Most people I know are uncomfortable with the word “evil.” More than likely, it’s for the same reason I have some discomfort with it. Evil, like most religious terms, has been in the hands of superstitious and shallow ideologues for so long that the word feels poisonous. But it represents something we have to deal with in our daily lives, and if we refuse to take up the word, to define it, and to use it properly, the ideologues will continue to own it and wield it as they see fit. I’m aware of the Buddhist arguments which say that evil doesn’t really exist. But I believe those arguments are more advanced than our current state of mind. So I will speak here as though it is something “real.”
Whenever something evil happens in a big way—a murder, torture, a rape—we all recognize it as such. It’s at evil’s more subtle levels that the difficulties in recognizing it come about. The one consistent element to evil that I see is egotism. Evil is egotism. There are all kinds of egotisms, some more sinister than others. They’re all delusive, I think. Fundamentalists tend to see evil as “Satan whispering in your ear.” They believe that those who are doing evil know they are doing evil, and they do it because they enjoy being evil. But I don’t think people doing evil necessarily think about it all that much. Doing evil makes you blind. We even have philosophies now which hold that selfishness is a virtue. Around 1978 there was a book published, “Looking Out For Number One.” I was really shocked when I first saw that. It was such a change from the ethos that I’d grown up with. Today, I see that book and that time as the general starting point to our present age of darkness.
An ego, like a gun, is not evil in and of itself. An ego is simply one’s viewpoint. It’s when the gun goes off that trouble arises. People talk about a person having a “healthy ego,” meaning that the individual gets whatever he wants. Such people are seen as strong. But they’re hard, not strong. There’s a difference. A truly healthy ego does not pursue personal advantage; rather, it makes sure that every situation that he or she is involved in is just. Many people worry that not being an egotist means you let people walk all over you. But to be one who is determined that justice prevails you have to be very strong.
There’s more that I would like to say, and I will. But, as I’ve said before, because of this book I’m writing, it’s difficult to find the time to organize and write long posts. This is intended to define the term a little so that I may use it again in the future. I don’t think it’s a good thing to toss the word around with abandon, and I won’t be doing so. But there are times when it’s the only word that I can think of to describe what’s going on in this country nowadays.