Tag Archives: evil

Necessary Evil

Jean Baudrillard believed in the power of reversibility to challenge our relationships with social, political, economic and technological systems. Computer viruses, for example, turn our devices against us by attacking vast networks built for the smooth transmission of critical data. With a sense of irony Baudrillard says overworked and underappreciated computers spread their own viruses in coordinated hacks of defiance.

Baudrillard discouraged our fruitless attempts to prevent reversibility. What’s at stake in the bigger picture is our desire to contain the virus of evil—part of our master plan to control the uncontrollable and create a perfect world.

The quest to contain evil—to bring the devil to his knees—hastens the man-made destruction of the radical illusion of the world. For Baudrillard, the world as we know it today—the “real” world—has been from the beginning nothing more than a radical illusion. What we call “reality” didn’t exist until people began creating it through language and within cultures in an effort, among other things, to name and tame evil forces beyond human control.

Reality grows at the expense of illusion, which is disappearing behind the scenes of all that’s seen. Baudrillard, a philosopher with the heart of a poet, mourned what he called the on-going “murder of illusion.”

Today virtual reality machines, programmed to fulfill our wildest dreams, are out to murder illusion for good. To create simulated spaces in which everyone’s secret fantasies play out in real time, any threat to the sovereignty of computer networks must be quarantined and wiped off the (inter)face of the earth. This isn’t just about binary code; Baudrillard says we’re trying to erase evil itself from the metaphysical equation.

But what is One without Zero? What is the Light without the Darkness?

When we try to flush evil from our system, evil returns with a vengeance to counteract our good intentions—for the good of humanity. Agents of reversibility like computer bugs save us from the nightmare of a sterilized world in which manufacturing universal happiness makes everyone miserable. Reversibility is poetic justice against a prideful human race that feels entitled to a hardship-free existence.

A world without evil isn’t a real world; it’s a virtual copy with no original and no original sin. Baudrillard didn’t believe in God, but he knew without a doubt that flawless human beings in a perfectly good world don’t need God at all—and that, at least for now, “flawless human beings” is an oxymoron.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy

A Radical Metamorphosis Of Identity

In her groundbreaking 2012 book The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Catherine Malabou assumes different roles. She’s part psychoanalyst, part neurobiologist, part philosopher.

Malabou writes extensively about the plastic nature of the human brain. By “plastic” Malabou means the brain’s capacity to develop itself as we use it—as we create ourselves and live out our individual histories. Genes set the tone but humans are not genetically predetermined; plasticity ensures that we can actively change how our brains work, which in turn affects who we are, and how we see ourselves.

This is all well and good, but in The New Wounded Malabou alerts us to the brain’s capacity for destructive plasticity. Here the threat of the accident appears.

The accident is a material event. It emerges out of nowhere. Its effects are devastating. An obvious example is a blow to the head that causes brain lesions, but a host of tragic events can activate destructive plasticity.

Malabou cites “the globalized form of trauma,” such as those occurring “in the aftermath of wars, terrorist attacks, sexual abuse, and all types of oppression or slavery” (213). These events are often understood in the context of posttraumatic stress disorder, but Malabou goes beyond PTSD.

What happens after the accident is frightening in itself. The brains of the new wounded undergo dramatic changes—to the point where many victims become someone else entirely. They are no longer themselves; a shattered, post-accident self takes hold.

All of us are susceptible to this terrifying reality. As Malabou describes it:

The destructive event that—whether it is of biological or sociopolitical origin—causes irreversible transformations of the emotional brain, and thus of a radical metamorphosis of identity, emerges as a constant existential possibility that threatens each of us at every moment. (213)

Malabou is no pessimist, however. She aims to develop therapeutic models that venture beyond psychoanalysis or neurobiology, into political and philosophical realms: “Our inquiry revolves around the identification of evil. Defining the characteristics of today’s traumas—characteristics that turn out to be geopolitical—is indeed the prolegomenon [starting point] to any therapeutic enterprise” (213).

In dealing with a new wounded patient’s “deserted, emotionally disaffected, indifferent psyche,” the therapist must “become subject to the other’s suffering, especially when this other is unable to feel anything” (214).

Malabou, in arguing for the power of compassion, speaks not just to therapists but all mankind. She transcends psychoanalysis, neurobiology and even philosophy. For a thinker concerned with material events, Malabou reveals a spiritual calling: she’s interested in building a foundation for the soul.

1 Comment

Filed under Philosophy, Politics

Do No Harm

[W]hy not take the view that the fundamental rule is that of evil, and that any happy event throws itself into question? Is it not true optimism to consider the world a fundamentally negative event, with many happy exceptions? By contrast, does not true pessimism consist in viewing the world as fundamentally good, leaving the slightest accident, to make us despair of that vision? (Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories III, 1997, p. 138)

After last week’s mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s hard to discount Baudrillard’s emphasis on the presence of evil throughout the world. Baudrillard might sound like a wounded Romantic, but there’s no denying we spend a great deal of our lives either in the midst of tragedy or recovering from it.

The pain and suffering caused by the gunman, twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof, reminds me of another French philosopher. Jean-Paul Sartre, a firm believer in the free will of the individual, wrote that when a person makes a choice he chooses for himself, but he also chooses for mankind. My choices affect other people and their choices. This is Sartre’s ethics, his caution against acting always in one’s self-interest.

Roof acted alone, but we are complicit as a nation, with our tolerance for hatred and history of institutional racism. Still, the nine lives he took are his burden now. Evil speaks to some more than others, but it touches us all. It’s a crime that Roof ignored a very important lesson: “If you can’t help others, at least do no harm.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Politics

Evil: A Rebuttal

In my last post I took on the existence of evil, and concluded that evil’s presence in the world tainted every part of life, even those fleeting moments when we experience something good.

Today I am here to provide a rebuttal to myself.  Perhaps a cooking metaphor will help.

Imagine you are hosting a large group of very hungry people.  You plan on making 100 gallons of soup.  Everything’s going well until, seconds before serving the starving crowd, a fly lands in the pot.

You’re able to remove the bug, but can’t shake the feeling that your dish has been compromised.

But is the entire meal ruined?  Shall you toss away 100 gallons of savory soup when only a few ounces might be spoiled?

In the end, I believe it’s better to have an opportunity to experience something good–even while potential evils lurk in the background–than to have no experience at all.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

The Existence Of Evil

My philosophical tendencies began in high school, when I realized the extent of life’s flaws.  Why does evil exist, I wondered while wandering the halls between algebra and physical science class.

Evil persists so that we might appreciate all that’s Good.  This was my teenage conclusion.  Seemed good enough at the time.

Then college came calling.  An intro to religion course freshman year found me questioning God, or as the budding poet in me saw it, the Unmoved Mover.

Why would a benevolent God allow evil to run rampant through His glorious creation?  A classmate thought it had something to do with letting us choose Good over Evil, to help the Lord battle Satan.  Something tells me that guy is a CEO somewhere in America, making some serious dough.

As for me, I took the Eastern Thought approach–you know, the one where nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  Part of me still wants to believe this is the case, even on really terrible days when I’m cursing my existence and live to stay in bed.

Today I’m of a different mind.

I hold that as long as evil exists the whole business of life is corrupted.  That there is indeed something wrong with the world cannot be denied.  What I’m suggesting, though, is that the very fact we might choose good over evil, or that we might say everything simply happens and is intrinsically neutral, proves that life itself is flawed.  Not parts here and there–every part, everywhere.

And once we accept the existence of evil, we come to understand the extent to which we’ve been duped–by ourselves, by our parents and teachers, by our leaders, by God.  Duped into believing that Good Always Wins In The End.

Some might call this depression.  I call it the truth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy