This election has become an exercise in polarization -- everything in black or white, Evil or Virtue, the only question being which is which. Therefore, in a spirit of reform, this little essay is an exercise is “gray” (very trendy in the erotica world) by which I hope to liberate a thousand (why stop at fifty?) little gray cockroaches of doubt and confusion.
First, I want to point out that what is considered Evil depends in large part on what one knows as reality, though on reflection we all realize there are many realities. Therefore, what is Evil to a person whose world seems largely good and optimistic is going to be a much different idea of what Evil might be than to a person whose world seems mostly Evil -- constant deprivation and suffering in which an occasional bit of Good might fall. The latter group is under-represented in all discussions because they are not likely to have necessary resources, motivation or access. Therefore, no really thorough discussion with them is possible except maybe through the symbolism of antisocial acts.
Lately one definition of Evil has come to appeal to a lot of good people: that Evil is separation from God -- being unable to contact God. That is, there is no Satan or Devil actively making bad things happen, just a lack of good. I don’t see where that’s very helpful unless a passive, careless God is better than an active torturer. Which still brings up the Middle Eastern Big Three Monotheism problem of theodicy: if God is all powerful, why is “he” so malevolent? Which has got to be a major argument in favor of atheism.
But it does relate to the idea that even disorder is Evil because it leads to oversights and unintentional damage, as in the guerrilla street wars where people are trying to overthrow human dictators. But the reason the people are wanting to be rid of them is that they kept order by imposing suffering, an Evil.
Isn’t suffering Evil? It certainly is considered Evil if you’re selling pain-killers but don’t forget that childbirth pain-killers were originally opposed on grounds that God meant women to suffer when giving birth, perhaps in expiation for the joys of sex. And there are many kinds of suffering. What about the child who cuts herself to get relief from the anguish of bad conscience or feelings of worthlessness? We try to define suffering as chemical, neurological, a biological problem -- and therefore suppress the question of deservingness. What about expiation of sins? What about the motivation for change?
Suffering and loss are often seen as deserving compensation, which leads to the question of who’s to blame, responsibility that must be assigned because the culprit is supposed to “pay.” Insurance companies keep lists of how much each suffering or loss is “worth.” A missing arm, a lost child, in today’s market will be -- let’s see now -- is this the most recent list? Today’s dollars?
Putting a price on suffering encourages the inflation of trivial offenses into compensable events -- sort of commodity vacuums that are worth money. Calling someone by a nasty name can cost a penalty. (Whether it is nasty and how nasty depends on the culture.)
But we give a “pass” to some kinds of suffering. One is whether the killing, suffering, loss, and injustice was an “an Act of God.” You can’t send God a bill. So volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and the like can’t be Evil. Evil has to mean that someone can be billed for the dollar equivalent of suffering. This is the part where the corporations who claim they are persons suddenly claim that they are NOT persons and that the event was due to an Act of God.
Motivation for selfishness, greed, and status are all markers of Evil and yet many provocative stories emerge from acts motivated by Evil that end up doing good. People have done many Evil things for Virtuous reasons, like Harry Truman dropping the Atomic Bomb. The tricky part is knowing whether the outcome will truly justify the means since one doesn’t always know the extended circumstances or the possible bad effects over time. (Thalidomide babies.) One rule for Virtue is to do the greatest good for the greatest number, but how does that prevent one from burning a village in order to save the country?
And how do you know it isn’t madness? The insanity defense only applies to individual human beings, presuming that they don’t know what they are doing, even if the deed meant the enormous effort of chopping people up with an ax. (Can a corporation be insane? Can a nation be insane? Can a political party be insane? Out of touch with reality?)
Sanity is often defined as agreement with the larger culture as to how information should be processed into action. So to some people in our divided culture, the information that someone is homosexual should mean the action that they are excluded from marriage, employment, housing, and the army or anything else “regular” people enjoy through the protection of the law. Maybe even freedom from violent attack. Is this sane? The claim is made that a big humanoid in the sky told them this is righteous and they know because it was written down on a scroll two thousand years ago. Or in the case of the Latter Day Saints, on a sheet of gold more recently. Is this sane?
It all gets too hard to figure out or else leads us into a field of conflicts of interest that are too confusing. Why is it all right to have a lot of wives? Why ISN’T it all right to have a lot of wives? Why is it suspect to be “filthy” rich? Why isn’t it a GOOD thing to have tons of money in offshore banks?
Horror, as opposed to Evil, comes as a big relief so thank goodness (?) we are almost to Halloween. We can abandon all attempts at rational parsing and wrenching compassion so as to deal with zombies and vampires and wild half-seen night creatures who come to sit on your chest, stopping your heart and blowing their fetid breath up your nose so that you dream of rottenness and corruption and know there is no hope of escaping this planet in any way but death.
What a relief when you wake up! If you do. And if your world is not one that is ALWAYS like the worst nightmares of “good” people. And if the wrong president has not been elected.