I believe evil exists, but I fear I’ll miss it when it’s present or, worse, find evil where none exists. How do you define evil to avoid such mistakes?
I was listening to Dennis Prager this morning (something I can do now that I signed up for Pragertopia, which has a “first month for $0.99” sale), when Dennis touched upon “evil.” Sitting here now, I can’t really remember the context, but think I recall him saying “The Left doesn’t believe that evil exists.” Prager then said that it does exist, and cited to such familiar examples as the Nazis and Stalin. Another clear example of evil, if I were asked, would be Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer. As is so often the case with Dennis’s monologues, I kept running through the issues he raised long after the show had ended.
Because I grew up in San Francisco public schools, went to UC Berkeley, and lived in my parents’ world, which was made up almost entirely of upper-class Democrat-voting Jews (academics, mostly), the mindset in my world was that “evil” was an antiquated notion. People had bad ideas. They were raised wrong. They were victims of ills that could be labeled such as psychopathy, narcissism or schizophrenia. Once labeled as psychological or glandular, you could no longer label the perpetrator as evil. He was merely acting out the chemistry of his brain or the damage of his upbringing.
This meant that, while the Communists did horrible things, one could not blame someone brought up in the milieu who didn’t know anything different. (For the Jews in my world, the exception to this modern thinking was the Nazis. The Nazis were evil — but Stalin and Mao were not; they were just bad.)
Perhaps because of the Nazi exception to the general rule around me, I still believed in evil. I certainly understood that the Nazis were evil. I also understood that part of what made them evil was that they raised up a generation of children who believed that the ultimate evil, namely genocide, was an appropriate act. In the same way, part of what makes fundamentalist Islam so evil is that it destroys the children under its care by turning them into genocidal maniacs. That the children started out innocent is eventually irrelevant. Once they have become soldiers in evil’s army, they must be destroyed.
What scares me about labeling things as “evil,” though, is how easy it is to err. Certainly the Nazis erred when they labeled Jews as evil, something the Islamists still do. I think the Left errs badly when it hysterically shrills that Trump and those who support him are evil. Considering that Trumpian norms are American norms from just over a decade ago, I fail to see any rational basis for this.
The real problem for me is knowing that I erred badly in my life in identifying evil where none existed. My mother and her sister had a fraught relationship. Naturally, I saw things through my mother’s eyes, something helped along by the fact that my aunt was no saint. But what I didn’t realize was that my mother wasn’t either. [Read more…]