Posts Tagged: evil

Apr 18


[My foreword to my novel IN DARKNESS WAITING, for its new edition, seems relevant to our times. And to humanity's perennial dilemma, its persistent question: What is the Nature of Evil?]

Foreword to IN DARKNESS WAITING: The “Director’s Cut”

This edition of In Darkness Waiting has been re-edited. I updated it a little, cut some youthful excess, tinkered with a few sentences and trimmed some slow bits. But it’s essentially the same book, and it definitely has the same theme. It’s a hard-charging horror story—I suspect it would be difficult to find a horror novel with a scene more extreme than the climax of this book—but its subtext is what is most important to me.

Paradoxically, some books seem more relevant as time goes on. Or perhaps their relevance is simply brought into prominence by resonant times. In Darkness Waiting seems to me to be one of those books. Before there was any thought of reprinting IDW, I found myself referring to it, more than once, while writing some recent online opinion pieces. I was writing about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as the abuse of women and “unbelievers” by Fundamentalist Muslims. How can people stone a woman to death because someone raped her? They do. How can American soldiers gleefully torment and beat and humiliate their prisoners, most of whom had nothing to do with terrorism? They did. When an atrocity comes about, it starts inside the perpetrators. Something happens, in them—a process whereby they dehumanize their victims. Well before the act, the atrocity has begun psychologically—and neurologically.

People are not innately monstrous. Most people can be quite compassionate, sympathetic, in the right circumstances. Yet somehow they can also switch that compassion off—some unknown trigger comes along, and it’s switched off, within them, like switching off a light. As I mention in IDW, Nazis guarding concentration camps tossed bread to hungry, snow-bound birds, feeling genuinely sorry for them, while a few feet away children starved to death, watching enviously as the birds eat crumbs. How can they calmly accept taking part in starving those children, and then feed the birds? Many of these monsters had wives and children they loved. What is the mechanism of the repression of normal human empathy?

There are many examples of dehumanization from American history. In the book The Plutonium Files by Pulitzer Prize winner Eileen Welsome, we learn that in the 1940s thousands of powerless Americans–blacks, institutionalized children, the poor, prisoners, soldiers— were deliberately exposed to plutonium, often in injections, as part of experiments essentially designed to find ways to protect the experimenters from deadly radiation. The researchers worked for the government, on military grants (all done in secret), to try to find ways to protect the developers of nuclear weapons from radiation. So they injected radioactive particles into people; they gave hundreds of children radioactive iron particles, spoonfed to them in oat meal, and then, quite dispassionately, they monitored the health of experimental subjects–eventually, their deterioration–in this effort to protect their own kind. They dehumanized their subjects for the sake of their own survival; to find ways to protect them, the researchers, and people like them, from radiation, at the expense of powerless Americans–who were never told what was happening to them. President Clinton appointed a committee to look into these allegations, and the committee reported its shocking conclusions on the very day that the OJ Simpson trial concluded–perhaps so that the story would be buried in the press, as in fact it was.

In my online piece I wrote: I again call for scientific research into the psychological and neurological mechanism of dehumanization. We need to realize that it’s integral to human behavior–and only through understanding it can we find ways to overcome it.

It is perhaps significant that the original title of this novel was Insect Inside. If we are not careful to make conscious choices, we become insects, inside.

In Darkness Waiting is an entertainment. If you like horror, I think there’s a good chance you’ll find it damned entertaining. (Or should that be “entertainment for the damned”?) But it’s also about something that honestly troubles me. It’s also about real life. Yes: all-too-real life. I gave the phenomenon a name in the book. E.S.S.: Empathy Suppression Syndrome. That clinical label was a strategy to promote the notion that we need to engage in a whole new level of what Gurdjieff and the Buddhists call “self-observation.” We need to observe ourselves as a species, with new objectivity, or we’ll never understand the nature of evil.

And if we don’t understand it, we have no hope of standing against it.

May 16

Does God Exist? Yes and No

When people say they’ve lost their religious faith, the core reason is nearly always that they observe the world to be a mess, that cruelty and despair are integral to the world–probably to the cosmos–and God does not intervene, “hence God doesn’t exist”. I don’t blame them. They’re both right, and wrong, in my view.

There are various rationales offered to us for the existence of evil in the world–”it’s necessary so that free will can also exist” is one–but in fact evil probably exists because nature simply iterates that way, ramifying so that we receive “evil” (relative to our consensus reality) along with “blessings”. But a “blessing” seems doomed to be crushed eventually, as if it were a happy woman suddenly abducted and murdered: victimized by the infinite rolling of the cosmic dice; by entropy, and the bitter shortness of life; by death.

To me, there is no God per se, but that doesn’t mean there’s no Supreme Being of any kind. The mistake is in assuming that there must be a higher being defined by our childish notions. “The Supreme Being has to be our creator!” Then who created the creator? “The Supreme Being has to have deliberately designed this Grand Absurdity!” Says who? Primitive tribesmen in the Middle East 2500 years ago? “It has to be all-loving and good according to what humanity thinks is loving and good.” Same answer, and that presumption is your need for a perpetual parent which you superimpose on the world.

And these notions of your God’s loving kindness are strange in the context of the Bible where God does at least as much mass murdering as blessing–drowning millions of babies in the Great Flood for example. This same fellow sends billions of people to burn for all eternity for entirely arbitrary reasons. That should have been a sign from the first something was wrong with the whole concept.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no supreme, or higher being. Sunlight can be cruel. Be congruent with its nature, however, and it cultivates you. Darkness can be a blessing–modify harsh sunlight with shade, a modicum of darkness. . .

To me this pervasive, intrinsic consciousness–this hypothetical higher being– has some background, rootlike connection to our own consciousnesses. Then again, it’s like a river one goes to for irrigation– you must fetch out the water yourself, but it is, by its nature, always on offer. Just remember that a river is a natural force that might drown you as well as quench your thirst. The Nile is not kind or unkind. Nor is it a distinct god. Tillich said, the being that pervades the cosmos is “not a person–but not less than a person”.

It seems to provide a mysterious kind of guidance, and nourishment. But it’s not going to listen to your prayers for money or physical healing or saving innocents–it’s for us to save the innocents. The consciousness intrinsic to the universe is beyond listening to us as individuals…Do you hear the individual splash of every raindrop that falls in every storm?

Childish, self pitying notions of its obligations to us merely obscure it from view. And when we look for it, we tend to look with the wrong part of ourselves.