In retrospect, I can see that I owed my coming to a deeper understanding of “Evil” – or “Force of Brokenness” – to the emergence of something rare in our history: a “Pure Case” of “Evil,” by which I mean an “actor” whose conduct was extraordinarily consistent in degrading and destroying what’s good (i.e. life-enhancing) in the world.
Theoretically, the Pure Case would not be required to see that Force. If one consistently got good answers to those two questions posed earlier – “What caused this? And what are the effects of that?” – the lines of causality would always serve to reveal how a “coherent force” works, over time in cultural systems, to “spread a pattern of brokenness.”
But those connections are hard to see when the various actors in the world – individuals, organizations, political parties, nations – are mixtures of the whole and the broken, i.e. of those things that work to make things better and those that make things worse. (And such mixtures are what are usually to be found.)
(People’s upbringing, for example will give them both virtues and defects, and both will be expressed in their conduct in the world. The American superpower (for an example at a different level of “actor”) has both fostered human rights in the world and acted like an imperial power willing to subordinate the legitimate rights of others to its ambition.)
When those “mixtures” act in the world, both the causes and the effects of what they do are bound to be combinations of the Good and the Evil. And it will therefore be challenging to discern, amidst all the complexity, the ways that “Wholeness begets Wholeness,” and “Brokenness begets Brokenness.”
But once in a while, there emerges a Pure Case, i.e. an instance when an actor – whether person or larger entity – is so wholly possessed by that “Force of Brokenness” that it quite consistently “spreads a pattern of brokenness.” These relatively rare occurrences bring into stark relief just what is going on.
The impact of seeing a Pure Case of Evil, in its stark ugliness, apparently can shock people to reconsider “What Rules” the human world. For example, the shock of witnessing the eruption into the civilized world of the Pure Case of the Nazi regime, with all the destruction it unleashed into the world, led many major social thinkers to look more deeply into the forces at work in Civilization. (That body of thought was a rich source on which I drew when, in Out of Weakness, I sought to understand “the wounds that drive us to war.”)
And, for me, it was another Pure Case – rising in my own country, in my own times, as one of America’s two major political parties was being pretty completely taken over by a Force of Brokenness – that led me to the gradual recognition of something that is always importantly true – but rarely so starkly displayed – about the dynamics at work in the human world. Namely:
At the center of the human drama, in a dynamic that parallels rather completely what has long been understood as “the Battle Between Good and Evil,” two coherent forces are contending against each other over which will determine the path the human world will take.
The Rise of the Unthinkable: America’s Pure Case?
In 2004, as I wrote previously, I saw something – I know not how – that immediately registered in my mind “Evil.” Soon I launched my website, NoneSoBlind.org, on which, over the course of over six years, I posted a couple of thousand pieces, many of which explored the Force of Brokenness that had become visible in the emerging “Pure Case” that the force running the American right was rapidly becoming.
The statement on the main page of NoneSoBlind, launched in 2005, began with this:
“It makes a fight over everything.
“It is insatiable in its quest for wealth and power.
“It appeals to the worst in people, to hatred and fear.
“It divides groups of Americans against each other.
“It preys on the vulnerable and serves the privileged.
“And it lies in virtually all it says.
“The once-respectable Republican Party has been hijacked in our times by a sick and broken spirit that damages everything it touches.
“In this profound crisis, there is also an opportunity to see and to understand the workings of destructive forces that arise in civilized societies and that must be countered effectively if we —Americans, humankind —are to create a future we want.“
The utter consistency of that brokenness made a deep impression on me.
It would be years after I wrote that main page before I’d formulate that definition of Evil as “a coherent force that consistently spreads a pattern of brokenness.” But, particularly as I encountered resistance in Liberal America to putting the pieces together to see the “It” that had taken over the Republican Party, I took to asking questions of this sort:
“What do we call something that…”
Followed by a list like that above, consisting of a variety of salient and illustrative examples of Republicans’ choices and conducted, drawn from the news of the times. (Like the lies to manipulate their supporters, like the fanning of racial and ethnic antagonisms, like the trampling on the hard-won structures of justice and good order, like the blocking of any action to protect the future in order to boost the short-term profits of a greedy fossil fuel industry, etc.)
America had never seen any major Party that was so Pure a Case.
“What do we call something…” was an attempt to show, first, the consistency of the brokenness, and second, the coherence of force implied by that consistency. I was attempting to conjure up, in other words, in the minds of my liberal readers, a concept that has run long and deep in the moral understanding of our civilization: the idea of “Evil.”