Innocence & Evil (Apathy too...)

I’m no philosopher, OK? I once took a course in philosophy (Philosophy 101, more or less), way back in my misbegotten youth. It made me crazy to even contemplate the (to me) exceedingly dumb question “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it fall, can it be said to make a sound?”

I was, like, “Well, duh! The birds & squirrels can hear it, so, like, could we please talk about something meaningful??”

As regards innocence, I’ve thought about that some, & what I believe is this:

We humans are fundamentally innocent by nature. We are born that way. We come into the world wired to trust the people into whose arms we have been born. We are wired to love & trust. It’s the way we’re made. (I don’t buy into religious claims that we’re “born evil” or “born bad” or whatever the heck religions say in this regard. It simply doesn’t ring true for me. Does it really for you???)

So, we’re born innocent & naïve & trusting – & along the way our dysfunctional families muddle us up 6 ways to Sunday (as does our entire culture, of course) – but by golly, most of us try our damndest to be good girls & boys, don’t we?? (Some of the children from alcoholic families try so hard, folks in the corporate world know we’ll work our asses off, so eager are we to please. Yes. I will not reveal my confidential sources here (thanks, P.!!), but I’ve been told Human Resources professionals know that many of us damaged by alcohol-drenched childhoods will work very very hard indeed to please our corporate masters (we could never really please Mommy &/or Daddy, who were so darn unpredictable & pretty well impossible to please), but we can please our bosses in the corporate world, oh yes….

So. Born innocent & trusting, hmmm? Why should this be so? Well, for one thing, ‘cos we pretty much have to trust the big people, don’t we?? They feed us & look after us & teach us until we are old enough to look after ourselves (and, parenthetically, since we do not exist in life merely for ourselves, contribute to looking after our fellow “tribe” members).

Along the way, life generally knocks us about a good little bit (!?), but many of us remain so innocent & so prepared to be good little souls that we cannot even bring ourselves to remove those little plastic-y tabs on things we buy (pillows & such) that say DO NOT REMOVE UNTIL AFTER PURCHASE or something along those lines, that we leave on in perpetuity because we are so damn obedient… (If you put your mind to it, you will come up with many examples of how trusting we are by nature.)

Innocent. So innocent & trusting we all agonize over our personal bodily odours & errant hairs & clothing & appearances (after all, life is all about looking good, is it not?? And not looking stupid, Heaven forbid). And we dive headlong into our own personal pathologies, don’t we? And get quite quite lost there forever… (What Joanna Macy has to say about this is very very helpful indeed. Posting here tells you more on that score.)

All the while swallowing the swill our culture pours down our innocent little gullets. Buy-buy-buy! Keep up with those Joneses, dammit! S/he who dies with the most toys wins, don’t you know!!!!! Everything is all about you

Impervious to the corporate…evil?... that results in fouled air, poisoned water, toxic earth/Earth. Cancer. Trashed immune systems. Poverty. Hunger. War. (etc.)

Nuclear waste that will remain wildly toxic & dangerous for 100s of 1000s of years?


Children being lead-poisoned from gasoline & paint & (some) herbal supplements & toys & (am I forgetting something? To be revised… Ah yes, some ceramics, too). Warning: Lead = big topic. More coming here very soon!!)


Not only do all these wretched corporations poison us in a thousand ways, & not only do they poison & exploit to the death less “developed” countries & people, they do it using us as their willing foot soldiers. We serve these rapacious masters. We not only serve them, we do it gratefully! With massive amounts of our personal energy!! (& dedication. &… willful blindness??)

We see no evil.

Hear no evil.

Speak no evil.

(We just do evil. Offering our …quiet…’mmmm… assistance…)

& so now, here we are, having finally arrived at evil.

We’ve already established that I am no philosopher. Nor am I a theologian. I have no Ph.D. in any academic discipline. I just think (& read) a lot. Then think, read & think some more.

I think it is evil when we knowingly & willfully & deliberately take advantage of the innocence & naïvete of others. When we very deliberately exploit others’ innocence. For our own personal gain, of money &/or power &/or influence.

The advertising industry deliberately exploits our innocence, doesn’t it? Has done so all along.

  • As does the auto industry, hmmm?
  • Banking industry?
  • Chemical industry?
  • Pharmaceutical industry?
  • Insurance industry? Lead industry? Nuclear industry?

And so on & so on, no doubt.

Our politicians too, of course. A great many of them, anyway. There are some trustworthy ones, of course. (My own votes, here in Canada, where I live, go to the Green Party. I’m a very big Elizabeth May fan. I happily acknowledge that there are some very fine individuals in the NDP (New Democratic Party) here in Canada too. But the folks in power? You cannot convince me they are there to do anything other than exercise power for its own sake, & for the sake of their darling corporate buddies. They do not give a rat’s ass about you or me, of that I am quite, quite entirely sure.)

This isn’t a pretty picture, & I do apologize. Most often I am the Pollyanna lady, or Tinkerbell, or whatever the heck it is my role here seems to be.

But telling the troooooooooth seems to me to be of ever-increasing importance.

I’ve been telling the truth & trying to learn about the truth for more than 20 years now. I even have people who tell me they admire & have been inspired by me & definitely support my efforts. A lot of folks don’t seem to actually do anything much though. Seems like an awful lot of us still seem to think our own little personal lives are the whole darn deal here.

Very, very frustrating, isn’t it??

What is a person to DO???

I’d say, let the “scales” fall from our eyes.

Embrace the truth in all its messy, despair and crazy-making glory.

If we are indeed marching off to our own species’ demise (something many now seem to have come to accept), let’s at the very least do it with some dignity, shall we?

If we’re going to live – until we die – let’s do it at full throttle, dammit.


p.s. This blog has oodles of suggestions for things you can do. Have a gander thru the Index at the top & scroll through the list of postings for some titles that sound interesting to you. There are groups to join, a ton of issues to get on board with (my top pick: climate change!!!!!), films to watch, books to read – & don’t ever, ever, ever underestimate sheer human potential, hmmm? We funny little critters are capable of far FAR more than most of us know. We have to stop colluding with this horrific soul-destroying culture that is leading us … well, never mind where it is leading us. As I said, let’s at the very least go wherever it is we’re heading with our eyes wide open. Let’s do it with some class & dignity. And, hmmm. How about courage, too…

And let’s have fun while we do it!!


‘Quote of the day’ with this post:“Evil thrives on apathy and cannot exist without it.” – Hannah Arendt

Additional relevant quotes:

“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.” – Helen Keller

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, exiled Russian novelist, quoted in Yes! (Winter 2002) – Utne Nov-Dec 2002

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Martin Luther King Jr. [more MLK quotes]

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” – Simone Weil

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good.” – Martin Luther King

“You can blame people who knock things over in the dark, or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing.” – Paul Hawken, entrepreneur and author, The Sun (April 2002) – quoted in July/Aug. 2002 issue of Utne Reader [more Paul Hawken quotes]

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein [more Einstein quotes]

“It is the only thing we can do, Klaas, I see no alternative, each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.” – Etty Hillesium, on her way to her death, at 29, in Auschwitz, quoted in The Open Road – The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, by Pico Iyer, 2008.


Courage, Apathy...& Evil

*** Quotes on courage here! <March 18/10>

I’m reading a book called Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa,(1) by Antjie Krog. Bit of a tough read, at times – but very well-written, provocative & rife with interesting thoughts, insights & quotations. Rough because one learns in detail some of the horrific acts of violence & cruelty visited upon so many citizens of South Africa in the apartheid era. Its recounting of the operations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes for fascinating reading (parenthetical thought: I ought to let the author know of my deep appreciation for her book!).

We human beings are certainly a curious lot. We can be so marvellous, generous, compassionate, creative, loving & wise – & by the same token, so thoughtless, self-absorbed (2), cruel, violent, homicidal, and … dare I say, evil?

I will leave it to the philosophers to debate whether or not evil really exists. (though I personally feel we are a bit short of time here on Planet Earth for long-winded philosophical debate & time-consuming study; seems to me more like a time for concerted ACTION.)

I will add that I have encountered my fair share of nasty (even homicidal & sociopathic & kind of scary) characters in my time – in a professional capacity, shall we say – so I am not unfamiliar altogether with the sheer nastiness capacity of some human beings…

Anyway, whether or not evil exists, I will say that I think the apathy of so many people I know & meet – in the face of the most serious & horrendous crisis our species has ever known – borders, to my way of thinking, on evil. (Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I rest my case…)

It frightens me.

It astonishes me that most people I know would be more upset to hear me describe myself as an anarchist (3) than they would to hear that our robot-man prime minister is quite knowingly destroying a huge swath of Canada (read up on the tar sands ) in the name of profits for his corporate buddies (George Monbiot has described Canada as a ‘corrupt petrostate’).

It surprises me that the thing most people seem most curious about when they ask me about my sit-in/arrest experience last Nov. 30th, just before the Copenhagen meetings, is what it was like to have to wear a diaper all day. They are dying to ask me whether or not I peed in it. (The answer, for the record, is no. I skipped my morning coffee that day, which for caffeine addict me was frankly the most challenging aspect of the whole experience!) But the experience wasn’t so much about using a diaper as about getting outside my comfort zone – something I think a lot more of us need to start doing.

I know there are a lot of reasons for our apathy.

But it scares me.

I heard a report on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio yesterday, on ‘The Current Review.’ It was about a TV show in which participants were asked to cause fellow participants to be given electric shocks. Apparently, most did order the shocks.

What kind of people are we?

It worries me.

Author Antjie Krog asks in Country of My Skull (in reference to the goings-on in South Africa during the apartheid years, & afterward, during the time of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which began operating in December 1995), “What the hell does one do?”(4)

& I wrestle with this question myself, pretty much daily. What the hell does one do?

I am not a philosopher, dear Reader, nor any kind of “expert” nor (supposedly) brilliant scientist.

I’m a woman, mother, environmental activist & writer (a person who is unpaid for the work I do; that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact) – & I am no longer confident about the ability of our species to survive.

We have made/are making such a frightful botch of things.

Still & all, what is one to do??

Throw up our hands?

I say, Take action.

Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s quit stepping over the elephants in the room, & start calling them.

Let’s grow some courage. Grow some balls...as it were. Shake things up a little.

In Country of My Skull, Chilean philosopher & activist, José Zalaquett (who served on the Chilean Truth Commission) is quoted as saying, “The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another name for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values. Merciless. Accountable.”(5)


I wonder, might we all try growing a little more courage in the face of the grave dangers now facing us? I surely do hope so….


p.s. A buddy of mine said to me in an e-mail message recently, in reference to the sorts of people who defended tobacco use until they were finally wrestled to the ground, & the people who were responsible for trashing the ozone layer (fully aware, btw, that they were doing so), & the ones who are now defending the oil business with their criminal conspiracy (do read Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, by James Hoggan, with Richard Littlemore), “These big business issues, like the pro-smoking debacle, are beyond my capacity to understand – it’s like there is a parallel universe of animal things that look like humans but behave like something else.” Rather nicely put, Richard!!

I’d say it’s time we turfed out politicians who look & act like robots (& criminals), & bring in some real human beings for a change!!

p.p.s. Shortly after I scrawled this essay, riding the GO bus to Oshawa, I resumed reading Country of my Skull. Author Antjie Krog relates on page 159 that just before midnight on May 10th, 1997 (the deadline for amnesty applications), “six black youths walk into the Truth Commission’s offices in Cape Town.” She goes on to explain that they had decided at the last minute to apply for amnesty because they had realized it had been wrong of them to be apathetic, & do nothing. “So, here we stand as a small group representative of millions of apathetic people who didn’t do the right thing.”


Quote of the Day’ with this post: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

(1) Times Books/Random House, 1998.

(2) I have a very rude name for a condition I feel all too many of us suffer from. “Terminal heads-up-our-own arses” disease. (Sorry; I did try to warn you!)

(3) The Collins dictionary defines anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.” I think a lot of us are anarchists, by this latter definition…

(4) Page 118.

(5) Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow & the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, by Antjie Krog, Times Books/Random House 1998. Page 32.