Achilles complains bitterly about the gods using humans as playthings. That may sound like a primitive worldview, but it hasn’t been all that long ago us moderns crawled out from under the yoke of the divine right of kings–somewhere around the end of the 17th century with the Glorious Revolution. So the Greeks weren’t all that backward with the concept of hubris.

  69. Evan:
    Thank you. You state clearly, while I floundered about, why crime and evil should be distinguished.

    Chloe: You don’t answer any of my arguments, but I’ll answer one of yours: “Hate crimes don’t prosecute people for hating. You can hate all you want and never get arrested!”

    Of course in prosecuting hate crimes, you are prosecuting people for hating; that’s why they are called hate crimes. You may punch someone in the nose, get prosecuted for assault, and get six months. You may punch someone in the nose and say “Take that you White Devil” and get prosecuted for a hate crime and get five years. If you are not being prosecuted and punished for hate, how else do you explain the increased penalty and the difference of the charge?

    It goes without saying, the hate doesn’t actually need to exist. In anger people use all sorts of epithets that are meant to inflict hurt, just as a punch is. And I doubt that the person punched has a sorer nose because of the name called, or even that the hate speech was given any more attention during the fracas than “sonofabitch” would have been given.

    After many years and prosecutions, the Supreme Court finally got smart enough to see how silly and wrong-headed the rationale for its “fighting words” doctrine was. I hope it doesn’t take as long the politically correct hate crimes legislation.

  70. Geez, I go out for lunch an an entire conversation has happened!

    Chloe – Desires can be inflamed by thinking on them. I think neurology has shown that in the brain neurons that fire together wire together; if one keeps going over the same chain of thoghts they become more-or-less fixed and then get tributaires so that other unconnected thoughts flow making it eevn deeper (the metaphor is breaking up).

    E.g. I met a man who was so depressed that when he noticed his wife was happy he convinced himself that she was having an affair and so starting treating her as though she was. Months and moths of thinking ‘I’m no good, I’m a loser, why would anyone want to be with me, she’s better off without me, I’m such a loser… meant that any input (e.g. she looked happy because she’d had a good day) was just confirmation. To this extent I agree with napoleon Hill – thoughts are things.

    But that doesn’t mean that I have any interest in judging another’s thoughts. I think I understand what was going on this this fellow’s head and if he asks me I’ll tell him that I think his stinky thinking is having real effects on his mood and his marriage – but until he misbehaves in some way I’m with you – it’s nobody’s business but his.

  71. indeterminacy – Perhaps you can clear up something. As far as you know were German soldiers actually punished for not committing atrocities? I seem to remember reading that the defence of afraid-for-my-life doesn’t stand up.

  72. evan – “Perhaps a definition of evil that includes the individual is a necessary part of individual dignity(?).” Nicely put, sir. I don’t know where we’d be without it as individuals.

  73. dm-smith – I’m enjoying being educated by you on the Greek world-view. The smattering I have is just that – asmattering.

    Hey, have you read Donna Tartt’s novel ‘The secret history’? Greek scholarship is the backdrop.

  74. chloe and dm-smith – Not to try to reduce your differences, but I find myself persuaded by elements of each of your cases. From Dm-smith I see that in hate crimes it is (supposed) hate that’s punished. From Cloe I see that the effects of a hate crime may go way beyond the victim’s sore nose. The antagonism between two social groups might be inflamed, the complexes of both too.

  75. Dr. Steve, I’m a long way from being able to educate anyone one on the ancient Greek world view. At a minimum and as a starting point, one must know the language (especially etymology)of the era, and I don’t know even modern Greek. But if you’re interested in the Greek world view, I’d recommend F. M. Cornford’s From Religion to Philosophy and Jane Ellen Harrison’s Themis as two very useful (and immensely interesting) studies. The best thing I ever did for myself regarding world-view was read Joseph Campbell’s four volume series, The Masks of God. I’m afraid I haven’t read the The Secret History. As soon as I catch up on Cormac McCarthy I’ll look for it.

  76. dm-smith – Thanks for that. I have E.R. Dodds ‘The Greeks and the irrational’ which I’ve read 1/3. I like it but don’t know how kosher it is.

  77. Dr. Steve,
    It’s been years, but as I recall the Dodds’ scholarship was highly praised and the work considered a major contribution.

  78. Evan Hadkins: I understand what you’re talking about. I eliminate intention from the practical understanding of badness, let’s say.
    Evil is something different.
    I’m not even sure sometimes what people mean by evil.
    I think to even talk about evil, someone has to define it in some way.
    I mean some people use it to mean “nasty”.
    Obviously it has to do with morals.
    But more & more I’m getting the sense that here, it’s being talked about in almost a kind of supernatural kind of way.
    Rather than just to talk about concrete badness or goodness… Which I if you consider it that way, this conversation would’ve ended long ago. lol

    And in addition to defining the term “evil”, before you can stick anything or anyone into that category. I think the question needs to be asked – WHY? For what purpose or context are you seeking to define evil. And that’s where the tyrrany of the state comes in.
    If you’re seeking to define it for your own personal values, personal life & decisions, in your own little corner of the world, and not imposing your definition & your purpose on anyone else… Well I think everyone does that, at least I think “That’s for each man to decide for himself.” sort of thing.

    DuMuarier-Smith
    Hate crimes are about the context of the act, and effects of the act, not the thought or intention of the person committing the act.
    For pete’s sake, I know people who are very bigoted. But not only would they never commit a crime related to it, they wouldn’t say a word of it in front of the people they’re bigoted against. It may influence their voting, they may even discrininate in the workplace – which one might argue is immoral, or illegal. But those aren’t hate crimes either.
    Hate crimes are not just about involving a racist slur or something. So drop your straw man right there. That’s not going to get you charged w/ a hate crime, and I think you well know that.
    It’s about the context. Kind of the way organized crime is treated differently than a single pop to the nose by a drunk in the alley.
    In the case of Matthew Shepherd, for instance, those two assailants had a covert ops going, like the sting or something. Like they were military spies in a civil war. They posed as gay men themselves. Then they hunted him. Lured him. Trapped him. Then tortured him to the brink of death, and left him to die a very slow painful death tied to a fence like a scarecrow.
    That’s a big difference from an non-premeditated “crime of passion” because of “emotions running high”.
    And it’s certainly a far cry from just popping him in the nose & saying “you fag”. (Which does not count as a hate crime under hate crime laws.)
    I don’t know how else I can describe this fundamental difference, except to say that if you don’t get it, it’s because you’re invested in not doing so. Which is fine. But I’m starting to wonder if you actually condone hate and hate crimes alike. So maybe this should be dropped now.

    DrSteve: “Chloe – Desires can be inflamed by thinking on them.”
    That’s desire. If you’re ruminating on a desire, that itself is desire.
    And I find all desire questionable, and it’s my goal to completely eliminate it from my life. And many of the desires I see in other people expressing I find distasteful, and may lead to me not particularly liking them, or not yearning to be close to them. But I actually judge them by their actions, not by the feelings they express.
    And by judge, I mean personally judge. I wouldn’t judge them on their work performance in a workplace context, based on their attitudes & desires.

  79. Sorry I was trying to do too many things at once there and confused the end of that. I judge people by their actions. Like in my head, when I decide if I think they’re decent or not, not by their attitudes & desires. And even when I do judge someone to be decent or not, by my standards… I don’t necessarily use that judgment & apply it to say, judging a person’s work performance in the workplace, and so certainly their attitudes & desires expressed wouldn’t necessarily effect a working relationship.

  80. dm-smth – Thanks, I’ll pull the book out again.

  81. chloe – Spot on, evil needs to be defined so that we know what’s actually being considered. What happened here is this blog conversation (‘thread’ is the right word?) has overtaken me. I fully intend to catch up and have a go at mapping out the territory: evil is not A, B, C; evil is X, Y, Z. That kind of thing. Bear with me.

    I don’t think it’s fair to attribute dastardly motives to dm-smith, though. To say that one is pro-free speech does not mean one is pro-hate crimes. It just means that a convincing case hasn’t been made yet that these should to be on the statutes.

  82. chloe – I suppose it depends on what one means by desire, but can we eliminate these? They arise spontaneously like weeds, say. What can be controlled is how much fertiliser we give them.

  83. I wasn’t attributing dastardly motives to dm-smith. I was expressing the feeling I always start to get when someone uses a straw man. I should probably back away when I see a straw man and forget it.
    But what those men did to Matthew Shepherd was a far cry from “speech”, and not even really comparable to the usual assault & battery that goes on in society.

    As for desire… Eliminate 100% always… Likely not. But I don’t think it springs up like weeds for every person.

    In fact, even before I really conceptualized the idea of shedding desire in my mind, and then found out it was part of many religions & religious practices, I always have felt I’m just naturally someone who has less desires than the average person, maybe most people. I strongly suspect it was my upbringing. My family definitely frowned upon various desires that American culture actually values.

    Not that I don’t have desires, I do. Some rather unproductive & some even destructive. And yet somehow I still seem to have less than a lot of people!

    I watch some parents seemingly almost deliberately instilling desires in their children, and I find it rather disturbing in some cases.

    And I wonder if that fertilizer can be part of the issue later in life, but if the real important fertilizer happens quite early in life, and doing that thing with the eroded canal in the brain sort of thing.

    Sort of like I read that if you consistently admonish a young child for asking questions, not only will the child stop asking questions, the kid will stop being curious.

    A very good & timely example of how I see parents fostering desires in a bizarre & rather ridiculous way, is the whole Christmas scalping of games on ebay & amazon. My point is not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with the games, nor that there’s anything wrong with getting the kids the games. My point is the idea of being so desperate to not disappoint your kid’s desire that you will jump through hoops, and pay 5-10 times the fair market value for the game, whether your kids know consciously or not, is setting up quite the precedent really. An atmosphere. Almost a code of conduct.
    I find it rather disturbing.

  84. chloe – I’m getting some idea of what you mean by desire. I’m interested: how do you go about eliminating them?

  85. Chloe: The issues I raised are of concern to most First Amendment scholars, and became “strawman” only in your recasting of them.

    “But I’m starting to wonder if you actually condone hate and hate crimes alike. So maybe this should be dropped now.”

    It definitely should be dropped. We’ve nothing left to discuss.

  86. Dumuarier smith – if there’s nothiing left to discuss, why are you still arguing? Bit of last-word-itis there? ha.

    Drsteve: Sorry but I thought it was obvious what is meant by desire. The yearning to consume and possess and keep and own.
    Yeah, I mean it in the attachment sense. In the Buddhist philosophy definition. (Though this is present in other religions, explained in different terms.)

    As opposed to a simple want or certainly a simple need.
    Obviously I’m not striving toward a goal to stop consuming water. lol. That’ll come soon enough. 😦 😉

    The worst kind of desire has to do with other people. As I see it, that’s what co-dependence is about on some level. And desire is a lot to do with personal boundaries.

  87. Dm-smith and chloe – Easy, folks, let’s play nice. (See next comment.)

  88. Let me say that I feel privileged to host a site that has generated such a high level of serious interest. I for one have learned a lot.

    I feel a bit like a sculptor and my piece of marble. Slowly I chip away in order to find/make what I really think/feel/believe. Reader’s comments have helped me to know where to chip next.

    Thanks to all who write in!

  89. Evan: “Perhaps a definition of evil that includes the individual is a necessary part of individual dignity(?).”

    I think that is a most wise observation. And it reminds me of Dante and touches off some more thoughts on hubris. How about “better to rule in Hell than serve in heaven” as an assertion of dignity? Without the option, how could Satan assert self? Was Satan’s act of ego assertion evil? It seems to have launched his career as the Evil One. Adam and Eve also got kicked out of Eden for asserting their will over God’s, and in consequence they became ashamed of their nakedness (self-conscious). Sounds like ego, no? But for the option of rebelling, how is self differentiated, discovered? Relative to God, the sin of both Adam and Eve and Satan’s was certainly hubris. (I think the Eden story is also a very good mythic expression of the consequences of human emergence into consciousness. Ah, for the good old pre-conscious days when you didn’t have to eat your bread in the sweat of your face because there was no self to resent working.)

    The East and West have much in common when it comes to the metaphysics of ego. The wisdom literature of the orient doesn’t consider the ego as evil, because distinctions between good and evil are ego distinctions, but it is a terrible obstacle to enlightenment as it perpetuates the illusion (Maya) of individuation and promotes a “picking and choosing” among “good” and “evil” things, which are really two aspects of the same thing. Enlightenment requires a “dying to self.” So does salvation in Christianity: you must lose your life to save it. You must submit your self entirely to the will of God. And so on. Of course, the idea of good and evil as two aspects of the same thing is heresy in western religious metaphysics. It suggests all those instances of intimate discourse between God and Satan–e.g., the case of poor Job–are signs of a Zoroastrian connection, as between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, the combatant twins of the universe, one good one evil.

    Sorry to go on so. Postings here have made me more aware of how close ego and evil are in western religious metaphysics, and as well, how the old world views survive in the new. It’s comforting in some ways to know the gods of four thousand years ago are still around even if we don’t know their names. Then my secular soul groans.

  90. Dr. Steve, blog readers: On playing nice.

    I’ve taken no offense at anything Chloe’s said, and I had no intention of giving offense. Because Chloe began to have negative personal feelings, she felt we should drop the discussion, and I agreed. I’d be surprised Chloe, if you took offense. But if you did, or my post seemed offensive to Dr. Steve or others, I assure all of you I meant none. Because I don’t really know anyone personally on this readership, I find it difficult to imagine taking personal offense in any post, even personal attacks. Why should I care? I don’t. I’m here for the fun and challenge of intellectual exchange, and all else is irrelevant.

  91. dm-smith – Excellent. That’s a good attitude to have.

    I guess I’m just an anxious host hoping that everyone’s having a good time. Good to know you are.

  92. Thanks for asking, but I don’t know if I can answer that question, whether or not soldiers were punished for not carrying out orders with the “proper” enthusiasm. My sense is that they might have been, were the non-action obvious. I do have a a few people I can ask. A good friend’s father was in the army and towards the end of the war he and other soldiers were ordered to fire on some civilians. He reported that they fired in the air, but that it was at some risk, in case they had been found out.

    This is all anectdotal, but I can ask for more details. My mother is from Germany – and her father was Jewish. Jews who were married to Germans were spared at least until the last months of the war. Divorce wasstrongly encouraged, but not manditory. He could live at home but was required to work at construction sites. During this time the neighbors were afraid to associate with them. However only a few were openly hostile.

    My grandfather spent the last months of the war in the concentration camp Theresianstadt, but was fortunately liberated before being sent on to Auschwitz.

  93. indeterminacy – Thanks for that. Sometimes those days feel like ancient history; you show they’re very much present in people’s lives today.

    Also, you help to show how complex the situation was.

    mindhacks.com links to an important article which argues that the Arendt, etc. view that evil systems make evil people is wrong. Some German soldiers obeyed unsavoury orders with surplus zeal and some, as you say, dragged their feet:
    http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=21&editionID=155&ArticleID=1291

  94. Metaphysics does seem inseparable from ethics doesn’t it? This for me provides hope that ethics can be more than ‘respecting others views’. This really means that ethics is no more than politeness (and without more than this, well, why should I bother?).

    Ego-distinctions. Well, I think the enlightened should largely avoid poison (though in certain circumstances going to one’s death voluntarily may be admirable), eat healthy, be joyful and so on. Are these illusory? Only if we don’t esteem physical continuation. Largely, most of the time, I should think we do. Indifference to torture and painful death are not so readily dismissed methinks.

    Learning to appreciate beautiful music is by no means assisted by listening to awful music. The idea that the good and the bad are inseparable requires careful distinctions I think. Likewise in ethics striving to be good does not require an equal embrace of evil.

    Self-assertion does not require rebellion – though this is its usual form. An artist can learn from the past without rebelling against it. They can embrace with thanks all that has gone before and develop their own style. Likewise we develop our own ethics with reference to our various authority figures and traditions. I don’t think self-assertion/ the ego requires rebellion. It probably does require some form of consciousness-of-self I think. Adam and Eve before the Fall would have know when they were hungry I think. The state of innocence is in some sense an identification of the ego and the organism.

    This is already a long comment so I’d best stop here.

  95. Evan – “Ethics can be more than ‘respecting others views’”. Amen.

    Current events produce many cases for us to test our ideas against. For example, a documentary on TV about some Al Queda guys (one got a passport for a 9/11 hijacker) are held in a Canadian prison.

    The authorities don’t want them mixing with the populace or with each other. But solitary confinement is inhumane. They can’t be sent home for fear of torture. Can’t be released because they do seen pretty darn dangerous. (And they haven’t been tried…) What is decent treatment?

  96. Evan: On ego distinctions: it’s pretty difficult for a westerner–and most orientals, for that matter–to buy into killing off the ego as a requisite to enlightenment. The same is true of good and evil as two aspects of the same thing. An Hindu priest gave me a good model. Imagine creation as involving a sculptor and a block of wood. He takes first slice of wood. What is it? Creation or destruction? There is no saying; they are two aspects of the same thing. If you are part of the slice cut away, and unenlightened, you lament, O, what a terrible, evil thing this is–the landslide, hurricane, volcanic eruption. If you are part of the creation left, you say what wonderous and great creation. But that too is the ego expressing its preferences. It is neither good nor bad; it simply is.

    As for Adam and Eve, as I said, I think it’s a metaphor that works on several levels. Another level would be Eden as the womb and Adam and Eve in the state of primary narcissism as described by Freud, where the fetus’s needs are met before they are experienced. Then they get born, and life gets tedious.

  97. Hi dm-Smith.

    But the yogi’s illustration shows there is a difference over time. And if a chisel is put through the finished sculpture?

  98. Hi DrSteve,

    I suppose decent treatment would be encouraging contact (with very close monitoring!) between those in prison – even if their stay will be indefinite. Providing them with good food and accommodation and allowing the development of their interests. Isolating them from the wider society can still mean some contact with those in prison. This would be my approach.

  99. Cheers, Evan:
    I think the yogi and the the Hindu priest would both say, in essence: “So? What else is new in the Kali Yuga?”

  100. The yogi may well say so. My point is that creation is a larger category than destruction.

  101. evan – Can I butt into an interesting line of thought and ask why “creation is a larger category than destruction”?

  102. I think that destruction can be part of the creative process. Thus using a discarding existing stuff to create a new art work (or using parts of and discarding parts of a tradition).

    I don’t think destruction includes creativity (at least not in the same way).

    I don’t want to get trapped into or by word games here. I’m not trying to be smart-aleck.

    To put it as simply as I can: creativity can include destruction but destruction need not or does not (not sure about which) creativity. So creativity is the more inclusive category.

    This is presuming a sense of ‘a whole’. In the yogi’s example: an art work gets finished. And there is a sense that (at least parts of us) are ‘finished works’. Provisionally, perhaps. The judgement of creation and destruction refer to the whole.

    Hope this makes sense, I’m battling to express what I mean.

  103. Evan – Thanks, I think I see what your meaning is here.

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