What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby hawkinsssable » Sat May 14, 2011 3:05 pm UTC

collegestudent22 wrote:You seem to have a lack of understanding of how the Vietnam War was conducted and what a no-fly zone is. To put it succinctly, the Vietnam War was mainly lost BECAUSE the bombs were controlled, not by those that found the targets, but by talking heads in Washington D.C. A no-fly zone is only patrolled by fighter aircraft to shoot down enemy aircraft - in Vietnam, mostly to ward off any potential interference from the USSR.


Sorry, I incredibly clumsily mis- typed. Too much Libya in the news lately. Substitute "free- fire zones" for "no- fly zones".

As a sidenote, that's an... incredibly interesting account of why the Vietnam War was lost.

collegestudent22 wrote:Saddam killed those children. Not any sanctions. Increased child mortality was observed in Iraq's (government controlled) south and center, but not in the (then independent) north, where child mortality decreased (wonder why?). In fact, it was the necessary items for survival (food/medicine) that were EXEMPT from the sanctions.


Ostensibly exempt, but with a very very narrow definition of 'necessary for survival' that excluded a lot of things that WERE necessary for survival. It's been well documented by a lot of people, and Joy Gordon has a neat little summary of it here.

collegestudent22 wrote:The US has no history of up and murdering their own people or innocents in nearby countries for political disagreement, either.


... really? You honestly, honestly believe that the support the US provided to a whole slew of Latin American dictators isn't comparable with "up and murdering innocents in nearby countries for political (/economic) disagreement"?
Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Yakk » Sat May 14, 2011 4:13 pm UTC

hawkinsssable wrote:As a sidenote, that's an... incredibly interesting account of why the Vietnam War was lost.

The military was stabbed in the back by the politicians!

Where did I hear that one before? I can't recall. No matter.
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby collegestudent22 » Sat May 14, 2011 5:38 pm UTC

hawkinsssable wrote:
collegestudent22 wrote:You seem to have a lack of understanding of how the Vietnam War was conducted and what a no-fly zone is. To put it succinctly, the Vietnam War was mainly lost BECAUSE the bombs were controlled, not by those that found the targets, but by talking heads in Washington D.C. A no-fly zone is only patrolled by fighter aircraft to shoot down enemy aircraft - in Vietnam, mostly to ward off any potential interference from the USSR.


Sorry, I incredibly clumsily mis- typed. Too much Libya in the news lately. Substitute "free- fire zones" for "no- fly zones".


These areas were cleared of civilians prior to being designated "free fire zones", marked off as such, and near friendly airbases (being as they are where excess bombs were dropped before landing). Hardly a war crime, at least in terms of US policy (individuals violating the policy and not being prosecuted is another matter, and one I am not too familiar with here.)

As a sidenote, that's an... incredibly interesting account of why the Vietnam War was lost.


I could go into a long discussion of just this, but I will try to keep it short. The war was "lost" because the politicians (and SECDEF McNamara, in particular) decided they knew better about war - not just the overall idea of when to fight and where in general, but the nitty-gritty, with pilots even being redirected by civilian DoD bean-counters mid-mission to new, supposedly better, targets. (Nixon started to reverse this policy, but the extremely high unpopularity with the war by that time forced a withdrawal for political expediency - getting elected was far more important to him.) This was combined with the failure of trying to win a guerrilla way by conventional "kill more of them then they get of us" methodology (such as that used in WWI and WWII). Add to all that the growing unrest caused by the anti-war movement and the growing unpopularity with a war that seemed to be dragging on forever, and well, the rest is history.....

And this is the prevailing wisdom taught by those that study war history to develop strategies for future wars. It is also why we only go to the President for SpecOps missions and nuclear launches, if needed. And it is definitely why the goals in the Middle East are more about "nation building" then "killing the bad guys".

collegestudent22 wrote:The US has no history of up and murdering their own people or innocents in nearby countries for political disagreement, either.


... really? You honestly, honestly believe that the support the US provided to a whole slew of Latin American dictators isn't comparable with "up and murdering innocents in nearby countries for political (/economic) disagreement"?


It's debatable (you would have to show that the dictators murdered people, and that the alternative wouldn't have created worse violence - many times, these dictators are ousted by even more ruthless and violent dictators in never ending series of coups), but the Holodomor, for example, is not, and was perpetrated directly by those in power in the USSR.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Pseudonymoniae » Sun May 15, 2011 7:56 am UTC

Whew! Considering the question, this forum sure has garnered a lot of talk.

@webgrunt's ideas:

I'll take two quotes from webgrunt as his premises...

1) "All that is necessary for evil to exist is for men who think themselves good to try to fight it."

2) "Do you think the quote above effectively communicates the general idea that some evil is created as the direct result of an attempt to fight evil?"

And I'll make my conclusion in short order. The answer is No. The above quote simply does not effectively communicate this idea. Even if your statement is correct that this is "all that is necessary for evil to exist", such a statement does not imply that evil is caused by attempting to fight evil. It may be necessary in some cases, but is it sufficient? This is never addressed--ruling out the possibility that this statement "effectively communicates" the crux of this argument.

As for a second point, I have to question your motives based upon the clarification of your belief that "most of the great evils... were perpetrated by people who were simply trying to fight evil". This is also clearly false. Based upon your definition of evil as "the perpetration of...violence against the innocent" it is possible that "some evil" might result from attempts to stop evil from occurring, but it cannot be the case that such an excuse can be applied to the evils of Hitler, Stalin or Mao. I'm sorry to say but such a belief is both patently ridiculous and demonstrably false. The great evils which you describe were largely carried out because of hatred, political ideology and the hunger for power. As a result, the idea that such heinous crimes were committed solely (or even mostly) out of a fear of (or war against) evil is a clear violation of historical fact. You can dress up the rationalizations these men used for their actions all you want, it doesn't change their motives.

Nonetheless, I won't denounce the weak argument that you make: namely, that in some hypothetical isolated situation where one man harms innocents solely out of the belief that his actions are to prevent innocent people from being harmed, this man's attempts to fight evil might be the sole required factor in potentiating evil. But in the real world, such cases are rare and play little role in perpetrating the widespread evil that we see every day. If you truly look at the motives of evildoers, go beyond their self-deluding claims, you will see that evil has many faces and cannot be defined by aphoristic reductionism.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Headshrinker » Sun May 15, 2011 12:24 pm UTC

The use of air power in Vietnam was a mistake.
Hearts and minds is the only way to win.

The quote about evil I prefer is, "The path to hell is paved with good intentions".

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby webgrunt » Sat Dec 12, 2015 5:30 pm UTC

Pseudonymoniae wrote:Whew! Considering the question, this forum sure has garnered a lot of talk.

@webgrunt's ideas:

I'll take two quotes from webgrunt as his premises...

1) "All that is necessary for evil to exist is for men who think themselves good to try to fight it."

2) "Do you think the quote above effectively communicates the general idea that some evil is created as the direct result of an attempt to fight evil?"

And I'll make my conclusion in short order. The answer is No. The above quote simply does not effectively communicate this idea. Even if your statement is correct that this is "all that is necessary for evil to exist", such a statement does not imply that evil is caused by attempting to fight evil. It may be necessary in some cases, but is it sufficient? This is never addressed--ruling out the possibility that this statement "effectively communicates" the crux of this argument.

As for a second point, I have to question your motives based upon the clarification of your belief that "most of the great evils... were perpetrated by people who were simply trying to fight evil". This is also clearly false. Based upon your definition of evil as "the perpetration of...violence against the innocent" it is possible that "some evil" might result from attempts to stop evil from occurring, but it cannot be the case that such an excuse can be applied to the evils of Hitler, Stalin or Mao. I'm sorry to say but such a belief is both patently ridiculous and demonstrably false. The great evils which you describe were largely carried out because of hatred, political ideology and the hunger for power. As a result, the idea that such heinous crimes were committed solely (or even mostly) out of a fear of (or war against) evil is a clear violation of historical fact. You can dress up the rationalizations these men used for their actions all you want, it doesn't change their motives.

Nonetheless, I won't denounce the weak argument that you make: namely, that in some hypothetical isolated situation where one man harms innocents solely out of the belief that his actions are to prevent innocent people from being harmed, this man's attempts to fight evil might be the sole required factor in potentiating evil. But in the real world, such cases are rare and play little role in perpetrating the widespread evil that we see every day. If you truly look at the motives of evildoers, go beyond their self-deluding claims, you will see that evil has many faces and cannot be defined by aphoristic reductionism.


Sorry it took so long to respond. I would disagree. Setting aside Stalin for a moment, From the records we have of what they thought, Hitler and Mao actually believed they were trying to rid the world of great evils and did what they felt was necessary in order to accomplish their goals. You might call their reasons rationalizations, but doesn't doing so assume you know that their unspoken, true desire was to accomplish harm rather than good? Do you have any evidence that either of these men didn't really believe that what they were doing was necessary and just?

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 13, 2015 9:31 am UTC

Can I take issue with the original question? Particularly now you've made clear that you've devised it yourself, I don't think there's any meaningful sense in which the statement is a "quote". It's intended as an adage, and it's a paraphrase of a quot[e/ation] that is itself now an adage, but as an adage is a saying and a saying is a thing much said (necessarily a fixed phrase as one of its base requirements), it's not really an adage unless it actually catches on to be said, now, is it? (And it's meant to change the meaning of the original statement, so there's no semantic quibble about what's a quotation and what's a paraphrase, here, because in calling it a quote, you don't really mean that you're quoting Burke, and you obviously believe that you disagree with him, or this particular adage that's been handed down in his name absent context, so it's pretty clearly not meant to be his.)

I could go on to say "Can I take issue with the original question?", and I'm certainly quoting myself and I can ask you how you feel about that, but it certainly doesn't afford a new level of meaning or power to the words I've repeated.

The really wonderful thing about adages is that there's no one standing around to tell you when you've misinterpreted them. *Looks outside, reminds herself that this is the internet* The really wonderful thing about adages is that the original author isn't standing around telling you when you've misinterpreted them. It's a handy bit of phrasing that's caught on to express a common sentiment, but its auxiliary meaning more or less entirely comes around from how it's used, and no one much cares that "power corrupts [the writing of history]" was originally meant as a puzzle for historiographers or something, because it turned out to be all the more useful with that dangling transitive verb without a clear direct object, and then everyone could use it and corrupt damn well whatever they liked with it.

An adage is always incomplete. It can't well get around that, it doesn't even have several pages of discussion thread to clarify its intentions and it wouldn't well catch on if everyone using it had to sign off to the T&Cs beforehand. It's an implicit statement that this relationship we're referring to here, it's an applicable one in this situation. Of course there are bloody exceptions to it, and two adages can be entirely useful while being mutually exclusive statements absent context. If you've said "what comes up must come down", that's an entirely true statement with the wholly reasonable assumptions of an unsupported object cast upward in a particular gravitational field over a rigid body through a fluid that is less dense than the falling object and probably a couple of other scenarios as well.

But the more fuzzy and sociological your terms get, the more it's probably about differences of degree from an assumed cultural mean that's all to convention and will probably differ for different speakers anyway, and they'll be able to use an adage in different contexts, with different standards, with different intentions, and both will be understood - and possibly even right!

And now you've gone and thrown in an "evil", which is very slightly less subjective (about the speaker) than "fucking", which is to say: "We can all agree that this is an objectively brilliant idea, but is it a fucking brilliant idea? Discuss."

So no, you have a statement, which you have since quoted, which is very unlikely to catch on as an adage (history may prove me wrong!)* and probably won't mean what you think it does if it does, if any part of the meaning were actually "in" the statement enough to be transferrable as an adage in the hypothetical case that it were one. There is no quote about evil to discuss.

...

Oh, fictional quote! Yes, you could totally use that as one of those little made-up quote title cards at the start of sci-fi epics. It'd be just smashing there. Project a lot of meaning onto all those space laser battles that will.

* Well, no, I suppose it won't prove me wrong about the likelihood, because it could well enough happen and have been unlikely or not happen despite the most terrible likelihood indeed. Independent study could prove me wrong about the likelihood. I like my odds.
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Dec 14, 2015 2:46 pm UTC

Headshrinker wrote:The use of air power in Vietnam was a mistake.
Hearts and minds is the only way to win.

The quote about evil I prefer is, "The path to hell is paved with good intentions".


Nonsense. WW2 was not won with hearts and minds. It was won with overwelming firepower.

You notice this trend even within Vietnam. The Tet offensive, despite it's publicity back here in the US, resulted in US gains. The many strategies to win hearts and minds really did not. This doesn't mean that hearts and minds are utterly irrelevant....there are still advantages to not causing unnecessary suffering, not offending locals, etc...but that is not sufficient to win a war. Wars are HARD to win, and throughout the ages, people have failed to understand this, and consistently underestimated what is necessary. History is littered with broken promises of swift victories.

webgrunt wrote:"All that is necessary for evil to exist is for men who think themselves good to try to fight it."


I think the adage is wrong. Men exist. Therefore, evil will exist. People are inherently imperfect, and some people are going to fuck up.

Looking for people who "think themselves good" is not likely to be a very effective discriminator between people who do evil and not. Kind of a lot of people think themselves good.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon Dec 14, 2015 2:58 pm UTC

Well, to be fair, overwhelming force is a matter of breaking hearts and minds.

It would certainly be foolish to imagine that every political objective imaginable could be accomplished with soft power.

Edit: Figuratively breaking hearts and minds, I mean, often by opening up a few representative skulls more literally. The literal kind is called genocide and is not altogether very popular nor practical, historically.
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Choboman » Wed Feb 10, 2016 5:37 pm UTC

If the original premise is 'fighting evil usually just creates more evil', then what lesson is to be taken from it? If I see a man beating his wife, I should just walk away instead of intervening? When the US saw Hutus killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, they did nothing - the above adage would suggest that this was the correct action to take.

If the argument instead is 'intervene, but only in genuine cases of evil', who judges what's genuine and worthy of intervention?

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Feb 10, 2016 6:22 pm UTC

Choboman wrote:If the original premise is 'fighting evil usually just creates more evil', then what lesson is to be taken from it? If I see a man beating his wife, I should just walk away instead of intervening? When the US saw Hutus killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, they did nothing - the above adage would suggest that this was the correct action to take.

If the argument instead is 'intervene, but only in genuine cases of evil', who judges what's genuine and worthy of intervention?


Ah, this is back.

It can be pretty straightforwardly demonstrated that if fighting evil caused more evil, then evil should be fairly steadily increasing.

People dying younger, diseases and war killing more, civil rights being reduced.

This is pretty much the opposite of what history teaches us.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ijuin » Sun Feb 14, 2016 2:29 am UTC

Choboman wrote:If the original premise is 'fighting evil usually just creates more evil', then what lesson is to be taken from it? If I see a man beating his wife, I should just walk away instead of intervening? When the US saw Hutus killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, they did nothing - the above adage would suggest that this was the correct action to take.

If the argument instead is 'intervene, but only in genuine cases of evil', who judges what's genuine and worthy of intervention?


Golden Hammer Syndrome. When no evildoers are easily located, then those whose prestige/power/income depends on having evildoers to defeat are prone to see evildoers where there aren't any--or even outright fabricate evidence of them. This is how the leaders of our society came to see Communists/Terrorists/whatever lurking behind every act of violence or dissent.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby mcd001 » Wed Feb 17, 2016 7:08 pm UTC

ijuin wrote:This is how the leaders of our society came to see Communists/Terrorists/whatever lurking behind every act of violence or dissent.

Don't know about the Whatever's, but I seem to recall that the Communists and Terrorists were behind a great many violent acts.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ijuin » Fri Feb 19, 2016 6:20 pm UTC

Many, yes, but hardly the overwhelming majority--certainly not enough that we ought to jump to the conclusion "it must be Muslim Terrorists" every time that a mass killing occurs, and definitely not enough that we should start suspecting all dissidents of being in league with The Great Enemy. When politicians start saying "You're either onboard with my policy, or you're helping the Terrorists to win", then caution has given way to outright delusion.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby mcd001 » Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:27 pm UTC

ijuin wrote:When politicians start saying "You're either onboard with my policy, or you're helping the Terrorists to win", then caution has given way to outright delusion.

Maybe, maybe not. Whether it's delusional depends entirely on the nature of the threat and the specifics of the policy being proposed.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ijuin » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:28 am UTC

Yes, but I was referring to the use of such an argument as a general rhetorical tool to say essentially "I am above questioning".

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Derek » Mon Mar 14, 2016 2:39 am UTC

ijuin wrote:Golden Hammer Syndrome. When no evildoers are easily located, then those whose prestige/power/income depends on having evildoers to defeat are prone to see evildoers where there aren't any--or even outright fabricate evidence of them. This is how the leaders of our society came to see Communists/Terrorists/whatever lurking behind every act of violence or dissent.

In other words, when there aren't enough assholes, dicks start fucking pussies. But in all seriousness, I find this clip to be a great summary of both the importance of fighting evil, and the dangers of losing sight of what actually needs to be fought.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Fieari » Tue Oct 25, 2016 3:32 am UTC

The OP has made an observation, and wants to communicate it through a pithy adage for ease of memetic transfer. I argue that is observation and his pithy adage are reversed forms of each other, and would only be functional if the original statement was communitative in the mathematical sense.

His observation, as far as I can understand, is simply that where you find evil, the perpetrater believes in their own heart to be good, and furthermore believes that the evil they are doing to be good as well. Now, this has been argued to not be universally true, but I think most people can agree that it is at least sometimes true, and perhaps even often, frequently, or approaching in the direction of always true. Arguments can be made regarding the position of how often it is true, but for the moment, this is the sentiment that the OP wants to encode into a pithy catchphrase.

In order to maximize ease of memetic transfer, the OP wishes to hijack the form of an already successful meme, and insert his variables into the slots of the phrase. The problem is that the meme he wants to change works in the other direction... his observation is that where you find X, the source is Y. The meme is that where the source is Y, you find X. In fact, the precice wording of the meme is that ONLY when the source is Y do you find X, but most people understand that this is an exaggeration. What's not an exaggeration (as most people read it) is that when you find Y, then X necessarily follows. "When good men do nothing, then evil is always allowed to exist." (evil might also exist if good men do things that are stupid or ineffective, but this is less pithy and we can allow this while still accepting the jist of the main statement)

But the OP's observation does not, and cannot work that way. There are far, far, far too many counterexamples. It is perfectly possible to believe you are good, AND TO BE CORRECT. It is possible to try to do good, AND TO SUCCEED. Furthermore, it is arguably possible to FALSELY believe that you are good, and yet fail to do evil. It is even arguably possible to FALSELY believe you are fighting evil, and yet not perpetrate evil in the process. (It is furthermore possible for men to not believe they are good, and to commit evil, but this only counters the strong form of the statement, which most people are willing to let slide when it comes to pithy adages).

So no, the OP's adage does not effectively communicate his idea, because it goes in the wrong direction. A -> B does not imply B -> A.

The next question is of course whether the observation that "evil deeds are often done by people who think they are good trying to fight what they believe to be evil" is sufficiently accurate for a large enough subset of evil events to be worth of an adage, and what would the appropriate reaction be to the hypothetical correctly formulated adage. The correct response to the original adage is to spur "good men" to get off their butts and actually do something about evil. The correct response to the OP's observations would be... to do what? Another poster earlier in the thread suggested that the correct response would be to sit down and watch TV, in order to prevent oneself from doing evil when they believe themselves to be good. This seems... counterproductive, and not a good response, and yet it flows naturally from the observation.

I suspect the OP would prefer the proper response to his hypothetical adage be that individuals perform deep introspection to really attempt to determine whether or not they are actually good, and their targets actually evil, before acting. Of course, such deep introspection is inherantly mired in all kinds of complications which actively work against being compacted into a pithy adage. Defining what is good is HARD. Defining what is evil is HARD. I mean, sure, it's easy to make broad categorizations, but it seems that making broad categorizations is what leads people to think they are good and their opponents evil in the first place!

So....... I don't think this idea can, or SHOULD be made into a pithy adage.
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby dclxvi » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:47 am UTC

Socrates argued that no one commits evil intentionally; evil actions are committed by people who believe they are acting correctly.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby elasto » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:56 pm UTC

dclxvi wrote:Socrates argued that no one commits evil intentionally; evil actions are committed by people who believe they are acting correctly.

That probably accounts for the majority of evil acts but I suspect not all; For example I suspect that many psychopaths know they are doing evil but that 'not doing evil' simply isn't an important goal for them.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby dclxvi » Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:47 pm UTC

That probably accounts for the majority of evil acts but I suspect not all; For example I suspect that many psychopaths know they are doing evil but that 'not doing evil' simply isn't an important goal for them.


I'm not qualified to discuss psychopathy; but even the insane must believe that the acts they commit are right for themselves. They may be aware that the rest of the population considers their acts evil, but they are motivated by a different stimulus and are using a different moral calculus. This also turns on definitions of evil and of good, not to mention The Good.

Can I act intentionally against my own interests? Even if I sacrifice my own life to save another, I receive a self-esteem reward. The same for an evil act. I know that robbing that liquor store is wrong, but I need the money. I weigh the elements and make a choice. I have done what I consider good FOR MYSELF.

However, I do see your point. I'm thinking about it now.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ucim » Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:14 am UTC

dclxvi wrote:...but even the insane must believe that the acts they commit are right for themselves.
(emphasis mine)

No... it does not follow unless you define "believe they are doing good" in this way. That does not match with what I (and I presume others) mean by "believe" and "doing good" as independent concepts.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby dclxvi » Mon Feb 27, 2017 9:34 am UTC

In Rising Up, Rising Down, Vollmann quotes Solzenhitsyn:

To do evil a human being must first of all believe tht what he's doing is good, or else that it's
a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the
human being to seek a justification for his actions.
--Alexander Solzenhitsym, 1973

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ucim » Tue Feb 28, 2017 4:21 am UTC

Uh.... so? The fact that some author quotes somebody famous does not make the underlying idea true.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby dclxvi » Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:42 am UTC

Uh.... so? The fact that some author quotes somebody famous does not make the underlying idea true.



I am fully aware that a quote isn't an argument.
I'm not arguing here, Jose. I'm thinking out loud. The fact that thinkers whom I consider brighter than me have given the issue a thought is just part of the process for me. I wasn't trying to be confrontational. Since the OP concerns a quote about evil, I though that other quotes about evil might be useful.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby elasto » Tue Feb 28, 2017 10:33 am UTC

If we want to talk more generally rather than simply the OP's rather narrow definition of 'evil', my simplistic view is as follows:

First there is evil by commission or by omission.

Here in the West we lead relatively privileged, pampered lives. I could definitely understand someone in a less fortunate part of the world viewing some of our lifestyle decisions as 'evil'. eg. spending money to power up a virtual character on our iPhone rather than on medicine for AIDS orphans in the third world.

That's evil by omission - which we all do by psychological necessity since actively trying to avoid any acts of 'evil by omission' would frankly lead to paralysing guilt and madness.

Evil by commission splits into roughly four categories to my mind:

Psychopaths do evil because they feel no guilt in doing so, so don't need the rationalization process that normal people need to overcome feelings of guilt.

The insane do evil because they believe it's the appropriate, rational thing to do so, so feel no more guilt than we would in, I dunno, eating an apple.

Normal people do 'minor' acts of evil if they can pretend it's a 'victimless crime' or nearly so: ie. if they can persuade themselves that the benefit to themselves is a large multiple of the harm to you. They will still feel guilt if caught though, showing that they 'knew' it was the wrong thing all along.

Normal people do 'major' acts of evil when they can sufficiently rationalize it as 'for the greater good' - in pursuit of some ideology that they believe will eventually result in greater utility for us all. If caught they may or may not feel enormous guilt dependent on how firmly they can maintain their grip on their beliefs.

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dclxvi
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby dclxvi » Thu Mar 02, 2017 11:13 am UTC

Do we go here?

Even if I commit an evil act, I commit it because I feel justified, or compelled, or enticed; so I am acting for my own good. The fact that the action is evil is only evil because others judge it to be so. Whether the standard for judgement is scriptural, philosophical, cultural, or personal, the act is not evil until the group calls it evil.

Or do we not go there?

There are some places in St Augustine's writing that suggest that evil doesn't exist because a good god does not create evil; rather, that which we call evil is only the human rejection of the good.

Again, I don't necessarily subscribe to these positions, I'm just trying to figure it all out.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ucim » Thu Mar 02, 2017 3:11 pm UTC

dclxvi wrote:Even if I commit an evil act, I commit it because I feel justified, or compelled, or enticed; so I am acting for my own good.
I won't second-guess why you do things, but you are taking a statistic of one and generalizing it to the entire world. People have different reasons, and different reasoning. And if you go as far as claiming "Sure it's evil but I did it for the lulz" counts as "acting for my own good", you've essentially defined evil out of existence. But calling a tail a leg doesn't help a horse to walk.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby elasto » Fri Mar 03, 2017 12:41 am UTC

As ucim says, while people may disagree about what exactly constitutes a good or evil act in general, most people don't define 'good' to be 'whatever is good for me'; That is a very unusual viewpoint... Even psychopaths know whether what they are doing is right or wrong - it's just that 'doing the right thing' isn't at all a goal for them in and of itself; Maximising benefit to self is.

For most normal people, 'good' and 'evil' have some dimension exterior to the self to them - driven by a combination of social consensus, religion, philosophy, parental upbringing and internal conscience as you say.

Within that, to me things (very simplistically) split roughly along the lines I suggest.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby DaBigCheez » Fri Mar 03, 2017 2:59 am UTC

My own thoughts have occasionally wandered down this road from the reverse direction: "can an act of charity really be called 'good', if I receive benefit in the form of a pleasant feeling from having contributed? am I not then only seeking to benefit myself?" In the end, it seems to be about as useful as brain-in-a-jar scenarios: once you reach the point where everything anyone does is, definitionally, the "best" or "right" or "good" thing for them to be doing, by virtue of the fact that's the choice they arrived at, then your definition may be *accurate* within its own bounds, but it ceases to be *useful*. Similar to how brains in a jar reduce to "well, we have no way to test this, and no way to define predictions of how things would differ if it's true, so while fascinating it seems irrelvant to how we make decisions about anything".
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ucim » Fri Mar 03, 2017 4:28 am UTC

DaBigCheez wrote:if I receive benefit in the form of a pleasant feeling from having contributed? am I not then only seeking to benefit myself?
Emphasis mine. If you are, in fact, only seeking to benefit yourself, then no, that isn't really charity. It's pleasure-seeking that happens to have a side benefit for other people. But I don't think most people who contribute to charity seek only to benefit themselves. They do something which costs them something, be it time, money, opportunity, whatever... and that benefits another, and there is a side benefit that they get pleasure out of doing so.

It's really about why you do something, and not about whether or not you happen to get some pleasure from it. There's apparent asymmetry in it; hurting people for the lulz is evil, but helping people for the lulz isn't really charitable. OTOH, hurting people in order to benefit them is not evil; there are lots of things that hurt somebody but brings them a greater good. Vaccines and punishments come to mind. And in a similar vein, giving people stuff just for the lulz is not charitable even if the recipient is glad to get it. Amusing myself by handing out $50 bills on Main street is not an act of charity; it is performance art.

In the end, it's the alignment between the act and the reasons for the act that figures into "good" and "evil" (vs. fortunate and unfortunate).

Jose
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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby reval » Sat Mar 04, 2017 9:20 pm UTC

Why not derive "good" from survival? In my relations with others I do "good" depending on our shared strategy of survival. This explains how the tribal warlord does "good" by building a mountain of skulls of tribal enemies, because tribal supremacy and growth is "good".

The modern person calls that conflict "evil," in part because it gets in the way of people getting together and talking and figuring out a way to have an industrial society without burning all the fossil carbon in the ground and demolishing the ecosystem (and, of course, conflict wastes lives).

Same goal of survival, different way to get there (incidentally, by a different process). So "evil" in general means the worse way, the less efficient strategy, and I have to sort though the evil ways in myself to find my better ways, and act on them.

This approach rejects OP's quote. Conflict does not create evil; evil is already present in people's motivation to achieve survival by inefficient competition and conflict.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby ucim » Sat Mar 04, 2017 9:53 pm UTC

reval wrote:Why not derive "good" from survival?
For reasons that are evident in the rest of the paragraph. "Survival" has no moral value attached to it; "Good" is pretty much entirely morally based.

It also brings up the question of survival of whom, good for whom? Is it good to sacrifice my friend to feed the bear? Bears are an endangered species, people are not. When you ask "Why not derive 'good' from {fill in}?", what is the point of the derivation? You need to have some (informal) idea of what "good" and "evil" are before you can encapsulate it in an definition, and that has to involve the "for whom" part.

Back to the OP:
In the OP, webgrunt wrote:re. the quote:
"All that is necessary for evil to exist is for men who think themselves good to try to fight it."

The intent of the above quote is to claim that much evil is committed in the act of trying to fight evil. [...] Do you think the quote above effectively communicates the general idea that some evil is created as the direct result of an attempt to fight evil?
Emphasis mine. There is an important distinction between "some", "much", and "all". The quote is a Grand Statement; it does contain the idea that trying to do good sometimes actually accomplishes evil, but it overstates it. That's what Grand Statements do; it makes them effective. But in overstating it, it minimizes (to zero) the idea that evil can be accomplished of its own accord.

So, that statement itself is attempting to do good (by warning us of the ease with which righteousness can be misused), but in fact accomplishes evil (by assuring us that evil cannot be accomplished except by trying to do good). It's its own grandpa.

Jose
Order of the Sillies, Honoris Causam - bestowed by charlie_grumbles on NP 859 * OTTscar winner: Wordsmith - bestowed by yappobiscuts and the OTT on NP 1832 * Ecclesiastical Calendar of the Order of the Holy Contradiction * Please help addams if you can. She needs all of us.

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby punned_it » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:04 pm UTC

There are a few ways of evaluating an aphorism, but one is "If I assume the aphorism true, what behaviour does it lead me to?"

This aphorism might suggest that I should not fight evil, and that I should be suspicious of those who appear to be doing so. I find that counterproductive.
OR....
It might suggest that, in order to fight evil without becoming evil ourselves, we should acknowledge our own lack of goodness. For example, I can oppose those who indiscriminately bomb civilians, while acknowledging that WW2 Bomber Command was, and today's nuclear deterrence forces is, much the same thing.

On the whole, then, I prefer this : "It is dangerous to think that, if we are fighting in a just cause, all our actions are well justified".

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby elasto » Wed Mar 08, 2017 10:16 pm UTC

Yes. And it already has a pithy version:

"The ends justify the means"

(or, rather, don't)

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Re: What do you think of this quote about "evil"?

Postby Flintstone » Wed Apr 19, 2017 7:32 am UTC

webgrunt wrote:
Lazar wrote:
webgrunt wrote:Do you think the quote above effectively communicates this idea?

No, because the quote is more absolute than the idea that you've expressed. The quote indicates that well-intentioned intervention is the one and only necessary precondition for evil to exist (which... makes you a pacifist, and also seems a bit circular), whereas what you've written afterwards is that well-intentioned intervention may or may not result in some evil happening.

Do you think the quote above effectively communicates the general idea that some evil is created as the direct result of an attempt to fight evil?

Still no, because the quote isn't expressing that idea, but rather a more extreme one (which can probably be disproven). It seems like you're just trying too hard to imitate Burke's well-known quote about good men doing nothing.

Thank you. I'm trying to show the double-edgedness of his quote.

I believe that most of the great evils (the holocaust, Stalin's massacres, Mao's massacres, etc.) were perpetrated by people who were simply trying to fight evil.

I'm not trying to say that violence should never be used to fight evil, only that a great deal of, possibly most, organized violence against innocents is simply men (who believe they are good) doing what they think must be done to prevent the success of evil. Maybe that last sentence there will have to be the quote, although it's much less rhythmic and doesn't reflect the one attributed to Burke very well.
What double-edge? It is simply true that all evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing. It specifies good men, not men who THINK they're good or think they're doing the right thing. What you're trying to suggest, is that psychopaths perpetrating the worst crimes in human history were sanely following what could be reasoned as the best path. And that is simply a disturbing and offensive lie.

Hitler was NOT trying to fight evil. What evil did the Jews show? He definitely knew better, as when he was young he wrote about how mistreatment and racism towards the Jews was wrong. The Jews were just a very good political scapegoat who were already disliked, and laws against them allowed the government to seize their sizable assets. In particular, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem convinced him of the political benefits.

To justify these self-interested decisions covered with lies is immoral. What is your basis for how Hitler was doing the moral thing? Because it sounds like you're suggesting that the information he had made it seem the moral and right course of action in a fight against some "evil". Can you make the same argument for Stalin and others?


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