Thursday, January 27, 2005

Meditations on the Subject of Evil

Evil exists. Personally, I find it to be a little absurd that so many people in our society today wish to deny the existance of evil, but there is no question that it exists.

Frankly speaking, it is a big, scary, ugly world we live in. Whatever the source or ultimate cause may be, there is no question that there is a lot anger, meanness and bitterness in the world, and it hurts a lot of people on a day to day basis?

So, the question must be asked: if evil exists, then what is evil? Is evil a tangible force at work in the world around us, or is it an ideal? Is there any true concrete cross-cultural definition evil, or evil (like beauty) in the eye of the beholder?

There are a lot of arguments on both sides. Certainly, explorations of historical episodes such as the Holocaust (or, indeed, any to do with ethnic cleansing of any kind) are often used to explore the true nature of what evil is, or what evil isn't, but constantly come up short of giving us a real definition on which we can agree.

Essentially, what the question of evil may be decided upon is this: is evil the sum of the cause and effect of one's actions, or the sum of one's intentions?

Either way, the case could be made that someone such as Adolf Hitler (man, we claim to hate this guy but we loooooove to talk about him, don't we?) was evil. But a closer examination of Hitler seems to give people room to argue.

After all, some people argue that Hitler was not evil because he was doing everything he did in order to benefit the German people. It seems, however, that this line of argument ignores one crucial factor: how did the death of millions of Jews benefit even a single German citizen? Furthermore, how could these benefits possibly be worth millions of lives?

It could be argued that evil comes attached to a lack of value for human life, or at least a distorted value of human life. However, it could also be argued that "good" has often acted with a disregard for the value of human life. So once again, the scales draw evenly. Of course, it could be argued that often evil masquerades as something other than evil (which, as we are socialized to believe, is supposed to be "good").

How does one define evil then? There is one aspect of evil that seems to be ignored every now and then, and that is the small, every day evils that occur.
It is my belief that evil exists in the heart of everyone who just wants to hurt someone else, and in the mind of everyone who thinks that is all right. Evil is empowered by those who tolerate this, allowing this manner of behavior to continue.