Satan: The Evil Within

Nearly all of us are familiar with the concept of Satan, the personification of pure evil. He tempts his victims with the promise of granting them their hopes and dreams, only to pull them into his inferno when they have no way to escape. The Christians like to think of Satan as a red, horned, goat-legged monster (probably in order to make him easier to identify), but in reality, the devil is never so easy to identify. The devil is not a charging mass of soldiers, he will never admit that he bears any ill intentions towards you. He is not HIV, for the only way that he may wreak havoc upon you is by your own consent. As the master of deception, his job is to make you greet him with open, unwitting arms.

Now, the concept of Satan need not be taken literally in order to be potent; I follow no religion and don’t believe the devil is a physical being or even an outside force, but despite my descriptions of him as a largely symbolic being, he is nonetheless very real.

Where is this devil? He manifests himself in our behavior, tempting us to engage in dangerous behavior ranging from procrastination in the face of an ultimate deadline to falling for the tricks of politicians who promise to bring you security by removing restrictions on their power to kill or otherwise coerce you whenever they want. If you gauge his intentions by the smile he wears on his face, then you will fall for him, as he only ceases to smile when he knows that you have no escape from his wrath.

As the danger posed by this force is very real, we must also realize that since our devil is not an external force like the wind or the rain, the key to defeating him is within our own minds. As he can only attack you when you allow him to, you must be able to see past his illusions through the lens of truth. Stand firmly by your goals, your dreams, and your respect for the rights of others, and so long as you do so, he will not be able to open up your door. To do so is by no means easy (and I do not claim, in any way, to be perfect in this regard); he will knock ceaselessly and implore you to let him in, but if you believe strongly enough in what is right, the devil will lose in the end.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of warding off deadly desires within, resisting the will of people who have already succumbed to those temptations is even more complex. You can’t so easily bend the will of a dictator who is intent on killing you, but we can prevent such ugly weeds from growing on humanity by encouraging others to live a moral live and inform them of the dangers they will surely face. If ignorance is the first step towards defeat, then knowledge is the first step towards freedom.

Looking back at what I’ve just said, this post may seem like some sort of secular sermon. Indeed, religious principles operate on a common level with nonreligious principles, and as there are variations of ideas such as the Golden Rule in both Eastern and Western philosophy, we can identify certain morals as basic to our humanity. Killing, stealing, and enslaving are basic wrongs that nearly all of us can identify, and these are some of the principles by which all of us can live a moral life.

War: What is it good for?

If you love the song “War” like I do, you’d immediately answer “Absolutely Nothing”, but unfortunately, the question of war is not so clean-cut. Certainly, I’d love to see a day when there are no more wars, but unfortunately, that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Humanity loves conflict, and although conflict is generally not conducive to reaching eventual peace for obvious reasons, war can actually work to further the cause of human rights in some cases.

Of course, the majority of warfare in history has been (obviously) quite destructive, as most wars are generally waged in the material interests of a nation or its leader(s), which tends to result in a menagerie of murder, stealing, and various other crimes. The War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish-American War, for example, were 3 wars waged in America’s history explicitly for the purpose (or result) of adding land to the USA. And while these wars may have not been very deadly as far as wars go, they were waged in cold blood. At the very least, the US entered WWI and WWII to defend our soil and our allies, but other wars, those not waged for the preservation of human life and human rights do little else but sacrifice the lives and livelihoods of some in order to destroy the lives and livelihoods of others.

There are situations in which it is justified to use military force, however. Self-defense is an obvious one, and in many cases, so is intervention to end the reign of tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddhafi. In fact, the situation in Libya, at least until Gaddhafi was killed, was intervention done right. In principle, there was nothing wrong with removing a dictator who carpet-bombed peaceful protesters by the thousands, and the execution of the mission did not, fortunately, follow the same path as the Iraq War. In theory, I think that any situation in which some sort of dictator or general is intentionally killing thousands of civilians  justifies the involvement of troops by any nation that can help, so long as:

a) Removing the illegitimate leader from power and promoting the establishment of peaceful democratic institutions is the sole objective of the intervention

b) Strict measures are taken to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties

Of course, these are only a few theoretical parameters for a situation that would justify military involvement; the reality is that some civilian casualties will likely occur, and a theoretically justified intervention situation may escalate into a deadly, Iraq-like conflict. Those potential costs of action need to be weighed into any sort of democracy-spreading military involvement; execution may not always work as well as planned.

Take Vietnam for example: Starting the war was not entirely unjustified (though I’d still disagree with it) given the potential human cost that would likely occur in a communist Vietnam, but as the civilian body count sprung up, the costs of war became clear. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a surefire sign that the US was not on top of the situation, and in the aftermath of that, it would have been better to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty rather than escalate the number of troops in Vietnam and bomb neutral Cambodia.

Involvement in most wars, however, seems like a less moral operation when viewed with the gift of hindsight. The Vietnam and Korean Wars were both started for the cause of keeping communism from expanding, and the spread of protests against Vietnam rather than Korea were nonetheless due to the high death toll caused by the war. As death toll clearly makes a difference, any nation must take potential death tolls into account when considering any military involvement. Because of the obviously deadly nature of war, I would prefer to refrain from war in most cases, but if the situation requires decisive action in order to prevent mass murder and other human rights violations, then all nations willing and capable of acting to prevent a large loss of human life ought to do so.

Peace to you, and hope for the day when all war can finally be abolished.

The beginning and the end

I’m not religious. I wasn’t raised by a religious family, and I base my inferences and beliefs (or, I at least try to) off of empirical facts.

That said, I do ask a certain question that is posed by many a theist: How can something arise from nothing?

Now, I’m not implying anything about a god or superior being in asking that, but how exactly could “nothingness” even exist? Maybe I’m just limited by my perceptions of human consciousness, but nothingness has always seemed like an impossibility in my mind. Stephen Hawking says that the evidence points to a net total energy of the universe of 0, as it was at the Big Bang, due to the negative “dark” energy. Now, I don’t know much about astrophysics, but this may support the notion that the universe doesn’t have a beginning or end, that existence is the default state.

The other “nothingness” that I take issue with is that death is the end of our consciousness, that nothing lies beyond it. While we have no evidence to make a positive assertion that something exists beyond death, I have always doubted the idea that consciousness can end permanently. But I don’t really know anything, share your thoughts below.

The value of human life

Human life is sacred, no exceptions.

Of course, few people would attribute absolutely no value to human life, but, many people do possess certain judgements and opinions that are inconsistent with the absolute value of human life.

What do I mean by that?

Think of somebody in your day-to-day life who you hate, who drives you up the wall. Would you be glad if that person were to suddenly die? To most people, of course, the obvious answer would be “no”. And why is the answer no? Because human life has an innate value that would render its loss a sad event, or a major injustice in the event of a murder.

However, people often tend to perceive exceptions to this principle of moral law; it is an unfortunately common perception that gross violations of moral law can make a person deserve death. Those who believe in the death penalty would think, for instance, that electrocuting a murderer is “justice served”. Assuming that the criminal in question is within a secure justice system and could otherwise be confined to a jail cell without a reasonable fear of his escape, what kind of justice is that? The proper function of a justice system is to prevent and deter crime; a culprit of such a high crime, if imprisoned for life, is very unlikely to commit further offenses. The will to kill him, in this case, stems solely from emotion, the desire for harsh retaliation.

The problem with believing in “killing for justice” is that it represents a reduced sense of value for human life. Killing another human being is only justified in a select few situations, in which the direct culprit of such high and infamous crimes as mentioned earlier represents such an immediate, likely, and direct threat to the lives of others that he/she cannot be securely imprisoned. If an intruder with a firearm were to shoot you, for instance, shooting him in self-defense wouldn’t be a problem. Or, say that an army unit has captured a leader of a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of thousands, but his allies (hypothetically speaking) are approaching in large numbers to retrieve him. In the context of the immediacy of the situation, that the soldiers would not likely be able to bring the culprit to trial, he is directly dangerous enough to kill. Human life may only be sacrificed in this manner if it is absolutely necessary.

On that note, it is also wrong to wish for the death of any other person. Even for the homicidal home invader described in the first scenario, potentially fatal force should only be used as a last resort; to believe that a person deserved death anyways is to imply that his/her actions have destroyed the value of his/her life, and it can be taken away. No. Human life is sacred.