Martin LeFevre: The Origin and Operation of Evil
The Origin and Operation of Evil
One of the greatest impediments to the inward and intellectual growth of Homo sapiens is the illusion that we humans are evolving positively. It simply isn’t so that we are progressing as a species, except scientifically and technologically.
However the need to believe it, and our Western conditioning (indeed, probably the nature of thought itself) keeps convincing people, against all evidence, that ‘the light is overcoming the darkness.’
Lately Hollywood has been obsessed with evil for entertainment value. The Oscar winning film last year, “No Country for Old Men,” is a study in evil without a trace of insight. It ends by ascribing the malevolent actions of its lead character (who also won an Oscar for his performance) to pure chance, no more understandable than the flip of a coin.
With regard to questions about evil, we are in uncharted territory. So let’s keep things simple, and go step by step. Evil exists, and it has intentionality. It does not emanate from a single person, but from the darkness in human consciousness as a whole.
Evil isn’t supernatural. It neither preceded humans and human consciousness, nor does it exist in some immaterial realm. Then what is malevolence in human consciousness, and how do malevolent entities relate to the individual self?
Thought, requiring an organizing principle, fabricates the mechanism of self. To my mind the separate self is, to some degree, a node of darkness in the individual. But it’s the implicit belief in the intrinsic separateness and permanence of the self that makes it a node of darkness. With a modicum of insight, that illusion loses its grip. And in the meditative state, the entire mechanism and content of the self dissolve in awareness, at least temporarily.
The unquestioned belief in the actuality and permanence of the individual self congeals into extreme nodes of darkness— collective selves that completely believe in their separateness, permanence, and superiority. Are these what we call demons, and the top dog among them, the devil?
Even the individual self, though illusory, has great power. Many people live their entire lives in terms of it. How that can be is itself a difficult question, one with which neuroscientists are currently obsessed. Not with regard to deeper philosophical questions of course, but with the lesser question of how the brain constructs and maintains the illusion of a separate self.
And that raises a most difficult question: Given that the nature of the self is material, and obviously located the brain, where do evil and demons reside?
Essentially all humans share the same consciousness. At the deepest level, we are simultaneously ‘wired into’ all human brains, inextricably connected together in an underlying way. That’s how the collective division, hatred, and ignorance of people gives rise to the likes of a Bush/Cheney administration, or a Mugabe government, or a bin Laden network.
The mumbo jumbo of exorcism in the Catholic Church notwithstanding, possession happens. But demons are man-made, and need a living host. Two of the most evil-gushing men in all history existed at the same time and fought each other—Hitler and Stalin. Therefore these two extreme manifestations of evil are the work of lesser demons, with Satan hiding somewhere else, pulling the strings (metaphorically speaking).
Evil likes to play the trick of pitting one evil manifestation against the other, in order to generate more darkness. That is fundamentally what the ‘war on terror’ is about—pitting the evil of the American government against the evil of al Qaeda, and it has been producing the intended result: a numbing, spirit killing darkness.
People have to stand against the manifestations of evil, but the moral scaffolding of a ‘just war’ is insupportable. Good does not make war against evil, since that would make good and evil simply two sides of the same coin. Treating terrorism as a form of international criminal activity is the only way ahead. Indeed, stripped of all the propaganda, it’s the way governments are operating anyway.
Given that this is the way evil works, it obviously does no good to kill individuals acting out of collective darkness, whether murderers, terrorists, or tyrants. The evil manifesting through them merely migrates somewhere else along the web of human consciousness.
Since evil is not an external phenomenon, decent human beings can prevail over it only by taking responsibility and illuminating the darkness that exists within all of us. That’s why self-knowing is absolutely necessary.
Though darkness and evil are suffocating the individual human heart and destroying the spiritual potential of humanity, ultimately evil is simply boring. Evil is man-made, and therefore human beings can meet and end it.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.