Form and Malignant Form

Every type of human activity has a malignant equivalent.


The pursuit of happiness, the accumulation of wealth, the exercise of power, the love of one's self are all tools in the struggle to survive and, as such, are commendable. They do, however, have malignant counterparts: pursuing pleasures (hedonism), greed and avarice as manifested in criminal activities, murderous authoritarian regimes and narcissism.


What sets the malignant versions apart from the benign ones?


Phenomenologically, they are difficult to tell apart. In which way is a criminal distinct from a business tycoon? Many will say that there is no distinction indeed. Still society treats the two differently and has set up separate social institution to accommodate these two human types and their activities.


Is it merely a matter of ethical or philosophical judgement? I think not.


The difference seems to lie in the context. Granted, the criminal and the businessman both have the same motivation (at times, obsession): to make money. Sometimes they both employ the same techniques and adopt the same venues of action. But in which social, moral, philosophical, ethical, historical and biographical contexts do they operate?


A closer examination of their exploits will expose the unbridgeable gap between them. The criminal acts only in the pursuit of money. He has no other considerations, thoughts, motives and emotions, no temporal horizon, no ulterior or external aims, no incorporation of other humans or social institutions in his deliberations. The reverse is true for the businessman. The latter is aware of the fact that he is part of a larger fabric, that he has to obey the law, that some things are not permissible, that sometimes he has to lose sight of moneymaking for the sake of higher values, institutions, or the future. In short: the criminal is a solipsist - the businessman, an integrated person. The criminal one track minded - the businessman is aware of the existence of others and of their needs and demands. The criminal has no context - the businessman does.


Whenever a human activity, a human institution, or a human thought is refined, purified, reduced to its bare minimum - malignancy ensues. Leukaemia is characterized by the concentration of the bone marrow upon the production of only one category of blood cells (the white ones) while abandoning the production of others. Malignancy is reductionist: do one thing, do it best, do it more and most, compulsively pursue one course of action, one idea, never mind the costs. Actually, no costs can exist - because the very existence of a context is ignored. Costs are brought on by conflict and conflict entails the existence of at least two parties. The criminal, for instance, pays none because he does not include in his weltbild the Other. The dictator doesn't suffer because suffering is brought on by recognizing the other. The malignant forms are sui generis, they are dang am sich, they are categorical, they do not depend on the outside for their existence.


Put differently: the malignant forms are functional but meaningless.


Let us use an illustration to understand this dichotomy:


In France there is a man who made it his life's mission to spit the furthest a human has ever spat. This way he will make it into the Guinness Book of Records (GBR). After decades of training, he succeeded to spit to the longest distance a man has ever spat and was included in the GBR under miscellany.


The following can be said about this man with a high degree of certainty:

a. The Frenchman had a purposeful life in the sense that his life had a well-delineated, narrowly focused, and achievable target, which permeated his entire life and defined them.


b. He was a successful man in that he fulfilled his main ambition in life to the fullest. We can rephrase this sentence by saying that he functioned well.


c. He probably was a happy, content and satisfied man as far as his main theme in life is concerned.


d. He achieved significant outside recognition and affirmation of his achievements.


e. This recognition and affirmation is not limited in time and place.


In other words, he became "part of history".


But how many of us would say that he led a meaningful life? How many would be willing to attribute meaning to his spitting efforts? Not many. His life would look to most of us ridiculous and bereft of meaning.


This judgement is facilitated by comparing his actual history with his