The one good thing you can say about ignorance is it offers freedom from confusion. And few Americans suffer from confusion about ethics.
Take the issue of evil, for instance.
Yesterday, my officemate Jim brought up the topic in response to minister Rick Warren’s questioning Obama and McCain about their views of evil. I didn’t see the program or the subsequent clip, but apparently Obama gave a long, nuanced explanation of his moral views. When asked what he thought should be done about evil, McCain simply responded, “Defeat it.”
Unlike my officemate, I think evil exists—in a sense. Suffering, deliberate cruelty, and hypocrisy are obvious examples of it.
But I admit it’s an abstraction—and a relative concept. Even suffering can have its good points—it may even be a necessity. Virtue depends on evil—defeat evil and there’s no more virtue either. The concepts are meaningful only in relation to each other—sort of like “cheap” and “expensive,” nonsense as absolute values.
In fact, I don’t think evil can be apprehended … or defeated. To the extent that it has reality, it’s a part of the world, an unpleasant fact we have to accept as part of existence and do our best not to contribute to it.
But I bet more Americans respect McCain’s answer than Obama’s. This is part of America's perception of itself as innocent—or, less flattering, naïve, even willfully ignorant.
McCain cannot really hope to defeat evil, any more than he could stop a tornado hurdling towards a bus full of children by charging it with a revolver. Not only Americans see the good-heartedness of such a gesture, but apparently only Americans fail to register its numbing stupidity.
And possibly its hypocrisy, too, since I’m convinced that McCain and his supporters would do all kinds of bad things—torture, falsify, kill—in the interest of defeating evil.
Thus, some of my fellow Americans find my nuanced moral viewpoint unnecessarily vague. Theirs is much neater and clear cut. No confusion whatsoever. Evil wears the black hat and rides the black horse. Evil is the dark-haired one with the scar. Shoot it. Defeat it.