The question itself is absurd. It implies the existence of things – objective good and evil – that are purely imaginary. Good and evil seem to be real, but they are actually only words we assign to subjective emotional responses. Darwin was aware of the fact, as demonstrated in his writings. Westermarck stated it as a scientific theory in his Ethical Relativity. Arthur Keith and others before him noted critical aspect of human morality that is commonly ignored to this day; its dual nature. Robert Ardrey referred to it as the “Amity-Enmity Complex,” noting that we categorize others into ingroups, with which we associate “good” qualities, and outgroups, with which we associate “evil.” Denial of the dual nature of morality has been one of the more damaging legacies of the Blank Slate. Among other things, it has obscured the reasons for the existence of such variants of outgroup identification as racism, religious bigotry, and anti-Semitism. In the process, it has obscured from the consciousness of those who are loudest in condemning these “evils” that they, too, have outgroups, which they commonly hate more bitterly and irrationally than those they accuse of such sins.
The current attempts in the UK to establish a travel ban on Donald Trump are a good illustration of the absurdities that are commonly the result of failure to recognize the simple truths stated above. As I write this, 570,000 Brits have signed a petition calling for such a ban. In response, the British parliament has begun debating the issue. All this is justified on moral grounds. Ask one of the petition signers why, exactly, Trump is evil, and typical responses would include the claim that he is a racist, a religious bigot, spreads “hate-speech,” etc. If one were to continue the line of questioning, asking why racism is bad, they might respond that it leads to inequality. Ask them why equality is good, and they might start losing patience with the questioner because, in fact, they don’t know. None of these saintly petition signers has the faintest clue why Trump is “really evil.” It’s no wonder. Legions of philosophers have been trying to catch the gaudy butterflies of “good” and “evil” for the last few millennia. They have failed for a very good reason. The butterflies don’t exist.
Let us attempt to bring the debate back into the real world. Trump wants to expel illegal immigrants from the U.S., and end immigration of Muslims. These are not irrational goals. As history demonstrates, they are both legally and physically possible. In both cases, they would recognize the existence of human nature in general, and our tendency to perceive others in terms of ingroups and outgroups in particular. They will result in the exclusion from the country of people who have historically perceived the lion’s share of the existing population of the United States as an outgroup. In the case of Moslems, their holy book, the Quran, includes many passages forbidding friendship with Christians and condemning those with commonly held Christian beliefs to burn in hell for eternity. In the case of Hispanics, they come from cultures that have historically perceived North Americans as exploiters and imperialist aggressors. Both of these groups, in turn, are typically perceived by Americans as belonging to outgroups. Allowing them to remain in or enter the country has already resulted in civil strife. If history is any guide, there is a non-trivial possibility that the eventual result will be civil war. These are outcomes that most current US citizens would prefer to avoid. They are being told, however, that to avoid being “racist,” or “bigoted,” or, in fine, “immoral,” they must accept these outcomes. In other words, to be “good,” they must practice an absurd form of altruism, in which they must make tangible sacrifices, even though the chances that they will ever receive anything back in return are nil. Otherwise, they will be “evil.” This unusual form of moral behavior is not encountered elsewhere in the animal kingdom.
Moral emotions certainly do not exist to promote “good” and defeat “evil.” They exist solely because, at points in time that were utterly unlike the present, they happened to increase the odds that the genes responsible for spawning them would survive and reproduce. Importing civil strife and, potentially, civil war, are not good strategies for promoting genetic survival. The subjective desire to direct moral emotions in order to accomplish goals that are in harmony with the reasons those emotions exist to begin with is neither “good” nor “evil.” However, as long as one recognizes the necessarily subjective nature of those goals, there is no basis for the claim that pursuing them is irrational. In short, expelling illegal immigrants and banning Muslim immigration are not “evil,” because there is no such thing as “evil,” beyond its subjective and dependent existence in the consciousness of individuals. They are, however, rational, in the sense that they are legal and achievable, and are also in harmony with the goal of genetic, not to mention cultural survival. Most US citizens seem to recognize this fact at some conscious or subconscious level. This explains their support for Trump, and what one might call their immune response to a deluge of culturally alien immigrants, whether legal or illegal. As so often happens, many of those who don’t “get it” are intellectuals, who have a disconcerting tendency to bamboozle themselves with ideological concoctions from which they imagine they can distill the “good,” often at the expense of others not afflicted with a similar talent for self-delusion.
The petition signers, on the other hand, would be somewhat embarrassed if asked to justify their condemnation of Trump on grounds other than such imaginary categories as “good” and “evil.” Perhaps they might argue that he is acting against the “brotherhood of man,” and that the “brotherhood of man” is a rational goal because it would reduce or eliminate inter-species warfare and other forms of violence, goals which are also in harmony with genetic survival. To this, one need merely respond, “Look in the mirror.” There, if they look closely, they will see the reflection of their own hatreds, and of their own outgroups. They are no more immune to human nature than the racists and bigots they so piously condemn. After their own fashion, like virtually every other human being on the planet, they are “racists and bigots” themselves. The only difference between them and those they condemn is in the choice of outgroup. Their own hatreds expose the “brotherhood of man” as a fantasy.
In short, all these Brits who imagine themselves dwelling on pinnacles of righteousness don’t oppose Trump’s policies on rational grounds. They oppose him because they hate him, and they hate him because he is included in their outgroup, and must, therefore, be “immoral.” In that they are similar to American Trump-haters. Typical Brits, on the other hand, have many other hatreds in common. Many of them have a long and abiding hatred of Americans. Going back to the years just after we gained our independence, one may consult the pages of the British Quarterly Review, probably their most influential journal during the first half of the 19th century. There you will find nothing but scorn for Americans and their “silly paper Constitution.” As anyone who has read a little history is aware, little changed between then and the most recent orgasm of anti-American hatred in Europe, in which the Brits were eager participants. It’s ironic that these hatemongers are now sufficiently droll to accuse others of “hate-speech.” Ideologues may be defined as those who identify their in- and outgroups according to ideological criteria. In common with ideologues everywhere, British ideologues hatred of the “other,” so defined, is as virulent as the hatreds of any racist ever heard of. In other words, to judge by their “racism,” they are at least as “evil” as the outgroups they condemn. The only difference is that their hatred is aroused by “races” that differ from them in political alignment rather than skin color. It is this variant of “racism” that they are now directing at Trump.
If Trump does become President, it would not be surprising to see him retaliate against the British hatemongers, if not in response to moral emotions, perhaps as a mere matter of self-defense. To begin, for example, he might expel the British scientists who are now so ubiquitous at our national weapons laboratories, with free access to both our classified nuclear weapons information and to expensive experimental facilities, to the construction and maintenance of which they have contributed little if anything. Beyond that, we might deliver some broad hints as to the violation of the Monroe Doctrine posed by their occupation of the Malvinas Islands, accompanied by some judicious arming of Argentina.
None of what I have written above implies nihilism, or moral relativism, nor does it exclude the possibility of an absolute morality. I merely recognize the fact that good and evil are not objective things, and draw the obvious conclusions. Facts are not good or evil. They are simply facts.