“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke
This quote has begun to annoy me immensely. I’ve seen it used by conservatives and liberals alike as a rallying cry for political action. Yet usually the call for action of conservatives is to counteract whatever cause liberals want “good men” to act on. So who is good, and what is evil?
There are so many assumptions in this quote that are almost hardly ever true — 1) They, (the quoter) are good 2) Their followers / friend groups are good 3) They know what’s evil and what isn’t evil 4) action of any kind by good people can defeat evil.
Prob numero uno: what makes people good? Well… what they do!* So if good men are doing nothing, are they really good? And if good men do something with good intentions that has unintended consequences that end up producing bad, are those good men now bad? Ack, the circularity! Prob numero dos: If good men do “something” that is just all-round ineffective and ends up changing nothing, wouldn’t evil still triumph? Ack, the incompleteness!
Let’s put some of this in more concrete terms and use gun control activists and 2nd amendment supporters as a relevant example. Pro-gunners say “Rise up good men and defend our 2nd amendment rights so we can protect ourselves against the tyranny of government and rando criminals!” and anti-gunnerssay “Rise up good people** and add constraints to the 2nd amendment so the government can protect us from rando criminals!” Both of these groups think they know what the greater evil is, and both of these groups think they are the “good” ones.
Let’s be as generous as possible, and agree that the majority of people that belong to either group truly want a safe society. So who’s evil? Probably neither, really. But if one of those groups does “something,” the other group will very likely see the outcome as evil. And if one of those groups does “nothing,” the other group will think they have defeated evil. Also, let’s say either is right. What do they do? Should pro-gun people run around town shooting their AR-15s in the air to prove a point? Should anti-gun people raid people’s houses, steal their guns, and melt them down to use as gardening tools? Even if neither pro-gun people or anti-gun people are evil, surely you can appreciate how they could both start acting in ways that many people on both sides would see as evil. And evil would triumph.
I guess the main point of this ramble is that there has to be a balance somewhere between passive apathy and taking the time to think about and research 1) what’s really “evil” in any given situation and 2) what sort of action would actually be “good.” There is a difference between stubbornly refusing to act in the face of evil – when there is an obvious good action – and taking time to learn and understand at least *some* of the facets of a really complicated issue. Similarly, there is a difference between acting emotionally, passionately, “spinning your wheels,”etc. and actually doing something effective.
Now the main point of the main point: I want to be willing to consider that the outcome of my actions, no matter how well intended, could be evil. And if I’m going to act, I want to take some time to think about the best course of action — and that will likely involve having non-antagonistic convos with people who do not see the world exactly as I do.
Btdubs I’m not trying to be wishy-washy and say there is no truth or no evil or whatever, but I have Christian friends who would be disgusted by the political actions of my Christian parents, and my parents would be appalled by some of their activism. So especially within this community – which should be empowered by the same Spirit and working toward the same end goal – we should be willing to at least entertain the idea for 30 seconds that we could learn something from our sibs in the Lort!
This is good stuff y’all. I’m going to applaud myself.