Tag Archives: Evil

Only the Relatives

This is the fifth and final installment in my on-going musings on absolute evil.

In the end, I feel the most comfortable with the idea that absolute good and absolute evil do not exist. It’s not even that easy to define what is relatively good and what is relatively evil, but we can derive these notions from concepts like harm and benefit, life and death, suffering and joy, peace and war, etc.

At least to the point where they can serve practical purposes, like deciding how to vote, choosing what to eat for dinner, and how to plot out a novel.

And, I think there is something like an absolute good in being able to live an ethical life on the basis of relative definitions of good and evil, without the need for absolute definitions of good and evil. It does seem that fantastically evil acts are committed by those who believe in one notion of good that overrides all other goods, i.e., by those who believe in absolute good.

 

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.

Continue reading »

Absolute Good and Evil

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

There are a few problems that come from defining absolute evil as that which is opposed to absolute good, and/or that which is distant from absolute good.

1) It requires faith, to believe that there is absolute good, and to know the nature of absolute good. Without faith, we end up with a circular definition of absolute good: absolute good is that which is divine, and divinity is that which is good. Without faith, there is no way to know if one has the whole God vs. Satan bit backwards. God has certainly ordained some evil-seeming things, like filicide and genocide and the apocalypse, and it is only through faith that one can believe that whatever God goes for is, in fact, good. Otherwise, we would need an independent way of judging whether this God character is good or evil in the first place; in that case, absolute good would precede God’s goodness, rather than follow from it.

2) The unfortunate fact of life is that the human race has worshipped many different gods who have very different expectations, and that even those who worship the same god have very different ideas about what the god wants in any given situation. It appears that absolute good that is defined as the divine is, in fact, good only relative to a given god, or even to a given understanding of a given god. Faith can give clarity to one group of believers, but it would hardly define absolute good for the rest of the world.

3) If evil is that which is not good, what exactly is absolute evil? How absent must the divine be? How far away? How strong an opposition must the anti-divine put up? The Greek gods, for instance, squabble against and oppose one another, sometimes to quite an extreme, but we would not name any of them as absolutely good or absolutely evil. In fact, they are all presumed to be good, even in their opposition to one another. This suggests that opposing the divine does not necessarily make one evil. Despite their feisty jousts, God and Satan may be working toward a shared goal, and in that case neither the followers of God nor Satan would be deemed absolutely evil.

This is all well and good as theological arguments, but I am actually just trying to write a novel, and I would like to be able to depict something that is absolutely, undoubtedly, unequivocally evil. There is something creatively unsatisfying with having to come up with an absolutely good character in order to be able to portray someone as absolutely evil. Can someone be hideously evil without some good person to oppose?

On Absolute Evil

In all my books so far, I’ve explored what one could call “relative evil”. Most of the evil has come from well-meaning people doing things that they believe are for good. Even people who do unspeakably evil things do so to pursue something that they value, or to protect something that is dear to them. The ends are justified, and so the means seem justified to the evil-doers; it’s only from the victim’s or a third party’s perspective that it doesn’t.

For my next book, I am hoping to write about something one could call “absolute evil.” Evil deeds or effects or presence that just is evil, no matter how anyone sees it.

And I’m having some trouble defining just what that would be and how it would play out.

So, I need your help. What is absolute evil? Is there such a thing?

Here are some theories about absolute evil of which I am aware.

Continue reading »