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The Evil in the Hearts of Men

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Nietzsche1882
(image by Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882; One of five photographies by photographer Gustav Schultze, Naumburg, taken early September 1882. Public domain due to age of photography. Scan processed by Anton (2005))

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." --The Shadow, in a large variety of magazines, radio shows, books, and movies since the 1930s.

I finally went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I realized that there was an ongoing message in the Marvel Studios' Avengers' cycle of films (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America), and TV shows (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.): that most of the bad guys--who usually don't consider themselves "bad"--do not believe we deserve our freedoms, and we would ultimately be better off by giving up to them without a fight, in the name of safety and security. This also seems to be the message of many of our real-world oligarchic plutocrats.

This point has been driven home exceptionally hard in Marvel's movies Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel's The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. Robert Redford's character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is especially adamant in his belief that he and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) believe the same thing: protecting the public from all of the dangers represented by this new era of super-powered beings; it is only in their methods that they differ from each other.

While Alexander Pierce (Redford's character) states that the only safety from the awful world of super-powered terror that the world finds itself in, is by the willing surrender of individual freedoms, as well as the elimination of a small percentage of "undesirables" (20 million people, including--not surprisingly--Steve Rogers/Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man), Nick Fury believes that the threats to the world and its freedom are best dealt with by a small, clandestine organization (S.H.I.E.L.D.) dealing with the threats as they arise, hopefully before they become a threat to either the world's safety, or its freedom, or both. And in Nick Fury's world, if an agent screws up, and one of their operations backfire, the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Natasha Romanov, Phil Coulson, etc.) are willing to go to jail for their mistakes. (This, by the way, is the difference between the fictional organization S.H.I.E.L.D. and real-world intelligence organizations: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are willing to go to jail for doing "the right thing;" real-world intelligence organizations go out of their way to cover-up their "mistakes.")

Alexander Pierce's reasoning is that which has been promoted, and continues to be used by members of our real-world Executive Branch (including our last two Presidents), as well as our corporate overlords, to justify the ongoing electronic eavesdropping program by the NSA, the Patriot Act, the suppression of Occupy Wall Street by law enforcement, the war against whistle-blowers in both government and major corporations, and the ongoing censorship of anti-establishment news stories by the lame-stream media.

Hail Hydra!

The sweet song of tyranny, and the subtle evil of fascism, has reared their ugly heads for thousands of years: long before Benito Mussolini gave a name to his particular form of tyranny, and centuries before we fully understood the evils of extreme class inequality, and the concentration of too much wealth in the hands of a small minority. President Grover Cleveland wrote of it, and the danger that it represented, in his Fourth Annual Message to Congress in 1888 (see my 28 February 2011 OpEdNews article "The Communist Takeover of America" for more on this subject).

When I was in high school, I pointed out the differences--or perhaps I should say the lack of differences--between the Communist and the Fascist state to my principal one day in study hall. To quote from my 26 April 2007 OpEdNews article "Polarization" [corrections or amplifications in brackets], "Communism is the control of the means of production, manufacturing, and distribution by the state. Fascism is the control of the state by the entities who provide the means of production, manufacturing, and distribution, i.e., corporations [and those who control them]. These are primarily economic, not political, definitions. [T]hese two systems are near-relatives of each other in the political spectrum[, different forms of party-based oligarchies]. Anarchy (everyone is a sovereign government, a law onto themselves) and Autocracy (one person is the sovereign government, or to quote France's Louis XIV, "L'etat c'est moi, I am the State"), are the real opposite ends of a purely political spectrum." I would add today, after seven years of cogitation, I am no longer certain that the economic and political spectra can ever be fully separated from one another, and that the divorce of the two by Alfred Marshall in 1888 was both forced and artificial. (See my 30 April 2014 OpEdNews article, "The Continuing Allure of Marx and Lenin," for a bit more on this subject.)

What is being proposed by the "bad guys"--such as Hydra and the Asgardian God of Mischief and Evil, Loki--in these movies, is a surrender of our liberties. At the same time, we also give up our concomitant responsibilities to those in power, who say they know what is best for us. We still have responsibilities, mind you, to be obedient automatons, but they are nothing compared to the responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of a free human being.

The Origin of Liberty and the Concept of the Individual in Western Thought

Beginning around 500 B.C.E., two Mediterranean civilizations, the Greeks and the Jews, began the philosophical and theological discussions upon which Western civilization bases most of its ideas of liberty, community, and individualism today.

Plato, born an Athenian aristocrat, proposed--in his dialogue The Republic, and with the voice of his mentor Socrates--that the ideal type of government would take the form of a tightly structured hierarchy, led by a philosopher-king, whose wisdom and learning would prevent his making any error during his rule. Aristotle, a more practical and pragmatic individual, laid out all of the systems of government of which he was aware, in both their good (monarchy, aristocracy, polity) and their bad (tyranny, oligarchy, mob rule) forms in his book Politics, and concluded that the best form of government was a constitutionally-limited polity, dominated by the middle class (Politics, Book IV, Chapter 11). Both philosophers agreed that for society to function, humans had to accept a certain level of responsibility for themselves and their community as citizens of their polity. Even Epicurus, who believed that the "good life" was found through the avoidance of pain (an idea used by Carl Jung 23 centuries later when he stated that mental illness was the result of avoiding necessary pain), realized in his hedonistic philosophy that, within a human being's circle of family, friends, and neighbors, a degree of obligation to others existed if one were to avoid a greater, and more discomfiting pain. But with these obligations--or more properly duties--to your fellow citizens: generally an intrinsic part of your nation-state's political system, and more specifically by your membership in your tribe, your clan, and your family, of which the nation-state is theoretically the highest expression; came rights as free citizens of the polity, in a symbiosis between citizen and state.

At roughly the same time, among the Jews after the Babylonian exile, the authors of the books of the late prophets of the Old Testament began to examine concepts of relationships of individuals within their community (Micah, Hosea), and without (Jonah). These ideas--including Justice, Forgiveness, Honor, Responsibility, Mercy, and Brotherhood--found their expression first in the later prophets, then in the authors and interpreters of the Talmud, and finally, in a young man from Galilee: Jesus, the son of Mary.

The empires of first Alexander of Macedonia, and then of Rome, placed the idea of individual rights on hold in Western thought for more than a millennia. Rights were something enjoyed by the king or emperor, and handed out as privileges to those he ruled. It was not until King John of England was forced to grant his barons and freemen rights under the Magna Carta in 1215 that consideration of the rights of the individual were once again seriously considered by Western civilization.

What I consider to be the single best expression of the rights of human beings with respect to political power, as well as the culmination of more than 2000 years of human thought on the subject of rights and liberty, is Thomas Jefferson's statement in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, with two small changes to include women in the historic pronouncement [changes and amplifications in brackets]:

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Richard Girard is an increasingly radical representative of the disabled and disenfranchised members of America's downtrodden, who suffers from bipolar disorder (type II or type III, the professionals do not agree). He has put together a team to (more...)
 

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There aren't many people who will consistently ma... by Richard Girard on Thursday, Jun 5, 2014 at 8:28:17 AM
Jefferson and his co-authors were very good with l... by R. A. Landbeck on Friday, Jun 6, 2014 at 3:07:24 PM
Yes, and as I have explained elsewhere, the equali... by Richard Girard on Friday, Jun 6, 2014 at 3:40:50 PM