Glenn Greenwald’s New Book

Go buy it. I prefer local bookshops (here’s mine), but if Amazon is your thing then find it here.

I’m particularly recommending the book because Greenwald’s central thesis is also a personal hobby horse of mine. In both my view and Greenwald’s the concept of metaphysical evil is more than useless, it is a toxic crutch that the feeble and insecure use to avoid thinking past the end of their own noses. In a war it’s not enough to call your opponent evil, you also have to understand where he is coming from. You have to know why he does what he does and where his support comes from. Empty terms like “evil” imply the sort of ignorance about one’s enemy that usually goes together with losing.

The idea of evil has just as toxic an effect on the thinker. As Greenwald often points out, people who think that they are fighting evil can justify almost unlimited degrees of cruelty and misbehavior in the service of what they perceive as metaphysical good. I concur so strongly that a year and a half ago I coined my first Internet Law to emphasize the point:

In the context of a debate, calling another’s motivations ‘evil’ should be considered synonymous with, ‘I don’t understand and am too lazy to find out.’

Importantly, I don’t limit this point to Republicans. I cringe whenever a Bush critic starts using good/evil dichotomies because it illustrates the exact same weak thinking that caused the Bush bust in the first place. If anything our bungled terror war should illustrate how opposing bad people is not enough to make you good, you also have to do the hard work of setting an example.

Anyhow, whether or not Greenwald said it first he definitely said it longer. And there is probably a bunch of legalish mumbo-jumbo in there to firm up the point. Buy one for yourself and another as a Fourth o’ July gift for that special manichean in your life.

***Update***

Glenn talks about his book.

As the fawning Chris Matthews remarks about Ann Coulter yesterday demonstrate, a book’s success can, by itself, guarantee access to our media organs in order to make arguments and offer perspectives which are otherwise excluded. Ultimately, all other considerations are washed aside by product success, the overarching language they truly understand.

I wrote the book for the same reason I blog: because I believe that arguments can be advanced, evidence marshalled and facts revealed which can serve as an antidote to our deeply dysfunctional political discourse and, through reasoned-based (though impassioned) persuasion, constructively influence our political process. A book’s success can force media outlets to provide a platform for the book’s arguments and to expand the range of voices and perspectives which are heard.

If you need a reason to buy Greenwald’s book, think about how fun it will be to see him on regular panels with Fred Kagan, Michelle Malkin and Anne Coulter. He drives them fucking crazy. James Carville and Paul Begala are pale substitutes for the kind of entertainment that a natural archivist like Greenwald can bring when he mixes with people who think they can make shit up and get away with it.






34 replies
  1. 1

    Hahaha.

    Anyhow, whether or not Greenwald said it first he definitely said it longer. And there is probably a bunch of legalish mumbo-jumbo in there to firm up the point./

    Which is precisely, in spite of Glenn’s talent, I rarely read his blog. Too verbose for me.

  2. 2
    Fe E says:

    The idea of evil has just as toxic an effect on the thinker. As Greenwald often often points out, people who think that they are fighting evil can justify almost unlimited degrees cruelty and misbehavior in the service of what they perceive as metaphysical good

    A related point that I’ve mulled over for quite some time is that the easiest way to get somebody to commit “evil” is to convince them that they are doing “good.” Few people just want to sign up for “the bad side,” sure they do exist, but not in the numbers required to make things happen.

  3. 3
    LLeo says:

    I don’t know, I am tempted to call Cheney “evil”. A dozen examples of his disregard for rule of law, morals, and his colleagues, just flashed thru my mind. Tim F. you are doing a fine job of proving that evil exists and is named Dick Cheney.

  4. 4
    Tax Analyst says:

    Tim F, Good post. But now I’ve got a problem…I was gonna use my “Discretionary Cash” from my next paycheck to buy some of Paris Hilton’s garbage (I hear it’s on sale on e-bay), but now I’m considering Greenwald’s book instead – it’s kind of a tough choice, but I think I’ll go with the book now. I’m not really sure that garbage is genuine anyway…I’d hate to get ripped off with bogus Paris trash.

  5. 5
    Zifnab says:

    If you need a reason to buy Greenwald’s book, think about how fun it will be to see him on regular panels with Fred Kagan, Michelle Malkin and Anne Coulter. He drives them fucking crazy.

    Well, damn. Now I’m sold.

  6. 6
    Rome Again says:

    A related point that I’ve mulled over for quite some time is that the easiest way to get somebody to commit “evil” is to convince them that they are doing “good.” Few people just want to sign up for “the bad side,” sure they do exist, but not in the numbers required to make things happen.

    and therein lies to whole reason why I am no longer a Christian. ;)

  7. 7
    Rome Again says:

    I was gonna use my “Discretionary Cash” from my next paycheck to buy some of Paris Hilton’s garbage

    Why?

  8. 8
    Tim says:

    “Too verbose for me.”

    Well you can always go back to good vs. evil. It’s a lot easier.

  9. 9
    Tax Analyst says:

    Rome Again Says:

    I was gonna use my “Discretionary Cash” from my next paycheck to buy some of Paris Hilton’s garbage

    Why?

    I was being totally facetious. It happens that curiousity got the best of me and I went to the MSM.com story of her release from County Jail and then I took a brief gander at the “Comments” thread…over 500 posts in the FIRST HOUR…no, I didn’t read them all, but I did scan a couple of pages…and somebody mentioned the e-bay garbage sale. So I thought about it…how many people are more concerned one way or another about Paris Hilton…anything about Paris Hilton…than they are about, oh, say, Dick Cheney tearing the Constitution to shreds and trampling their rights in the process. So I weighed the equivalency and threw that remark in here – A serious book about what is happening to us – vs – totally pointless trivia. What’s worse is that I really wasn’t surprised or stunned or aghast…I just sighed.

    Yes, I know Greenwald’s book will likely do more for me than any of Ms. Hilton’s personal discards.

  10. 10
    Shinobi says:

    Is calling Bush stupid on the same level as calling him evil? I would argue that there is evidence to back up my claim of his stupidity. (Others would argue that I have BDS.)

    I think the good evil dichotomy is a very good point. I recommend that people with difficulty grasping this watch a lot of Anime, (Not PokeMon, more Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Howl’s Moving castle etc.) A lot of these japanese films show much more depth in terms of character motivation, so there is a fuzzier line between good and evil. I find it really interesting, and I think it illuminates how primitive those concepts can be.

  11. 11
    Rome Again says:

    So I thought about it…how many people are more concerned one way or another about Paris Hilton…anything about Paris Hilton…than they are about, oh, say, Dick Cheney tearing the Constitution to shreds and trampling their rights in the process.

    Only people like you and me TA, unfortunate as that may be.

    Btw, I was just kidding, you didn’t have to go through that ordeal of explanation for me. LMAO ;)

  12. 12
    Chad N. Freude says:

    I’m very disappointed in you, Rome. Well, not you personally, but in your sarcasm detector. Time to take it into the shop for a tune-up.

    The idea of Greenwald getting the attention of the TV interviewers is appealing, but I’m not at all confident that it would happen. The Daily Show for sure, but the serious media (my god, did I really type “serious”?) might ignore him because he’s an irreligious liberal who uses big words, doesn’t write nasty personal insults, and doesn’t have the notoriety of Ann Coulter. I’m happy to contribute to making his book a best seller, but I doubt that it would get his analysis and opinions onto MSM TV. (Is Chris Matthews mainstream?)

  13. 13
    Chad N. Freude says:

    After posting my chiding note to Rome Again, I saw his?/her? disclaimer. Apologies, but it was a pretty convincing spoof.

  14. 14
    Rome Again says:

    After posting my chiding note to Rome Again, I saw his?/her? disclaimer. Apologies, but it was a pretty convincing spoof.

    Keeping you on your toes today, am I Chad? Good! ;)

  15. 15
    HyperIon says:

    Slightly OT but evil IS mentioned….

    With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
    Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times,

    i saw Hitchens on Seattle public access last night, a broadcast of a talk he gave here in early June flogging his new book. he closed with this quote which i was unfamiliar with. he was in top form, no evidence of too much alcohol, gracious in some ways, but really on fire. when he is good, he is very, very good. (but when he is bad, he IS horrid. oh, well.)

    and…notice that Zombie Santa Claus has been AWOL since the “non-believers are arrogant jerks” meltdown.

  16. 16
    Fe E says:

    and therein lies to whole reason why I am no longer a Christian.

    I’ve thought that somebody could write a good novel with that being the central premise–that the vast majority of “evil” is committed by people who are convinced of the good of their actions. Or at least the necessity of those actions in defense of good.

    I hope somebody else writes that book though, I am: 1) too lazy–by far, and 2) afraid of the reaction of our right wing religous fundamentalist neighbors’ wrath–which would make what Salman Rushdie faced look fun.

    After all, where could our new hypthetical author go to run and hide?

  17. 17
    Tax Analyst says:

    Rome Again Says:

    So I thought about it…how many people are more concerned one way or another about Paris Hilton…anything about Paris Hilton…than they are about, oh, say, Dick Cheney tearing the Constitution to shreds and trampling their rights in the process.

    Only people like you and me TA, unfortunate as that may be.

    Btw, I was just kidding, you didn’t have to go through that ordeal of explanation for me. LMAO ;

    That’s alright, I revel in long, unnecessary explanations.

  18. 18
    ThymeZone says:

    (the book) describes a disastrously inappropriate mindset for a modern power in a time of global turmoil. This early portrait of the Bush presidency and the right wingers who cheered it on will be read and appreciated for many years to come.”
    –Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative
    –as quoted on Amazon

    That pretty well sums it up, I think. We have been well and truly fucked, and it will take a long time to repair the damage from this gigantic traiwreck.

  19. 19
    Tim F. says:

    and…notice that Zombie Santa Claus has been AWOL since the “non-believers are arrogant jerks” meltdown.

    Not exactly AWOL. He decided that several other posters had proved him right and left.

  20. 20
    ThymeZone says:

    whole reason why I am no longer a Christian

    I highly recommend a look at Taoism :)

  21. 21
    Tax Analyst says:

    and…notice that Zombie Santa Claus has been AWOL since the “non-believers are arrogant jerks” meltdown.

    I understand his elves got very upset with him after that. I heard that they seized him, tied up his hands and feet, hung him upside down and then starting dancing around him while singing “It’s A Small World”.

    Amnesty International was notified, but they said, “Screw him and his judgmental ass…let him hang”

    Expect your XMAS presents to be a little on the “edgy” side this year.

  22. 22
    ThymeZone says:

    Now, Greenwald argues, Bush is trapped by his own choices, unable to break out of the mold that once served him so well, and indifferent to the consequences.

    Another Amazon blurb that jumped out at me.

    Indifferent to the consequences. Imagine, a man with that much power, indifferent to the consequences of his choices.

    Sorry, I know only one word for that: Sociopathy. The man is a fucking sociopath.

  23. 23
    Rome Again says:

    I’ve thought that somebody could write a good novel with that being the central premise—that the vast majority of “evil” is committed by people who are convinced of the good of their actions. Or at least the necessity of those actions in defense of good.

    I hope somebody else writes that book though, I am: 1) too lazy—by far, and 2) afraid of the reaction of our right wing religous fundamentalist neighbors’ wrath—which would make what Salman Rushdie faced look fun.

    After all, where could our new hypthetical author go to run and hide?

    Well, as fate would have it, I’ve been given everything to deal with being that person except for one critical thing, good writing ability.

    It ain’t me unfortunately.

  24. 24
    Chad N. Freude says:

    The man is a fucking sociopath!

    The denouement of an Agatha Christie novel. Everyone assembled in the drawing room gasps at this blinding revelation as TZ explains the subtle, almost completely unnoticed (at least by the press) clues that lead inexorably to this astounding conclusion. Good work, Poirot.

  25. 25
    Fe E says:

    Well, as fate would have it, I’ve been given everything to deal with being that person except for one critical thing, good writing ability.

    Maybe you just need a good editor? ;)

  26. 26
    Rome Again says:

    Perhaps a really good editor, they would have a very large lack of talent to cover for. (just being honest).

  27. 27
    Shinobi says:

    I’m sure there are plenty of starving English majors who would eagerly do the actual writing part for a crust of bread and a glass of water.

  28. 28
    ThymeZone says:

    I’m sure there are plenty of starving English majors who would eagerly do the actual writing part for a crust of bread and a glass of water.

    Speaking as one who made money for boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese by writing term papers for others …..

    Why yes, yes there are.

  29. 29
    Rome Again says:

    Speaking as one who made money for boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese by writing term papers for others …..

    Why yes, yes there are.

    Are you volunteering? LOL

  30. 30
    PaulW says:

    While I have bought a copy via Amazon, I *am* worried enough that I don’t want Glenn going on the talk shows. I mean, for the love of Pasta, being invited to a shouting match isn’t going to improve the lack of dialogue we’ve got in our media. I don’t want Greenwald turning into yet another Talking Head trying to defend the fact he’s got a book to sell, and have the merits of the argument fall to the sidelines (again).

  31. 31

    […] I look forward to reading Glenn’s full analysis of this pattern of non-thought in American society. And if my opinion isn’t good enough, Tim F. of Balloon Juice agrees with me. […]

  32. 32
    harrison says:

    If only we’d had this enlightened attitude before WWII, think of the bloody conflict we could have avoided.

  33. 33
    Tax Analyst says:

    harrison Says:

    If only we’d had this enlightened attitude before WWII, think of the bloody conflict we could have avoided.

    I hope you’re not finding an equivalency between WWII and the current “fiasco of choice”, because if you are then you’re a freaking moron. Outside of weapons and soldier’s being involved there is not much else in common between these events. And, oh…with the passage of slightly more time we will have been involved in this Iraq mess longer than we were in WWII. But of course we had serious people running the country then…apropos to the seriousness of the situation…so there’s another area where commonality does not exist.

  34. 34
    Bill Ramey says:

    Tim,

    The problem is that you’re drawing a metaethical conclusion from an historical observation; nothing about the metaphysical nature of good and evil follows from the historical fact that some people do evil things in the name of good. Indeed, let us suppose that I champion myself as the defender of all that is good and holy and I thus go forth to smite my enemies, who, of course, are the champions of evil and darkness. In the ensuing crusade, I murder, loot, pillage, and torture kittens. Let us call this the Crusader Paradox–doing evil in the name of good. It turns out that there are a lot of conclusions we can draw:

    My original cause is good, but I have done evil in the name of that cause.
    Neither my cause nor my actions are good; indeed, I’m the evil one.
    I have misidentified my enemies as evil, when really they’re a bunch of nice chaps. (I feel just terrible about having tortured their kittens.)
    People who believe in metaphysical good and evil are ignorant and lazy, and they are the ones who often do “evil” things, like torturing kittens.

    1-3 are plausible explanations of the Crusader Paradox. In my opinion, the Christian Crusades are an example of 1, Nazi Germany is an example of 2, and … I can’t think of an example of 3.

    4 is the least plausible, because it makes far too much philosophical hay out of the paradox. It’s an implcit metaethical claim about the nature of the terms “good” and “evil” that takes us far afield from the problems posed by the Crusader Paradox. 4 also teeters on the brink of incoherence. When I torture kittens, am I doing evil or “evil”? In other words, once we become skeptical about moral terms and start putting them in scare quotes, how can we condemn the crusader for doing evil things? For example, you write:

    As Greenwald often points out, people who think that they are fighting evil can justify almost unlimited degrees of cruelty and misbehavior in the service of what they perceive as metaphysical good.

    So what’s wrong with cruely and misbehavior? Are they evil or “evil”? If the former, then we have to abandon 4 in favor of 1 or 2; if the latter, then so what–“evil” is just an empty term.

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