This one is for my buddy, Rodney. I wrote this some time ago, but recent Facebook conversation sparked a debate. Rodney and sort of grew up together. Some things we agree on, other we don’t. Since we engage quite regularly on Facebook, and since the word “Evil” is thrown around and misused so completely, I thought I’d rerun this from a 2012 piece.
Evil is, at its core a lie. It is the antithesis of the truth, and since truth can be manipulated, interpreted and degraded the line between evil and truth is terribly thin. The lie is certainly as old as mankind, undoubtedly the symptom of negotiations between our selfish souls and the inherent conflict with the wants and desires of others. Separated from one another by the needs of the body and the ignorance of the mind, we are certainly suffering the legacy of those first lies, and, hence, their inherent “evil.”
There are few words as misused or misunderstood as the word Evil. For some it is the embodiment of the worst the human heart and mind can conjure. To others it is a living thing, an ethereal essence or spirit that tempts and persuades us to cruel and selfish acts. Some believe that Evil is its own power, one that must be crushed and driven from the world. To those who eschew that belief, evil is a misnomer, a cartoonish way of describing a process. Some believe that strength and force are the only means of confronting evil, while others hold that if it can be dissected, and understood, that the roots of “Evil” can be treated or diagnosed before causing greater harm.
What is the nature of evil? Where does it come from? If a person does evil then we are left with but a few possibilities. That is, they are either seduced, are tricked, or are too weak to resist evil. If that is the case then someone or something ultimately must be responsible, and since the devil, or some dark specter, is not liable under the law we are left to judge the human perpetrator or accomplice to the evil act. If some one is under the influence of evil, is it something akin to a coercion, a trance or a drug? In that case, if they are control as if they were a puppet, are they truly liable for those actions? In as much, that person would be in need of saving, but whose saving and how; narcotics, therapy, exorcism, burning them at the stake?
Finally we are left to ask if a person is evil? In which case they either succumb, fail to resist, or act upon that inherent evil quality. And who decides who is evil, partly evil, just a bit evil, and who is a bit good, partly good and good? Is there a moral distinction between a banker foreclosing on a struggling homeowner and someone stealing a purse? Can we draw a moral equivalency between a man who kills another in the heat of a liquor fueled bar fight and a corporate board that promotes and lobbies for an unnecessary war in which tens or hundreds of thousands are killed?
Does evil require a catalyst, like a spark, or a particular environment to rage out of control? Can it be synthesized, controlled, vaccinated against or used commercially or for warfare? Some might argue that war is the attempt to harness evil for one side against the real or perceived or concocted evil of an enemy. Indeed, it may be the state’s endeavor to harness and direct the latent evil in an individual, but on a massive scale. Certainly the very word is a generic term, an umbrella word covering varied and even necessary evils. It also describes innocuous things, like an evil smell, and the like. Is sadistic evil different from abject evil, manipulative evil, genocidal evil and many others?
But the critical mind eschews the cartoonish concept of evil, which is all too easily coward to in ignorance and fear. We have through science, the enlightenment and reason eroded steadily the notion of evil. The schizophrenic is no longer considered evil, as was once believed less than a century ago. The November 1755 earthquake and tsunami which devastated Lisbon and killed as many as 100,000 sparked Voltaire and Rousseau to thought and argument. we understand fault lines and plate tectonics and safer construction standards now. Both are indications of how the ignorance of the species have continually pushed back the boundaries of what mankind once considered evil.
Interesting, while mankind has pushed back the boundaries of what was considered evil, there is no reciprocal resistance by evil itself. If in fact, evil was a real thing9unless we consider it a force of nature, like gravity and the speed of light-in which case we must leave open the possibility a lamp or a plant or a cow can also be evil, that is subject like all of us to gravity) that Given the progress of reason and enlightenment those who believe that “evil” the thing or presence or force will be pushed back still further, and that assumption on what constitutes evil now will no longer be considered evil tomorrow.
The world is not trapped between light and dark, just as no person struggles with good and evil. We struggle against our inherent selfishness and the complex processes of our lives. We struggle against ourselves in the negotiation and understanding of community and how we fit into that community. Learning to comprehend the processes of the world leads to enlightenment and our best hope to one day intervene ahead of human-caused tragedies like that in New Town, ISIS, Osama bin Laden, the Holocaust, sexual assault, greed and racism. Failure to learn surrenders us to the control of those only too willing to manipulate our ignorance and wield the word “evil” as a tool of propaganda.