Chapter 16. Evil

I was raised a traditionalist conservative, and one of the rock-solid virtues of that mindset was a vivid awareness that the line between good and evil runs through every individual heart. This was why one distrusted all schemes for salvation by government and favored the notion of checks and balances. No excess of power should be vested in any one place, because no group of people can claim fully to have healed their own hearts of that fundamental schism.

When we begin to believe that we've fingered the true locus of evil "over there" rather than "in here" when the battle between "us" and "them" is equated with the battle between good and evil then we have placed ourselves above all evil. This is to make gods of ourselves.

Yes, we must resist evil in the world resist it for all we are worth. We must strive to represent the good against the evil. This endless, internal striving never wholly successful, never finished once for all is, in fact, the decisive thing. But when the evil turns out, after all, to be over there, the striving is no longer necessary. We need only dial in the coordinates and call down the bombs.

This is how disastrous moral reversal occurs. To focus on the evil over there is to forget its strategic alliance with the evil in myself, and this in turn is to convert my own good now untethered from modesty and rendered tyrannical into a magnified power for evil. If we follow this path of arrogance, the destruction we call down upon the world may be unparalleled.

But there's a flip side to this truth. We can externalize the good as well as the evil, vesting our hopes for good in gadgets and technical machinery "out there." This, too, is a gesture of self-forgetfulness, and it is no less dangerous than the externalization of evil. In both cases we recast the struggle within ourselves as a purely external drama.

The whole idea of technology, really, is this externalization of part of ourselves our muscular activity, our speech, our logical constructions. This is perfectly fine as long as we recognize these projections for what they are mechanistic aspects of ourselves and as long as we bear responsibility for them. This, however, is exactly what we are not doing when we are looking for good and evil outside ourselves.

The soldier returning home from war and now lacking the simple moral compass provided by an external enemy sometimes faces a difficult adjustment as he tries to recover a place of shared and mutual responsibility among his fellows in "normal" society. I suspect we will face a similar challenge if ever we return home from our various technological infatuations. When we remember ourselves and look within, we never find quite the same, neatly specified virtues we have spent so much time admiring in our machines. Everything is muddier, and opposites are often intertwined. An intolerance for such subtleties seems to be one of the more sinister legacies of technology.



Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott

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