it is a curious realization about myself, and about the world — that nobody and nothing i’ve met is truly evil. if that’s so, then what are we fighting against? who or what is the enemy? who or what is the problem?
i have no enemies. i have never met an evil person. i don’t hate anyone. there may be those i oppose, and those who oppose me may revile me. but who are they to me?
there are those who do evil. those who have enemies. i pity them. pity the tyrants and murderers, those who rape and pillage. there aren’t many of them left in the world, who once inherited the earth. but i know they are human, too. all too human. and given enough time, enough history, enough observation — empathy comprehends the villain. i can understand them.
there are those who do nothing. who have no enemies. who follow. the victims of the world. they are legion, they have inherited the earth. i understand them. how could i not understand them? this is the great temptation. to be no one, normal and happy. neither villain nor hero. just a person.
isn’t it so strange that — in a world so full of problems — there are very few people to blame? whose fault is it that things are expensive? or inconvenient? or ugly? or inefficient? or uninspiring? whose fault is it that you don’t have everything that you want? or less than your neighbor? or not enough to take care of yourself? whose fault is it that — somewhere out there — the strong do violence to the weak?
i believe in individual responsibility. criminals are responsible for their crimes. no matter the wickedness of the system that brought them to wickedness, no matter the incentives that rewarded, addicted or trapped them in a prison of crime — legally and morally, anyone who commits a crime is guilty.
but why not blame the system? systems create outcomes over time.
but where did the systems come from? and if we destroyed all the systems and started from scratch, would we have better outcomes? if we destroyed just the “bad systems,” would we have better outcomes?
systems come from nothing. people create systems. who created people? systems compete for survival and they evolve over time. even the most evil systems are not themselves the SOURCE of evil. the source is a deeper problem.
what is the source? the source of what we call “evil” is… people. ordinary people, extraordinary people — all people — all people have this tendency to create both good and evil outcomes, systems that contain and produce both good and evil outcomes and possibilities.
to say that the human race is fallen is an extraordinary insight. the human race is not evil. or good. or not good. or not evil. it is fallen. fallen-ness is a much more interesting concept.
a fallen race retains something of high nobility. it is forever remembering aeon. it is reaching for a desire beyond this world’s granting.
but it is always stumbling over itself. its plans are always frustrated. its desires are always bringing it into conflict with itself. its cities end up dirty. its idols end up stale.
the empire collapses. the good king dies. the treasure is lost. the secrets are forgotten. the art is abandoned.
the pure child becomes the cruel tyrant.
what is this fallen-ness? how do we cure it?
how do i cure it in myself?
i find that no matter what “problem” i focus on, it is entangled with so many other problems, i don’t know how to fix it.
if i focus on the “problem” of fear, i am not sure if i should fix the problem. yes, i am afraid. i am afraid of many things. and yes, this is problematic. this fear makes me achieve less than i might. and it makes me make mistakes. and it has negative impacts.
but without fear, i might be even worse off. i might make even worse mistakes, and make even bigger mistakes.
if i focus on anger and hate, or lust and love, or greed, desire and ambition — any of the virtues and vices… i run into the same entanglements.
“getting rid” of the problem just isn’t possible. because each of these things is not evil. anger is not evil, for example. unrestrained, uncontrolled anger is evil.
so maybe what is “evil” is lack of restraint. but then, total abandon is one of the joys of life — and necessary to experience play and pleasure.
what is the biggest problem in the world? is one of the great trick questions.
it is very difficult to really get down to the root problem. it is very difficult to really argue that any particular problem is a real problem, a root cause problem, as opposed to a superficial problem. it is also difficult to argue that any root cause problem can actually be solved, given how entangled things are.
so what, then, is the appropriate response to fallenness? what is the solution to the problem of problems?
there are two ancient responses to this ancient question that return to me now.
the first is wisdom. wisdom being the uncanny ability that is gained over many years of wrestling with problems — the ability to find elegant ways to transcend paradox, solutions that perform better than zero-sum tradeoffs; the ability to find a path through the mist.
the second is foolishness. the ability to forget what you know, except that the world is intelligent. to abandon the project of individual intelligence, and return to your animal nature. to be good, or be evil — as you happen to be, in a moment, in a lifetime. for what are we but trees and waves, foxes and hens? we are competing viruses, and the best of our expression will live on. so our great concern then should just be to express what is inside of us, and leave the responsibility of selection to the world, and to time.
fallen-ness is an economic concept.