The Good-ish, the Bad-ish, and the Evil (ish)

Some people are good (or good-ish).  And some are bad (or bad-ish).  And then, there are those who are…wait for it….

So what is this Evil – that’s just SO much worse, or different, or something, than plain old boring ‘bad’.

__________________________________________________________

The poster-child for Evil is, of course, Hitler.  Most of us agree that HE, at least, was evil. Or do we? Let’s see, he:

  • ordered the extermination of the Jewish race (not to mention gypsies, people with disabilities, non-Aryans, etc)
  • had lots of people tortured and murdered
  • initiated the 2nd world war in which millions of people died

(and that was only a start!)

He also:

  • was kind to children (relatives, or children of friends) on occasion;
  • liked dogs
  • was well behaved towards his mother
  • (presumably) loved Eva Braun.

So Hitler was a very bad person, to say the least – but can we really say he was thoroughly, completely evil and had no ‘good’ qualities whatsoever?

Maybe we can, but would his mum agree? It’s the function of mothers to find redeeming qualities in even the most rotten children, and who’s to say they’re wrong.  Even an evil person’s still human, and all humans are a mix of good and bad (even the mostly bad ones) – arent they?

Besides, maybe ‘bad’ qualities have their uses, in the evolutionary sense – and that’s why we have them.  For instance, what would become of an empathetic lion?  If a herd of horses pitied and protected the weak, how long would that herd survive?  Have you ever watched a group of teenage girls practice ‘innies and outies’? It looks a lot like adolescent cruelty, but it’s also training for survival in a society where you (and your babies) lived and died by your ability to cooperate, manipulate, compete and network.

We’re shocked when sexuality is misdirected (for instance, towards the wrong age group) but you can think of sexuality as a powerful current – normally it’ll go down the appointed channels but sometimes it’ll overflow the banks or rush off to the side to fill up pools and ditches it shouldn’t. And how do we define that ‘shouldn’t’? What’s sexually right for humans is sexually wrong for spiders. Chimps don’t recognise rape. Mohammed married a 12 year old girl and nobody called HIM a paedophile.

The bottom line is, our society doesn’t need or like highly aggressive, cruel, callous individuals (except when it does – in war, for instance) and to maintain social cohesion, we have to control them and punish them (except when we don’t – when they’re our leaders and managers, for instance).

So maybe we shouldn’t demonise people as ‘evil’  even though we might feel anger and disgust towards them – they’re just humans who happened to be born with, or develop, qualities that have more in common with hyenas, alliigators and preying mantises.

Do you reckon?

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46 comments

  1. I guess that good and evil in people can be viewed subjectively and circumstantially, and that judgement of a person by others can also be biased.

    There is no human being that embodies total goodness or total evil. But I think that there are people who are good far more than they are bad, and those who are far more bad than they are good. Most people are somewhere in between.

  2. i am a believer of good, bad, evil and angels. i think we all are born with some dominant passions, weaknesses, some let it go without least attempt of controlling and become people like Hitler, devil in boots. or people like Van Gaugh- harmless but reckless.

    i have seen all types of people and believe that God and Devil both live inside human beings.

    • I can’t say I do believe in angels and devils – I just think some people are born with a lot of aggression, or cruelty – traits we all have to some extent. Even I’ve enjoyed stepping on cockroaches at times, and I’m not a cruel person. But then, I’ve never met anyone evil, where i think you feel that you have.

  3. All people have the ability to be predators as well as saints and sometimes it takes one to be the other. For example, if a man walks up to you in the store parking lot and boldly states, “Climb into my car so I can rape you,” chances are fairly good you won’t. If he talks to you first, nicely, to determine your weaknesses his chances of success are much greater.

    The same for murder. Far be it from me to ever say I would kill a person, even in self-defense (unfortunately), but if I ever felt my children’s lives were in danger I would do it in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t stop the perpetrator, I’d ensure the law did not release the criminal to repeat the offense again, or worse. That’s instinct. And quite frankly, I believe this is where a lot of our behaviors stem from–instincts.

  4. What a wonderful and thought provoking post. I remember having a conversation about Hitler with a friend one night (and yes there may have been alcohol involved), in which I said that if Hitler were alive right now he’d probably be CEO of some huge,company. So i think you are right to point out that society rewards the same qualities it is said to despise. Apparently the setting is everything when it comes to defining certain acts as evil. Great post. Well done!

    • Thanks, what a lovely appreciative comment! You inspire me. And yeah, it’s true what you say – there are only so many openings for evil dictator, none really if you live in Australia, so CEO might be the best he could do.

  5. I think we make the mistake of thinking of someone like HItler as the ne plus ultra of evil. There were others. The Balkans, Rwanda, Liberia, and now Syria… when war starts, guys who perpetrate those events pop up. Since they didn’t appear by magic, we have to assume they were always there. Always here *right now*, if you think of it.

  6. Interesting post!

    So, herds of elephants and water buffalo DO protect their weak, even if horses do not. Sometimes evil bitchy girls don’t prepare you to deal with the real world, but actually prepare you to fail. If Hitler was a CEO, he’d STILL be an evil mother-fucking asshole.

    And, did you know that Socio-paths (which are now called something like “anti-social personality disorder”) cannot be treated or “cured”, however, they CAN wake up one morning and decide their sociopathic ways are not working for them anymore, and just STOP being a sociopath? Pretty wild, huh?

    • That’s true, herds do to an extent, and so do people. But if you put my blind pony in a paddock with other horses, the first thing they do is attack her – she’s a liability. Is that true of sociopaths? Can they just wake up and decide not to be? I DO think Hitler was awful – but you do wonder, in a bad situation (like Nazi Germany or Cambodia under Pol Pot, say) where do all the ‘evil’ people come from? Like Devil says, they’re always there – we just don’t notice their evilness because there isn’t a lot of opportunity here, bar the odd gun crime, child neglect, muggings, etc (which carry a high risk of punishment, so unless you’re really keen to let it all out, I guess people probably often decide just to hit their dogs). Maybe it’s partly my non-theist perspective, I see people as ‘just’ really cerebral members of the animal kingdom, with all the attendant instincts, base and not so base. I don’t see why we blame a person for doing what nature tells them to, but not, say, a cat. Does that sound awful? I really don’t want to offend anyone.

    • I had no idea of that, Babedarla, that socios can wake up & decide to be “evil” no more. I believed they had a screw loose, were unalterable. Is that a fact? I’d just love to know!

      Noeleen

      • Yes me too. Maybe the thing with sociopaths is, they CAN wake up and decide not to be bad – but they don’t want to, because they’re bad. Who knows! i mean, if someone told me I had to decide to be a completely different type of person – say, start caring about personal grooming a lot – they’d probably have to threaten me with something pretty severe first.

      • well, according to the DSMV IV, it is so…isn’t that wild? No cure, yet they can wake up one morning and say “Yes, this sociopath stuff ain’t working for me any more, so…” I read this recently and was amazed…imagine if Hitler (or Ted Bundy!) had woken up one morning and just…changed!
        Oh, and, it’s not that they decide to be “evil no more”, it’s that they decide their sociopathic ways just aren’t giving them the life they desire anymore, so they’re STILL probably selfish pricks!

  7. I think what predominately separates good from bad behavior is whether the behavior is directed toward the society’s desired goals. As Nazi Germany embraced Hitlers (sick) ideals, we can judge the entire society “bad.” However, then we have to ask ourselves if the Catholic Church was bad for not speaking out sooner, if the U.S. was evil for not intervening until we were attacked.

    I believe there is evil in the world; however, some of it still masquerades itself as “patriotism” and society accepts it, as long as it advances our cause. It will always be difficult to weed out. As you point out, a lion without teeth starves to death (and is killed by hyenas). As people, we have to take a larger view, and ensure our society doesn’t put its ends ahead of its means. We determine how much evil is tolerated.

  8. Good post. It’s wrong to demonise someone for qualities they were born with even if we as a society see those as negative. BUT – we all have a choice when it comes to our actions. I am definitely going to demonise someone who makes the choice to murder or rape or in any way abuse others.
    We can’t help the qualities we are born with. We CAN choose our actions. Simple.

    • It all comes down to choice of words, maybe. I could blame someone for their actions, but that doesn’t make them somehow more than the mixed-up animal they are. But to tell the truth I’m not sure what I think about the whole badness thingo!

      • I get where you are coming from I think! It’s really hard to imagine that a human being CAN be evil – because… well I guess we don’t want to think that’s possible. But I really truly believe they can be, myself. Have you ever been involved in any way with a full on malignant narcissist, sociopath or psychopath? Because you come away from experiences like that knowing that evil lives. There is a huge difference from a benign choice of ‘bad’ and ‘hurtful’ actions and a very real, menacing, threatening, deliberate abuse of people, in order to see them hurt. Like pulling the legs and wings off an insect slowly one at a time to see them scream except with human beings. This is what evil people are like, and they don’t even have to be violent to be evil, it can be a covert vicious emotional attack too. These people actually feed off the damage they do to others. It’s terrifying, utterly terrifying to be involved with them.

      • No, I can’t say I have known anyone evil. I’ve known people who are a bit cruel – that’s about the worst of it. You should post about it – I have no idea what it’s like to meet a person who’s evil and what the difference is between that and ‘very bad’. It seems to have a demonic flavour, in people’s minds, a sort of ‘more than human’ overtone. I have read about people who’ve interviewed serial killers, and looked into their eyes and seen an utter lack of compassion or mercy, a lust for power or a desire to hurt – all these though are just highly unpleasant qualities. But – you’re the one who actually knows, if you’ve met these people. I’d be fascinated to hear about it.

      • I will try, it’s actually on my agenda in the future as I have grown up with people like that in my family – it’s very hard to write about so it might take a while for me to have the guts to! In the meantime, I recommend these books,
        “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout
        “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson
        and “People Of the Lie” by M Scott Peck.
        The last one is fairly old, before much was known about these people and they were labelled as they are now (socipath, narcissist etc) but he was spot on. They are all fascinating books! I had so many ‘aha’ moments reading them. 🙂

      • yes, that would be very hard if they’re people in your family, I understand that. It would take a lot of guts, so please disregard my curiosity and just do what feels ok to you. I did read the People of the Lie but although the people he described seemed fairly awful, evil just seemed too strong a word for them (plus I didn’t like the exorcism angle). Maybe I’ll try The Sociopath Next Door (after I’ve read it I’ll give it to her to see what she thinks).

  9. Going to have to go with yes, there is evil. the fact that evil enjoys petting small fuzzy animals doesn’t make it less evil.
    There is also circumstance and opportunity to consider. If Hitler ahd been embraced as an artist, what would his path have been then? (much like if Castro had made the cut when he tried out for major league baseball.)
    When all is said and done, I don’t think his means justified his ends, or vice versa. And I for one hope there is an afterlife just so he can suffer in it.

    • I wish there was an afterlife too, though if I actually saw people boiling everlastingly in oil or something – even Hitler – I don’t think I’d sign up to it. I don’t think either Hitler’s means or ends were justifiable. But the guy probably wasn’t all bad – though it’s perhaps easier to think that he was.

  10. It’s hard to imagine anyone who does such despicable acts as having good qualities, which is why it’s so much easier to define them as evil. But I still think evil is a fair term. Even if one may have some decent qualities, committing the dreadful acts you’ve outlined above trumps any redeeming qualities, in my opinion.

    Interesting concept.

  11. Interesting! Very interesting!

    I was once told that good and evil co-habit in order to balance our human world. Well, we are all products of nature and nurture. The good and bad lives within us. It’s just that some people have made the choice to be good and vice versa. Finally, he who’s without sin cast the first stone.

    • I think that’s true, kilobrush! But I really don’t think there is any ‘good’ in the absolute sense, only ‘good FOR’. Mean and violent people are not ‘good for’ much, these days.

  12. What a great article! This was great! A real thinker.
    You know, I couldn’t stop looking at that pic of Hitler for ages. His left eye & right eye speak differently. But you know how they say eyes are the window to the soul? Well those eyes just don’t look like they hold a soul, they just don’t.

    And then you say the bad qualities could have evolutionary purposes!

    What you speak of sexuality is interesting – filling up crevices, ditches – your writing is great. I think people are adverse to older (usually) men taking young girls & boys to all sorts of sexual levels is because the young need space to grow first, to take in the whole sexual thing. Sex involves letting boundaries down, allowing someone in close, being touched. So for an older person to be so with a younger – well, that explains why (most) people find pedophiles abhorrent.

    What you say re Mohammed – I had no idea. If no-one’s called him a pedophile, let me be the first: MOHAMMED WAS A F*KING PAEDOPHILE & ALL THOSE CULTURES WHO TAKE YOUNG WIVES OF 7, 8, 10 ETC ARE STEALING THE LIVES OF THOSE GIRLS, AND ENSLAVING THEM TO THEIR OWN DETERMINED, HOW DO YOU SAY, “RELIGION”.

    I love your ending ‘do you reckon?’ This is really a great article: loved it.

    My view, sociopaths, Hitlers, sure they have just developed highly attuned abilities to arm themselves against their consciences. They’re not evil, they’re just people, yes. But I would easily have been among those who tried, and tried again, to kill Hitler.

    Cheers!

    Noeleen
    http://www.VodkaWasMyMuse.wordpress.com
    http://www.WordsFallFromMyEyes.wordpress.com

    • Thanks, that’s such a thoughtful comment! I agree with everything you say. I think paedophilia stinks,but Mohammed did live in a period when it was common in both Moslem and Christian societies, so I guess you have to give him that much. I think sex with kids is physically and mentally damaging to them and obviously exploitative – they’re not old enough to make a free decision on it. But with teenagers, it’s a bit of a grey area – we set the age of sexual availability at 16 or 18 but in nature, who’s to say most of us wouldn’t be into it a bit earlier than that. Still, I certainly wouldn’t like anybody to take advantage of Ms M in that way (that said, if she decided to sleep with some guy at school of roughly the same age, I wouldn’t have an apoplexy, although I would advise against it). She by the way is now 15.

  13. A subject near & dear to me….. I was unfortunate enough to come across someone in my life I believe to have been evil. Though perfectly capable of being nice and acting appropriately (as Hitler could) he relished in the pain and suffering of others…I cant explain but I am certain he did not have a soul.

    • I’m so sorry that happened to you. But forgive my curiosity, it’s genuine – what does not having a soul look like? I’m not sure I believe in souls, when I say I’m not sure, I really mean that, I’m not sure.

      • It’s the eyes. It was like looking into the eyes of a dead animal – nothing behind them . Even At a moment you would expect to see emotion (ie finding out a childhood pet died) there was nothing ….. its hard to explain & I’ve only seen it in this one person.

  14. I think it’s easier (for the mind and the emotions) to make a judgment. Gray is very conflicting. I’ve known people that were kind to me but cruel to others. And vice versa. If someone demonstrates monstrous behavior repeatedly that causes me harm, then I classify them as bad or evil and treat them accordingly.

    • Sure you can. But WHY don’t you believe it? Or, to put it a different way, what don’t you believe? That Hitler’s mum was fond of him? That there aren’t evil people but only people with antisocial traits?

  15. One thing I came across – reputed medieval saying: “when angels weep for the deeds of men, it is not for the evil done but the good wasted”. A spineless, stupid or lazy etc person is not going to get far at being bad – you need real talents. Which Hitler had – someone noted he was amazingly good at spotting people’s weaknesses (he had less of an eye for moral strengths), and very smart. But he also told his generals and the leading Nazis that “make no mistake, gentlemen: we either win this war or we will all be shot as criminals” (many didn’t believe him, and were quite indignant when they were shot). So he knew that what he planned was wrong. That’s evil – to do great wrong knowingly, deliberately, calculatingly – seeing everyone as a means and no-one as an end in themselves.

    • No, he knew that what he planned would be SEEN as wrong – there’s a difference. I’m not sure that a stupid person can’t be pretty bad, in the right setting – say, faced with a cowering houseful of Vietnamese children, for instance. But what IS the difference between evil and bad? Is it just semantics?

      • Well, evil will gun down those vietnamese children without a twinge of regret nor remorse, evil will not even be moved by their fear or humanity, evil may even enjoy killing them. That isn’t just bad or just stupid or just anything. That’s evil.

      • A tiger will do the same thing though, as will a chimpanzee or a baboon. Cruelty, callousness and aggression exist across animal species, why are humans any different? I know we say ‘because humans know better’ but I guess mostly we do what we’re driven to do, somehow. I don’t feel I can take credit for being kind to people, for instance – I have absolutely no desire not to be, so the issue doesn’t arise for me. That’s lucky for me. But if I were a cruel person, could I help it? i really don’t know. I’m just thinking around it. Of course I blame cruel people for their acts & believe some kind of punishment should follow – but I don’t know if they really could do otherwise.

      • it’s a good question. I guess that’s where conscience comes in, we know when we have done wrong and we feel bad about it, regret it, couldn’t do it. We have the capacity to CARE about other living creatures.Animals have never been told that they can’t do this or taught more appropriate ways to resolve things.
        I hear what you are saying about could they control their urge to hurt others – but I doubt that someone who had so little self restraint and such a lack of conscience would have gotten past adolescence without attracting a lot of attention and perhaps being institutionalised or in major therapy/behaviour modification etc.
        And then I think of all the people who DO. I don’t have an answer and in fact this is something I want to know too. I strongly believe they do have control over those urges, just that they don’t care or want to control them because they don’t care and even WANT to hurt others. I think it’s this desire and enjoyment of hurt that makes them evil.

      • I very much agree with your last point. I think bad/evil people don’t want to control their urges – except insofar as fulfilling them will get them into trouble. And I do think it’s precisely that which makes them ‘evil’. But we’re born as we’re born, so what real choice do they have? It’s a conundrum – but not really one that matters in the real world, cause in the real world if you do evil things you rightly get blamed for it, whether it’s in your nature or not.

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