Friday, July 25, 2008

Our Preoccupation with Evil

As a people, we have a definite preoccupation with the concept of evil. It is very convenient and sometimes exhilarating to view our enemies as intrinsically bad while denying that our own behavior as a people can readily be viewed by those who are subjected to our military might in the same light.

There will always be humans with intelligence and possessed with unmistakable charisma who also suffer from mental illness. Such individuals such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin, as notable examples, were propelled into political prominence on account of the fact that they were able to exploit particular historic fears and anxieties of their generation. Modern neuroscience and the breakthroughs made in understanding brain biochemistry have identified a host of mental disorders including schizophrenia, manic-depression and psychopathic personality disorders as diseases of the brain. We no longer can impute paranormal influences or demonic forces as the causes of these ailments.

Instead of viewing events through the myopic lens of good vs. evil, we would be better served if we tried to understand the root causes of the anxieties that provoke the followers of deranged leaders to make collective irrational decisions that invariably lead to great harm. We place far too much reliance on the use of harsh collective punishment whether that includes the use of weapons of mass destruction or the insidious application of economic sanctions to deal with those who we view as tyrants. There are far more rational and peaceful alternatives to change the course of events. We have at our disposal the economic resources and a wealth of ideas stemming from egalitarian notions that can be used to help assuage the anxieties of those peoples throughout the world that are susceptible to demagoguery. Instead of projecting raw political, economic and military power, we have the ability to encourage trust and participation among the community of nations.

This trust, so vital to effective communication between peoples, will not be forthcoming if we expect nations to disarm when we are one of the largest arms dealers in the world. Trust is made more difficult when we try to impose nuclear disarmament while we continue to retain the largest nuclear arsenal, and actually have plans to expand into new types of nuclear weapons. Trust will not come easily when we perceive ourselves to be exceptional and, therefore, refuse to comply with international norms and treaties.

If there is to be human progress, we must begin to see ourselves as a full and equal partner in the community of nations.

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