The State as Morality Play

Column by Bob Wallace.

Exclusive to STR

I look at life in the aggregate, that is, when you include the whole human race, as a tragicomedy. I don’t look at it as morality play, which I define as seeing life as a contest between Good and Evil. In fact, life is a tragicomedy because so many people see it as a morality play!
Here is an example. The State has defined drugs as “evil.” So now we have the “War on Drugs,” (a morality play) with all the attendant tragicomedy (trying to control supply and demand through violence). This “war” is an attempt to get rid of Evil and replace it with Good. It’s an impossibility.
Another example: the United States on 9-11 was attacked for its Goodness by the Evil Ones, as the permanently addled George Bush apparently truly believes. The two ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are morality plays, with the ensuing death and destruction.
The most pernicious aspect of the State, besides having a monopoly on “legal” violence, is that is tries to define everything as a contest between Good and Evil.  That is in fact the essence of politics, and, for that matter, propaganda.
Unfortunately in politics, unlike as is in life, there are no shades of grey.  Everything in politics is black or white, good or evil. Isn’t that what all war is about – morality plays about good versus evil?
Whenever people say, “He/she/they did that because they are evil,” I automatically know they support some kind of war – as long, of course, as they don’t have to fight in it.
Whenever people think there are political solutions to things (which don’t exist), they are instantly falling into the trap of supporting war – death and destruction. And it’s because they believe in Good and Evil – with them of course being Good, and the people who disagree with them being Evil.
The essence of this morality play is that when people define themselves as Good (which means self-righteousness), they don’t see any problem with abusing, humiliating, imprisoning and murdering those they define as Evil. It is, after all, to get rid of Evil and replace it with Good.
Spinoza once said that most people define evil as what they don’t like. He was right. And because of that, people who unwittingly see life as a morality play have turned it into a tragicomedy.


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Bob Wallace's picture
Columns on STR: 89


Suverans2's picture

G'day Bob Wallace,

The state hasn't defined drugs as "evil", those men who make its private laws have defined drugs as "illegal", in order to keep them profitable, which of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with "morality".

Michael Kleen's picture

From a Nietzschean perspective, the concept of "evil" is part of the herd morality, which of course is why the the modern state was established in the first place - the protect the herd from "evil." So in that instance I think you're spot on.

D. Saul Weiner's picture

This is exactly right. The "Baptists" take pride in their promotion of coercion since they see it as a way of punishing sinners, which is, after all, God's work (figuratively speaking, since the same phenomenon would apply to secular interventionists too). Thus it should also not surprise us that our "justice" system is heavily skewed toward punishment, not making victims whole.

A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

"And it’s because they believe in Good and Evil..."

Methinks that you confuse necessary conditions with necessary and sufficient conditions. To get to the conclusion that you prefer, at least one more ingredient is needed. Why not try utilitarianism, for instance? In other words, look for evidence that they are utilitarians, then factor that into your argument.

Now, if we ought to abandon the concepts good and evil, if we ought not to see life as a morality play, then why suppose that the lives of humans are tragicomedy? Instead, those lives would be just comedy. Speaking of tragicomedy, here's a little of my own for ya:

"A Democrat and a Republican go to a bar and stay there for hours. They leave. A libertarian pays their tab."

Not tragic or funny enough for you? Well, then how about some foodie humor?

"A moral nihilist is strapped drown on a heavy wooden table by a moral relativist. The moral nihilist's muscles are tickled with a knife, and its joints, tapped with a hammer and an ice pick. After a period of time, the moral nihilist cries out in protest. The moral relativist replies to the nihilist, 'Complain all you like, but bear in mind that I, too, have my preferences.' Then the relativist reaches into a cupboard for his blowtorch, which he had purchased with the intent to make crème brûlée. The moral nihilist, whose eyes are widening, cries out, 'you're a foodie!'. 'Not today,' replies the relativist. 'I'm just hungry.' "
Life is not a goat-song, Bob Wallace. Morality play, yes, but not a goat-song, not even a funny one. Now, why don't you grow up for the very first time in your life? Go on, now, Bob. Give it a go.

In the meantime, while you are pretending not to be a child, while you are kicking and screaming in protest, the morality play goes on. Its rules are very simple. Not to do any evil, to cultivate the good, and to purify the mind. These are the rules of the morality play.

Paul's picture

Comments like "grow up" do not help make your case.

Bob does have a point, and one doesn't have to be a relativist to see it. To kill people, you first dehumanize them, and call them evil. There is entirely too much of that going on these days.

The question is not whether there is evil in the world (there is), but correctly deciding who is evil, and what you are going to do about it. Mostly, you should do nothing because it's a self-correcting problem. Only when someone evil actually attacks you, is it sensible to defend yourself, or remove yourself from the attack.

Robert Wallace's picture

The poverty of your thought, and the simple-mindedness, leads me to suspect you are the follower of the lunatic Ayn Rand.

Suverans2's picture

"There is only one fundamental right [just claim] (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right [just claim] to his own life." ~ Ayn Rand

Robert Wallace's picture

Only the simple-minded and uneducated think Ayn Rand makes any sense.

GregL's picture


This is a pretty strong statement, and I'm surprised that no one else has challenged you on this. Your statements about Ayn Rand seem so much unlike a frequent contributor to STR, that I wonder if someone else is making these posts in your name. There are many of Rand's positions that I disagree with, such as her positions on anarchy and intellectual property, and there are some things about her personal life that were less than admirable. But to say that only the simple-minded think she makes any sense certainly seems to be going overboard. She was very influential in helping me to more clearly see the state as an instrument of legitimized violence, and she contributed greatly to my intellectual development. If that makes me simple-minded or uneducated, so be it.

- Greg

B.R. Merrick's picture

Read his other comments, GregL. At least he's consistent.

My introduction to Ayn Rand was probably in 2001 or 2002, in a documentary aired on the Independent Film Channel. Riveting. But Wallace's other comments (also disparaging Murray Rothbard) clearly show a man who has contrary views of some sort with two intellectual giants. Maybe someday he'll enlighten us with a fact or two, or maybe even an anecdote, as to why he disagrees with Rand and Rothbard.

Or perhaps he'll just go on being contradictory. If that's the case, I plan on ignoring him.

GregL's picture

Thanks for the explanation B.R. and for the link to the de Coster article.

B.R. Merrick's picture

And here's a far better defense of a woman who, in my opinion, needs very little defending, and this from another woman, no less: