PATIENCE: Evil by Simone Weil

Evil by Simone Weil

Creation: good broken up into pieces and scattered throughout evil.

Evil is limitless, but it is not infinite.  Only the infinite limits the limitless.

Monotony of evil: never anything new, everything about it is equivalent.  Never anything real, everything about it is imaginary.  It is because of this monotony that quantity plays so great a part.  A host of women (Don Juan) or of men (Célimène), etc.  One is condemned to false infinity.  That is hell itself.

Evil is license and that is why it is monotonous: everything has to be drawn from ourselves.  But it is not given to man to create, so it is a bad attempt to imitate God.

Not to recognize and accept this impossibility of creating is the source of many an error.  We are obliged to imitate the act of creation, and there are two possible imitations – the one real and the other apparent – preserving and destroying.  There is no trace of “I” in the act of preserving.  There is in that of destroying.  The “I” leaves its mark on the world as it destroys.

Literature and morality.  Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.  Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.  Therefore “imaginative literature” is either boring or immoral (or a mixture of both).  It only escapes from this alternative if in some way it passes over to the side of reality through the power of art – and only genius can do that.

A certain inferior kind of virtue is good’s degraded image, of which we have to repent, and of which it is more difficult to repent than it is of evil.  The Pharisee and the Publican.

Good as the opposite of evil is, in a sense, equivalent to it, as is the way with all opposites.  It is not good which evil violates, for good is inviolate: only a degraded good can be violated.  That which is the direct opposite of an evil never belongs to the order of higher good.  It is often scarcely any higher than evil!  Examples: theft and the bourgeois respect for property; adultery and the “respectable woman”; the savings bank and waste; lying and “sincerity.”

Good is essentially other than evil.  Evil is multifarious and fragmentary, good is one; evil is apparent, good is mysterious; evil consists in action, good in non-action, in activity which does not act, etc.  Good considered on the level of evil and measured against it as one opposite against another is good of the penal code order.  Above there is a good which, in a sense, bears more resemblance to evil than to this low form of good.  This fact opens the way to a great deal of demagogy and many tedious paradoxes.

Good which is defined in the way that one defines evil should be rejected.  Evil does reject it.  But the way it rejects it is evil.

Is there a union of incompatible vices in beings given over to evil?  I do not think so.  Vices are subject to gravity, and that is why there is no depth or transcendence in evil.

We experience good only by doing it.  We experience evil only by refusing to allow ourselves to do it, or, if we do it, by repenting of it.  When we do evil we do not know it, because evil flies from the light.

Does evil, as we conceive it to be when we do not do it, exist?  Does not the evil that we do seem to be something simple and natural which compels us?  Is not evil analogous to illusion?  When we are the victims of an illusion we do not feel it to be an illusion but a reality.  It is the same perhaps with evil.  Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.

As soon as we do evil, the evil appears as a sort of duty.  Most people have a sense of duty about doing certain things that are bad and others that are good.  The same man feels it to be a duty to sell for the highest price he can and not to steal, etc.  Good for such people is on the level of evil, it is a good without light.

The sensitivity of the innocent victim who suffers is like felt crime.  True crime cannot be felt.  The innocent victim who suffers knows the truth about his executioner, the executioner does not know it.  The evil which the innocent victim feels in himself is in his executioner, but he is not sensible of the fact.  The innocent victim can only know the evil in the shape of suffering.  That which is not felt by the criminal is his own crime.  That which is not felt by the innocent victim is his own innocence.

It is the innocent victim who can feel hell.

The sin which we have in us emerges from us and spreads outside ourselves, setting up a contagion of sin.  Thus, when we are in a temper, those around us grow angry.  Or again, from superior to inferior: anger produces fear.  But at the contact of a perfectly pure being there is a transmutation, and the sin becomes suffering.  Such is the function of the just servant of Isaiah, of the Lamb of God.  Such is redemptive suffering.  All the criminal violence of the Roman Empire ran up against Christ, and in him it became pure suffering.  Evil beings, on the other hand, transform simple suffering (sickness, for example) into sin.

It follows, perhaps, that redemptive suffering has to have a social origin.  It has to be injustice, violence on the part of human beings.

The false God changes suffering into violence.  The true God changes violence into suffering.

Expiatory suffering is the shock in return for the evil we have done.  Redemptive suffering is the shadow of the pure good we desire.

A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves.  That is why we are inclined to commit such acts as a way of deliverance.

All crime is a transference of the evil in him who acts, to him who undergoes the result of the action.  This is true of unlawful love as well as murder.  The apparatus of penal justice has been so contaminated with evil, after all the centuries during which, without any compensatory purification, it has been in contact with evil-doers, that a condemnation is very often the transference of evil from the penal apparatus itself to the condemned man; and that is possible even when he is guilty and the punishment is not out of proportion.  Hardened criminals are the only people to whom the penal apparatus can do no harm.  It does terrible harm to the innocent.

When there is a transference of evil, the evil is not diminished but increased in him from whom it proceeds.  This is a phenomenon of multiplication.  The same is true when the evil is transferred to things.

Where, then, are we to put the evil?

We have to transfer it from the impure part to the pure part of ourselves, thus changing it into pure suffering.  The crime which is latent in us we must inflict on ourselves.

In this way, however, it would not take us long to sully our own point of inward purity, if we did not renew it by contact with an unchangeable purity placed beyond all possible attack.

Patience consists in not transforming suffering into crime.  That in itself is enough to transform crime into suffering.  To transfer evil to what is exterior is to distort the relationship between things.  That which is exact and fixed, number, proportion, harmony, withstands this distortion.  Whatever my state, whether vigorous or exhausted, in three miles there are three milestones.  That is why number hurts when we are suffering: it interferes with the operation of transference.  To fix my attention on what is too rigid to be distorted by my interior modifications is to make possible within myself the apparition of something changeless and an access to the eternal.

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