File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0112, message 14

Date: Wed, 05 Dec 2001 21:34:37 -0600
Subject: The Problem of Evil/Conclusion

This is the last chapter of Badiou's Ethics, along with a very short two
page Conclusion. Here is the somewhat belated commentary.

The central point Badiou makes is that the liberal notion of ethics,
based on Otherness, emphasizes Evil.  From the standpoint of an ethics
of truth, however, goodness is central.  As Badiou says, it is "the
singular advent of a persevering ethic."

Contra Nietzsche, Badiou remarks that, as a general rule, humans are
beneath good and evil. Good, and consequently, Evil emerges only as a
consequence of the truth process.  Truth is what throws the
self-interest of survival into disorganization.  Badiou goes so far as
to describe the Good as the "internal nom of a prolonged disorganization
of life."

The reason for this is that every pursuit of an interest has only
success as its source of legitimacy. Only in the face of truth does it
become necessary to measure life against some other standard.  Badiou
adds: "It is only because there are truths, that there are subjects of
these truths, that there is evil."

The point Badiou makes is that just as Levinas makes the opening to the
Other depend upon the supposition of the Altogether-Other, so do the
upholders of ethics make the supposition of Evil depend upon a radical
Evil, usually the prime example being that of the Holocaust.

The problem with this is that the Holocaust is declared to be
unthinkable, yet in practice it is constantly invoked.  A current
example of this is the comparison of Bin Laden with Hitler.  For Badiou
this is merely the imposition of a religious category because after
defining the event as immeasurable, it is constantly being evoked to
measure situations in a mode that remains a-historical.  It fails to
recognize that Hitler was not merely evil, he was also political. 
Nazism was a community of being together with a conquering subjectivity
that permitted to act in a criminal fashion. Proponents of Radical Evil
refuse to recognize the criminality of the Nazi state, replacing
political critique with generalized ethics. 

Badiou argues instead that there is no radical Evil, but Evil does exist
by the mere fact that there exists a consistent ethics of truth, defined
by the void of the situation, the uncertainty of fidelity, and the
powerful forcing of knowledge by a truth.  In the face of truth, Evil
can take on the various aspects of terror, betrayal, or disaster. There
is Evil, however, only insofar as there is Good.

Terror emerges when the process of truth is negated; when the radical
break in the situation convokes not the void but a simulacrum.  The
example Badiou gives of this is the Nazis.  Rather than face the
universality of this void, they opted for the closed particularity of
the Germans, the Aryans. This simulacrum produced the Jews as the enemy
as the nominal counterpoint. This exercise of fidelity to a simulacrum,
Badiou argues, can only proceed by the exercise of Terror, not political
terror, but the simple reduction of all to their being-for-death.

Betrayal points to the temptation to betray a truth, the
becoming-subject that I am. The meaning of a crisis is that one must
continue to persist in truth, to keep it going, or one can merely
renounce a truth and return to mere animality and interest. Betrayal is
always the latent possibility of any ethics of truth.

Disaster is concerned with the unnameable.  What Badiou means by this is
that truth changes the names of elements in the situation.  It is the
vision of a situation in which interest has disappeared and opinions
have been replaced by a truth.  Badiou says "the Good is Good only to
the extent it does not aspire to render the world good...
The power of truth is also a kind of powerlessness."

There is always at least one element which remains inaccessible to
truthful nominaitions.  This is the unnameable.  "Evil in this case is
to want to, at all costs and under condition of a truth, to force the
naming of the unnameable.  Such, exactly, is the principle of
disaster."  The political example which Badiou gives of this is the
attempt to name a community which induces a disaster of Evil because it
must also attempt to name those who fall outside this community.

 This leads to Badiou's brief conclusion which briefly recapitulates
everything that has been said before.  He identifies the ethical
ideology of Western societies as the chief adversary of all those who
are striving to hold fast to some true thought.  His final comment

"The ethic of truths aims neither to submit the world to the abstract
rule of a Law, nor to struggle against an external and radical Evil.  On
the contrary, it strives, through it own fidelity to truths, to ward off
Evil - that Evil which it recognizes as the underside, or dark side, of
these very truths."



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