The Pyramid of Humanity

Pearls Before Swine is a syndicated comic strip [by Stephan Pastis] that runs in over 800 newspapers around the world.  The strip pairs an angry, arrogant Rat with a sweet but dumb Pig, the latter of whom is protected by a violent, albeit delusional Guard Duck.  Pig and Rat’s friends also include a bookish, intelligent Goat, and a poor, besieged Zebra whose only goal is to keep from being eaten by his inept and inarticulate next-door neighbors, the Fraternity of Zeeba Zeeba Eata crocodiles.”

I particularly liked how this comic captures in-group / out-group dynamics. You’re either cop, cyclist, vegan, Republican, pick your in-group of choice, or you are “little people”, scum, exotic, and so forth and so on.

Conquering Evil

“Evil can not be conquered within this world. It can only be resisted in oneself.”

Kung Fu (television series), Master Po

The world is full of people that look at the world they live in and see evil all around them. It’s easy to point to outliers, such as Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a., the Unabomber, to illustrate the point. But, looking at individuals is a good way to only look at trees and miss the forest.

The fundamental problem is that every human being has evil tendencies, and they live with other human beings that use those tendencies to increase the group’s chances of survival in a world with limited resources. Hunter-gatherer groups protect sources of water for their groups exclusive use from other hunter-gathers. With the advent of agriculture, surpluses allowed a larger population, which could then take control over the sources of water in their area from hunter-gatherers. Larger societies took from smaller ones, and killed and consolidated with outside groups. Human history is simply a chronicle of the rise and fall of these groups, whether it be tribe, city or modern nation.

How then can these tendencies be eradicated? How can evil be fought?

The first step is to transcend the notion that our group is somehow special, whether this idea is talked about as “The Chosen People”, the “twice-born” of Hinduism, the “Elect”, or any of the other many permutations of this idea of a special group that is above others. This kind of thinking allows for a double standard of morality, where the in-group is treated one way and the out-group is treated in another.

The second step is to realize that all human beings are the same, with capacities for both good and evil. Evil is the product of desires to get the things we want or need. We need to turn and face this tendency in ourselves and make a choice. That’s the only evil we have any hope of eradicating, and realistically, most people can only hope to reign in their evil tendencies, particularly in a cultural environment that promotes them.