Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy

Is Good Evil?

March 7th, 2015

The Mechanics of Acquiring Political Power


Renowned books on how to attain or keep power are by Machievelli, (The Prince) by Sun Tzu (The Art of War) and by Saul Alinsky.  Alinsky (1909-1972) was an effective organizer and radical and he wrote the book, Rules for Radicals (1971) N.Y.  Over the years this has become scripture as a handbook on the mechanics for achieving power. Extremists and radicals of both the left and the right pay attention to its teachings.

Alinsky was dismayed by the unjust world in which he found himself. He writes:

“In this world laws are written for the lofty aim of ‘the common good’ and then acted out in life on the basis of the common greed. … It is a world not of angels but of angles where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where ‘good’ is a value dependent on whether we want it.”

His offers his handbook for action to achieve the fundamental ‘good’:

“.. our desire (is) to change (the world) into what we believe it should be.”

“In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people; to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment,…(so) man can have the chance to live by values that give meaning to life.”

The nobility and grandeur of his motivation is evident. Alinski’s words are stirring. His catalogue of evils resonate with us. We know its truth. His righteous indignation drives people to join him.

Ah, how sweet are the words of demagoguery.

Let us suppose that Alinsky managed to ‘seize power’. How would he ‘give it to the people’? How are the people, in fact, to wield power? How is the beautiful dream to be effected; if Alinsky had the chance to effect it?

Alinsky never tells us. He doesn’t address this ultimate and critical concern; how he would use power as no other before him has done – to produce ‘good’. His thrust is on getting power.

He spends pages in moral outrage enumerating the injustices he finds – the Vietnam war, “racist discriminatory culture”, strip mining for coal … And then moves on to his contribution: How to organize constituents into a force with which to be reckoned. How to build a base for power. The mechanics of acquiring power.

“To build a powerful organization takes time. It’s tedious but that’s the way the game is played..”

How to play and win at this game is what his activist devotees derive from Alinsky.

Significantly he writes in his chapter on means and ends.

“The practical revolutionary will understand Goethe’s ‘conscience is the virtue of observers and not agents of action’; in action one does not enjoy the luxury of a decision that is both consistent with one’s individual conscience and with the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual’s personal salvation…. first rule; that one’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.”

So here is the picture being painted: We live in a faulted world where all efforts to bring about a better world have, heretofore, failed. Nevertheless, Alinsky aims to bring it about by gaining power. Power can bring about the good world that “should be”. And the achievement of power must supersede concerns about scruple. When close to the battle-for-good, matters of ethics are a distant concern, says Alinsky in agreement with Goethe. In the pursuit of a great dream, doing evil in the service of good is permitted.

With precisely this outlook Lenin, in the Russian revolution of 1917, created the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Dictatorial rule. Proclaimed for the good of the people. In fact, it oppressed them. Noble goals, ignoble consequences.

Can ‘good’ be objective. Clearly, Alinsky thought so. But surely ‘the good’ is a subjective notion. We don’t know what ‘the good’ is. All we know is ‘what we want’. We call that ‘good’. This is precisely Alinsky’s complaint. He cannot abide the subjectivity of good. He wants to bring objective good about. And to do so he is willing to abide evil.

The symbiotic incompatibility between good and evil is the subject in this essay.

The picture is by Rudi Herzlmeier whose whimsical work I admire greatly. I wrote to him for permission to use this image but I never got an answer.

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Emotion and Reason

December 17th, 2014

“Les passions ont appris aux hommes la raison”
Emotion has taught mankind to reason

Marquis de Vauvenargues 1715-1747

What is it that captures us about these words? Emotion has taught mankind to reason. It is this. They appear to contradict common opinion which holds that emotion is the antithesis of reason; behavior is either emotional or reasonable.

We want to survive. We want to reproduce. Why? Can we justify these ‘wants’ rationally? We wanted these things long before they were attributed to biological evolution. Or demanded by religions. We can’t reasonably justify our desires by these. We reasonably justify wanting a particular key because it’s the one that fits the lock. The ‘want’ is reasonable. But wanting to survive or to reproduce is fundamentally irrational. There’s no reason to want them. These drives are purely emotional.

But in order to service these emotions we need logic; we need rational assessments of how the world around us works. These assessments are what it takes to gratify our emotional need to survive.  It is emotion that drives us to reason.

Reason surely arose from trying to resolve these opposites: security and nourishment. To eat and not be eaten. The mind perceives the current event. It correlates it with all its past history of experience. And, by the power of logic, it guides the individual on how best to survive. (more…)

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November 1st, 2014


from PRIMER OF QUANTUM MECHANICS, Wiley, N.Y. 1987 and Dover, N.Y. 2003 by Marvin Chester


Quantum mechanics is the fundamental theoretical infrastructure upon which all understanding of the nature of the physical world is built. This book is an exposition of that theory presented at the level of a junior·year undergraduate physics student.
In writing this book, I set as my primary task this one: to fuse the mathematical machinery of quantum mechanics with the philosophical world view embedded in it. That the mathematics appear to grow organically out of the philosophy was my aim. The object was to present a consistent physical imagery that tightly parallels the mathematics and thus, with verbal threads, to weave the philosophical tapestry into the mathematical formalism.

It is incontrovertible that quantum mechanics faithfully describes nature’s behavior. To accommodate one’s world view to what is nature’s behavior is the reason for a philosophical tapestry. The tapestry allows us to have a way of perceiving nature as natural.



It is possible to feel uncomfortable with the picture of reality that issues from quantum mechanics. Much of it appears to contradict the intuition of direct physical experience: it seems to defy understanding. Yet the purpose of studying the physical world is surely to gain understanding.

The quest for understanding hangs on the meaning of the word, understanding. One understands when one perceives a satisfying structure. For a scientist, a satisfying structure is one that, with few axioms, accounts for and quantitatively matches the behavior of nature.

Understanding is the perception of nature as natural. You have understood something when its behavior is just what you expect it to be, when it appears that what is, ought to be. A bubble rises because the heavier liquid surrounding it falls down from above to below it. We see the bubble rise and so it ought to do. We understand the phenomenon.

Understanding is lacking when things seem to be different from what they ought to be. That incontrovertible facts appear to make no sense reveals a faulty structure of understanding. The structure is no longer satisfying.

Under these conditions to achieve understanding requires a revision in the conceptual structure. Recognizing that they are also your prejudices, you question your axioms. You cast off some old ones and take on some new ones. You alter your philosophy. To achieve understanding is to go through a conceptual metamorphosis.


The history of physics provides striking examples of the process. Consider the introduction of gravity, that all masses pull on one another, even from afar. Newton called it an action-at-a-distance force.

The phrase echoes the incomprehensibility of the concept to people of Newton’s time. Only between touching bodies could forces be envisioned. That forces could reach out invisibly from one body to pull on another seemed beyond comprehension. It was not understood.

A century passed before the term force field was introduced to describe action-at-a-distance forces. Today every child is familiar with force fields. What in Newton’s time puzzled the minds of sages is now the comfortable self-evident perception of little boys and girls.

What happened to the profound questions perceived by the sages? They lost their meaning; they became meaningless. No one now expects that forces require touching. We recognize the expectation to be a prejudice. The problem of how forces could act at a distance was never resolved. It was dissolved. A conceptual metamorphosis dissolved it.

Understanding consisted in perceiving the question to be meaningless. According to quantum mechanics, one cannot know both position and momentum simultaneously. Why are we denied this knowledge? To perceive this question as inherently meaningless is what quantum mechanics teaches us. What has a definite momentum does not have a position. To demand both together is like demanding dry wetness. It is denied us, not by nature’s perversity, but rather, because the demand is meaningless.

When the picture of nature that Newton presented proved to be indisputably correct, the sages of his time had to undergo a conceptual metamorphosis. Modem physics confronts us with the same task: to embrace the picture of nature presented by quantum mechanics.

It has been my aim in this book to paint that picture.

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