No Lesser Of The Evils

One of the defenses that people have when it comes to active political behavior is the desirability and sometimes even the necessity of choosing between the lesser of two evils. A great many evils may be tolerated so long as one believes that one is fighting a worse foe. In addition, the worse we think others to be, the more we can justify that we or our allies are doing to them. There are a great many ways that this can go horribly wrong. It is very common in situations where there is hostility that both parties will think the worst, and then act the worst, towards others while thinking themselves to be righteous and just. It is easy to see that this is a problem, especially when we look at other people, but it is less easy to see when we look at ourselves. Essentially, though, the problem boils down to one of the fundamental issues that we face as human beings, and that is the asymmetrical relationship between subjective opinion and objective reality that leads us to think well of ourselves and poorly of others even when we are engaged in the same sorts of behaviors.

That this has to deal a lot with political concerns is lamentable but also inevitable given the essential nature of politics to the exercise of authority as well as the achievement of goals and the preservation of our own interests and worldviews. While it is certainly too much to ask of ourselves–or of others–to be unbiased given the fact that bias in some direction is so easy and the temptations to being biased either for or against ourselves or for or against others are so numerous and so powerful, it is not too unreasonable for us to expect to conduct our business with the humility to realize our limitations and to act accordingly. It is also beneficial, at least with regards to our insight and wisdom, to combine humility about ourselves with a certain clear-eyed and critical attitude of others as well. For the same limitations that apply to us also apply to others. It is not that we are biased and others are wise and sound, but rather that biases and blind spots can affect us all and must be taken into account.

To the extent that we are aware of the issues that we face ourselves, we can use this self-knowledge to better understand others. For example, if we know that it is our tendency to accuse others of that which we are ourselves guilty of, we can turn around and recognize that the pointing fingers of others point at themselves as well. We must beware that those who accuse others of false accusations may be prone to make false accusations of their own. Such evidence is not often long in coming. Similarly, when we see people deny the legitimacy of others, we may gather that they and their deeds and their character are lacking in legitimacy as well. To the extent that others behave badly, it can be assumed, and very often easily determined–since people are often free in discussing their justifications, no matter how hollow those justifications appear to others–that this bad behavior is justified in the opinion of those engaged in it. And very often this bad behavior justifies bad behavior on those who are targeted. It is for this reason, for example, that mutual bad blood is so easy to maintain, because every action of one’s enemies builds up lasting resentment and hostility and the desire for revenge cloaked as justice even as every action taken in response to that hostility will have the same result on one’s enemies.

All of this suggests a certain degree of melancholy reality when it comes to matters of evil in that there is often no lesser of the evils between ourselves and others because evil and darkness affect us all in a similar way. To the extent that we are hypervigilant about the evils and follies of others while simultaneously blind to our own, it is impossible for us to be just. It is only when there is an avoidance of double standards, and an enforcement of the same standards against ourselves and our allies as against our enemies that we can hope to behave and judge justly. And it is extremely difficult to avoid the problem of double standards, in being more generous to ourselves and to our supposed allies than to those we hate and quarrel with, and the less we respect our enemies, the less inclined we are to give them any benefit of the doubt, and the more impossible it is to be just to them and to have a true awareness of just how dark and evil our own behavior is in the eyes of God as well as in the eyes of those whom we view with disdain and contempt. And it is hard to escape the cycles of mutual recrimination and conflict once we find ourselves trapped in them.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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