Monday, February 27, 2006

“I know there is evil in the world---essential evil, not the opposite of good but something in which good itself is an irrelevance---a fantasy.”

These words are quoted by Bob Dylan in his autobiographical account, Chronicles: Volume One, which he says are spoken by Scratch (the Devil) in a play by Archibald MacLeish. (I couldn’t find them in the published version of the play, so perhaps they were in an earlier version that Dylan got when MacLeish wanted him to write music for it.) I just happened to read this after I started this essay. When something like that happens, you pay attention. You’re probably on to something.

One contemporary definition of evil comes from Scott Peck in his book People of the Lie. (Peck, a practicing psychiatrist and author of best-sellers such as The Road Less Traveled, died last year. He held his own set of beliefs based on various religions, including Islam and Buddhism, when he wrote this book. But immediately afterwards, he became a committed Christian, and announced this in the book’s introduction.)

Peck argued that evil is a disease, and its chief characteristic or manifestation is deception, the lie. But not simply people lying to others; it’s people lying to themselves: self-deception.

Part of that self-deception could be the refusal to face the possibility of being in error---even of not being conscious of one’s motivations or emotions that could be distorting one’s evaluation of what’s really going on, both in the outside world and inside oneself.

That is in a sense what the entity does in “Day of the Dove” when it manipulates minds. It creates internal fantasies that are as much “lies” as the reality it changes by breaking the laws of causality.

Much of what people believe in this episode is not true. The Federation didn’t lure the Klingon ship with a false distress call and then attack it with a secret weapon; the Klingons didn’t destroy a defenseless Federation colony, any more than the Klingons killed a brother Chekhov never had.

Yet their belief sparks their emotions, and their emotions lead them to leap to all kinds of conclusions, including about the character of their adversaries. They are butchers, animals, freaks. And it gives them the fever to fight. That, in this story, is the goal of evil.

It’s important to note that for those in the grip of this fever, any idea that the other side is justified, or that the facts may be other than believed, or may mean something different that our side or our leader say, seem fantastic. People who believe otherwise are either crazy or cowards or enemy sympathizers.

Peck asserts that people may deceive themselves because of the evil within them, or because they are enthralled by an evil person they serve: a leader, a spouse, a parent. In a sense, this includes being enthralled by a belief, a cause, if it leads to deception and self-deception, and to the refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, feelings and experiences. The evil person may engender the evil acts, but the enthralled person cooperates and enables them. In the end, what counts are the evil acts, and for those, leaders and followers are both responsible.

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