Some Thoughts on Evil

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.


6 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Evil”

  1. Rob Phillips Says:

    I agree; excellent post.

  2. JB Says:

    A very thoughtful post. Yesterday, a book caught my eye titled “The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil” by Andrew Delbanco (1995). After reading what you wrote, I did a search for it and found this copy of the first chapter (courtesy of the Washington Post):

    One sentence that relates to your ideas about evil and egotism is, “The story of Satan’s work in the world becomes the tale, in psychoanalytic terms, of the id breaking free from the superego–with the result that the ego is left broken and permanently in pain.” I’m not sure (just yet) what that means exactly…

  3. patti dey Says:

    Age of darkness, age of change. Evil or whatever is definitely evident these days. I’m glad others notice it too. I hope for a rise of individual personal integrity in spite of the current culture urging violence and hatred via the so-called entertainment world. I watch the “Parrots …” dvd often. It centers me. Thank you. When this one wears out, I’ll order another. I sent them to family members also.

  4. kishik Says:

    thank you. I’ve been going through some difficult issues involving this topic. I need to remind myself, it isn’t “evil”, but ego, and one’s relation to ego.

  5. beysshoes Says:

    I think evil is sickness or mental disease that is permitted to fester. This festering can be generational. Just sayin’

  6. beysshoes Says:

    *Sickness meaning social diseased.

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