On the nature of evil

The difficulty with evil nowadays, is that we no longer recognize it. This isn’t because evil has changed at all, but because we now have a warped understanding of what it is.
Evil isn’t, and never has been, a James Bond (or Austin Powers) villain who twirls his moustaches and threatens to cut our hero in half with a giant band saw while telling him the secret plans for world domination. Evil people in the movies and on television are proud that they’re evil, and they do what they do with malice aforethought, and they articulate their enjoyment at seeing other people in pain. In the movies, the hero never has trouble telling who the bad guy is, even if sometimes they have trouble convincing others.
Real evil people don’t want you to think they’re evil. They don’t want to think they’re evil themselves, so they come up with elaborate rationalizations for why they’re good, or why their bad behavior is someone else’s fault. Have you ever seen a criminal face his victim and apologize? They have a tendency to say things like, “I’m sorry this happened to you” instead of “I’m sorry I did that to you.” They don’t own their mistakes. They might be apologizing, but it’s the apology of an innocent bystander rather than the perpetrator of the crime.
Evil people often do good things to cover up their evil behavior.
Like the Phillip Morris commercials that talk about how the company is donating money to battered women’s shelters and children’s causes when we all know they made their money from a product that kills people. Or the Nike “Mrs. Jones” commercials that talk about supporting women athletes when Nike is under fire for using child labor to make their products.

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One comment on “On the nature of evil
  1. Several years after I posted this, Joan of Arcadia said something similar:
    “Evil?” our drop-out nun suggests.
    “I don’t want to use that word,” the wife responds.
    “Well, you might want to think about starting, because it is out there.”
    “Evil is so ugly and fire-breathing. She isn’t like that.”
    ”Are you kidding? Evil is charming and beautiful. It makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another while it whittles you down. And it functions best when no one believes in it.”

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