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)