8 Bit Philosophy: What is Evil?

Imma let you finish, but...

Emptying the milk carton and putting it back in the fridge. That is evil.

Blinding following the orders of others? There goes all militaries!

I remember this one. I don't believe that true evil exists, or if it does we have not seen it in the sense that we think of something like a devil in hell. We have, however, seen the ideas of good stretched so greatly that people use them to justify evil acts, all the while thinking the are doing what they are doing the service of some sort of good. For Eichmann, the good he was seeking was simply doing his job as well as he possibly could and having his superiors give him accolade and advancement. But at no point did he experience pleasure at the thought of other people's suffering. As Arendt showed, he simply didn't think at all beyond doing his job. Of course, that does not mean no evil act has been committed, only that the person who committed that act saw it as good in some way that mattered to them.

I don't think this video really addressed the question raised in it's title. It just pointed out one manner in which an evil act can be carried out.

It's hard to define evil. A willingness to do harm isn't good enough because lots of people have done harm for a good cause. But if you say evil is when harm is committed without "good cause" you enter a murky subjective realm. Almost all people we consider evil had some motivating cause that they considered worth the harm. Nobody is the villain in their own story. So you can't define evil as when someone intended to bad, because (almost) nobody is ever intending to be evil. You could say that a harmful act is always evil and the intent of the actor doesn't matter, but then someone who causes harm completely by accident is being evil, even a natural event like a tornado could be considered evil. The only thing that seems to really be consistent with what we generally consider evil is when people deliberately prioritize themselves over others and in doing so cause a significant amount of harm.

Why was it changed so the ads start playing a several seconds into the video? This honestly happened to me just now:

Video: What is evil? (Cuts to picture of a puppy dog)
Me: .... wait, what? Puppies are evil? Oh, it's an ad for dog food.

OT: I'm not sure the video answered its own question, but the evils of being hiveminded is a somewhat common story theme. Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (by the late great Terry Pratchett), A Wrinkle in Time, and Dark City I can name off the top of my head.

Oh, for god's sakes...

Again, I have to ask what's with people trying to obsfucate well-established dichotomies lately? We have archtypes. They define the roles. Look upon them and know what good and evil is.

I was expecting Moral Nihilism but got "What can you do to stop evil through the following of orders", still not sure if I'm disappointed.

As for the question raised, fuck all, you might be able to educate people but humans love order. Nothing better than order and purpose. Fascism can provide both of those in droves.

"Unconsciousness is the greatest sin" Carl Jung

ritchards:
Blinding following the orders of others? There goes all militaries!

Nonsense. While you will find people willing to follow orders no matter what they are you'll also find people and military doctrines that specifically speak against this. In the U.S. Army, you are taught specifically to refuse to follow any illegal order. You are also taught self-sufficient leadership and thought if and when the master plan goes under. This idea that soldiers more often than not just blindly do whatever they're told is bullshit.

OT: Evil and Good are both shorthand for morals and ethics and breachment of those. Evil specifically is a fairly useless term since it is so broad in application and so tied to subjective criteria that it becomes a measure of nothing. Talk not to me about good and evil outside of fantasy and fiction, talk to me about morals and ethics, nuance and culpability. Eichmann wasn't evil, banal or otherwise; he was a man concerned more with doing what he was told and pleasing the authority above him than he was with the immoral treatment of the people he was sending off to be enslaved and die.

The whole concept of evil is the demonization of people who act immorally. We created the concept of evil as a way of dehumanizing those who commit atrocious acts. We do this because we know we must exact some great degree of punishment on that person and find it much easier to do so if we stop thinking of them as immoral people driven by the same instincts that drive us and start thinking of them as sub-human monsters driven by a mystical force that causes misdeeds. This is why almost all religion and mythology links evil to a god-head or some other supernatural being. If we think of evil as a force outside of humanity and we think of humans who manifest this force through their immoral deeds, it makes it all the easier for us to exact great punishment on them. If you think of Eichmann as just some dumpy little man who was following his orders and had no ill-will toward anyone, hanging him becomes uncomfortable. If you think of Eichmann as an evil Nazi who was thirsty for genocide, hanging him becomes a righteous thing to do.

Because the concept of evil is useful in this way, every society has adopted the idea. The problem is that it is so broad and so lacking in nuance that it is useless for any practical system of just, moral and ethical behavior. What's worse is that the one useful component of it, duhumanization of the atrocious criminal act, can be easily bastardized into getting people to demonize those who are not atrocious criminals. This is why any nation at or on the brink of war invents an unending litany of stories about how those they are going to war with are "evil." For reference, see the fictitious warcrimes tropes.

In short, the whole concept of evil is a lazy way of justifying how we deal with immoral and unethical acts and serves as a way to convince ourselves that it is not natural human instincts that drive these acts but some supernatural force that overcomes us. I wish we'd do away with the lazy shorthand and deal with morals and ethics instead.

Sad part is, as later experiments have shown (yes, it's possible to question the methodology of those experiments, and attack them on that level, but that aside), this willingness to follow authority, and do what you're told, even in the face of obvious evidence that something you are doing isn't right, afflicts something like 90-95% of all of us.

Which is great news if you're a dictator, because it means you just have to hunt down and exterminate that 5-10% of people who don't mindlessly bow to an authority figure, and the rest will sort itself out just because they listen to authority.

Of course, that is a less pleasant thought if you consider what that means in terms of the capacity for ordinary people to contribute, wilfully to horrific atrocities...

Very troublesome findings indeed...

It's human nature to do without questioning. It's biological and reinforced throughout our lives. Child, do as I say because I said so. Student, believe what I say because I said so. Worker, do what I say or you're fired.

In order for society to work we need authoritative figures and we need a large percentage of people that follow them blindly otherwise we would never get anything done. You go to a construction site. Do you see the foreman being barraged by questions like "Why are we spacing the beams 6 feet apart rather than 8?" "Why are these rivets a different color?" "Why does this building need to be 12 stories tall?" If it was that way the building would never get finished. Instead the workers do what they're told, when they're told. They don't need or want to know why anything is the way it is.

If you think you're any different you're most likely entirely wrong. Particularly if you can manage to hang onto a job.

There was an experiment performed where a man, an actor, was placed curtained off into a booth where no one could see him. Outside the booth was a scientist in a suit (another actor) and then there was the test subject. The subject was to ask the man in the booth questions over the intercom. If the man got it right he was fine. But if he got it wrong the test subject was to flip a switch to shock him. Each time he got it wrong the subject was to flip a different switch which delivered a larger electric shock.

At the end of the test the man in the booth began to complain of chest pains and begged to be let out. While the authoritative scientist told the test subject to ask the final question and deliver the final shock. Even with the man begging and saying he's having a heart attack that compulsion to follow authority compelled over 75% of people to flip that switch and quite possibly kill this man. This was purely authority based. They were not threatened with a cut to pay. Their families weren't put at risk. The scientist was not their boss, not their father, nor was he holding any sort of weapon or even wearing a badge. Yet only 25% said no and refused to kill the man in the booth. THAT is how powerfully the compulsion to obey is engrained into us.

If we have good leaders who are mindful of our needs and have good goals this is fine. But put this power into the hands of bad leaders and you have Nazi Germany. The greatest problem is this is the psychopaths crave power. They will go to great lengths to secure authority for themselves going into careers as Politicians, CEOs, and Police officers. Their hunger for power makes them excel at gaining these jobs placing hundreds, thousands, millions of unquestioning people under the power of men and women who don't give a flying fuck about them.

Mid Boss:
It's human nature to do without questioning. It's biological and reinforced throughout our lives. Child, do as I say because I said so. Student, believe what I say because I said so. Worker, do what I say or you're fired.

I have to answer these.

Child: NO!

Philosophy Major: Ah, but on what basis do you equate your beliefs. Do you have any proof?

Worker: Well, are you paying enough? And how about those dental benefits? Insurance?

Nothing is ever easy.

Mid Boss:
It's human nature to do without questioning. It's biological and reinforced throughout our lives. Child, do as I say because I said so. Student, believe what I say because I said so. Worker, do what I say or you're fired.

In order for society to work we need authoritative figures and we need a large percentage of people that follow them blindly otherwise we would never get anything done. You go to a construction site. Do you see the foreman being barraged by questions like "Why are we spacing the beams 6 feet apart rather than 8?" "Why are these rivets a different color?" "Why does this building need to be 12 stories tall?" If it was that way the building would never get finished. Instead the workers do what they're told, when they're told. They don't need or want to know why anything is the way it is.

If you think you're any different you're most likely entirely wrong. Particularly if you can manage to hang onto a job.

There was an experiment performed where a man, an actor, was placed curtained off into a booth where no one could see him. Outside the booth was a scientist in a suit (another actor) and then there was the test subject. The subject was to ask the man in the booth questions over the intercom. If the man got it right he was fine. But if he got it wrong the test subject was to flip a switch to shock him. Each time he got it wrong the subject was to flip a different switch which delivered a larger electric shock.

At the end of the test the man in the booth began to complain of chest pains and begged to be let out. While the authoritative scientist told the test subject to ask the final question and deliver the final shock. Even with the man begging and saying he's having a heart attack that compulsion to follow authority compelled over 75% of people to flip that switch and quite possibly kill this man. This was purely authority based. They were not threatened with a cut to pay. Their families weren't put at risk. The scientist was not their boss, not their father, nor was he holding any sort of weapon or even wearing a badge. Yet only 25% said no and refused to kill the man in the booth. THAT is how powerfully the compulsion to obey is engrained into us.

If we have good leaders who are mindful of our needs and have good goals this is fine. But put this power into the hands of bad leaders and you have Nazi Germany. The greatest problem is this is the psychopaths crave power. They will go to great lengths to secure authority for themselves going into careers as Politicians, CEOs, and Police officers. Their hunger for power makes them excel at gaining these jobs placing hundreds, thousands, millions of unquestioning people under the power of men and women who don't give a flying fuck about them.

Good points, but I'd like to address one premise you make - "in order for society to work we need authoritative figures".

I believe the real issue there isn't authority or behavioral programming. It's the choice of a hierarchical organizational system that dams up the distribution of information as a workaround for its communication deficiencies.

Such a system has levels of power (ability to get / commit resources) and the involvement of these levels are pretty much always mapped to the stages of an activity in chronological order. The top level of the system is engaged for the starting stages and the lower levels get involved further on in the process. (Because why would you discuss an initiative with someone who may be involved in execution, but doesn't have the power to support it right now?) So the information necessary to execute the process is always being collected / generated by the top levels of authority in early stages and passed on to the lower levels in later stages.

And possession of this information therefore becomes a source of control for the next lower level. And if you're in control, you totally deserve the job title to go with that, right?

And a system is born. But as seen, it's subject to the "weakest link in the chain" problem. Any link can essentially subvert the operation of all of the links under it by controlling the information they pass down the line. And since authority = information in this model, all of the people who are receiving this inaccurate / incomplete information *can legitimately claim a lack of responsibility for the results*.

I believe this is an inevitable result of the flaws of the hierarchical authority model. All of the "don't follow illegal orders", "you should have questions" etc. arguments are literally attempts to scapegoat victims of the flaw in the system.

Now I'm in a profession where we require that there be a separate line of communication all the way up the organization which is outside the channels of authority. The express purpose is to ensure that information can bypass a weak link in the hierarchy, thus providing a check on any abuse of the system. Other checks include segregation of duties (no one person has enough power to cause the organization to commit a crime) and peer review of critical decision-making functions.

I believe a much better answer is open information all the way through the process, but we aren't there yet. Soon though, because now we have the technology. We just need to get it into place and make it universal.

 

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