We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

For centuries, people have pondered the meaning of evil. But the solution to the riddle is that evil has no meaning. Evil is the absence of meaning; it is meaninglessness. To build, to create, to act in the world—these all have meaning. Evil cannot. It is only a black hole that can tear apart meaningful things, and return them to the hollow silence of the universe. This is what we mean when we say that evil is “banal.” It lacks the infinite grandeur of even a grain of sand, let alone of laughter, or of a kiss. In that sense, evil does not matter. It is incapable of mattering. It cannot live or mean things. The best it can do is look on in ire, envy, and despair. And the envious are always walled off from the world that we, the living, inhabit, by an invisible and impervious barrier that they erect themselves; they always have the deadly touch of King Midas. We defy evil and envy when we live. Living in this world sheds light into darkness. It is all we can do, and all that needs to be done, and it is more than enough. Therefore, we shall live. We shall be joyful, hard-working, silly, creative, and smart and sexy and brave and fun. Be a brief candle that helps spread another light.

Timothy Sandefur, writing a long and moving item about a close relation who was one of the 14 people murdered in San Barnadino recently by Muslim terrorists. Read the whole, outstanding piece. I don’t know how Tim had the fortitude to write so well about such a terrible event to affect his family. The article contains links to charities and organisations well deserving of support.

25 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so.

  • CaptDMO

    “But the solution to the riddle is that evil has no meaning.”
    Another one duped by “evil” explaining that it doesn’t exist, and subsequently “preaching” it.

  • Lee Moore

    Yeah, well….pile o’crap.

    Some evil has no meaning, some has plenty of meaning. The desire to slaughter anyone unwilling to submit to the Caliphate / Party / Fuhrer of the Volk whatever has plenty of meaning. It is a desire that the Caliph / Party / Fuhrer should command all. Can’t get much more “grandeur” than that. Indeed the most revoltingly slaughterous of modern tyrannies from the French Revolution to the Khmer Rouge were all bursting with meaning – “This is the ideal society, submit or die.”

    As CaptDMO says, wishing that evil can be dismissed as meaningless is just a psychological crutch to avoid admitting that real people have real intentions and real plans that are evil. They haven’t all just stumbled out of a long session in the pub.

  • PeterT

    Have to agree with CaptDMO and Lee Moore on this.

    There are no evil actions, just evil people. Inflicting pain does not in itself constitute evil. Inflicting it for a bad reason (greater glory of Islam) is done by evil people. You can’t really inflict it for ‘no’ reason, unless it is by accident.

    In any event the best way of stopping evil people from doing bad things is by inflicting a certain amount of dis-utility on them. Simply ignoring them will at best frustrate them, but hardly constitutes a robust response.

  • Dom

    Welcome to the huge club of bloggers who leave out the second “r”. San BernaRdino.

  • JohnW

    Another one duped by “evil” explaining that it doesn’t exist, and subsequently “preaching” it.

    It does not exist as a thing but as an absence – a metaphysical zero, that’s the point:

    Evil, not value, is an absence and a negation, evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us. – Galt’s speech.

    The reason ISIS exists is not because of their power or cunning or intelligence but because of our compromise with evil – we gifted colossal Western oil assets to savages.

    All the rest follows from that immoral act. We gave power and significance to the unreal.

    “I saw that evil was impotent — that evil was the irrational, the blind, the anti-real—and that the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it…The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles…When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by scoundrels—and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.” – Galt’s speech.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    CaptDMO writes: “Another one duped by “evil” explaining that it doesn’t exist, and subsequently “preaching” it.”

    As JohnW says by quoting a passage from Rand (who influences Sandefur’s approach to the issue), you completely miss the point and have the gall to call Sandefur a “dupe” (which given the horror visited on his family, is particularly unclassy and unjustified). Sandefur says evil has power if we grant it space; if we don’t sanction it, it is powerless. Any fair reading of the whole of his article, where he talks about the need to protect the Second Amendment and go after Islamic thuggery, makes that abundantly clear.

    PeterT, I see nothing in the passage I quoted from, or the entirety of the essay, to suggest this is about ignoring evil. It is more subtle than that: it is about refusing to let evil shape our life.

    Another writes: “As CaptDMO says, wishing that evil can be dismissed as meaningless is just a psychological crutch to avoid admitting that real people have real intentions and real plans that are evil. They haven’t all just stumbled out of a long session in the pub.”

    Read the passage again and tell me that this is what the piece actually says. I refer to the point above. And I doubt the author “stumbled out of a long session in the pub”; his relative was murdered, which as I am sure folk realise, is a rather more sobering business than going to your local boozer.

  • Regional

    What intrigues me that Fascism was minor force in Germany till the Great Depression and then it was able to gain power.
    Britain was experiencing similar problems to Germany but Fascism didn’t obtain power.
    In 1933 Germany was in the doldrums yet 10 years later they were the masters of western Europe, yet three later the nation and it’s cities were in a shambles.

  • Brad

    Life is an absurdity – we don’t ask for it, and any meaning it has is the acquisition of positive, pleasant memories. And so a life of pain and agony would have little to no meaning. So we try and stave off pain and death knowing the whole while we will suffer pain and die, hence the absurdity. But the KEY is hoping to use our values, and our labor – mental and physical – to create positive memories for ourselves. The Golden Rule, then, would be understand the quixotic, ultimately doomed quest for meaning and allow others the same FREEDOM to try, so long as they let others do as well (the patented libertarian dictum of do as you like as long as it is not at the expense of others). EVIL is anything that defeats an individual’s right to navigate through the absurdity as they will – to kill them, to deny them liberty, to erase the products of their labor and what they have created by their value systems. Evil is the use of Force against others to demand they behave as YOU want them to make more sense of YOUR navigation through YOUR life. Evil is the imposition against others for YOUR benefit, the application of the OPPOSITE of the Golden Rule. So there may be “big” evils (murder) or “small” evils (imposing bans on indoor smoking) but they are definable and tangible and go on around us every single day.

    I don’t know if I’m supporting or defying the description of what Mr. Sandefur was writing of, just that evil isn’t an abstraction or it isn’t some dark angel sitting in a heated pit of sulfur. It emanates from man – the arbiter of values – and is those who will use Force against others offensively. Evil is the swinging wildly with ones eyes closed, not caring which chins get connected with, so long as it makes the aggressor feel better. Evil is the Puritan, the Zealot, who must quash all other opposing value systems so theirs may flourish. But isn’t simply destruction for destruction’s sake. The “meaning” of evil is the value system of men for whom Force is necessary for their sense of well being, and cementing of THEIR meaning of life, as they have defined it, typically from their superstitions. Evil is the willful imposition of your value system over another’s when they are being nothing but peaceful and productive. Evil is the hubris that you’ve detected Truth from the Ether and you have the right to impinge upon, destroy, or murder others based on that “truth”. As a humanist, Evil is any form of anti-human philosophies, unfortunately so many that abound today.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Evil is the desire to control other people, it really is that simple.

  • Agammamon

    “This is what we mean when we say that evil is “banal.”

    Sorry, but that is *not* what we mean when we say evil is banal.

    Banal evil is the factory worker in the Soviet Union producing the barbed wire that will be used to seal off the border. Its the secretary in Berlin, neatly typing up the lists of people transported to their deaths.

    *That* is banal evil.

  • Alisa

    Inflicting pain does not in itself constitute evil. Inflicting it for a bad reason (greater glory of Islam) is done by evil people.

    You have it backwards. Inflicting pain for the sole purpose of watching another suffer is the very definition of evil. The grand schemes for the betterment of society (whether real or false) is just an excuse evil people use to justify their evilness (to themselves or to others, or both).

    Does the desire to inflict pain to watch another suffer have a meaning other than that? It doesn’t. It doesn’t even manage to fill the void of nothingness it was hoped to fill in the first place – that’s why it becomes addictive, like a drug, never satisfying the sadistic. Does it contribute anything real to the purported vision of the Greater Good as above? If the vision was false, then the answer is obvious. If the vision was true, then it defeats its purpose, causing greater damage in the long run.

    So yes, Sandefur is right: evil is meaningless. May his loved one and all the other victims of the meaningless cruelty that is evil rest in peace.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    The Golden Rule is that individuals should be the first to treat others as they would like to be treated. The opposite of this produces evil- when you treat other people in ways that you would hate if it were done to you. These are my working definitions of Good, and Evil.

  • JohnW

    “The Golden Rule is that individuals should be the first to treat others as they would like to be treated.”
    I would like everyone to fight one another for limited natural resources in the most blood-thirsty ways imaginable – as we witness in the rest of the animal kingdom – because only that way will mankind evolve to supermen.

  • John Galt III

    To a Jew, Hitler was evil. To the Nazis, he was being virtuous.

    To a Kulak, Stalin was evil. To a Communist, he was fighting the peasant who wanted his own land and thus being selfish. He had to be crushed for the smallest individualism and for the sake of the collective.

    To a Yazidi, the Islamic State is evil. To al-Baghdadi followers and 90% of Muslims the IS is doing Allah’s work and therefore it is not only justified but worthy of praise.

  • Roue le Jour

    I was going to make a similar point, JGIII. The is subjective evil, where the evil is simply a point of view, such as the removal of the native Americans from North America, and objective evil which is wrong no matter where you stand.

    And no, the response to people who wish you harm (and are in a position to do so) is not to live, love drink and make merry but to find and neutralize every last one of them.

  • PeterT

    Alisa. No you haven’t understood what I wrote. In your own reply you said:

    …sole purpose of watching another suffer…

    That is what makes the inflicting of pain evil. You could run some one over with a car by accident. This could cause a great deal of pain but it doesn’t involve ‘evil’ in any sense.

    As JG3 said, what constitutes a good cause for inflicting pain is subjective. Therefore we must make a judgement about what constitutes a good cause and for that we require values.

    The ‘golden rule’ is insufficient as the Isis soldier might say ‘yes I would accept this punishment as just if I also were a non-believer’. You could I suppose tweak the rule and say ‘do unto others only what you would have done to you… for no good reason according to your own beliefs’. I suppose that may be how the golden rule was meant to be interpreted in the first place. This is of no use in identifying evil actions, since there could be a good reason for inflicting pain. However, it may be quite good in preventing evil actions.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    And no, the response to people who wish you harm (and are in a position to do so) is not to live, love drink and make merry but to find and neutralize every last one of them.

    It isn’t an either/or: you can be a happy warrior: living life to the full, and killing the bastards as the same time.

  • John Galt III

    Roue le Jour:

    What is the “removal of Native Americans from North America?”

    I live next to one of Montana’s (7) Indian Reservations. I worked on one for 11 years. When combined these (7) are larger in area than Wales: 34,340 sq. km. vs. 20,779 sq. km. for Wales. In addition there are more Indians here today than there were when the first French fur traders came through here.

    Last time I looked which was 5 minutes ago my part Sioux, Montana wife was upstairs at breakfast.

    I have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Roue le Jour

    Indian Removal Act

    Granted I could have phrased it better.

  • Veryretired

    There are a couple of things going on in this conversation that need to be addressed.

    One is the term “subjective”. While I understand the intent behind using it, as an attempt to contextualize the enormous span of that which has been considered as “good”or “evil” at various times in various places, there’s more to it than that.

    The genius, revolutionary nature, and, indeed, threat, of the theory of the rights of the individual all revolve around the location of the center used in the definition of good or evil. For most of human history, the center was in “the other”.

    It was not simply subjectivity, but the identity of the other that changed with time and place. Usually, it was some variation of deity, ruler, or tribe. Indeed, the most powerful “others” were when there was a successful fusion of all three, and the center of the ethical mandate combined the strong elements of God, king, and tribe working smoothly together.

    A combination of unusual circumstances arose in western culture which resulted in these powerful moral centering elements to be deposed, as it were, and replaced with the concept of the human person, as an independent, rational being, being the center of moral virtue, as well as political power and economic value.

    In the current circumstance, that center is under assault, as it always has and always will be, by two seemingly incompatible theories of the center—one a materialist view centered on a mythical vision of society, and the second a powerful fusion of all three “other”elements under a vengeful and demanding deity.

    There are repeated expressions of bewilderment that two such opposed viewpoints on the very natures of humanity and society could be allies, but that alliance becomes comprehensible when one realizes that each side sees the other as a kindred spirit, United in their opposition to the one ethical concept which can truly displace them—that of the primacy of the individual human person as the true center.

    All through history, while the other has ruled, cruelty and atrocity has been the norm, not the exception. As has often been mentioned, the barbarity of ISIS, for example, seems displaced in time, as if from some other century of ancient rapacity and cruelty that had somehow erupted in our midst.

    But an honest evaluation of the monstrosities of ISIS would have to admit a troubling fact—they are amateurs in comparison to the excesses of the collectivist “other” devotees that have dominated so much of our recent history.

    Those of us who still proclaim the primacy and dignity of the individual human person are truly besieged on all sides by violent and relentless advocates of the “other”, who can justify anything and everything as a necessary step in service to their ethical center. One demands submersion in the collective, the other submission to their deity.

    These are universal, and ubiquitous, phenomena in human history. There is only one truly revolutionary, and distinctive, theory of the good—that which places the independent, rational, individual human person at its center.

    And that center, by its very nature, poses the most deadly threat to all the others, because it doesn’t merely substitute one external center for another, but denies the validity of any center but one.

    Have no illusions about the nature of this conflict. It is to the death, not only individually, but of the entire civilization that has brought human beings from the mud of bare subsistence to the door leading to the stars.

    Prepare yourselves, and your children, and their children, for this war will never truly end.

    It is the ultimate battle for the soul of humanity, and in whose service that soul will exist.

  • Alisa

    Peter, I am sorry to have misread your comment, and I also happen to agree with much of what you said. However, I still see a major point being overlooked – unfortunately, at the moment I don’t have the time to expand further. I do hope to be able to do so before this post rolls off the front page.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Veryretired, are you suggesting that !DEMOCRACY! is NOT the be-all and end-all of social evolution? Isn’t that secular heresy? Democracy is all about numbers. Are you saying that sometimes the largest mob might be not completely correct?

  • veryretired

    Nicholas—I will assume all that faux shock is to make a point somehow, but let me answer it seriously.

    No, I am not a believer in unfettered democracy. I support a republic, based on clearly written, rationally based law, the most fundamental of which is a constitution that is centered on individual human rights and liberties, and carefully defines, and severely restricts, the power of any state organ, at any level, to infringe on the life of any citizen without probable cause, and subject to meticulous due process.

    People are often irrational, liable to panicky measures to stave off problems of one kind and another. One of the most common, and dangerous, measures that people reach out for is the reassuring leader who promises to solve all the problems the community faces, if only he or she is granted special, expanded powers.

    I do not support freedom for some esoteric philosophical reasons, or for the well being of corporations, or because it conveys some form of license that allows me to run roughshod over others.

    I am an individualist because I do not trust anyone else to control my life beyond certain clearly defined boundaries on violent or fraudulent behavior, and I do not desire, due to my own very clear knowledge of my myriad flaws and faults, to control the lives of other adults who have not engaged in violent behavior.

    I often see comments, articles, or conversations in which the dominant theme is how our constitutional system has failed, the cause is lost, the collective has won, and so on. I do not accept that despairing argument, nor that bleak view of the future of human life on this planet, or, hopefully, others as well. Of course the constitution has flaws, of course the people have made terrible errors, accepted irrational solutions to various problems, and allowed the state to infringe on the liberties of the citizen.

    Their can be nothing more human than for a political construct to be less than perfect, for the citizenry to make foolish or panicked choices, and, especially, for political types to attempt to continuously expand their power, and to enrich themselves in every way at the expense of the freedoms of the citizens they are supposed to serve.

    When I was a child, I dreamily believed that the world was a simple place, that we were always the good guys, that the evil nazis and their terrible friends had been defeated, and everything was going to be all right forever and ever. Those days are long gone, in reality, and in my dreams.

    Being free means that one accepts an enormous responsibility to manage one’s own life, and care for those who depend on me, either as part of my family, or other decent people who might need my help and assistance in some way.

    I have tried to live my life as I saw fit, and see fit now, honestly recognizing my many shortcomings and failings, while encouraging all whom I might influence to live as a free person, believe in the concept of liberty, and work to ensure that, as a great man once noted, government of, by, and for the people not perish from the earth.

    I am secure in the belief that this is a decent and noble way to think and live. I do not have to have everyone agree with me, or believe as I believe. One of the reasons I’m not an advocate of pure democracy is that I don’t want to have to care, or worry, about what other people think, as long as they leave me alone.

    There will never be a time of perfection, of stasis, in which everything is exactly as it should be, and no more work towards protecting and expanding human freedom need be done. Whatever utopia might be, it isn’t a place inhabited by human beings, and because it is, fundamentally, non-human, every attempt to create it fails miserably, drowned in an ocean of blood.

    I wish to be left alone, and to achieve that way of living, I need a legal structure carefully designed to provide just that way of living. I need a constitutional republic centered on the rights and liberties of the individual, and if some work needs to be done on occasion to clean up some mistakes, or fill in some gaps, then that is part of my duty as a free citizen.

    My duty to myself, and my children, is to do all I can to provide a free and independent life. It is enough.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    The right to be left alone is one of the great rights, but one not often invoked or even mentioned.
    Actually, I support democracy, in its’ place. I think that areas called ‘public’, like roads and government buildings, etc, should be ruled democratically, at a local level (a la mode Swisse). Private property should be ruled, like small monarchies, by the owner.
    But the trend these days is to centralise everything. Perhaps we should call ourselves Pro-localists, so people would have a better idea of what we mean by libertarianism.