The Unmistakable Stench
I was watching a discussion on PBS of the religious interpretation of 9/11. How did your view of God change after the event? was one question the various speakers addressed. Another was about the "face of evil", challenging the speakers to express their reaction in terms of this unseeable force that seems to love suffering. This was where I had to stop watching. It’s not that it disgusts or frightens me, though it does. It’s just that I feel its existence so thoroughly that I cannot tolerate the viewpoints of the rationalists. I am a thoroughgoing rationalist myself, or try to be, so such obtuseness in my fellows embarrassed me. This painful internal conflict drove me to respond, and a flash of inspiration gave me the words, I think, to explain to them how to sense what I’m sensing. …
Memes, ancient creatures that they are, come in strains with intensively selected, highly structured characteristics. Some important attributes are 1) fecundity, 2) cost/gain patterns, 3) intensification trends. The first is capacity for replication, ease or likelihood of being copied. The second represents what a meme does for you, your family, society and third parties. The third attribute refers to the field preparation induced by an established meme. What other memes does it make room for?
Evil, easily recognized by most people whose IQs have not exceeded the maximum for usefulness, is a meme series that leads to an intensifying series or cascade of domino-memes where successive generations increase the ratio of damage done to out-group vs. in-group parties. Can you parse what I’m saying here? Any fool knows that choices lead to other choices, and some choices lead to progressively more damaging results. Any fool knows that bad company rubs off, as do bad thoughts.
Think about the Plague. The symptoms are predictable, distinctive and progressive. There are somewhat different results depending on the individual. There are different outcomes depending on the medical support system, but it is still an evil thing. We know that Science can unravel its mysteries, help control its propagation, but Science cannot change the emotional reaction we have when we hear the word nor change its very nature.
Evil can be seen as a destructive meme-contagion. It’s not as easy to discover the progression of symptoms. It’s not as predictable or as visible, but it is, nevertheless discoverable, identifiable, subject to analysis, and ultimately seeable.
Maybe some folks are just born evil -- we’ve heard people say that. I would suggest that such hosts are merely more susceptible, that perhaps an unfortunate early exposure combined with a peculiar pattern of neurotransmitters led them into a negative cascade, culminating with an implacable and destructive attitude. Or maybe the absence of eumemes leads to the same result.
Whatever. I’m not taking credit for any particular sensitivity to this affliction, but some of us can recognize it for what it is. Some of us can also detect many cases with our olifactory system, as Hamlet implied of Denmark.
9/12/2006 12:25 AM