Much evil originates in the belief that an other is evil, and therefore must be dealt with as evil — that is, ruthlessly.

Belief in evil motivates evil-doing. For that reason I am perhaps excessively reluctant to attribute evil to others.

I prefer to see evil-doers as possessed by evil-generating bad faiths — faiths that can, if addressed with sufficient insight, patience and skill, be dispelled.

I have attempted such dispelling numerous times with numerous people, and I have failed repeatedly. But I must believe it is my own shortcomings, not the strategy, that has made me fail, and that overcoming these shortcomings will produce success. My failures are not evidence that the dispelling of bad faiths is impossible, nor is it evidence of undispellable, irredeemable bad faith — of evil.

Are there irredeemably evil people? Do they exist in large numbers? I cannot know that, so I will bracket that question, and move forward with a rigorous maybe. I will proceed with what I do know, and know firsthand.

What I know firsthand is that most people want to be good, and that when they fail at being good, what causes the failure is misconceptions of what good is and how good is achieved. I am absolutely, maybe unreasonably, convinced that if such people were offered a more immediate and resonant understanding of goodness they would adopt it.

So my strategy is to attempt to appeal to those still able to hear appeals — people who are not so wound up inside closed ideologies that they can only hear answers to the closed questions they have been trained to pose — people who are still, to some degree, still alive to new questions — or, better, alive to open-ended listening that reveals responses to questions we have not learned to ask.

I am not interested in wasting my time appealing to those who are so closed and circular that conversing with them requires me to enter their circularity and spin with them within their presuppositions, their evidence and their logic.

And I am also not interested in direct combat with alleged evil people. I will lose that confrontation and I will lose myself engaging in that kind of confrontation.

While there are still reasonable people with ears to hear appeals from beyond their own dogmatic or ideological circularity, I will voice those appeals.

This approach will allow me to do who I am and to become who I aspire to be, and it provides me an alternative to fighting monsters and becoming one. If I fail at making progress, it will be an honorable failure.

I am planning some rhetoric adjustments. Here are some prototypes.

Prototype 1. Progressivists have learned some true things about how social situatedness, self-interest and dominant ideology can combine to make oppressors unconscious of their own oppression. My message to them is this: your understanding is true, but not true enough. There is work left to do, and perhaps the hardest work is ahead of you. Some underasked questions: How does your class distort your view of what is true and just” Who ought to decide what is true and just, and what is untrue and unjust? Who ought to be excluded from such decisions, and who ought to decide who gets excluded? How is truth and justice determined in a society free of class hierarchy — or at least in a society that aspires to free itself from class oppression? This is a hard thing to do when your class has both become accustomed to its power and can feel that total hegemony is within its reach.

Prototype 2. Conservatives have learned some true things about what it is like to be vulnerable, scorned and humiliated. But has it learned to desire the elimination of such vulnerability, scorn and humiliation, rather than simply wanting it to happen to other people who, according to conservatives, deserve it? In other words, can conservatives transcend cultural hierarchies and wholeheartedly embrace pluralism?

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