That Which Does Not Kill Us, Makes Us Paranoid

Angel of Death from Hellboy II - The Golden Army

Angel of Death from Hellboy II – The Golden Army

Okay kids, lets talk about evil for a minute.

I was trying to give my brain a break today, and jumped on for some comedy to sprinkle into my day. Browsing their newest articles, I came upon the 5 Popular Beliefs That Are Holding Humanity Back. You could imagine this kind of title would intrigue me, and so I went on a little read. I had to pause and go over #3 a few times, for the sheer, understandable sense of it all. Now Cracked always has pretty intelligent and well thought-out pieces, but this one struck me as particularly sensible. It reads “#3 That Evil Is Something We Can Kill.”

It goes on to suggest that, in modern society entertainment, evil is portrayed as an object, an entity which can be beaten and, eventually, defeated, or killed. All good vs. evil plots conclude this way (which essentially means every movie ever), with the bad guy being killed or forever locked away somewhere and never seeing the light of day again, leaving the good hero to a life of happiness and prosperity. There are some stories which don’t end this way, like tragedies, but even then, the evil of the story is usually, if not always, personified in a particular antagonistic character. Likewise, we are led to view the protagonist, especially in the most popular (and frankly mundane) movies, as the epitome of all that is good and morally acceptable. Even if the protagonist must kill to achieve his or her goal, it is justified, and therefore does not taint the goodness of the character.Β  This mentality expands beyond the “ends justifying means” concept, and goes into the means simply not mattering anymore. calvin_and_hobbes_ethics

I’m getting ahead of myself a little, so let me get back to my main point. It is very true that this mentality of personified evil is very prominent in modern entertainment, but IΒ don’t think it really stops there. Our entire culture is beginning to revolve around the idea that evil can be killed off. If we are presented with someone or something which weΒ deem as evil, we take that as a justification to destroy that evil. This idea also breeds the mentality that destroying evil should be a priority, and the means should not be of concern, so long as evil is dead by the end. If there are others caught in the crossfire, if there are those who do not see this evil for what it is and try to support it, they are piled into the category of evil itself, and are disposable.

We can also this mentality reflected through (yes, I’m going to bring this up again) Western religious doctrines. Evil is personified as Satan, and Satan must be killed/destroyed, by the protagonist, God. We humans are too weak to defeat evil on our own, and there are some of us who side with evil by living an evil life (according to the moral parameters of that specific religion), and therefore their lives are forfeit, left to the same fate as Satan, to be defeated by God.

People like this simple way of seeing things, and this is where things not only get extremely annoying, but also possibly very dangerous. It’s easier to just say, “This is evil, I am not evil.” Whether religion brings a person to this conclusion of his or her ‘goodness’ or just self-righteousness makes no difference in the matter. It makes the individual feel good about his or herself, and gives them justification for both their ends and their means. “If I am good, those who don’t agree with me must be evil. If they are evil, they must be stopped. Because they are evil, the means are already justified.”

In some people’s eyes, this goes so far as to flip in perspective. Instead of the means being justified by the ends of killing evil, the ends are starting to be defined by the means. What I mean by this is people are more inclined to make a personal determination of what someone’s end-game is by how they portray or present themselves. Look at the political political-cartoon-1-640x400debate between people today. If I make a statement against President Obama, I am immediately labeled a conservative Republican and a Christian. If I make a statement for Obama, I am labeled a liberal Democrat and a hippie. I present a means, an argument against a side, and so people assume what my end-game is, to either overthrow America or overthrow the president. What they don’t realize is that I am independent and happen to be speaking for or against the president according to one particular topic, not on a general scale.

This kind of situation has become rampant in modern society. If a person observes on ‘mean’ of another and views that ‘mean’ to be ‘evil,’ then they personify the entire person as evil and justify their own means and end against that evil person as inherently good. Now luckily, that is what we have law for, just in case an individual’s concept of good does not conform to the social determination of good. The fact remains, though, that this degeneration of empathy is becoming far more prevalent in society, and the law is finding it harder and harder to decide when someone is performing socially evil acts and when they are not.

I could get into the why of this, but that would be a whole new post, perhaps for another day. For now I will just leave my thoughts a bit open-ended tonight. I’m left to ponder why the concept of evil gets people paranoid, why it makes them want to justify their own goodness and expose the evil of others. Why is it that humans cannot accept their humanity, their nature of being both good and evil in different aspects? What breeds this mentality of destroying evil, when that in itself would defeat the purpose of good? And again, as has been happening a lot lately, I look around and find myself simply wanting to see not the good in people, not the evil in people, but the humanity in people. I want to see both sides and accept both sides for what they are, aspects of what make us human beings, the amazing yet disturbing creatures that we are. It may be cliche, and getting a little overdone on my blog, but I can’t help but fall to a particular image which best sums up my idea of humanity, especially regarding this particular topic.



19 thoughts on “That Which Does Not Kill Us, Makes Us Paranoid

  1. I have read and been told that 1% of people are psychopaths, but they cannot be spotted, they are a bit like parasites. Any successful system has parasites who feed off it. I think this is where all talk of evil comes from, most of the time it is just paranoia, but it is I believe based on that 1% of people who are genuinely psychopaths or sociopaths and have no sense of compassion for other people.

    • Perhaps. I would contend that evil is merely a subjective view on any given situation. It is not that the 1% of people who are legitimate psychopaths insight the concept of evil in others, it is that we all have 1% of their perspective that is psychotic in nature, and so we all create evil by insisting that there are evil things running against us in life. One does not need to be an evil person to believe evil exists. Evil habits can be performed by otherwise sane and hospitable people. It also depends on the degree of evil. Committing a ‘bad’ act like stealing from a store is not necessarily completely evil, but it is a degree of evil.

      • By the 1% evil I mean there are some who, the more you help them, or try to sympathise, the more they manipulate and take advantage of you. With those people I really think, you need to learn to perceive them early and not waste effort on them, as they simply don’t have the normal human conscience that the other 99% of us have, that makes us, although commit bad acts, willing to learn from them genuinely and take it on board ourselves, and not just pretend or give a veneer of being sorry, but not actually taking it on board at all, like the 1% evil I believe do.

  2. To continue that thought, I think as you say we would do well to be more accepting of our weaknesses, but I like to think that is a bit different from having an evil side. There are a lot of people who are very moralistic and I don’t have ,much time for that as with a good person it has to come from within, not based on someone telling them what to do and how to act, or judging them and making them feel guilty. We are all human and make mistakes, and noone should be put on a pedestal in that sense as you suggest.

  3. One could argue that religion itself could be responsible for this black-and-white concept of good and evil. Perpetuated by the media, it permeates our minds, programming us with this notion that a person is one or the other, or if doubt pervades, then they are ‘infected by evil’ and it must be driven out. You cite Satan as an example. There are numerous others, possession movies, for example, send a strong signal to the public. Evil infects and it must be purged. Or why not burn the suspects after plonking them into a pond…
    With this sort of constant propaganda, it will be many generations before the concept that we are who we are is likely to be an acceptable notion.

    • Very fair point. The concept of religion usually demands a separation of good and evil, and therefore a source of good and evil. Some are some, however, which find both good and evil to come from the same source, or consider them a balance of each other, both to be accepted as purposeful and inevitable. Only some religions demand that we ‘take sides,’ and so personify an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ scenario. I hesitate to say that this war-like mentality against evil would not exist if it were not for religion. I think that it is more the nature of man, that war would still exist regardless, and so the taking sides mentality would still exist as well. It’s hard to say since it’s practically impossible to imagine how man would be without religion at this point.

  4. As a philosophical Taoist, I don’t believe there is such a thing as pure evil – or pure anything for that matter. I try to encourage at least a certain amount of compassion for all the characters I write. As far as Western religion and the media go, I think they are purely beyond hope. πŸ˜‰

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. πŸ™‚ The ideas of good and evil to me (even before I began looking into Eastern religions more thoroughly) have always been subjective and blended. I wish the Western religious and Western media mentality were not so engrained that people around here just can’t even empathize or comprehend the Eastern way of thinking. It’s so hard to discuss these things when I’ve found I can pretty must empathize with anyone about anything (although I certainly have my own way of thinking for my own life), but others have no empathy at all.

  5. Evil exists in the human condition. It is up to us to stave it off.

    I do not consider myself evil, but a few years ago on Halloween duty, taking the kids out and following them along and giving them lifts between long rows of unlit homes, I witnessed an event that brought my evil to the surface. I had just let them out of the truck, and they headed across the street, which was clear when they got out, in the brief moment it took them to get halfway across, a car (an SUV actually, Ford Bronco) jetted literally out of nowhere, my youngest son stopped short just in time, it looked like the vehicle brushed against his nose from my viewpoint. I did not know till later it did run over his toes. Anyway, a woman got out of the vehicle (wasn’t the driver) and asked if everyone was ok. I was faced with 2 options, get out of my truck and go to jail. Or sit there fuming inwardly, knowing everyone was indeed ok, and that fact more important than me becoming the incredible Hulk.

    I chose option 2. We no longer do the Halloween thing, we just grab a couple bags of candy and throw it to them…It was a close call, the Hulk almost lived.

    I do not see evil, or good, as black and white. Evil is something that exists in us all, waiting to be unleashed. We just have to try to be better than that. We are not that far removed from our evolutionary ancestors as we would like to believe…As far as religions take on evil, you know my take on religion πŸ™‚

    • Agreed. The ideas of good and evil are certainly not in black and white, and I would further that idea by saying they are never objective. What one person finds to be evil another can perceive to be good due to the possible outcomes. I’ve given the example before, but a nurse delivering a baby may look like a good thing to the mother, but the nurse may be missing the last minutes of her father’s life because she has to help deliver the baby. To the nurse, there is a degree of evil within the her situation, even in the birth itself is not evil. Those impulses which can lead us to do evil acts, such as your example, are precisely what we should strive for; realizing that reacting in an evil manner is not the answer.

      And actually, as I read through this last paragraph, I’d be tempted to say that good and evil are only perceptions, and not even actual states of being. We can react positively or negatively, but that does not necessarily equate to reacting in a good or evil manner.

      • Hey Rana,

        Cant argue with this either, when you take the philosophical perspective of evil, everything is relative to social norms, or individuals perceptions.

        Is it evil for African cannibals to eat the dead? Not to them.

        Is it evil to behead those whom you feel are infidels, or throw acid in womens faces? Not to many Muslims.

        Is it evil to squish a bug? Not to just about all the kids I have had a hand in raising. When they get big enough to understand, I did explain to them that these bugs are as evolved as we are, and deserve to live just as much as we do. But you can’t drive that into the mind of a 5 year old.

        Was it evil for the perpetrators of the Crusades to go around killing all of those who would deny this new religion to be forced upon them? Not to the Church behind it, or the men wielding the swords.

        Evil, or perceptions and degrees of it, would probably have different data points for each of us, however I am pretty sure, among those who can have an intelligent conversation, a reasonable definition could be agreed upon.

  6. To me, evil is simply an adjective, albeit a very powerful one. I use it when I can find no other word or set of words to describe something terrible and horrific that just needs something extra to ram the point home. For example, I can use no other word to describe the holocaust. That doesn’t mean that I believe that it was other-worldly or that it exists as a force (in the same manner that I don’t believe that good is other-wordly or exists as a force). It is a adjective that I use to describe a set of actions or an event that has transpired. Now I’m not sure I 100% agree with Shelldigger in that evil exists in everyone. I would put a qualifier on it and say that I think some people are more pre-disposed to acts of “evil” than others are. Along the same lines as ordinary people vs sociopaths vs pyschopaths. There are genetic, environmental, upbringing issues amoung the many things that contribute to the degree of “evil” that someone is capable of. In the case of the holocaust, enough like-minded people felt that Jews were the cause of all of societies ills and decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to kill every last one of them.
    Now as far as religion is concerned I’d have to put it like this: Good people will carry on doing as much good as they can, evil people will carry on doing as much ill as they can. If you want a good person to do an evil thing, you need religion. Now what do I mean by that? I mean to say that people, as stupid and as ignorant and hateful as they can be, would likely not get the idea to fly planes into the world trade centre and kill 3000+ people because their imam told them that they were doing god’s work and that when it’s all over, they get the ultimate reward in the eternity of paradise. I mean to say that people would likely not get their newborn baby boy’s penis mutilated in a barbaric manner because their rabbi told them it’s part of a covenent with god. And I am NOT talking about the WHO version of a circumcision but the traditional Jewish one that includes to complete removal of the entire foreskin via being cut off and sucked off with the rabbi’s mouth. Disgusting, barbaric, EVIL.
    So to address a point made – can we “kill evil”. No, I don’t think we can. Our frontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big. To echo Shelldigger’s sentiments, we most certainly do bear the stamp of our lowly origins. We’re not as smart as we think we are, we certainly aren’t as good as we like to think we are. Hopefully (if the human race survives long enough) we’ll evolve to a point where we are capable of less barbarism and “evil”. We’ve made some good progress in the first 100-150 000 years, but we still have a long way to go.

    • Very fair point. Again, even in this case, I would tend not to use good and evil, but instead look at it as people being prone to seeing and reacting to the world in a positive way versus a negative way. Even a psychopath can love and care for a pet.

      I find it funny you say that to make a good person commit an evil act, you must have religion. I just saw someone else post that exact phrase on a completely unrelated thread today, and I must say I really want to sit and contemplate that phrase a little. Perhaps I will post about it specifically sometime this week, depending on the time I have.

      Oh, by the way. I wanted to share that not only is this your 101st comment on my blog, you have officially posted more comments than RT! XD I know, it’s a kind of pitiful celebration, but I like pretty numbers and celebrating mediocre accomplishments. It’s the OCD 5 year old in me. XD

      • LOL Rana! Thanks for the laughs (about the 101st comment). I haven’t been keeping track myself and I didn’t realize I’d rambled so many times! Anywho, I hope you found some useful substance to some (most? all?!?! LOL) of my posts and they provided you with at least some food for thought. Considering the amount of posts I’ve made, I guess you can kinda tell that many of the topics you’ve brought up have piqued my interest.

          • Hey Rana,

            This is an aside from a conversation in another post. You conversed with me for a bit and with Geddy for a bit. I just wanted to post this definition (from Wikipedia) of the word “religion” and demonstrate why calling atheism a religion is so utterly ridiculous.
            “Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.[note 1] Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature, people derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.[1]
            Many religions may have organized behaviors, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration of a deity, gods or goddesses, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religions may also contain mythology.[2]”
            Ask yourself these yes/no questions and you’ll see what I mean:
            Does atheism have a collection of beliefs? A cultural system? a world view that relates humanity to an order of existence? narratives? sacred histories intended to explain the origin of life or the universe? organized behaviours? clergy? holy places? rituals? sermons?…I could keep going but I think you get the picture. Calling someone a “high priest of atheism” is an oxy-moron. It’s akin to saying the best mute opera singer or the best blind seeing-eye dog.

    • Hey Ashley πŸ™‚ …I should perhaps clarify, I feel like the capacity for evil exists in us all, it just takes a certain catalyst to bring it out. I have been angry before, I am aquainted with angry, and have showed my ass on more than one occaision. But, that night my son almost got run over, that was another level of anger, I could taste the evil coursing through my veins. I wanted to go rip the doors off of that vehicle, then roll it over a few times, and then drag the driver out for a berating that would have melted the brass from a doorknob. Thing is once you start upon that path, there is no telling what the outcome may be, circumstances often create unforseen courses of action. I’m just glad I did not go there. My point I am trying to make is, that response exists in us all, you just may not know what that catalyst may be…yet. I am convinced however, this kind of anger response that leads to points unknown, is there in all of us. Buried deeper in some, shallower in others, and unknown to many, until the day fate leads you there.

      I posted a story on my blog a while back about a group of people in India being run over by a train. Completely different circumstances, but that incident incited a mob to kill, or almost kill, depending on which story you read, the driver of the train. Then set the train on fire, and then hinder rescuers efforts to reach the scene. That is the kind of situation people can encounter, reacting to bad situations in anger and letting that anger reach into the primal darkness of humanity and do things they might not ordinarily do. That is the evil I refer to. The one that goes relatively unseen until it is triggered. (see crime of passion)

      There are other forms of evil even more atrocious. The Pol Pots, the Hitlers, and Husseins the serial killers, the child rapers, the people that do terrible things because it brings them some sick sense of pleasure, the people that fly planes into buildings, and strap bombs to themselves to kill innocents, and children for shock value. Evil comes in many guises.

      You mention the evil in religion. This evil is apparent to many of us, ignored by those who would rather not see it. Religion is a from of tribalism. If you ain’t one of us, then you are one of ‘them’. Them…is to be despised. Them are less than human. Them can and should be mistreated and killed because they aren’t one of ‘us’. Them are so bad you should kill them all, kill their oxen and their sheep, and dash their childrens heads against the rocks while you are at it. Then plunder as you desire. That is some first rate evil right there. Where does one find such evil you ask? The bible of course. Odd that a book devoted to so much evil is touted as a book of good.

      …and yes, we have a long way to go.

      • Hey Shelldigger,

        Thanks for the clarification post. I totally get where you’re coming from. I would have had the same thoughts that you had if my step-daughter had been nearly run over by a car. But in your case, that’s exactly where they stayed – as thoughts and didn’t turn into action. In addition to that, I don’t think I’d personally use the world “evil” to describe those thoughts. I suspect that your reaction (the thoughts you had) would be very common because it’s an evolutionary response to become hostile where the protection of one’s offspring is concerned (especially when they are at a young age). I tend to think of evil as something else. The torture of someone because it gives you pleasure, the killing of entire races or religions or disabled people because you think that it’s necessary in order to have a prosperous society, etc.
        In the case of your son almost being run over, while the thoughts you had might have been an over-reaction (which I am only too happy to concede would have echoed my own thoughts), they were brought out in response to a potentially life threatening situation, and as crude as this sounds, the berating (and even physical altercation) would have actually served a purpose – to get the other person to think (and look where they are going) before they blindly get in a car, put it in reverse and just start driving. This would be of benefit not just for your child, but for everyone’s children. Now on the other hand, believing that you need to kill every single Jew in Europe because they’ve “poisoned the wells” so-to-speak – there’s nothing rational in that thought process.
        That’s personally how I view “evil” – An unprovoked, unnecessary, overly vicious, barbaric response to a delusional, imaginary threat.
        But hey, that’s must my opinion! I don’t consider myself to be an absolute authority on this subject. I’ll leave that to the more pious individuals who sometimes post “thoughts” on this blog.

        • Hello again Ashley πŸ™‚

          I cannot complain about your interpretation of what consists of evil. Sounds like a good argument to me.

          …thing is, it was Halloween night, there were literally 100’s of kids walking the streets, and this nimrod thought accelerating through the neighborhood was a good idea. What welled up in me might not fit a good accurate description of evil, but it sure as hell felt like it πŸ˜‰

          …and lol, leave it to the fundamentalists to know everything… including what and how to think, especially how to interpret “their” ideas on little black books from 2000 years ago, how to dress, who to marry, what to teach children in public schools, whose asses to kiss, and, hey wait a minute! Nevermind.

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