“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”
This incredibly amoral quote appears in Anthony Burgess’ work, A Clockwork Orange. As I sit here and ponder the world in which we live, I cannot help but to reflect upon the forewarning given in this fictional glimpse into the future, which is playing out tragically in our 21st Century.
The quote could very well have been in the unconscious mind of the first man, Adam. It certainly was the centerpiece for John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost and the chaotic cauldron from which Nietzsche and Hitler emerged. Those archetypes of Evil stand out, but there is increasing evidence that such a philosophy is becoming the mantra of so many ordinary people in this generation. It is the product of a faithless world, or a claimed faith-based, ideological-reasoned mutation of terrible proportions that seeks to justify evil and anarchy.
Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity. The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics and comes from the Latin word, iners, meaning idle, sluggish.
In the Torah, we learn that the Earth was tohu v’vohu, incredibly void and chaotic, until the Spirit of G-d brought order to it. We also learn that the process of creating is constant and never-ceasing, that is, that without the Will of G-d, the world would cease to exist and return to chaos. This Biblical concept is an eternal metaphor for the notion that without the application of force, without the application of a Divine Will, there would be no law and order. Evident of that are the first few Torah portions that describe the first two thousand years from Adam until the Dispersion at the Tower of Babel. Let go to their own devices, and given life spans of hundreds, nearly a thousand years, Man so descended into chaos, violence and immorality, that the world was nearly extinguished by the Flood, and saved only because of the existence of Noah and the emergence of Abraham onto the world stage.
There are two polarities – each deteriorating into immorality, amorality, and destruction – that exist today. There is the Godless world of science and technology, of the deification of the Almighty Dollar that creates and destroys. As Rav Dessler pointed out, for every advance in science and technology that promises the benevolent advancement of Mankind, there is the countervailing force of finding a path by which such advance is transformed into power, dominion and weapons of mass destruction. Einstein’s work paved the way for atomic energy, and opened the door to the atomic bomb. Biological research, promising disease cures and longevity, become the vehicles for biological and chemical warfare. So, as billions are spent on space exploration, weapon development and the preservation of empires, the pursuit is all a mask for the denial of G-d’s existence, the “freedom” to control others and the illusory pursuit of immortality through the accumulation of Things.
There is yet another extreme pole – radical dogma, in the name of G-d (or a substitute name for the Divine), that causes a group to oppress, maim and kill the “others”, who do not embrace the extremism of its beliefs and practices. That has played out in the Crusades, in pogroms and the Holocaust, in the “ethnic cleansing” that has brutally decimated entire populations in the name of religion. Today, we see it playing out in Hamas, Jihad, ISIS, all euphemisms for the same misguided brutality seen in our daily news broadcasts and over the internet.
We have become numbed by these extreme polarities. Nowhere in those arenas do we find true spirituality, true connection, true love, true Unity — as designed and intended for Mankind.
The events of this week in Baltimore – albeit, a blimp in the chaos of the world-at-large – has prompted my writing this article. The mayor of that city, seeing the developing storm of masses of angry people, tells her police force – trained to keep law and order, to protect person and property – “stand down . . . give those who wish to destroy space to do that, it’s only property.” The result – stores looted, cars burned. It was a scene right out of Clockwork Orange, with one chilling exception – it was “ordered” by the local government!
When the Talmud is studied by young boys, the rabbis start them, not with the first mesechta, Brochos, but rather Bava Metzia, the section that deals with the rights, obligations and respect of property and person. From a very young age, Jewish children are raised to understand that they have a responsibility to protect another’s property as if it were their own, and be liable if such property is damaged. Cultivating that inclination and character trait is fundamental to the growth and development of a boy into a man. For certain, where those rights are violated, the law steps in.
To live in a world without Torah values, or in another context, without moral obligations, returns the world to chaos. When this behavior is countenanced and even encouraged by the adults, particularly those entrusted with protecting the lives and possessions of the greater community, young and old learn lessons that are destructive of the greater good. Any wonder then, as the media reports such behavior and the official license to create havoc and disorder, the society-at-large, particularly those who are the “haves”, will respond with bias, a lack of empathy, and a reinforcement of the beliefs that such elements are not civilized citizens of the world. Unfortunately, the frustration and anger generated by such behavior causes responses in kind, and so a vicious cycle ensues.
This chaos, this penchant for “choosing evil” and rebuffing a good “imposed upon” them, has global implications. When blatant violence, destruction of property, and outright murder of peoples are ignored, reported as a response to deprivation, oppression or supposed violation of rights, then the perpretrators are emboldened. They create their own propaganda justifying outrageous behavior, patently evil. And, like the Mayor of Baltimore, heads of governments, even those that proclaim in their constitutions that they stand for human rights, decency and the right to life and liberty, the cycle of violence repeats itself.
The justification to do evil and cause the extermination of the “other” is what brought about the Holocaust, and what has created the Frankenstein that is ISIS and radical Islam. Tragically and reflective of the breakdown of order and justice, we find so-called international tribunals and courts condemning Israel and lauding the Moslem world that amasses weapons of mass destruction, builds tunnels to kidnap, maim and kill civilians, young and old, conducts daily rocket launches and suicide bombings, and openly declares its intent by cries of “Death to Israel”, “Death to America”, Death to Christians” Our response is to enter into treaties, give financial aid in the billions, and sell or send advanced weaponry to those who would destroy us.
Surely, this is the world, in its modern face, which was the world of tohu v’vohu – the first 2000 years before Abraham declared the existence of One God, one set of absolute morality, and despised the lawlessness and amorality of the world around him. It was a world that justified human sacrifices, the drowning of unwanted children, the rape and pillage of conquered peoples, and the extermination of the “other”. With Abraham came the promise of order and the end of injustice and chaos. He single-handedly resisted the inertia of a plunge into chaos and darkness.
The Torah, a moral blueprint for living, was forged and delivered to the world through the Jewish people in a barbaric world that despised any limitation to its evil inclinations. They rejected, as does the protagonist in A Clockwork Orange, the notion that choosing evil was preferable to an imposed Good.
The Torah remains the only true faith-based set of values that can place limitations on and contain the chaos that results when Man acts “naturally”. When he did so, and when he does so today, it is a world that defeats the purpose of Creation and the eternal mission to bring to it the peace and unity for which it was intended.