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Evil as the Perpetuation of Broken Patterns: Revisiting the Link Between the Bushites and the Post-Civil-War South

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In "The Concept of Evil..." (to be found at www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_andrew_b_051114_the_concept_of_evil.htm) I spoke not of evil individuals but of evil "forces" and evil "patterns." I wrote:

Just as a hen has been described as an egg's way of creating another egg, so also can we human "individuals" be seen as our culture's way of perpetuating certain patterns. Through our socialization and our life-experiences generally our culture creates us -for better and for worse- in its own image.

History isn't made just by people; it's also made by forces.

This is the vital dimension that wasn't captured by talking about the ruthlessness or amorality of individuals, and that led me to use the "e-word." I saw something about the way that those forces operate, about how patterns can lurk in the cultural interstices, awaiting the chance to impose themselves again.

I then went on to describe an instance of this:

When I saw, for example, how that manipulative genius, Karl Rove, effected his seduction of many traditionalist Americans, I recognized an old pattern-one used a century before to seduce poor whites in the Jim Crow South.

In the Jim Crow South, and now again in Karl Rove's America, the leaders inflame passions around peripheral issues to distract their supporters from what the leaders are really doing with their power. A century ago, the hot-button distraction was racial purity. Now, the leaders whip people up about issues of moral purity. In both cases, unjust leaders use deception to exacerbate divisions useful to magnifying their own power and wealth.

Dark patterns lurk in the system, like some dormant virus, ready to erupt when the culture's immune system weakens.

This all returned to my mind over the weekend as I was relaxing while reading the always-interesting magazine, THE WEEK (the issue of September 22). It was a review of the book, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, by Nicholas Lemann. The review begins with this brief account:

In 1874, armed white men slipped into a Mississippi Fourth of July celebration and began firing. The victims were black, as had been the 70 or more unarmed milita men massacred a years earlier at a court-house in Louisiana. ..On Mississippi's next Election Day, black voters steered clear of the thugs watching the polls, and Reconstruction collapsed.

The article (which is drawing here about a review by Craig Seligman in the Bloomberg.com) goes on to see about the book, Redemption, that its effect

is to dismantle a sweeping and peristent myth about Reconstruction. Not that long ago...our history books still taught that 'Reconstruction was an indignity perpetrated on the vanquished South by rapacious carpetbaggers and illiterate Negroes.' But this was the fruit of a propaganda campaign begun in the 1870s. 'In every instance of racist violence, the vigilantes' of the time 'claimed to be putting down an incipient black insurrection.' But the insurrection was all in their imagination.

The bullying violence, the phony threat, the dressing up of a lust for power and sense of entitlement into a righteous cause, the re-writing of history to make the aggressors seem the victims, a population ready to buy the lie... Is there not a pattern here?

Dark patterns lurk in the system, like some dormant virus, ready to erupt when the culture's immune system weakens."

Just take the old pattern off the shelf.

This is how evil works in the human system.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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