Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Evil and Understanding

In my Idea Explorer post "Group Interaction" I discussed in abstract terms my analysis of what could happen when two isolated groups first interact, and vaguely referenced current events it might apply to, along with my assessment of how it relates to the world' reaching critical environmental limits. Here, I will be more explicit and personal.

The current context is, of course, the occasion of savage terrorist attacks in Paris late last week. I consider them acts of evil that cannot, and should not, be excused, despite my attempts to understand them. Based upon my valuing all human lives equally, the only acceptable reason for intentionally killing people or increasing their chance of dying is to keep them from killing someone else, and only when the threat is direct, imminent, unambiguous, and all non-lethal options have been exhausted. Clearly, the attacks do not meet that test (nor, incidentally, do most acts of war).

Curiously, I had a much more visceral reaction to a news story I saw while on vacation a few days before. The pastor of a church, attended by presidential candidates, was ranting about the evil of homosexuality and advocating that gays and lesbians be killed if they didn't repent. It was the most vile speech I have ever heard, and reminded me of my most lasting reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001: that there are people among us who are willing to kill others so they can have a better chance of going to heaven. If heaven is their reward, then it must surely be indistinguishable from hell.

These were the events I recalled as I was using my model of group interaction to examine the "threat" to cultural purity that a small group could expect from a large group it came in contact with, a threat that included the possibility of physical and cultural extermination. For a group unwilling to surrender its uniqueness (cultural or in terms of personal characteristics), the most practical option is to reestablish isolation, which is realistically not practical at all. To someone who accepts the existence of a supernatural world that can be accessed after death, practicality is irrelevant, and the irrational options of dying or trying to kill large numbers of the larger group will come under serious consideration.

I understand that my perception of their actions (attacks) and preferred actions (assassinating homosexuals) as evil stems from my thinking of all of humanity as just one group, with differences that do not rise to the level of deserving death, except where they lead to death (based on the high value I place on people). I can therefore accept cultural diversity as long as it does not increase the rate of death, now or in the future, especially through the consumption patterns and values that I modeled as "culture."

Through this lens, my native culture is extremely unacceptable, with its emphasis on excessive consumption, competition that devalues the lives of those we compete with, hubris that dismisses the wisdom of other people and cultures that may contribute to common survival and happiness, and willingness to kill people without proof of a direct and existential threat. I choose to try influencing it to change within the limits of my values, through discourse like this, and altering my own lifestyle (which includes avoiding support of actions I find offensive). While I respect the humanity of everyone, I reserve the right to be angry about gross violation of my values by others, and to make their lives uncomfortable enough to question their own values and perceptions as I have continued to question mine.

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