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Liberal Capitalism and Evil
March 12, 2006 11:40 PM   Subscribe

On Evil: An Interview with Alain Badiou
posted by kuatto (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
An interesting look at the "monolithic insanity", the modern geopolitical and economic expansion of liberal democratic values.
posted by kuatto at 11:44 PM on March 12, 2006


Dostoyevsky: "The line between good and evil is drawn not between nations or parties, but through every human heart."

One can, then, define Evil in one phrase: Evil is the interruption of a truth by the pressure of particular or individual interests.

I didn't find this convincing. I prefer the "natural" formulation: 1. There is a "natural" morality, things that are obviously bad in the opinion of any human consciousness. Accordingly, Evil exists for the human animal. The example given is that of torture.
posted by russilwvong at 12:06 AM on March 13, 2006


I couldn't get past the "unegalitarian nature of capitalism", which I, for one, am grateful for. Equality isn't measured by outcomes, but by the elective nature of inputs. "No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money ". But "you gotta serve somebody, yes indeed, you gotta serve somebody. It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody..." So, if it ain't money... then what system would he choose? I hope there is some merit involved in there somewhere.

He seems to be spinning humanism, which assumes a set of values where human suffering = evil. I can't buy into that, nor can I take responsibility for the suffering of others. Although he seems to want to avoid Christianity as a basis for or an expression of his humanism, I don't think he can escape it, at least not in what he says here. Christianity is defined, in this time, in the western cultures, by its orientation to suffering, and it seems that so is Mr. Badiou.
posted by ewkpates at 5:24 AM on March 13, 2006


Take the nearest example: the terrible criminal attack in New York in September, with its thousands of casualties. If you reason in terms of the morality of human rights, you say, with President Bush: "These are terrorist criminals. This is a struggle of Good against Evil." But are Bush's policies, in Palestine or Iraq for example, really Good? And, in saying that these people are Evil, or that they don't respect human rights, do we understand anything about the mindset of those who killed themselves with their bombs? Isn't there a lot of despair and violence in the world caused by the fact that the politics of Western powers, and of the American government in particular, are utterly destitute of ingenuity and value? In the face of crimes, terrible crimes, we should think and act according to concrete political Truths, rather than be guided by the stereotypes of any sort of morality. The whole world understands that the real question is the following: Why do the politics of the Western powers, of NATO, of Europe and the USA, appear completely unjust to two out of three inhabitants of the planet?

Uh-huh. I think I'll take my analysis of evil from someone other than a stereotypical America-bashing Eurothumbsucker, thanks.
posted by languagehat at 6:04 AM on March 13, 2006


I can't get over the fact that this gentleman appears to want to use set theory as the foundation of ontology, despite writing significantly after Being and Time (which basically made, very convincingly, the argument that existence can't be considered a sort of class).
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:41 AM on March 13, 2006


He seems to be spinning humanism, which assumes a set of values where human suffering = evil. I can't buy into that, nor can I take responsibility for the suffering of others.

Why? In the traditional mode, what is more evil than true, meaningless pain? 9/11, the Holocaust, Rwanda, those are Evil in the initial way that he means it. Even the banal, daily sufferings of the homeless, the malnourished, the abused, that is Evil. A lesser evil, to be sure, but evil nonetheless.

What I find interesting is his assertion that evil is necessary to the modern liberal democracy, if for no other reason than because too few people are exposed to that idea.

After evil has occurred, society feels that it must be commemmorated, remembered, and internalized. To assure that the evil is never repeated, we must all remember it, and our children must. 'Never Forget' is the watchword after every atrocity. If we all can just remember an event, we can be vigilant, and ensure that it never happens again. We all remember, we all become victims. "Today, we are all New Yorkers"

We must all become counterrevolutionaries, ever watchful for dissent and revolutionaries. By categorizing people as victims and victimizers, is to become capable of causing one's own suffering upon others. Logically, the only way to preserve our freedoms is to quash the liberty of others before they would take ours.

In this way, evil becomes reflexive; victims victimize others, so that they may not become victimized again. A vicious circle erupts, one that is difficult to stop. Moreover, any 'victors' in a given conflict are fearful of damage sought by former victims, so repress/innoculate themselves against them even further.

The worst injustices of the 20th century were committed by paranoid politics, by states taking action against those they felt repressed by, committing Evil while claiming to keep former victimizers from returning and continuing their oppression.

Only in the 90s has a new human rights concensus emerged. Initially successful in South Africa after apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was able to defuse the situation. Redistribution of wealth/land/etc has traditionally been viewed as the optimal way of righting Evils, but simply propagates them by victimizing the beneficiaries of the evil, rather than the perpetrators themselves.

Rather, the T&RC differentiated between population of beneficiaries, who benefited from apartheid, and the actual perpetrators, who actively violated human rights. The perpetrators were punished appropriately, and the beneficiaries were left alone. The blacks who were displaced in various ways were left unrecompensed economically, but were granted a moral victory, by being delared morally superior to their oppressors. Everyone wins, and the evil can be put in the past. Viligance is no longer necessary, as the evil is gone, and peace can return.
posted by duende at 6:42 AM on March 13, 2006


He seems to be spinning humanism, which assumes a set of values where human suffering = evil. I can't buy into that, nor can I take responsibility for the suffering of others.

Ewkpates, how do you define evil? And how far do you take your abnegation of responsibility for others' suffering? Please expand.
posted by palinode at 7:34 AM on March 13, 2006


I read somewhere once (can't recall exactly where) that Evil, pure and simple, is selfishness. It is putting the needs of oneself over the needs of the many. Violence is, naturally, Evil's most efficient tool. "You bother me!" WHACK! No more bother. Easy.

This is not as oversimplified as you might initially think. This is also pure navel-gazing philosophy, so it doesnt really address how to deal with that Evil. It postulates its origins, leaving the amelioration of Evil to the individual, or perhaps the State.

This guy seems to apply something like that to social and political systems, which seems a bit incongruous for something that should firstly be considered within ones own heart.

Then again, philosophers have a LOT of time to ponder their navels.
posted by elendil71 at 8:10 AM on March 13, 2006


Evil doesn't exist.

There, problem solved.
posted by empath at 8:37 AM on March 13, 2006


He seems to be spinning humanism, which assumes a set of values where human suffering = evil. I can't buy into that, nor can I take responsibility for the suffering of others.
How very Christian of you.
posted by papakwanz at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2006


Oh, and languagehat, you might want to change your password. It appears that ParisParamus is using your account.
posted by papakwanz at 9:33 AM on March 13, 2006


Right, I don't agree that the evil US is the root of all evil, so I must be ParisParamus. Brilliant.

In case it needs spelling out, I think US foreign policy sucks. I also, at the very same time, think this guy is a superficial twit saying nothing I find worth listening to. Imagine that.
posted by languagehat at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's not that the US is the basis of all Evil, rather it's the unyielding assertions by our leaders that we are the vanguard of all things Good. I would also say that most Americans don't see the disconnect between America as a force of righteous good, and the morally ambiguous (at best) foreign and economic policy.

Oh, and I don't disagree that he is a twit. Humanity, art, politics, philosophy, (posting on metafilter), are all thoroughly an amateur effort.
posted by kuatto at 12:39 PM on March 13, 2006


Well, kuatto and I are on the same page, anyway.
posted by languagehat at 12:56 PM on March 13, 2006


Y’know who was evil? Hitler.

I’ve always found it more important to oppose the evil within and evoke the good without.
...of course, that’s because I’m really an evil bastard. I suppose the question of evil it’s a bit harder if one is at heart a nice person.

I like the connection of truth bending to the particular Badiou makes to evil. The spin off into eco/politics lost me tho.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:07 PM on March 13, 2006


Relabeling 'dishonesty' as 'evil' to fit your particular political motives and position?

Wah wah wah.
posted by cellphone at 3:38 PM on March 13, 2006


Right, I don't agree that the evil US is the root of all evil, so I must be ParisParamus. Brilliant.

No, you must be PP because you immediately jump to the same kind of ignorant rhetoric ("stereotypical America-bashing Eurothumbsucker") to discredit the piece that Paris uses rather than actually arguing with it in any intelligent or rational way.
posted by papakwanz at 3:48 PM on March 13, 2006


"that Paris uses" modifies "ignorant rhetoric" not "the piece."
Sorry for the confusion.
posted by papakwanz at 4:05 PM on March 13, 2006


I read an interesting article once, I don't remember who it was written by, that classified evil into various categories. It started with natural evil, like suffering from natural causes, and also accidental actions that would cause someone else some degree of harm, went up through more serious, knowing, and deliberate evil, such as lying, stealing and violence, and ended with metaphysical evil, where there is no longer even the rationale of selfish gain, but rather casual, detached, even amused, evil for the sake of evil.
posted by blue shadows at 7:40 PM on March 13, 2006


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