Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, August 5th, 2014.


How Evil Happens

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Israel

William Saletan at Slate (yeah, I know, it’s William Saletan, but it’s a good article) and Ben Hubbard/Jodi Rudoren at the New York Times write that Israel simply isn’t concerning itself with whether their shells are hitting UN schools where Palestinian civilians are taking refuge. Israel is saying it’s not targeting “safe zones,” and maybe it isn’t. But it appears Israel is taking no precaution to not bomb safe zones, either.

Saletan is accusing Israel of war crimes, saying that the Israelis have succumbed to a mentality that everything they do is justified because Hamas is ruthless. For example:

Israel’s prime minister and other officials have argued that Hamas’ use of human shields makes it completely responsible for any civilian casualties in Gaza.

This mentality makes it that much easier to pull the trigger. The Times says Israeli officials have offered no evidence that enemy fighters were near the Jabaliya school, and interviews with people on the neighboring streets found nobody who had seen fighters in the vicinity. Nor were there any bullet casings or holes. Does the enemy’s frequent use of human shields justify killing civilians in an instance where there’s no evidence of that behavior? Did this rationale play a role in the IDF’s decision to shoot?

This is a classic example of how good people get sucked into doing bad things, and I suspect Palestinian terrorists would offer us another example of the same thing. I wrote in Rethinking Religion,

If we were paying attention, history should have taught us that people who create evil hardly ever see themselves or their intentions as evil. Osama bin Laden and his 9/11 terrorists believed their attack was righteous and justified, as did Timothy McVeigh when he blew up the Oklahoma City federal building.

People are seduced into evil because they don’t recognize evil as evil. They mistake it for justice, or righteousness, or even God’s Will. And the seduction begins with the thought that “I’m a good person,” and “his hatred of me is evil, but my hatred of him is justified.” As soon as we identify ourselves as “good” and the Other, whoever they are, as “evil,” we’ve well on the way to giving ourselves a cosmic permission slip to do whatever we want to be rid of them.

I say this seductive impulse is at the root of most of the mass atrocities humankind has inflicted on itself through the ages. That’s why the ways we conceptualize good and evil have real-world consequences.

Please understand that I’m not saying people or nations shouldn’t defend themselves from those who intend to do them harm. What gets us into trouble is thinking that we’re entitled to Holy Retribution or that we are somehow qualified to pass judgments and inflict brutality on entire populations, because we’re the good guys.

Same old, same old.

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