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What Eugene Said About Will
Bloggers have their panties in a wad over the report that Will Smith supposedly said Hitler was a good person. But, as Eugene Volokh points out, it seems he actually didn't, and it was the reporter's context that mainly made it look that way. Eugene quotes the actual interview in the Daily Record (Scotland):

Remarkably, Will believes everyone is basically good.

"Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'let me do the most evil thing I can do today'," said Will. "I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good'. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming.

"I wake up every day full of hope, positive that every day is going to be better than yesterday. And I'm looking to infect people with my positivity. I think I can start an epidemic."

And then Eugene writes:

It seems that "Will believes everyone is basically good" is just the reporter's characterization of Smith's statement. Nothing in the quoted material suggests that Smith was saying that Hitler was a good person. Rather, the quoted material simply reports Smith's quite plausible view that Hitler, like many other people who do evil (Smith must have used Hitler as a referent precisely because Smith acknowledges that Hitler did do evil), believe that they are doing good. I'm hardly a Hitler scholar, but my sense is that Hitler did indeed believe that he was doing good, as did Stalin, Bin Laden, and various others.

At most, given the upbeatness of the rest of Smith's message, Smith might be saying that everyone has the potential for good, if only they can be "reprogramm[ed]" away from their "twisted, backwards logic." This is not clearly true; perhaps people can't be so easily reprogrammed even in theory, certainly they often can't be in practice, and there's also the question of how they should be held accountable for what they did before their reprogramming. Sometimes stuff like that needs killing, as in Hitler's case and quite a few others. But surely Smith's message isn't outrageous, either, at least unless he said something stunning that the reporters for some reason decided merely to paraphrase rather than quote -- possible, but in my view far from certain. What Smith is actually quoted as saying doesn't seem like a statement that Hitler is a "good person," evidence of "liberal fascism," something that should "stun[] the world," or even particularly "nice things about Hitler."

Of course, if I want to ponder good and evil, I'm not going to turn to a Hollywood philosopher. And I think the real concern here is the word "reprogrammed," which suggests Smith's brain has been willed to Scientology -- while he's still alive.

Here's a view from my trip with Andrew Gumbel to Scientology's anti-psychiatry museum, a museum which is actually titled "Psychiatry: An Industry Of Death."

ScientologyMuseum.jpg

Sure, there are and have been abuses by psychiatry; some, terrible abuses. But, I believe Scientology's real beef with it is how a second opinion from a psychiatrist tends to muck up the parting of a fool and his dollar.

In case anyone's wondering, I took my Ritalin before we went to help me pay attention. Better living through chemistry, that's me!

By the way, at the museum, those nutty scientologists connected the Holocaust and 9/11 to psychiatry! Another view from within:

ScientolHitler.jpg

Here's the 9/11 display. The caption mentions that one of Bin Laden's top aides was the Egyptian psychiatrist al-Zawahiri. Woooo!

911andpsychiatry.jpg

If one of the hijackers was a dentist, would we say dentistry was to blame for 9/11?

Posted by aalkon at December 25, 2007 12:01 PM

Comments

They need to do better research. I thought that Al-Zawahiri was a pediatrician, but Wikipedia says otherwise, describing him has having studied Pharmocology, Psychology, and "behavior," but of having actually practiced as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army for three years before openning a clinic with his family and getting a masters degree in Surgery. So while he did some academic work in psychology, he clearly is not a psychiatrist. I guess that when one has achieved supreme enlightenment to the profound level of Tom Cruise and L. Ron Hubbard, one need no longer bother about mundane things like fact checking.

This is not to say that there are not problems in the mental health field. I remember reading a quip once to the effect that it was 1900 before a trip to the doctor had a greater chance of helping than harming the patient (the quip was attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes but I have no idea if he really said it). I suspect that Psychiatry may have yet to reach this tipping point. But if mental health treatments do not have the same level of efficacy as other medical treatments, this is mostly due to the fact that we know much less about the brain than we do other physiological systems in the body. As we learn, treatments will get better.

Regrettably, I also suspect that one other factor is at play in the mental health field: Reputation-building by practitioners and scholars. The best way to build one's reputation in academia of course is to publish as many new and innovative ideas as possible. Regrettably, some of the people publishing said work could benefit from another nugget of wisdom attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Science is good furniture for one's upper chamber, if there is common sense below." (I pulled this quote off the interent while unsuccessfully attempting to confirm the first quote above - link is at the end of this post). I am reminded of a segment I heard on public radio years ago about a study that had a identified a new mental disorder: Compulsive snacking while driving (as if this this couldn't fit in with some previously discovered "disorder"). Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for scholarly work is about as reliable factually and logically as an Oliver Stone movie - to the detriment of our greater understanding of our world.

Nonetheless, the Scientologist campaign against Pschiatry is an atrocity. My own reservations notwithstanding, I have benefitted quite a bit from the assistance of a psychologist or two in years past, and I am grateful to them.

Holmes quote: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/21178.html

Posted by: Dennis at December 25, 2007 7:39 AM

TO: Amy Alkon, et al.
RE: Everyone Is 'Good'?

Interesting concept that.

As Will Smith says, it's probable that Hitler didn't wake up thinking what he was doing was evil.

I'll bet the same is true for Stalin, Mao, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Che Guevera, Ted Kennedy, Tom Cruise, those Popes, archbishops and bishops who burned heretics at the stake, King John, George Washington, Jefferson Davis, Osama bin Laden and his followers, the people blowing themselves up to kill women and children who don't agree with them, the members of my City Council, you, me or most of the other readers here.

What's the point?

'Evil' is as evil does.

What's the question?

What parameters do we use to determine what is 'evil'?

What do you propose as a 'standard'?

Merry Christmas,

Chuck(le)
[The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at December 25, 2007 7:59 AM

Sounds as though Will Smith is basically saying that even Hitler wanted to think of himself as a good person, an assertion with which I would not disagree.

As for Scientology...GAH.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: marion at December 25, 2007 9:17 AM

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 25, 2007 10:08 AM

...I thought that Al-Zawahiri was a pediatrician, but Wikipedia says otherwise, describing him has having studied Pharmocology, Psychology...

Wikipedia's an okay place to start, but...anything you read there really ought to be verified elsewhere.

Posted by: Doobie at December 25, 2007 11:36 AM

Damnit, I just don't care enough to do original research... But does anyone know if Smith is in fact a Scientologist, or just a guy who likes to hang out with them?

A few years ago he said some really silly things about AIDS too. If you're naive enough to believe that people are basically good, you're also naive enough to believe that HIV was a government program. Actually they're kind of the same thought: 'The natural world could never do something hurtful or destructive....'

Posted by: Crid at December 25, 2007 11:50 AM

These people need to watch a little less of themselves on that obsequious guy's show...James Lipton...and a few more nature shows. PS One thing Marlon Brando had going for him was how interested (and realistic) he was about human nature. He read people like they were printouts.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 25, 2007 11:54 AM

Of course there are people who wake up and want to do evil. Case in point was the Omaha mall shooter a few weeks back. He simply wanted to shoot people to become famous in death.

Also Hitler, who at the very end was so paranoid and angry that he blamed the entire German nation for losing the war, and wanted every last German to pay the price. His generals had begged him to negotiate a surrender for months.

I think evil is a basic instinct in human nature that just needs the right environment to be released. I don't know how else the genocides that occur every ten years or so can be explained.

Posted by: eric at December 25, 2007 1:56 PM

> Also Hitler....

Ain't it the truth...

(BTW eric, how'd the little guy do with Santa this year?)

Posted by: Crid at December 25, 2007 3:26 PM

PS- You're right about evil.

Posted by: Crid at December 25, 2007 3:27 PM

Oh. My. That Hitler shot is something else.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 25, 2007 3:32 PM

Thanks for asking Crid-

He's the happiest, healthiest little guy on the planet. This year he go his first two wheel bike (w/ training wheels) and lots of dinosaurs.

For Christmas he gave everyone the 5 day bronchial flu.

Best wishes to you and all yours, and all out there!

Posted by: eric at December 25, 2007 4:23 PM

Back atcha, and best wishes to everyone out there from here on the East Coast. BF actually got me a most awesome Celtic broad sword, and got the girls the hottest MP3 players on the planet. Nice! o_O

Posted by: Flynne at December 25, 2007 5:15 PM

"Wikipedia's an okay place to start, but...anything you read there really ought to be verified elsewhere."

Absolutely, agree 100%.

Posted by: Dennis at December 25, 2007 6:29 PM

eric- And to you and the household.

Flynne- Why? What are you going to do with it? And do you expect your daughters to just stand there dancing to their music while you do sword-stuff on people? Christmas afternoon at the beach here was incredibly beautiful. Y'know how sometimes people in other parts of the country are jealous because life out here in LA is so good? Afternoons like today's are why people feel that way, and why people should feel that way.

Dennis, you're right, but it's still a wonderful resource for things you don't know about... Wikipedia won't tell you the moon is made of green cheese if it isn't, which is sometimes all you need to know about the geology of the moon. Knowing what armchair enthusiasts think about a topic can be very helpful.

Posted by: Crid at December 25, 2007 6:45 PM

Crid, I'm very into my Celtic background, and I love showing off at Ren Faires. I have a dear friend who is a fabulous seamstress and we make our own gowns and outfits to wear to Ren Faires; this sword is a fanastic addition to any one of them. I'm so psyched! (And I'm not planning to use it on anyone, unless they attack me first.) I expecet my daughters to learn to use it as well as I can, as well as keeping up with their archery lessons. The type of music is incidental(I prefer Celticin this instance), but essentail for ambiance! o_O

Posted by: Flynne at December 26, 2007 8:07 AM

Chuck,

"What parameters do we use to determine what is 'evil'?"

I have been asking that same question myself. Does anyone know the answer?

I was watching a Nature show on PBS one day and the narrator said,

"The main scheme of nature is one must exploit another. The animals must eat to survive, however, they must strive not to be eaten at the same time. So does the struggle of life starts."

I think everyone of us is capable of playing good or evil depending on circumstances. We are all part timers. I do not believe in full time saints or full time evils. But I have been struggling to define what is evil and what is good.

Posted by: Chang at December 26, 2007 9:02 AM

But I have been struggling to define what is evil and what is good.

I want to say it's sort of like porn. You know it when you see it. As far as a definition, a place to start might be: If the primary goal of an action is the suffering of others, chances are pretty good it's evil.

Posted by: justin case at December 26, 2007 9:27 AM

Justin,

"If the primary goal of an action is the suffering of others, chances are pretty good it's evil."

One of the Nature show on PBS, I once saw a pack of wolves killing a wild boar with two babies. The two litters escaped while the mother was standing her ground against the wolves. While the wolves were dining on the mother of two, a bear showed up and chased away the wolves to steal the dead mother boar. That day, the wolves' family went hungry.

Can you tell me which one is evil or good in this event?

I realize that being good or evil does not guarantee your survival. However, it does give you a chance to exit this world without compromising your value if you died while you were defending it.

Posted by: Chang at December 26, 2007 9:48 AM

Can you tell me which one is evil or good in this event?

No. Good and evil are moral judgments that appear to be the exclusive domain of people; hungry animals don't count.

Posted by: justin case at December 26, 2007 10:09 AM

Justin,

"No. Good and evil are moral judgments that appear to be the exclusive domain of people; hungry animals don't count."

Are you saying, humans are not hungry animals? I disagree. Just because they don't speak English, they don't make the moral judgments call is an insult. I protest on behalf of the entire cockroaches.

Posted by: Chang at December 26, 2007 10:23 AM

Protest away! I look forward to the million cockroach march.

Posted by: justin case at December 26, 2007 10:43 AM

Chang -

"Evil" is a moral judgment. Moral judgments are reserved for beings capable of higher-order reasoning.

I take it as a given that all animals below Human on the biological scale, regardless their sentience or appearance thereof, are not capable of higher-order reasoning. By higher-order reasoning, I mean the ability to deduce a counter-factual outcome.

Shorter: Neither wolves, nor boars, nor bears have anything recognizable as imagination.

Therefore, those animals have no conception of good or evil, because one needs to be able to construct an image of an action which has not occurred and say "this should not be".

It is not the mere lack of ability to articulate in English (or, indeed, any other language) that deprives them of this ability. It is their inability to imagine actions that do not lead directly to survival.

Posted by: brian at December 26, 2007 2:31 PM

Regarding the evil, or lack thereof, in Hitler's desires - from his viewpoint, he was certainly not engaged in an evil action. And when he was born, he perhaps was not intending to engage in actions that other persons would regard as evil.

But, what he ultimately did, from the viewpoint of the "rational" observer, was evil.

Posted by: brian at December 26, 2007 2:34 PM

What’s with the need for people to believe that those who commit evil really think they are doing good? Hitler put millions of people, including children, to death. If Hitler didn't believe what he was doing was evil than why did he try so hard to hide his connection to it? You should read “Explaining Hitler” by Ron Rosenbaum. In it there are moments of conversation Hitler had with fellow Nazis that lead one to believe that he knew he was doing evil.

And Stalin! Does anyone actually believe this man was in any way committed to creating a true communist state rather than using the system to serve his own desire for power? He creates a society of fear where anyone could be named an “enemy” and sent to prison or death. His crimes are endless, and I’m supposed to believe that he did this to his own people for the “greater good”? Bullshit. He did it for himself.

Now, I don’t think everyone who commits what we consider evil is evil but there are some people in this world who are sick twisted fucks. They are genetic defects that cannot be fixed. And to quote one of the commenter in Rosenbaum’s book. “If Hitler isn’t evil than who is’?

Posted by: Paul Young at December 26, 2007 7:16 PM

Well, even if Hitler accepted that what he was doing was wrong or evil, it obviously didn't bother him enough to stop him doing it.

And I don't think you'll find anyone outside the true believers that think Stalin wasn't an evil fuck. Hell, just by body count alone, Stalin was worse than Hitler. We just hate Hitler more because he tried to justify it with "I'm making Germany better", whereas Stalin? "I'm not paranoid, everyone is out to get me!"

Posted by: brian at December 26, 2007 8:29 PM

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Posted by: Blackjack at December 27, 2007 6:56 AM

Brian,

"I take it as a given that all animals below Human on the biological scale, regardless their sentience or appearance thereof, are not capable of higher-order reasoning. By higher-order reasoning, I mean the ability to deduce a counter-factual outcome."

Check these prostitute orchids out to see how they fool the insects and tell me that they don't have that ability.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophrys

Specially, this sentence blows my mind away. "This all happens in a period that only males are active and females haven't appeared yet."

Posted by: Chang at December 27, 2007 11:08 AM

TO: All
RE: Will Repudiates Himself

So Will is saying, "I said that, but I didn't mean what you think it means!"

Interesting.

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He's young. Inexperienced, if you will.

And I can see his point from his naive perspective.

Still and all, it begs the question I proposed earlier....

...what DO we use as a 'standard' for determining the difference between 'good' and 'evil'?

Regards,

Chuck(le)

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at December 27, 2007 4:28 PM

TO: Chang
RE: Parameters, Anyone?

"I have been asking that same question myself. Does anyone know the answer?" -- Chang

Personally?

I use that old Book.

It seems to be rather accurate in understanding the proverbial 'Human Condition'.

Merry Christmas,

Chuck(le)
[When all else fails, read the Users Manual.]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at December 27, 2007 4:31 PM

Well, according to this article, seems ol' (or, rather, young) Will just might be doing more than a little 'dabbling' in Sciectology:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22412036/

Who's book is he using now, Chuck(le)?

o_O

Posted by: Flynne at December 28, 2007 9:04 AM

TO: Justin Case
RE: Late Responses

Sorry I missed this earlier....I was apparently pre-occupied with a cooking 'experiment' that went horribly wrong.

"I have been asking that same question myself. Does anyone know the answer?" -- Justin Case

So far, after 57 years of empirical research, I suggest that old Book I keep mentioning.

"I was watching a Nature show on PBS one day and the narrator said,

"The main scheme of nature is one must exploit another. The animals must eat to survive, however, they must strive not to be eaten at the same time. So does the struggle of life starts."" -- Justin Case

That's the nature of Nature. That old Book exhorts us to rise above our natural selves and think of others as being more important than we, as individuals are.

And I'm always amazed at how indignant atheists and pagans and others are about that. Not so much the Wiccan and Satanists. I KNOW where they're 'coming from'. But how is it that atheists hate the idea that we should love one-another?

RE: Part Time v. Full Time

"I think everyone of us is capable of playing good or evil depending on circumstances. We are all part timers. I do not believe in full time saints or full time evils. But I have been struggling to define what is evil and what is good." -- Justin Case

Well. As I keep telling people, "Nobody is perfect." The only perfect Guy I know was nailed to a tree for His efforts.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Nobody understands the economy. Nobody is effective in foreign affairs. Nobody is perfect. VOTE for Nobody!]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at December 30, 2007 6:27 AM

TO: Flynne
RE: Which Book Now, Captain Blagg?

"Well, according to this article, seems ol' (or, rather, young) Will just might be doing more than a little 'dabbling' in Sciectology:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22412036/

Who's book is he using now, Chuck(le)?" -- Flynne

He might be involved with Scientology. However, there are some discrepencies I'd like to point out. [Note: I was 'involved' with Scientology myself once...via Ex #2. She was deep into it.]

Scientology recognizes that there ARE 'evil' people walking the face of the Earth. They are referred to, last time I looked, as 'Suppressives'. They are, as you read L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, a very nefarious lot.

They tend to gravitate to good organizations and rise in the hierarchy of control of such organizations. Ultimately they pervert those organizations to their own purposes.

I took some of their 'courses'. I discovered I was 'Clear'. But as I delved into their doctrine and dogma more, I realized they were missing the quintessential appreciation of something-I-could-not-quite-put-my-finger-on.

When I asked one of the 'deacons' of their 'church' in Denver about Christ, he replied, "He was Clear too."

This sent a cold chill up my spine. And I backed away from that organization. About three years later Ex #2, became Ex #2. That was about one year after I became a REAL christian.

[Note: By the by....I noticed that the Scientologists insisted on calling us at home at dinner time to ask for someone to take more 'courses'. I found this activity to be VERY intrusive to family life. Albeit they claim they support families. I suspect they have a different understanding of the term.]

At any rate....

....I've kept a close eye on Scientology since that time....16 years ago....and I've noticed a trend that leads me to believe that some Suppressives are now taking hold of the organization.

Back to Will....

He could be dabbling in Scientology. However, if he is, his mentors therein are leading him down the proverbial primerose path. But then, I'd expect them to be doing that if my appreciation of their situation (above) is correct.

Happy New Year,

Chuck(le)
[Where there is no religion, hypocrisy becomes good taste. -- George Bernard Shaw]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at December 30, 2007 6:41 AM

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