Evil is Conserved

Evil is conserved. Particular instances of evil can be ameliorated, to be sure. But this can happen only by way of a redistribution of the evil thus salved. Think of salve, applied to a wound. Better to salve the wound than not. But the salve and the salving impose costs. Resources devoted to healing – including the healing resources of the body – are lost, and cannot be invested elsewhere. When we salve and heal a wound, then, we have not reduced the suffering in the system of the world, but rather only spread it around a bit.

Evil is conserved. It can increase, as entropy increases. But it can’t be got rid of. Not even a little tiny bit of evil can be destroyed.

This is a corollary of the general conservation of value. The fixity of the past and the necessity (imposed by the requirement that worlds as such must be causally complete) that all futurities somehow (at least implicitly) comprehend it exhaustively – Mach’s Principle – ensure together that once an evil event is added to the world, its consequences must thenceforth forever pass on down through history superpositively, incorrigibly. Such evil consequences are usually dispersed, to be sure, so that after a time no one feels them with particular acuity. Who now mourns the Black Death, or the Bronze Age Collapse? Nevertheless they remain, and inflict a severe, massive, continuing ontological cost.

E.g., we cannot live as if WWII did not happen. The 50 million people who died in that war are lost to us forever. The work they might have done, the children they might have engendered and raised (not forgetting all their descendants), the buildings built, enterprises founded, techniques invented, music written, knowledge gained – the wealth of every sort they might have created, exchanged, passed on: all are lost, permanently. So too are all the values that might have compounded from their lost lives, and from those of the children they did not have. Humanity is permanently impoverished by their premature deaths; we will be poorer because of it, until the end of man. The difference in value between what is now and is now possible to us, and what might have been had they lived normal lives, grows by leaps and bounds with every passing moment. That we don’t notice this impoverishment, that it seems to us normal, shows how profound it is, and how pervasive.

Such is Original Sin.

Because evil is conserved, and deforms all our lives from birth (or before) regardless of what we do, so that our inheritance of historical evil cripples our capacity to do good from the very start, it is impossible for us to be perfectly good, let alone to repair the damage done before we even came along. We cannot possibly be what we might have been. Our case is hopeless.

Unless, that is, we have some help from a corner that is not (like this mortal coil entire) pervasively tainted and ruined, and that has power to cover the horrible chasm that yawns between what we are now and what we might have been, and ought by nature to be.

Fortunately, we have such a help; a very saving help in trouble. Else were we doomed altogether, our case hopeless, our utter annihilation certain. But we have help. So then may we hope.

12 thoughts on “Evil is Conserved

  1. Pingback: Evil is Conserved | Neoreactive

  2. This is the plot, in sum, of Wagner’s Ring, through the subtleties of which I am currently leading my Modern Drama students! Once Wotan compromises his own law to build Walhalla, the wickedness can never be withdrawn but steadily proliferates itself. In Wagner’s epic drama, the weight of evil grows so enormous that the world itself comes crashing down. (But a new world begins, the one that you mentioned in another post.)

    • Yeah, the conservation and compounding of evil is inherent in all tragedy. Not just Oedipus or Othello, but Fargo and A Simple Plan come to mind, and the recent Everest. It’s a theme of much comedy, too, for that matter; as in those excruciating hilarious movies like Meet the Parents, in which a tiny little error compounds, every attempt at rescue making everything unimaginably worse, until it’s almost unbearable to watch.

      Harmony is always restored, in drama and in life. Equilibrium is achieved, and even joy. But the cost is always irrecoverable.

  3. Of course, evil “does not exist,” i.e., has no positive nature of its own. The ravages of this “mystery of iniquity” have been described in the Latin Patristic tradition as corruptio in many places, and in the Greek Patristic tradition as διαφθορά. Each has a similar, etymological meaning. Latin is “cum ruptio,” “that which comes along with the breach/destruction.” The Greek is δια φθορά, “that which comes through the ruin/loss/perdition/destruction.” Evil itself is a void, a chasm of nihilism, a mystery of unbeing that is abhorred by Him, Who is indivisible Being and Existence. The void is ever-widening, and flowing through it is the corruption that overwhelmed us more and more.

    But then a Maiden came along, ἀδιαφθόρως Θέον Λόγον τεκοῦσα, “incorruptly giving birth to God the Word,” and behold: the deaf hear, the lame walk, the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the Saints are bathed in the lumen gloriae, and often even their mortal remains stay fresh for centuries. We should not lightly approach the Medicine of immortality and incorruption.

    • Indeed, yes. Evil *is not.* A defect exists only as a measure of the differential between the good proper to a being and the good it concretely achieves. This is a difference between two positives, one purely formal, the other substantial.

      Pain then – what it is like to be defective – is the apprehension of this difference. No apprehension of any sort is possible to any but a substantial being. The feeling of evil is a feeling of some good that does not approximate to its proper limit.

      Evil perdures nevertheless. The lesser cannot muscle its way to the greater except insofar as it is supplied from without itself with the ontological means of ascent. So the defective cannot heal itself, or its heirs.

      If for a moment we treat the cosmos as a machine – as causally complete, it is indeed that, although not only that – then an instance of evil, being an introduction thereto of at least a jot of non-being, is tantamount to the deletion of this little cog or flywheel, that armature or lever. Thus crippled, the machinery then falls quickly into ruin, or (at the very least) won’t work right to produce its natural ends. It will thrash and strain against itself, one errant part destroying the next, all bootlessly.

      But the Bread of Heaven fills every ontological nook and cranny, every niche and corner. It restores bits of the cosmos to their proper working order. Things then hum along in them more smoothly, salients of the New Jerusalem.

      In the limit, the recreation begun in the Incarnation and reiterated at every Eucharist can resurrect the patient. It will first have to die, of course; bit by bit, then all at once.

  4. Pingback: Evil is Conserved | Reaction Times

  5. What happens when an evil encounters (i.e. harms) another evil? For instance, we must certainly admit that, among the casualties of WWII, there were bad men as well as good. Had these bad men lived, they would have spawned evils, and these evils could have been greater than the evil of WWII. Is this like subtracting negative numbers, so that evil harming evil yields good?

  6. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Chaos Patch (#103)


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