Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Evil Narrative

When Dick Cheney reportedly said, "We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it," one must wonder what comic book he was reading at the time. It seems to me that evil is a potential that exists in each of us. All we can do with this lurking force on the personal level is manage, moderate and minimize it. It cannot be subdued. It just is. Evil is a piece of human potential. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Confucius, understood this and tried to teach us to manage it.

Lao Tzu, in his writings, collected in the Tao Te Ching said,
"Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself." Rather than targeting evil to be defeated, Lao Tzu would council equilibrium, a steady dance that continually negotiates and assuages. To attempt to do otherwise ends in overreaction, force against force and destabilization, with results that are often worse than the original problem. Pushing against the natural energy of evil, can be maintained for a while---but is eventually exhausting. There is always the push-back. We see this in the individual psychological realm as well as the larger world theater.

With a healthy respect for the world's contrariness, we cannot assume we have established answers that work in every situation, as Cheney does. We can even disagree on where the equilibrium lies, but, to me, the equilibrium is essential. It is in restraint that stability arises.

There is some argument that the threat of war has its mollifying effects. That the fear of military force, and its occasional, swift use and then swift retreat is essential. I would say this fulfills the idea of maintaining equilibrium in certain situations. The difficult part is finding leaders with the wisdom to know the difference between action to achieve balance and protection, and action to "defeat" something.

My thinking lies somewhere between the ideas of hawk and dove---somewhere between war and peace. We can and must argue about where equilibrium lies and whether, or even if, it should be sought in every situation. But the dialogue about these considerations has been abandoned in the belief that we can eliminate evil through forceful opposition. Striving against a natural force is just, well, unnatural. The only realistic strategy is to manage it in the most sophisticated terms. To believe that evil can be defeated is a shockingly childish idea. It is one worthy of comic book characters, which is what our administration seems to have become.

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