Gulag America and the Doctrine of Inherent Goodness

Posted on May 16, 2011


Author: Stan Moody

Why are Americans so easily caught off guard by evil? Is it because we have embraced the doctrine of the inherent goodness of mankind to the exclusion of the reality of our own individual and national evil?

You would think that the experience of repeated failings as the moral conscience of the world would awaken us to our hypocrisy. Our burgeoning prisons and multiple wars seem to dictate otherwise.

Guys with the White Hats Always Win:

Frontier America, where the guys with the white hats always win, has infected every aspect of our national life. Where once victory belonged to the guy with the fastest draw, white hat guys of today come in the form of suburbanites, corporate executives, elected politicians, service club members, church members and bloggers.

As we watch America degenerate into this insular, tribal model, Martin Niemoller’s famous statement on the purging of target groups during the Third Reich speaks volumes:

First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist…
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew…
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me…

In the Crosshairs of An Evil Populism:

We came for the communists in the Korean War, the McCarthy Hearings, Viet Nam and the Cold War. We have come for the trade unions through the rise of the Christian Right/Tea Party activism in American politics. To the extent that Jewish people are emblematic of achievement, we who have treasured discipline of mind and career over gender, privilege and race find ourselves in the “crosshairs” of populism.

Nowhere is this disease more evident than in our criminal justice system.

The War-on-Drugs’ watchword of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s – “Just say ‘No’” – was the war cry of an addictive society dismissive of character weakness and mental illness. It is a society oblivious to its own pathologies camouflaged within the folds of belonging.

With few exceptions, prison is rendered to be a colony of people deemed unwilling to say “No” to temptations offering escape from a crushing inability to be “good.” They stand in our courts condemned, guilty or innocent, because most often they don’t look and act like folks we should like to have living next door.

Concentration Camps for Those Who Won’t Say “No”:

With 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its domestic prisoners, U.S. prisons have become concentration camps for those who are grim reminders of our own vulnerabilities to evil. We prefer to congratulate ourselves that we are not like “them,” quickly to move on in our denial.

The sex registry has evolved into a concentration camp without walls for violators of the sacred doctrine of the inherent goodness of mankind. With nearly a million now on the registry, they and their families are ensured of never again masquerading under such a presumption.

The doctrine of inherent goodness leads to gated communities, homogeneous clubs and churches, political parties and action groups and nationalism. Never truer were the words of Samuel Johnson, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” than of a nation addicted to defending its shifting, evolving morality by cleansing the world of “other”.

Vigilance – the Best Deterrent to Evil:

If we acknowledge the presence of evil in us all, we change the way we react to evil. Cover-up and condemnation decline. We become more transparent as individuals and as a society because we have less to hide. Parents protect their children by assuming that everything and everyone inside and outside the home can be harmful unless proven otherwise.

For such parents, the simplistic “just-say-‘no’” to sex, drugs and violence is replaced with vigilance and intervention that presumes that even our children may have a touch or two of evil.

Vigilance is the best deterrent to evil. Failure of vigilance led to 9/11 and its aftermath, the American police state, overreacting after the fact rather than exerting an ounce of prevention before.

That there is in each of us both good and evil demands that we be cordial, vigilant, protective of our trust and wise in our judgments, taking care of our own business to the extent possible.

• Harold Marcuse. Martin Niemoller’s Famous Quotation. U.C. Santa Barbara. April 22, 2011.
• Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. Quotes On Patriotism. January 18, 2010.