Current Affairs: Concerning Morality, and Good and Evil

And a fun item about Christmas. That one first.

Boing Boing, Gareth Braynwyn, 3 Dec 2022: In search of a more “Bible accurate” Christmas

With a link to a 12-minute YouTube video.

If you (like me) are fascinated by the pagan origins of Christmas traditions and the clear falsehoods of modern depictions of the blessed event, you’ve likely heard many of the things presented in this video (the Roman census actually took place 6 years before the allegedly nativity story (and Herod had died 4 years before that), “inn” is a mistranslation of the Greek “guest room,” and the born-in-a-manger story does not appear in the Bible).

At the end:

Correction: The video incorrectly states (and I parroted) that the manger story does not actually appear in the Bible. It, in fact, does appear: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4-7.


Now to the serious stuff.

NY Times, Thomas B. Edsall, 7 Dec 2022: Trump Is Unraveling Before Our Eyes, but Will It Matter?

Linking this for its relevance to a point in yesterday’s post: Republicans want dirt on Hunter Biden to convince themselves that Democrats are at least a teeny tiny bit as bad as Trump. After discussing the dilemma of Republicans about whether or not to keep supporting Trump, with many examples and opinions from others, Edsall ends thusly.

Which gets to the larger question that supersedes all the ins and outs of the maneuvering over the Republican presidential nomination and the future of the party: How, in a matter of less than a decade, could this once-proud country have evolved to the point that there is a serious debate over choosing a presidential candidate who is a lifelong opportunist, a pathological and malignant narcissist, a sociopath, a serial liar, a philanderer, a tax cheat who does not pay his bills and a man who socializes with Holocaust deniers, who has pardoned his criminal allies, who encouraged a violent insurrection, who, behind a wall of bodyguards, is a coward and who, without remorse, continually undermines American democracy?

Which raises a related question. Who are the millions of people who don’t care about anything in this paragraph, and keep supporting Trump? Where do they get their morality from, anyway..? And they’ll be happy to tell you where their morality comes from. (You get one guess.)


Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 6 Dec 2022: Antisemitism and white supremacy are evil: This is the moment to make that clear, subtitled “As Trump and his followers embrace overt fascism, it’s time to be specific: They’re evil, and must be stopped”

My interest in this one is, what definition of “evil” is the writer working with? (I saved the link this morning but haven’t read the article yet.) Most notions of good and evil identify the former with one’s own community or tribe, and evil with rival communities or tribes. Or, evil with any kind of mayhem. Rarely is there any notion of an objective notion of evil; good and evil are usually cartoonishly black and white. (The closest I’ve seen to an objective notion of evil is the commitment of unnecessary harm to others.)

Let’s see what the article says.

The writer opens by recalling recent events involving Trump, Ye aka Kanye West, and Nick Fuentes. Then quotes historian Richard Frankel and President Biden. Then makes this point:

That near-pathological fear of using direct moral language is rooted in the misplaced commitment to “normal politics,” which prioritizes concepts such as compromise and moderation and also in the guiding assumption that moral language should be avoided in politics at risk of appearing unfair, biased or judgmental. The same elites who avoid a moral framework also remain beholden to the myths and fantasies of American exceptionalism and the credo that the “American people,” whoever they are, are fundamentally good.

And then quotes philosopher Susan Neiman, author a book which I have but have not yet read.

Donald Trump meets every single criterion for using the word evil — and he keeps meeting it every day. Evil is a word that should be used with caution. I believe that many people, particularly a certain type of liberal centrist, were put off by the way in which George W. Bush was described as being evil. I also argue that Bush is evil and I explored this in my book “Moral Clarity.” Unfortunately, the description of “evil” has been so overused that many people just believe that it is a type of name-calling.

I disagree. When we relinquish the use of language like “evil” we are leaving the strongest linguistic weapons that we have in the hands of the people who are least equipped to use them.

The writer concludes,

Entirely too many liberals and progressives are overly willing to give such malign actors a platform or to engage them in “debate,” which only legitimates their toxic and dangerous ideas.

To this point, Republicans and “conservatives” with the assistance of the compliant news media, have successfully branded themselves as the guardians of “values” and “morality.” That was always an absurd claim, and today it is obscene. If pro-democracy Americans can successfully present Donald Trump’s movement and the neofascist right in clear moral terms, they can seize a crucial opportunity to shift public opinion and gain important traction in the battle to save the country’s democracy. The choice before us is clear enough: Avoiding the moral high ground, in an excess of delicacy or a desire for “dialogue,” is to invite disaster.

So I suppose my take-away from this article, given my question going in, is: read Susan Neiman.

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