Sep 27, 2015 by



aaaCoalRemoval(Photo: JW Randolph)From the time I was a teenager, I’ve wrestled with the question of good and evil. The question led me to the study of philosophy and literature. When I was sixteen years old, I began reading the Russian authors, starting with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.   Naïve, I sided with Alyosha Karamazov, a saintly loving monk—a man who, despite the despicable things that humans do to one another, held faith in the goodness of God, and in the idea that humans are fundamentally good, but they do evil things in a state of ignorance.

This idea that evil is committed in a state of ignorance goes back to Plato’s definition of wrongdoing, a concept that St. Augustine accepted, only he referred to the Higher Good as God and that a person could do evil acts only in the absence of God’s Love, i.e., he/she lived in ignorance, a kind of dark void of the soul.

But what if you know what you’re doing is wrong and you do it anyway?

It wasn’t until I came across a profound statement, uttered by Alyosha’s brother, Ivan, an intellectual skeptic, that this inquiry of good and evil became far more confusing than initially conceived. At the time, I didn’t know that it was a famous hypothesis:

If God is dead, then everything is permitted.

I reasoned that if you took that statement to its final conclusion—it would most likely point to the end of humanity because without moral guidance, and enforced legal restrictions, men would push the limits of their greed and avarice to mass suicide.

The existentialists, Sartre, Camus and yes, even Nietzsche, all argued that man is capable of either annihilating life on this planet with the “suns that suit us”, suns—being a metaphor for atomic bombs, or he can develop the ethical dignity to choose that which is humane and just with or without God.So where am I going with this train of thought?

I woke up this morning choking from the heat and smoke from a state, California, that is literally going up in flames. I no longer hear the birds singing outside my window. They’re gone. There are days when my heart is so heavy that I can’t help crying; it’s painful being a witness to the hideous changes that could have been prevented as early as the late 1970s if we had leaders that weren’t bought and owned by the polluting industrial billionaires.

We’re living in Rachel Carson’s nightmare of a poisoned Earth. The Arctic ice, which was the earth’s air conditioner via the jet stream, has been shut down for good. It’s melting. Every summer, the heat grows worse, breaking temperature records over and over again.

I can tell you from my own experience of living on the central California coast that we’ve gone from 65-70 degree temperatures during the summer to the new climate change temperature of 75-102 degrees. Winters have been warm at 78 degrees instead of the average 50s. My closet is filled with sweaters that I haven’t worn for the last three years.

Yesterday, I read Michael Mann’s shocking summary (republished at Buzzflash-Truthout from EcoWatch) of perhaps the most profoundly evil crime that’s been committed by an industrial corporation, ExxonMobil, to date:

ExxonMobil’s CEOS knew in the early 1980s that oil production would most likely lead to mass extinction of life. They knew that they were setting off a time bomb that would kill us all, and here’s the worst evil part of it: instead of informing the public, they spent billions of dollars on media campaigns that would deny the science to cover it up.

By our own legal and Christian-Judeo theological definitions, these CEOs have committed high crimes that are evil acts against humanity for profits.

ExxonMobil’s CEOs were “informed in no uncertain terms, by their own science division, that climate change impacts could be ‘catastrophic’ and potentially ‘irreversible’ unless there were major reductions in fossil fuel burning.”

Likewise, President Obama, members of the House and Senate are exceedingly aware of the dire consequences from oil pollution and drilling.  They cannot claim “ignorance”.  They fully comprehend the science, the reality of the extreme weather disasters, the floods and fires that are killing people and wiping animals off the face of the earth into extinction by the thousands, and yet, they continue to take the filthy money from the oil industry under the agreement that the oil profiteers will be allowed to pollute our last pristine oceans and fresh water—with full knowledge of the wrongness of that choice.

They can’t claim ignorance; nor can they claim that can’t replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources when Sweden, Iceland, Germany and other countries are currently moving ahead to 100% renewable energy.

Recently, President Obama not only spoke about the emergency crisis of climate change during his visit to Alaska, he made it perfectly clear that he’s acutely aware of the threat to humanity that it poses, and yet, at the same time, he gave Royal Dutch Shell the green light to drill in the Chukchi Sea.

Knowing that you are promoting a product that is a time bomb for the extinction of life far exceeds the definition of evil.  They know what they’re doing is wrong, and yet they do it anyway—for money? A quid pro quo?  National Security? In 2012, the Pentagon argued that if the military produced solar-energized machinery, it would provide far more security for their soldiers than gas-fueled equipment, and it would save tax payers billions of dollars, but our corrupt oil-bought-legislators refused to budge.  What was that mantra in Congress? Support the troops?

In fact, this definition of evil, of committing a wrongful act out of self-interest with the knowledge that it’s wrong – is understood in our legal system as mens rea: in Latin, it literally means: “The act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty”.  Mens rea is a legal phrase used to describe the mental state a person must be in while committing a crime for it to be intentional. It can refer to a general intent to break the law or a specific, premeditated plan to commit a particular offense.

Last week Bianca Jagger wrote in a commentary posted on Truthout, President Obama’s Gravest Error: Trusting Shell to Drill in the Arctic, that Al Gore described Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea as “insane” and called for a ban on all oil and gas activity in the Arctic.

CEOs of the oil industry, ExxonMobil, President Obama, and all politicians that take oil money in exchange for permits to drill for oil are willingly and knowingly making our only home of survival, planet Earth, uninhabitable.

Given our corrupt political system, the worst government that money can buy, there will be no justice and no prosecutions for the reason that the oil industry wields  enormous influence over all three branches of the U.S. federal government, and Big Oil also sponsors the major corporate media networks.

But if there is a God, there will be a Judgment Day.  I’m going with Pascal’s wager. I would not want to be in their shoes when the Grand Reaper comes a knocking…

Either way, the question remains: Are we, the people of the world, going to allow politicians and the industrial billionaires to burn up the Earth for their profits?

Jacqueline Marcus’ new collection of poems, Summer Rains (Iris Books) is now available at  She is the author of Close to the Shore (Michigan State University Press), and Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone / Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us at Amazon/Kindle books.  

She taught philosophy at Cuesta College for 20 years. Marcus is the editor of and  She is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at

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