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The Root of All Evil
Inner conflict leads to society conflict.

by James Leroy Wilson
March 12, 2008

The root of all evil is the mind divided against itself. Evil isn't part of nature, it is only an idea that informs our perceptions. Without the knowledge of good and evil, the body, mind, and spirit would be in harmony. We would be as innocent as animals. Indeed, we would be nothing but animals.

For instance, we may experience physical pain, but we wouldn't suffer, asking "why me?" or "Who's to blame?" Some may be be inclined to nurture children and care for the wounded, but they wouldn't be "compassionate." Some may share with others, but would neither be "giving" nor "sacrificing." Some may fight to the death to defend the pack, but they wouldn't be "courageous." And others may be lone wolves, but they wouldn't be "selfish." we would be programmed to survive, but we wouldn't conceptualize death so as to fear it. We would only be following our instincts.

Even if we hunted a species to extinction, or chopped down too many trees, we wouldn't be "harming the enivronment," because we would merely be part of it, not lords over it. We could remember things that didn't work out in the past and try something else, but we wouldn't feel stupid or guilty.

We may have foresight, but we wouldn't be "prudent." We may get sick from over-indulgence and therefore learn to control our behavior, but we wouldn't "practice moderation."

We could, in short, exhibit virtuous behavior without being virtuous, or behave viciously without being wicked.

This is because we would have no conscious will. We would have no basis for knowing we are at odds with nature - with the external environment, with each other, or and with our own bodies. Therefore, everything we do would be natural, and we could do no evil.

But because we do believe in the existence of evil, we go to war against the evil in ourselves and the evil we see in society. We believe that what is pleasurable for our bodies is sinful to God. We believe that behaving out of self-interest is damaging to society at large. Yet the longer we wage the battle against evil, the more we see undesirable results. Attempting to rid the world of evil only leads to more evil.

In our own bodies, attempts at self-control are not aided, but are rather thwarted, by feelings of shame and guilt. We believe that something we desire is evil because we were raised to believe it is wrong. We want to  maintain our honor and integrity, even though deep down we resent the fact that the object of our desire is sinful. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways - succumbing to temptation and never forgiving oneself, becoming obsessive about it, over-indulging in something less sinful to compensate, becoming neurotic. Yet if the object wasn't taboo to begin with, it may not have been attractive at all. The inner conflict - not the taboo behavior - is what sows unhappiness. It often expresses itself as a call to prohibition: because my religion and conscience won't allow me to have this, nobody else should be allowed, either. One projects his inner conflict onto society as a whole.

But not everyone agrees on what is evil. Or, they disagree with each other on what is the greater and lesser evil. Two people may agree that prostitution is immoral, but only one believes it should be illegal, while the other believes that infringing on people's liberties is even more immoral. Or, two people agree that greed and racism are evil. One believes this justifies regulating all aspects of a business, whereas the other believes that violating private property rights is even more evil.

The result of our disagreements is a hodge-podge of contradictory legislation. A casino may be allowed, but not poker at the kitchen table. Prostitution is a crime, but adultery and pornography are not, even though they break up more marriages. Alcohol is permitted, but marijuana - a much safer drug - is prohibited. The force of the law creates just another layer of inner conflict. Some believe they must obey even stupid and unfair laws, even though they know otherwise decent, peaceful people who sometimes use drugs or run illegal betting pools. Illegality can also be alluring; the danger associated with breaking the law can add to the thrill. And dealers in prohibited products and activities earn huge profits in the underground economy.

The just-resigned New York Governor Eliot Spitzer allegedly used the services of high-price prostitutes, even though when he was New York's Attorney General he himself prosecuted prostitution rings. While it is easy to point out the hypocrisy, it will be more productive to re-examine laws against prostitution in the first place. What damage did Spitzer cause, other than emotional distress in his own family? Why is it the business of the people of New York? When he was prosecuting prostitutes, why did Spitzer himself believe prosecution should be a crime?

In some ways, the guilt and shame associated with sex creates a market for prostitution. After all, if something is a temptation, there will always be tempters (or temptresses) who will see an opportunity to make a buck. And if it is also illegal, it will attract more violent and ruthless elements to take over the industry.

When the government concentrates police resources to go after prostitutes and other non-violent "criminals," it has fewer resources to target real criminals like burglars, rapists, and murderers. State prohibition is aggression, in that the State uses force and the threat of force to instill fear in the people, in the hope this will control their behavior. But the problems of temptation and self-control are bad enough for those obsessed with sin. Turning vices into crimes just adds another layer of conflict - both within the individual and throughout society - which is just another layer of evil.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country and writes for Views expressed here do not represent the views of

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