Monday, March 18, 2002

INTERESTING ESSAY: Jennifer Szalai on the existence of evil:

The contemporary, secular left does not see it as an indictment when others accuse it of approaching morality from a relativist perspective. Rather, it believes that it is a considered response to the fury of reactionary impulses, whether these be religious or political in nature. The inclination to suspend judgement, to appreciate complexities, to look for the structures that impel and constrain human activity: these are all admirable traits upon which intellectuals often like to commend themselves. To them, a lack of such attitudes explains many of the world's tragic events. To take a relativist view is to guard against demonising our enemies in a rush of pathos and resentment; it makes us more empathetic, encouraging us to view even the terrorists of 11 September as just another group of human beings.


But suppose, for a moment, we were to come to a point where we amassed all of these "root causes" and then arranged them into a narrative resembling a "logic" behind 11 September; what kind of story would satisfy our craving for "cause and effect"? What kind of structural factors could completely account for the magnitude of the intended carnage? We can try to say that 3,000 office workers were incinerated "because" of American hegemony in the Middle East or Israeli barbarism in Palestine; we can try to say that 800,000 Tutsis were butchered "because" of the legacy of Belgian imperialism; we can try to say that six million Jews were murdered "because" of the Treaty of Versailles, or "because" Hitler was an illegitimate child. All of these factors surely helped to create grievances, and these grievances surely helped to create the events that followed. After a certain point, however, they ceased to contribute anything, as what was to follow exceeded any sense of necessity that characterises the causal relationships we desperately seek.

This dark space - this gap between what would conceivably constitute a necessary response and what could only be considered a horrifying excess - deserves a name.

Via the Yahoo evpsych list.

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