Ensuring Dynamics of Sustainability by Appreciative Recognition of Evil
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 30 May 2022
Engaging Otherwise with the Paradoxes of Positive and Negative
30 May 2022 – The future may well see as incredible the dependence of society on the perceived existence of evil and its assumed pervasiveness. Its existence featured in the authoritative acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize by Barack Obama to the effect: For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world (Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, 10 December 2009). Yet curiously this recognition seemingly did not give rise to institutional initiatives and global strategies in response to it during his presidency with the resources at his disposal.
Whilst the religions have long featured its existence in their theologies, the country claiming world leadership in science seemingly devoted no resources to the prevalence of evil and the remedial responses it might be assumed are required — unless the many “virtual wars” are to be seen as proxy wars to that end (Review of the Range of Virtual Wars, 2005). As thereby implies, any such response is perhaps to be found in action against surrogates of evil — without formally naming how evil engenders the surrogate. Are many institutions indeed to be understood as effectively engaged in proxy wars against evil — including the Specialized Agencies of the UN?
More intriguing for the future is the dependence of entertainment on manifestations of evil and those embodying it — as the focus of plots and narratives engaging attention worldwide. What proportion of media — whether films, books, plays or works of art — is then to be considered as dependent on evil and its embodiment? Does the greatest creativity depend on representation of some kind of “axis of evil” to whatever degree it is implied and disguised?
The question takes a different form in competitive sports which are a major focus of entertainment. The opponent is readily upheld as the embodiment of evil over which triumphant victory is sought. The term “evil” may well not be used in public commentary — being more evident in the perceptions and exchanges of individual spectators.
Far more problematic is the transformation of sport into military engagement with an enemy — paralleled by the activities of the security services. Like any enemy, the opponent is readily defined as an expression of the essence of evil — and the embodiment of it. Evil is then to be recognized as a primary motivating force in society. That perception is carefully cultivated by supporting propaganda. For the security services responding to perceived sources of threat — whether criminals or terrorists — these are most readily framed as the embodiment of evil to elicit a focused collective response..
It is of course the case that both the military and the security services are then readily presented as the embodiment of the opposite of evil — namely the heroic embodiment of the good. As such their engagement with their opponents constitutes a primary source of entertainment, whether as news of reality or in fictionalised form. Violence, whether in the media or otherwise, is held to be essential to a healthy information diet — although the contrary may be vigorously claimed, however hypocritically. A much higher order of skill is required to create appealing entertainment which avoids violence of any form — hence its relative rarity.
Rather than “good” or “evil”, current appreciation of the situation and its dynamics is reframed in public discourse through use of “positive” and “negative” — avoiding the controversies evoked by “evil” in public discourse. Less evident is whether these abstractions engender the interest and emotions appreciated in much entertainment. Every effort may well be made in discourse to focus on the positive and to exclude the negative — ensuring a disconnect with the engagement on which successful entertainment is typically dependent.
The situation is of course not as simple as the framing above, as is evident in creative efforts to render entertainment interesting. There is extensive exploration of dynamics in which the good come to be perceived as evil through the drama, or those framed as evil come to be perceived as good. This dynamic is typically explored in the relation between the security services and criminals. Uncertainty as to whether one or the other is the embodiment of the good or of evil is cultivated in order to increase the interestingness of the entertainment.
The difficulty for society is that those who might be assumed to embody the good — authorities of every kind — tend now to be suspected of a degree of evil intent, whatever the euphemisms used. The suspicion is confirmed by publicised instances (misappropriation of funds, etc) or personal experience (police violence, etc). The corresponding difficulty is that those successfully labelled as a threat to social cohesion — criminals and terrorists — may well be recognized as beneficent in some form, and a corrective to the abuses of authority. As revolutionaries, they may subsequently become authorities in their own country — even presidents.
The future may see as ironic the inability to engender a form of public discourse to explore such matters — other than to embody them in surrogate form, whether fictionalised entertainment, competitive sport or military engagement against an enemy. Religions may claim to have developed such a mode of discourse. Their lack of success in this respect is obvious from the conflicts they engender, most obviously between those claiming a common heritage — the Abrahamic religions. As such they are themselves an embodiment of the problematic dynamic they purportedly deplore — each recognizing a degree of evil in the other through their misguided dogma, presumably now to be labelled misinformation, if not disinformation.
Given the dependence on evil, even an addiction to it in some form — whether acknowledged or not — the question here is whether it invites appreciation of a new kind, appreciation of another kind. How can evil be appropriately appreciated as a means of transforming what is readily apparent as a fruitless dynamic? Are the proposed modes of discourse in that regard to be considered alienating and futile — in contrast with those which may be engendered by the future?
Is there a case for an appreciative inquiry of evil (David L. Cooperrider, Appreciative Inquiry in a Broken World, 22 April 2020)? However, although the need to transcend the habitual focus of that method on the “positive” is argued, no effort is seemingly made to engage with “enmity” and “evil” as such (Gervase R. Bushe, Appreciative Inquiry is not (just) about the Positive, OD Practitioner, 39, 2007, 4).
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