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Politics & Power

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Defining and Defeating Evil

Recently both John McCain and Barack Obama were asked about what they would do if confronted with evil. Barack Obama took a moment and then gave a considered answer about defining evil and recognizing that not all evil comes from outside America. He also thought that Americans should be wary of being prideful and assuming that we are not capable of doing evil. John McCain without hesitation said two words “Defeat it.” There was no explanation or definition. His response was simply that he would defeat it.

To the audience of evangelical Christians the McCain answer was just what they wanted to hear and there was a rousing cheer from the crowd in approval of the simplistic answer. The problem for anyone that stopped and thought about McCain’s answer was that it really wasn’t an answer. It sounded great but meant very little as it was long on impact and short on details. Nobody including the interviewer thought that asking a follow-up question like perhaps “How will you defeat it?” or “Could you be more specific?” might be a good idea. Everyone took the feel-good answer and left it as being a guarantee that John McCain can defeat evil if elected president.

The response to the Obama answer was much less enthusiastic and not very loud to be sure. His response to the question required thought and did not presume to define evil as something simple that can be dismissed with simple quips about defeating it without first coming to an understanding about what is exactly the evil that is being discussed. He allowed for the possibility that evil can take on many forms and as such is not necessarily easily defeated.

So why then was the crowd so eager to hear words that essentially mean nothing over words that were considered and thoughtful? Therein lies one evil that I would like to define. That evil is the evil of simplistic thinking that so many among us seem so eager to embrace over the genuine good of making informed decisions and defining problems before we try to implement ineffective solutions based on uninformed assumptions. The purveyors of this simplistic dribble are those who seek power through fear and offer simple solutions to complex problems while knowing full well that they cannot solve the problems without coming up with complex solutions tailored to the problem at hand.

It is undoubtedly easier to say that you will defeat evil than it is to actually sit down, define the evil to be defeated and come up with a tenable plan to actually solve the problem and defeat that evil. The question we must ask though is whether easier is better. Being the leader of the free world is not supposed to be easy. For that matter, life is not supposed to be easy. The challenges we face define our character. If we choose to avoid all challenges and rely on others to simply ease our minds with platitudes what does that say about our character as a nation? You cannot simply defeat evil, you must define the evil and look at what that evil is doing and why it is doing it before you can hope to defeat it. Beyond that, one man’s evil is another man’s divinity so who should define evil to begin with?

Timothy McVeigh was a white Christian American who believed that the government was doing evil. He had fought for his country and lived what he felt was a righteous life that warranted his passing sentence on America by blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City. While many Americans felt that his acts were unconscionable some felt they were justified. Half a world away Osama bin Laden an Arab Muslim felt that American imperialism and decadence were an evil that needed to be defeated and chose to launch the deadliest attack on American soil in modern history. Again, while many around the world felt that the acts that took place on September 11, 2001 were unforgivable, others felt that the attacks were justified. Two men who saw American actions as evil from two very different backgrounds took essentially the same actions to defeat the evil they saw. Are they evil? Perhaps they are but in their minds they are righteous and fighting evil. Who defines evil and how it is defined are important and to discuss defeating evil without defining it is ludicrous.

As we look at those who would lead us, we need to ask if they are going to have the courage to examine issues before offering solutions. It may be easier for us to vote for the guy who is ready to go toe to toe with evil without knowing what he is fighting but it isn’t better for America. We have had an easy ride for a long time and it has made Americans quick to jump to conclusions and look for simple answers. Well, not everything is simple and most real solutions are anything but. You can keep supporting the simple answers and undefined problems but in the long run we will all lose if we don’t start defining the problems accurately and solving them effectively.

LJ Finstermore - World Citizen | Give your feedback on this article. | Click icon to Digg this article

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