Over the years of my adult life in this unseemly yet quite unavoidable century, I have often been disturbed by the number of writers, presuming themselves thinkers, who have laboured under the delusion that there exists in our world some objectively quantifiable qualities which can be described as ‘good’ and ‘evil’. This perceived dichotomy is the darling of many a passionate moralist, who, whether denouncing in the popular press or declaiming in some journal of repute, proudly assumes the status of moral referee, and proceeds to dictate the terms of engagement.
Bemused by my own discomfit at such repeated practice, I have longed to formulate a fitting template from which future utterances can be more accurately cast. I believe this can now be summarized as the desirable goal and the necessary sacrifice.
As we are primarily beings of desire slotted into journeys whose purpose is not the achievement of destination but the steady accumulation of experiences along the way, all of us seek to gain the objects of our desires. But as we are also members in good standing of one or another, and sometimes several, communities, our appetites are tempered by socially acceptable standards of behaviour. There are, of course, those who love to live outside the law of community standards, and practice the crafts of desire fulfillment according to the formulation whatever you can get away with.
We all have desirable goals for which we are willing to make the necessary sacrifice. Whether it is a young woman, willing to risk death and disease for the joy of a healthy child, an armoured truck driver willing to risk life imprisonment for the thrill of a million, a police officer willing to risk a career for the sake of a few bribes, or an impoverished church willing to risk condemnation by accepting the support and protection of some sentimental gangster, or perhaps oppressed natives saving their land by smuggling drugs, we are all the same, the goal may be happiness, the goal may be wealth and respectability, or merely continued existence as an individual or group, but the sacrifices will be noted, assessed and usually deemed necessary.
History, whether it is caroused by preening victors or lamented by indignant losers, shows us all too clearly, that beyond the oft-cited and painfully obvious examples of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, lies an almost inexhaustible supply of kings, generals, presidents, crooks, bishops, and fanatical idealists of every stripe, all of whom, when given the right circumstances, were willing, with ever freshly laundered motives, to make that necessary sacrifice (of soldiers, civilians, children, cultures, ethics) in order to attain the desirable goal (victory, power, the salvaging of remnants, morsels of influence, freedom to fight another day).
Whether in tens, hundreds or millions, individuals were slaughtered for the propagation of some spoon fed ideology, and it is merely a matter of how many eggs one is willing to smash to manifest one’s favourite omelette. Good and evil are mere passing opinions on the lips of the victors and victims.