The Problem of Suffering and Evil
A brief essay in which I dodge the question by referring you to three specialists...
So far in my series on “Getting Unstuck,” I have dealt only with “First-World problems:” that depressing feeling of ennui and emptiness that plagues you after you’re fed and clothed and sheltered from the elements and all that, but find yourself living in an unnatural cultural environment that is inimical of your basic psychological needs as a human being. Think of the sullen expressions on the faces of apes and big cats languishing in cages at low-budget zoos; but replace the animals with people and the cages with cubicles, and you’ve pretty much got the same dynamic. But although such psychological distress is very real, it nonetheless feels so abstract as to be almost imaginary when contrasted with more dire and tangible forms of suffering, like chronic pain from serious illness or injury, relentless pangs of hunger during a famine, imminent threats of catastrophic violence in a war zone, etc. So how do you get “unstuck,” if you’re facing these starker and more urgent dangers?
In response to my article yesterday (Maybe the Point of Living Is…), a reader sent me a nice email in which she asked about my thoughts on such suffering and evil. Besides making me feel like a halfway legit writer — Hey, I have actual readers sending me emails about stuff I wrote! Thanks! — it got me thinking that I should clarify the scope of my “Getting Unstuck” series, lest I sound too breezily dismissive of such problems.
First, I am quick to acknowledge that in this area, I am out of my depths. I’ve been “American” broke, but by global standards, being broke in America is still pretty cushy. Nobody starves to death here (although the psychopathic political class seems to want to engineer that catastrophe for some reason, as part of their “Great Reset”); presently, being poor in America is paradoxically correlated with higher rates of obesity! I’ve never had to flee my home for dear life, with nothing but the shirt on my back. I’ve never had my entire community leveled by missile strikes and heavy artillery. My children, thank God, are all healthy, as am I. I do complain, but only because I’m a typical First-World p*ssy, bitching about all my First-World problems. Even when I was in the Army in Iraq, I ran relatively easy PSD missions where we were basically an armored taxi service for VIPs, meaning we avoided danger as much as possible (our S.O.P. was straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Run away!”). So I have not earned the right to pontificate about how to endure and thrive under intense physical suffering or in the face of murderous cruelty.
Second, I am not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV. I have no relevant training or expertise to offer. For anyone in immediate peril seeking solid answers to the problems of evil and suffering, I would refer you to a real doctor: Dr. Viktor Frankl and his incredible book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which synthesizes his training as a psychiatrist and therapist with his lived experiences as a survivor of the savage brutality of Auschwitz.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl shares such gems as this: “Man may be that being that built the gas ovens at Auschwitz, but he is also the being that entered those ovens upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”
Or this: “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
Or this: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Here is the great doctor, sharing his message of maintaining hope and finding meaning in Life, even in the face of extreme suffering and evil:
Third, when it comes to making sense of suffering or evil in the abstract, as a philosophical or intellectual exercise, I am working on clarifying my own thoughts and perspective (probably a never-ending quest), but I readily admit I am a lightweight in this area as well. Fortunately, there are some great thinkers right here on Substack who have undertaken some profound explorations of this theme, like Mark Bisone at The Cat Was Never Found and Harrison Koehli at Political Ponerology.
Here’s the first of an excellent series on the nature of evil by Mark Bisone:
And here is an excellent discussion between Harrison Koehli and Rolo Slavskiy (who also writes an engaging and thought-provoking Substack over at The Slavland Chronicles):
[Of course, there are many more great Substackers, to be sure, whose work I can and do recommend. This is one of the great things about Substack: for free-thinkers today, it’s like a virtual version of what the 1920s Parisian cafes were to Lost Generation writers and artists, a place where you can discuss interesting topics with interesting people, where the proverbial iron sharpens iron, where you can readily find challenges and inspirations to expand your artistic and philosophical horizons.]
I do plan on composing a philosophical-ish essay on the problems of evil and suffering, but given that it’s a thorny subject and that my own thoughts on these vexing issues are hazy and fluid, it may be a while. In the meantime, to satisfy your philosophical curiosity, enjoy what Mark Bisone and Harrison Koehli have to say, and for practical advice on what to do if you are presently suffering severe pain or extreme hardship, you may find solace and insight from reading Man’s Search for Meaning.
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