On Evil

One of my absolute favorite blogs – now one of my new daily must-reads – has a brilliant post today on evil, what it is and how it manifests itself. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I read a new book (for me) on morality in the Third Reich (a full-blown book review will follow in a month or two, when I’m done with the superb tome). I guess the bottom line revelation for me derived from the book is how often the people who commit outlandishly evil acts do so believing they performing acts of supreme goodness, morality and public service. Morality and ethics were behind nearly every aspect of the Third Reich, though it was a unique form of morality, in which ridding society of perceived enemies who could drag it down and threaten its future was the noblest and most selfless act imaginable.

Okay, that was a bit of a digression. So back to the post. Mahablog cites a comment on a far-right Web site that offers a clear and succinct illustration of the “evil as morality” phenomenon. Here’s what the winger says as he lecture a “liberal.”

The difference between you and me is that, deep down inside, you cannot accept the fact that there are truly evil people in the world. The difference between the liberal and conservative viewpoints boils down to this: you think that, deep down inside, the Islamic nutjobs really only want to have a nice house and a yard, and raise their children in a loving and safe environment, just like all the people you know. Whereas I think that they are truly evil people, like the Nazis, that want more than anything else to destroy all that we hold dear. And they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives, their families, everything in their hatred of all that is good and beautiful.

Mahablog counters this with a breathtaking dose of logic.

What most righties don’t understand about evil is how seductive it is. The seduction begins with the notion that “his hatred of me is evil, but my hatred of him is justified.” The fellow who wrote that paragraph may not yet be completely besotted with evil, but he is sure as hell flirting with it.

I say evil is as evil does. It’s not who you are; it’s what you do, that is evil. Or not.

Again, I’m not saying that evil acts should be forgiven, or that people shouldn’t defend themselves from evil or seek to apprehend or even destroy dangerous people before they can harm others. I’m just saying that as we do these things, we must take care not to be seduced by evil ourselves. And that’s hard. It takes a lot of self-honesty and self-discipline.

And it takes recognizing evil as evil. Evil doesn’t wear a big E on its T shirt. Evil can seem to be virtuous. It flatters your ego. And it can feel really good.

This fits in exquisitely with the book I’m reading, and reminds me that this phenomenon is probably as old as man himself. It’s something we must constantly be on guard against, which is why i cringe when I hear blanket generalizations about any group, be they Mexicans, immigrants, Arabs, Moslems, Jews – even conservatives.

Read the whole post. It is well, well worth it, as are the splendid comments. This is quickly becoming my favorite US domestic blog, almost up there with Josh Marshall.

edited at 10:30 Taiwan time

The Discussion: 5 Comments

I like what Pascal said about this: “Man is both beast and Angel, but whenever he tries too hard to be an Angel he ends up acting like a beast.”

April 4, 2006 @ 10:16 am | Comment

Two books I don’t agree with but would recommend you read would be ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners” and “The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing.” I find the premise in the latter personally offensive but offers important insight.

April 4, 2006 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

I read Hitlers Willing Executioners the week it was released. Don’t get me started on that book – so many erroneous assumptions and so much sloppy history. I’ll look up the other bok,

April 4, 2006 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

A more appropriate one would be Viktor Klemperer’s “Language of the Third Reich”, which has recently been translated into English.

April 4, 2006 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

Two books I don’t agree with but would recommend you read would be ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners” and “The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing.” I find the premise in the latter personally offensive but offers important insight.

ROFL. I can’t wait to read the latter. I doubt its insights are very important. I lost faith in that particular Left-critique of the war when I had to TA a WWII class and read Dower’s War Without Mercy closely for the first time, and discovered all sorts of problems, from basic historical misunderstandings to omissions of pertinent facts that seem deliberately designed to leader the reader astray — Dower lied, in other words. I’ll certainly have to take a look.


April 4, 2006 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

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