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Thread: The Nature of Evil

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by gek-opel View Post
    "Evil" as a quality applied to a human has two key rhetorical effects:
    Firstly, to demarcate them clearly as one who is evil, not merely someone who commits evil acts, but one who themselves possesses (or perhaps is possessed, even) by this property- distinguishing them from the non-evil.
    Secondly to render their acts inexplicable to rational consideration or causation.
    It is through this slight of hand that, for example, suicide bombers, or fascists, become actors without cause, mere monstrous shadows, and comfortably nothing to do with the rest of us. In this regard "evil" functions as a tabloid fig leaf to cover our own complicity (or conceivable future agency) in such acts.
    I remember watching a debate on this subject on Swedish television in 2002. It was preceded by a broadcast of Swedish/Iranian director Reza Parsa's Möte med ondskan (Meeting Evil), a short movie suggesting (among other things) that there are rationales even for the most monstrous of deeds, implying that suicide bombers are not ‘evil’, but rather the desperate voice of the repressed and maligned. Naturally, the subsequent debate focused on the West's possible, implicit, complicity in the suicide bombings in Israel and elsewhere, in the course touching on the concept of evil and its usefulness.

    My vivid memory of this debate largely stems from how time-bound it seems in retrospect: it would never take on the same form if it was arranged today. If the gratuitous suicide bombings in Iraq have learned us anything it is that suicide bombers do not need a tangible catalyst beyond the brainwash to commit their atrocities (e.g. maybe the main reason why a Palestinian kid blows himself up is not the Israeli oppression but the unhealthy leverage of a few dubious Qur’an school teachers).

    With this last thing in mind, I wonder, Gek-Opel, how the actions of hundreds and again hundreds of suicide bombers in Iraq can be interpreted beyond the ‘they are more or less brain-washed’ explanation. I wonder because I think many of those ghastly acts are ‘inexplicable to rational consideration or causation.’ That is to say, I wonder how much useful insight can come out of trying to analyse their actions using cold, rational, scientific, measurements.

  2. #17
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    my old english teacher was a proponent of the concept of evil. he always lamented the fact that serial killers etc were regarded as having phsycological problems instead of just being plain evil as he put it.

    i suppose the large decrease in the usage of evil is a result of our increasingly secularised society.

  3. #18
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    serial killers are less evil than politicians

  4. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by gek-opel View Post
    "Evil" as a quality applied to a human has two key rhetorical effects:
    Firstly, to demarcate them clearly as one who is evil, not merely someone who commits evil acts, but one who themselves possesses (or perhaps is possessed, even) by this property- distinguishing them from the non-evil.
    Secondly to render their acts inexplicable to rational consideration or causation.
    Yes. So, to turn the question on its head, one wonders whether there is any person (or act) that can be said to be *evil* in a non-rhetorical sense? Surely the reason the rhetorical effect arises is that the word has actual content; and to have discernible content (I suppose) there ought to be at least one instance of something that realizes that content, even if it is merely imaginary. To avoid begging the question let's omit *Satan* from the discussion

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guybrush View Post

    With this last thing in mind, I wonder, Gek-Opel, how the actions of hundreds and again hundreds of suicide bombers in Iraq can be interpreted beyond the ‘they are more or less brain-washed’ explanation. I wonder because I think many of those ghastly acts are ‘inexplicable to rational consideration or causation.’ That is to say, I wonder how much useful insight can come out of trying to analyse their actions using cold, rational, scientific, measurements.
    I don't think suicide bombers qualify as *evil* in the relevant sense, because it is possible to reason through their actions, no matter how stupid that reasoning may be. That is to say, this action is not inexplicable, merely (in my opinion) unjustified in the general case.

  6. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I don't think suicide bombers qualify as *evil* in the relevant sense, because it is possible to reason through their actions, no matter how stupid that reasoning may be. That is to say, this action is not inexplicable, merely (in my opinion) unjustified in the general case.
    I don't think they qualify as ‘evil’ either, but I do believe that many suicide bombings are inexplicable (though not always). Describing an action and explaining it are two different things, analysing an act using ‘rational consideration or causation’ mostly leads to the former, in my opinion. (I write ‘mostly’ because I think it can lead to an accurate explanation too.)

    ramadanman: I'm not so sure the usage of the word ‘evil’ has decreased. ‘Axis of Evil’ anyone?

  7. #22
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    this guy michael tsarion has some truly fascinating things to say about the nature of evil
    http://video.google.com/googleplayer...66289532383972

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guybrush View Post
    I remember watching a debate on this subject on Swedish television in 2002. It was preceded by a broadcast of Swedish/Iranian director Reza Parsa's Möte med ondskan (Meeting Evil), a short movie suggesting (among other things) that there are rationales even for the most monstrous of deeds, implying that suicide bombers are not ‘evil’, but rather the desperate voice of the repressed and maligned. Naturally, the subsequent debate focused on the West's possible, implicit, complicity in the suicide bombings in Israel and elsewhere, in the course touching on the concept of evil and its usefulness.

    My vivid memory of this debate largely stems from how time-bound it seems in retrospect: it would never take on the same form if it was arranged today. If the gratuitous suicide bombings in Iraq have learned us anything it is that suicide bombers do not need a tangible catalyst beyond the brainwash to commit their atrocities (e.g. maybe the main reason why a Palestinian kid blows himself up is not the Israeli oppression but the unhealthy leverage of a few dubious Qur’an school teachers).

    With this last thing in mind, I wonder, Gek-Opel, how the actions of hundreds and again hundreds of suicide bombers in Iraq can be interpreted beyond the ‘they are more or less brain-washed’ explanation. I wonder because I think many of those ghastly acts are ‘inexplicable to rational consideration or causation.’ That is to say, I wonder how much useful insight can come out of trying to analyse their actions using cold, rational, scientific, measurements.
    Come off it- there are hundreds of reasons! These people are products of a social and economic system, as much as the special process of de-humanisation of "brainwashing". Even if we take the individual suicide bomber as somehow a non rational actor (and I certainly don't think they are, or at least no less rational than anyone else) then one can examine the process that renders them into that state of automation which you imply: the terrorist "managers" if you like- are they not merely using an efficient system of warfare to pursue their own political aims? Especially in Iraq, it is obvious to see what is up for grabs. One might disagree with the methodology, but the underlying powerstruggle is totally explicable. There is no need to use "scientific" methodology, rather to not shy away from analysis- it speaks of little more than terror itself to refuse to understand, and it is as I say a DELIBERATE non-understanding. Suicide bombers are IN NO WAY a special case. I could see myself as one in their situation, given the correct upbringing... you are looking for monsters where there are none, which I'm sure is unfortunate for you.

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Yes. So, to turn the question on its head, one wonders whether there is any person (or act) that can be said to be *evil* in a non-rhetorical sense? Surely the reason the rhetorical effect arises is that the word has actual content; and to have discernible content (I suppose) there ought to be at least one instance of something that realizes that content, even if it is merely imaginary. To avoid begging the question let's omit *Satan* from the discussion
    I would say that beyond the mythic-religious there are no evil people in the world, merely people who commit immoral acts. It is the quality of evil as a thing beyond mere acts that makes it interesting in this every-day sense, that it infects the being of the person above and beyond the nature of the things which they do. I don't believe Evil in the common-or-garden sense as applying to a whole being can make any sense outside of superstition.

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    My thoughts earlier were embarrassingly imprecise, so I’ll give it another shot. I agree with most everything you write, Gek, but it was the suicide bombers themselves, not the method or the puppet masters, I was thinking of. My point was that many debaters used to consider the Palestinian suicide bombings a direct result of the Israeli oppression, implying that the Israelis, to a great extent, were to blame. I think recent developments in the Middle East have proven that oppression has very little to do with it (this is arguable, of course), and that brainwash plays a much greater role. Suicide bombers likely have hundreds of motivations, but to one-sidedly focus on a select few (e.g. hatred caused by oppression) is to misrepresent a complex problem.

  12. #26
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    pawns aren't the evil ones

    the hands moving the pawns are where the evil comes from
    Last edited by Parson; 13-01-2007 at 06:07 PM.

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