L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 239, September 21, 2003
Evil is as Evil Does
What Is Evil?
Exclusive to TLE
I'm always surprised that I have so few critics or even people who have disagreements. This is probably a testament to the fact that most of my readership are Zero Aggression Principle devotees, and that they are by definition extremely intelligent.
There are basically two kinds of critics: the kind who have a knee-jerk emotional reaction and are so angry that they can't string together a coherent sentence, and the kind who have a thoughtful disagreement. The people who write to me are uniformly of the latter kind.
I'm fond of quoting seminal libertarian author L. Neil Smith, who once observed that people who intentionally take actions that are demonstrably harmful to others are either stupid, insane, or evil possibly all three.
In "Professional Paranoid, Part III," I applied this principle to elected officials at the Federal level who support the "war" on terror (more correctly, the "War on Freedom").
I believe that in the main, stupid people do not get elected to Federal office. In addition, aside from a large dose of power madness and a smattering of personality disorders, "insanity" does not apply to most elected officials e.g., they understand perfectly well that their policies are actively harmful.
The only remaining explanation is that they're unspeakably evil.
The thoughtful disagreement directed to me was:
"That misses the biggest and most plausible category: they couldn't care less about the harmfulness of the policy, and ceasing to do the harm would hurt them (loss of votes, annoyed campaign contributors, vulnerability to being 'smeared' by the opposition, etc). That isn't proactive 'evil', just selfishness, ambition, and a lack of conscience."
To an extent, this is absolutely correct. However, it set me to thinking:
How does one define "evil"?
Traditionally, "evil" has all sorts of religious connotations. It is inextricably bound with consorting with Satan and other such trappings. If you're a religious individual and wish to adhere to this kind of definition, I've certainly no objection. However, it's not my definition.
I define all basic morality in terms of the Zero Aggression Principle, specifically:
"No human being has the right under ANY circumstances to initiate force against another human being, nor to threaten or delegate its initiation."
Any activity that violates the ZAP is defined as "moral." Any that violates it is "immoral."
Does initiating force e.g. committing an immoral act make a person "evil"?
The Miriam-Webster definitions of "evil" that apply in this context are:
By either definition, violation of the Zero Aggression Principle can be categorized as evil. It is morally reprehensible to violate the ZAP, and to do so typically causes harm.
However, in modern society, "evil" has emotional content that goes well beyond the emotion evoked by "causing harm" or being "morally reprehensible." It invokes images of slavery, concentration camps, rape, murder, and so on. It is an appellation generally reserved for the most hideous and reprehensible activities.
The question, then, is: is the conduct of Federally-elected officials reprehensible enough to deserve the emotional connotation "evil"?
I would argue that it does.
Let's take, for example, the average Congressman. Not the stupid ones who do what they do because they don't know the harm it causes, and not the insane ones who cause harm because they believe wrong is right. Let's examine the AVERAGE Congressman, who engages in his behavior because he wants power and doesn't care what he has to do in order to get it.
On taking office, Congressman Average placed his hand on a Bible and swore the following sacred Oath to God:
"I, Joe Average, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."
Now, let's take a universal issue in which all Congressmen believe the Federal Government should be involved: education.
I invite one to examine the Constitution for language that authorizes the Federal Government to become involved in an individual's education. There is none. It is, under the Constitution, not the purview of the Federal Government. Therefore, should Congressman Average vote for any bill that allows the FedGov to become involved with education, he will be in willful violation of his Oath of Office. He will be explicitly undermining the Constitutional prohibition against FedGov involvement in unauthorized activities.
So on the first level, Congressman Average has violated a sacred vow made to God. I'm not a religious individual, but if you are, think of the implications of that for a moment. Violation of a sacred oath made to God is literally on the same level as, say, violating the sacrament of marriage. If you're religious, Congressman Average's vote to involve the FedGov in education is a sin, and Congressman Average is likely to burn in Hell for all eternity for his actions.
If you're a religious individual, would you consider a person who would violate a sacred oath made to God "evil"? And what if he violated this oath not just on that one issue, but on virtually every issue that came before him?
From a religious perspective, our Congressmen are evil because of their repeated and willful violations of an oath made not to man, but to God.
However, like me, you might not be a religious individual. It might be that you simply consider violating a sacred oath something totally consistent with the way most Congressmen operate: hypocritical at best. Can we consider Congressman Average evil?
We can. Firstly, there's the ZAP issue: by voting to authorize the FedGov to become involved in education, Congressman Average has delegated the initiation of force. He has violated the ZAP, because government cannot so much as lay one brick atop another without stealing the money necessary to do so.
And again, it isn't just on education in which Congressman Average has initiated force. There is almost nothing he does that does not involve initiating force, either explicitly or through delegation.
From the perspective of the ZAP, a repeated, unrepentant initiator of force can only be one thing: evil.
But suppose you're neither a ZAP devotee nor a Constitutionalist nor religious. Can Congressman Average still be considered "evil"?
Yes, he can. FedGov involvement in education is quite clearly detrimental to education. Since the FedGov first involved itself in education, nothing it has done has ever made education better or more effective. It does nothing but harm the minds in its charge. Frankly, ANY government involvement in education is demonstrably harmful, but no more so than Federal involvement.
So Congressman Average is explicitly causing harm to other individuals. He knows it. He doesn't care.
He's evil, any way you look at it.
In the words of my critic, Congressman Average (and every other Congressman now in office) is so selfish, ambitious, and lacking of conscience that he doesn't care who he has to hurt in order to stay in power. He doesn't care if millions of young minds are ruined forever, unable to read, write, or perform simple arithmetic as a direct result of his power madness. Worse, he KNOWS they're being hurt he just doesn't care.
Again, it isn't just education. The litany of Unconstitutional, immoral, and outright harmful activities undertaken by government fills the day of every Congressman. Harmful, immoral, Unconstitutional activities exclude everything resembling the moral, Constitutional work they've sworn to undertake.
They know it. They just don't care.
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