2012-07-13

Evil and Must Be Destroyed

Sometimes people cause harm to other people. Sometimes we do so in truly horrible ways. Why do we do it? Do we do it because some – or maybe all – of us are evil?

That answer stops further inquiry. So I'm going to say I think we could get along better without the concept "evil." The concept does more harm than good. That’s not the same thing as saying I think there’s no such thing as evil. Both affirming a concept’s instantiation, and denying it, are ways of holding on to the concept. I’m saying this particular concept – evil – can just be dropped.

If we call some one "evil," we have dismissed that person. We’ve given ourselves something that feels like an explanation. It actually explains nothing at all, but because we have the illusion of explanation, it can serve to stop us from digging further into the matter. In fact, any further exploration of the matter can be met with outright hostility: "you’re not justifying what they do are you? They’re evil, end of story, nothing further to understand!"

"Evil" has become a word we use when we have become afraid of understanding. When we hate something so much that we become afraid that if we understood it, we wouldn’t be able to hate it anymore, then we call it "evil." Calling it evil is a strategy designed to prevent understanding, so that the hatred we covet will not be threatened.

If something is evil, it is not to be understood -- it is only to be destroyed. In fact, the word “evil,” and the phrase “must be destroyed” go together. “It is evil and must be destroyed,” was once the stuff of Saturday morning cartoon dialog.

In the 1989 film, Steel Magnolias, Ouiser (Shirley Maclaine) rebukes her friend Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), and tells her, “you are evil and must be destroyed.” It was a funny line. Since then a lot of things have been designated as “evil and must be destroyed.”

Interested in the popular culture’s tendency to link the concept evil with an imperative to destroy, I turned to my trusty internet search engine, and typed in the phrase “evil and must be destroyed.” I read the claim that 40% of the population believes that liberals are evil and must be destroyed. On a Star Wars blog, I read that the Sith are evil and must be destroyed. On historyexplained.org, we read that the United States has historically, in effect, insisted that dictators are evil and must be destroyed. On a web site devoted to a recently popular TV show about a vampire slayer, I read: “Buffy’s new roommate irons her jeans. Clearly she is evil and must be destroyed.”

Evil and must be destroyed?
Cincinnati, the font Papyrus, bacon-wrapped jalapeno thingies, sweet popcorn, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, the handvac, the mainstream media, Newt Gingrich, Lady Gaga, dogs, cats, wasps, inheritance, derivatives, emulators, cartels, college football’s Bowl Champion Series, and everyone who isn’t part of Glenn Beck’s army of God have all been publically declared, by someone, “evil and must be destroyed.”

“Evil” and “must be destroyed” seem to be pretty tightly connected in the popular mind.

Destroying might be the best response to an invasive plant species like buckthorn in Minnesota or ardisia here in Florida, but it is rarely the best response to any of the human behaviors that get called evil.

If we just drop the concept of evil, what will replace it?

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This is part 2 of 6 of "Theodicy: Addressing Evil"
Next: Part 3: "From Evil to Sociopathy"
Previous: Part 1: "The Evil Thought-Stopper"