Friday, October 11, 2013

Necessary Evil isn't always necessary or evil

Lately I've come to dislike this term. I understand what it is trying to convey, that we need something, despite disliking it.

Let's start with evil. Evil. Focus on that bit for a moment. Evil is what we use for people like Hitler and Satan. It doesn't mean "mean" or "inconvenient".

Pair this with the necessary bit and it becomes somewhat horrifying. Evil is necessary? What sort of horrifying situation are we dealing with? Are we throwing an infant overboard because we need to take a water filter on a life raft? Or is this the normal functioning of society, in which case we're living in a twisted dystopia.

Maybe I should relax. Clearly the "evil" in question is generally just some sort of inconvenience or something that we mildly dislike. In that case, we're dealing with something that we don't like much, but which keeps things working.

Now this just sounds like whining. Can you imagine designing a building and using this term to describe the need for vertical supports? Ugh, the stupid floor can't just fly and we need to waste all this metal to hold it up. That's so evil! And necessary!

And thus we get to government, that perennial "necessary evil." Ask yourself this, if you regard government as evil, yet necessary, what is wrong with you? Are you personally so horrible that you need something to keep you in check? Or is government to deal with those other dangerous people, in which case, you have a really sad view of human nature. Rather than confront either their worldview or their actions, people decry the "necessary evil". Call it evil to preserve your sense of moral direction, then call it necessary to excuse your active or passive support for it.

Alternatively, maybe these "necessary evils" are not evil, and at times not necessary, but are instead slightly annoying aspects of society and economics that keep things functioning, but rather than attempting changes that would render them unnecessary. For example, hiring people is the most effective way to remove them from the welfare state, pulling them out of Medicaid and unemployment checks. But instead 'job-creators' prefer to demand subsidies for hiring and training, then not hire anyway and decry the burdensome welfare state.

So next time you're tempted to use the term "necessary evil", ask yourself, is it? Is it evil? Is it necessary? And if it is both, can you do anything about this terrible arrangement? Sometimes you cannot, at least not alone.


Azuriel said...

Or is government to deal with those other dangerous people, in which case, you have a really sad view of human nature.

Sad? Maybe. Grounded in reality? Yes. Whether you look at it from a philosophical angle via Hobbes (Leviathan) or from examples in the real world (Somalia, a lot of Africa, etc), it seems pretty clear that government has this express purpose in mind.

Hell, you have these sort of people even in the US. They might not be taking up their machetes just yet, but that level of delusion + misanthropy is on the same scale. After the bombs drop, they'll be the first ones building the Thunderdome, is what I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Klep. The term "necessary evil" is used to demonize ideas we don't like. And those ideas aren't usually anything but necessary.

@Azuriel: I don't think that's grounded in reality. It seems to me grounded in fear. It's the line of thinking spawned by a belief that "we" (the superior group) knows better than "them" (the inferior group) and history is replete with miserable examples of this in action. If we're so willing to put up with that misery in the name of fear, I don't see why we can't face the fear in the name of progress. Instead of demonizing we have to be able to confront issues with a determination to resolve them.

I always try to remember that government is necessary because it is the plan for getting along. Unfortunately, it has largely been used as a way to avoid solving issues by imposing on people instead. But that's a whole other complex conversation that I don't have the energy for at this moment :)

Klepsacovic said...

I will concede that the violence, or threat thereof, from government is sometimes needed to protect us from other entities, such as the Soviet Union or China. And yes, we do have some types of people in America who use politics as an extension of war, but we're not allowed to shoot them, even if their plots are more damaging than any foreign actions.

A general notion of peacefulness is a source of long-term safety, even if in the short term we might be better off with a few less people. In day to day life, social rules are what keep us safe. It isn't our military that keeps Canada at bay, but rather their politeness and eagerness to sell us their resources. When those social rules break down, neither government nor a gun in my own holster are going to fix things up very quickly, as we see when trying to do peacekeeping.