So far in our investigation of the rot, I have asserted that it is a part of all of us, that it is magnified by our ignorance and finitude and that it consists, in part, of humanity’s compulsion to want more than what they have. Today, I’d like to wrap up my thoughts on the rot by talking about the nature of evil, the nature of utopia and dystopia, and how humanity’s addiction to progress plays in to the discussion.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about the “topias.” Utopia, what I think of as the fully consummated Kingdom of God, or shalom, revolves around its faithfulness to God’s design for humanity and creation. In speaking of shalom, we said that the idea of peace revolves around the idea of completion. The thing about completion is that it must be complete. If you have a ceramic glass with a crack in the side, it is defined as broken. It doesn’t matter that 99% of the cup is fine, that one single crack is enough to make the cup unusable. That’s the way utopia works too. Perfect shalom, as it existed in the Garden of Eden and as it will exist in Heaven, only exists when all of humanity is correctly related to God and to one another. That means that if even one relationship between any two persons in the entire world is distorted or dysfunctional, then shalom as a whole is lost. It’s like a cup with a crack. One reason for this is in the nature of evil, but mostly it’s wrapped up in the definition of shalom.
Incompletion is not the opposite of completion, just as neither 12%, nor 55%, nor 83% are the opposite of 100%. The opposite of 100% is 0%, and the opposite of completion is nothingness. Everything between 0% and 100% is just incomplete and broken. A car that has been in an accident and no longer runs is broken, and no matter how much work has been done to it, it can’t be considered fixed until it’s 100% fixed and drivable again. Dystopia is not the opposite of Utopia, nothingness is. Dystopia is not nothingness, it is something. Hell exists; Big Brother is describable; brokenness is something to be experienced. Dystopia is a percentage of Utopia, it is the brokenness that exists between 0% and 100%. Therefore, dystopia is as hard to heal as utopia is easy to break because dystopia can absorb the goodness of 1000 men and still be just as broken. A cup with a single crack is unusable, and society with a single destructive personality is broken.
Now part of why it only takes a single act of evil, or even just a single mistake, to break utopia is because of the perpetuative nature of evil. Evil perpetuates itself like a disease or cancer. Any action which results in suffering has the potential, through that suffering, to engender bitterness, indignation, or anger that can then result in further evil. Said differently: are you more prone to make mistakes and act irresponsibly when you are content or when you are frustrated? Are you more prone to act out and be rude to someone when you are in a good mood or in a bad mood? Are you more prone to yell at other drivers, speed, or tail another car when you are happy about how everyone else is driving or when “that idiot just cut me off!”
An example: I just had a little girl. Of course, my daughter does not intend to cause any problems for anyone, but her crying for hours on end can cause fatigue and frustration for my wife and I. In the mental states that result, it becomes much easier for us to pass our frustration on to each other, to our friends, and to those around us. When I’m exhausted and frustrated with her crying, I become more prone to throw my hands up and just let her cry while I’m in a book store, which could then cause frustration for the other customers, who may then continue to pass that frustration along to still others, like the cashier, or their own children. Or again, look the proven link between men who were molested as children and then go on to become child molesters themselves. Evil perpetuates itself.
Evil is like a stone thrown into a placid lake, except that where the ripples caused by a physical stone die down and eventually fade, ripples of evil generally keep rolling and grow stronger as they interact with one another. If utopia is that placid lake, and one evil person throws one stone into that lake, then what happens as the ripples spread out, bounce off the edges of the lake and roll back to collide with one another? Soon, that placid lake will become a sea of storming chaos. Evil perpetuates itself.
All of this would be tolerable except for one crucial aspect of humanity’s character. We are addicted to progress. Some have said that humans are by nature greedy, others that we are simply curious. The point is that we are very rarely satisfied or content with what we have. Businesses must get bigger and make ever more profit. Science must progress. Explorers must see more and more of the world, the ocean, the universe. We want to have more, to know more, to see more, to discover more, to do more, to make more. But this addiction to the idea of more can have powerful consequences.
In terms of the military, this shows up in the arms race. No nation can tolerate an enemy with even comparable military power. During the Cold War this resulted in an arms race for nuclear weapons. But this was just one short leg of a race as old as civilization. Ever since the first guy tied a rock to a stick, his enemy had to figure out a way to sharpen the rock. Once horsemen started wearing armor, archers made the longbow, and then the musket, and then the rifle, then the Gatling gun, and then the machine gun. This necessitated trenches, and then chemical warfare, and then tanks. As long as there are nations, this arms race will continue to push the limits of lethality and power.
As we grow ever more powerful as a race, though, the consequences of our inevitable mistakes become bigger. Starting a war in 6000 B.C. would cost the lives of dozens of men. In 2000 B.C. that same war might cost the lives of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. Starting a war in the 1945 cost the lives of millions and tens of millions of people. Starting a war today could affect billions. The more people there are, the more progress we make, the more power we have, the worse the consequences of our mistakes become. Eventually we will become powerful enough to easily destroy ourselves; we may be there already. And in a world of finitude and ignorance, when annihilation is just one poor decision away, someone will make the decision that will destroy us all. There is only one endgame naturalistically possible.
Next week I present the antidote.