Friday, February 2, 2007

Friday Reflection: On the Delusion of Evil

We have a quote of the week (well, I think it's funny)—from the head of the World Wildlife Fund, a Super Bowl prediction:

"Bears would likely win any encounter in the wild, but that's only if they could catch the colts," said WWF's president and CEO Carter Roberts. "And there's always a chance that a bear wouldn't come out of hibernation, which would cause them to forfeit any match."


Friday Reflection: Evil, Spelled Backward

The other day, in what I thought at the time was a very cleverly written piece, I declared that Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are "black-hearted, soul-dead, bloodsucking evil." This, I now feel, was a woeful error on my part.

Well, are they? If we asked their children or their wives, what answer would we get? And when we say they are evil, what power does that give them that they do not by nature have? What is the effect of such a statement?

When I turn within and answer these questions honestly, I realize how foolish I am. For to impute evil on another is not merely inaccurate, it is impractical. It gives him power that, superadded to the power he imagines that he has, forces him completely outside the realm of humanity; it makes him into a symbol rather than a man. Presidents can be impeached; their cronies can also be forced out of office; but a symbol, an idea, can only be brought down within the individual self. When we call another evil, we descend to the same image-making that makes a tyranny work. George Bush turned Osama and al Qaeda into symbols of Evil Incarnate, and thus justified one of the more hideous and misbegotten wars of our generation.

But it seems such a relentlessly inevitable conclusion, that these old and weak white men who are responsible for the needless death and disfigurement of hundreds of thousands of innocents, should be called Evil. Can there be any other reasonable conclusion? Yes: that they are sick—desperately ill, drained of feeling and of simple animal awareness. They are not living Satans, but merely failures, a few small and regressive steps in the evolutionary sphere. Great as their crimes may be, they are themselves just a few diseased men who need to be released from the bonds of power and given psychological treatment.

Thus, it is time for me to clearly admit my mistake, while it is still small. Yet there is another lesson in this, I feel, which may reach beyond my own personal weakness. As this year progresses and the election season heats up, we may wish to recall this lesson.

Be very careful how you choose your leaders: just one bad choice can be disastrous. One walking dead can open many graves. Leave the door to darkness ajar, and the light will waver. One diseased mind can spread much contagion, if it is allowed power or privilege. Anyone who tells you—no matter his party affiliation or national allegiance—that to lead is to hold power is not a leader, but an infestation.

What must we demand of a true leader? Above all, humility. Not humility before wealth or power or an external God of vengeance; but humility before Nature and before the people.

Another thing to seek in your leaders is clarity. This is the sense for truth that feels past the apparent and sees beyond the present. This is not the myopic vision of a corporate CEO and his five-year plan. No: clarity is the perspective that draws upon the insight of each part within the whole, and allows that synergy to become the lantern that guides the nation or the organization, rather than the distorted glare from a book of doctrine or a boardroom obsession.

This message will, of course, go unheeded in the mass media and the various institutions that aggrandize the superficial. But today it's just us, a few individuals meeting over an online connection in a remote corner of the blogosphere. We can scratch the surface, we can gaze past the spin.

To that end, it is my own personal practice to rely on the old Chinese oracle, the I Ching, to see what insight it may have for the moment. Here is the message I received on this very point of evil, leadership, and power:

Perseverance furthers.
Small things may be done; great things should not be done.
The flying bird brings the message:
It is not well to strive upward,
It is well to remain below.
Great good fortune.

Line 2: Six in the second place means:
She passes by her ancestor
And meets her ancestress.
He does not reach his prince
And meets the official.
No blame.

Line 4: Nine in the fourth place means:
No blame. He meets him without passing by.
Going brings danger. One must be on guard.
Do not act. Be constantly persevering.

"To strive upward" is to fall into the trap of power and the obsession with its symbols. The second line shows us how, when we run from belief to belief, from one figurehead to the next, we always fall short of what is truly a leader ("the prince") and are stuck again and again with "the official," the vapid institutional figurehead of power. Going thus, as the fourth line states, "brings danger."

The oracle's message on this point concludes with a ringing reminder to the voter, the citizen, to each unique individual whose inner leader is alive and intact: be on your guard; do not act with the crowd; persevere within yourself to reach a broader understanding that surpasses what you are told by a group pundit or an institutional lackey.

The true leader, both within the self and among the people, recognizes that it "is not well to strive upward, but to remain below." This is the same message that Lao Tzu offered leaders of his time, two and a half millennia past:

Like water is the Cosmic Consciousness:
It nourishes the depths of everything that lives.
It flows, it settles, it abides in low places.

Keep your home close to the earth,
Keep your thoughts direct and simple,
Keep judgment fair, and fluid in conflict,
Keep your government free of power,
And your personal affairs in harmony
With the life of Nature.

Drop the struggle, silence the demons,
And your natural self will be free.


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