There are various versions that society has of morality. Moral nihilism is a doctrine that suggests that human beings are not inherently moral. It infers that any moral values that people contrive are abstract in nature and not necessary, just like rules and laws. As a result, nihilism begets the assumption that life has no purpose or intrinsic value.
The abstractness of any moral aspect developed by society means that no action can earns the description of morally right or wrong, creating a sense of subjectivity. The classification of an action as moral or immoral depends on the circumstances and the viewpoint of the person making the classification.
As such, this theory provides room to accommodate the concept of necessary evil, as opposed to theories such as absolute morality that suggests that actions are either absolutely moral or immoral, with no station between the two. There are situations and actions that cannot fit into the morality envelope perfectly and therefore society has to accept them as they are. This paper looks at situations in which some level of evil is necessary, if only to prevent greater evil.
Authors Ursula K. Le Guin and Mike Davis both display the concept of necessary evil in their literature. Ursula is the author of a short story with the title The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.
It is a story with many twists, contributing to its aspect of mystery. The author gives a story about a city called Omelas, located near a harbor and surrounded by mountains. Omelas is a perfect city with located in a perfect place where the wind is just right. The people in the city are perfect by description. They are always happy, ever singing and in a celebratory mood (Guin 566).
There is not an ounce of guilt in anyone in that city as the people that live in it do not do anything wrong and the society is not judgmental therefore negating the need for laws. There is also the notable absence of clergy and law enforcement officials such as soldiers (Guin 568). She suggests to the reader to imagine all the elements that make a society perfect, including temples with priestesses who are willing to satisfy anyone’s sexual desires.
Omelas is therefore a creation of the mind that takes any form according to the reader’s imagination. She however mentions a dark side to the society, which is the imprisonment and abuse of a child, locked in a dark room with no clothes and no one to free it (Guin 570). She goes further to state that the seemingly perfect society does so in order to maintain the status quo.
The act Mike Davis, the author of The Great Wall of Capital embraces the same concept of necessary evil in his discussion about the various barriers that society erects and provides ironic justifications for them. The author mentions historical barriers such as the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the great effort it took for people to tear it down together as well as abolish other barriers such as frontiers with explosives, walls built around cities and electric fences that he refers to as the ‘death fences’ (Davis 88).
He gives the impression that these acts culminated in freedom and provided mobility in terms of free trade and movement of people. In contrast, Davis also gives examples of modern day barriers erected by various nations for different reasons that they deem necessary for the prevention of some form of evil.
Saudi Arabia, for instance, has put up a barrier against Yemen by the termination of an international agreement, in effect closing its borders with Yemen (Davis 89). The justification for this aspect is the prevention of ‘terrorism’ and illegal immigrants within its borders. He also gives the example of India’s efforts to build a wall surrounding its entire territory. Davis goes further to mention the wall put up by the American government on the Mexican border for the alleged purpose of keeping out illegal immigrants (Davis 90).
The author however suggests that the walls a symbol power and intimidation, and a way to make a political statement. The government relaxes regulations on the crossing of the border when in need of cheap labor to develop its economy, tightening the same when there is an economic crisis and a lack of jobs. He states, “…the modern US-Mexico border has always functioned, like any good dam, to regulate but not prevent the flow of surplus labor northward” (Davis 91)
Apart from support of the aspect of necessary evil that is evident in both works, there is a notable presence of irony in both of them. In Ursula’s narrative, the irony is that the seemingly perfect society is the same society that treats the child with disdain and does so to keep the comforts that result from the cruelty.
The author gives an illustration where parents explain to their children the reason for such treatment and how the children hurt at the sight of the child (Guin 570). The irony in Davis’ story is the fact that people work so hard to break down barriers in the past, only to build them up again with the same determination.
There is also the presence of hypocrisy in both instances. In Davis’ story, the government pretentiously uses the border to serve its political agendas without caring about the effects that this aspect has on the Mexican people (Davis 91). In Ursula’s version, the people act righteously and happily yet they knowingly treat the child with contempt and without mercy.
The main difference here though is that in Omelas, the people do not pretend not to know about the existence of the child and the evil acts they do (Guin 570). In contrast, the American government in Davis’ story hides behind the veil of border protection from immigration.
In the determination of happiness, the people in Omela, according to Ursula, prefer its achievement through pain as think of it as intellectual. In David’s version, the source of happiness is power and manipulation through legislation in order to obtain cheap labor.
In the example given by Davis of the American government and its creation of a wall between itself and the Mexican border, it is the governments view that the wall is unavoidable for the prevention of the greater evil that is illegal immigrants and for the development of its economy. In Ursula’s story, the necessary evil displayed is the brutality against the child. The image that both instances project is that, the reason behind the creation of the necessary evil is usually selfish.
The main difference between the two instances is that in the case of the people in Omela, there is no other option portrayed by the author. In the case of the American government however, the motivation for the evil act is plain greed. This conclusion generates the question of the necessity of a minor evil to prevent a greater one. As the two examples indicate, the reason for the creation of the lesser evil is usually selfishness.
Davis, Mike. The Great Wall of Capital: Israel’s Barrier to Peace. New York: The New Press, 2005. Print.
Guin, Ursula. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omela.” The Norton Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Peter Prescott. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 1988. pp. 567-571. Print.