Whence evil? (The rope-bridge)


This is about the problem of evil and the question we all ask at some point in our lives:

Why is there evil? Where does evil come from?

This assumes that you’ll not give yourself a free-pass and say that

  • the Devil did something,
  • there are demons in the world etc.

This kind of answer shows the same logical fallacy as seen in the eternally-receding type of answer to the question:

Q: How did the world come about?

A: God made it.

Q: Okay, who made God?

With this answer, you never reach a point of explaining something, although people are very eager to use it to explain something away (in order to be able to get on with our daily business).

When we employ supernatural explanations to account for the “root of all (evil or things)”, we are not answering anything:

With supernatural explanations we are just giving ourselves a break from reasoning it out.

Coming back to the problem of evil, the question then arises as to how we can discuss it in a rational manner.

On this topic, one tends to despair if one is looking at all that’s happening in the world.

Since we are saying we are rational beings and since we are also (to a degree that is debatable) genetically-programmed and culturally-conditioned beings, we need to ask ourselves:

How does evil come about? What is the mechanism for generating/propagating evil?

I would argue that we have to think about this issue in terms of a rope-bridge.

I’m here building on several metaphors from

which all seem to converge on the idea of describing the correct path/way to live one’s life.

When we talk about a path or a way, we tend to assume that it’s a hard, solid, straight surface on which you can walk on:

Keep to the path. Keep going straight on this path. Don’t fall into the ditch.

This sounds quite easy and this is (one reason) why we find ourselves bemused by the sheer weight, diversity and proliferation of evil around us. It does appear that at any given time, a great number of people are happily jumping in the ditch whenever there’s the slightest temptation to do so.

So we have to ask ourselves:

Is the path-metaphor a true metaphor?

Yes, it is true that there is a golden middle path, but it is NOT the hard surface we tend to think it would be.

Well, it’s not unless you’ve been training yourself and you’ve dedicated your whole life to walking the path of life very carefully.

In reality it’s more like a rope-bridge following the course of a wild river, a rope-bridge bracketed by canyon-like walls on either side.

Clarification: This is not a bridge across the canyon, but rather a bridge from the spring to the sea.

During our lives we are busy walking this rope-bridge and we’re swinging this way and that way.

  1. Each time we’re swinging to one side and we’re hitting our heads (some part of our moral souls) against a hard wall, we simply want to push away from it.
  2. Our desire to push away from one hard wall is so strong that we usually end up hitting the opposite wall, equally hard and unforgiving.

Whenever we appear to be swinging towards a wall of tears, we become afraid of the looming crash and we exert ourselves to the utmost in the opposite direction, which makes the whole rope-bridge sway more violently.

This jerky movement does not stop with ourselves:

It affects everybody near us.

Accordingly, it doesn’t take long for everybody to find themselves violently thrown this way and that way by this movement (for which they may not be able to identify an immediate cause).

Everybody feels the rope-bridge swinging madly from side to side, but nobody can readily identify the villain. In this situation, everybody will also react by trying to control the swinging in one direction or another. So we have a lot of people

  • pushing this way and that,
  • jumping this way and that,
  • swinging this way and that.

Then again, there are also some people who are just trying to achieve balance:

  • Saying that we need to calm down,
  • Insisting that we need to keep the rope-bridge swinging (ever so slightly) in the Middle,
  • Warning us that attempting to push away too hard will only land us on the other side (another extreme).

We see this in every human (historical) event. We see people jumping from a belief that I-don’t-know-who is the savior (the Messiah) to vilifying the same person as the incarnation of evil.

We see this in our own individual lives. We see people who are faced with a difficult time in their lives:

They don’t see it as a problem of balancing, but rather as a problem of finding the quickest, most forceful way to push away from this difficulty.

When we end up on the other side, bruising ourselves (and perhaps other people around us), we don’t see that it is our own actions which have led to this situation.

I am not saying that evil should be ignored, that we should just lie passive, although non-violent resistance (a la Gandhi) is perhaps one of the most effective balancing acts in history (in terms of mass movements) because people just sit down and refused to be pushed away.

People sit down in the Middle and refuse

  1. not only to be pushed away in the direction that the oppressors push you,
  2. but also refuse to push back against this aggression.

The Indians refused

  1. not only to be pushed by the British into whatever a colonial power wants of their subjects (pay this tax, do that for me, you have this right but you don’t have this right),
  2. but they also refused to push back in the same manner, with the same type of force.

This was genius insight, even if the British type of pushing was different from what was attempted by those behind a person like Hitler.

The push from those standing behind a Hitler is essentially different, since that type of oppressor is actively engaged in throwing others off the rope-bridge.

If my rope-bridge analogy strikes a chord with you, you may come to understand many of the current issues (tragedies, really) we now see in the Islamic world.

Most of these issues continue as an extreme pushing-away from whatever is done by the invading-crusader army or whatever name is given to the NATO, UN or US forces, which (in turn) started as an extreme pushing-against a small minority of

delusional minds who schemed to shake the rope-bridge by cutting off the planks under their own feet in order to plunge others into the abyss below.

Shoving others aside  because

  1. we want to stabilize the bridge &
  2. we are sure we know how to stabilize the bridge

turns out to have the opposite effect in reality.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the aggressor to feel justified in his aggression because people soon start pushing back (cf. self-fulfilling prophecy).

We have people pushing back and forth and the whole bridge swings ever more violently simply because neither side is willing to calm down to achieve balance.

Why? Because the Middle-Way is the most difficult way and it appears to be the most irrational way:

When the others are still pushing, you can’t just sit down (of course)!

However, this is the only way to go forward. This will require a lot of patience as people need to be educated into becoming aware of the Middle-Way, of the Golden-Path.

This path is not paved, it is not cut in stone so that we can just step on it and go straight.

No, living is a much more unstable path and we make it more unstable with each attempt to change it radically.

So how do we change it? Through small improvements, small Changes-into-the-Better: kaizen (改善) trying to bring this rope-bridge

  • not to a stand-still (that will never be possible),
  • but rather to a point where it’s swinging gently

so that we can continue on our journey in this life.

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