Vice in the name of Virtue

By Abel Merawi  

Vice and VirtueNovember 15, 2021 ( – How do you write about something without a name? What do you call something that is yet to be identified, explained, and defined? Amazingly, we fail to recognize an existing phenomenon when a term for its recognition is lacking. I chose to deal with a situation that is designed to escape category – a nuisance of life created by narcissistic humans whose intent is remaining undetected by most, and when detected ignored. The lack of terminology is no reason to withhold a troubling fact, and so I chose to explain its intricate pattern and keep the labeling for the future.    

Shakespeare writes in Hamlet, “…conscience does make cowards of us all….” In this line, Shakespeare explains how our sense of right and wrong keeps us in fear of going further; we fear the unknown and so tolerate the undesirables of the known. The following sections only expound on these words of genius and go a bit further by contextualizing it to present circumstances. The world is full of virtues and vices, and we daily encounter both as they appear in different guises. And our conscience constantly judges the world and ourselves. If we are lucky, we encounter pure manifestations of either; but vice often takes the shape of virtue and stains the purity of virtue. Conscience makes us cowards in this blurred line that confusingly mixes virtues with vices. For instance, our conscience tells us that it is pure virtue to help the needy, while it is pure vice to kill the helpless. Yet, our moral sense trembles when someone promises to help the needy while coercing, oppressing or benefiting from their plight. Before we proceed, just remember that no evil (person or institution) claims to be evil; but rather champions humanity (love, justice, and truth) to hide its immoral praxis.

With the previous notion in mind, think of the million and one manipulators who use the ‘public’ to cover their ulterior motives. The media does the dirty work as it serves to ‘manufacture consent'. The media echoes and imitates the false prophets who serve themselves by pompously speaking of virtues people cherish. As it is hard to detect the clandestine and intricately cunning manipulations, we must learn to reassemble the intentionally separated piece to form a holistic context. The media is here taken as an accomplice for political, religious, and other institutions. Commonly, people automatically accept narratives of virtue, our conscience fears to go deeper and question their integrity. It seems like we prefer to be tricked in the name of virtue than examine the sincerity of the messenger. Commonly, we take our suspicion of popular virtue as a sign of personal vice. Let us use a couple of holistic examples to highlight the pattern of manipulations and our reaction to it.

Let us begin with the idea of patriotism and identity. When civil discord occurs in any nation, it is common to find regional or ethnic politicians, artists, and intellectuals, who find voice through a group-advocacy media. What they seek is violence but, to gain support, they hide behind virtue and speak of humanity. For this task, they use historians and experts who speak of the group’s past greatness and its oppositions’ historical enmity. Artists then quickly pick up this narrative, and write songs, paint pictures, build monuments, write legends, and do anything to control public opinion. Futile production of propaganda, to produce nothing fruitful. Their segregate media readily airs this calls for division, and even worse, it begins to produce news and documentaries that valorize the group and report the vile deeds of opponents. But all these would fail if it does not play on the conscience of the people. Every such narrative is presented as a call for unity, as a patriotic stand for one’s identity, and a demand for justice. But as such trickery cannot stand internal oppositions, another plot is weaved.

In every group, there are independent and rational individuals, who present the greatest danger on parochialism and group identity. To silence such dissenters, the internal oppositions, another story is narrated on the meaning of being unpatriotic. The media embarks on a mission to discredit the neutral and the unbiased through the propaganda of public opinions that make ‘either … or …’ arguments. Members of the group appear to denounce rational members. Elites or intellectuals, who are experts at cherry-picking, condemn the danger of neutrality and opposition whenever their group identity is threatened. Then ‘veterans’ conduct interviews to remind the public that patriotism and sacrifice are unequivocally demanded of members. In summation, the group flag is waved with a parochial song playing in the background. All is done to make a united stand for division, to patriotically sacrifice oneself while committing injustice. However, this is hard to detect. The narrative of both the just and unjust is bound to take this course, making it easier to control the public conscience in service of either vice or virtue.

We have seen how honor, patriotism, and identity can be used to cover a group’s ambition for segregation. Let us now proceed to explain a more sinister way of using goodness to achieve our malicious desires. This happens when we seek to dominate and oppress and cover our true desires in the cry for humanity. Most of us show an almost instinctual response when we hear the word humanity, and our conscience often makes us rush into blind acceptance of the agent or agency that called for action. We fear to investigate the credibility of the source because we equate such suspicion with personal evil. Thus, as long as the modern-day imperialist is ‘creative’ enough in echoing the most tragic narrative by selecting the best examples of inhumanity, the mission for conquest gains the support of the whole world. Violation of human rights is truly intolerable, but it must not license the tyranny of oppressors just because they use it as a shield and disguise. Alas! Currently, even a criminal entity can publicly denounce crimes by blaming the victims of oppression.

Vice can use virtue to shield and protect itself, and this is easier when the majority is guided by dogmatic innocence and by a crowd conscience. It is possible for both the common and intellectual people to develop a cowardly conscience built on the shaky foundation of adherence to popular beliefs. For instance, an expert in peace and security, an artist who champions humanity, and a citizen who dreams of justice can, knowingly and unknowingly, serve a totalitarian whose ambition is domination.

Here is how, from the tyrant’s vantage point. First, you never speak of attack but only defense, and you don’t utter a word about your totalitarian ambition to conquer. Rather, you appeal to public conscience by calling your mission: self-defense against an imminent threat; a response to the human rights violation; or you can use the classical argument of a mission to civilize. Then, you either buy or coerce the media to create an alternative reality. This is when an expert appears on the screen who is interviewed only about the value of equality and justice. Then, the media selects the trendy artists and classic songs that speak of humanity. To give it a ‘public’ touch or legitimacy, people of all age groups in different walks of life are interviewed on the value of humanity and the intolerability of inhumane acts. Perhaps, all those involved up to this point are unaware of the media stunt played as a final act! The media only inserts propaganda at this juncture, by making the argument of the tyrant. This is when the people are demanded to stand behind the ruler, serve in body and spirit to defend the tyrant’s hidden agenda.

Am I clear? Was I able to communicate to you and show you how the game is played on your innocence and conscience? I truly hope I did, because I cannot conceive a better way of portraying this manipulation. I hope you see how a nameless system is eroding our values and making us endorse hidden agendas. My only wish is for each of us to reclaim our conscience. I hope we learn to either stand against or at least refrain from helping the vice of tyrants who use virtue as a spell to control public opinion. Conscience must not be ruled by fear and crowd opinions. In the words of Hanna Arendt, “Conscience is the anticipation of the fellow who awaits you if and when you come home.” Put differently, we have an inner self that demands consistency from us; one that is always unsatisfied by fleeting sentiments and conformity. Thus, to escape the cowardice in moral questions as Shakespeare claims, we can develop a deeper conscience that does not shy away when faced with moral conundrums but rather chooses to confront and discover hidden agendas behind cheap moral rhetoric.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Dream of a Reality

Human Wave Attacks

The Bridge Between Love and Hate

Identity Frames and Humane Response to Suffering

The Plurality of Identity

Necrophilia – The Affliction in Servants of Death

Public Trust in Social Media

Even Monkeys Can Use Smart Techs

Invisible Citizens

Adwa – Triumph of Unassailable Humanity

Democracy and Democratic Institutions

Democracy and Democratic People

Paideia or Deep Education

Educational Purpose: Good Citizenry Vs Rational Autonomy

Crowd Leaders as National Enemies of Ethiopia

Ethiopia Under the Threat of Crowd Mentality

Conformist Realism in Ethnic Federalism

Alternatives to National Identity

Ethiopia in Conflict - Part II: A National Stand for Unity

Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division

Forms of Human Violence (Part II)

Forms of Human Violence (Part I)

The ‘Having’ Mentality

Group Narcissism

Segregated Justice


Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview

Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia

The Underestimated Human Ignorance

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance

The System and the 'Criminal'

Trust as an Economic Force

Do You Trust the Government?

Our Online World

Fame Mistaken for Expertise

The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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