The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Some Acts Are Always Evil

This is a post a lot of readers will misunderstand or refuse to understand, because our society requires us to do evil regularly and we want to pretend it isn’t evil.

Some acts are always evil.

To understand this you need to make the correct division between an act and the consequences of that act.

The act and the consequences are two different things.

Let’s take something which is, I hope, universally agreed among my readers. Rape is always evil. It is always an evil act. Even if someone comes up with a convoluted scenario under which some good came as a consequence rape is always an evil act.

We start here to show something simple: that some acts are evil.

This is necessary because our society has gone too far in cultural determinism. “Evil and good are completely social constructs.”

No. They are human, but they are not constructs. We understand that slavery is an evil act. We understand that murder is an evil act. We understand that torture is an evil act.

It may be that on some occasions the results of an evil act are good, but that does not make the act itself good. I don’t believe in torture for getting information, but even if it did work, torturing someone to get information which saves people is still an evil act. The act is evil, even if the consequences are good.

In debt-slavery, common in the ancient world, you would sell yourself into slavery to settle your debts and get money. Let us say you did so and it saved your family from starvation because master now feeds you and your family.

The slavery is still evil, even if some of the consequences of it are not.

This is at the heart of just war theory. All wars are evil. There are no exceptions. Sometimes the consequences of war are better than not fighting the war. That does not, however, make the war itself not evil. (I can think of very few wars which were worth the evil of the war itself. WWII is the only recent major example.)

Some years ago I wrote an article on what the Tao teaches those who want a better world.

I’m going to quote it at length here:

In the Tao Te Ching there is a famous passage, as follows:

When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone.
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.
When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds,
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order

Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.

What is appropriate isn’t always what is good, but what is good makes up the vast majority of what is appropriate.

When one no longer knows what is appropriate, one devolves to the good and is still doing most of what should be done.

Kindness makes up most of what is good, so when one loses what is good, one devolves to kindness and retains most of what is good.

Losing kindness, one retreats to justice. The loss here is steep. Justice is maybe half of what is kind, because justice without kindness is about balance and tends to not restore people, but punish them: “an eye for an eye” and all that.

And then there is ritual, and ritual, in this context, is without any of the higher virtues, and thus leads to injustice, cruelty and evil, because it has lost almost all of appropriateness: it simply accepts that action A should lead to action B, and that will often be the wrong action, unguided by appropriateness, goodness, kindness or even justice.

I would add that when even ritual is lost; when people no longer obey the rules and are guided by no sense of ethics, that all chances of a good society and good results are lost.

The problem with “ends justify means” is that means are most of what we do. If you do evil acts all day, all week, all year, all life because they are part of how your society runs, then the amount of evil you do usually overwhelms all the “consequences”. This is why only someone who “has the Tao” should ever do evil, and since 99.9999% of us don’t have the Tao and don’t have the judgment to know when evil is justified, we should avoid evil actions like the plague. Certainly our leaders, who are the worst of us, shouldn’t be allowed to do evil.

But that’s consequence talk. You don’t not do evil acts because of the consequences, you don’t do them because they are evil. If you start engaging too much in consequence talk, then pretty soon you’re justifying all sorts of evil action.

Don’t rape. It’s always evil, no matter who does it or why. Don’t mistake whether an act is evil and with the questions “are the consequences of this act evil or good.”

And tamp down your social constructivism and moral relativism. Some things are always wrong.

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The Pandemic Is Not Over And Neither Is Long Covid


Open Thread


  1. Astrid

    I’ve come around to perceiving that there is a very wide range of what societies can accept as good and evil. Going by first principles, any human society (even at a hunter gatherer band level) is a taking from nature, we’re at least taking fruits and animals and habitats that would otherwise be available to other creatures. Moving above that, any net population increase above zero will inevitably bring the population into conflict with other populations with different interests and interpretations of good and evil.

    And that gets to the heart of it, what’s good and evil, taboo and sacred, is in fact greatly varying. To say war is always evil is a modern liberal idea (that modern liberals are typically terrible at actually following) as most pre-modern cultures venerate warmaking. And if your warmaking abilities are compromised, your culture goes extinct and won’t have a voice in the next round. Concepts like rape too, depends on definition of rape – would marrying an unwilling 15 year old girl be rape? Would deceiving a sexual partner about your health, wealth, or intent to marry be rape? Would having sex with anyone who isn’t fully sober, mentally sound, financially independent, and currently having a good time be rape? These are extremes in a gradient and it’s true that most modern societies bunch up in a portion of that spectrum, but the certainty that your conceptions of good and evil is the true one is a harmful delusion that’s been weaponized by the US led order many times in the last 75 years. It’s definitionally totalitarian, in claiming that your definition of good and evil is the one true definition and anyone that deviates from it is at best allowed “evil but partially excused…”.

    So as I see it, short of self selected extinction (that I and more and more of my generation and younger are choosing), absolute good and evil is foolish, and it comes down to harm reduction, minimizing dislocation, and coming to liveable arrangements for as many of the existing communities as possible. Some of these communities will still need to go away completely, such as the neocon/neoliberal industrial complex, imperialist rentiers, and Israeli settlers, because they’re self contradictory and extremely damaging and totalizing to other communities.

  2. Ian Welsh

    This is an over-reaction to abuse of culture by those in power.

    Let’s start from the beginning. Is using force to penetrate an unwilling person sexually ever not evil? Is there an act of sexual coercion that you are willing to say is always wrong, or not? That rape has been defined by some people as “what I say it is” does not obviate from the fact that we all know that when someone is held by force and penetrated against their will, it is wrong.

    If we don’t agree on that, then we fundamentally disagree on morals and ethics.

    I would also add that if you go with the “everything is socially defined” you have no defense against “well then, this is just what our culture does.”

    Anti-slavery abolitionists didn’t think “well, really, if slavery is a cultural thing in the South, who are we to say it is wrong?”

    Find a line, and defend it or you wind up in hell, and over time, worse and worse hells.

    Also, stop doing harm instead of emphasizing “harm mitigation”. Yes, there are some issues where we can’t avoid that (yet) but where we can we should, or even must.

  3. Willy

    I’ve known a few manipulators who routinely employ social constructivism and moral relativism to persuade others to do evil for their own (the manipulators) benefit. That way the manipulators get away scot free (after some plausible deniability and a toolbox of other tricks) with many evildoers believing themselves innocent.

    I cant think of a quick and easy terminology for that kind of behavior. Sure, when one is being manipulated into being a weapon against people who aren’t actually their enemies, they’re called “tools”. But the manipulators themselves?

  4. Ian Welsh

    It is true that some people believe that using violence and force to penetrate an unwilling person sexually is not always evil.

    Those people are evil, same as the people who justify torture. I started my blogging career writing against the Iraq war and the use of torture and it is a line I will hold. I am distressed at any rape apologia and I am not talking about “age of consent” stuff, I’m talking about the raw act of using someone as a sexual object without consent, using force.

    If you want relativist pablum, this is not the blog for you. The people who let Covid run are evil pieces of shit and in a functioning society they would be removed from power by whatever means possible. The Israeli treatment of Palestinians is evil. The leaders who knew about climate change and had the power to stop it and didn’t are evil. So are all the oil execs. The people who have raised drug and medical prices to the point where people die and suffering as a result, are evil.

    Evil exists, it is not just about what is culturally defined. This is one of my fundamental beliefs and it is why I have held the line for 20 years now and not sold out (in which case I’d have a lot more money.)

    People who have no line can never be trusted with any power or responsibility. This is, imo, inarguable in the year 2023 as we face environmental collapse, climate change and likely civilization collapse because of repeated evil actions and inactions.

    Draw a goddamn line.

  5. Astrid

    I prefer to critique only within the confines of *my culture* of 2023 American PMC and not worry about other cultures. I trust that being closer to their own circumstances, they’re more likely to come up with workable solutions for themselves. Certainly the track record of Western liberals with *all the right ideas* is beyond awful for the last 200 years.

    And as I am currently not in a position to openly challenge the assumptions of American liberal PMC without completely alienating basically anyone in my life, I’ve minimized my engagement within my own “culture” and focused on learning about orcharding and economic Marxism. I have actually become much more hopeful about the future, now that I have broken out of the totalitarian liberal TINA model.

  6. Purple Library Guy

    I could not agree more with this post. I’ve been saying things along these lines (albeit generally without Taoist references) for years.

  7. StewartM

    Hmm I’d probably be better off staying out of this thread, but “what is evil?” First, if you really want to escape cultural limitations and definitions of it, you have to have a robust definition.

    To me, evil *has* to be defined by consequences. That’s not an “ends justifies the means” argument at all, if you limit it to something like the “direct, very likely, tangible harm or pain an act will cause someone to suffer”. That way, it’s harder to create a-house-that-jack-built story to justify it. But even there, you have to include some longer-term consequences, else some medical procedures are hurtful and ‘harmful’ in the short term would be “evil”.

    If we don’t do that, we can’t really know what evil is. Remember, carbonizing people alive during the 16th century wasn’t “evil”, it was a positive good and moreover you were actually doing the ‘witch’ a favor. You cannot ignore that the people of any given time or culture think they know with absolute certainty what is “good” and “evil”, and I’m actually in favor of ‘drawing a goddamn line’, but what I see is that the ‘goddamn lines’ are often just another cultural invention. We let some hurtful things pass as ‘ok’ and persecute things that aren’t hurtful.

  8. Ian Welsh

    I more or less agree Stewart and it’s a useful way of thinking about it, but there’s a little bit of danger in it. I still remember a male family member asking me “Ian, I’ve been reading about rape and do you think women often enjoy it?” (Women do, indeed, often orgasm etc… when raped. That doesn’t make it not evil.)

    Anyway, I never looked at that guy the same again.

  9. Soredemos

    Hard disagree.

    Whether you like it or not all of your examples are social constructs. Slavery, literal, full on slavery, not just voluntary debt slavery, was not considered evil for much of history. Lots of things that people wouldn’t want to happen to them personally still weren’t considered some sort of metaphysical evil.

    In particular, killing is not synonymous with murder. ‘Murder’ has always had specific definitions that are entirely culturally dependent.

    You’re not doing a great job of convincing me Daoism isn’t obscurantist gibberish. At this point I’ve lost all patience with ‘wisdom’ that requires lots of exegesis to (supposedly) reveal itself. If something can’t clearly get to the damn point, maybe it never had a point to begin with.

  10. Astrid

    There a number of cultures where wife raiding was accepted by all parties (I believe this practice still persists in parts of Oceania). The wives obtained this way typically do not like being taken from their families and not getting to choose their husbands, but all in those communities are able to accept it as a pathway to family formation. Is this something I would choose? Absolutely not! It’s also likely not what the women themselves would choose given the choice so happily it’s largely gone away. Still, to make an iron law of “right” and “wrong” is ahistorical and failure to take in the full scope of how human societies can form away from what we in the West consider “normal” and “right”. Societies are not frozen in amber and I do think a society only deserves to continue if it generally makes it’s denizens better off and happier than they would otherwise. But I wouldn’t want to make that judgment on societies where I have no skin in the game.

    Within the context of the Western society in which I live, rape and most nonconsensual sex is bad and inexcusable. Preemptive war is bad in most circumstances in my opinion but generally celebrated or shrugged off. Rentseeking is celebrated as “capitalism” or at least accepted as TINA. I am more comfortable critiquing within this system, but do not want to universalize my p
    assumptions onto others. Every empire justifies their conquest and exploitation by claiming badness in their enemies and virtue in themselves, but millions suffer and die all the same.

  11. Ché Pasa

    Is the assassination of an evil ruler itself evil? In my values idea it is most certainly evil as one is enjoined not to kill another human or in some systems not to kill at all. Is not leaving the evil ruler in place to perpetrate more evil not equally evil if not worse? What is one to do? Do we simply throw up our hands and hope the dilemma resolves on its own or pray for the Giant Asteroid to take care of it for us?

    Declaring a thing or person or group or what have you to be evil without an effective means to deal with it leads directly to the existential dilemma of our own times where rightist mobs are gearing up to commit genocide on those they see as evil and thus in their minds take care of the problem for all time. Don’t fool yourself into believing they’re not. They are. And some of us are the targets. They don’t see their own acts as evil. They can’t. They’ve been conditioned to believe their role is purely good.

  12. Ian Welsh

    Is killing someone always an evil act? I left out killing for a reason. However the act/consequences distinction is important.

  13. The question of evil is a core topic in the subject of moral philosophy. And as a rule questions like this don’t have definitive answers. They are exist to encourage clear thinking.

    People who mistakenly believe that they have absolute answers to question that great minds have wrestled with for centuries are simply revealing their own unfettered arrogance and the hallmark of an ideologue who is unable to realize there own limitations.

    The world is full of fanatics who claim that the world is broken and that they can “fix it.” But perhaps they simply lack the basic intellectual humility to accept that maybe the world is exactly how it should be.

    Ian, this post is extremely disappointing. But I’m sure it’s very appealing the utopian millennials. Utopia, hooray….

  14. Some Guy

    I guess the spread of ‘effective altruism’ was a reasonable sign (as if we needed another one) that at this point even ritual is fading fast.

  15. Willy

    I think one point is that if certain behaviors were always considered intrinsically evil, this would force a change in cultural mindset. Evildoers would then be forced by the mob majority to present some pretty damned good reasons for committing some evil, with all consequences considered. At least far better (in both logic and veracity) than they’re allowed to now.

    Time for another story.

    I once debated with a certain religious conservative over climate change. He quoted from a book written by a computer science major turned philosopher, who denied climate change by recounting all the economic benefits. That was the core of the reasoning. Second was that leftists are jealous of the lucrative success of the fossil fuels industry. That was pretty much it. Climate change is not happening and/or nothing to be worried about because the consequences are good and the worried are inconsequential. That guy had once been smart enough to earn a PhD.

    Could it be that not being able to draw goddamn lines when it comes to good vs. evil, causes insanity?

  16. Trinity

    “But the manipulators themselves?” I used to call mine “mom”. Like Trump, she divided and then manipulated her children into the “good” (deserving), and the “bad” (undeserving, usually the ones who questioned her actions). So yup, I was often attacked by my own siblings. Still would be if I hadn’t gone non-contact with 98% of them.

    People like my mom and Trump feel a specific need to control others for various reasons, but the main one is to support and maintain a fake persona. That fake persona they want to maintain usually looks something like “I am perfect” and they will attack anyone who even hints that they are less than perfect. They can be quite vicious.

    I think it is a mistake to use cultural norms in order to define good versus evil. Back in the day, wife beating was acceptable, too. No one would have even thought twice about seeing a woman (or man) bruised and battered. Most people wouldn’t think to intervene, let alone bother. But now we know that there are “people” (I use the term loosely) who walk among us and who clearly seek power over others, they even crave it or need it. And that the outcomes are terrible for those they target. These harsh economic days, a lot of battered women end up dead.

    But to say that a cultural norm isn’t bad because it happened in the past and “everybody was okay with it” doesn’t negate the fact that these activities, culturally normalized, at any time period, at any location, are designed specifically to control actual human beings (the ones without fake personas or mental illnesses) and to be enabled to force human beings to do things they don’t want to do.

    Those human beings don’t want non-consensual sex, they don’t want to be tortured, they don’t want to be hit or punched, they don’t want to be killed. They don’t want to lose their job, and they don’t want to be homeless, and they don’t want to watch their children go hungry.

    And who exactly is setting up and defining these norms, sometimes even defending them or enforcing them? That’s right, the norms are set by whoever is currently in power, ensuring that they can continue to exercise that power over others and perform the acts of evil that they seem to crave. Doesn’t this sound familiar?

    It all looks quaint and a little foolish, maybe even “misguided but we know better now” unless you’ve actually experienced it. I’m lucky because I have no scars, because he “hit me with an open hand”; he reminded me often just how lucky I was. But I still have many scars that cannot be seen.

  17. Purple Library Guy

    There may be times when you have little choice to perform an evil act for the sake of greater good, or more likely avoiding greater harm. And there’s all those fiddly philosophical problems with tram cars running people down on tracks and whatnot. But if you do one of those, your hands are not clean. Just because it was the least bad thing to do doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad. Someone who commits an atrocity to save (some big thing) is still a person guilty of committing an atrocity. And if they really believe it’s so damn important, they should be prepared to take the consequences for such actions.

    Mind you, for practical purposes such things are a LOT less common than fiction or the self-congratulations of those who claim to be doing them would have us believe. In every case of torture I’ve ever heard of, for instance, the people doing it might want to claim it was for the greater good . . . but it never actually was, it was a bunch of vicious shitheads working for the profit of some oligarchy. And in general, those who believe strongly in the “ends justify the means” being something that is routine and normal, almost always have crappy ends anyway. And even if they didn’t originally, their typical means tend to end up corroding their ends.

    On the topic of slavery having been common in history and regarded as not evil . . . well, sure. But they were wrong.

    Yes, it’s pretty much that simple. Working slaves to death in mines or on plantations was just as horrible a thing to do in classical times as it was in the dark ages as it was in the 18th century as it is now. People who thought it was OK were mistaken, and typically inconsistent, in that they were likely to perform moral reasoning in other cases which, if conducted solidly for the cases where they were wrong, would have led them inescapably to the conclusion that it was not OK. This kind of inconsistency is common right up to modern times. So if you take the Famous Five, that group of feminist women in Canada who campaigned tirelessly for the vote and such . . . they were pretty racist. They had no interest in votes for First Nations or such. They could have worked their way through the moral reasoning that led them to believe women should be treated equally, in the case of people of other races, but they did not. And few people (whose ox wasn’t being gored) did, but that failure of imagination did not make them right. Not like the slaves or the women or the Jews or the (racial group here) generally thought mistreating them was OK. You see women and peasants speaking out occasionally throughout medieval times.

    For any given ethical conclusion typical of modernity, it was possible in any given culture to start from general principles that were already often agreed with (e.g. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”) and work one’s way through to it. It was just culturally very difficult.

    Now that cultural difficulty can be considered a reasonable excuse for individuals. You can’t say an ancient Greek who kept slaves was individually evil because of that act. Sure, he could perhaps have gone through a process of moral reasoning and reached the conclusion that slavery was bad. But for any given case we can be almost certain that he had not done so, was not even aware of anyone who had, and so did not really understand that keeping slaves was evil.

    Although there’s also issues of degree there. I mean, say some guy had a couple of house slaves that he treated about as well as an average more modern employed servant and their slavery period was eight years after which they’d be free and clear. That’s a rather different moral story from a big landowner who shoved people into mines with an average life expectancy of 2 years. I suspect a lot of people even at the time looked at that kind of crap a bit askance.

  18. Ian Welsh

    The Greeks, generally, thought of slaves as inferior “natural slaves”. The Romans, brutal as they were, generally saw slavery as something that happened because you lost a war or whatever, and thus were very free about freeing slaves. They didn’t think people were “natural slaves” or such hogwash and the child of a freedman, in principle (and it did happen) could wind up a Senator.

    American slavery was generally justified with “they are inferior stock”, a common view. Widely held (but not universally) in many Europeans and Americans. Kant, for example, thought that blacks and native Americans were racially inferior and only suited to slavery. (In fact, to him, all races except Europeans were inferior stock to Kant.)

    A lot of people unable to reason from their priors. Especially sad in Kant’s case, given his philosophy.

  19. Carborundum

    In theory, given that I was once an actual practicing anthropologist, I should be receptive to arguments that even absolute evil is culturally defined, but I find myself a – few decades removed from the academy devoted to trying to mitigate the impact of many lesser evils – with remarkably little patience for that perspective. You can fail to realize, wearing cultural blinkers, that some behaviours are evil – but that doesn’t make them any less evil.

    When in changing times when such realizations are taking root one needs to be particularly aware. Our current situation with assisted suicide, where we tolerate the fact some are choosing it mainly due to the intersection of poor health and poverty (rather than health conditions alone) is a timely example. That toleration and the apparent role of some government functionaries in presenting it as an option is evil.

  20. Eric Anderson

    Humans, with very few exceptions, have been unable to figure out a way to exist without raping their environment.

    Humans are, by definition then, evil.

  21. Eric Anderson

    Btw … Great post Ian.
    Though, I can’t help but feel like there’s a finger wag in there for my recent turn to the cynical.
    If so, well done on that front too.

  22. Ché Pasa

    Humans are, by definition then, evil.

    Well, yes. That’s a given, isn’t it? At least it is in some cultures, probably most of them. If we are by definition Evil, it’s what we do about and with it that matters.

    For some of us — not many at any given time — Evil or Being Evil is an unmitigated Good. This is how you get Nazis and World Spanning Empires and such. They and those who follow and support them do not see their actions as Bad, though they or some of them may recognize that they are perpetrating Evil. They may even recognize that their essential nature — like all human nature — is Evil. That being so, what are they going to do about it? What are they going to do with it? Well, they’re going to conquer the world and rule it in their favor, aren’t they? They will be ruthless and pitiless. Their enemies will be exterminated. The Lower Orders will be sacrificed in their multitudes to enable more and ever more conquests. And when they win, which they will (at least in their imaginations if not in fact) they will celebrate Victory with more and ever more sacrifice. The population will fall and keep falling until there is no one left but they and their allies.

    And because there is no one else left, their essential Evil is transformed into the definition of Good.

    But I would say for the most of us, our essential nature is a duality, that we are by nature both destructive (in Eric’s sense) and restorative. And it is what we do about and with that that matters.

  23. Driftwood

    Ian, just wanted to thank you for your clarity and commitment over these long years. You’ve held the line since the Bush years and held to a true north of ethics the whole time.

    I know it’s discouraging when you do one of these posts and the neolibs show up to immediately justify the most evil stuff imaginable.

    Normally I lurk, and suspect most people do, but this warranted a message of solidarity that your morale compass is always appreciated and on the mark.

  24. Ian Welsh

    Thank you Driftwood.

  25. mago

    Without getting into concepts of relative and absolute evil, I will mention in passing that dominant economic theories, agriculture practices and treatment of animals are unquestionably evil. Examples abound.

    It’s not just about human rape and murder. (Cue the Rolling Stone’s “Shelter”.)

  26. Willy

    @ Trinity
    My wife witnessed or was hit daily and to this day flinches if I make sudden moves and is often startled by somebody taller suddenly appearing in a room. And she’s no skittish introvert. I admired her self-reliance living on her own since age 16 but only years later realized that emotional scars can be much worse. She had/has good relations with most of her 12 siblings, which is quite the support system give or take. She had nightmares when I met her but they faded and not for many years now.

    My own scars are emotional. Most of my own entire family are conservative evangelicals. As a kid they had strict boundaries for good and evil. Today they’re much fuzzier and thus my bitching about it here from time to time. But I’m working on it – bitch to make a larger point.

    I think this moral fuzziness is the #1 reason why religion is in such decline in the USA. They may be fooling themselves, but not very many outside observers are buying it. Very sad to watch because religion can have positive emotional benefits.

  27. Ian Welsh

    Kurt, completely off topic. Put it in the open thread.

  28. anon y'mouse

    most of the actions people are carrying on are evil, but not in the same bright clear way as murder, rape and torture.

    how about using workers as slaves and knowing they aren’t earning enough to eat well, have good housing, and insufficient health care? and we all use these workers because we all benefit from cheaper goods & services. we use them from all around the world, due to globalization, too.

    as mago points out—most of our society runs on evil, but because it’s not the bright, clear kind and because we are ALL implicated to various degrees, we forget or justify it somehow. or simply say “what else can i do? i’ve got to eat too. that’s the way the world works. this stuff has to get done, somehow.”

    you’ve even got slick tricksters telling you that if you don’t exploit Bangladeshi girls to sew your clothes, well….you’re kinda in favor of them staying permanently impoverished. they can only be improved by wage slavery, you see. it allows them to be productive wage earners, contribute to their families and so on. in fact, we should put children back to work here in our country so they can gain these benefits. after all, we’re phasing out schools because we intentionally made them worthless for everyone but the elites. no use sitting in a babysitting plant pretending to do make-work (i found a lot of my own education to be just that, and in fact it was known that the only thing the district really cared about was the attendance roster so they could continue to get money that they could blow on fraudulent contracts to their friends and families). the truly ambitious slave’s children can do that online school thing after they get done at McD’s or the meat plant that provides the feedstock for the McD’s.

    we’re going to keep exploiting the earth and each other, it seems clear. and most of us are going to keep sleeping well at night, claiming they have clean hands.

    just fyi, i responded inadvertently to this comment in the previous topic (Covid NOT “ovah”). don’t know why that happened. screen blindness plagues me, at times.

  29. Willy

    As much as I hate being outdone when it comes to ramblings, I’ll say that it makes a lot more sense to just follow the money than it does any conspiracy theory.

  30. different clue

    Many of us live in the Working Class Grayzone of whatever Evil-Based civilization we live in.

    Some of us have more small choices within the Grayzone than others of us. Sometimes the choice comes down to being ” pets or meat” as Michael Moore put it in one of his films ( ” Roger and Me” ). My “pets or meat” choice is staying at my o-kay job here at the Mighty Midwestern Hospital. We cause the burning of a lot of coal, gas and oil to keep our lights on, our X-ray machines running, our IV pumps running, our Nuclear Magnetic Resonance imaging machines making images, etc. A hospital is a very energy intensive facility. ( Though I suppose an aluminum smelter would be even more energy intensive).

    Now I’m as greenish as the next Happy Prole, but I am not going to quit my hospital job just to be ” less complicit” in all the emissions a hospital causes. Nor will I stay home and die instead of going to a hospital for needed treatment, to avoid being complicit in all the carbon a hospital emits. So there’s two choices I’ve made right there to go ahead and be complicit rather than starve to death and die or sicken to death and die.

    Are there parts of the Gray Zone where I have the opportunity to make a less-evil as against more-evil choice? Yes, there are. I can pay a living wage price for something made by living wage people rather than pay a slave-wage price for something made by slave-wage people. Such choices have been made very few and limited by the International Free Trade Conspiracy which rules most countries. But they still exist.
    There are still some made-in-America shoes available at a set-in-America price, for example. And there is still a shoe repair place where I live at so I can keep my shoes alive for years beyond what the Planned Obsolescence ( ” this shoe will self-destruct in 9 months” ) planners want me to. All I have to do is pay a close-to-new-pair-of-slave-labor shoes price to the shoe repair shop instead to keep the old shoes alive a while longer.

    In those Little Gray Subzones where I have a choice between supporting an evil or supporting its counter-evil opposite, I choose the counter-evil opposite.

  31. anon y'mouse

    different clue—it’s the system, dude (or dudette!).

    your little choices are only available to you because you are fortunate. you earn enough to make such choices and live in an environment that allows making them easier for you.

    the Ideology Class has long emphasized the PERSONAL footprint. why? it obviates examination of the system that the Owners control needing to change, and focuses people on their little great chain of being (organic eating is largely financially determined, much less Fair Trade purchasing), earning green credits in heaven, “i am doing good when and where i personally can because that’s all i can do activities”. it turns the “saving the world” thing into another brand to sell shit by.

    in other words, it keeps you busy, most busy and from overthrowing the damn system. and it keeps you feeling like you are helping or trying to help or whatever, and thus makes you sleep better at night.

    note—i too make these choices when and where i can, but i don’t fool myself that i’m “saving the world, one person at a time” or anything. i just try to limit harm when i am able. the system still needs overthrown.

    medical needs would be the one area where i would legitimately say “just burn shit” to keep it running. but working there, you have to admit how much waste is probably built into that system. literally EVERYTHING except plant and equip (including the workers, at times) appears to be disposable, one-time-use (and yeah, there are reasons called GERMS for that). unless you can enlighten me otherwise.

  32. Anonymous

    popular version of Tao Te Ching is thought to be modified by Confucians, the Ma Wang Dui version (from early han) is presumed to be closer to the original, although it can still be modified during Warring States and Qin dynasty.

  33. Curt Kastens

    Here is a story from WW2. It pushes a lot of boundaries. The Dutch youth F. Ploeg decided that communism was the path the humanity should follow in to the future when he was 13 years old, That was in 1923.
    The local communist party leader told him not to tell anyone about his thoughts or his meeting with local communists. In 1929 Mr. Ploeg entered the University. After graduating he then did a stint in the military serving in Asia. Upon his return home the local communists asked him to join quasi facist groups to be able to report upon thier activities to them. At this time he was working as an insurance agent. He got a job with Dutch Customs in 1936.
    Once the Nazis invaded the Netherlands Mr. Ploeg became a Nazi collaborator and began to work with the German Gestapo as a translator. He was trusted by the Nazis due to his long history of right wing political activism. Eventually he became a trusted investigator for the Gestapo, though not technically a member of the organization but of some Dutch affiliate organization. He became infamous over quite a large area for torturing suspected Dutch Resistance fighters to gain information about the Dutch Resistance.
    But F. Ploeg’s views really had not changed since he was a 13 year old boy. The Nazis were completely fooled by Ploeg’s overt behavior. Ploeg was torturing prisoners not to gain information but to subtley direct the answers that the prisoners would give. When prisoners are under torture they will say what ever it is that they think the person torturing them wants to hear.
    Ploeg was using his crucial position to prevent the communist resistence leadership from being exposed and to direct suspicion on to non communist resistence members.
    He took no pleasure at all in torturing people. But if he did not do it a real Nazi would be doing it in his place. There was no way if you ended up in the building that he worked in that you were going to escape torture. So, he did not have any trouble sleeping at night. As a result of the risks that he took F. Ploeg saved the communist party leadership and intellengence gathering capabilty in central Netherlands.
    But by September of 1944 the Communist Party leadership in his area realized that they had a problem. There was no way in hell that the Soviets would be the ones to liberate the Netherlands. The knew that the western allies would arrest F Ploeg as soon as the arrived in the area. They knew that he knew if he fell in to their hands he would likely be killed. His only barganing chip would be his knowledge of the local Communist Party. That was a loose end that they would have to somehow deal with.
    In late September 44, Ploeg was told that a plan was being worked on to get him and his family to the USSR. The gist of the plan is that he would travel to Lübeck where he and his family would get picked up by a Soviet Submarine and be brought to Lenningrad. But it would take some time to work out the details.
    On the 6th of January 45. He was told that he and his family should be prepared to leave on the night of the 9th of January. But as he was on his way home that night he was assissinated by two members of the communist resistence. There had always been two members of the communist resistence that had followed him home to cover his back so to speak to protect thier asset.
    The two who carried out the attack were not at all happy about thier assignment. But they realized that it had to be done. In reality there was no way that they could manage to get Ploeg and his family back to the USSR with out a huge risk of being caught and thereby destroying all that he had done up to that point. Whether or not Ploeg realized that we will never know.
    His family waited in vain for him that night. His son at that time did not know who is father was actually working for. He would eventually find out. His son would join the Communist Party himself.
    If F. Ploeg had known how it would all end for him would he have chosen not to make the choices that he did? If those that ordered his killing had known where the world would end up by the end of the 20th century, let alone by 2023, do you think that they should have not killed him and surrendered themselves to what ever hand fate would have dealt them if Ploeg had told the Amis and the Brits everything that he knew?
    Back in the first half of the 20th Century people actually believed that Capitalism or Communism could deliver a good and just society that would go on and on my friend. Now pretty much everyone knows that there are theoretical reasons that neither work. Not only that there are some people who realize that there are theoretical reasons why nothing will work for very long. But despite this these people know that if we are honest and acting in good faith we have to take actions which will at least treat the symptoms of human problems which will cause us to stumble from one lesser evil to another until no one is left to stumble. Or until there are no honest people acting in good faith left.

  34. Henry Moon Pie

    I’d object to using the Tao te Ching as the foundation for dualistic thinking. From Ursula Le Guin’s rendition of #2:

    Everyone on earth knowing
    that beauty if beautiful
    makes ugliness.

    Everyone knowing
    that goodness is good
    makes wickedness.

    To flow with the Tao is to ignore human concepts of good and evil:

    Stop being holy, forget being prudent,
    it’ll be a hundred times better for everyone.
    Stop being altruistic, forget being righteous,
    people will remember what family feeling is.

    Are the acts you discuss abhorrent to us? Of course. Would someone in the flow of the Tao ever commit them? Of course not. But the dangers of dualistic thinking, that manifest themselves all around us right now, should move us to stay away from that approach.

  35. Ian Welsh

    The Tao Te Ching is more complicated than “no evil”. Evil is part of life, so is illness, and we try to minimize both of them. The most advanced Taoists I’ve personally known were all Chinese physicians.

    And remember:

    1) my quote is also from the Tao Te Ching;
    2) LeGuin spent her life fighting for the good.

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