MEYEROWITZ: Rejecting absolutes in a complex world

On Sunday, President Richard Levin spoke about “The Lessons of 9/11.” He spoke about freedom, tolerance and open-mindedness, and ended with a seemingly simple request: “Let us ever confront darkness and prejudice with light and truth.”

It is easy to look at the attacks on 9/11 and say they are evil. It is easy to look at extremists and say they are evil. It is easy to look at the world and divide it into Good and Evil. In fact, it may be difficult not to do so.

I do not believe, however, that we can sit back and blindly state that the attacks on 9/11 were evil. First, let me make it clear that I am not saying what happened on 9/11 was acceptable. They were heinous, horrible acts. There are no words to describe what occurred. But simply calling them “Evil” does not help us confront the darkness of that day with light and truth.

Despite what we all know to be true, 9/11 was not a single day. Centuries of religious intolerance, centuries of foreign exploitation and centuries of people struggling to survive preceded the events of 9/11. When the current country that we think of as Afghanistan was formed, it was little more than a collection of peoples who happened to live in the same geographic area.

Living a life that most Yalies could not even imagine, and facing choices that most Yalies will never need to face, the members of al-Qaeda made terrible, life-altering (and world-altering) decisions that were morally wrong and legally indefensible. At the time, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani quite correctly declared that there was “no moral equivalent” to the terrorist acts of 9/11.

Only if one isolates 9/11 into a single day, however, can it be said that the events of that day were evil — pure evil. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a simple world. The events that led up to that fateful day, the day that will define our generation, were long in the making. It is easy to ignore the past, but we cannot do so.

Accepting a universal definition for Truth, Good and Evil only will lead America further from the ideals on which she was founded. Once America’s political leaders affirmed that those behind the 9/11 attacks were Evil, it was easy to invade two countries, torture human beings, and deprive individuals (both abroad and at home) of their basic rights. In the fight against Evil, the line between Right and Wrong is easily shifted.

We need to carefully examine where to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. We need to thoughtfully consider when the needs of a society outweigh the needs of an individual. We need to recognize that even such simple issues are seen in very different ways from very different perspectives.

We live in a society marked by differences. We live in a world faced with unprecedented problems. We live in a time of amazing hope and opportunity. Dogmatically holding only to one’s own ideas of Good and Evil, and accepting Veritas while being blinded by Lux, will not lead to a world that any of us should want to live in. As President Levin stated a few days ago, “Blind adherence to ideology, a conviction that one alone is in possession of the whole and genuine truth, is a recipe for disaster.”

Our childhoods were shaped by 9/11, but we still have a choice as to how that will shape our futures, and the futures of others. If we are so desperate to delineate Good from Evil, to label and to characterize, we forever will be in a world doomed to exist under the shadow of 9/11. It is our prerogative to learn from the events of that day, and to grow out of them. But we cannot learn just from that one day, for there is so much more to see and understand.

Thomas Jefferson believed that all people are created equal and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights. I refuse to condemn an individual, a group of people or a nation as evil; doing so only further denies them their unalienable rights.

Glen Meyerowitz is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.

Comments

  • roflairplane

    This attempted apologetics for al-Qaeda is illogical and historically incorrect (e.g. the United States was founded on an absolute, universal declaration of self-evident, natural rights). The piece presents a disappointing lack of intellectual rigor from the country’s best and brightest and dangerous pseudo-philosophy for the weak-minded.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *on an absolute, universal declaration of self-evident, natural rights*

    For everyone except blacks and women, the former being counted as a fraction of a human being for census reasons, the latter voting through the proxy of ther husbands.

    *Thomas Jefferson believed that all people are created equal and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights.*

    “Everyone?” Not his black children by Ms. Hemmings who he denied.

  • ignatz

    What appalling ignorance! The world is no more “complex” today than it was a hundred years ago.

    Then, as now, it contains an abundance of wicked people eager to dominate others and ready to use violence to achieve their ends. Then, as now, liberals are unwilling to acknowledge that evil exists, much less to confront it; they prefer to dream that the status quo will endure, and even improve. Then, as now, they are shocked — shocked! — each time a new war begins.

    One might have hoped that a Yale education would include enough history to make clear the folly of that world view. Alas, studying history would take time away from other things….

  • Jaymin

    Glen, it seems you’ve gone TOO far in the opposite direction of the Zelinsky column. Yes often, the deliniation between right and wrong is unclear, but if you’re unwilling to take any stance at all on the issue, you’ll end up too much a coward to combat the wrong. Worse, you’ll end up applying different standards to different groups, which to me seems worse than adhering to dogma.

    On a less related note, you know what kind of annoys me? In the Lord of the Rings, Sauron is depicted as being pure evil. Not just evil from our perspective. But, like, he intentionally pursues policies in mordor for the sake of doing evil. Who does that- who wakes up and just decides to be evil one day? Even Osama Bin Laden, from his perspective, thought he was pursuing the will of Allah and whatnot. That’s what I think made Bin Laden more scary than Sauron.

    There was no controversy in Middle Earth in regards to the Evil status of Sauron, and that made it pretty easy to declare him a universal villain and muster alliances against him. But with Bin Laden, half the world saw him as evil, but quarter of the world saw him as a hero and savior (and a quarter were moral reletavists so they didn’t care). This made the fight against him that much more difficult.

    Fantasy fiction should avoid more Sauron-like pure evil characters, because in the real world, most villains are psychpaths who, from their perspective, don’t see themselves as evil at all.

  • ldffly

    This article was just obtuse.

  • Arafat

    I think you inadvertently used the wrong quote from Thomas Jefferson. You probably wanted to used this one instead:

    In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). Upon inquiring “concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury”, the ambassador replied:

    It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once. [12]

  • River_Tam

    > I do not believe, however, that we can sit back and blindly state that the attacks on 9/11 were evil. First, let me make it clear that I am not saying what happened on 9/11 was acceptable. They were heinous, horrible acts. There are no words to describe what occurred. But simply calling them “Evil” does not help us confront the darkness of that day with light and truth.

    I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that there were “heinous, horrible acts” that weren’t “Evil”.

    Just because, the world can’t be divided into Good People and Death Eaters doesn’t exclude the possibility of Death Eaters.