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Saturday, November 8, 2014

THE TREWS ABOUT EVIL




As I extolled the virtues of Wilhelm Reich in my previous blog, here is another occasion to showcase him as the arbiter of what is right and wrong. The liberal British press prefers to present the problem as an intractable one while reassuring all and sundry that, yes sir, we can tell you what’s what, such as John Gray’s recent piece in the Guardian entitled ‘The truth about evil’ (see link below).

The title is of course rather unfortunate, especially as the Guardian is fond to promote Russell Brand’s sense of humour, nicely expressed in some of his ‘trews’ sketches, taking the Mickey out of all truths that are more often than not exposed as lies. As such John Gray walks on thin ice even when he affirms that the likes of Bush and Blair are well known as having bent the truth themselves when they castigated Saddam Hussein as ‘evil’. Primitive notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ abound and it is no surprise that the current war against Islamic State is premised on the same values. Gray attempts a historical analysis of ‘evil’ dating back to Zoroastrians and Manicheans, being clever enough to say that while Blair and company may be called Manichean, Blair’s primitive interpretation gives even the Manicheans a bad name. Gray then cites St. Augustine as the most influential thinker to have shaped liberal Christian understanding of ‘evil’ to this very day. He then, unwittingly hits the nail on the head in writing:

Reflecting Augustine’s own conflicts, the idea of original sin that he developed would play a part in the unhealthy preoccupation with sexuality that appears throughout most of Christianity’s history.

I will return to this crucial point later on. In the meantime Gray credits St. Augustine with a humanistic take on evil, namely

Yet in placing the source of evil within human beings, Augustine’s account is more humane than myths in which evil is a sinister force that acts to subvert human goodness. Those who believe that evil can be eradicated tend to identify themselves with the good and attack anyone they believe stands in the way of its triumph.

The idea that evil is within all of us is later confirmed by Gray via his hero Freud. In between he raises the question as to how Nazi fascism as the undoubtedly worst manifestation of evil in human history so far could come about. He cites Arendt who made the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ famous in regards to Eichmann. I other words we are all capable of the most atrocious evil given half a chance. Such an analysis does not sit easily with those who deny flatly that they would ever stoop so low as the Germans did, given half a chance or not. However in another article in the Guardian (see link below) that describes the exploits of a German Jew as a young interpreter during the Nuremburg trials, the protagonist, one Sig Ramler, says:

            “It’s not only a German problem, it’s a human problem.”

Gray is at pains to convince us that this is the case in general, hence present action taken against Islamic State will result only in a pyrrhic victory, for Obama and Cameron cannot get their heads around the ‘truth’ which is Freud’s pronouncement:

“there is no likelihood of our being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies”.

Of course Gray has no other solution than Churchill’s dictum that he ‘sup with the devil’ if it helped to get rid of that ‘evil man’ Hitler.  It’s all a question of degrees of evil and subsequent compromises one has to make. Who decides what degree of evil is perpetuated by Islamic State and the like? Do we need another Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Do we need small-scale warfare from the air? Gray hedges his bets both ways in his final analysis:

The weakness of faith-based liberalism is that it contains nothing that helps in the choices that must be made between different kinds and degrees of evil. Given the west’s role in bringing about the anarchy in which the Yazidis, the Kurds and other communities face a deadly threat, non-intervention is a morally compromised option. If sufficient resources are available – something that cannot be taken for granted – military action may be justified. But it is hard to see how there can be lasting peace in territories where there is no functioning state. Our leaders have helped create a situation that their view of the world claims cannot exist: an intractable conflict in which there are no good outcomes.

In all of this wishy-washy meandering there is a fundamental flaw, namely that there IS an explanation, if not solution, of the question of evil. As noted in my previous blog, Wilhelm Reich in his Mass psychology of fascism lays bare the real causes of any kind of fascism. Gray to his credit touches on it in noting St. Augustine’s inadequacies with regards to repressing sexuality, the freedom of procreation, the freedom to be creative. All oppressive ideologies start with proscribing sexuality as deviant if not strictly controlled by a male chauvinist. Homophobia and the denigration of women and children go hand in hand with acts of violence against minorities, infidels, heretics and anybody who does not fall in line with dogma. The Nazis invented the Aryan family as a blue-print for slaughtering anyone who did not fit the picture. A pathological sexuality imbued with insane racism put paid to Freud’s dictum that civilization is built upon the sublimation of the libido. The German Nazis let loose a crude phallic orgy of destruction, what with the likes of Eichmann reaching orgasms whenever killing a Jewish baby. Freud’s sublimation idea does seem to curb the worst excesses and it may well be that civilization as we know it today is the somewhat schizophrenic outcome of such a milder form of the suppression of sexuality. Reich on the other hand turns the table with his idea that a healthy sexuality is the foundation of a society that promotes social and economic justice for all human beings. Humans are not destructive by nature, they are creative, pro-creative but as soon as there is the slightest suppression of this creativity, we do indeed sublimate and end up in the worst case scenario as pathological killers. Reich details the processes in his Mass psychology of fascism even though it is never quite clear to me where the first impulses of suppression/oppression come from. If such impulses are part of the human make-up we do have a problem, a problem not much different from Freud’s assertion that ‘destructive’ behaviour is a human potential. Reich at least reduces this possibility to almost zero as long as we are truly creative/pro-creative, for what indeed is the point of biological procreation and human love if we allow even one iota of destructiveness? On  a New Zealand TV ad campaign for a ‘hope project’ an adolescent boy voices his ‘hope’ as “no fighting, no fighting whatsoever” – play fighting included. We have a long road ahead of us to get anywhere near there: to define good as the absence of evil (i.e. not defining ‘good’ as the opposite’ of ‘evil’). What about a Nietzschean glimpse of ‘beyond good and evil’? Reich’s realm is that of a healthy sexuality. The 1960s opened a small window of opportunity that was shut as soon as it let the light through. Present conditions are dismal, as detailed by Gray in his superstitious belief that evil lurks around every corner, and that all we can do is to relativize it and act as confused as ever.