The guilty pleasure of a sunny, warm Ides of December. Forty degrees on an early sun-drenched morning, Roger riding his bicycle along the lake as if it were June, a rogue dandelion sprouting in the grass, and Rabia and I squinting beneath the intense orb of light framed by blue. Lovely, wrong on so many levels, but lovely.
We behold such a day in the knowledge that climate change hangs over our heads and that we humans, across the globe, are not doing enough fast enough to moderate it. Still, only yesterday I rode my bicycle with a thirty-seven degree wind slapping my face, while today I will ride in fifty-two degree sunshine.
That is the gnarly knot we find ourselves in, isn’t it? Reaping moments of joy and enjoyment knowing with unnatural intimacy about the suffering and plain old human evil whipping raw wounds upon so many.
Please, do not hear more than I am saying when I use the word “evil.” We need a good secular version of that word to describe some human behavior. I define this kind of evil as the centripetal orbit around the self. When we, as individuals or as a group — be it family, neighborhood, state, or nation — are caught in the forceful gravity of self-orbit we are capable of horrendously brutal acts. There is no supernatural force causing it, it is the pure myopia (when near objects appear clear, but objects farther away are blurry) of self-interest.
We see and hear this kind of evil at play in the recorded death threats and crude profanity left in voicemails for those two innocent poll workers in Georgia who Rudy Giuliani has to pay $148 million in damages to. We heard it from the leader of the MAGA movement this past weekend when he said immigrants “poison our blood” — a clear descent into the self-orbit of ethnic and racial purity ideas. The gravity of self-interest is a force that can cause us to become really mean and dangerous.
We have seen and read about unspeakable acts of brutality by Hamas in the initiation of their war with Israel. In return, we see and hear the roar of vengeance — another voice of evil — as Israel bombs indiscriminately, wreaking punishment upon Palestinian children. We have seen and read about other violence in Ukraine as Russia continues to commit war crimes there. There is mostly silence, which itself probably represents evil, about the horrors going on in Sudan. Lurking behind any moment of pleasure or happiness is the knowledge of these things and more.
The knowledge of human-driven climate change does not require us to refrain from breathing in and enjoying a sunny respite in December. Nor does the terror and hatred being wielded elsewhere require us to miss beholding the ordinary love and joy populating our lives here and now. What the knowledge of human evil can do, hopefully will do, is allow us to see and then refrain from getting caught in the gravity of our own self-interest. We cannot fix what is happening elsewhere, but we do have power over our choices, and influence among our family and friends when they may have lost perspective and descended into self-orbit.
December 15th was a beautiful day. Rabia and I sat on the bench, later I rode in the sunshine, and I wrote this.