The Nature of Evil

Indigo

Wild Horses
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...
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
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.
 

zhao

there are no accidents
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.
 

Eric

Mr Moraigero
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.
 
P

Parson

Guest
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
 

elgato

I just dont know
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.
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
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.
 

swears

preppy-kei
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.
 

swears

preppy-kei
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.
 

DJ PIMP

Well-known member
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.
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
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.
 

elgato

I just dont know
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...
 

elgato

I just dont know
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
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
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.
 

gek-opel

entered apprentice
"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.
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
"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.
 

ramadanman

Well-known member
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.
 

Eric

Mr Moraigero
"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 :)
 

Eric

Mr Moraigero
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.
 
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