Monthly Archives: August 2015

Good Intentions and Evil

This is the fourth installment in my on-going musings on absolute evil.

I have now begun writing my next novel, based on the idea that absolute evil is that which consistently or largely creates evil out of good. I have characters who are basically good and well-intended, but are saddled with a curse that creates evil consequences out of well-intended actions.

I chose this angle mostly because I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment, rather than because I think this is the most rigorous definition of absolute evil. In the Cori books, I created a world in which things, mostly, work out. In Alone in a Strange World, the main character remains completely oblivious, and the story presumes that she would have made different decisions, had she been more aware. In the new book, everyone is fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and their actions to remedy this, in turn, produce more horrifying results. So, the theory goes, great evils do not happen just because the perpetrators were evil (even if some of them are), but because something turns all actions, well-intended or evil-intended, into great evil.

One problem with this conception of absolute evil did arise as I wrote the novel: it is hard to distinguish it from a series of unfortunate accidents. It isn’t rare that well-intended actions lead to unintended consequences. Are we truly in the presence of evil when that happens with alarming frequency, or is it just dumb luck? Conversely, many larger-scale atrocities occur because the perpetrators were (un)fortunate to have access to a greater means of destruction. Doesn’t it seem unfair to deem them more evil than less (un)fortunate perpetrators?

Another problem that arises is how to fight such an evil. If evil is being committed by a single person, it all ends when the person is stopped. Likewise with a group. What if the very act of fighting the evil contributes to it? (Sound familiar?) How does one win that war?

We’ll see how far I can carry this premise.

Conscience and Evil

This is the third installment in my on-going musings on absolute evil.

To define evil as that which has no regard for good makes sense, and it is compelling in many ways. Even if we cannot clearly define what is good, humans have this intuitive sense of what is good and what is bad. Our intuitions can fail us at times, but conscience, as in the little voice in our head that asks if we have considered the consequences, is something that holds us to our own definitions of what is good. Actively dismissing the voice of conscience, then, could be considered something akin to absolute evil.

This does get a little tricky with people who do not have a conscience. “Psychopaths,” as they are often called, often come up as examples of people who are evil. However, if they do not have a conscience, can they really be blamed for not using it? Sharks don’t have a conscience as we understand it; the only thing that comes close to good or evil in a shark’s life is whether something is worth eating or not. Are sharks therefore evil? Some people believe so, or react to them as if they are, but it is clear that they are not. They do occasionally do a lot of damage to us, but they are not evil in the absolute sense. Ergo, neither are psychopaths; they are merely people who are missing the ability to intuitively make decisions that others would find ethical.

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