Unde malum?

Whence has come the evil to the society? There can be lots of answers. Some people – those of more or less simple mind – would have a ready answer: if an „enemy” liable for all our troubles is labelled we always feel better.

Certainly the thing isn’t going to be that easy. Well, whence is it then? From people, of course, because society – it is people, there’s nothing else, of which it might be composed. Are people evil then?

Even here, we may get various answers according to the nature of the asked person. Misanthropes and pessimists will nod (with grim satisfaction). But most people will not be ready to give an unequivocal answer of this kind; such evaluation doesn’t correspond to our experience – most people are nice, or at least decent. Everyone has his or her faults, of course – we can see them well on ourselves and feel that with the others the case won’t be much different. In everyday life however they usually don’t pop out and we don’t notice them at all. Following this observation, we must conclude that there must be much more good in every person than evil, or otherwise it couldn’t get lost in the prevailing good; there wouldn’t be enough good to cover the evil and keep it covered, and – at least superficially – prevail over the other. It would leak out somehow.

Nevertheless we have come no further with our considerations, because if this is true, if there is so much good in a human that the evil cannot get a point, same conditions and the same ratio of good and evil must reign also in the society, since this is – according to what we have already said – nothing else than a set of individuals. So why we do encounter so much and so frequent frailty in the society, well yes, even deliberate, nasty evil?

It resembles well known geometrical puzzles: All parts are seemingly correctly ordered, but the whole gives another result. In such a case we must have made a mistake in our reasoning. In order to spare you revising the whole process from the outset I’ll highlight it at once. The mistake is in the presumption of additivity: structure of the society is virtually extremely complex and it cannot be viewed as simple joining of individuals and/or small parts into a larger whole. My must try to understand it better. The question therefore is, what of, and especially how is the society made and how do individuals contribute to it?

Let’s start from the most primitive instance – from personal relation of two individuals. By a direct face-to-face contact, we are usually able to control everything „evil“, which may lie hidden in us. This pertains both to us and to our counterpart. (If not otherwise, we can simply suppress all baleful motives.) We behave prudently and tactfully, because we obviously have no aim at inciting an imminent dispute or even conflict. And such minimal standards we are able to keep even in more or less problematic relationships, in most kinds of relationships we usually go much farther, though, and sometimes we can reach even the degree of true altruism.

What is the situation like in relationships of more people than one, in group relations? Even here it is possible to attain such a high standard of relationship. If this happens within a group, we can such a group call a fellowship, community. All members in a community are equal and there is no formal authority. (Informal authority constitutes practically everywhere and in a spontaneous way.) The fellowship/community may have some rules (e.g. monastic communities), nut their respecting always depend on the individual. But most communities have virtually no rules – some may arise ad hoc – and the behaviour of an individual towards the others is governed by the same patterns as in personal contact. Actions and behaviour within the framework of a community are always actions and behaviour of an individual; individuals decide (by one or together) to do or not to do something.

Very interesting would be the inquiry into the extent, how far can be bounds of such a community blown up, what its maximum size can be. Beyond certain limits the community obviously ceases to be a community. The limits thereof are certainly transgressed by a mob or crowd – the impersonal always dominates there. But we needn’t go that far. Mobs after all do not appear in modern structured society very often. But there are also smaller units, which organise themselves on a different principle and which do not respect principles, by which communities are formed. I am talking about a collective.1

Collective has always rules, because it is not formed according to the likings of its participants, but on purpose. In a collective, people are gathered who otherwise may not meet at all and that’s why in their relation there is always kind of impersonality and estrangement. On the other hand even in a collective, a lot of contacts are made on bilateral basis, and with these there is at least opportunity to maintain the above said minimum standard. But in groups of the pattern of a collective there are much more types of transactions: from up down and from down up (collectives usually have hierarchic structure); between an individual and the group or a part of it; between minority and majority. The last type transactions appear to be most precarious and they are most endangered by intrusion of a strange element, of something , which has escaped personal control and vest itself into a hide of „collective meaning“; such complexes may come from personal unconscious of one or more of the involved ones, or even from elsewhere. And it may happen, and in fact frequently happens, that this very impersonal element prevails somehow and gains gradually overhand over other ideas, subsequently suppresses practically every good idea and every sound view. It can often be, that such a development is quite welcome to the involved ones, because they objectivise it in a form of a certain collective „spirit“. A memory flashes back to me of a film shot in the times of late totalitarianism, in which one of the characters claimed that at certain occasions he was permeated by the „spirit of police force“. While everyone will laugh at such statement, similar statements about „spirit of the church“, or „spirit of business“, or even „spirit of science“, may go unnoticed. And then we just marvel at where all the rubbish has come from. We have suspicion of an extraneous influence, but it needn’t be the reason at all. Our small personal demons, if they break out of control of our Ego, can combine to make up that effect. And they don’t abound in originality – why, most vices – fear, greediness etc. share people with one another.

And this is exactly the way, why actions and behaviour on a large, collective scale do not agree with that, how we ourselves would act under corresponding circumstances.

No remedy to that is easily to be found. Such social mechanism actually has not functioned just since yesterday; it has been here of old. And surely there will be no change brought about overnight. Perhaps we should be more cautious against everything, which doesn’t comply with the human common mind and our elementary experience, and should try not to get so easily seduced by some solutions emerging out of thin air and new suggestions coming out of blue. And it is certainly well, if we try to transfer all our relationships, including those made within a framework of an institution or a collective, on private, interpersonal basis. It may be, that if we try hard, the collectives will one by another transmute into real communities, where already people can and do trust one another.

1I have chosen this expression from a whole range of possible ones, mainly due to bitter personal experience with this word, which dates back to the era of communist totalitarianism. It can be without any harm substituted by terms like clan, tribe, party, gang, team, staff or many other.