I’ve been encountering so much darkness lately through what I call conduits (people that conduct evil as easily as copper conducts electricity) that I’ve been asking: Is there effectively only darkness in human consciousness?
Though I had done over 20 years of philosophical investigation and study before going to Russia at the beginning of 1990, I did not, like the vast majority of Americans, have a philosophy of evil.
After weeks of full immersion (Americans had only recently been allowed to stay with Russians in their homes during the thawing of the Cold War during the later Gorbachev years), I felt more at home than I usually do in the States.
It was, looking back on it, a tremendous psychological and metaphysical setup. I had a direct encounter with evil that nearly destroyed me.
Andrei and Vera gave me their bedroom. After two weeks, Andrei invited me to his oldest son’s 13th birthday, impressing on me that it was a special occasion and honor—Dmitri’s entry into manhood, an important milestone in Russia’s male-dominated culture.
I was in the bosom of the family. Russians drink vodka by the quarter-glass, and the drinks flowed freely that evening.
On the way back, I was in the front seat with the driver, while Andrei, Vera and the boys were in back seat of the big car. There hadn’t been a moment of homesickness, and the business trip had gone very well, with meetings ranging from artists, to Russia’s soon to emerge religious leaders, to the Soviet space agency.
I had little Russian, and Vera had little English, but Andrei spoke passable English. Out of the blue (or black, as it turned out to be), Vera said something about evil through Andrei. I blew it off, simply replying: It exists.
She pressed the subject. “It really frightens me.” Off the top of my inebriated head, I superficially and insouciantly replied, “If you remain with your fear, it can’t touch you.”
A metallic voice of inexpressible malevolence, which seemed to originate from half a mile behind the car, came through Andrei’s mouth. All it said was, “Is that so?” But there was such malignant malice in it that I immediately felt fear like I had never felt fear before in my life.
The bubble I’d been in since I stepped off the plane in Moscow in mid-January suddenly burst, and the plush red curtains ripped open. Images of gulags, torture, executions and starvation that saturated Russian consciousness from communist history flashed across my mind’s eye.
After feeling protected and at ease for weeks, I suddenly was on the back aide of the moon, certain that I would never get home.
Instantly sober, and without thinking it first, I did what I said: I held to my fear, actually terror. Unable to speak for half an hour, the emotional earthquake slowly passed.
I was immediately changed, though it took months of philosophical inquiry to process and understand what had happened. I had encountered the devil, and been given a quick tour of hell.
America, which is now so saturated with evil that no school or work place is safe from mass murder, still refuses to confront the reality of evil.
America, which now has a vile and vicious president who spews division and hatred and then blames the “fake media” for reporting it, and “angry Democrats” for “hating Trump,” still refuses to face the darkness and deadness in this land that gave rise to this monster.
Evil certainly isn’t an American or Russian phenomenon, though America and Russia are saturated with darkness.
The thing I encountered in Russia has no supernatural origin or basis. But what is evil, and where does it come from?
Evil is a byproduct of millennia of grudges and sludges in human consciousness, the rotten residue of countless people and innumerable generations. It is sum total of extreme self-centeredness, inner neglect, victimhood and vengefulness. It is a condensed intentionality of hatred, extruding through an individual, or an entire people, as it did in Italy and Germany in the 1930’s, and threatens humanity from America today.
Evil does not just want to produce violence and chaos. These things are merely the means to its ultimate goal: the destruction of the spiritual capacity of the human being.
Don’t underestimate evil because it uses clowns like Trump, or continue to think of darkness as some amorphous reality, as nearly all Americans do.
How does one meet it? Through self-knowing. Evil hooks into what is false, dark and hidden within us. We are our own individuals when we are self-knowing.
So if we face the hatred, envy, hurt, fear and ugliness within ourselves, and don’t cut off or run away, we learn and grow.
That’s precisely what evil doesn’t want us to do. And therefore that is precisely how we turn the tables on it.