The Capacity for Evil

Feb. 7, 2020

There are those who think some humans are getting smarter every generation. Those who think that way consider themselves among the smartest of those humans. Many of the smartest people in this world are also the most predatory. After all, intelligence does not confer moral superiority. Intelligent sociopaths have been terrorizing people since time began. This has been more the rule than the exception in human history. 

Leaders emerge in the natural course of events in all cultures. Some are good and some are terrible. Those who gain power using the point of a sword tend to be tyrannical. Even if a king is just and evenhanded, when power passes to a ne’er-do-well son, that son is not likely to govern judiciously. A self-centered, peevish temperament is not likely to lead to a peaceful or stable reign. The governed will endure misery as a result. 

People compete for the top spot in most human endeavors. In the United States, there are rules of conduct that are generally agreed to in sports and in business. For example, in sports there are concerns about having a “level playing field” when opposing teams meet, the same in business where monopolies can stifle competition.

On a personal level, If I am competing with another person for something, I will make decisions governed by the extent to which I am willing to go to gain the prize. Do I let the best man win or do I take my opponent out of the competition by doing something dishonest? A polite way of doing this is to claim my opponent cheated, or he didn’t pay the entrance fee, or his background (race, ethnicity, class, etc.) disqualifies him. The less polite way of doing this is to threaten him or to kill him. 

However, the man may have family members upset at his murder who seek revenge. In areas where there is no functional justice system—whether it be a court system or a chieftain—the man’s family will likely exact revenge, a tooth for a tooth. This is how feuds and wars begin. 

On the other hand, let us say the dead man’s surviving family are not particularly aggressive. They come from a long generation of thoughtful and deliberate people who like to examine problems from all angles. They may have heated internal disputes but would not consider murder the solution to a conflict. Among one another, they resolve conflicts with discussion and they believe that the best argument wins, not the best man. Dishonest predators tend to have a field day against such contestants, at least in the short-term. 

Human history shows that intelligent predation has led us down the path we are on today. If there were a branch of humans who were more peaceable many thousands of years ago, they have long since been eradicated, subdued or incorporated into the homicidal humans we are today. Today, all people are potential murderers. 

No one is free from the desire to knock some other person off, if only in one’s imagination. We all may vary in the number of perceived wrongs the other person has done to us before the wish to murder them rears its ugly head, even if only in dreams or in a moment’s thought, but the potential to murder is as old as Cain.  

The Jews were chosen as God’s people because they would carry the one untainted seed that embodied the aforementioned original people without the murderer’s taint. Many of them still retained many of the characteristics of that ancient, contemplative people, but they had been defiled by predatory humans, acquiring a capacity for intentional homicide. Still, one of their best traits was the capacity to examine problems from all angles before making decisions to act. Thus, when they did act with violence, they were usually better prepared than their enemies. They played chess against checker players. 

Though Jews are a small ethnic minority in the world, Jewish accomplishments are disproportionately large compared to other racial groups. With a total population of between seven to eight million worldwide, Jews received 22 percent of the Nobel Prizes as of 2015. This brilliance I believe has been handed down from one generation to the next since the beginning of time. 

Intellectual integrity is prized among most Jews. Doing something to help others is also prized. This is exemplified by the work of Jonas Salk.  You do not create a life-saving polio vaccine by faking your results. The outcome speaks to the integrity of the process of discovery. You don’t develop the Theory of Relativity if you fake your equations. In fact, Einstein regretted that he adhered to the assumption of a steady-state universe because it prevented him from exploring the implications his equations pointed to. He had fudged that part of his equations. Science as it has been practiced at its highest levels owes much to Jewish intellectual tradition. 

The ancient tribe of Israel was chosen because only Israel contained the Seed of our salvation. Not everyone in Israel inherited the genetically-based capacity to be one with God, but a significant minority did, including Abraham and many of his descendants. But even those who did were not free from the principal of death. They had been tainted since the Fall. King David is a good example. His lust led him to murder. In obedience to God, David did not build the first temple because he had innocent blood on his hands. His relationship with God made him a more humble person, all the more remarkable in a King. 

David’s capacity for mercy and his remarkable patience and self-control exemplified in not killing King Saul gives us a foreshadowing of the One Whose mercy and sacrificial service would pave the way to salvation—Jesus Christ.