Evil: The Frontier

     I’ve been exploring evil as an abstract, categorizable phenomenon for decades. It’s one half of the most important question in all of human life. I sketched the edges of the other half of that question in this brief piece. To save you a mouse click:

     Primary authority is the sort possessed by him to whom has been given the role of “he who makes the rules of the game.” If you choose to play the game, you must abide by the rules as the primary authority has decreed them. He who violates the rules will be penalized or expelled. Of course, that authority pertains only to the game and those who play it.

     But what if “the game” is human life?

     In that “game,” the “rules” can only be what constitutes acceptable conduct by human beings. But acceptable meaning what? What are the “rules” of this “game?” One cannot “quit” this “game” except by suicide. What does it mean to “win” at human life? What is the “payoff” for winning?

     If you can see how its edges align with the edges of the question “what is evil,” you can infer my personal take on evil…and on good.


     Ragin’ Dave’s recent, furious piece on the sale of infant body parts illuminates a horror that, so far, has not touched a great many American lives: the reduction of human life to a commodity to be bought, sold, and manipulated as if it were of no greater significance than the life of any lesser creature.

     People are doing this as we speak, Gentle Reader. I don’t give a flaming fuck how you feel about abortion…well, no, as a matter of fact I do, but let’s leave that for a bit later…to treat human lives and parts thereof as commodities is the very nadir of evil. There is nothing a man can do that’s worse, or that should elicit a greater degree of horror and revulsion from an onlooker.

     Back when those lives were whole and approximately healthy, we called it slavery. Think about that for a moment.

     There are persons, some of them highly intelligent, who hold that all animal life should be treated as reverently as human life. I disagree, for a reason that must be accepted or rejected as a postulate: Human life differs qualitatively from animal and plant life. The heart of the thing is our ability to distinguish between good and evil: something that no other species has exhibited. If that ability, and our inability to dismiss or ignore it, fails to elevate Man to a higher plane, what could do so?

     To head off the objection that’s about to be raised: Yes, there are sociopaths. Yes, there are persons who, whether by conscious decision or because of a birth defect, fail to draw the critical distinction. But despite the harm they can do, and that some of their exemplars have done, they are exceptions, a tiny group that lacks categorical significance. Aristotle would be muttering about “essence” and “accident” just now, but we’ll let him do so in silence.

     In short, if the treatment of human life as a rightless commodity, of no value other than what one can get for it in the market, is not evil, then nothing could possibly make the cut.


     For the sake of my aged fingers (and my increasing tendency to “type in the cracks,” as a dear friend puts it), I’m going to introduce an acronym here: COHL, which will stand for “Commodification Of Human Life.” Henceforward in this essay, please take the acronym in place of the phrase, which my slipshod typing has already mangled more than once.


     Among generally good people, COHL starts by nibbling at the edges. I’ll describe just one, in a fictional vignette, with hope that it will suffice.

     “Shaw’s still alive?”
     The doctor nodded.
     “Despite the removal of the ventilator?”
     Another nod. “Seems he has enough pulmonary capacity to keep him going a while longer. I wouldn’t have expected it, but…” The doctor shrugged and spread his hands in a what can you do? gesture.
     Terman scowled. “Pierson won’t last out the day without a kidney and a new renal artery.”
     “Dialysis has failed?”
     “Completely. Isn’t there anything…?”
     The doctor winced.
     I knew the question would come.
     “I took an oath, Mr. Terman,” he said.
     Terman bared his teeth. “To preserve a life that’s already doomed when you could use it to save one that has many years to go?”
     The doctor started to reply, but caught himself as a hand landed on his shoulder. He turned to find the hospital administrator standing behind him. The man’s eyes were unreadable.
     “Louis,” the administrator said, “we need to talk.”

     You get the idea, don’t you? Sacrifice one life to save another? Treat the dying man as a collection of useful parts rather than a human being with an innate right to life? Besides, that dying man is consuming expensive medical resources! What’s the point when we already know he can’t last more than a few days longer?

     Let’s not omit consideration of the revenue to the hospital. Oh no, we don’t sell transplant organs! The procedure is just complicated and expensive, that’s all! Transplant surgeons are rare and special, and their fees are high. Besides, if we don’t charge you heavily for it, we won’t be able to provide it free to others who need it just as desperately as you!

     That’s how COHL starts. Read this Baseline Essay for my take on where it stands today.


     I could go on about this, but I’ll spare you for the present. I have a novel in development that will address this and related questions. All the above “should” make my point “obvious:”

It is evil to treat humans purely as commodities.

     The frontier of evil is wherever some men are concocting rationalizations for doing so. The rationalization will always be utilitarian, as if there were a calculus of human life and well-being that can be worked to a solution in particular cases:

     Shall we kill this one to save that one?
     Abort this one for the convenience of his parents?
     Enslave these because it will serve a greater number?
     Expropriate these because it will conduce to a greater good?
     Deceive these to mollify those other ones?

     More anon.


    • Mike in Canada on March 9, 2024 at 5:18 PM

    And this is not new, either. By any means.

    Years ago, how many I cannot recall, there was a hospital administrator in Quebec wondering what the policy would become, in the face of ever-dwindling resources (actually, to be precise, not a reduction in resources but an increase in the distance those resources had to travel), when he was faced with a five-year-old child that required a new liver and a 92-year old that needed bypass surgery.

    Without the resources to do both procedures, he would have to choose. Choose between the child, whose life was only just fairly begun, and an elderly citizen who had paid into the system their entire life and rightly expected to have the benefit thereof.

    This debate was begun in Canada long ago, but disappeared somewhere. I suppose it now has evolved into the MAID system, which apparently also contains a thriving organ-harvesting component (which, rumour would have it, turned a profit last year).

    Evil does exist. It takes many forms. Some are subtle, others not so much. Some are forced upon you, by government fiat, in the name of a noble objective that proves to be nowhere in evidence.

    Some beggar the imagination and quell the spirit. COHL is one such.

    • ModernDayJeremiah on March 9, 2024 at 8:47 PM

    The “heart of the matter” is that humans are created in the image of God. Nothing else is.

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