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Stop American Evil, President Obama!

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) December 15, 2009 Stop American evil, President Obama. It is evil (i.e., the opposite of good) for you to build up the armed forces of the United States in the unjust war in Afghanistan. In the Cold War, we had one evil empire (the United States) pitted against another evil empire (the Soviet Union). But since the end of the Cold War, we have had only one remaining evil empire the United States. And now instead of working to extricate the United States from the two unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, you plan to escalate the evil war in Afghanistan. Shame on you! You are an evil man!

I hope I've gotten your attention, President Obama, and illustrated for you just how easy it is to turn the term "evil" against you, because by definition evil is the opposite of good. Whenever I think you are up to no good, I can label you and your efforts "evil." So can others. You're not the only glib preacher-man in the country. As a result, I propose that you and I and others stop using the term "evil" in our public discourse about the unjust wars that the United States is carrying on in Afghanistan and Iraq

After all, Aristotle centuries ago noted that we tend to act under the impression that we are doing good. You evidently think you are doing good. But I think you are up to no good. Put differently, Aristotle's point is that we tend not to act under the impression that we are undertaking to do evil. Of course we may be mistaken about what is good to do in any given set of circumstances. As a result, there is usually room for some disagreement about what is good to do in any given set of circumstances.

How many Americans have explicitly claimed that they were for "evil"? By definition, evil is what people agree to be against. Even the Americans who plotted to assassinate President John F. Kennedy no doubt thought they were doing good by assassinating someone they thought was a traitor to the Cold War cause -- as he understandably was, as James W. Douglass shows in his excellent book "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters" (2008).

So according to Aristotle's way of thinking, everybody tacitly agrees in principle to do good and avoid evil. But there is usually room for some debate about what might be good to do in a certain set of circumstances.

Should you choose to lead us by your own example in our public discourse and stop using the term "evil" to frame your claims in the future, then you will be able to claim that you have stopped using the term and that your opponents should do so as well. However, if you persist in using the term "evil," then by your own example you will be inviting your opponents to use the term against you and your efforts.

As you may know, in ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought, God was imagined to be the only force in the cosmos strong enough to bring an end to evil in the world as we know it. They even imagined that God would intervene and bring an end to the evil in the world as we know it. They imagined that God's intervention would be the end of the world as we know it known for short as the end-time, or the eschaton. Some of them earnestly hoped for the end-time to come soon. But only God knows when the end-time will come.

In the meantime, I take the point of the apocalyptic tradition of thought to be that only God can decisively and finally bring an end to the evil in the world as we know it, not Americans.
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As you know, many Americans today have been eagerly reading novels about the end-time. When we start fantasizing about the end-time and the glories of God's final intervention, we run the risk of mistakenly thinking that we can cue God about when to start the end-time. We might think, "OK, God, we will start the war against the evil of Islamist terrorism, and you finish off the evil of Islamist terrorism."

See how that might work? In light of the millions of Americans today who have read those novels about the end-time, I would urge you to stop referring to alleged "evil" in the world because those Americans are already overly impressed with the evil in the world they do not need you to help them imagine further evil in the world.

Instead of talking further about evil in the world, I would urge you to publicize the Muslim custom of stoning the devil. In my estimate, this is a great custom. We Americans should adopt this custom, but without making the pilgrimage to Mecca. I take the point of the custom to be that we imagine the devil to be the source of evil in our lives. As a result, we act out our disapproval of evil in the world by stoning the devil.

In the novel "1984" George Orwell had the people of the fictional Oceania punctuate their days with the custom known as the two-minute hate exercise. In spirit, the two-minute hate period resembles the Muslim custom of stoning the devil. There is something to be said about pumping ourselves to denounce something vigorously. It can help us keep the adrenalin flowing.

But when we fancy ourselves as being pitted against evil, we can also fancy ourselves as being good to an unwarranted degree. In addition, we may be blind to our own shortcomings and limitations. That's the danger of imagining ourselves as pitted against evil.
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Now, as the Muslims know, the devil somehow keeps managing to survive being stoned. As a result, there is no end to the evil in the world. The devil is a wily devil. So it looks like there will be no end to evil until the end-time, and only God knows when that will be. I wouldn't get my hopes up about it coming very soon.

In the meantime, I'd prefer to see my fellow Americans adopt the custom of stoning the devil instead of reading novels fantasizing about the end-time. I am really wary of people who are fantasizing about the end-time and longing for it to come. I'd prefer to see them actively engage in activities to improve themselves in this life and wait for death to lead them into the afterlife, instead of fantasizing about the afterlife coming soon because of the end-time coming soon.

However, if we Americans were somehow to stop imagining ourselves as pitted against evil, then how might we conceptually frame our opposition to something? In accord with Aristotle's way of thinking, we might try to put ourselves in the shoes of our opponents and try to imagine their view of the world and how they can imagine whatever they consider to be good.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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