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July 8, 2003 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Bush: "a bottomless void"? Jon Carroll's Boston Globe op-ed asks whether it's ever possible to rid the world of evil, as W. claims is his ultimate goal, and answers in the negative. Is presidential rhetoric on good and evil helpful? Elaine Pagels doesn't think so.
posted by serafinapekkala (14 comments total)
I'm sure this thread could devolve about a zillion different ways into the political quagmire, but what I thought was interesting about Carroll's piece is the very thing that irritated me back in the salad days of the Clinton sex scandals -- excoriating the President for lacking a moral center. I cheered Carroll's zinging, but wasn't the GOP howling at Clinton in the same key? Maybe the difference is that Clinton's private immorality wasn't used to animate a foreign policy debacle...and maybe W. really *is* that mean and blank. But should it matter what the President thinks in his heart of hearts, or do we only care about the consequences? hmmmmm....President Sharpton...*guhhhhh.*
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2003

and it's *James* Carroll, d'oh, sorry.
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:08 AM on July 8, 2003

Presidential rhetoric on good and evil is unhelpful. It's meaningless. If you tried to quantify progress on a campaign against evil I don't think you could. Even if you think you could you wouldn't be able to find a consensus on what the measurement is. It's almost 4 years into the presidents term and Al-Queda is destroyed and Iraq is liberated. By what percentage has the evil in the world been reduced? If Al-Queda is only dispersed (which is more likely) does that mean the campaign against evil was more of a failure?

Comic book heroes can have campaigns against evil and win, at least until the next issue. The president of the United States isn't a comic book hero though. He should have more tangible goals. "I will bring the terrorists responsible for September 11th to justice" is a tangible and measurable goal.

I don't buy the idea, at least in my reading of the article, that the United States has become evil. I don't agree with a lot of things. I think that the battle against Al-Queda was just and that the battle against Iraq was unjust based on the reasons used to justify the separate campaigns. I believe that good can come out of the unjust attack on Iraq, but only if the USA is good to it's word and rebuilds it however the people want. I believe that part of the campaign against Al-Queda was justified to the American public with a statement that Afghanistan would be rebuilt. This is measurable, the president should be judged on the efforts and progress.
posted by substrate at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2003

Unfortunately, in our zest to destroy evil, we have created evils of our own. Evil doesn't lie in any single regime or person - it lives inside every single one of us, a malignancy dispersed like a cancer throughout the human spirit.

There have been wars to expunge evil before - the Crusades were some good ones, and the Homeland Security division of the Spanish Inquisition proved it's sterling worth. The witch trials in Massachusetts were another great step towards eliminating evil. And all of them did nothing but promote evil to a higher moral plane.

Most people have enough trouble fighting evil in their own souls... there is something demented about any man or group of men who would dare proclaim themselves clean enough to take up cudgels against the evil within other hearts.

All that stuff is covered back in Matthew 7:1 - 5, and is about as universal a truth as you'll find anywhere.

Interesting such "Godly Men" should lose sight of it.
posted by Perigee at 11:18 AM on July 8, 2003

Forget the Bible, this was all prophesized in Dragonlance. Remember when the Kingpriest decided to stamp out all evil and brought down the Cataclysm? Every geek learned that lesson by 8th grade.
posted by badstone at 11:27 AM on July 8, 2003

But it's a great thing that ensures Bush's longevity (and that of those like him - the neocons) define the terms of a war, that everyone can get behind and agree with (evil = bad, good = er, good) and that can never be won.

It's like the drugs war. It can't be won, (especially while the CIA's importing the stuff) but little victories here and there impress people without a handle on the bigger picture, and people get rich off it, people who're friends and associates (and members) of the administration.

It's not a fight meant to be won. It's a pantomime, that gets box-office revenue.
posted by Blue Stone at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2003

Is presidential rhetoric on good and evil helpful?

It wasn't meant to be helpful to you.
posted by goethean at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2003

Every geek learned that lesson by 8th grade.

heh. but, i don't think it can be stated strongly enough that George W. Bush is no geek. if we take him at his word, he's either the world's smuggest true believer, or a perfect Orwellian hypocrite. logically, a man who claims to want liberation, peace and prosperity throughout the world doesn't actively initiate violent conflict to attain that goal. of course, when the administration follows the policy of, as Jon Stewart put it, "Name It What It Isn't", this bait-and-switch becomes commonplace: "Operation Inflame the Mid-East While Simultaneously Trashing Multilateral Diplomacy and Sacrificing Our Troops" certainly doesn't have the same panache as "Operation Iraqi Freedom," right? of course, politics is not logic...but what else do we have these days?
posted by serafinapekkala at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2003

It wasn't meant to be helpful to you.

right. it was meant to help out all the drooling, blank-faced morons out there who need assurance that jeebus is on their side.
posted by quonsar at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2003

Here's a transcript of Bill Moyers' recent interview with Pagels (they don't discuss politics.)
posted by homunculus at 12:12 PM on July 8, 2003

Actually, I think that "evil" in this case might have a more finite than usual definition.
I have seen a map, by I believe a PNAC-affiliated analyst (Sorry, I don't have a link), that shows the "problem nations" of the world. There is an African-Asian "band" or group of nations that were focused on as the big potential trouble spots of the future. And the whole thing might be called an 'extended' "Axis of Evil." Governments mostly too weak or ineffectual in stopping their troublemakers.
(Interestingly enough, a big chunk of those problem countries have just entered into the latest pan-African Bush initiative.)
I would also like to point out that involvement in that region would give the US the opportunity to really help stamp out some practices that have quietly rankled it for years, such as the slave trade. If properly presented as a sequel to the suppression of the Barbary Pirates by Jefferson, it could give Americans considerable righteous gratification, once again despite what the rest of the world thinks.
posted by kablam at 2:13 PM on July 8, 2003

of course one is surprised by Bush's simplistic, even Medieval view of the conflict between Good and Evil. but the man clearly pointed out during the 2000 campaign that his favorite philosopher was Jesus, so you can't blame him now for a certain, let's say anti-intellectual attitude. he never tried to even pretend to have depth or intellectual curiosity. he may very well be a mean, superstitious, intolerant man.


many of FDR's men -- Ickes comes to mind -- had doubts about the man's character, and were wary of his duplicity and fundamental ruthlessness.

Dallek's new JFK book gives a pretty good idea of the amount of cheating, lying, macho womanizing and insincerity of Kennedy's modus operandi. JFK looks much more similiar to the James-Ellroy American-Tabloid "look good, get laid and kick ass" character than to Arthur Schlesinger's Galahad

I won't event mention facts about LBJ's character, values and morality -- a monster of a man

Trying to look into a President's brain is hard work enough already. Trying to peek into a President's heart (especially into a _effective_ President's heart) is -- at best -- interesting History grad postprandial banter. and pointless at worst
posted by matteo at 3:48 PM on July 8, 2003

There is no such thing as evil. Fuck, I thought we knew that by now. Who else has been paying attention? Evil is a moral term, and morality is a hateful anachronism. Ethics are what remain relevant. Imagine how a more enlightened age will look at how we cling to this stupid idea that there is a thing out there called evil that we can strangle to death.
posted by Hildago at 4:10 PM on July 8, 2003

I was going to say something fancy, but Hildago got the job done very well with straight talk. Someone said, "evil is a dung heap--every man stands on his own and hollers about the ones around him." I don't care any more about Bush's "character" than I did about Clinton's. i care about what gets done. Clinton lied about sex, harming no one; Bush, well... *sigh* my chest is numb again.
posted by squirrel at 5:02 PM on July 8, 2003

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