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Thread: The Nature of Evil

  1. #1
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    Default The Nature of Evil

    I've been sitting here thinking about this for a while now. I've heard many
    in my community use this word "evil" as a description for people and it is
    bothering me of late. Do you think there is such a thing as evil? Is it just
    a personification used to explain the unexplainable? Can a person just be
    plain evil?

    I tell ya, I've met quite a few people that make me wonder...

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    There are many in here far more versed in the subject than I am, but here are my, undoubtedly gruesomely naïve, thoughts.

    I think the concept of "evil" is an ambiguous social construction, therefore it should always, unreservedly, be qualified. One exception being the field of rhetorics, where reality sometimes has to throw in the sponge in the name of the common good, and even there, using it is at best unelegant and at worst deceiving. So, to answer one of your questions: Yes, I think there is a thing such as "evil", if you define it adequately; it follows that you can describe a person displaying these vaguely defined characteristics with the word "evil". It's still a shady practise, mind.

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    fact: infant monkeys which grow up without their mothers show significantly more predilection for violent behavior in adulthood.

    no love / pain makes living beings mean. that's all there is to it.

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    but surely being mean is different from being evil? I admit to sometimes being mean but I would be unhappy if you told me I was evil.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    fact: infant monkeys which grow up without their mothers show significantly more predilection for violent behavior in adulthood.

    no love / pain makes living beings mean. that's all there is to it.
    same thing for elephants that terrorize villages

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guybrush View Post
    There are many in here far more versed in the subject than I am, but here are my, undoubtedly gruesomely naïve, thoughts.

    I think the concept of "evil" is an ambiguous social construction, therefore it should always, unreservedly, be qualified. One exception being the field of rhetorics, where reality sometimes has to throw in the sponge in the name of the common good, and even there, using it is at best unelegant and at worst deceiving. So, to answer one of your questions: Yes, I think there is a thing such as "evil", if you define it adequately; it follows that you can describe a person displaying these vaguely defined characteristics with the word "evil". It's still a shady practise, mind.
    how very surreal, as i was formulating what i would reply, i read through to discover that you'd pretty precisely hit the mark i was looking towards!

    what do you mean with regard to rhetorics though? i dont fully understand

    i hate the use of the word 'evil', it removes so much nuance from any situation in which it is applied, simplifying to a point which despairs me. a lazy moralist's perfect and ultimate weapon to end debate, a well out-dated relic of an age where fire and brimstone determined ethics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by elgato View Post
    what do you mean with regard to rhetorics though? i dont fully understand
    Evoking sentiments by using emotionally charged words is a significant component of rhetorics as used for demagogic purposes. If one were to be intellectually honest and thoroughly explain every word and concept (as should be done outside this field) the presentation would likely suffer from it—less verve, punch, elasticity, and so on. Therefore, that is the only field I can think of where using the word ‘evil’ slipshoddy is acceptable, if not recommendable.

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    I think the two things considered to be most evil by the popular press at the moment seem to be racism and paedophilia.
    So the ultimate baddy would be a nonce that only abused white kids.

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    I think though, that with young western people (my peers, I guess) that morality is not something worth considering at all. It's sort of cool to be a bit of a prick. Morality's almost a cop out, you try and gain a moral victory when you can't win in terms of money/sexual conquests/whatever. For example: if you critisise some meathead for cheating on his girlfriend or something, that's just a sign of jealousy. Like only an ugly, boring nerd would try and bring ethics into the equation.

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    Swears: regarding morality, thats the feeling I get from Southpark a lot.

    Evil I think is a necessary psychological and social phenom.

    But people aren't absolutes - nobody is as good or as bad as they seem. So to paint anyone as being Good or Evil is lazy at best.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swears View Post
    I think though, that with young western people (my peers, I guess) that morality is not something worth considering at all. It's sort of cool to be a bit of a prick. Morality's almost a cop out, you try and gain a moral victory when you can't win in terms of money/sexual conquests/whatever. For example: if you critisise some meathead for cheating on his girlfriend or something, that's just a sign of jealousy. Like only an ugly, boring nerd would try and bring ethics into the equation.
    I recognise the situation, Swears (not that I am one to moralise normally, though). On the other hand, you only have to reframe the criticism slightly for it to be less vulnerable to the trite ‘you only say that because you are [insert random adjective]’ defence. Probably by using humour, sarcasm, innuendo, and so forth; unctuously refering to some vague morality is, as you rightly point out, likely not going to cut it at all with our generational peers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guybrush View Post
    Evoking sentiments by using emotionally charged words is a significant component of rhetorics as used for demagogic purposes. If one were to be intellectually honest and thoroughly explain every word and concept (as should be done outside this field) the presentation would likely suffer from it—less verve, punch, elasticity, and so on. Therefore, that is the only field I can think of where using the word ‘evil’ slipshoddy is acceptable, if not recommendable.
    i may have misunderstood your argument, but im going to respond according to my interpretation, please correct me if i have misunderstood

    i dont understand why it should be acceptable in such circumstances, i am of the opinion that the sacrifice of detail and qualification for verve and punch is a very negative practice, especially in politics or press. it places extremely complex issues in laughably simple terms (well laughable were it not for the grave damage caused), and given the influence things like the Daily Mail or whichever politician have over the mindset of the people, i see it as completely unacceptable for them to utilise such simplifications.

    unless one values presentation (as a sort of artform) above other social goals...

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    Quote Originally Posted by swears View Post
    I think though, that with young western people (my peers, I guess) that morality is not something worth considering at all. It's sort of cool to be a bit of a prick. Morality's almost a cop out, you try and gain a moral victory when you can't win in terms of money/sexual conquests/whatever. For example: if you critisise some meathead for cheating on his girlfriend or something, that's just a sign of jealousy. Like only an ugly, boring nerd would try and bring ethics into the equation.
    empty and absolute moralising certainly seems to have had its day amongst our generation, but i think rightfully so (to say that it is immoral to do x full stop is not something i support). but to address such situations as above, i would simply say to the meathead- you cheating has negative implications y and z, and i value honesty and respect above the empty gain of drawing that other girl. if you wish to believe that it is simply a practical inability which restricts me then so be it, it is of little consequence to me. i cannot tell someone what is right for them to do, without breaking it down to fundamentals on which we might be able to agree (e.g. i wish to act in a way which does not injure innocent people etc), but that doesnt mean that you cant have a truthful personal moral code through which you can find satisfaction and happiness

    i know a number of anti-moralists (as it were) very well, and i think that in truth their life choices make them dissatisfied and unhappy, despite their appearance to most. and at the end of the day, on anyone's grounds, it is about finding your own happiness

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    Quote Originally Posted by elgato View Post
    i dont understand why it should be acceptable in such circumstances, i am of the opinion that the sacrifice of detail and qualification for verve and punch is a very negative practice, especially in politics or press. it places extremely complex issues in laughably simple terms (well laughable were it not for the grave damage caused), and given the influence things like the Daily Mail or whichever politician have over the mindset of the people, i see it as completely unacceptable for them to utilise such simplifications.
    You are right, it is a negative practise, but one that even the most idealistic politician has to master. Oration is about emotional appeals and rousing lunges, the nitty-grittys of one's reasonings and policies are better left to political manifests, pamphlets, and so forth. This does not mean that any sweeping generalisation from behind the pulpit is acceptable, merely that sacrificing completeness for punchy opaqueness sometimes is.

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    "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.

    It is far more interesting to consider Alain Badiou's conception of evil (as outlined in "Ethics- an essay on the understanding of evil") or rather evils which are termed betrayal, terror and disaster (and relate to his conception of the truth procedure as those things which can destroy such a procedure).... these basically translate as betrayal (of fidelity to the event) terror (a gross imitation or simulacrum of the foundational event) and disaster (the so called "naming of the un-nameable", or the sin of extremism). This of course moves the idea of "evil" far from its pernicious everyday useage.

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