Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Woe to those who call evil good..."

From another interesting essay at Quillette, Spencer Case on "Moral Zealotry and the Seductive Nature of Evil":
A tempting fallacy about morality is to think that wickedness must arise from transparently abhorrent motives, and goodness from nice ones. Few explicitly endorse this crude dualism, but many breezily equate hatred with evil, love with goodness, or both. This way of thinking makes it difficult for us to see the dangers of moral zealotry, one of the most insidious motives for wicked behavior. ....

...Solzhenitsyn wrote that, “To do evil a human must first of all believe that what he is doing is good” and seek a justification for his actions. Shakespearean villains like Macbeth and Iago, “stopped short at a few dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.” The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of many other real-life pariahs:
Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That is how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, civilization; the Nazis, by race; the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood and the happiness of future generations.
He could have added, “…jihadists, by the glory of a new Caliphate.”

Solzhenitsyn doesn’t specify here whether he thinks that these oppressors were driven by moral considerations, or merely appealed to them post hoc to rationalize their deeds. We are left to surmise that there was some element of both. ....

It would be nice if evil always announced itself and evil people always looked malevolent. Evil, alas, sometimes wears a nicer face. Otherwise it could be fearsome, but not seductive. There is no human impulse or emotion that is immune to moral corruption. Our most benevolent instincts and intentions, untethered from reason, can lead us very far astray, indeed. Subtle are the ways of the devil. (more)

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