The root of all evil is said to be money. Or more accurately the love of money. I’ve never bought that. I believe it’s a gross simplification. Money is a blank piece of paper we project our hopes and fears on. We may fixate our greed, our lust for power, our cravings for freedom and security, but that in itself is not enough for us to commit evil.
I believe we need something else… something I would like to talk about tonight. A mechanism by which we can justify what we do.
I’ve never really spoken much about this, but I am the son of a mass murderer.
Now my Dad is one of the sweetest and kindest men you could meet. When he drives he lets everyone out. He puts money in every charity tin he sees and tips every waiter and delivery driver generously.
Yet he’s been responsible for many, many deaths. So how can I reconcile these two sides of my Dad?
Well you see, the thing is… is that he did what he did in a justifiable war. However he’s never served in Iraq, Afgahnistan, the Falklands or in any form in the military.
His weapon of choice isn’t a kalishnakov, a colt or a smith and Wesson. No. He kills with a can of Raid
He has declared war on nature. Specifically flies.
Now that probably changes your perspective on the image I’d created previously. My Dad is perfectly law abiding and isn’t by any stretch of the imagination, evil. Yet I witnessed him emptying half a can as he chased a particularly cheeky fly around.
It made me think… if a child, however irritating, came up and touched you on the arm, that would never be seen as a justifiable cause for homicide would it?
Yet if a fly has the same impact that response is almost instinctive.
So the question I want you to consider… is why is that?
What is the difference between two living creatures that makes us believe it is ok to murder one, yet we are obligated to care and protect the other?
Because the answer to that question can shed some light on how we can love some people while hurting others.
The reality is what we believe determines how the story of our world goes. The difference in how we treat people comes in how we see them in the story we make of life. Some we see as like us, part of our tribe and some as different. Not one of us and therefore a threat..
Think about it. Every nation has a department of defence, yet can you think of a country that has a department of attack?
So if no-one is attacking why do we have so many wars?
Of course the answer is that attack and defence are a matter of perception.
The horrors of war, slavery, murder and all forms of hatred and abuse come when we fail to identify with someone or something, particularly when we remove the humanity and thereby objectify it.
Kindness and compassion come when we identify with something as being like us or part of our tribe. This is why we attribute our pets with human characteristics and are horrified with the notion of eating cat or dog, yet cows, pigs and chicken are all fair game.
In 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas he found an 8 million strong Taino population.
Failing to find any saleable resources in the land, Columbus turned to the only thing he could readily use to achieve the treasure he’d been seeking. The people. A people he himself noted for their defencelessness and naivete.
The ensuing carnage prompted one Spaniard to quip that he didn’t need a map to find the Americas, he only had to follow the trail of dead bodies. Unsold Slaves who failed to even make it to the West to be sold.
12 years later the Taino population was just 100,000 people.
An entire civilisation decimated by the greed and callousness of one man. Enabled by Columbus’s belief that what he did was justified as they were ‘uncivilised savages’.
This kind of inhumanity happens when we see people as different than us and they become objects to us. Objects don’t have feelings or inherent worth. They can be bought and sold, used, and discarded.
It is when we see something in someone… whether their race, gender, creed or some other characteristic that makes us see them as less worthy than us. And therefore someone to use to improve our life or a pest to eliminate… that we objectify them.
It is objectification that led Hitler, Bin Laden and many others to commit millions of heinous acts because they gave people a story that made us objects in the way of life as they believed it should be.
It is objectification that leads to suppression of a gender, race, sexuality or whatever other characteristic.
It is objectification that leads to domestic violence, child abuse and other aggressive acts that still ruin people’s lives.
Probably none of us have murdered, yet we have all swatted flies and shouted at others.
To shout, to hit and to kill are all acts of aggression. Aggression is aggression. What differs is the degree of intensity behind it which makes a range of inhumanity.
How consciously we think determines how we act and the person that we become. The question we all must answer is…
Between swatting flies and genocide…
Where do you draw the line at what is acceptable?
So what’s your view? Does objectification enable evil? Or are people capable of committing evil without needing justification?