Martin LeFevre: In 1999 I helped get a leading anti-corruption figure from Kenya to a conference in Washington with then Vice-President Al Gore. Afterward I met Edward in Chicago, where we had a meeting with the principals of the Parliament of World’s Religions. Over dinner in the hotel that night, Edward asked, “Who will be the next president, Al Gore or George Bush?”
The infamous Kenyan tyrant Daniel arap Moi was still in power, and my friend, who was part of the opposition, wanted to know who would be the next American president — the liberal Gore, or the neo-con Bush.
Sorry to say, I replied, but Al Gore will never be president. “Why not?” Edward asked with alarm.
Because there are metaphysical forces in play. As senior senator during the Gulf War, Gore carried a few senators with him and gave Bush Senior the imprimatur of Congress to go to war to dispel Iraq from Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, who was America’s boy in the 80’s during the Iran-Iraq war, believed he could annex Kuwait as his reward, and the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, was told to say nothing to him just before his invasion.
Bush Senior and the Machiavellian James Baker had other plans, namely to assert American global dominance after the disintegration of the USSR, and test out our new high-tech weapon systems.
Edward, who had been imprisoned and tortured twice by Moi, described in harrowing detail some of his experiences in prison. A discussion about evil ensued, and I’ll never forget Edward’s heart-wrenching look and tone when he rhetorically asked at the end of our conversation, “What if the evil that was done to one is now in one?”
That time and experience came to mind while reading Naomi Klein’s piece in the New York Times, “To know yourself, consider your doppelganger.” Her central idea:
“We are, once again, at a historical juncture where our physical and political worlds are changing too quickly and too consequentially for our minds to easily comprehend. This is why I decided to start regarding my own doppelgänger [Naomi Wolf] as a narrow aperture through which to look at forces I consider dangerous, and that can be hard to confront directly.”
That rings hollow and half-hearted, though she nails it at the political level when she writes that we are living in “the fascist clown state that is the ever-present twin of liberal Western democracies.”
It’s very difficult to write about things for which there is no adequate philosophy and virtually no language, apart from theological claptrap. But a non-sectarian, non-psychologized philosophy of evil is urgently needed. For as Pascal said and we’re witnessing in America with most Christians supporting the malevolent Trump, “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Besieged by evil inwardly and outwardly, and without a working understanding that allows us to meet it within and without, untold millions fill the vacuum with conspiracy theories.
It isn’t just people on the right. After George W. Bush was elected and the 9.11 terrorist attacks occurred, my longtime friend from philosophy grad school (a rational empiricist) became a “truther” who insisted that the airliners were flown into the Twin Towers by remote CIA/NSA control.
When I said that was nuts, and pointed out that he was demanding physical explanations for metaphysical realities, I never heard from him again.
So I too have seen friends undergo a Kafkaesque transformation and “disappear ‘down the rabbit hole,’ lost to conspiratorial fantasies, embracing apocalyptic language, seemingly unreachable by affection or reason.”
Klein describes how her doppelganger, Naomi Wolf, has gone from “stable feminist to a conspiracist questioning election results alongside Steve Bannon.” However Klein’s liberal boilerplate and doppelganger analysis doesn’t cut it, neither as diagnosis nor prescription for the fact that “humanity is somewhere we have not been before, a place close but different.”
The problem of evil is as old as man and older than philosophy. Nonetheless, the present global crisis of consciousness requires a working non-theological explanation of evil, which to my knowledge doesn’t exist.
The first question is: are all decent people worldwide, who have at least an auricle (not oracle) beating in their hearts, now confronted with man’s cumulative evil, currently manifesting as right-wing extremism? In other words, in a globalized dead culture, are people everywhere being bombarded by darkness on the personal and collective level? It appears so.
What is evil? Is it supernatural or man-made? Is it intentional or simply amorphous darkness? Is its locus in the individual or in collective human consciousness?
Clearly evil exists, and is not supernatural but man-made. It is also clear that evil is a collective phenomenon, not an individual one, even though it has its origins in the hatred and inner neglect of countless individuals over countless generations.
Finally, and I think this is the thing that scares the bejesus out of people on the right or the left (spurring outrageous projection on the right, and head-in-the-sand denial on the left), evil has intentionality beyond the individual conduits of it.
What can one do when confronted by an extreme conduit of collective darkness (such as my Trumpist neighbor who threatened to kill me because I was “more than liberal”), or by the social/political forces of evil of Trumpism and its worldwide iterations?
Though it’s true, as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing,” that’s not enough to meet it, inwardly or outwardly.
Our doppelgangers are within us, not outside us. The content and movement of darkness (as division, fear, hatred, projection, etc.) comprise the dark side that exists in all of us to one degree or another.
Fully acknowledging the scope and depth of the darkness within us, while remaining alert to its emissions and eruptions, one grows in self-knowing and understanding. Then one does not act out of it, and contribute to the rampant collective darkness.
Conduits of collective darkness hit us and operate through our blind spots. Thus Klein’s prescription to “regard my own doppelgänger as a narrow aperture through which to look at forces I consider dangerous, and that can be hard to confront directly,” is mistaken and misguided.
However horrible its outward manifestations, darkness and evil are an inwardly generated and sustained phenomenon. We therefore have to face it head on, within and without, both for our own inward survival and for the survival of the human spirit.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.