Never return evil for evil
- If we are not to return evil for evil, how should we be disposed to respond to it?
- What is evil in the context of building a relationship in the first place?
The options for confronting evil once identified are what might be called active or passive acceptance, and active or passive rejection. These options will furthered elaborate by Professor Hirschman’s behavioral economics in the play between customers that speak up and those that simply move on and those that simply endure. On top of this play, we encounter the affects of fraud, “players” and “vamps” and their attempts to wreck the conversation for simply prurient self pleasure – and then there is bad faith.
Before we describe evil as bad faith there are a few other views that we have to use for our overall construction. To consider evil in a more dramatic way, we simply need to listen to Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust. When Faust ask him who he is, he answers,
The spirit I, that endlessly denies And rightly too; for all that comes to birth Is fit for overthrow, as nothing worth; Wherefore the worlds were better sterilized; Thus all that's here as Evil recognized Is gain to me, and downfall, ruin, sin, The very element I prosper in.
This destruction is not a means to any positive aim. He is simply anti-life. Whatever is arising, Mephistopheles is against it. His element is mere refusal. Does this super natural’s stand make our natural world its home or are there other ways to explain this refusal of good.
Mark Twain’s “Letters from Earth” has Satan the Archangel pose the question of free will –
“What shall you do with them, Divine One?”
“Put into each individual, in differing shades and degrees, all the various Moral Qualities, in mass, that have been distributed, a single distinguishing characteristic at a time, among the nonspeaking animal world –courage, cowardice, ferocity, gentleness, fairness, justice, cunning, treachery, magnanimity, cruelty, malice, malignity, lust, mercy, pity, purity, selfishness, sweetness, honor, love, hate, baseness, nobility, loyalty, falsity, veracity, untruthfulness –each human being shall have all of these in him, and they will constitute his nature. In some, there will be high and fine characteristics which submerge the evil ones and those will be called good men; in others the evil characteristics will have dominion, and those will be called bad men.”
It was Satan’s sarcasm in wondering “whether they are worth the trouble” that got him banished to Earth for a “celestial day”. So should we question “free will’s” position in the scheme of things – in the same manner as Satan? Not necessary.
Then there are those that arose as Foucault suggest – devoted and characterized as the voices of counter-culture, made up for the most part of individuals (to use Nietzsche’s celebrated description of himself) who were born posthumously: Sade, Holderlin, and Flaubert. There job was expressed by confronting the dazzling transformation of god talk and all its darkness. A fact which is at once the basis of sadism, of the crippling certainty of Holderlin’s Empedocles, of the monstrous apparitions of Flaubert’s Temptation, or of Nietzsche’s frenzied signature of Antichrist-Dionysus.
Some have, and continue to hold that there are no supernatural forces or even causes stemming from our nature, but the phenomena of evil is caused from external pressures. Now obviously there are powerful outside causes. There are physical pains, diseases, economic shortages and dangers–everything that counts as “natural evil”. There are also cultural factors–bad example, bad adaptation, bad teaching, and bad organization. But these cultural causes do not solve our problem because we must still ask and dare the answers of the posthumous cynic: how did the bad customs start, how do they spread, and how do they resist counter-conditioning.
In steps Bad Faith –
Jean-Paul Sartre’s name for the state of mind in which we lie to ourselves. Some of our inner lies are trivial: I know that I am going to be late if I don’t go now, but I carry on as if I think there is plenty of time. Then I am in Bad Faith: I am being deliberately late, but I allow myself to believe I am unaware of it. When someone complains, I can say: ‘My goodness, I never noticed the time.’ Sartre points out how weird this self-deception is’…the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same’. The liar is also the victim. In Bad Faith, I am pretending to be two different people; I am myself, but I am also another person. Neither is responsible for how I seem to have acted.
But the real evil of Bad Faith isn’t the little moments of self-deception. Existentialism is about whole ways of living, choices of life, and Bad Faith can infect an entire life – as in terms of what is visible and how it affects matters of the heart.
In America we live some hue of the following extremes ways of seeing the idea of race: 1) that whites do not recognize or acknowledge their unearned racial privileges. In this line of thinking, whiteness operates by being “invisible” so ubiquitous and entrenched as to appear natural and normative. Here whiteness operates as the unmarked norm against which other identities are marked and racialized, the seemingly un-raced center of a racialized world.
This assumption rests on two presuppositions. First, the “invisibility” of whiteness as a concept is predicated on an unknowing and unseeing white racial subject. Second, it posits a clear distinction between a group of white insiders who cannot recognize themselves for whom they “really are” and nonwhite outsiders whose point of view affords them authentic insight, yet diminished to the center.
What makes this corruption of reality relevant, as will be true of its Afro-American counterpoint; they search, engage and pollute the many deeply linked expressions that being the center of things take into account as they attempt to build a relationship. Innocently enough, the Golden Rule was designed to distribute with a sense of honor turns out to be selfish and hegemonic behavior. Not necessarily evil in limited amounts – just in excess! Who does the defining of excess or corruption – the receiver – recipient – the other!
So in our suggestions for what is the nature of evil in relationship building, caution has to be engage for those counter streams between pride, arrogance and hubris. So wherever we find evil scorned tactics executed between mates by them- the reign of possibilities both positive and negative can hold – darkness is one of those possibilities.
Now we need establish home between these extremes with a midrange. Cornel West describes a collection of characters including my personal hero – Malcolm X in the Humanist tradition. These are Afro-American’s that hold a self-image that is one neither of heroic super humans untouched by the experience of oppression nor of pathetic sub humans devoid of a supportive culture. Rather,these Afro Americans are viewed as both meek and belligerent, kind and cruel, creative and dull – in short, as human beings. To the end of a relationship of value, it is this common base from which the conversation begins. So whatever kills, murders this space is the evil to be avoided.
As Sartre puts it, in sadness and in anger – ’A person can live in bad faith’. You can spend you whole life as if you weren’t the person you really are – never engaging. Bad Faith is a way of ‘establishing that I am not what I am’. If the lies really work, then when other people confront me with my actions, I will genuinely feel disbelief and outrage. The concept of Bad Faith is an example of the wider existential idea, that nothing can relieve us of the burden of responsibility for our lives and our actions.
So within Bad Faith we recognize both the refusal of Mephistopheles and deception of Satan. Therefore the evil we encounter is ourselves in denial of our responsibility. Then to resist evil is to heighten our sense of personal integrity.