mcgann_letterhead

#30 On honesty

Dear Jamie,

I agree about the evil in everyone. As Soljenistsyn wrote, the line cuts the heart of each individual:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

It takes real courage to say that you could have been one of those people to press the button. I’ve brought the topic up (though never said those words) and those who say that they’d never do it are obviously lying. It’s obvious because they’re quite happy with themselves after they say it, and truth almost never makes one happy. Such an admission is what Peterson would say is one of the greatest things you could accomplish. You should feel it in your gut as you say it and the ruminations on it should churn you up and “spit you out”. Telling the truth was the most memorable of Pinocchio’s lessons to become a genuine person.

You certainly know your stuff about totalitarianism in the 20th century. What do you think of Peterson’s claim that the extreme left just rebadged “bourgeoisie” with “oppressor” and “worker” with “oppressed”? He sees this as a much more devious way for them to have another go because it plays on people’s desires to be nice: “Collectivism is tyranny in the guise of benevolence”.

If I believe the line between good and evil runs within each human heart, that seems the place to solve society’s ills. By definition, an individual who is willing to delegate to the collective has a flexible moral line through his heart that can be buffeted by the spirit of the times. Such people can align at scale to the good or the evil, but these are capricious and asymmetric. The good is bounded, the evil is not. No system can come close to utopia, and most are inches from barbarism. The antidote to this collectivism are honest, responsible, ethical, self-sacrificing people. These souls have a steadfast line and are the only ones with a hope to not push the button. The nature of states is that almost all their actions reduce the honesty of individuals.

There’s a guy near me in the café reading 1984 right now. He looks to be at the pointy end, probably about where Winston is tortured with rats, and just before he loves Big Brother. Didn’t you say that reading Orwell and other sources worked for you? I’m curious why then do you suggest that it won’t work for your students? Maybe it just worked for you and me and everyone else that is 32 years old and must face our birth year every time we fill out a government form.

Unsad returns,
Mat