Evil Policies Part 2: Underlying Motivations

     The previous piece on this subject evoked some unusually revealing responses. As I remain unwilling to condemn anyone by name, I’ll say only that some of my Gentle Readers aren’t very Gentle after all. They expressed a willingness to countenance deliberate harm to innocents for the sake of a good tactic. That’s not on, here at Liberty’s Torch. I feel neither embarrassment nor reluctance about rebuking persons of such inclinations.

     Neither am I reluctant to suggest to them that they pray over it. For those who disbelieve in the efficacy of prayer, perhaps a candid examination of conscience will serve. For others who disbelieve in the human conscience or its function…what the hell are you doing here?

     Perhaps it’s time to start a second pot of coffee. You too, Gentle Reader.


     Unattractive notions are good indicators of the proper course. — Steven Brust

     A great part of the cultural revolution that took place in the Sixties and Seventies was a subtle but effective campaign to numb the individual conscience. One of the ethical mainstays of Western Civilization, seldom celebrated as such but critical nevertheless, is an old homily: “Let your conscience be your guide.” A man’s conscience is his direct connection to God’s will. If he pays attention to it, it will steer him away from actions that cross-cut the moral order the Creator has built into the universe.

     The antithesis to “Let your conscience be your guide” needs to be explicitly identified. Few have dared to undertake this daunting task, for it involves – as do many necessary things – telling people something they don’t want to hear. As I have no regard for what anyone says to or about me at this time, I’ll take up the cross.

     When a man allows himself to be guided by his conscience, he:

  1. Eschews actions that would get him things he wants;
  2. Embraces actions that will cost him, whether materially or emotionally.

     …specifically for the sake of placating his conscience. The apposite phrases “so I can sleep at night” and “so I can live with myself” are particularly revealing. The key here is the demotion of his personal desires in favor of an untroubling conscience. In the usual case, the courses not taken would involve harming others or betraying an important moral-ethical standard. He to whom all that matters is getting what he wants – or averting what he doesn’t want – would embrace such a course, as long as he believes he can get away with it. If he succeeds in shouting down his conscience, all else will follow.

     His motto is likely to be that the end justifies the means. “The end” is his personal gratification; “the means” is whatever he must do to have it.

     All the other rationales for doing something immoral or unethical are mere dollops of anesthetic for the conscience:

  • “I really need this.”
  • “Where’s the harm?”
  • “No one has to know.”
  • “Everyone else is doing it.”

     And so forth.


     I’d like to spend a few moments on that terribly abused word need. Quite a lot of the abuse of the word stems from the desire to excuse something we know to be wrong. There are very few true needs, even from a purely material view. I contend that our survival needs are so well supplied that there’s essentially no chance that an American will be involuntarily unable to access any of them. Indeed, our abundance has created a situation that greatly alarms compulsive do-gooders and professional cause-floggers: a shortage of genuine needs. I wrote about this, half-humorously, long ago at the late but fondly remembered Palace of Reason:

     A Curmudgeonly acquaintance, who shall henceforth be called Sarah, can be found in the local supermarket every evening between seven and eight o’clock. Yes, she’s married. No, she doesn’t have a huge family that requires an hour’s grocery shopping every evening. She spends her time there because she enjoys it.

     Sarah’s not insane, nor is she unique. A substantial number of Americans shop for pleasure. If the supermarket seems an odd venue for this pastime, well, different strokes and all that.

     But Sarah’s not shopping in the conventional sense. She’s looking for trouble.

     No, no! She’s not looking to start a fight over the price of eggs. She’s looking for trouble so she can help to fix it. Since she’s a gifted shopper, with a remarkable ability to squeeze $10 of purchases out of a $5 bill, she looks for people having shopping trouble: women who can’t fill their larders adequately on their household budgets.

     Sarah’s really good at this, and the folks she helps purely love her. However, at our last conversation, Sarah observed that fewer and fewer people seem to need her assistance. She mused about whether she ought to spend her evenings in a less affluent area.

     Another Curmudgeonly acquaintance, a retired gentleman whom we’ll call Ray, has the charming habit of driving his truck around Long Island’s major roads, looking for motorists with mechanical problems. When he finds one, he stops and offers to fix the misbehaving automobile right then and there, for free. Such is Ray’s prowess with cars that he has yet to fail to deliver.

     But Ray, too, is longing for richer trouble pickings. Long Islanders’ cars don’t break down nearly as often as they once did. Worse, most motorists have cell phones now, and they don’t hesitate to use them. Ray’s been talking about moving upstate, to Sullivan or Delaware County, where the average vehicle is older and more likely to fail.

     This past decade, local churches have reported a strong upswing in volunteers for charity work. Charity kitchens often have more willing workers than they have clients to feed. Our hospitals are blessed with a goodly number of volunteers to keep company with the afflicted: reading to them, talking to them, or performing less savory chores that will not be described further here.

     A lot of Americans are out there looking for trouble — and finding that there’s less of it to go around.

     But perhaps we should stay on the main track.

     When you say to yourself that “I need” this or that, how honest are you being with yourself? Is it truly a matter of your personal survival? Are you ready to wound your conscience – to inflict harm on innocent others or to default on a clear moral obligation – to get it?


     My last observation for today is about the rationale that’s most recently surfaced among people who claim that all they want is just the restoration of the Republic as the Founding Fathers intended it to be. These persons call themselves patriots. They have a good claim to the title. However, their ethics are failing them. Here’s the giveaway: “There’s a war on.”

     Oh? Really? Where’s the front? Who’s your enemy? Are you able to identify enemy forces by established indicators, or is it a matter of an inchoate, uncaptained “resistance” that fires on your troops from tenement windows? How will you know when the war is over? And who will you accept as your enemy’s chief representative, properly authorized to negotiate the peace treaty with you?

     Not even war can justify deliberately bring harm to noncombatants. Yet “there’s a war on” is being employed as a rationale for doing so. Besides, war is a horror inflicted upon Mankind by governments. It’s a collectivist atrocity, not something an individual can justly claim.

     “There’s a war on” is just another way of saying that in your view, “the end justifies the means.” Both formulations are vile.


     My intent in writing for the Web, as I’ve been doing since roughly 1996, is normally to persuade. Often, I seek to introduce new thinking – even new ways of thinking, depending on the subject – into exchanges that seem to go nowhere. That’s not my mission today.

     Today it’s about one of the oldest ideas Mankind has ever entertained.

     There’s what’s right, and there’s what’s wrong. You’re equipped to tell them apart. If you’re contemplating doing something you know to be wrong – something you might well have condemned when someone else did it in another context – what is your conscience telling you?

     Have a particularly disturbing snippet from the novel that’s proving to be the narration of our time:

     ‘You will understand that I must start by asking you certain questions. In general terms, what are you prepared to do?’
     ‘Anything that we are capable of,’ said Winston.
     O’Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.
     ‘You are prepared to give your lives?’
     ‘You are prepared to commit murder?’
     ‘To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?’
     ‘To betray your country to foreign powers?’
     ‘You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases — to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?’
     ‘If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face — are you prepared to do that?’

     That was the exchange, unrecognized as such until much later in his travails, in which Winston gave O’Brien what the Inner Party member needed to break him: the complete cession of all moral limits, in the name of defeating the Party. He who embraces evil, regardless of the merits of his cause, has not advanced that cause; he has only damned himself.

     Have a nice day.