cosmodicy of local systems (a thought experiment)


“problem of evil”? no problem. evil doesn’t exist. neither do omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent beings.

to say that “evil doesn’t exist” means that “evil” doesn’t exist as a standalone generic category (or “universal”) or as a mysterious cosmic force. propagandist tabloid-thinking that takes up “evil” as this sort of “false universal” does irreparable harm. a “war on evil” is just as foolhardy as a “war on terror” (fish, 2001).

if we stipulate that “evils” refer to specific, concrete acts of “evil”, then we might allow that a generic, historically-open concept of “evil” exists as the sum of all evils. this would be like a register of all individual grievances, outcries in the face of suffering, feelings of being wronged, etc. an open, descriptive amalgam, not a closed, prescriptive code.

suppose, for now, that we do not wish to distinguish between sources of moral reasoning (in the strictly logical sense of “moral”, i.e. that from which a “should” is derived, in the sense in which a logician speaks of a “moral” premise) as these bear upon specific existential judgments about an action’s moral status (e.g. judging a human action to be “bad”, unsavory, intolerable, detrimental to ourselves and our own, strategically misaligned with the greater good, etc). we can still note that specific existential judgments about an action’s moral status are *relative*, and require a local context.

after einstein, physicists no longer acknowledge newtonian absolute space. in a newtonian cosmos, an object can be in motion (full stop). in an einsteinian cosmos, an object is always in motion “with respect to” a frame of reference. just so, there is no absolute evil, only relative evils. in fact, just as the einsteinian worldview swallowed the newtonian, wherever notions of “absolute evil(s)” have arisen historically, their existence can be explained by the “relative evils” theory–where “evils” are defined as relative to some culture’s holy book (and since most holy books are hallowed because they are “old” and “closed”, definitions of “evils” are perpetually “under-coded” in the wake of advances in any culture that follows such a book).

just as “evil” is a false universal in the moral realm, so “motion” is a false universal in the physical realm–specifically with respect to the centuries-old discussion of “free energy” or “perpetual motion”. in classic formulations, “perpetual motion” can never and will never be achieved because “a system that has more energy output than input” contradicts both logic and physics. so too, in classic formulations, one will never reconcile “god” and “evil” because doing so would contradict both logic and physics. both classic formulations lack a frame of reference, or what might be called an “ecology”.

what *can* be done is to frame the ecology as a closed system, both physically and temporally, as systems that do useful work for a useful amount of time. neither we nor anyone else will ever build a perpetual motion device. we can, however, build a 10,000 year clock. we can build communities that run solely on renewable energy for many generations. much effort in construction and maintenance may be required, but we will do it if we deem the output to be worth the input. similarly, neither we nor anyone else will ever win a “war on evil”. we can, however, enact local laws, establish local norms, and instill local values that curb the expression of injustice, inequality, oppression, and other specific, concrete evils.

in our local system, it may be that we could win one battle against one evil. organizing into larger groups, we may be able to expand our community’s sphere of influence to battle larger systematic injustices. ultimately, the planet itself is our ecosystem. if we can build a 10,000 year clock, perhaps we can build a planet whose societies, with constant maintenance, approach the limit of fairness toward living beings, one law, norm, or value at a time. from this perspective, doing so would be a question of engineering within our ecosystem.

a grand thought experiment, perhaps. but surely, one worth thinking.

references: (fish, 2001)


Infinite Material Gratitude


Infinite Material Gratitude
is “infinite” in the sense
that it is practically limitless.

Isaac Newton, in his “Calculus,”
developed the mathematical notion of a “limit“:
the value a function or sequence “approaches”
as the index (or input) approaches some value.
In practice, in appropriate circumstances,
limits “round up” the impractically large to infinity
and “round down” the impractically tiny to zero.
Contemporary physicists borrow this
Newtonian conceptual slang
when discussing the mass of blackholes:
“Infinite mass, zero size.”

The Infinite Material Gratitude of Being Human, then,
begins by recognizing that each of us
is born onto a fully-developed,
inter-connected social, cultural, and communal stage.
We didn’t “work” for Michaelangelo’s “David,”
or Einstein’s relativity,
or Rumi’s verse.
We simply inherit it.
For free.

Without this free, common, cultural heritage,
we’re the biological equivalent of great apes.
Our human cultural heritage makes us who we are.
And we are freely given this birthright in bright,
diverse, continually-evolving overabundance.

In their book “Multitude,” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
talk about how even the “non-working poor”
contribute to our humanity
through their existence and actions,
their thrift, their aspirations,
their ingenuity, their family and community lives,
their resistance to oppression.

In any population,
there will be a group of people
who break social norms,
whether by necessity or choice.
French sociologist Émile Durkheim called this group “deviants,”
and argued that while deviance in society is,
by definition, a deviation from “normal,”
it is utterly normal for populations to evolve
outliers, fringes, and deviant groups.

The poor in the USA today
are treated by the system
as deviants,
often criminals.

Especially the poor who,
for whatever reason,
are currently “non-working.”

But anyone who has ever done any “work”
(on the “forces” model of Newtonian physics,
not just a post-industrial, capitalist “jobs” model)
feels our visceral interconnection:
that culturally speaking,
we not only “stand on the shoulders of giants,”
but that we also are knit
into local and global communities.

Chefs, plumbers, electricians, artists,
grocery store clerks, city workers,
preschool teachers…
Challengers of fathers, helpers of siblings, comforters of loved ones…
Smilers at strangers…
Speakers of English, Mandarin, Farsi, Ancient Greek…
Archaeologists, botanists…

None of us does exactly what any Other does.

And yet, we all depend on each Other.


Aristotle said that we
owe our parents a debt of
“infinite gratitude” –
they gave us LIFE itself,
and no market can put a price
on that precious gift.

We owe each Other this infinite gratitude.

We owe it to
our families,
our lovers,
our cultural forbears,
our fellow-laborers,
our employers,
even our (sometimes broken) governments.

That doesn’t mean we sink into
reactionary politics or
reformism or

It means we don’t undermine
our own projects
by kicking the giant footstool
from beneath our own feet.

Let’s bury ingratitude
in the Imperial,
colonial past.

Better:  let the dead bury their dead.

Politics require tactics.
The best revolutions do too.

If there’s something within
post-industrial capitalism
that IS the problem,
it’s this:

blinding ourselves to the Other
(and to the infinite gratitude toward them
it is our birthright to foster)
behind the isolationist curtains
of privacy and individualism,
summed up in the
institutional history of the practice
of private property
(Specifically, the history of private property on the Imperial, colonial, “rape-murder-privatize” model. Yes.  That was us.  Both on the giving and the receiving end. No one gets a free pass here.)

The gratitude we each owe each other is infinite (practically limitless).
The gratitude we each owe each other is material (as in actual money, raw materials, material preconditions of the good life).
And the “Others” to whom we owe this gratitude are standing right next to us in real life.

Let’s get busy.