Humans like to think they walk a fine line between metaphysically-defined good and evil, but what they really navigate is a path between success and error. Evil is a form of error brought on by human solipsism, akin to the ancient sin of hubris, where we assume our intentions are more important than the structure of reality, originally called “the will of the gods.”
Solipsistic evil can take many forms. One is failure, where we achieve nothing by chasing illusions and ignoring real issues; another is success, where we use our human powers to banish the mathematics of nature from our interactions and in doing so, create a greater failure. This often takes the form of entropy. Consider a company that by being ruthless and dominating the market, succeeds to the point where it drives others out. Now there is no longer a goal, or a challenge, and so the company lapses into apathy and incompetence, eventually failing. This is how humans fail by succeeding, by exceeding the natural parameters of an activity and creating a model of our dominating ego in the world.
As part of our naturalistic — or some might say “feral” — side, many of our greatest thinkers have recognized our need for the beast within. This beast does not aim for morality in our sense of success and failure, but perpetual conflict. While this seems wasteful despite its popularity in nature, it does achieve one thing humans cannot: it avoids entropy by keeping every activity forever in the middle between success and failure. In the natural world, species struggle for survival every day and this keeps them fit and adaptive. In the human world, we either abandon things or dominate them to avoid all risk, in the process creating our doom.
Some call this our “Faustian spirit,” and Date Jesus explores this idea briefly:
We are traditionally Faustian, conceptually and physically spanning time and place, as if prepared long ago to explore the cosmos and enjoy the wealth of having many homes, thankfully gifted with ability to tend each of them.
We civilize and make functional the most barbaric, hostile, or ruined land, but more importantly our spirit thirsts for perpetual expanse. This is our gift and curse, for it propels us beyond all limits and sensibility and affixes our focus on targets others dismiss as unattainable or never stir within enough to ponder, happily dull and incurious. This feeling for reaching beyond the present births our technology, art, exploration, and is the ever replenishing pool of our aspirations.
While I think his basic analysis of the Faustian is good, I think he confuses a few things with his term “perpetual expanse.” It is true we always need new mountains to climb when they become available, but that makes us entirely dependent on our external world, which is a smaller struggle than that of the world within. There, we need a more important thing: perpetual improvement in quality. Like an athlete trying to beat his own best time, we are forever trying to improve ourselves and our abilities. This bleeds over into technology, but some eternal skills like self-discipline, refined intelligence, meditative awareness and mental organization are the real battlefield where we must be victorious.
This desire for qualitative improvement is what drove Western Europeans to write the great symphonies and novels, to make art that most accurately showed our world in both realistic detail and transcendental setting, and to improve our philosophy to a point of clarity. Where others wanted to improve in quantity, and produce “new” ideas, we settled for taking what was there and improving it to a point of mastery, but never completing settling all questions because to do so would be to run ourselves into entropy. That has been reversed with Ideology, which democratizes intellect by making it externally-accessible through a few simple principles that cover all situations with extremely generalized, universal notions.
Tags: evil, hubris, ideology, kaizen, qualitative, quantitative, western europe