Number 3 - What Is Evil?

What is Evil?

I believe that this is an important question for us to discuss. Evil is a concept that seems so intuitive, so easy to see and 'understand' that it may remain neglected by critical thought. It is important that we explore our understandings of seemingly simple ideas to make sure that the 'truth' is really the 'truth' so we can add greater depth to the world around us. Also I believe that this is an important question to ask as 'those who do not learn from history are often doomed to repeat it' and by confronting the challenging idea of true evil, perhaps, from our new understanding, as a society we can work together to make sure people are smart enough to make sure that 'true evil' in whatever shape or form does not occur within our lifetime.

Thinking Questions

  • Is conformity 'evil?' what may be some of the positive effects of following the crowd?
  • Do you think evil people know they're evil?
  • Why do you think it is hard for people to confront authority?
  • Whose authority can we trust?


Benjamin Broadbent said...

aditi_tiwari May 12, 2015
During the past 30 years, people have become more interested in the concepts of Evil.This interest has been motivated by the ascriptions of 'evil' by laymen, social scientists,journalists, and politicians who try to understand and respond to the horrors of the past 80 years. It seems that we cannot capture the moral significance of these actions by calling the "wrong" or "bad" or "very very wrong" or "very very bad"! Therefore, we need the concept of Evil. To avoid confusion, there are two concepts of Evil:a broad concept and a narrow concept. The broad concept picks out the wrongful actions or character flaw whereas the narrow concept picks out only the morally despicable sorts of actions,characters,events,etc. At the end it is the human who decides his way. I don't think any individual agrees that he or she is an evil person....No one considers themselves as a wrongdoer. After all everyone has a personal image of themself in their mind.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
BT2015 May 11, 2015
Heidi Ho good neighbours,

I found it difficult to put into words my own personal description of what evil is, hence the delay in my comment. We all know evil people. We have all seen evil actions. But can we simply classify an act or person as evil without knowing the background. Sure a Nazi guard who sent thousands off people off to die seems evil on first account. He knew what he was doing, he was aware of the consequences of his actions, but once again did we know his background. In WWII times he probably had no options but to work for Hitler's government or face the death penalty himself. This made me think that the definition Hannah Arendt composes of Evil i.e that someone blindly follows instructions is not complete. Surely the person orchestrating and delivering the instructions was the actual evil person? I mean Eichman was immoral, but can we classify him as evil due to the fact he simply followed instructions?

On the other hand, in a more societal based viewpoint of the situation, I think that the people who we live among who do blindly follow instructions are the worst people. I'm talking about crowd followers, people who don't question the norm, those who don't consider others alternate viewpoints. I think that these people are useless and wasting there time on earth, but I find it hard to link that into evilness.

I'd like you to consider the following: A person who knowingly alters the direction of a run-away trolley so that it collides and kills an innocent bystander. He/she has committed an act that is terrible. Some would say this person has evil intentions or acted without considering the consequences of thier actions. Can we define someone as evil without first considering all the facts?? Consider the following thought experiment...

One of the most well known thought experiments in the field of ethics is the “Trolley Problem,” which goes something like this: a madman has tied five innocent people to a trolley track. An out of control trolley car is careening toward them, and is moments away from running them over. Luckily, you can pull a lever and divert the trolley to another track. The only problem is that the madman has also tied a single person to that track. Considering the circumstances, should you pull the lever? Are you evil if you do? or are you evil if you don't?

The trolley problem was first proposed by the philosopher Philippa Foot as a means of critiquing ethical philosophy, in particular utilitarianism, the system which proposes that the most moral decision is always the one that provides “the greatest good for the greatest number.” From a utilitarian point of view, the obvious choice is to pull the lever, saving five and only killing one. But critics of this theory would state that in pulling the lever you become complicit in what is clearly an immoral act—you are now partially responsible for the death of the lone person on the other track. Others, meanwhile, argue that your mere presence in the situation demands that you act, and that to do nothing would be equally immoral. In short, there is no wholly moral action, and this is the point. Many philosophers have used the trolley problem as an example of the ways that real world situations often force individuals to compromise their own moral codes, and that there are times when there is no totally moral course of action.

To me, each case of evil vs non-evil needs to be considered fully and critiqued. This is perhaps why societies have developed Jury systems and democratic voting. Because evil is never so clear cut our societies operate on a public opinion type system. I guess that is the best and only way to vote if an act is evil or non-evil. To put it up for public debate.

On the other hand, perhaps an EVIL person is someone who instead of having good morals, abiding by societal norms and treats others with respect, is just someone who knowingly tries to LIVE backwards ;)

Benjamin Broadbent said...

We can choose.
MalithBatuwantudawe May 8, 2015
In a close net society like in 1984 - Oceanian's were forced to hate the 'evil' Eurasia or Eastasia - by their government. In the real world, 2015 - we are exposed to viewpoints from the entire world - not just through a clouded lens. This is due to social media and the internet in general. Social media honestly helps me to choose what I believe is evil - E.g I think alcoholism is evil. I hate alcohol with a passion - I will not moderately drink poison!

Benjamin Broadbent said...

I really want cookies :(
EmilyHollis Apr 30, 2015
There must be a distinction between 'true evil' and 'evil' by which there would be a myriad of fine lines distinguishing the term even further. Of course evil exists in our world, our society, even our family and friends; however it seems appropriate to define the qualities which vivify evil as a concept, political or social. My personal opinion stands by the philosophy that the evil wrongdoer has the intention of condescending or disturbing others in whatever shape or form that may accommodate, but it is their actions which contaminate their persona; that is to say, their 'evil' actions are wrong, but if the person is adequate enough to feel remorse, they are not evil. Evil actions and evil people are merged superficially into the lines of evil, but are two quite different things. I believe an evil person is someone who has committed evil acts so frequently and so readily previously, to the pinnacle which renders them totally, utterly unconscious of their maliciousness and fully agrees without doubt with their actions, this is when the bridge between an evil action and an evil person connect and we can deem the person 'evil'. Somebody such as O'Brien in the book 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' has so totally immersed himself in doublethink, in the Party and Big Brother, (I say immersed as he loathes and adores Big Brother simultaneously due to his commitment to doublethink) could be considered evil in my mind; he has seen and felt and experienced what may have been torture to another human being, and he has repelled the imagery from his human mind until the mercy of his soul has been abolished. His utter being and consciousness repulses the hatred which others carry for his actions, yet he is not only oblivious to it, he believes what he is doing is correct, politically, socially, whatever. His being is corrupt, and his consciousness is ingrained with messages of deceit that he is stripped of goodness. This is true evil in my mind.
In response to the Thinking Questions, I find anarchy to be a utopian misinterpretation, yet I couldn't say directly whether I think conformity is evil. Evil in itself is an etching of power; it can be transferred to whatever aspect of life we desire. However, conformity as I assume is an evident and obvious section of dystopian societies, and often I would say conformity in that situation is evil, for the above reasons (it is malevolent to others and the authority is unaware of their wrongdoings, in many cases) but in some cases the conformity of a society may have futuristic benefits including a sense of unity and a community which respects each other and their VALUES. That is where I am prepared to stop, because individuality and conformity are both interlocked yet unstable concepts. So no; I don't believe conformity in all cases is bad. It is when an 'evil' person (as explained above) rules over the society with cruel, ingrained intentions and ability to make the society lose their sense of personas and self, then it is an act of large embodiment; still not evil exactly. I'm not sure exactly how to answer to be honest. It depends on the circumstances.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

What is evil?
KaydenBorchowsky May 3, 2015
Evil is what an individual makes of it.
One cannot say "This is evil" and not expect some other person to disagree. We all, everyone of us, has a different opinion on what evil is. For example, in my opinion, evil is narcissism. I view a complete fascination, such an extreme love for ones self, to be evil.
However I can guarantee you, the reader of this comment, will completely disagree with me. You, I'm am sure, will believe evil to be something else. This is because you were brought up to believe different things. You have formed your own opinion, through years of experience, about what evil is.
I am currently reading a book based on WW2. A former Nazi, Joseph, has confessed his sins to a girl named Sage. Joseph is asking Sage for her forgiveness of his sins (This is based in the 21 century, Joseph believes that if Sage forgives he is forgiven. He wants to apologise to the people he wronged, but can't because "they are all dead") and Sage can't find it in herself to forgive him.
Is this because Joseph is so evil? Is this because what he did was evil? Can he be forgiven?
It is clear he is feeling remorse for his sins, so why can't Sage forge him? This brings up the question can evil be forgives.
I like what Emily said "but if the person is adequate enough to feel remorse, they are not evil." This states that a person who does something evil, can't be classed as evil if they do feel remorse.
Joseph does fell bad for what he did, but Sage cannot forgive him. Is this because evil cannot be forgiven? It must be.
From this I can only say evil is something so vial, so disgusting it cannot be, never be forgiven.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

natasha_scott May 2, 2015
Evil seems like a very easy thing to describe, in the beginning: it is the antagonist of the protagonist, the villian and the bad guy who wishes nothing but ill on the world, or who thinks he alone holds superiority.
But when you confront the beast itself, it is unbelievably hard to pin it down and confront it, to give it a name or a purpose. It's like trying to put a face to Scylla as she swoops out of the sky and starts trying to eat you: just a faceless blur that cannot be defined (yes, I'm showing off my inner Greek Geek here).
But I, like others on this website, and others both before and most likely after me, will continue to try and label the faceless beast that is evil.
Evil can be many things; many, many things indeed. It can come in small does and forms, like a passing comment from a stranger or a friend in the school hallway about what you're wearing, what you're doing; and it can come in humongous quantities like WWII, and the inventing of nuclear bombs and weapons. It may seem easy, defining evil, but it's far from it - you think you have the aspect of evil sussed, until a new question rears its ugly head and starts peppering you with new meanings and questions. It's like battling a cross between the Hydra and the Chimera (yes, I'm going to keep making mythological references).
When I think about evil, the first things that comes to the forefront of my mind would be people like Hitler and Voldemort, and the thought of murder. But, as I have learnt, it is never as simple as a story-book, never as simple as black and white. When it comes down to things like WWII and murder, you can't simply section off people as good and bad, righteous and evil.
Hitler was classed as the most evil person in the world because of what he did, because of what he believed in. But, when you look at it from his perspective, he was just trying to do right by his country. He didn't want Germany to be the underdog anymore, so he did what he had to do by any means neccessary. These means were, of course, horrific. The murder of so many innocents is classed as evil, no doubt about it. But Hitler didn't see it like that. He wasn't the one who had to stand there and look into a man's angry eyes, a child's crying face, and pull the trigger on the gun. He was detatched from it all, because he was not there. He never saw the horror that he was causing, and so kept pushing forward, kept doing what he did for what he thought was the good of his country.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

He failed, in the end, and is now one of the world's most hated figures in known history to this day.
And the invention of nuclear weapons? In the long run, this would be seen as evil, with all the damage that they could do. But when those people created such monstrosities, they weren't thinking about lives they would end. They were thinking about the science, exhilirated at the terrific break-through that they had just made. While the purpose they were used for was evil, does it make their creators evil?
When I think of evil, when I try my hardest to stick the label on the monster, I keep looping back to to main factors in evil, two large factors that I think are important - Power. Power is one, and life is the other.
I'll start with life. Life is one of two roots that help feed the tree of evil. Evil things are often circling around life; like with Voldemort, who took lives and enjoyed it, murdered mainly without reason, just because it was fun. I call that evil.
I ended up having a conversation like this with Lilly, who then started asking me about what aspects of murder I was talking about. Like what if it was a terminally ill person who wanted to be put out of their misery? Or if the killer had already taken other lives, did he then deserve to die? (I think it was along those lines). They are both good points. If the person had a terminal illness, would killing them be a relief? And if the murderer had taken other people's lives, was it right to take his?
It depends, really. Does the terminally ill person give his consent to death? And if so, is it still evil? And if the murderer refuses to stop, refuses to stop killing and will try to kill you if you get close, what other choice is there but to kill him? Would that be seen as a mercy, or would that be labelled as evil, as cold-blooded and cruel?
The answer may seem clear, but it is not so.
The second root would be power. Absolute, undeniable power.
Some might say it's like money - "It's not good, it's not bad - it's what you do with it." But, when it comes to power, that idea has sadly become laughable to me, a false reality that cannot be achieved.
When you look at power, there are a few occasions where it has been used for good. But I do not say many - I say few.
People who get power, it is like a drug to them. Once they have it, they can't let it go, can't get off that unbelievable high. Their easy-going life becomes twisted by paranoia and fear; accusations are flung, anger will build, and, in some cases, the second root of evil leads to the loss of the first.
Even when power is given to those who do not want it, they will soon become addicted, soon become as bad as those before them.
I mean, look at what happened to Hitler.
Sometimes power comes in smaller forms, like being the most popular person in school, for example. The evil might not be as great, but it would still be there. Or maybe that's what I've taught myself to believe.
I guess, to sum it all up, there's a little bit of evil in us all. Maybe some more than others. Some cultures and religions are based around evil, and putting a face and a name to it, like Christianity and the Devil. But, in my opinion, evil circulates around life and power.
Am I paranoid? Most likely. I don't like asking for help, referring to a power greater than mine and making myself feel weak, so maybe that's why I relate power to evil.
But that is my opinion, and I'd like to thank the people who take the time to read this.
My God, I go off-topic.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

lilly_zhang May 2, 2015
What is evil?

Going back on personal experiences, I remember being a few years younger and condemning someone (no names) as ‘evil’ after a situation. Looking back at it, I realise that I’d misjudged, and that it was probably a perception fault on both sides that led to this belief, but at the time, I was genuinely hurt. When I think back (and I’m thinking of V for Vendetta for this, because V has some very nice lines to reflect on), I realise it wasn’t the person who was evil, but the idea. All because of how I had perceived it. I could have taken the situation a different way, maybe laughed, but at the time, I took it to heart, and labelled it as little more than malicious.

So what is evil? For me, evil isn’t truly definable. What one views as evil, another may see differently. The point of having a right to taking someone’s life was raised in the class, and the idea (again, all about the idea, like V said) could raise split opinions on the evil behind the act. As Tash mentioned, I raised a few questions with her about it. Would it be bad, if say, they were diagnosed with a terminal illness and just wanted to be put out of their misery? Or already caused the deaths and suffering of many? Do we consider those fair, if not humane terms to kill someone? Rather than in cold blood, where a serial killer is deemed as 'evil' for his pointless hunger for blood? We have it ingrained at birth (usually. No promises. I really hope it is though) that murder is wrong, almost like an evil act that only the most wicked partake in.

Back to the idea of what is evil, and again, is not truly definable. If I said it was, I’d be lying to you all, and myself. For me, you can’t just put a name or a word to evil and expect it to fit forever. The internet describes evil as, “Profoundly immoral and wicked.” I’d agree with this, but it wouldn’t fit everything.

Conformity. A thinking question asks that, and a question asks if ‘evil’ people know they are ‘evil’. I think these ‘evil’ people want to say they aren’t, the same ways others want to say they are. As a society, we have issues admitting when we’re wrong (or at least I do, but I wasn’t good at math anyway, no snobby nature intended) and this isn’t exempt to evil acts. We conform to the idea that all actions have beneficial purposes, like shooting someone, even when the wrongs still outweigh the rights. Conformity, like the whole Nazi Germany issue, is still evil, but in a different sense. It isn’t immoral, nor particularly wicked, I refuse to believe every Nazi believed that Hitler was 100% right, and didn’t ever voice doubt about their actions. Their evil could be described as not realising the degree of terror they were inflicting. Linking this to confronting authority, I believe it is hard because authority doesn’t like to be confronted. On a whole scale level, confronting it is challenging it, and a challenge can threaten authority. Confronting another person can usually be hard enough as it is, but to challenge a whole government? It’s a whole other level. The talks of governments punishing those who speak out against unfairness instill fear against more potential rebels. As it is said in V for Vendetta though, “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people”. Truthfully, it’s a two-way street. We fear our government, the government fears us. We have the power (democracy allows me to say this about us). Who knows if National can get enough votes in the next election? As for trustworthy authority, the only one there is would be ourselves. Anyone can be an authority figure, but we would never know all of their true intentions. The only people we’d know back-to-front is ourselves, and it has been said everyone has a little evil inside of them. It’s just a case of whether you need to use it at all, and how you use it. I’m choosing to believe that evil can be used for good… but does that still make it evil?