Recently, a man walking his dog heard a woman’s voice pleading for help. He found the woman on the porch of a red-brick house, bound and half-naked. She’d been kept captive and assaulted for five days. He was helping to free her when the door of the house opened and the man responsible for her plight was standing there. (The villain promptly and cowardly ran away and was subsequently apprehended and charged with a host of crimes.) Other passers-by assisted the woman and called police. Had she not escaped, had the man walking his dog not stopped to help her, she would almost certainly be dead by now.
Evil exists. It is absolutely, palpably, disgustingly real. I could rattle off a thousand examples, historical and contemporary, and not even scratch the surface of the human capacity for perfidy. If it’s not the ISIS crisis, it’s Boko Haram and their indiscriminate and pointless slaughter-show. It’s killer robots raining death from above or mass shooters or serial killers with double-digit body counts. It’s prison rape, it’s pedophiles in high places, it’s the exploitation of weakness by the strong. Evil is selfishness. Evil is greed. Evil is actually quite boring and yet utterly fascinating. We can’t get enough of it.
Let me tell you a story. I once dated a woman who slept with my best friend, practically right in front of me. He invited us up to his cottage, an offer that she leapt at and they both plied me with drinks and comic books and went out for a “boat ride” while I was passed out. (To this day, I won’t drink bourbon, EVER and I’m not a great fan of cottages, either.) I didn’t find out for another couple of weeks; she continued to see him behind my back. He bragged to another friend of mine, who then told me. Naturally, I was hurt and felt betrayed and angry. I was reading a book on the nature of evil at the time, the title of which escapes me, but its central thesis was that no one ever thinks of themselves or their actions as evil. They justify themselves to themselves. My friend and my girlfriend were obviously attracted to each other. It was regrettable and inconvenient that I was around but that didn’t stop them. They wanted what they wanted so I went from inconvenient to irrelevant. They slaked their lust and quite enjoyed it. To them, that wasn’t evil. To me, it certainly was.
Hitler, the by-word for EVIL, certainly didn’t think of himself that way. He didn’t wake up in the morning with a Big Evil To-Do List. He thought he was saving Germany. People spoke well of him, right up until early September 1939. He got Germany back on its feet (clad unfortunately in jack-boots). Make no mistake, Hitler WAS evil, as were his works and his philosophy. His wretched regime justified countless atrocities on a scale unimaginable to any sane decent person. He himself was quite kind to animals and children. (CERTAIN children, anyway.)
Every dictator uses the same logic – I am saving my people from the chaos of themselves and from the threats of our external enemies. I AM DOING THE RIGHT THING, said Saddam Hussein and Stalin and Mao and all the rest. (Our leaders say exactly the same thing, do you realize that?)
Every murderer just wants their life to be easier, to be simple, to be without inconvenience. They saw my face and I couldn’t afford to leave any witnesses who might testify against me. They were inconvenient to me so I eliminated them. At least a true sociopath is honest – I took what I wanted from them and then I threw them away. They had no further use.
To do good is to be selfless and empathetic, to have a connection to another person as a person who is just like you. To do evil is to ignore or deny that basic common humanity. They are infidels so they must die. They are enemies so they must be destroyed. They are inconvenient and of no further use.
We live in a world of convenience – instant communication, 24-hour everything. Inconvenience irritates us unreasonably, to the point where the comments section of any given website is a mine-field of hatred and runaway vitriol and death threats, where children bully and goad each other to suicide and despair, where every news bulletin contains an endless cornucopia of horror.
There’s a possible solution to this sad sick sorry state of affairs but you won’t like it. It’s pretty simple but it’s deceptively difficult. It’s not very convenient at all.
Try being less selfish.
See? I told you you wouldn’t like it.