Tuesday, August 5, 2014

[OM] On Isolating Evil in today's world

Recent events around the world have brought up the question: What is evil? Is it the murder of a man by power drill? Is it a serial killer? Is it a bomb in a cafe? Is it the subjugation of a peoples for a vital mineral? I tend towards the "I know it when I see it" definition, though I know that's not always good enough.

My friends, allow me to present you a story on this very subject:

I had a conversation recently with a famous professor at an Ivy League college. We were walking through the sparsely populated summer campus. The conversation was anchored in the issue of social dilemmas. We thought out several scenarios where Malthusian effects had squeezed the population—deserts such as Somalia and the Middle East were the easiest to consider. Then the conversation turned to Iraq. He knew I had served in Iraq a few times and was interested to know what I made of the most recent developments there.[1]
I, not wanting to be labeled some conspiracy kook, only said something about the oddity that was rebellion (in this case, ISIS), and how when it takes the form of something violent we understand how married we are to the status quo—with all its inherent evils—when we reject this.
Thankfully, I mumbled this and I’m not sure that he heard me. I think he grasped on the evil word. And even though this was a man who mocked our previous President’s Axis of Evil comment, he was more than willing to accept the newest movement in the Arab world as evil. He was, of course, somewhat more vested in stability in that part of the world, as he would never want to see that region's heritage in ruins. I can't say much for the burning of the past, but it’s fair to say that it’s the future one should hold on tighter to.

I tried to be as concerned as he sounded. This man did, after all, hold the keys to further my employment. He went on about how he watched a video by ISIS and had been truly galvanized to help out our Empire (he said national security). I held my tongue though I wanted to ask him how many videos he had seen of the Empire attacking others. When you attempt to crush a world view—no matter how wrong that view is—you’ll forever be the villain. This professor, a genius of our times, said he'd finally reached out to those in the Department of Defense (DOD) to do some research into isolating evil.

Normally I would have let this be, but he continued to say that evil was an innocuous thing and that if his research was to lead where he thinks it will lead, the social dilemmas we mentioned will be a thing of the past. My curiosity was piqued. I asked how this was possible.

He smiled and said something quixotic like evil whimpers when we take a stand. I pushed on to find out what he meant as I still wasn’t sure how evil came to play in something like an N-person prisoner’s dilemma. He told me that the grant he received from the DOD, who was happy with the results so far, was immense, and that soon there would be a breakthrough and things like ISIS would be a thing of the past and people wouldn’t have to cower in fear from such movements. He was working with several psychologists, medical research doctors, lawyers, and apparently some biochemists. He leaned in, this sun-spotted professor creature with pulled by gravity eyelids and a yellowish grin, it’s here, he said.

Overstepping all boundaries that had been laid down in this friendship, or partnership, I asked him where could it possibly be. He examined me for a few moments, grunted and walked off. I followed. We took a staircase in a corner of the campus—my heart beating fast. Meanwhile, he was explaining where the lab was. It was created in the closed tunnels of the campus. Tunnels which had been shut down when student protests of the 60s used them to choke off the campus and forced the administration to bend to their needs. Useful needs, it turns out, but the tunnels were nevertheless closed for good. This professor had managed to have the tunnels and some dusty attached rooms opened for this experiment, seeing as it was national security.

Finally we made our way to a large metal door. He placed his face in front of a retina scanner and a few moments later, the door hissed open. As old as it had looked from the outside, the door was state of the art technology. A beep went off when I passed by, but the professor placed an ID up to a scanner and typed something into a keyboard lodged in the wall. We walked down an empty hall before turning into a dark room. Mind you, I had lost all of my curiosity and felt ill to my stomach by this point. I smelled aged dust, chlorine in dirty water drying, and something else more organic… something that made me shiver.

When the professor turned on the lights I saw rows of cages, no bigger than 5x5 feet, and inside each was a human. A few eyes cracked open and looked over at me. Some arms merely covered faces, and other bodies remained curled in the fetal position. My heart dropped as a handful of stifled whimpers echoed in that cold room.

These are the evil ones, the professor said, loudly and proudly. I looked around. Every detail was clear, even the way the light flickered. The professor led me past the cages, explaining that these were the worst kind of evil, that they had a perfect measurement of evil in Guantanamo and that these men had all been given the stamp—fresh from capture from the ISIS ranks. It was not, he said, a stamp that was just bandied out, but one that was carefully applied only after a committee gave its full approval.

He took me to a smaller room where an evil man was strapped into a chair and was being monitored, his eyes closed, his face peaceful. The professor informed me that the team he had working on this included some physicists who were creating, with some molecular biologists, nano-technology that would isolate the evil in the men and make them more pliable. It was experimental and they had lost some people already. Either way, the world would be a better place.

But the professor felt sure that the loses would be a minor proportion of the population since he had been able to, through some social media side-experiments, find the parts of the brain that were taken over by evil acts. Like possession, really. The nano-technology would attack these parts in a  person, so it wasn’t like it was attacking a human being, but rather the evil-isolate. The best part was that the technology transmitted itself as a virus and would be dropped into places where ISIS wreaked havoc and those places would become more pliable. I’m not sure why he used that last word, but I nodded, feeling better.

I was ushered out soon after, with his attempts to turn the discussion back to social dilemmas lost upon me. My body and mind seemed to be in shock. It’s a weakness, but after reading more of the news I felt fully inoculated and understood why the professor was so happy, grinning really, about his experiment. Imagine, my friends, that after many false dawns technology will finally help us isolate and eliminate evil. Myself I’ve turned into a true believer, and have been listening to the news with glee, knowing that the ones who wreak evil will soon have it coming. And all those (at times this has been me) who have doubted our national security apparatus will be put to shame when these experiments yield results.

Update (as usual sometimes the best thoughts come after someone goes through a harsh experience, and I feel I need to explain my silence):
I’m not going so far as to say I condone the act of holding a man as a prisoner, forcing him to become an experimental rat; and now that I remember it, I remember the moments where I first saw one of the men, sensed suffering wafting off his skin, in his groans, and I thought about telling the professor to stop, to never even attempt to keep at this again. But I remembered what I had been thinking about ISIS. That they were nothing more than the violent reaction to oppressive states or actions of Empire. And I also remembered that I lived in an Empire, or the result of it, and very much enjoyed my life, and the fruits of luxury.

This doesn’t only include the material goods that come from all around the world: I don’t like the Congo, but I will never give up the precious metals that create my smart phone, or other items, to say nothing of the freedom of speech—the only reason we could even have such a conversation—which seems to require the oppression of some peoples or another. I felt this, knew it to be true, and decided that it is the great destiny of all civilizations to tread upon others. It simply cannot be avoided. And if the point of all civilizations is not to further human knowledge, then I’m not sure what you think it’s all for. And this man in a basement, he is surely the embodiment of the sacrifices we must make to march forward.

And to that end, I thought about what ISIS represented: it's not the furthering of human knowledge, no it represented  the suffering of people for an ideal that would do nothing. In other words, they too have men suffering in basements, but without furthering the knowledge of anyone. And I also remembered that recently all great powers seem to be united to destroy this element in the world. Surely it wasn’t the fact that all great Empires (or aspirants thereof) use language like this—savage, evil—to merely achieve something. No, it is that advancement of civilization that requires such words.

And I also knew then, as I'd stared at the man, surely the incarnate of evil, that ISIS was something that needed to be eliminated, not because I had received the facts about the group, but because there were no facts (why is that? Because the likes of ISIS don’t want journalists around for they are against the truth, these Islamic extremists) and I know to trust those in charge, even if they seem to err on the side of hyperbole or propaganda, when information is scarce. Surely they have more information (secret, of course) about the matter.

In that line of thought, one needs to rely on the heuristics that make one a human, and citizen of said nation, and go with the gut feeling that comes from the vile acts that the members of ISIS have committed. And if one goes further (perhaps a little seditiously) and decides to judge the situation using historical precedent, looking into human nature as something of an organism like any other, then one still sees ISIS as something vile. They are, after all, the descendants of those barbarians and violent nomads who would ever tear down civilization whenever they could. They would be those who can or could tear down the things that I knew and loved. This is why studying those like the man in that basement, to see what makes the rebel tick, this is why it’s important.

What else could I have said to the professor? Chastise him for the pinprick of discomfort I felt while he furthered human knowledge? No, the proper reactions are as follows: to understand the side you’re on, where the fruits you enjoy come from, and to help that side continue.

[1] If you’re not sure to what he was referring; it was to the Mongols in the Middle East, also known as the ISIS, who were (and as of this note, still are) running through nation's armies like butter. Of course, most of the media around the world (this is an issue all the great & regional powers can unite behind) have used the modifying words of savage and brutal as much as they can, for this seems to be something people need: to see evil somewhere in the world.

With ISIS, instead of nuanced analysis what we’re getting are knee jerk reactions (and I’ll try to provide one of my own: that most recent proclamation of Al-Baghdadi—their leader—that all Muslims should bow to him will be his undoing) from our coveted fifth branch. During my more cynical moments, I only see them as absolutely needing to sell ISIS as the new evil (trademark) and scrambling over themselves to proclaim it as such to appeal to pull us into another war, pull more blood, pull more treasure.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can contact me at nlowhim@gmail.com if you have any questions or wish to discuss something. Look forward to hearing from you.

Some other articles that might pique your interest (ostensibly on all matters global or books):
#This one is on the global conflict of the West and Islam as seen through the lens of the Rushdie affair.
#This one is a list of the five best science fiction novels out there.
#This one is an article about drone warfare and its effects on the world.
# This one is about reading news in today's world. The solution is that global is better.
#This on is an article with links to matters of the Iraq war and players not commonly known.

My book: Ministry of Bombs is an exciting and unconventional take on the War on Terror.


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  1. All's fair in love and war. So what's there to complain about? Our modern tenets are based on some level of striving away from all's fair. Or perhaps that's all false? Still, would you actually say that a few men in a basement would be a bad thing if we could eliminate evil?

    1. That's the point, isn't it? That much evil has been done in the name of fighting evil (usually the meme is always presented in such a manner: that one's side is out there to fight against evil etc etc) and that this in of itself should not be sufficient enough to make that proclamation true. Think, people, before you make assumptions about a world in the hopes of making simple that which is complicated.

    2. I'm not sure that's right. Only war criminals say things like all is fair. Surely bad things are done during war (and what constitutes good and bad are a whole other bag) but there is an inherent humanity that will say no more when placed under such pressures.
      The story is just that, but it's a thing that I see amongst people I would call allies: the belief that evil can be corralled. That doesn't mean we shouldn't fight it but it does mean we should be wary when someone evokes it for a fight. My fellow atheists tend to claim religion is a cause of evil. This view of the world overlooks many other factors, and (I contend) the very nature of man. Most of them are comfortable in their lives and automatically project all their thoughts and feelings (and possible or imagined actions to similar things) to the world... This is wrong, simply put.

  2. What you're saying, it's clever. Cute, maybe. But it's shiet. It's true that there are limits to fighting evil. But what do you consider ISIS if not evil? That's what they are and always will be. I agree with Anon above: someone will always be hurt, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything.

    1. Good point. I like the story, but there seems to be something else to all of this. What is the point? Are the men in basements supposed to mean something? If so, why not say it? Also if this means that we, as members of a civilization, must never do any wrong that is a strait jacket that leads to too much bad in of itself (think about the reaction to WWII being very much based upon the horrors of WWI, but not, in the end, being sufficient). Is what you're saying against the harm of anyone in the all encompassing drive to do no harm? To be good people? Sorry, but cannot agree with that.

    2. Though this story doesn't really tackle that specific issue, it does look into how the perception of evil (the other) can obfuscate what one sees as evil (within the self). ISIS, from the available evidence is shite. There is a lot of that in that part of the world (as I see it, from reasons outside of the people themselves). Always down to discuss this more

  3. So we shouldn't lock em up in a basement? That's what I got from the past ten years. And what of it? We bomb the fuckers. Everyone's fine with bombing. It's when we make it too personal (you know, with our people there or grabbing them and holding them down, squirming, water flowing into their noses) that we get the world all angry about it, but no one makes a peep (or less at any rate) about a bomb in a neighborhood. So that should solve the issue right there.

    1. If life were this easy, don't you think that we would have a perfect world by now? No. It isn't. Or perhaps you think that it's only because of a few people growing wishy washy that we haven't done so. I'm sorry again, life is simply not like this.

  4. To all who have commented here and elsewhere in this block. True, though you're coming perilously close to saying that might makes right, or perhaps lending credence to that saying that power grows from the barrel of a gun?

    Remember that power will only get you so far. It must be built upon moral authority too. All humans have a sense of fairness to them, as well as justice. To let that wither completely (not to say that it isn't done to some of the people some of the time, just that it is rarely carried out for long to most of the people most of the time) or to ignore it is to call on for one's self-destruction.


Please comment to add to the discussion. Be kind. But let the democratic ideal lead you. And no spamming!