Judging A Hypothetical Misguided Opponent

One of the problems with Manichaeism is it gives too much room to evil.

In case you’ve forgotten your history of theology, the Manichaens believed that Good and Evil are equal supernatural forces, that we are under one type of god who is a good, loving god, and another who is bad and mean. Throughout history lots of instances of this sort of theology have popped up because it comes naturally to us to see the world in this way.

But evil brings with it a certain compulsion, an affront, that must be dealt with. Evil at every moment wants to deliver pain and misery and death and damnation, a complex of threats that make life very dark. If the bad force is as strong as the forces of good, then the forces of good aren’t good for much, now are they? It’s pretty hard to look on the bright side of life when the dark side cannot be vanquished, and in fact one might have to say life itself would be mainly dark as long as that equilibrium holds.

Born in the Middle East where Christianity and then Islam came to dominate, Manichaeism has been supplanted, for the most part, by religions that give much more primacy to good. This is not surprising because, instinctively, people don’t want to tolerate evil. Ultimately, they want to see evil done away with. For life to really have meaning, people need to believe good will prevail because evil is a menacing force, a lion seeking whom to devour. We are hard-wired to discern and root out threats.

When you have a box of oranges with one moldy orange, you would not want to rest easy knowing most of the box is ok, because mold spreads. What you have, in fact, is a moldy box of oranges which had better be cleaned out or the whole lot will be ruined.

A better analogy might be if you have a house and only a tiny corner of the basement is burning. You don’t have a house that is largely flame-free. You have a house on fire.

Now, let’s say you have a government that contains a significant amount of corruption, and by significant I mean in important places, carried by top people, and known by many other people. It is widespread, and the places it is rooted are the very seats of power meant to protect from corruption. The orange-cleaning crew have mold on their rags. The fire fighters have torches instead of extinguishers.

Fixing the problem government can’t be done with a few terminations, some personnel tweaks. A major part of the government would need to be dismantled—like a box of oranges that had to be emptied and scattered and re-gathered slowly and carefully to ensure none of the rot made it back in.

Let’s also say this corruption scenario was in place for a long time, multiple years, maybe multiple decades. It would actually be the status quo.

And going back to our lesson on Manichaeism, we know that an institution so beset by evil could not be thought of as “mainly good.” It would be integrally, ontologically darkened. The half-corrupt government is simply a corrupt government.

Your status quo, then, would be evil.

Going one step further with our hypothetical situation, let’s suppose there are parties interested in cleaning up that corruption, facing off against parties seeking to preserve the status quo and prevent any cleanup. How would we judge those opposing sides?

Well, the forces of good are the forces of good: they want to clean up the corruption, so judging them is easy. What’s hard is knowing what to think about the others.

If the champions of the status quo know they are battling for the forces of evil, then likely we’d just label them evil as well, and the judgment would be cut and dried, good versus evil. If the status quo team were ignorant, though, the question is more difficult. Are people who battle to keep corruption in place excused if it turns out they were unaware of the problems?

Personally, I think the misguided ones would be let off the hook, eventually. Some people aren’t inclined to change the status quo out of principle. Some don’t have the imagination to perceive evil when its presence is familiar.

But of course this is only a thought experiment: To really judge, we’d have to see a real-life situation unfold similar to that described above, and we’d have to weigh the actual costs of the status quo and the manner in which the battle was fought.

Author: FirewallNOVA Guy

I write the blog now.