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Evil needs to make a comeback
Posted at: Jun/11/2013 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: Common Sense, My philosophy,
When I was a child life was explained to be about good and bad. All the moral stories of my youth whether cartoon or westerns were fundamentally about the battle of good versus evil. Even my history books referred to everything from slavery to Hitler as evil; now we almost never hear of anything being labeled as evil. With the news filled with war, genocide, murder and deceit I am hard pressed to believe we have erased all evil.
In the 1960’s and 70’s we saw the beginnings of a social revolution that has lasted for 50 years. In our penal system we adopted the philosophy that all prisoners have the possibility of rehabilitation. To support this theory we closed prisons such as Alcatraz because it had no capability or space to support the services this notion called for. There has been a similar shift in education. Children used to fail elementary grades and have to repeat the classes. Now we are worried about bruising the self-esteem of these young and fragile minds so we pat them on the back for creativity in lieu of success and promote them to the next grade.
In a similar way, we seem to have retired the word evil to the same dusty shelf as fellah, buddy and groovy. Now we attribute these malicious acts and dangerous behavior to a dysfunctional family background or some traumatic experience in childhood. Once we understand the person and their motivation in this light, we are better able to withhold judgment. Without the pointed judgment we are less prone to assign blame or shame; instead, we find ourselves understanding and even showing empathy for the miscreant.
I can’t believe that we don’t suffer from evil anymore, clearly bad things are happening all the time at the hands of bad people.
Maybe the use of evil too easily implies a different time and a feeling of being “dated.” Ronald Reagan used the phrase “evil empire” to describe the Soviet Union. At the time of this reference the cold war was still very real. While some people at the time considered Reagan’s use of evil to be a Hollywood style exaggeration; the more we uncover and learn about the Soviet Union and its abuses, the more salient evil appears to be as a definition of the regime. Former President George W. Bush in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union Address initiated his use of the phrase “axis of evil”. President Bush’s axis of evil was comprised of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. These were the governments that he accused of helping terrorism against the United States and seeking the building and selling of weapons of mass destruction. Politics creates friends and enemy’s; I suspect that many people in the liberal portion of our media industry have stopped using the term evil because they don’t want anything they say to be associated with these two noted conservative presidents.
I don’t think we need to understand the motivations of the perpetrators to brand the genocide in Rwanda and the attacks of 9/11 as evil. On a lesser scale, but still just as dastardly is the arbitrary bombing at the Boston Marathon and the hacking to death of a British soldier by a Nigerian refugee which are still clearly evil acts. In many African countries where lawlessness and violence have dominated for years, there is now child conscription by local warlords…calling this anything but evil is lying to yourself. Closer to home is the recurring inner city violence such as the killing of a convenience store clerk for $20 and a six-pack of beer. To take a life in such a callous and inconsequential manner can’t be categorized as anything except as evil.
I do not really care about the social worker perspective that questions what childhood experience or personal tragedy would motivate terrorist to such an extent. Once they choose the path of a jihadist or abject killing, they are choosing intolerance and have decided on performing evil acts against their fellow man. I understand that the Nigerian refugee in London who hacked the soldier to death comes from a war ravaged part of the world. But running someone down with your car and then finishing the job by hacking and stabbing them numerous times is not a political statement, it is just an evil act. England chose to offer this man as a refugee an opportunity to restart his life, and he replied with wanton violence and death.
It is not that the social workers are wrong. The dysfunctional family and the remembered trauma’s of earlier life experiences explain a great deal. It seems to me, however, that they risk explaining too much. At some point, what is wanted is less explanation and more condemnation, less the inherent patience of social work, more the righteous indignation that says, bluntly, “Enough!” I cannot merely say or write the word “Enough!” without getting frustrated by those who simply don’t get it! Personal trauma and tragedy may explain many horrific events, but it never excuses them. When a country offers someone safe harbor after years of hatred and bloodshed, they should be thanked without worrying that their soldiers may be hacked to death on their own soil.
The dictionary defines evil as “morally wrong or bad, immoral, wicked, harmful, and injurious, the force that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin.”
It could just be the curmudgeon in me, but I take the notion of responsibility and free will very seriously. When someone shoots up an elementary school, this is a despicable act for which they need to be held responsible. Analyzing the drama and events of their childhood becomes a means to defer responsibility. Without knowing exact numbers, I am sure that for every perpetrator of violence plagued by personal drama, we could find many more people who went through the same experience without choosing to then harm others. There is a growing list of events in our world whose perpetration cannot be called anything other than evil; the word fits and we need to be willing to use it.
We live in an ever more crowded world. With so many people there has to be an expectation of responsibility to be civil to your fellow man. When someone fails at this basic social responsibility, we need to hold them accountable. Just as important, labels do matter. When someone does something truly despicable we need to not worry about their childhood experiences, not worry about rationalizing their behavior, and not worry about making excuses for them. As children most of us were taught that life is often a struggle between good and evil. Evil is still very real and we need to be willing to use this simple but definitive term to define the worst acts and worst people we as a society are forced to contend with.
Just because it sounds like something leftover from your childhood Sunday school class doesn’t make it passé or irrelevant. Don’t be scared to say someone or something is evil when it fits…evil is unfortunately not out of fashion.