What is evil?

I really like this quote because it explains very succinctly why so many atrocities happen in the world. People want to believe in demons and devils, evil people purposely doing evil things. But in my experience, and in my reading of history, biography and sociology, this is not true. People almost never are attempting to do evil. What they are attempting to do is find happiness.

Intent vs Effect

But wait, isn’t that completely perverse? Yes it is. And that is why it is important to understand.  Evil doesn’t come from evil people. Evil comes from (in most cases) normal people doing things they think will make them happy.  Take for example the illustration above. Is the drunk driver who plows down a group of pedestrians intending to do evil? No, he or she is not. They are attempting to feel good. Are they doing that in the right way and will it really make them feel good? No, it won’t. But that is not the point. The point is their course of action is driven not by a desire to do evil but by a desire to be happy. It is intent vs effect.

When Point of View Matters

Let’s take another example that isn’t quite as clear-cut.  A white southerner in the US likes to drive around with the confederate flag waving from his car. His intent, in his mind, is to celebrate his proud heritage. Celebrating that makes him happy. But the black southerner seeing the car drive by doesn’t see a symbol of a proud heritage, he sees a terrible heritage. One filled with 250 years of slavery and violence against his ancestors and another 100+ years of segregation and oppression after that. That flag symbolizes evil to him, not happiness. Who is right?  I know what my answer would be.

Complete Evil

So, when is evil just plain old evil? After all, even Lucifer thought what he was doing trying to basically overthrow God was for the good, right? So if the originator of Evil in the stories of old illustrates this point, then what example of evil doesn’t?  Hitler comes to mind, right? But in his mind and the minds of his followers they were pursuing the corporate happiness of their people. All the evil they did, if they were even able to admit there was any evil, was in service of their happiness. That tells you how perverse and twisted the mind can become.

Looking at Ourselves

That is why it’s never enough to go by a person’s intent. Their intent, at least their stated intent, will never be to admit to evil. They will ALWAYS rationalize their behavior and say it’s about something else.  That is why one must always look at effect even more than intent. If the effect is evil, that is what matters.  THAT is what one has to look at in their heart if they truly want to be devoid of evil. It’s not easy because it demands looking at self in a raw and unflinching way. But it can be done.


Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com

The full quote is, “No man chooses evil because it is evil, they just mistake it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Shelley, 1797-1851, English writer

An interesting note: Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, one of the most succinct examples of someone thinking they are doing good when in fact they are doing evil. I read it a few years back and while it has a very dated and florid style to it, it’s well worth a read.


 

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