We Must Make Some Value Judgments
When I was a sophomore in college we used to sit up all night in the mezzanine lounge at Case Hall (MSU) and talk about life. It was probably because we had time and what the Spanish call “inquietud,” roughly “restlessness,” but more extensive. I thrived on those conversations but also found them frustrating thanks to a smart student from New York who was a bit older than the rest of us and was a folk singer. He commanded some respect.
Whenever I would arrive at what I thought was an acceptable conclusion on any subject he would say, “Ah, Mike, you can’t affirm that. That’s a value judgment.” And he was always right. This went on for the better part of the school year. Then, one night in the spring of 1963, around four in the morning, he had me cornered again and it occurred to me to reply, “Jesus Christ, Harvey, that’s what we’re here for, to learn to make valid value judgments.” Since then I’ve been free.
The dictionary says of evil: “profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force,”citing this example: “his struggle against the forces of evil.” It goes on: “morally reprehensible, bad, wrong, sin, immorality, vice, iniquity, baseness, perversion, corruption, depravity, villainy, atrocity, malevolence…” I would add my own personal flavors of evil: “hypocrisy, aggression, embargos and sanctions, genocide, falsity, dishonesty, opportunism, ruthlessness, greed, dirty tricks, black ops, exceptionalism, lies and euphemisms, false flags, regime change, free world, economic crimes, manifest destiny, militarism, and utter lack of human values…”
American Evil Is Firmly Rooted in Hypocrisy
Of all of these hypocrisy is the most serious as it encompasses all the others. It is one thing to commit cold-blooded murder but another to try to justify or even glorify it. This is where American ideologues–from both political parties–excel. They regularly “justify” regime change, invasions, occupations, naval blocades, indiscriminate mass bombings, illegal ordnance, relocations of civilians, indefinite detention without due process of law, torture, assassination, embargos and sanctions… all of which are crimes against humanity. All of which are quintessential American evil.
Their “justifications” attempt to convert a rogues’ gallery into a Sunday school class. It cannot be done. The so-called justifications for the Vietnam war were the standard old saws of the day: anti-communism and the domino theory. Sure, General Vo Nguyen Giap was about to drag his ragtag army 7,000 miles across the Pacific and take San Francisco by surprise. The justification for initiating hostilities in Vietnam was a coldly fabricated lie: the Tonkin Gulf Incident. The American ship was not touched by even a feather. The story was made up of whole cloth, a fact that was later acknowledged by the Americans themselves. As for anti-communism, that began at the end of the First World War (Start by googling “Polar Bear Expedition, 1918.”) and they haven’t come up with a better idea since.
Not that it ever was a good, honest idea. The Russians were never a threat to America until the Americans foisted on them the necessity of protecting themselves. They were loyal allies during the World War II, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was convinced he could work with Stalin after the war. Then Roosevelt died unexpectedly and Churchill and Truman took over the peace negotiations. Churchill, a British aristocrat, never forgot how his fellow aristocrats were executed during the revolution in Russia (1917-23) and he retained a visceral anti communism for the rest of his life. As for Truman, he was a failed haberdasher from Missouri who once applied for membership in the Ku Klux Klan. He was promoted by the St. Louis Democratic Party machine then run by “Boss Pendergast” and became vice president over a better man (Roosevelt’s choice Henry Wallace) thanks to Democratic machine manipulation. The result of Truman’s atypical presidency was the double atomic bombing of Japanese civilians (double evil), and the Cold War, (long-term evil), just resurrected to deal with China (delayed evil).
Iraq and Afghanistan, the Frosting on the Cake
The Iraq wars were cut from the same cloth. The victim is a sovereign country struggling to get by under the repressive regime of a tinpot dictator, one of many. They were making it through until President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, in the aftermath of 9/11, decided that Iraq was oil rich, endowed with excellent targets and it would be less complicated than fighting a war in the Himalayas. It was an easy matter for the Americans to concoct the weapons-of-mass-destruction pretext and peddle it to a series of reliable running-dog allies. They, incidentally, could then participate in the fabulous business opportunities Iraq offered. The massive death and destruction wreaked on Iraq is not over yet and Abu Ghraib is permanently etched in the American history of evil.
What’s next? Iran and Venezuela, the former a long-time victim of Britain and the United States dating back to the 1908 Anglo-Persian Oil Company concession, the latter cursed with some of the richest reserves of natural resources in the world, neither of which has committed grave offenses against the United States. That is excepting the Iranian hostage crisis, 1979-1981. But that was small change compared to the CIA regime-change operation that re-installed the ruthless and corrupt Shah in power for 12 years after ousting the elected President Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. In the following year the foreign oil firms were reinstated in the business of exploiting Iran’s oil under the Consortium Agreement.
Homespun Evil Never Left
Then there’s the pervading evil at home. How is it that the United States, supposedly one of the most profoundly Christian countries in the world, can harbor so much evil, especially in places where Christians congregate? Racism is America’s foundation evil, and it’s thrivingl today. Instead of being eliminated root and branch after the Civil War, it has evolved from cotton-field exploitation and lynching parties to seriously-skewed legal and incarceration systems and trigger-happy police officers. Will the current protests make a difference? We don’t know yet.
According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, there are seven social processes that grease “the slippery slope of evil”:
- Mindlessly taking the first small step
- Dehumanization of others
- De-individuation of self (anonymity)
- Diffusion of personal responsibility
- Blind obedience to authority
- Uncritical conformity to group norms
- Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference
This process is virtually codified in the American ethos based on extreme individualism, greed, authoritarianism, conformism, and social indifference.
It seems that human values are based on tenuous premises, sustained by concepts like “natural law,” “the laws of God,” and simple humanity. But they’re the best we have, and without them we’re lost. There are, of course, degrees of lost, which go from simply aimless wandering to willfully and unredeemably lost in a never-ending morass of evil. That’s where the United States is now on July 27, 2020.
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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Evil, America”
These are the stock in trade of every country strong enough to employ them. You just happen to be in the US, so the US evil feels closer.
“extreme individualism, greed, authoritarianism, conformism, and social indifference”
You may be extremely individualistic or you may be conformist or in between. They are on opposite ends of a spectrum. You can be individualistic in one area and conformist in another. If you manage to find people of all sorts in large quantities within the same political system, that just speaks to a high level of diversity.
Authoritarianism is a trait of every political system ever created. It also varies on a continuum and is not a binary state. If we have much extreme individualism then our authoritarian level cannot be that high. Individuals follow their own moral precepts while authoritarians demand moral subordination to the state. If you really want to view a truly authoritarian system, China and Russia would be good places to start but probably the best example is N. Korea.
The US did not invent greed and social indifference. They are universal human traits. People tend to want more than they have and not to care particularly much about groups they aren’t a part of. No news here. But greed isn’t always evil and given the national response to the George Floyd and other police murders, social indifference is not something I would accuse America in general of.
Actually, Fred, I happen to be 3,500 miles from the US and have been for more than 50 years. I can see them better from here.