stripping evil of its power

I stumbled upon the tail end of a Twitter discussion (no idea how or why) that went something like this:

Person 1: You don’t think we should protect people from hate speech and/or harassment?

Person 2: We should “protect” people by speaking back, not silencing those we disapprove. Evil thrives in darkness. Expose it & debate.

Person 1: Evil doesn’t care for debates. Evil kills its adversaries. The good create laws that strips evil’s power.

While I don’t disagree with the sentiment of wanting to thwart ‘evil’, I can’t help but find this common thought pattern troubling.

For one, I think it vastly oversimplifies the nature of evil and this idea of evilness in people. Even if we boil down traits of evil into universally objective forms, you’re still left to meddle with debates, disagreements, and discourse on evil the binary versus evil the spectrum and more philosophy to wax poetic on than could fit into a thousand Karate Kid sequels. Then there’s the sobering fact that ‘evil’ has the potential to manifest in any individual.

Not interested in rambling about evil, so that aside:

Person 1’s statement that ‘good creates laws that strips evil of power’ might be the most negligent attitude toward law that I’ve encountered.

Again, at its most simple level, I agree with the -sentiment- of the idea, however, if we’ve learned anything about legislation is that it is inherently flawed — because we’re just not that good at it.

Once society veers from the most basic rights and morally accepted truths, things get hazy. And we’re still ironing out that part. Beyond that, the more specific a law gets, the greater opportunity for malfunction (I look at it as a sort of legal entropy).

How many laws, regulations, or initiatives can we pull out that were terrible in practice, while being birthed from a ‘good’ sentiment (stripped at the bare idea)?

I’m going to try to take a relatively less politicized idea for example. Let’s try No Child Left Behind; a noble notion that had bi-partisan support that most would agree did more harm that good in action.

It’s easy to have a strong idea that almost everyone can agree on (harassing people is bad).

It’s a little bit harder to establish a goal with that (protect people from harassment).

It borders the lines of possibility and impossibility to concoct specific laws that address those fairly without high risk of abuse or corruption or breakdowns due to simple lack of foresight (what is harassment? what types of harassment are there? what constitutes harassment? how do you objectively verify harassment? how do you punish each different subset of harassment? ad infinitum)

If there’s anything we know about organized society, government institutions, and any human forms of social organization it’s that we’re just not that good at it.

Our best forms of it so far are obviously very flawed. The core tenets of the west, the most benevolent and bountiful in terms of human prosperity in all of history, have also contributed to varying levels of suffering, inequality, and injustice of millions to billions of people — yet at the end of the day it’s the best we’ve come up with so far — and that’s because we’re just not that good at it. We’re not good at instituting the sweeping ideas behind them, and that’s probably how you end up with most of the ideas associated with classical liberalism, or what more closely resembles Libertarianism if we’re talking modern day political identities.

Sticking kind of with the example, if I look at how upset many are at the current education administration (which has yet to -do- anything other than speak incompetently; a distinction between indicator of probability versus actuality), yet compare how ineffective the last administration (and ones before it) were at improving our education system — a system aiming to empower  — then what should I expect from something trying to limit?

Creating an education system is bloody hard. Creating a system that enforces the most basic forms of criminal justice is bloody hard. Getting a dog to not break into the trash can is… bloody hard.

Let me step back for a second and say that this is not the same as me saying we should prevent ourselves from trying to better society or to strive to better the world from danger, but stripping power is the worst form that we have because we have demonstrated that we cannot be trusted to engineer such systems. Too often the power that is stripped is too closely related to rights and freedoms.

Great is the risk that they can be turned on people; perhaps the exact people they were intending to protect.  Misuse in ways that cause more harm than good is both too great and likely. I’d argue that history thus far is proof we’re not capable of it, a more free society often works out better solutions (just slowly, and perhaps serving as a mirror to inform law), and that if we attempt to strip anything of it’s power, it should come as a last resort.

The irony of that person’s statement is that, yes, there is evil in the world. However, most of the time it manifests itself locally, microscopically. That’s not to downplay how unfortunate and awful that is, however, I can’t help but read this and feel like it is this line of thinking that gives ‘evil’ a greater vehicle to manifest itself as a threat with terrifying reach. That is the kind of evil that I’d say “doesn’t care for debates” and “kills its adversaries”.

Good people make bad laws all the time.

You’re free to disagree with me, but I see this type of stuff said with people so quick to nod and voice agreement all the time. I can only think that this is my problem when we operate only at a noble or ‘good’ base level sentiment.

We’ve got that part down. Anything beyond? Not so much.