Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Search For Evil



1.

- This book I'm reading about evil offers a definition: destruction you can't find a practical reason for, but can find a psychological reason.
- Which is?
- Because an individual's desire is diverted to social conformity, both the act of satisfying desire and acts of social conformity, when this is known, are illegitimate, alien to the individual, and merit destruction by the individual. He suggests evil, depending as it does on intellectual analysis, is fairly rare, both in individuals and societies.  
- Let's take an example: the company Google, whose slogan for a while was "Don't be evil''. Their primary business is operating a search engine, their primary source of income paid advertising. They believe it is good to make a machine that functions to a good purpose, helping people find information. Which also is the presumed socially useful function of advertising. Google's search rankings are done mainly by popularity. Advertising in reality substitutes for the function of providing information a false claim of popularity, associating their product with symbols of acceptance and power over other people. Google takes the money of advertisers who sell images of false popularity and gives them the place real popularity achieves. 
- Google gives, by priority placement in its results, both a false sense of popularity and the advertising itself gives a false sense of popularity.
- Yes. Google and its advertisers are in a kind of arms race. The better, more accurate, more useful and informative Google's search results are, the less effective paid advertising is, therefore advertisers have to spend more. This in fact is what is happening as we speak. But the more advertisers spend, the more Google's results reflect advertiser priority, the less useful Google itself is as source of information, and Google needs again to improve the usefulness of its results if it hopes to continue to be bought out by advertisers.
- Then you are accusing the managers of Google of being evil? Arguing that no one could reasonably desire to make such an idiotic machine, such desire would be alienated desire. And a society where institutions for communication function fundamentally at cross purposes with themselves is worthy of destruction. The people who manage and participate in such institutions, if they know what they are doing, are evil.
- Do you think the people at Google know what they are doing, know their own desire is for something they don't really want, money and power, and feel oppressed by the worthlessness of the society they participate in creating?
- No. They are doing what everyone around them is doing.
- Remember what we've said about ritual. The individual's passionate participation in the group, in which his desire is not his own, results at the conclusion of the ritual in a sense of power and security within the group. The "alienated desire" is constructive of a world that is desirable. A better definition of evil is assigning other people the role in ritual of obstacle to be overcome to regain security and power.
- Not just our desire is corrupt, not really ours, and the world is artificial and not worth desiring, so I'll destroy it. But if I abandon my poor worthless self to a ritual, in a fight to the death with those who've forced a world not worth desiring on me, I will get free. And that is really what evil is. 
- At least might be a better definition. And examples won't be hard to find. But an evil individual acting alone is uncommon. An evil individual is insane.
- Why?
- Because the ritual obstacle for him is the whole world, with him in it. At the conclusion of the ritual he, with his worthless desire, is unchanged.
- Then why continue?
- Because in general, in our social lives, ritual works. It established security. The evil individual sees what he has done, made a mockery of the world, expressed his power, but he knows that even that expression of power over this world  is contemptible and worthless. It is too abstract, unphysical, it is not really his. 
- And he once again sets out to lose himself in ritual violence.
- Knowing that losing himself in violence he is doing something worthless. But for a moment, while it lasts, is relieved. 
- Yes. And on and on. Relieving loss of self in violence, disgust, loss of self in violence....


2.

- Let's go back to Google. They're not evil because they know not what they do. Why don't they?
- Good question.
- And the answer is?
- Since Plato philosophy and religion have been thought best kept out of politics.
- Thought by who?
- Philosophers.
- Not the religious.
- They vary.
- And the philosophers don't?
- They do. I'm referring to the best philosophers.
- According to you.
- Sure. Democracy was the safest form of government for philosophers to live their private lives.
- With or without religion?
- With.
- So Google is not evil because there are no philosophers there.
- That's right.
- Why aren't there any philosophers at Google?
- Another good question. Something happened in the last couple of centuries that never happened before: the possibility for philosophers to speak openly about politics and religion in public life without getting killed for it.* Democracy, when it uprooted class held monopolies over property and allowed freer exchange, allowed the aspects of social life, political and religious, that had supported class authority to be questioned.
- And philosophy and religion return to public life.
- Yes. But with the understanding that no one would take them seriously for the same reason they were allowed back.
- What?
- No one cared. Democracy is the form of society where people are allowed to disagree about what is best in life, as long as what supports that understanding is not put in question.
- Free exchange of property.
- Yes. The age of reason launched a vicious attack on religion and society. The nineteenth century followed with attempts to see more clearly what really goes on in the minds of individual participants in religion and society, culminating with Frederick Nietzsche throwing down the gauntlet proclaiming outright we are blond beasts pursuing our desires and sleepwalking slaves deluding ourselves both that we are not beasts and not slaves.
- Like the people over at Google. There doesn't seem to be any difference between this ordinary life and evil except being deliberate and self aware about it. Assuming Nietzsche didn't think this beastly and sleepwalking ignorance was too nice, did he go beyond criticism to how we should get religion and philosophy in our public lives and save ourselves?
- We should act on our own will not that of others, we should love life as it is so much we'd be willing to relive it endlessly, we should use tested knowledge to remake our place in community.
- He didn't say how?
- No. The kind of human being who'd be doing the remaking and he claimed to be the precursor of, the loving, scientific, self willed super human, didn't yet exist.**
__________________
Bringing philosophy and religion into public life, in addition to being a danger to the philosopher, is also a danger to the public: see The Islamic Philosopher Farabi And Our Times
** "We have no right to stand out individually: we must not either make mistakes or hit on the truth individually. Instead, our thoughts, values, every ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘if ’ and ‘but’ grow from us with the same inevitability as fruits borne on the tree – all related and referring to one another and a testimonial to one will, one health, one earth, one sun. – Do you like the taste of our fruit? – But of what concern is that to the trees? And of what concern is it to us philosophers? . . ." (Preface, The Genealogy Or Morality, 1887, Frederick Nietzsche)


3.

- What is your dog doing?
- I don't know. I looked it up on the internet but couldn't find anything.
- Sort of like dog-paddling. Except that's for floating in place. The fountain is only two feet deep. She's standing on the bottom on her back legs and paddling the surface with her front legs. I've never seen anything like it.
- What brings you to UCLA?
- The quiet. Sometimes I read by this fountain. I grew up living up in the hills over there. I've been coming here most of my life.
- What are you reading now?
- Nietzsche.
- Which book?
- Genealogy of Morality. I was thinking about evil, and this book provides one of the most famous definitions and examples.
- What is evil?
- Resentment. Destruction without practical intention, done for the feeling of power. The Jews, the book proclaims, were dark skinned slaves who created Christianity to poison, drain the life out of their masters, the light skinned Aryan race. Recognize the idea?
- The Nazis.
- Yes. Nietzsche said he liked to joke, say sombre things laughingly.
- Doesn't seem funny to me.
- Look at your dog. Do you know what I think she is doing? Playing with the light.
- She can feel the underwater light on the bottom with her feet.
- I don't mean the fixture, I mean the light. Watching the light change with her dog paddle splashing. Look, she's dunking her head under water to look at the source.
- She does that.
- So Nietzsche, the historian of ideas, makes this claim about the Jews. They invented compassion to undermine their masters' power, who before they'd been corrupted had been individuals, loving life, studying life, like the ancient Greeks. The trouble is, one thing the Jews are not especially is compassionate. I can tell you that as a Jew myself. There is nothing in their history, before and after the beginnings of Christianity, to bring in as evidence the Jews wanted to poison their master race the Christians. And the theology and philosophy of the Jews, both before and after, especially when you take Kabbalah into account, leans not towards the passive, un-individual, unknowing compassion they are supposed to have poisoned the Christians with, but very strongly in the opposite direction.
- Nietzsche was joking.
- Yes. But for fun, or out of resentment, as an act of evil? Was his writing an example of an individual's will to know the world out of love for the world? Or an act of hatred and destruction?
- What do you think?
- Nietzsche to me is insane. He watches himself as he throws his own poison into the world, sees that act itself as futile, and throws himself back into more destruction to avoid the sight of his own futility. In one famous passage he predicts the coming of destruction like the Nazi's soon brought citing Neitzsche himself as their authority. Hey. I've got a hypothesis now, a way to test my theory about your dog.
- What?
- She seems to be always facing the light while she kicks up her waves. Going around it, positioning herself like the hands of a clock.  Do you know, going home last night, passing Holmby park, I stopped to talk with a group of men playing frisby. They called themselves a men's support group. Once a week they got together to open themselves up to each other. Take them as an example of the poison compassion Nietzsche hated. They talk about their lives, but practically speaking, did they share their lives? Do things with each other, help each other out of practical difficulties? Or only feelings. Look at your dog! She was at three o'clock, now she's at nine o'clock. Even though her body is not exactly angled to the light, her head is.
- Interesting.
- What I'm interested in with Nietzsche is definition of the problem: if we're not going to live with each other in false compassion, with resentment against our social conformity, acted upon or not, how do we live? How do we act with individuality, love, and science with each other? Look now. She's at one o'clock. Theory confirmed!
- You're probably right.
- Dogs play with sticks as toys, perhaps imagining them as prey. But this play with light seems to be abstract play, like making music, or mathematics. It's not impossible. Dogs love their masters and play with them, learn their habits and manipulate, master their masters. Your dog shows you her new art, while I've been coming here for decades and never did anything but sit and read. She could be the first of Nietzsche's prophesied master race, the individuals who'd invent scientific, loving lives with each other.