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Thursday, April 9, 2020

An Uncomfortable Truth

Liberals and progressives don't like to talk about evil. We like to deceive ourselves by calling evil something else. We try to borrow the idea of unskillfulness from Buddhism, but if we are honest it
only works part of the time - perhaps because the concept doesn't translate well. If we say, "he murdered her, and it wasn't very skillful," it sounds more like he didn't kill her efficiently than his behavior was problematic. We talk about separating person from behavior, a solid concept, but we take it too far when we slide into absolving people of personal responsibility for their actions, no matter how heinous. Personal responsibility is essential if we are to construct any kind of workable morality.

I am convinced we need to return to using the word "evil" to describe actions that are evil! If a
man walks into a daycare center and shoots everybody that is an evil act. If they stir fry other
people for dinner, that's an evil act. If someone repeatedly lies, cheats, defrauds, and harms others, those are evil actions and taken together they are a pattern of evil behavior that is cause for great concern. Cultures develop values and laws, and those who continually and intentionally violate those norms are participating in evil. Are they, themselves, evil? My honest answer is that I don't know. I don't believe that worrying about whether Bob has participated in enough habitually evil actions to have earned his Dr. Evil merit badge is especially helpful. It may be for some an interesting theoretical exercise, but it doesn't really change what has happened or offer us a way to move forward. We get sidetracked in a discussion of what to do about this person we have labeled as evil rather that look for a solution to the problem of evil.

You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. I have come to believe that it is of utmost importance because I believe that karma, in a collective sense, is real. Karma is, quite simply, an understanding of cause and effect. Some years ago at a public appearance, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was asked what the Vietnamese people had done to generate the negative karma necessary to be invaded first by the French and then by the United States. He responded by saying it wasn't the Vietnamese karma that caused those colonial atrocities, it was everybody's karma that caused them. It was collective karma that caused those illegal invasions, not individual karma. I have a hard time with the idea that a child dies shortly after birth because of some offense she committed in a previous life, but it makes perfect sense to me that she died because of choices we have made to spend money on war rather than medical research to reduce infant mortality - and that, my friends, is karma. It's not that some powerful agent killed the child to punish us or her, it's that the child died because we made choices and established priorities that led us to not have the information and technology whereby we could have saved her.

These ideas don't only apply in life or death situations. When we choose to tolerate corruption, our karma will be that corruption will increase. When we choose to play footloose and fancy free with the truth, we will be surrounded by lies. When we choose to tolerate infantile behavior from our leaders, we will get childish leaders whose behavior is a national embarrassment. When we
ignore the plight of the poor and continue to oppress people, they will rise up. When we choose to divert funds from education and healthcare to the defense industry, we will raise dumb, sick people. Karma is common sense.

When we ignore warnings of a pandemic and cripple our pandemic response capability so the President can pump more money to his friends in industry, we get corona virus. If we have elected an unqualified leader, our response is crippled and people die. This isn't about politics, it's about karma. Jesus said it this way - you reap what you sow. If you wonder how we as a people got here, wherever the here of the moment might be, just look at where we have been. Next week, I will look at how to fix the mess we find ourselves in.

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