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Can we “understand” evil?

Can we “understand” evil?

ISIS is the embodiment of evil.

ISIS is the embodiment of evil. But:

“We don’t understand real evil, organized evil very well,” said America’s former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, in an interview with The New York Times. “This is evil incarnate.”

“People like [Islamic State commander] Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi have been in a fight for a decade,” he added. “They are messianic in their vision, and they are not going to stop.”

My question is: does anyone ever “understand” evil? I don’t think so. Evil’s very nature is to be inscrutable. Evil is altogether mysterious and altogether different from the way most people operate or could even imagine operating.

In all the biographies and histories that have dealt with Hitler, for example, who has ever really explained him? No one.

Religious people posit a spiritual origin for evil. Non-religious people tend to doubt its existence, until they look into its eyes.

If it were necessary to fully understand evil in order to fight it, World War II would have never been won by the Allies. What is necessary is to be able to recognize evil and see it for what it is quite early in the game. Those are the important first steps. The next steps are finding the will and the tools to fight it. Evil is very strong, because it doesn’t know the same restraints and limits as morality or good.

Regarding ISIS, Elizabeth Warren pipes up:

“It’s a complicated situation right now in Iraq and the president has taken very targeted actions to provide humanitarian relief that the Iraqi government requested, and to protect American citizens,” Warren told reporters. “But like the president I believe that any solution in Iraq is going to be a negotiated solution, not a military solution. We do not want to be pulled into another war in Iraq.”…

“The point is there has to be a negotiated solution in Iraq, but we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Warren said. She said, “This is partially a question of whether the U.S. government negotiates or whether we have the Iraqi government doing these negotiations, and how we help support them as they try to maintain an integrated country, and a country that better represents all of the people who live there.”

We may not understand evil, but we’ve learned that negotiating with it is impossible. The very nature of evil precludes negotiations, and it can only be met with great strength rather than weakness. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t even understand that much. Or perhaps she understands it and is just pretending not to, because she knows that’s an atittude that pleases her base.

Ronald Reagan may have been our last president who understood evil—at least, that is, how to recognize, name it, and fight it. Jimmy Carter was a religious man, so you’d think he would have known evil when he saw it, but that did not seem to be the case. The Bushes, both elder and younger, fought it militarily but in the case of Bush I he didn’t finish the job, and in the case of Bush II he made too many compromises with it prior to the surge, and ultimately ran out of time when Obama took over. And Bill Clinton didn’t think in terms of evil at all.

But Warren’s words seem positively nonsensical. Perhaps the most curious thing about the quote is that she says there has to be a negotiated settlement in Iraq, whether it’s the US or the Iraqi government participating in the negotiations. But why this must be the case is left unexplained. Does she really think that the ISIS lion is going to lie down with the lamb? Far from being obligatory, is it even within the realm of possibility? A group like ISIS can only be destroyed or it will destroy the good in its path. It cannot be reasoned with.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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9thDistrictNeighbor | August 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

To paraphrase Forrest Gump regarding ISIS, or whatever they are calling themselves today, ‘Evil is as evil does.’ To quote Forrest Gump regarding Elizabeth Warren, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

We may not “understand” evil but then we don’t really understand mental illness either.

However we do (most of us) recognize evil when we see it and especially after it demonstrates itself in no uncertain terms.

The problem lies with those who believe that evil can somehow be rehabilitated if we just say the right things and cure evil of it’s evilness.

This is partly because if you believe that evil exists then you’re part way to believing in the Devil and that means that God’s probably next in line also.

Liberals can’t abide that possibility as that would mean that all those redneck loser Xtians are right and that liberal Progressives are wrong and have always been wrong.

It’s also why they’re willing to ignore the antics of Islam but come down like a ton of bricks on Jews and Christians.

Jews and Christians (Actually their God) are the competition.

Liberals want to be Gods and rule everyone else and be at the pinnacle of society and the paragons of virtue.

(This is why when you give Liberals even just a little power they become tyrants.)

They figure Islam can be dealt with later after the Xtians and Jews get the chop.

Too bad they’re just removing the only people standing between them and a hatchet.

    The problem is not “those who believe that evil can somehow be rehabilitated if we just say the right things and cure evil of it’s evilness.” The problem is these people who claim to want to rehabilitate evil want to be ruled by them. That’s the problem.

    We have to learn not to take these people at their word.

ISIS is too evil and bloodthirsty for Bin Laden and Al Queda,
according to document found in Bin Laden’s hideout.

Evidently this rabidly homicidal, psychopathological strain of Islam has been around a while.

    HarrietHT in reply to Uncle Samuel. | August 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    That message is mainstream media BS, covering, as per usual, for the real nature of Islam, which is to destroy or subjugate every living human being which stands in opposition to their insane blood thirst — blood thirst being the operating principle of Islam.
    Evil Incarnate. Yes indeedee.

      Observer in reply to HarrietHT. | August 11, 2014 at 5:48 pm

      One of the worst offenses of the MSM, as well as the Bush administration, and especially the Obama administration, has been to continually insist that Islam is a “religion of peace.” In fact, Islam is far more than just a religion; it is also a political system, and it is more about conquest and domination than about peace.

      Further, as a political system, even “peaceful” Islam is entirely incompatible with the core values of our own political system. To cite just a few examples, Muslims do not believe in the separation of church and state; they do not believe in freedom of speech, or in freedom of religion; they do not believe in equal legal rights for women and homosexuals; they do not believe in free markets (the Qur’an forbids the charging of interest on loans), etc., etc.

      Given these facts, why has our government been allowing millions of Muslims to immigrate here? Our government and media institutions reflexively genuflect at the altar of “diversity,” without ever pausing to question whether the type of “diversity” they’re supporting is ultimately going to result in a clash of civilizations in our own land.

        HarrietHT in reply to Observer. | August 11, 2014 at 6:34 pm

        Why? Because Islam is the tip of the spear to replace the historic American nation with a different people. Once blasphemy of Islam becomes a state crime — remember these words: “the future does not belong to those who slander Islam,” spoken at the UN by Mr. Islam himself, Barack Hussein Obama — then Christians will become a hunted species, in the same way they are now in Iraq.

        That’s why. The left, aka communists, think they are playing their hand rather well. Hah! I would only encourage them to be careful what they wish for.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to Uncle Samuel. | August 11, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Is there anything that was not found in Bin Laden’s compound?

    In reality they had less 20 minutes inside the building . This old guy they allegedly got that was in pjs did not keep a document filed away in English.

    Given that one of their helicopters could not take off , they had to push everyone into one . That does not leave much room of time to sort out documents likely written in Pashtun & Arabic .

    This whole meme is being directed to say that AlQuaeda in Iraq not only existed prior to. The 2003 invasion but is ISIS .

      Yes. The whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s body. Or did they find that too?

      Actually, we know Al Qaeda was present in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.

      Al Masri entered Iraq in the late 90s, as far as is known with explicit permission.

      The Baathist regime also allowed Ansar Al Islam to form and allied with them against the Kurds – and it fact was one of our targets in the initial invasion.

      Finally, a number of AQ refugees from Afghanistan were welcomed into Iraq, most notably Al Zarqawi.

      Now whether these people can be equated to ISIS is hard to say, but arguing that AQ was not in Iraq before the invasion is ludicrous.

      Whatever wasn’t in bin Laden’s compound was in Bill Clinton’s failed economic “stimulus” bill back in 1993.

The way to deal with folks such as ISIS/ISIL is simple in principle: you kill them. The only thing complicated is the best way to do it. A friend of mine suggested that this might be a good time to use a few neutron bombs.

I only need to RECOGNIZE evil.

I don’t fret about UNDERSTANDING evil. That is a vexed question.

After RECOGNIZING evil, my only concern is DEFEATING evil.

That will give others the luxury of playing with the idea of understanding evil. Others who would otherwise be crushed by evil.

    The key to recognizing evil is knowing history in the kind of factual way that has been largely discontinued in K-12 and our universities. It has been said that’s why Churchill understood Hitler’s true aims while Chamberlain did not.

    Churchill knew his history.

    It’s like all the ‘educated’ people muttering after the Boston bombing that there was no way to understand such a tragedy. It’s understandable all right.

    Hamas is understandable in the same way. We cannot pretend Worldviews that do wish to harm us and have said so repeatedly do not exist because that would be unpleasant to acknowledge.

the situation is not complicated, its obvious actually, its just that Obama has a habit of trivializing the momentous and complicating the obvious. Obama has pretty much validated the Bush Doctrine of invading dangerous countries, staying there until we were done. In the current situation it was the withdrawal from Iraq and our refusal to arm the kurds. we could have used the kurds as strong men against Isis and given them a homeland at the same time.

I think the next shoe to drop is Jordan. Once Anan falls that’s it, Bashir will be surrounded, Damascas will fall and Bhagdad shortly after that. These guys are on the roll and we don’t have a president to stop them. The whole scenario sounds like the NIR wargames where fundamentalists take over the middle east and march on israel. that was just a far fetched game to figure out good our logistics were, but this, Nukes are going to go off in the middle easts

    Henry Bowman in reply to imfine. | August 11, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    I think you probably correct in your assessment. That said, it will be easier to stop them now than later. They did not start out with heavily armored vehicles (mostly Toyota pickups), but have acquired many along the way because of the desertions of the Iraqi “army”. However, it’s not clear how much fuel (and fuel transport vehicles) they have. Tanks and APCs use LOTS of fuel.

    Several squadrons (correct term?) of Cobra helicopters and A-10s should do much more damage than some F-18s dropping bombs. Where are such aircraft?

      Well they have oil wells, hence money, and they should be capable of refining as well. Money is the big part though. Money turns a bag of idiots in an army. I don’t think you can use air power with ground troops. these guys know that we will not bomb civilians, so they will keep their arms close to them when not out in operations. Then they can also terrorize the people as well. I can see the Islamic State taking over Syria, Iraq and Jordan, with a shot at taking down Sudi Arabia. If they want to take on Israel they need a nuke. They might just get it though.

You do not convince people like this. You exterminate them.

IN WWII the Kamikazes were called upon to die for their Emperor god and country. Thousands signed up. But – eventually after the first 10,000 crazies – the well began to run dry. Since there were no knew volunteers – the Japanese began drafting college students in the Kamikaze Corps. Because they did not want to harm their war effort they exempted Doctors and Engineers. So (this is true) they drafted Lawyers as Kamikazes. They knew getting rid of lawyers would probably improve their war effort!

You can really tell when somebody compares ISIS to the Westboro Baptist Church.
The former is deadly evil, the latter is a nuisance.

I’ve lived with my wife for 23 years now, and I still don’t understand her. And she surely is not nearly as evil as ISIS.

So, how could I possibly understand ISIS?

Henry Hawkins | August 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm

“Evil” is identified only in hindsight, after an actor has committed a particularly heinous act.

There are as many definitions of “evil” as definers, indicating “evil” is relative to the observer, to varying degrees. This very minute, millions of Islamic jihadists see Americans as “evil”.

“Evil” is an undefined quality assigned to those heinous acts and actors who defy understanding by the observer, and many observers assign magical or supernatural aspects to it when acts and actors lie outside their understanding. At the root of this is fear of the unknown, fear of whatever could make actors behave in such horrible ways. For many, to label the thing is to feel as if one has exercised some form of control over it, though this proves ultimately unsatisfying.

IMHO, evil is an adjective, not a noun.

    alaskabob in reply to Henry Hawkins. | August 11, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Evil is also a noun… it can stand on its own… to ascribe it only as an adjective is to underestimate IT. There are horrible things done to people… but in the end it is horror.

      Henry Hawkins in reply to alaskabob. | August 12, 2014 at 10:20 am

      It’s a noun if you need it to be. To make it a noun is to say it’s in autonomous existence whether observed or not. That is, to call it a noun is to say one knows what evil is, can define it.

      Just as people all over the world would describe an apple in the same terms, because it exists empirically, so too should people all over the world describe evil in the same terms. They do not. Your concept of what constitutes ‘evil’ is far different that that of an Islamic terrorist, Amazon native, Eskimo, obviously, but even within our own (broadly) homogeneous society definitions of evil vary wildly. From religion to religion the definition varies. Even from one political ideology to another. Some libs believed George W. Bush was literally evil, for instance, while Obama is commonly called evil by some conservatives.

      Evil, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, that is, it’s a subjective construct of the observer.

There is no clearer example of the logical end of all islamic fundamentalism than ISIS – although Boko Haram and other groups already practice a form of the cult similar in basis if not in scope.

Islamic fanaticism was used by the Turks to build an empire, but they kept a lid on it once they had conquered. They recognized some limits. Not so the modern islamist. Limits and half-measures are for infidels.

Bottom line: it is them or us, sooner or later.

Great article, neo-con. Timely, too. Thanks! Ayn Rand wrote:

Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

The list of all the tenets of Islam that are not proper to the life of a rational man is too long to post…

Sen. Warren thinks there should be a negotiated settlement with psychotic forces, but we won’t do it because we don’t negotiate with terrorists, so the Iraqis have to do it. This shouldn’t give anyone confidence in her capabilities as a national leader.

but we don’t negotiate with terrorists

No. Not “with” them.
Now we negotiate on behalf of them.
That’s our Secretary of State’s job now.

Even POPE FRANCIS is calling for an armed response to stop the ISIS beasts.

No need to “understand evil”. Or label anyone or anything “evil”.

No need to play therapist, preacher, or do-gooder. Use the society-wide rules of self-defense. Is it threatening to life or limb? Is it coming at you or someone you want to protect? Then do what’s necessary to stop it.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to janitor. | August 11, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    I agree . Evil is banal & all around us . Many people have the capacity for evil but only a few on a grand scale.

Definition: Islamic Supremacist — a Muslim who fiercely believes in the commandments in the Qu’ran, as abrogated, and who wants to make Islam the only system in the world. Is willing to murder on any scale to accomplish this goal.
Islam, as defined by Mohamed — a combined government/legal/religious system wherein all parts are equal and none may be separated. It is not a “religion” as the rest of the world thinks of that word.

It is not necessary to understand evil per se, as long as we understand that the above two definitions are true in every respect … which anyone who has studied the Qu’ran can attest they are. Once that is understood it becomes clear that the Islamic Supremacists’ vow to destroy all of western civilization is an actual goal they are working toward; they have declared war on us and it was not an idle threat as the Kurds can now attest. The choices are revert to Islam, or die. Period.

This is the face of evil. This is the threat we face and it must be met be force; talking is only a show of weakness to them. To truly eliminate this threat we must cleanse the Earth of it … and yes, that does mean a campaign of extermination. Not pretty nor entirely civilized, but there is no other lasting solution. If there was, Charles Martel and Vlad Dracul would have made the current situation impossible.

I detect some confusion between the concepts “understand” and “agree.”

The Islamists have said in clear terms and multiple documents what their goals are, and how they plan to achieve them. The Hamas Charter is one such document.

The introduction says that they intend to destroy their own souls “in the path of Allah.” the document goes on to state that their goal is genocide and conquest of land through war. They plan to mobilize Muslims to reach their goal, by engaging in an advertising campaign to convince Muslims that they have an individual, religious duty to kill their neighbors.

The document also explicitly states that any agreement for peace is beyond the authority of any person or entity. That is how it secures a state of eternal war.

With a little background information, it becomes clear that Hamas’ purpose, to destroy their own souls, is through direct contravention of a core Commandment of their alleged faith, “Love thy neighbor.” and an advertising campaign to convince others to kill their neighbors. The two sins involved here are blasphemy (false pretense to act in God’s name) and scandal (corruption of the innocent.) Neither of these are crimes punishable by human society: they are, however, the most serious of sins, punishable by damnation.

You do not have to believe in their version of God or Islam or government to understand what they are doing, or to see that their actions are in keeping with their stated goals and chosen tactics to achieve them. In this case, understanding should not lead to agreement. It might, however, lead to action

Captain Keogh | August 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

Fauxcahontas is rapidly challenging Patty Murray as the dumbest Senator in Washington. Her brainless platitudes and moralistic cliches make her the perfect Democratic nominee in 2016..

David R. Graham | August 12, 2014 at 6:39 pm

A decade ago a deployed senior combatant commander wrote me saying that until then he believed there is no such thing as evil but now he has seen it face to face and knows it exists and is just awful. There is much that can be understood about evil, once its existence is acknowledged. Its ontological root, the condition of its existence can be accurately described. Its phenomenology, is operational characteristics can be accurately described. But understood in the sense of rationally cognized and grasped, no, that cannot happen, because both its ontology and its phenomenology are irrational. And it “hath power to assume a pleasing shape.” A decisive knock-out blow is the only reasonable response to evil. It will return in other guises, all of them attractive, but the reasonable and necessary response to it remains constant: knock it down and knock it out as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Evil is neither talkable nor teachable.

It is my belief that evil is simply the absence of God. Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Evil embodies lying and death.