Inequity v. Iniquity: A Choice of Evils

Apr 1, 2024 | Blog

Sometimes our choices come down to a choice of evils. Any presidential election, for example. This year, however, thanks to an alliance of militant Christians and free-market fundamentalists, we face an unprecedented choice between an evil we know all too well and the carefully plotted termination of any hope of overcoming it. I wish I were exaggerating. But democracy, even one as flawed as ours, is all that stands in the way of an abrupt right turn into theocracy and absolute corporate rule.

Liberals and conservatives agree on only one thing: we live in an evil age. But to liberals, “evil” means corporate greed, racial injustice, ecological devastation, authoritarian rule – in a word, inequity. To conservatives, “evil” means promiscuity, permissiveness, free health care, Hollywood – in a word, iniquity.

Both sides would define “evil” as anything that suppresses freedom. For liberals, the freedom to live our lives without government interference; for conservatives, the freedom to control the lives of others and get as rich as possible without government interference. Both seem to regard government as the fount of evil in the world – so naturally both are eager to take charge of it.

Of course the word itself has fallen out of fashion. Liberals use “evil” metaphorically, if at all. But for conservative Christians it describes a metaphysical reality, the bedrock of their moral world. They invoke it daily with various coded euphemisms to justify breaking most of the Ten Commandments on behalf of what they insist is “good.”

They seem particularly lax in overlooking Commandment #1: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Despite their zest to impose their version of Sharia Law, the right-wing push for one-party theocratic rule is largely financed by ultra-wealthy worshippers of Mammon. It’s this unholy alliance of the “control the lives of others” and the “get as rich as possible” factions of the conservative movement that makes it such a viable threat.

But if they achieve their goals, which faction will be the first to wake up and realize they have been cynically used for an agenda they suddenly find intolerable?

“The Lesser Evil”

Given the degree of misery and suffering around the world, it’s time to reclaim the concept of evil from the theocrats. In a recent post I proposed that we can define it without resorting to metaphysics or religious doctrine by simply looking at consequences. Any act that harms others can be considered evil, regardless of intentions. In this light, the phrase “the lesser of two evils” is more than metaphorical; it’s a measure of tragedy and trauma in the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings.

Many people are resigned to voting for Joe Biden as the “lesser evil.” But others say his support for Israel’s war of revenge on the ghettos of Gaza justifies casting a symbolic vote for a third-party candidate. I’m sure they are aware this equals a totally non-symbolic vote for Donald Trump. That tells me they may not understand the real-life consequences of the choice we face this November.

In the U.S.A., like it or not, we all benefit in tangible ways from an economic system founded on slavery, land theft, and genocide. Dubbed the “Megamachine” by Lewis Mumford, this system exploits and oppresses the world’s poor while efficiently dismantling the planet in order to funnel all human and natural wealth into the greedy maw of the One Percent. No metaphysical dogmas are needed to label this “evil.”

Millions of people with the best of intentions – including me and everyone I know – are enmeshed in this system, though most of us recognize it as evil. Across the Global South, people labor at slave wages to provide our wants and needs; our credit cards fund the destruction of the biosphere. Our complicity does not make us evil people, but it does impose on us a moral obligation to resist, to challenge the system, pitting our millions of hands and voices against its military and financial might, lest we grow too comfortable as beneficiaries of the Machine.

What’s happening in Gaza is no anomaly; it is simply the way the system reacts when provoked, though more nakedly brutal than we normally see on our sweatshop-assembled TVs – just as Israel itself is no anomaly, only an exceptionally well-oiled cog in a brutal Machine. Naomi Klein* observes that by unanimously backing Netanyahu, the governments of the Global North are broadcasting a message to the world: “That the gilded bubbles of relative safety and luxury that are dotted across our cruelly divided and fast-warming world will be protected at all costs.” In short, quoting author Sherene Seikaly, “Palestine is a paradigm.”

And here in Atlanta, where our police have long partnered with Israel’s, “Cop City” represents the same paradigm writ small.

The Greater Evil

As the current chief executive of this evil system, Joe Biden can’t even scratch his nose without sending vast ripples of evil consequence across the planet. This leads some to see him as the very face of evil. But just because he is president doesn’t mean he’s in control. He too is enmeshed, powerless to retrofit the Machine into a force for good, and probably a dead man if he tried. Anyone who aspires to occupy the Oval Office, including any third-party candidate, aspires to the same obligations and limitations.

Biden made it to the top not by doing evil, by assassination or blackmail, but by making the necessary compromises that lubricate the Machine to keep it running smoothly. I think he genuinely believes he can barter those compromises for some more benign achievements. And he has indeed defied the inherent evil of the system in certain ways – supporting organized labor, reducing student debt, championing renewable energy and EVs. For all his power, Biden himself is no more evil than the rest of us who struggle to do good in the grip of an evil system.

Some of Biden’s compromises clearly have evil consequences in the real world: Gaza, immigration, nuclear weapons and nuclear power come to mind. Real people will suffer. The murder and mutilation of children will continue. Nuclear holocaust and radioactive meltdown are far from hypothetical dangers. But in my view, the worst consequence is the erosion of Biden’s support among liberals and a resulting boost to Donald Trump’s chances of returning to power.

I say that because whether you consider Trump a narcissistic sociopath, a compulsive criminal, a psychologically stunted two-year-old, or just a power-seeker driven by hate and greed, his brand of evil springs directly from what I consider the one true source of evil in this world: the black hole of self-obsession, from which no light can escape. This, not some satanic urge to serve “the dark side,” is the poison seed of corporate greed, racial injustice, ecological devastation and authoritarian rule, the toxic fuel that powers the Machine.

Many of Trump’s supporters are motivated by a wrongheaded sense of what is morally right. But Trump himself has no motive at all beyond his gluttonous appetite for power, wealth, and adulation. The crucial difference between him and Biden is his total lack of any compensating sense of obligation to others – and the fact that if he takes a second Oath of Office, there will be no going back to the “lesser evil” we have left behind.

Re-elect the Antichrist!

Some interpreters of Biblical prophecy say that in the End Times a False Prophet will arise who will convince many believers he is the emissary of God, come to prepare the way for the Second Coming. He will be a persuasive and charismatic liar. It doesn’t matter whether Trump’s natural aptitude for this role is metaphysical or metaphorical; the believers who have adopted him as their savior, their “retribution,” are being taken for a ride. He will trample them underfoot as soon as they are no longer useful to his egocentric ambitions.

But Trump is no Antichrist. Like millions of others, he’s just a hostage to the childhood traumas that shaped his psyche. His racist, misogynist, authoritarian lust for power is itself an evil consequence of the abuse passed on to him by domineering white, male forebears. But backed by the totalitarian designs of the One Percent and the theocratic fantasies of the Christian right, he rings alarm bells at the very top of the scale of evil.

If the American people re-elect Donald Trump, it will be our downfall as a democracy. He has made his draconian intentions clear. Enraged by the prosecutors, judges, pundits and journalists who have tried to hold him to account, he will unleash a tsunami of evil that dwarfs all the evil Joe Biden has done over half a century in the Senate and the White House.

Meanwhile, Republicans in statehouses and courthouses across the country have diligently prepared the way for minority rule. They will never dare to allow another free election. It will be the end of all forward movement on race relations, wealth inequality, LGBTQ rights, climate change – everything. Political protest will become as futile and fatal as it is in Russia; Putin will seize his chance to turn all of Europe into his personal Gaza Strip. We will have abandoned our democracy to “the dark side.”

But if we re-elect Joe Biden – and survive the vigilante violence sure to follow – that doesn’t let us off the hook. We’ll still be enmeshed in an evil system, benefiting from military and economic tentacles that are squeezing the life out of the world, complicit in crimes against humanity from Gaza to the Mexican border and even worse crimes against our own children.

With any luck, voting Biden back into office will only take one day. But the next day we must resume our lifelong struggle against an evil system that benefits so few at everyone else’s expense. No one will descend in clouds of glory to do it for us. But at least we’ll have preserved what’s left of our democracy for those who carry on the struggle.

These are my personal opinions and do not represent any organization I’m involved in. If my words resonate for you, please share widely. You can subscribe at StephenWing.com.

*Read the whole of Naomi Klein’s extraordinary analysis here.

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Debbie Toole

    You are right on, Steve!

    Reply
  2. Paula Overholtzer

    Dear Wing,
    Thank you for eloquently stating what we all need to consider during our up-coming US election. These are indeed dangerous times we live in. As with the last election, I will certainly strongly encourage voters to choose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. We must have hope for the future. We must.

    Reply
  3. Gale

    I don’t like the lesser of two evils trope; I don’t find it accurate. But I like a lot of what you are saying here and concur. Except not that I believe in a literal Anti-Christ but if I did, Trump would be a very good candidate. The most succinct thing I can say is a Biden win means there will be another election and other flawed candidates, other chances. There won’t be another election if Trump wins. Nor do I expect him to concede.

    Reply
  4. McKenzie

    Spot on and so important for more people to realize. Everyone need to start thinking more critically at the big picture

    Reply

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