Why "the Good" are really the most evil...

Yesterday, I wrote about Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis (HH) and alluded to some other topics of interest worth posting on. Let me begin with a pair of articles on a recent, frightening phenomenon taking place in America today (h/t Leiter):

If you've been waiting to get alarmed until the Christian fascist movement started filling stadiums with young people and hyping them up to do battle in "God's army," wait no longer.

In recent weeks, BattleCry, a Christian fundamentalist youth movement, has attracted more than 25,000 people to mega-rally rock concerts in San Francisco and Detroit, and this weekend it plans to fill Wachovia Stadium in Philadelphia.

The leaders of BattleCry claim that their religion and values are under attack, but amid spectacular light shows, Hummers, Navy SEALs and military imagery on stage, it is BattleCry that has declared war on everyone else. Its leader, Ron Luce, insists: "This is war. And Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent--the 'forceful' ones--will lay hold of the kingdom."

The first rock band that performed, Delirious, got the crowd festive and up on their feet with lyrics that were projected on large screens so that everyone could join in: "We're an army of God and we're ready to die.... Let's paint this big ol' town red.... We see nothing but the blood of Jesus...."

Between musical acts, [Ron] Luce, the BattleCry founder, hammered away at the dominant theme of the night: his contention that "pew-sitters...passive Christians...the Christians who just want love, joy, peace..." were the problem, and that the world needed more radical and extreme God-worshippersĂ‚—those who would be obedient and fully submit to Christ.

Luce would have us believe that everything went off track when the Bible-toting people of my grandparents' generation were replaced by the "pew-sitters" of the Baby Boom generation. These are the people who, according to Luce, just wanted to passively benefit from the "love, joy and peace" message of Christianity without actively surrendering their wills and their selves completely upon Christ's altar and working in His name.

Yeah, if only people would stop practicing "love, joy and peace." Wouldn't that make the world a better place....

During the afternoon preceding the May 12 rally, Luce and about 300 BattleCry acolytes (almost entirely youths) rallied in front of Philadelphia's Constitution HallĂ‚—the location having been chosen because Luce wants to "restore" the Founding Fathers' vision of a religious society (never mind that the Founders enshrined in the Constitution an explicitly secular framework of government).

I and about 20 people representing various anti-Bush, atheistic and anti-Iraq-war factions made our way into the rally and began interacting with the youths assembled. Some said openly that it was OK that George Bush's lies have cost the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Why was it OK? Because "God put him [Bush] there."

Now look at what Haidt says in his chapter on moral hypocrisy in HH:

People usually have reasons for committing violence, and those reasons usually involve retaliation for a perceived injustice, or self-defense.... [However, according to social psychologist Roy Baumeister in his book Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Aggression,] we have a deep need to understand violence and cruelty through what he calls "the myth of pure evil." Of this myth's many parts, the most important are that evildoers are pure in their evil motives (they have no motives for their actions beyond sadism and greed); victims are pure in their victimhood (they did nothing to bring about their victimization); and evil comes from outside and is associated with a group or force that attacks our group. Furthermore, anyone who questions the application of the myth, who dares muddy the waters of moral certainty, is in league with evil. [HH 74-5]

Haidt then goes on to show how both sides in the "war on terror" employ this myth in their Manichaean rhetoric. And then:

In another unsettling conclusion, Baumeister found that violence and cruelty have four main causes. The first two are obvious attributes of evil: greed/ambition...and sadism.... But greed/ambition explains only a small portion of violence, and sadism explains almost none. Outside of children's cartoons and horror films, people almost never hurt others for the sheer joy of hurting someone. The two biggest causes of evil and two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self-esteem and moral idealism....

Threatened self-esteem accounts for a large portion of violence at the individual level, but to really get a mass atrocity going you need idealism--the belief that your violence is a means to a moral end. The major atrocities of the twentieth century were carried out largely either by men who thought they were creating a utopia or else by men who believed they were defending their homeland or tribe from attack. Idealism easily becomes dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. If you are fighting for good or for God what matters is the outcome, not the path. People have little respect for rules; we respect the moral principles that underlie most rules. But when a moral mission and legal rules are incompatible, we usually care more about the mission. [HH 75-6]

This is why the rule of law is so vital, and why Bush is so dangerous, as Haidt points out, in his willingness to use "extra-judicial killings, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and harsh physical treatment of prisoners" in the war on terror (76)--and this doesn't even include the abuses of NSA wiretapping or Bush's frequent use of signing statements or the selective leaking of classified information, etc., etc.

The founders are probably rolling in their graves so much that we could hook up turbines to them and generate enough electricity to solve the energy crisis.

These are frightening times we live in. The tide may be beginning to turn back, but I shudder to think what would happen if another terrorist attack happened--nearly half the country is ok with what the NSA is doing as it stands.

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