A Dialogic Forum on Cosmic Evil

A Dialogic Forum on Cosmic Evil


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Can words mitigate the effectiveness of evil, or motivate billions of people

 to begin doing so? Are our witnessing words only so many sheets of rice

paper in a storm?  All I know on January 1, 2009 is that “emancipation”

and “enslavement to something” seem to be the two sides of a single coin.



Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

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Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

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A Dialogic Forum on Cosmic Evil

as it Becomes Manifest in our Global Realities


Jerry Ward: On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued what is famously called an emancipation proclamation. Despite the genuine joy I have in knowing Barack Obama shall occupy the White House later this month, my good feelings are diminished by a truth none of us can avoid: an evil which has neither face nor habitation nor name afflicts our planet. Genocide, imperial tendencies, global warming, enslavement of body and spirit, hunger and terrorism wax and wane and wax in our minds. We suffer odd combinations of mental and physical illness.  Bloodshed visits the guilty and the innocent, and those who were once the targets of genocide reenact the vulgar deed against their enemies and non-enemies in Gaza. Nevertheless, the evil of which I speak is not omnipotent.   I can reach no sane conclusions about the multi-layered and intersecting problems of 2009, about their rabid ironies.  Today I quote two sentences from page 464 of Samantha Power’s chilling book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide  (2002). “History does not offer many examples of the victims of mass violence taking power from their former oppressors, in large measure because outside powers like the United States have been so reluctant to intervene on behalf of targeted minorities. Unless another country acts for self-interested reasons, as was the case when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, or armed members of the victim group manage to fight back and win, as Tutsi rebels did in Rwanda in 1994, the perpetrators of genocide have usually retained power.”   No conclusions.  Only agonizing questions for writers. Can words mitigate the effectiveness of evil, or motivate billions of people to begin doing so? Are our witnessing words only so many sheets of rice paper in a storm?  All I know on January 1, 2009 is that “emancipation” and “enslavement to something” seem to be the two sides of a single coin. Our struggles and obligations intensify.

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The Nameless Evil with No Face or Home

Can words mitigate the effectiveness of evil, or motivate billions of people to begin doing so? Are our witnessing words only so many sheets of rice paper in a storm?  All I know on January 1, 2009 is that “emancipation” and “enslavement to something” seem to be the two sides of a single coin.—Jerry

Rudy: Despite the good intentions and outcomes of all wars, at whatever level and form, all suffer, whether the cause is just or unjust. I have praised Nathaniel Turner, the religious leader of the Southampton War (1831). There the deaths were in the hundreds, mostly in response to the slaughter of men, women, and children (about 63) of white slaveholding families. After 177 years local whites still flinch at any defense of the dignity and integrity of Turner and his men and are ready to subject punishment.

The “evils” of modern wars—in which civilian populations (hundreds of thousands and millions) are subjected to slaughter, sighted in the cross-hairs of bombs dropped from airplanes or shot from huge cannons anchored off the coasts of nations—have become common occurrences given little concern or are covered up by restrictions on media access. “Surgical strikes,” we all know are mythic and would be laughable if they were not so deadly for civil populations. There is also the militarily invented euphemistic term “collateral damage.” Hypocrisy and self-delusion by the civil populations of imperially aggressive nations are evils as dangerous as the creation of boy soldiers or the hacking to death of one’s neighbors with machetes.

We can easily recall too how the French for a century or more visited disaster after disaster year after year upon the people of the small island nation of Haiti from the 1820s into the 20th century. Then there were the Americans with their white superiority and Marines. The Haitians have yet to recover from American and French wars against them. That tragedy continues to this day with Brazilian UN Troops patrolling the streets while the masses go hungry eating dirt. We know too the devastation caused by our own Civil War in the 1860s: over a half million died “to free the slave” for a hundred years of Jim Crow terror.

We know the evils of two World Wars and its uses of chemical warfare on the battlefield and on cities crammed with the innocent: Germans, Russians, French,  Japanese, and others in the millions slaughtered. We know the evils more recently in Vietnam and Cambodia; in Rwanda, Sudan, and the Congo; in Afghanistan and Iraq. Again millions made refugees, slaughtered or starved to death.

All these disasters far exceeded in duration and numbers dead in the one-day holy war of Turner and his men much, which was much more more up close and personal than the dropping of atomic bombs. Yet Hiroshima and Nagasaki are dismissed blithely as future threats against nations of the Global South rather than cautionary tales of man’s inhumanity to man. They are justified and defended so much so that there is still drawing room talk of dropping such bombs on today’s lesser nations, like Iran. The war in Palestine has continued unabated for over a half century: vast populations of refugees unsuccessfully escaped whole from the bloody bomb-bursting decisions of European and American leaders.

I am not a fan or supporter of Hamas or Hezbollah. Or Bush and Cheney. During the primaries and general elections, I was critical of Obama’s duplicitous views on both the invasion of Pakistan (continuing the war in Afghanistan) and his silence on the Israeli Wall (greater than the Berlin Wall). Yet I cast my vote for him during the primaries as well as during the general election. I know such policies will tarnish our perceptions of his idealism once he’s in office as president. But I felt my vote was necessary: there was no other reasonable choice. Such is it with Palestinians when they voted Hamas into power over Fatah and Mamoud Abbas.

You have dealt with such dilemmas of leadership before, as in your writings about the tragic response to New Orleans—its poverty and flooding—in your book, The Katrina Papers: a Journal of Trauma and Recovery. Likewise, you say now that it is difficult for us to avoid “the truth” that “an evil which has neither face nor habitation nor name afflicts our planet.” That view of evil (its lack of location and identification) seems to place all of us in a cosmic condition which may indeed imply that our disastrous global ongoing wars, poverty, disease, starvation, inordinate death rates may be beyond human solution or origin.

Of course, your view runs counter to Western, especially Israeli governments (of the last 50 years), which have continually argued that “evil” was not among them but rather could be located and had the face of (Germans and Russians); then later for them evil had either the face of Egyptian or Palestinian leaders or leaders not in the pay of Western governments, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The US government and its taxpayers have more or less supported that view (especially since the 1960s) financially, religiously (e.g., Evangelicals), and militarily. As you probably recall George Bush made famously popular the term, “Axis of Evil.” His reference was primarily to countries in the Middle East, but also North Korea and Venezuela and Cuba. All countries of the Global South.

I am too ignorant and unschooled in theology and religion to speak intelligently about a pervasive Cosmic Evil. I have a simple faith, homegrown and nurtured by very limited experiences. What you are suggesting about “evil” is probably much more limited than my interpretation of your evil without face, name or habitation. Rather than this mystic cast maybe your intent relates more to a social reference: that is, an evil without race (ethnicity), color, gender, religion, region on the globe, or political or economic persuasions; that all leaders and peoples are subject to be affected by that which is “evil,” for instance, by greed, jealousy, lust, covetousness, and other destructive states of mind, often found embedded in social and political systems. Fatah heading the Palestinian Authority was corrupt and was not attending to the people’s business; thus the Palestinians opted for Hamas, which gave bread to the hungry.

But your more significant question deals with the role and effectiveness of poets and artists in contrast to the too often negative roles played by political and military leaders influenced by a corporate culture with an emphasis on profit and greed. Clearly, poets, writers, and artists possess powers of influence, which vary in relevance and intensity. The views of poets and artists are all over the political spectrum, some tending toward sentimentality and others toward the pornographic. Often the activism or involvement of poets and artists is limited or focused on non-controversial issues or highly personal ones.

One indeed may ask what roles do poets and artists and their works play in Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran in altering the trajectory of local politics toward non-violence and prosperity for all its citizens. Fundamentalists and other religious and jingoistic fears have taken their toll near and far on the vigor and range of poetic and artistic expression.

I support Ethelbert’s call for a congressional “stimulus package” for the arts, especially programs directed toward public schools and public libraries. I support a financing that will compel the poor and working peoples toward a new ethic of social and moral reform that will pull down fences and barriers, that involves a broader distribution of wealth and power.  I doubt if status quo politicians (Republican and Democrat) will support such a package that will make the necessary impact. Words and images can indeed be more than “rice paper in a storm”: they can seed a rightful protest against social injustice and war-mongering (at home and abroad). Not only will it require a great financial infusion, but the funding of such a social reform requires courage, conviction, and sacrifice.

That’s the rub: so many poets and artists find the ground too hard and the weeds too thick for them, for their expression to take root among the masses of the people. We still have many attracted to redemptive suffering and sacrifice. Beyond the military forces. In desperation against the odds of overwhelming and oppressive military forces with extraordinary military machinery, we have had, among first the Palestinians, and then among Iraqis, the rise of individual suicide bombers (men, women, and children) supported by religious clerics.

Then there are those poets and artists who are looking deeply and broadly and finding common cause across religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, class, age, etc. All of these are healthy signs that change will come but probably not as quickly as we desire. What we have discovered most significantly in the late 20th century, with this pervasive evil (you recognize), is that progress cannot be tracked by a straight line.  This desired progress lacks the quality of inevitability (socially or environmentally), especially in the short run of 50 to 100 years: look at the material state of vast numbers of Palestinians or Native Americans or American blacks.

I know not whether this evil of which you speak is indeed cosmic or social. It is indeed pervasive and ubiquitous. If the former, we are lost if God does not intervene with a Cosmic Love; if the latter the words of poets can, but unlikely will, make a difference for a sustaining peace and global prosperity. That is, in the short term.

Jerry: Dear Rudy, Many thanks for your responses to my questions.  They help me to think more clearly about what I am pursuing.  They reaffirm the power of using historical frames in dealing with what can overwhelm us.  What is most important is that you are helping me to continue growing as a writer and thinker.   Two quick notes.  I too support Ethelbert’s call for a “stimulus package” for the arts, especially if it enables the poor, the unemployed, and the doubtful to lead more positive lives and all of us in participating in the mammoth project of changing the world and ourselves. I think the evil about which I write is at once social and cosmic. “Cosmic” rather than “universal” is my word of choice, because many conservative thinkers use “universal” as a code for phenomena that are not universal. Happy second day of 2009.

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The Majesty of Evil

The evil about which I write is at once social and cosmic.—Jerry

Rudy: I concluded that was true and inescapable as I got half way through my own response. That cosmic aspect of evil runs throughout The Katrina Papers: it raises up some of the mundane issues which you deal with in the book, e.g., the cutting of the lawn and the weeds near your Gentilly house. Your critique of evil provides some majesty, a higher value than usual, for the life we live and that which contends with our joy.

Few black female supporters of Obama are willing to get into any kind of political criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians or Arabs. In such moral or ethical dilemmas one is inclined to ask, What have they done for me? Why should I contend with enemies that I do not have to for Arabs and Palestinians? It is indeed not improper to weigh such issues. But one should be careful how one comes down on one set of people murdering another when righteousness is neither on one side or the other. But there are natural and god-given rights: here is where the cosmic aspect comes in. The Israelis are the masters of the legal (social) aspects of conflict in a world ruled by Western values. Koranic and Sharia values have been mocked and the relationship of Muslims to God questioned. There is extremism and fanatics on all sides, many of whom who hold public office. None are righteous in God’s eyes. Good feelings and compromise are the exit doors from brutality and slaughter. Israeli leaders say they are peacemakers while they bomb cities and starve the populace.

When the actions on both sides are suspect, one indeed should be exceedingly judicious. Proportionality cannot be overlooked.

These instances or dilemmas will continue to occur during Obama’s presidency. It is early now: there can be only one president at a time, according to my aunt, chiming in on Obama’s line: give the man a break: he’s on vacation: he has to have time to think. What will be the order of the response of such persons come 21 January and thereafter? One cannot escape delivering the necessary criticism to his doorstep without doing harm to one’s self and to his presidency. Silence in life and death situations will be a tragic and insupportable position.

Marshall: I appreciate your perspective.  This recent outbreak of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians presents some challenges for African Americans—especially those who are discussing a renewed interest in Black-Jewish relations.  Ever since the 1967 war, there has been on-going tensions between the way blacks viewed the treatment of Palestinians by Israel (this has of course waned over time as Black-Jewish relations has not been such a “hot topic” on the American political scene since the 80s).  Any criticism of Israel was instantly viewed as “anti-Semitic” and indeed the term “Black-anti-Semitism” in an article by Irving Howe in the late 1960s is what initiated my interest in Black-Jewish relations.  We cannot cave in to the “Israel is justified” syndrome.  While the situation is indeed complicated and tragic for all involved, I would like for us—African Americans—to pay more attention and become more persistent in pressing the new administration to deal with the situation in the Sudan.  The tragedy there has consistently remained on the outskirts of the mainstream media

Thinking about Evil

3 January 2009

Floyd: Reading your comments [above] about the historical moments through which Black Americans have lived, and continue to live, I am reminded of Richard Wright’s declaration in 12 Million Black Voices (p. 142):

We are a folk born of cultural devastation, slavery, physical suffering, unrequited longing, abrupt emancipation, migration, disillusionment, bewilderment, joblessness, and insecurity—all enacted within a short space of historical time!

Through the pain, anguish, and desperation caused by the historic struggle to extricate ourselves from what Frantz Fanon referred to as the “zone of nonbeing (see his book, Black Skin, White Masks), we have had to think in the context of disaster and disbelief. Wright always helps me to think clearly and critically.   Bush 41 once spoke of the emergence of a “new world order.” Yet, the past century (and these emerging times) might more accurately be characterized as a “new barbarian disorder.” Evils and atrocities—wanton cruelties that humans perpetrate against others—are becoming more pervasive and devastating in the evolving age of advanced science, technology, and knowledge. At the end of his book, Barbarism & Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time, Bernard Wasserstein suggests that barbarism is deeply embedded in the heart of 20th-century Western civilization. He states further:

Evil stalked the earth in this era, moving men’s minds, ruling their actions, and begetting the lies, greed, deceit, and cruelty that are the stuff of the history of Europe in our time (p. 793).

Perhaps concepts like peace, justice, equality, liberty, are so many veils of illusion, as Wright helped us to see in The Outsider. Perhaps humans just cannot live “humanely” with themselves, others, or the planet. Has “civilization” actually resulted in humans treating each other civilly or with civility? Or has each historical moment represented contradictions and dilemmas associated with “emancipation” and “enslavement to something”? Is there any meaning beyond good and evil other than sheer power, or the struggle for it?   As to the role of the writer in that age of disaster and disbelief, I recall once again the prescient words of Wright:

Knowing and seeing what is happening in the world today, I don’t think that there is much of anything that one can do about it. But there is one little thing, it seems to me, that a man owes to himself. He can look bravely at this horrible totalitarian reptile and, while do so, discipline his dread, his fear, and study it coolly, observe every slither and convolution of its sensuous movements and note down with calmness the pertinent facts. In the face of the totalitarian danger, these facts can help a man to save himself; and he may then be able to call the attention of others around him to the presence and meaning of this reptile and its multitudinous writhings (The Outsider, p. 367).

Last year, one of my students, who is majoring in philosophy, and I investigated the concept of evil in Western philosophy. I have attached a selected bibliography I shared with her. We discussed about 5 books from the list. [See below].

Jerry: It is important to acknowledge that Richard Wright was there before us in this dialogue, that David Walker’s appealing to citizens of the world and Nat Turner’s reading those leaves around Jerusalem are graspings of consciousness and conscience which mark Wright’s and  our being in a continuum. Floyd, your reference to Wasserstein, whom I have not read, reminds me to footnote what Aime Cesaire wrote about barbarism in his Discourse on Colonialism (1955).  I need to revisit also Hannah Arendt’ s remarks on the banality of evil, for evil is assuredly not banal at this moment. In A Theory of Justice, revised edition, John Rawls does not write at any length about evil, but he does say on page 386 about “the evil man” is germane:

What moves the evil man is the love of injustice: he delights in the impotence and humiliation of those subject to him and he relishes being recognized by them as the willful author of their degradation.

Yes, Richard Wright understood and brought it home to us.

Floyd: One of my problems with the conventional scholarly literature and commentary on the question of evil is that it is focused almost exclusively on the Jewish Holocaust and related matters. Although there are some exceptions (see Card, The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil; Delbanco, The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil; and Ophir, The Order of Evils: Toward An Ontology of Morals) there is scarcely any mention of the slave trade and slavery, lynching and segregation, white supremacy and anti-Black racism. We need to do this work. Yes, Jerry, Wright confronted and constructed images of evil, which inform our thinking and writing. I need to reread Walker’s APPEAL. And clearly, Nat Turner’s revolt was the example of refusing to forgive and forget enslavement’s atrocities. Brudholm’s Resentment’s Virtue: Jean Amery and the Refusal to Forgive presents a morally justifiable argument in support of resentment and the refusal to forgive in the face of evil. Our task must be to overthrow illusions of optimism and, thus, to present the world as it is, even in an age of disappointment. 

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A Meditation on the Faceless Evil

Rudy: Since the new crescent moon, the night begins with the stars shining brightly then the clouds roll in. Last night a heavy mist settled over the lawn, the cars, and the trees. Then the temps dropped and the settled mist became ice. I was not able to sleep and was up long after the dawn. I am still drugged after the extraction of six teeth. I am still swallowing 500 mg hydroco/apaps and 500 mg amoxicillian, and drinking plenty of fluids. For a while it makes me drowsy and I lie down for a moment. 

After an hour I am up again. I have a hunger. I can only eat soup. My new dentures are set for an under bite when I have an over bite. I take a stroll outdoors to watch the movements of first Venus and the near half moon: then as the night deepens: the Big and Little dippers. At times, several lines of prayer escape suddenly from my lips. I can take this cold and dampness for only short periods: the muscles of my right foreleg ache.

In Mama’s bedrooms, now and then, I try to watch a Turner Classic. My mind cannot settle on the Bowl or Playoff games. A 1947 Bogart film held my attention: one in which Bogart (a captain investigating a death) turned his girlfriend over to the cops for murdering his military buddy, an NCO awarded for bravery, Bogart insisting she had to take the fall. You know how cool Bogart is: he told his beautiful lover whose shapely lips and voice reminded one of Lauren Bacall: “Sorry, kid, I loved him more than you.” Then she shot him and the car careen into a tree. Well that was that: she died from the collision in a hospital with Bogart holding her hand insisting she let go and take the plunge into death.

Then there was a Randolph Scott movie whose setting was in a mountainous British Columbian mining town. His adversary was a small capitalist named Walsh, who was the paymaster for a throng of thugs, taking advantage of gold prospectors. Walsh had bullied and taken over every enterprise in town except one saloon, which was owned by a very attractive and upright woman who fell for the strong, capable, and decent cattle man played by Scott. There were a million acres of good grassland within a mountain valley well-watered waiting for the right white man with cattle. Initially Scott’s 35 had been stolen by Walsh. Another older woman came up from Montana with three hundred. But she and her daughter and foreman needed a man like Scott, who was good with a gun, and fearless of such petty capitalists like Walsh.

Of course, that this was the land of Indians and half-breeds was tertiary in this tale: they were half civilized and stuck in the past (like Muslim pashas) and did not know what to do with such resources (like Iranians and Iraqis): this planned diabolical appropriation did nothing to undermine the happy ending for Scott, the female saloon keeper, and the daughter of the Montana cattle woman and her foreman. Such American films about the mythic aspects of American history laid the foundations for how we view the Western settlement of such places like the Middle East and Africa. Our sympathies settle usually with the familiar: such it the case with the British farmers in Kenya and Zimbabwe, whether absentee or settlers: in contrast with half-civilized African natives and Western-educated corrupt government officials. In White Man, Listen Richard Wright saw these as a kind of cultural half breed, alienated from both the East and the West.

The impact of Western conquest and colonialism seemingly take centuries to unravel toward justice for the conquered and the colonized. My Muslim friend Sharif called me the other day and we talked about the ongoing tragedy in what was called the Near East. He said these people are not short-term thinkers. They think in terms of centuries. This sentiment is expressed by the poet Mahmoud Darwish, “All that you have done to our people is registered in our notebooks.”

Sharif’s  Islamic sympathies are greater and deeper than my own. He has taken the hajj. Still he calls me “Rahim”: he who used to recite the whole of the sura Luqman. But I never had his ritualized faith and allegiance to formal religion, that which we identify with Romans and Saudis. My faith is very naive and impulsive, more influenced by the wandering Sufi poets: my soul unusually sensitive to injustice, I shrink from the politics of institutions. I thank you for the wisdom of restraint.

But I have grown old. I am no longer the angry and idealistic young man I used to be. I wake up with aches and pains. My flagging libido no longer presses me to the hunt. I have no longing for power over man, woman, child, or beast. My pleasures have become simpler. I have retreated to the countryside where I can walk out into the night without fear, without having to look over my shoulders for banditos and muggers. I enjoy enough peace of mind that I can watch the moon and the stars, feel the green silence of the darkness, and be satisfied with this life and beauty that God has bestowed.

But I am not so isolated, so politic, that I am unaffected by the sufferings of strangers, of the cry of a mother for her children murdered in her presence, of homes aflame and collapsing, of the sight of bodies under wreckage, of F-16s’ sonic booms shaking houses and frightening children wounded by shrapnel, of pharmacies bombed, of hundreds of thousands going without medicine, drinks, water, gas, food: when day after day there is death and burial, death and burial. Israeli planes are still in the air, but not over my Jerusalem. 

In her diary, Fida Qishta writes, “My mother is so sad. She watches me writing my reports and says, “Fida, will it make any difference?” I do not know that any of my literary responses to the death of Gaza will “make any difference.” Yet I cannot sit quietly ever, nor whirl in the air like a dervish. There are times I am so overwhelmed I can only lie down and sleep: not because I do not care about the murderous tragedy that is now taking place in Gaza, but that this anguish is too much for my soul to bare. But my suffering is a mere ghost of the assault only a million people by air, sea, and ground.

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I’ve just returned from one of my periodic walks into the night. The stars are not as bright and crisp as they were earlier. The moon has set. It is damp as the mercury dips toward freezing. The fine mist that has fallen will congeal into ice and cause the grass to make a crunching sound under my feet. My cat lies on my bed. He will want too to go out before the dawn. I hear from the TV in the other room that Obama has his mind on the economic stimulus package, while the Israeli military operations progress in a bleeding Gaza.

My aunt’s voice in my head reminds me that I should drink plenty of water less I become constipated from the prescribed drugs. Though I am only eating soup and cookies, I raise my jug of water and swallow deeply. We have waited impatiently for the inauguration of a new president. It is less than 17 days now. Maybe the good life will return under his rule. Much of the nation has goodwill for this upcoming Obama administration.

I watched the Tavis Smiley-Cornel West (C-Span) video you pointed out. Their Obama advice on the Israel War against the Palestinians has a Teflon quality. Their adversarial position to Obama’s black silence during the primaries has come to nothing. Such is the cowardly performance of enterprising public intellectuals when confronted with the threat of what Jerry Ward considers the faceless evil without name or habitation. They crawl back into their branded din where empty philosophizing and gratitude is rewarded by corporate America.

Bernard Wasserstein. Israelis and Palestinians: Why Do They Fight? Can They Stop? (2008)

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4 January 2009

Rudy: I am sick of the duplicitous justifications for brutality and murder of Palestinians by the Western media, pundits, and public intellectuals. Blaming Hamas for the 30 per cent war casualties visited upon Gazan children by Israeli F-16 bombing is absurd double speak that must not be tolerated in civil discourse. There has to be a flat out condemnation of Israel without bringing in the Holocaust and other extenuating circumstances, the tactic performed by Cornel West  on C-Span.

US policy and behavior are seemingly set in stone. The slightest discomfort of Israelis  caused by Palestinian protest will always be considered first and foremost. That protest (matter of fact, all protest) will have to end before Israel will budge. The demand of Israeli extremists is thus absolute Palestinian capitulation. That will never occur. Israel knows its neighbor well.

Such Israeli rhetorical strategies will not change until some terrific act of evil occurs, like nuclear war, in the region.

That would be an expression of Cosmic Evil in spades. These social and political complexities—which extremists (Hamas and Israeli politicians) create—allow Cosmic Evil to flourish. Only nongovernmental forces are however seen as extremists. And thus when Hamas became government (legitimate) there was a move to force them out of government by Israelis, Americans, and some Arab national leaders.

The present leaders (Israeli, American, and Arab) who planned and executed this War are not viewed as extremists but rather legitimate representatives of the Israeli people and interests. The analysts who support Israeli extremism view Hamas rather as the enemies of the Palestinian people and the Israelis their friends.

How then are such political and military operations to be combated by those of us who stand outside both the Israelis and the Palestinians? Demanding that the oppressed and their leaders cease defending their dignity and integrity is a nonstarter. And that is where the West begins.  Israel’s irrationality cannot be thwarted unless America demands an about-face (a radical) change in Israel’s occupation behavior.

But Israel and its sympathizers view any entertainment or action of Hamas as capitulation to Islamic extremists and terrorists. Some conclude that the situation is thus hopeless. (Israeli extremists will never volunteer to get off ground zero.) We cannot force US politicians either to get off Ground Zero. Thus we writers and poets for our own sake (our own peace) must disengage (“restrain”) and allow Cosmic Evil to run its course.

Ethically, is such restraint, allowing Cosmic Evil to run its course, sustainable?

Jerry: I think I can provide a tentative, very personal, answer to your question about ethics and cosmic evil. I choose not to let cosmic evil run its course without my throwing nails, rubbish, distracters in its path.  Yes, I will fail to bring its movement to a halt, but I will have the satisfaction of having slowed it down a little.

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5 January 2009

Israeli Forces Push Deeper Into Gaza— Backed by fire from air, sea and land, Israeli troops and tanks continued to push deeper into Gaza on Monday after rebuffing diplomatic efforts to end the 10-day assault. . . . . The reported death toll of Palestinians passed 500 since the assault began, including 100 said to be civilians. . . . NYTimes

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Cosmic Evil and Lack of Inevitability

Rudy: Cornel West  does not speak clearly about the nature of the conflict between Hamas and Israeli extremism which is evident in the C-Span video clip. Besides his silence, I know not where Obama is: where the buck stops in his present assessment of the present Israeli invasion of Gaza. He may have courage yet dreamt of by West and his enterprising career.

Obama’s silence has been deafening as we learn more and more about him in his journey toward the presidency. In that West spoke obscurely, his words in effect amounted to Obama’s silence with respect to the essentials of the conflict and the Cosmic Evil which threatens to cause or bring about eventually a deluge or nuclear war in the region. That probably indeed is a position understated by too many commentators. Maybe such a potential conflagration should be placed more in the open: more urgency is indeed necessary in resolving the conflict  But West’s slippery rhetoric is not as indicative of Obama’s as some may think.

Maybe this cosmic size potentiality of Comic Evil is that which belies policy concerns about Iraq and Iran having nuclear weapons. From the American perspective, it’s all right for Israel to have nuclear weapons. Israel can and will have more restraint because of its military prowess, which is lacking in both Iraq and Iran, or even Syria. These Islamic countries are viewed as more desperate in their ability to wage war. Of course, one Muslim country, Pakistan, has nuclear weapons, but theirs are directed at India rather than Israel or the West. So Pakistan at present is on the outskirts of an Israeli threat unless the US  pushes Pakistan too far into the hands of their brand of extremists. That remains a a growing danger as the Afghanistan War expands. Obama must be careful in his Afghan policy.

These two Islamic countries (Iraq and Iran), whose hatred of Israeli arrogance is extensive and longstanding, are much more likely to initiate a nuclear attack than the well-armed Israelis. These Muslim countries are unable to contend with the well-armed non-atomic Israeli war machine. That’s the Western policy argument. That’s part of the rationale that causes US foreign policy to emphasize its non-proliferation approach to Iran and Iraq rather than a confrontational one with Israel, whose extremist intransigence wins out by default in every argument.

Is this policy in stone? Yes. But stones however fixed whatever their size and solidity can be broken. Stones weather: cracks, chips, breaks occur, and with time they shatter and become dust. Appearance can be mystifying but there are those who can see beyond the moment and can see future possibilities and opportunities in terms of centuries.

I do not believe the Deluge, that is, the extremism of Cosmic Evil will win out inevitably. Inevitability in human affairs, I believe, is a myth. Over time circumstances change. New actors (like Russia and China) come upon the stage where history is made and interpreted. Oil will eventually not be so key a concern to Middle East security and stability and thus US policy in that regard will change. We have already invested a trillion dollars in the region in the last eight years.

Can those expenditures continue at the same rate, indefinitely? There are billions granted Israel per year as part of the security of the region. Can those be sustained? For US policy makers, neither is economically desirable and they will eventually demand change. There is a push now toward “energy independence.” These are all tiny chips at a stone-encased American foreign policy.

But to return to the Cosmic Evil and its threat of a Deluge (nuclear war), which is where the core of disagreement lies. Israel, the 5th strongest military power in the world, is unlikely to initiate the dropping or the shooting of an atomic weapon into Iraq or Iran, the West Bank or Gaza. That would cause billions of radical Muslims to over run all Islamic regimes. But why should Israel do such a stupid and outrageous deed as make atomic war?  Israel with its perpetual war against Arabs has everything going its way. As a surrogate it has the West in the palms of its hands. What other than perpetual war can it produce to sustain itself?

Israeli policymakers are satisfied to bully and brutalize the Palestinians, indefinitely, if the positions and supports of the West remain the same. A significant portion of Israelis enjoy this role as butcher and bully of the Palestinians; these pleasures are adhering to Israeli national character and becoming a way we know them, say from American Jews. That is why Mahmou Abbas is seen as a traitor by Muslins: he does not know the people whom he’s willing to ally himself. That is why the last 50-year intimacy of Israelis within the region has caused Palestinian hatred of the Israelis to grow by leaps and bounds. This hatred has thus become part of the national character of both peoples. This hatred nears cosmic proportions. But Western fatigue will set in eventually because of economics and demographics in both Europe and the United States.

In any case an atomic attack on any Islamic country, for whatever reason by Israel, will be the end of Israel as we know it. Their irrationality however has its limits. Does our silence like the metaphorical stone have a limit? I believe so. Listen to Jerry Ward’s stance:

I think I can provide a tentative, very personal, answer to your question about ethics and cosmic evil. I choose not to let cosmic evil run its course without my throwing nails, rubbish, distracters in its path.  Yes, I will fail to bring its movement to a halt, but I will have the satisfaction of having slowed it down a little.

Cosmic Evil is not inevitable in its extent and range. Affected by Dante’s Christian view and Muhammad’s Islam, I do not think life is a tragedy but rather essentially a comedy. The reign of Cosmic Evil (the Romans allied with Hebrew aristocracy) was not inevitable for the Prophet of Nazareth. It’s sweeping reign (the Southern slave aristocracy) was not inevitable for the Prophet of Southampton. Turner envisioned a Cosmic Good: recall the Christ-like images he saw in the heavens and on earth. His visions suggested that Cosmic Good required the blood sacrifice of those who had the faith that the Good eventually wins out. Their faith (Jesus and Nathaniel’s), irrational for post-metaphysicians, is not too unlike that of the suicide bombers of Palestine and Iraq.

Of course, my suicide would be much less meaningful than that of the two young prophets (Jesus and Nathaniel) who made their blood sacrifices millenniums apart. I probably can do no more than Jerry to thwart the extremes of Cosmic Evil, namely, throw “nails, rubbish, distracters in its path.” But that indeed may provide sufficient time for other aspects of Cosmic Good to take hold and prevent the more disastrous impacts of Cosmic Evil.

That is my prayer. . . . Deer Woman calls. I must go to her. The hunters now ride at night and on Sundays seeking to satisfy their blood lust and thirst. Tonight is damp and misty so we may escape deeper into the darkness.

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Jeannette: I have a CD, The Problem of Evil, produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) for their “With Good Reason” broadcast on March 21, 2002.  This is an interesting discussion by three professors.  One literature professor from Virginia Military Institute acknowledges how use of the term “evil” applies to American slavery.   He states as example that among certain groups of slaveholders, the torture and killing of slaves was justified by those particular slaveowners because these slaves were supposed to be “the children of Cain.” and bore the mark of evil.

When I went to the VFH archives I did not see this CD listed.  But if I can find another copy this week, I’ll sent it to you if you’re interested.  

The CD touches on the ideas below:

What is evil?

Brief history of the devil

George Bush—2002 State of the Union, “Axis of Evil” 

Evil After Post-modernism  by Jennifer Heddes (one of the professors)

Decline in religious belief  / evil (since WWI)  a problem for the non-religious

Contemporary complex use of the term evil—contagious nature of the use of the word gives permission to do evil (examples—911 . . . slaveholders)

Ralph Waldo Emerson  (non-being)  / Yeats notion of evil in -order to be human –

Hannah Arendt thesis’  on Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil. Eichmann as “clown” unthinking/unaware responsible murderer

Looking for monsters vs. people responsible for genocide usually look like you and me

Vietnam literature

Notions for children of evil—violence in Grimm Fairy tales vs. images of Barney for children

Contemporary’s  culture refusal to acknowledge evil

Problem—clearly defined notions of evil—what is the danger of not recognizing  morally bankrupt?  The Heart of Darkness– college student’s failure to make any moral judgment about Kurst 

Second Part of the CD discusses—

The evolution of the devil as a Christian figure and in literature—Rosemary Shelton (professor at VMI) 

Comic characterization of devil by Flip Wilson 

 Polls in the 90’s show discrepancy between belief in God vs. belief in the devil  

How early Christianity turned pagan gods into devil images  

No devil in ancient times until Zoroaster

Devil as convenient organizing principle for Christianity- lack of personal responsibility for  behavior

Islam—not a lot of description of Satan

Renaissance artists imagination in creating the devil


Now—concept of evil prevails  but attractive (use Al Pacino to portray) 

Enlightment/ science -persons free now to be non-religious – don’t need devil image (evil incarnate)  

Church of Satan available now—endless possibilities

I sincerely appreciate Floyd’s bibliography. Thank you.

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Floyd: Has the Israeli “tail” been wagging the USA “dog”? Wilson provides sage advice. Please read former Illinois Senator Paul Findley’s 1985 book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby. Then read the recent controversial book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Also take a look at the special issue of the JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES #38, Vol. X, No. 2 (Winter 1981). This issue contains articles by Ron Walters, Robert Newby, Jake Miller, Alfred Moleah, and Ernest Wilson, III, on the theme, “American Blacks on Palestine.” Very good.   Given the manner in which the Jewish state of Israel came into existence, and its geographical location in the midst of states that contain largely Muslim Arab and Persian populations, there cannot be peace in the Middle East. Have we forgotten the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which the British supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the 1948 founding of Israel there under the direction of the UN’s Ralph Bunche?

Rudy: NEVER is a long long time. Floyd. . . . Of course, peace cannot exist under Israeli terms: they want a Palestinian capitulation. That indeed will never happen. Thus we return to the view that this 50-year conflict inevitably will end in nuclear war. I am unable to imagine that such an event will occur.   My view is that 1) oil will not always have the importance that it now has and thus energy security emphasis will decline 2) the actors on the historical stage will change and they will not so readily make the present sacrifices for Israel 3) there must be a How.        When they will make peace is uncertain. Maybe it will take a century. A decade ago I thought it would take five years. Now we are talking atomic war. My concern is a humanitarian one. But that is a sieve. I am naive, a simpleton. I know nothing. . . .   Is the tail wagging the dog? That is what this NYTimes article suggests Israel Strikes Before an Ally Departs. But most likely this war was planned in Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Washington.   Thanks ever so much for the references on evil. Our audience will appreciate them.

Floyd:  In my last message, I did not say that there never will be peace in the Middle East, but I guess I did imply the same. How can there be peace when Palestinians have lost their land or have become refugees in other states? I suspect that they are resentful, angry, and outraged that they are constantly told by Israel, the USA, and others to stop the violence when they were the victims of the initial violence that took control of their land in 1948.   Years ago at North Carolina State University, I worked with a Palestinian graduate student. When she received an M.A., she had a party and invited my wife and me to her home where we met her husband, parents, and friends. Her mother immediately said that there were Palestinians who looked like me. More seriously, his father, who seemed to be about 10 years older than I, told me that he had lost his home and business, which were in a very nice area in Palestine. He said he longed to return home. Think of other Palestinians who hold similar views.   So, how can there be peace in the Middle East? Keep in mind that GW Bush once called his “war on terrorism” a crusade! Can you imagine how that arrogant and ignorant kind of discursive recklessness played among people in the Islamic world? Now, suppose there is now a quest to resurrect, rebuild, reestablish a new Islamic Empire of the type that began following the death of Muhammad in 620 AD, and reigned for about 1200 years? As you know, this long process of politico-religious wars spread throughout what became the Middle East and Central Asia, west across north and into the Iberian Peninsula and France, and east as far as Indonesia. Do we want a return of this set of catastrophes?

The gangster Bush regime, the worst presidency in the history of the USA, has set in motion a most unstable and dangerous world. We do not know the extent to which that regime’s secrecy and ruthlessness have damaged America’s image in the world. But the Bush junta’s failed domestic and international policies, especially the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have left the US vulnerable and hated around the world.   More importantly, given the present hostilities between Israel and Hamas, what may be the future challenges to the coming Obama administration? In view of the president-elects attempts at post-partisanship on the domestic scene, might he try something similar with respect to international policy? Is this really fanciful thinking? Is this a possible strategy in the Middle East? What might be its content and contours? Could it be successful? I think not!

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Sharif: Salaam, I have just read your piece on Cosmic Evil. No, I don’t think that your expressions are particularly anti-Jewish. They are anti-Israeli government which is another thing all together.

I have always been leery of concepts like Cosmic Evil. Such terms seem to generalize evil until it is no more than a fog that is visible but completely untouchable. I believe in evil as a concert adversary. It seems to me that Cosmic Evil has no real reflection in the mirror of existence. And humans are visceral beings. A things is not real to us unless we can see it and touch it. Though there are men and women of great sensitivity who can experience the cosmic, I am certainly not one of them. I experience evil through my senses. I see the murder in Darfur or in Gaza. I am not wrapped in a cosmic understanding of the matter. I feel their pain as my own. I feel their hunger as my own. It is not Cosmic Evil that I experience but particular evil. This is an evil that I can shout at, curse at and even hate.

As a Muslim, I believe that men and women are the crown of creation—as well as the most dangerous of creatures in creation. It is from ourselves that evil reaches out and permeates existence. It is man who chooses to be a suicide bomber or the pilot of a plane that drops a bomb on a Japanese city. It is man who lights the fiery cross of racism. Cosmic evil seems to me to be the equivalent of the sheet that hides the face of the Klansmen. It is the swastika and jackboots of the storm troopers. Particular evil is personified by the flesh and blood humans behind the sheet.  If there is a Cosmic Evil then there must be a Cosmic man to transform evil into an operative mode. When you find the Cosmic men among us speak to them of their actions and come to me with their words.

I have said all of this to say that I think I know why you are so deeply moved by the events happening in Gaza. You see in these events not Cosmic Evil but the shadow of the particular evil. You know that it is man creating the suffering of other men. And as a man—yourself—you wonder if you are capable of the same. This is why you are concerned if the article is anti-Jewish. You do not want to be counted among the evil men of the world. 

But by my definition to be against evil is to stand against the man that creates that evil. And, it is not every Jew who is bombing Gaza. But every person in the government of Israel is complacent in causing the suffering of Gaza because they make the bombing possible. Just as every American in the US government is complacent in the suffering of Iraq. Just as every Muslim in the government of Sudan is complacent in the suffering in Darfur . . . etc.

I know you and their is nothing anti-Jewish about you. So rest easy.

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Ambition: The Personal Underbelly of Cosmic Evil

I find it extraordinary to find myself more in agreement with Pat Buchanan than Harold Ford of Tennessee on the Israeli War against Gaza. Their views came out in an interview on MSNBC’s news program, “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” How is it that a maverick Reagan Republican conservative can have a more progressive view on the War against Gaza than a DLC liberal? Pat emphasized the proportionality (the 100 to 1 deaths) of the conflict, that is, the David-Goliath aspect, which is true of most wars since WWII and certainly most wars in the Middle East. Well, he did not extend the analogy to Iraq or Afghanistan to the US threats against Iran. But those present conflicts, of course, did not involve Israel, directly.

Maybe Buchanan’s anger toward this war springs from the tail-wag-the-dog scenario pointed out in a NYTimes article, Israel Strikes Before an Ally Departs. Maybe Pat views this Gaza War, being an American nationalist, as damaging to US policy efforts in the region. Buchanan’s views suggest this Israeli war on Gaza as fruitless and too costly to US-Middle East relations. Pat is human enough, however, to be truly concerned about the exaggerated cost in Gazan civilian lives. His strongest convictions say that this is a kind of pissing war, that is, about local electoral politics in which to discover what candidate is willing to visit the most violence against the Palestinians and justify it convincingly. Those persons will be the next elected leaders of Israel. In short, the war against Gaza is the most cynical ever and has more to do with occupation politics than terrorism:

According to Hebrew University’s Diskin, Livni in particular has reaped the political benefits of the attacks in Gaza, with Labor Party candidate Ehud Barak also getting praise as defense minister. The outcome of the operation will therefore be crucial in making sure that the support remains intact, swinging votes away from the right-wing Likud party—under former premier “Bibi” Netanyahu” —and toward the center and the left—Forbes

The Gaza War thus qualifying a political candidate for office represents one of the worst aspects of what we call Cosmic Evil. The Gaza slaughter satisfies no actual state (threats of survival) or national goals. Nor any economic goals.  For the office seekers, the War attempts to assure or redress the comforts of those bordering or living in proximity of an occupied people. This War is filled with the more personal qualities or aspirations of Israelis and their leaders, who hatched this plot to bomb and invade Gaza. Rather than a regular war, this war on Gaza reminds us of the Jewish Holocaust, the Rwandan Holocaust, genocide in Bosnia, the Cambodian Holocaust, and genocide in Darfur. The Gaza War has no real military objectives as in the conquest of territory.  It is not a war that can be won. It is a war to satisfy Ambition.

Its characteristics involve and emphasize the collective punishment of a people for the shortcomings or the unwillingness of its leaders to capitulate. This Israeli war against Gazans attempts to separate the people from their chosen and natural leaders. Cynically, these Israeli leaders know it cannot be done surgically, despite their protestations to the contrary. Their sophisticated plot involves reducing the capability of the people to survive, to retain any sense of integrity and dignity. It reminds me of the 19th-century wars against our own Native Americans. It reminds me of the aftermath of the Southampton Rebellion, but with much more technical sophistication and cynicism, while these warmongers perform their brutalities and savagery under the restricted light and lens of international cameras.

Gaza can be liken to 19th century Oklahoma or Indian Territory, that is, Gaza is a Land of Refugees, forced out of what is now Israel proper, into camps and swollen urban centers. So first we have Theft of land and home, a smaller cosmic evil than the ongoing mass murder. The Israeli military leaders circumvent the Palestinian people’s Ability to Make a Living and a Life, which might be called Economic Warfare, which is accompanied by Restricted Movement. Gaza has become like a ghetto, a reservation under siege, and worse a Prison.

These impacts driven by political ambition make up the underbelly of Cosmic Evil not so readily captured by cameras of bombs exploding red, lighting the night skies and tearing apart buildings and bodies or the technological and chemical white phosphorous bombs falling and burning Gazans below. When will this episode end?: only when international leaders vomit from Israeli horrors committed upon women, children and old men: only when the penalties of the invading forces become too high for the Israeli electorate to belly.

These kinds of analyses about Cosmic Evil I have attempted over the last week will not occur on corporate media too eager to entertain and defend the bloody brutality of Western privilege. But we who cannot be silent do what we must, heedless of the penalty. We cannot mirror the silence of the 1930s or the 1990s however irrational the events may be.

I must close: my thoughts sympathetically veer elsewhere: towards Dear Woman, hold up in a wet leaking hovel in the Dark Forest of Jerusalem. A cold January rain falls outside my window. Though she is silent tonight and does not call my name, she is happy that hunters cannot ride the roads, or drive back into the fields along the tree line with their bright headlights to freeze their target for the kill. Deer Woman is happy for the doe and the fawn, though they too are hold up unable to eat the fallen fruit below the pear tree or graze in the garden out back. I am more contemplative than happy. I know not what tomorrow bring.

*   *   *   *   *

 *   *   *   *   *

Clingan: Friends! As a descendant of Eastern Cherokees some of whom were forced to migrate to Oklahoma and as a theologian I want to weigh in on this cosmic evil discussion. I appreciated very much the history lesson tracing our West Asian policies back to Thomas Jefferson. Cosmic evil, however, came about earlier in human history. People who hate, fear or resent other people tend to oppress, torture and annihilate them and usually in the name of their deities against the deities or demons of their enemies.

I belong to the Presbyterian Church (USA) which has a long, historical presence in the nations of West Asia and which has always opposed Israeli wars of aggression such as the current Gaza war of aggression. Cosmic evil manifests greed, lust, and envy in the name of goodness, truth and beauty. Our opposition to the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, the West Bank, is also well known as well as our opposition to Bush’s wars and the culture of cosmic evil coming across via our TV stations and motion pictures.

I just communicated with our New Jersey Senators—Lautenberg and Menendez—my concerns about US support for this Israeli war of aggression. The so-called “even handed approach” always blames the poor and oppressed for crying out against oppression and pretends that the poor majority are somehow powerless against the powerful minority which oppresses them by treating them as “equals” when, in the equation dictated by power analysis, they cannot become.

Resorting to currently popular metaphors for violent evil:

Even the big, quiet, chained Pit Bull (Palestine) gets sick and tired of being kicked around by an unfettered Chihuahua (Israel) backed up and funded by the very violent Rottweiler (USA). While a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9.4), we are not dogs and our fate is not determined by our size but by our wisdom.

Instead, we must answer for our laziness and apathy in the face of the cosmic evil which inhabits us all. “The lazy person is wiser in self-esteem than seven who can answer discreetly” (Proverbs 26.16). The sacred writ of the religions stemming from Zoroastrianism (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ba’hai) all condemn the sort of events within which we are caught up nowadays, so we can take our inspiration from the impassioned speech of First Isaiah (Isaiah 5.20-23):

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness in the place of light, who replace the sweet with the bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant at mixed drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe and deprive the innocent of civil rights!

Perhaps texts like Isaiah 5.20-23 are why our Immigration and Naturalization Service recently deprived detainees of Bibles at their holding cells in Elizabeth, NJ? Cosmic evil invades and encompasses us and we are like flies and midges caught in amber. Let us at least try to wiggle our wings and pray that the tree sap has not yet set. Remember always and in times like these that evil can be overcome by good; I’ve lived through too many such crises to doubt that and too long to keep quiet. Keep up the discussion!

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Rudy: Jeannette, The Problem of Evil CD has good information in many forms. I had forgotten about the Al Pacino film and how the Devil’s  selected son of Evil chose suicide or self murder so as to end the reign (or slow down) the reign of Evil in the world. The film provides a face (that of a lawyer which seems comically relevant) and maybe appropriate) as well characteristics of Cosmic Evil.

We have mentioned only slightly George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” and the role Bush’s Axis played in America foreign policy. I doubt if Obama or anyone in his administration will continue that kind of rhetoric. You might again note  theologian Ralph Clingan’s remarks as well, if you have.

I have read the Koran more thoroughly than the Christian Bible. I found Satan mentioned in the Koran. But your CD is right there is less a historical sense of Satan there than in the Christian Bible. As I recall there is more a sense or presence of Evil in the New Testament than the Old if one excludes Genesis and Job. Maybe that is because of the Greco-Roman world in which those events take place. Maybe Ralph Clingan would like to add to that point. Or maybe Jerry. I suspect he has had considerable theological training. You might also note Sharif’s sense of evil as more physical than spiritual. I recall Flip Wilson’s “The Devil made me do it.” I had a girlfriend who was famous for that line.

I suspect that many literary responses of war and slaughter contains representations of Cosmic Evil. On a regular basis I read the Liberian poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley‘s last book of poems, The River Is Rising. There she has some poems that provides one a sense of Cosmic Evil, though unexplained and unexplored. What we see is its horrifying work. That must be true of the poetry that may be coming out of Sierra leone and East Africa as well.

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Good/Evil/ Nuclear war‏

Jeannette: Rudy, I remember weekly drills in which classmates and I rushed from my elementary school classroom to hide under the lunch tables in the school’s basement cafeteria because it was felt the basement would make the best bomb shelter.  I have NO trouble imagining nuclear war in my lifetime…

911 and Katrina resurrected this childhood indoctrination that my life could end without much warning, though this is not something I consciously consider with any degree of regularity. 

And since I believe that my soul will experience an afterlife, this means I must strive for good daily, however hard it seems.

Without hope (that planet earth is not the final answer) and a belief in the power of good, I could not take Richard Wright’s advice.. “to look bravely at the totalitarian reptile…”save myself”…”discipline my dread” or be of much service to others around me.

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Thinking about Evil: A Philosophical Inquiry

Alford, C. Fred. 1997. What Evil Means to US. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Meridian Books/The World Publishing Company.

Bernstein, Richard. 2002. Radical Evil: A Philosophical Interrogation. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Brudholm, Thomas. 2008. Resentment’s Virtue: Jean Amery and the Refusal to Forgive. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Card, Claudia. 2002. The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil. New York: Oxford University Press.

Delbanco, Andrew. 1995. The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Feagin, Joe R. 2000. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New York: Routledge.

Glover, Jonathan. 1999. Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Jacoby, Karl. 2008. Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History. New York: The Penguin Press.

Kekes, John. 2005. The Roots of Evil. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Lara, Maria Pia. 2007. Narrating Evil: A Postmetaphysical Theory of Reflective Judgment. New York: Columbia University Press.

_____. 2001. Ed. Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Mills, Charles W. 1997. The Racial Contract. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mintz, Steven, and John Stauffer. 2007. Eds. The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Neiman, Susan. 2002. Evil in Modern Thought: An Introduction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1966. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. New York: Vintage Books/Random House.

Noddings, Nel. 1989. Women and Evil. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Ophir, Adi. 2005. The Order of Evils: Toward An Ontology of Morals. New York: Zone Books.

Power, Samantha. 2002. “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Basic Books.

Rorty, Amelie Oksenberg. 2001. Ed. The Many Faces of Evil: Historical Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Wasserman, Bernard. 2007. Barbarism & Civilization: A History of Europe in our Time. New York: Oxford University Press.

posted 4 January 2009

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The Banality of Bush White House Evil—Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law. NYTimes

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The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95  /  The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

Dear Jerry, The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008) is a marvelous resource! It’s not like any encyclopedia I’ve seen before. Already, I have spent hours reading through the various entries. So much is there: people, themes, issues, events, bibliographies, etc., related to Wright. Yours is a monumental contribution! The more I read Wright (and about him), the more I am amazed at the depth and breadth of his work and its impact on the worlds of literature, philosophy, politics, sociology, history, psychology, etc. He was formidable! Floyd W. Hayes

Dear Jerry,   I received my copy of The Katrina Papers this past weekend. I had to order it directly from UNO Press. This is a formidable volume! You write with such eloquence, passion, insight, and power. As survivor and raconteur of Katrina’s devastation, you give the reader your reflections on this event; you also provide us with informed commentaries about a broad variety of other issues that attract your attention and the people with whom you interact. As a student of politics, I guess I am just overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of your critical observations. Reading this volume and The Richard Wright Encyclopedia, I can comprehend not only the centrality of Richard Wright to your scholarly project, but I also can grasp your own intellectual power and clear vision. For example, your critique of Robert Lashley’ rant about Wright’s LAWD TODAY is the model of the art of critique. Marvelous!   Thanks for your generous comment on my paper on Robeson and Wright. I continue to read both of your books. As always, Floyd W. Haye

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#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Pray the Devil Back to Hell

A film directed by Gini Reticker

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a captivating new film by director Gini Reticker. It exposes a different story angle for the largely forgotten recent events of the women of Liberia uniting to bring the end to their nation’s civil war. This film is amazing in the way it captivates your attention from the earliest frames. It doesn’t shy away from showing footage of the violent events that took place during the Liberian civil war. But the main story of the film is that of Leymah Gbowee and the other women uniting, despite their religious differences, to force action on the stalled peace talks in their country. Using entirely nonviolent methods, not only are the peace talks successful, but Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, is forced into exile leading to the first election of a female head of state in Africa. The women of this film are truly an inspiration and no one can fail to be moved by the message of hope that comes through clearly in this film.

These are heroes that deserve to be remembered and with Pray the Devil we are able to do that, gaining both a knowledge of the history we are ignorant of through archival footage and an understanding of the leaders of this movement through close-up interviews with the many women who lead it. The film also offers a great soundtrack & inspirational song- “Djoyigbe” by Angelique Kidjo & Blake Leyh.—Amazon Reviewer

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Mighty Be Our Powers

How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

By Leymah Gbowee

As a young woman, Leymah Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. Years of fighting destroyed her country—and shattered Gbowee’s girlhood hopes and dreams. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts—and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike.

With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace—in the process emerging as an international leader who changed history. Mighty Be Our Powers is the gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world.—Beast Books  / Pray the Devil Back to Hell

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American Creation

Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic

By Joseph J. Ellis

This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis (

Founding Brothers

) among the finest of America’s narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic’s foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization… in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders’ failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery).

Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, this deferral strategy was a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens. Ellis’s lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make this a holiday season hit.— Publishers Weekly /  American Creation (Joseph Ellis interview)

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The River of No Return

The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC

By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell

Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider’s account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South.  This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early ’60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.

The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 21 July 2012




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