The Uses of Good and Evil

Suppose we all had good parents and safe neighborhoods and no squabbles in our homes, our cities, our nations, or our world. Suppose we all thought more-or-less alike and agreed on almost everything. Disease and mental illness happened rarely or not at all. Crime was non-existent. Suppose love was all around us but hate was extremely rare. What kind of world would we have? What kind of people would we be?

Compared to the Middle Ages, my life right now might be likened to Heaven. I am far happier, comfortable, free and safe than anyone from that time period could possibly have imagined. I’m neither hot nor cold but just right. If I want something to eat, it’s in the refrigerator or a couple blocks away in the supermarket or ready-to-eat just down the street. I walk outside perfectly safe and surrounded by people who are either friendly or cordial. My automobile takes me anywhere I wish to go with comfort, speed, and music or stories that I can pick from an almost infinite collection.

The only drawback is that there is still suffering, conflict, crime and abuse. Without it, I think we might be unmotivated and complacent. I imagine poking a friend rudely just to relieve the boredom. And I imagine each successive generation becoming blander and more complacent.

If you go to Twelve Step meetings long enough, you notice that the awful things that happened to the membership were also the things that shaped their character and drove them to see life differently.

I, myself, was a well-paid project leader in computer programming, but, as a result of poor parenting, miserable and finding life difficult until I just couldn’t go to work any more. I had the option and good fortune to check myself into a rehabilitation facility.

When I emerged a month later, I had different attitudes and interests. Continuing my former career wasn’t an option. My friends and friendships changed, my life goals changed — not a little bit, but drastically. The brother whom I had hated and fought my entire childhood became a good and secure friend, but the people I met in recovery became my new family, the people I relied on to help understand the world and face things with, rather than trying to hunker down and survive on my own.

Recovery put money lower on my list of priorities. And recovery also changed what I was curious about. Rather than developing and honing my dysfunctional coping skills, I became interested in the bigger picture. I asked myself why we did the things we did and how I might be an instrument for change so that we don’t have so many wars over money we don’t really need and which doesn’t really make us happy.

I realized that much of what Americans believe is based on fantasy rather than fact.

They believed that communists were evil and they put a blanket condemnation over anyone who had any even tenuous association with socialism or communism — including Buddhists in Vietnam who were trying to wrest their ancient country from a succession of abusive conquerors including their traditional enemy, China, the Japanese, and their most recent invader, France. NATO had separated the country into two parts and installed a narcissistic Catholic as dictator of the agricultural South.

When the elected leader of North Vietnam went to Paris to get help defending his capital city from air bombardment, he was turned down. So he went to Moscow. He was a communist1 but he was not part of an international communist movement. Instead, he fought any and all invaders including the communist Chinese, the communist Khmer Rouge of Cambodia and the anti-communist Americans. Our simplistic model of the world had no accurate label for him and so we misjudged and maligned him while propping up dictatorship after dictatorship against his popular election. Many centuries of being a colony of one power after another had systematically transferred wealth away from the people and into the hands of an elite (something happening in our own country today). Our binary reasoning helped kill three million Vietnamese foolishly, needlessly, recklessly, and dishonestly. In the end Vietnam wasn’t the evil country we made her out to be. She wasn’t a threat. She wasn’t an enemy. She turned out to be an ally!

A generation later, combating evil was the main excuse for the United States invasion of Iraq, which, at the time, drove Bush 43’s approval ratings sky high. Now, most of us know that it was a gigantic blunder which made money for his political allies (at the extreme expense of the average taxpayer), but impoverished and destabilized not only Iraq, but the entire Middle East.

While most Americans see “fighting evil” as our duty and gladly watch as their taxes are used to maim and kill all over the Third World (and have been since the Monroe Doctrine), I see it as a justification for extortion. We create enemies by mistreating other peoples in far away lands and then blame them for reacting; all for the sake of making fortunes from our fellow taxpayers in the pursuit of profit, exercising our “power” and being “great.”

If the Islamic Crusades were holy to Mohammad and the Christian Crusades were holy to our ancestors, where is God in all this? What stance does He take? And I’m not talking about consulting our Bibles or our Korans for the answer.

But if we did, would we again make exceptions to “Thou shalt not kill?” If we did, might we listen to the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Or rely on the Golden Rule?

To stop this growing strife, we must find a way out of this nightmare of greed and power which drives us to be “great” or “greater” or “greatest.” We must find humility, generosity, tenderness and compassion for those we stepped on to bolster our own egos and stuff our already bulging pockets.

Somehow, deep inside, in quiet, thoughtful moments of serenity, I think we know, without reading, that what we did was harmful. And their reaction was harmful. And the fighting is harmful. So what stops the harm without producing more harm and more anger and more greed? Isn’t THAT what is good?

So why did we reject the successful policies of Jimmy Carter and call for the ruinous policies of Ronald Reagan and his hand-picked successor? And why did we just recently fall for the same tag line, “Make America Great Again?”

We seem incapable of seeing our mistakes.

We seem incapable of seeing the bigger picture.

And what blinds us?

I think it is the concept of Good and Evil.

1He was, and continues after his death, to be revered by North and South alike as the most popular figure in their more-than-4000-year history. He opposed colonialism, including the communism of China and the communism of Cambodia, since he fought both of them in the decade following the withdrawal of the United States and the fall of Saigon, a capital created by colonial powers in the service of colonial interests. He also fiercely limited Soviet involvement in his civil war to 100 missile technicians. To call him the Abraham Lincoln of Vietnam is to sell him short.

©David N. Dodson, May 2017

Categories Miscellaneous

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