Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inherent Evil

"Poor human nature, what horrible crimes have been committed in thy name! Every fool, from king to policeman, from the flatheaded parson to the visionless dabbler in science, presumes to speak authoritatively of human nature. The greater the mental charlatan, the more definite his insistence on the wickedness and weaknesses of human nature." ~ Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays (1910)

Emma Goldman, a co-conspirator to murder, plotted this evil act to advance her own beliefs. Certainly she must have known a thing or two about being the mental charlatan she adamantly denounces. In her defence, H.L. Mencken's thoughts, which I share in sentiment if not deed, are appropriate: "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats". But I digress.

Her contentious claim that she sees no evidence of 'the wickedness and weaknesses of human nature' makes me wonder how she ever missed observing it? Human nature is no more than that behaviour common to humanity throughout time. And the wickedness and weaknesses, the inherent evil of human nature we all possess is called deception. Although Ms Goldman concludes otherwise, I believe her own failure to accurately identify this evil is not the shortcoming of others.

In its most primal and animalistic state, all hunters and prey use deceptive animal behaviour to remain alive. A few common examples are feigning injury to lure a predator away from the young; lying in the weeds, quiet and still, before an ambush is launched; or relying upon various forms of mimicry, camouflage being but one, to simulate the environment or another organism.

But within our species, crafted by our unique abilities of language and imagination, we humans continue to deceive for more than primal needs. Knowingly or unknowingly, with or without a stated objective, the black heart of deception leaves destruction in its wake. Outwardly, in such chosen and timely fashions we deem appropriate, we deceive to fulfill our needs or desires at other levels. Inwardly, we deceive ourselves out of sheer ignorance or simply to avoid confrontation with our own cognitive dissonance.

On the premise that the truth is good, an ideal worth seeking and neither wicked nor evil, regardless if we can claim full knowledge of truth itself, deception invariably moves us from the truth. Its objective is to lead us off course and into a cognitive darkness, if only fleetingly. Within this framework the character of deception is by its very nature wicked and evil.

Is there anything deception does not affect? We create various institutional simulacra of our humanity - nations, religions, governments - and all offer employment for our inherent evil. In our inter-personal courtships, the workplace, the halls of academia, in business practices and sales - wherever we look we find deception employed. And it misses the point to suggest 'deception can be used for good as well', which is certainly true. A surprise party or a magic show, perhaps. But is this enough? Are playful games of deception enough to change its character? Does the lack of pure evil disqualify deception from being evil?

The answer is no, and the reasoning is quite simple. Find any evil or bad act committed by humanity, and you will invariably find some form of deception. Is this merely a coincidence that has run throughout history without fail? Or is the circumstantial evidence so overwhelming that without an alternative explanation we must accept it as an inherent and causative force?

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