Monday, December 17, 2007

Does Evil Exist?

There is a wide variety of opinion on the existence of evil. Some see any opposing force as evil, while some think that to be termed evil requires an act resulting in an injury to life of some kind. What are your thoughts? How does your belief about evil effect your life?

The 19th century Christian mystic Thomas Troward defined evil this way: "This is the old original sin of Eve. It is the belief in Evil as a substantive self-originating power. We believe ourselves under the control of all sorts of evils having their climax in Death; but whence does the evil get its power? Not from God, for no diminution of Life can come from the Fountain of Life, however evil may have relative existence, it can have no substantive existence of its own. It is not a Living Originating Power. God, the Good, alone is that.

What we recognize as Evil is the One Good Power working as Disintegrating Force, because we have not yet learnt to direct it in such a way that it shall perform the functions of transition to higher degrees of Life without any disintegration of our individuality either in person or circumstances. It is this disintegrating action that makes the ONE Power appear evil relatively to ourselves; and, so long as we conceive ourselves thus related to it, it does look as though it were Zero balancing in itself the two opposing forces."

What do YOU think?


Daily Spirit said...

When I first read the title of this post, I answered, "I am a Christian. I believe in polarities - in and of themselves and yes, as decided from the beginning with GOD as victor, evil exists as does Satan.

Derek said...

I tend to answer questions like this with other questions, because I don't feel my finite mind has an answer.

If the past is gone, it cannot return. All evil is evil by judgement of humankind. How can we judge that which no longer exists? In reality, there is only now.

Steven said...

I believe that there are people whose intents are quite mean spirited. This is what we define as evil.
I also believe that God gave us freedom of choice. We could either choose to move deeper into the light or away from the light. Ultimately there is no "right and wrong"; God gives us the choice to explore - but there is Karma, or learning one's lessons and intimately seeing the consequences of ones life choices on a soul level.
The Unity Church of Christianity as I understand it believes that there is no evil, but rather a lack of light. They suggest that negative acts are calls for love.
Perhaps this is what was meant when Jesus said to "turn the other cheek"

phil said...

Neither good nor evil exists. There is positive and negative but not good and evil. The Universe is polarized in order to manifest. If there is an up, there must be a down-but down is not evil. That is why we are told not to judge-a judgement is a final decision and unless you have access to infinite-you cannot make a final decision. What is judged good today, may be judged bad tomorrow. If there was evil-then it had to be in the consciousness that created the Universe. The wheel turns and a balence is created-but these are not judgements-only cause and effect!

G said...

Evil is when the gift of choice given from the creator, is made to question, reject & oppose the truth. In creation one chose to oppose, in mankind we have the gift of indivdual choice, choose well, for it is eternal.

Tomas Karkalas said...

Evil exist. The denying of the evil means the denying of God. Evil would like to remain unnamed, because that gives him the power over us, but when we listen (not read, but listen) to the Bible the evil becomes defeated.
The concept of evil explains the power of our free will to choose. Thus I am free either to worry for myself or to shine the love by recognizing oneself in the eyes of other...
It would be very easy to start making excuses for my English, but that would symbolize my failure. Yes, I dont hear English around, but that means totally nothing,- I heartily thank you for the possibility to give you this feedback - to awake and step aside from the killing apathy.
May be, my pictures talk better than my lips, but the art colors and the words reveal the same in the essence.

Merry Christmas.

Ralph said...

Evil spelled backwards = Live. If we look at the Curriculum in this 3D world as (Life 101) with All of it's many lessons. We have a choice to learn, "The easy Way"(Forward) or "The Hard way" (Backward) Once we Ascend our Consciousness out of the realms of Duality to a level of "Oneness" Living and learning becomes quite easy by reducing all things to a common denominator. Simply put, All things just Are, As we learn, our observations and opinions of things change. ( What seemed not good yesterday, becomes Good Today)
Cold is only the absence of Heat, Darkness, the absence of Light and Evil is the absence of The Oneness.
Beyond illusion, (the Duality of Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Up and down, Right and Left or belief or non belief) is the Consciousness of Knowing. (The Oneness), (All things Just are as we Create them) We know when we are Hungry, tired, Awake etc. So in summary, Evil seems to exist to us only when we Resist the lesson. If we Accept, learn,and Understand the Oneness of All things, Life continues without Evil. We are Eternal Beings experiencing a Moment in what is called time and All is what We make of it.

Christine Vyrnon said...

I appreciate what ralph says above. I think the idea of "evil" has a lot to do with being too ATTACHED to something... whether an actual thing or a definition of the idea of "good". I'm not saying that attachment equals evil... but attachment to an idea feeds Energy to the thing/idea (good/evil). Practicing nonattachment... Allowing... removes a great deal of the need for there to be an evil or good thing/idea. And practice is practice. Practice is not meant to be perfect!

Anonymous said...

I know from experience that when you have been assaulted or stalked or had a family member murdered, it's hard. I wonderful if prisoners in relocation camps can get past the idea of evil while they are feeling the pain of deprivation. How does a child being continually abused see evil? And how does it effect their lives?

Anonymous said...

When you stop eating from the tree of good and evil, you start eating from the tree of life.

Paulette said...

Neville On The Wheel of Recurrence:

This world is based upon a circular principle which repeats itself
over and over again, whereas redemption is based upon a spiral
principle. Breaking away from the wheel of recurrence, one moves up
in a spiral motion - like the seraphim - and is redeemed. We are
told that: "As the lightening shines from the east to the west so
will the coming of the son of man."

People are looking for lightening to strike on the outside, but it
strikes within. Your head is the Mount of Olives, and your body is
that which is split from east to west. One half moves north as one
half moves south, leaving a great valley. At the base of your spine
you will see a pool of golden, liquid, pulsing light which is the
blood of God. Fusing with it, you ascend into your skull like a
fiery serpent and your skull reverberates like thunder.

I am telling you what you are going to experience, whether you can
accept it or not and I know that you will never disprove it. I have
awakened you, momentarily, but you may fall back to sleep again and
continue your dream, of which you are its sole author. It's very
easy to be caught up in the reality that you, yourself, are making,
even though what you see may frighten you.........

The story of Christ is not what the world is talking about. He isn't
going to change the world. Tomorrow's generation may think it will
be different, but poverty will exist then as it does now. There will
be changes in passion and eventually they will return to what they
were. It's like a wheel. It's a circular principle where nothing
changes. The individual changes only when he leaves the wheel in a
spiral motion, and that is when he is redeemed. He returns to the
world from which he came, enhanced by reason of his experience of
death in this world called earth.

Josie said...

"There is no dream, no vision, without meaning, for God speaks to
man through the medium of dream and unveils himself in a vision. What you experience in vision is right for that particular level of your being, but when it is reduced to this level the thought would be
totally wrong. Man, having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good
and evil, decides what is right and what is wrong, thereby descending into the mire of confusion. But when he turns around he discovers that nothing is either right or wrong. On a certain level it is right and on another level it is wrong. So learn to accept every level, and as you do you will ascend the tree of life to discover that every
level - when viewed from there - is right when you know how to
interpret it." - Neville

Anonymous said...

If GOD is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient - everywhere at the same time and all knowing, how can evil exist? How can GOD and evil be in the same place at the same time? Either GOD is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient or HE is not.

This universe will unfold without a care for our unlimited perceptions and there really is nothing we can do to influence the blossom of the flower. We should simply stand in awe of the magnificence, get the lesson and move on.

Love and Peace

Molly Brogan said...

I must say that I disagree. If, "there is nothing we can do" then why live? I believe that our role is to add possibility to the blossom as it unfolds. We are the creation and the creators. We participate in the spiral, breathe life with love and beauty, or not. This is our choice.

freeatlast said...

But we DON'T live in a black and white world where good and evil are defined as such... and rarely does it "exist" on the edges of the color spectrum... the life of either/or, in or out, yes or no is an illusion and though western life and thought processes may want to think so, is not the entirity of our so-called existence...
evil is quite subjective. I think the word itself is so loaded that there must be a more modern way of discussing that idea...

It seems that a lot of what is described as "dark" is a euphemism for depression, introspection, fear or even death... none of which are -Evil-.

Molly Brogan said...

I agree. The "knowledge" of the tree of good and evil only begins there, with the first two dimensions for a linear thought. One point up, one down, and the line between gives the thought two dimensions. Add depth, and we can apply up and down, or good and evil, to every level of life from subatomic to cosmic - three dimensional thinking. Add the forth dimension of time, and we can note change over time. This gives our thinking changeability. Some would say the fifth dimension to add is compassion - where Christ meets Buddha - and the good and evil become so multi dimensional and nondual that the charge to it changes. Scientists tell us that there are an infinite number of dimensions and each dimension itself is infinite. Somewhere in that process of including dimension to thinking, we must connect with all there is and the god within us, don't you think?

sparrow said...

Evil exists in us - in our mind - knowledge is evil. We - each one of us is a reflection of the mankind - our past - a product of time and knowledge - knowledge being the evil root of this immoral society with intellectual divisions we have build so far and where we continue to live. There is no concept of evil - we are the evil - we promote violence - hatred - greed - jealousy - brutality - everyday as the immoral society created by us - shapes all our thoughts and actions. We also need to understand how this society drives us to a constant chase for more of everything - be it arms, territory, love, material, knowledge, spirituality, acceptance, technology, everything - which again contributes to our envy, greed, hatred and violence.

The human mind always seeks security from childhood till the day we die - and the circle of security gets build from all knowledge we acquire - knowledge being incomplete in all sphere - the wall of security and corresponding illusion of self-image is also incomplete - we imagine we are secure with this religion, we are secure with this nation, we are secure in a relation, we are secure in a position, we are secure in health - but since its never complete and based on incomplete knowledge and understanding - conflict occurs at all level. Conflicts which give birth to hatred, violence, competition, anger, envy and all the evils.

Its a big subject - and this is just a short preview. Its like a whole movie - built on a story of observation of you and me - its difficult for me to project the whole movie when this place permits me to show only a preview:)


Barbara said...

People emulate / imitate the God they imagine which is THE reason why our god-concept is so important. IMO, polytheism seems more functional than monotheism... There's no 'separation' from God, no sin by Eve for which to be cast out of the Garden... only that God has many faces which are acceptable.

When a person selects the Grim Reaper costume from god's closet, Evil appears. It stinks, as fear & death are undeniably odorous in the body. I think there's no point in denying that when deeply and sufficiently threatened, every person carries this capacity for evil; however lovey-dovey we may be (and I suspect that excess dovey produces the severest backlash). I know I have a capacity for evil, and likewise consider myself a compassionate person. Will tomorrow bring me to my knees in the type of fear that can morph me into a stand-up Reaper? Everything is possible...Stay tuned! :)

Kathy said...

I'm not sure I follow all of what Troward is saying, might possibly be easier if read in the context of a larger text ... But this I do catch: "however evil may have relative existence, it can have no substantive existence of its own". If I read it aright, he goes on to say that we will continue to struggle aganist the presence of evil in our lives as long as we're unable to reconcile our relative viewpoint with an understanding of All (ONE, Tao). I like the word "integration" that you used in another post for this idea ...

In the tradition that I'm most interested in, I think this is expressed in the Heart Sutra (the famous "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" teaching). We already have an understanding of form, that's our relative viewpoint. We can achieve a realization of emptiness through insight meditation or other direct experience of life. Getting stuck on form without a realization of emptiness is a source of suffering. Denying form in favor of emptiness is a source of suffering. When we can interact with form while recognizing its foundation of emptiness, I guess that's integration? Or it can be called the Middle Way.

Bottom line with regard to evil: there are most certainly terrible experiences to which we may apply this label. I think "it shouldn't have happened, can't be allowed to happen again" is a futile struggle against evil from a relative perspective and "it doesn't exist, it's all in your mind" is a futile struggle against evil from an absolute viewpoint. Integration can open up avenues to peace.

nativewolf said...

I have often found it interesting and amusing at times that many religions have a concept of evil as a sentient force in the universe. IMHO, that is a direct insult to the Creator of all things or God if you will. Historically, the concept of a devil or Satan was a somewhat useful tool to control the populace especially the nomadic tribes that eventually became Israel. Supposedly man-kind was given free will and it was from that, that some behavior could be described as evil (which is simply 'live' spelled backward which was the early church's way showing something was evil such as Satanist's saying the Lords Prayer backward). Many of the Judeo-Christian ideologies were 'borrowed' from other traditions or cultures to either exemplify evil or good. Satan is a devrivation of the hebrew word Shatan, meaning adversary (which was a military rank), or the word demon from the Greek daemon meaning a familiar spirit, much like angels or Hell from Norse mythology (which for the Vikings was not a bad place)Hel was also the daughter of Thor. For me if there is evil, it is by choice not a sentient presence in the universe. Of course, the Devil made me say all of that!

Marc said...

What is Evil?
As we can only experience the world through relative contrast, it is that which allows us to see and experience 'Good'.
It is nothing more than one end of a set of the many complimentary pairs that constitute our reality.
The values that we assign to those pairs, and where we find ourselves along the sliding adjustment bar between the two extremes, is nothing less than the definition of who we are as individuals.
We make a mistake when we cease to see such concepts as subjective and relative.
Once we believe that we can assign some absolute value to such an idea, we have taken the first step towards intellectual chauvinism, if not totalitarianism.
This is one of the problems with fundamentalists and religious zealots.
They are beyond doubt.
They are in possession of a moral certitude that is among the most dangerous things in this world, and, in my opinion, ironically enough, one of the most 'Evil'.

Cynthia said...

My only response, the one thing I can think, is that evil is simply the absence of loving compassion.

Ulysses said...

Evil can be a perception. Ghandi thought British rule and presence in India was Evil, the British didn't. We encounter examples of evil all the time because those examples violate the mores of Our society but not so with the Mayan society where ceremonies of sacrificial offerings to the gods were norm.

Fritzi is a schizophrenic who adapted his world to accommodate his personality disorder. Social mores clearly define his behavior as Evil but aside from the prisoner aspect there exists an age old taboo, incest, which to some is simply sex between consenting adults. Fritzi's multiple problematic behavioral patterns defined his path of deception. He could not openly conduct himself in a way to satisfy his subversive urgings, so he created a secret world. Fritzi is not the first and so I will remind you of the evil doings of John Esposito perpetrated upon 10 year old Katie Beers............,9171,1101930125-160815,00... .....

Does evil exist? Evil exists as defined by individual and societal mores. However, there is another aspect of evil, as I see it, that is the influence upon a person's psyche by a cosmic energy. By that I mean a influence beyond that of the conscious level of any individual, the influence that induces subconscious action on the conscious level, as if it were a dream. The influence that is responsible for crimes in which the perpetrators insist they did not know why they did it, they don't know what came over them, I heard voices, the devil made me do it. This is remedied by a change in consciousness. Many unfortunately change their consciousness after the evil deed has been done and they have been apprehended, typical. Contemporary example is Bernard Madoff, who exclaims he is ashamed and know his actions were criminal, but never in the past viewed his actions in such a way, never sought help to get out of his scheme. Many serial killers apologize to victims families with tears in their eyes when confronted with the change of consciousness that allows them to see that they accommodated evil, gave into the intrusion, fell weak to the influence, became the perpetrating puppet.

I know your forthcoming questions! Where does this energy come from, what color is it, what does it taste like, what shape is it and is there "empirical" evidence to show that it exists. For this I leave to the genius of my Minds Eye Amigos! Go for it mates!!

But of course I have my take which is analogous to that of violent storms, the convergence of energies. Where do those energies come from? What does it matter when upon their convergence violence occurs with the magnitude that leaves a path of destruction and death. We are appalled when someone goes berserk and kills a group of innocents but in reality the forces of nature in one svelte swoop kills thousands. Is that evil? Is evil just a human concept or part of a universal principle upon which we have to initiate resistance to block out, to repel the intrusion in our lives and the lives of others?

Ulysses said...

One thing I must add after much thought is the question pertaining to the method of diffusing evil, the evil that presents itself in the form of oppression and atrocity, committed in the name of hatred or out of fear. Should we simply snuff out evil via method of execution or try to overcome the evil consciousness in the minds of the purveyors of such evil? Is it at all possible? Hopefully we as a species will someday come to the realization that we have nothing to fear from each other and the aspect of giving to someone else is actually the act of giving to yourself.

Vamadevananda said...

Evil, at its origin and formation ( yes, there is a process along which evil is ' formed ' ), is the propensity to be unclear, to be unhappy, and a denial or missing - out on making the ' right ' choices, responsibly in response to one's own true nature with which clarity and happiness associates, at those ' forming ' knots along which spiritual - intellectual - emotional - life force ( action ) manifestation of the individual being, personality or character manifests, with which one then has to live and suffer or enjoy, as the case may be.

Spiritually evolved souls happen to make those ' right ' choices, responsibly, in the cause of clarity and happiness, leading to its rise and presence in oneself and among others.

I am not positing an intent behind the warp, which is in the nature of the process how evil comes to be, except the intent and responsibility we each have towards our own spiritual evolution, however and wherever we each are.

The individual as he / she is ' formed ' could be evil, not at the source. What one declares it to be depends on what is in one's eye, the form or the source !

Neil said...

I would rather the tears in a serial killer's eye were due to a sensibly applied red-hot poker than another evil attempt to manipulate another victim - this time one he or she can only work on mentally. I still care what my ex feels, though there was and is nothing I can do about it. Her madness would have brought us both down, and she was actively lying to try and get me in trouble. My compassion stretches a long way and I had tried very hard to stay on out of some sense of decency to protect her. It was a waste of time. I left her what I had and note there would have been no proportionality for me in the legal system as a man anyway. I use the term evil a lot - I believe human resource management is an evil - an Undead. Some people are daft enough to think I think personnel managers are vampires, but sadly, stakes through the heart don't work - though they might if I could get at all of them together at one time and prevent personnel departments ever springing up again (Townsend's solution in 'Up The Organisation'). I note though, that we traditionally show great tolerance towards those about to invade Czechoslovakia (oops - it's gone!) before slapping them down.

Orn finds something spiritual is seems in introspection. I tend to find squalor and remembered trauma - I note that some like this is around in society in utterly crap Soho-type spots and pornography and that I am not instantly repelled by at least some of this. I suspect we have more concrete examples of the presence of evil than we generally accept and do little to try and understand this. Crass censorship is no good and smacks of Freudian 'hiding stuff under the carpet leading to the return of desire through the unconscious' type drivel. A better concept of evil might help us in this kind of area. In the end, my guess is that pedophile, rape and other scumbag sexual behaviour could be "justified" through the notion we are really just vessels for our seed - as we get older or if we are generally pathetic then we will try to herd up the weaker females less attractive to the alphas and so on, through tactics other than those we cannot or can no longer compete in. I do wonder whether this kind of impasse is reason for morality and concepts like good and evil. I have yet to meet a decent, 'accidental' sexual offender, though have seen the tears of many and even managed to arrest a few within hours of the 'I'll never do it again' promise - though we should remember here that some decent enough guys are set up by gold-diggers. In London, it pays as a senior (target-paid) police officer to record rapes as 'other crime' - hence we had a black cab driver going round raping over 200 women for many years. I see 'evil' in the public tears of a whole range of bureaucrats who prevent us from getting decent services and are always so compassionate after the disaster. The ultimate evil to a Proddy was Catholic confession and absolution. To prevent evil, one takes responsibility.

Francis said...

I have been in situations where others may well have regarded me as being evil. In the years I spent managing old-peoples' homes I remember a number of interviews with employees which started with, "Nobody wants to hurt you ..." and finished with the said person being fired, or, more usually, being put in positions where they had very little option other than to quit. At the time I could rationalise the situation by arguing that it was my job, or that I had a wider responsibility to the residents, the co-workers, or the church organisation which owned the home. It was even true. But such experiences were also part of my decision to stop doing that sort of work.

I question evil because I don't know the answer. In my life I have experienced stupidity, weakness, illness, thoughtlessness, mistakes, hurt and hurting. In myself and in others. I visited Auschwitz many years ago - I experienced it as a very silent place and found myself crying when I stood in front of a huge glass box full of childrens' shoes. I do not doubt that what I saw there - and what occurred there - was evil. But were the thousands involved (and the many other at least hundreds of thousands who knew or suspected what was going on) all evil? I do not know.

The world-view of purgatory and hell, a vengeful judging God, mortal sins and damned souls I experienced as a young Catholic child was certainly warped, damaged and disturbing. But I also experienced an open, courageous, engaged, forgiving, post-Vatican II vision of Catholicism, which I found many inspiring for many years, and many wonderful people energized by this vision and working to spread it. Many of them are still there. My conclusions 1) that I nonetheIess couldn't assent to the fundamental premises of the Church and 2) that under the Wojtila papacy the Catholic Church was consistently moving to reject the open vision which had inspired me developed contemporaneously and led me to sever my formal connections with the Catholic Church over twenty years ago.

Intelligent design, dumb design, malevolent design - I don't find much sense in any of them. I'm happy enough experiencing and reveling in the wonderful depth of Is-ness. One thing I do suspect, it's an easy and cheap answer to those whom we don't agree with to label them as being evil.

Molly Brogan said...

I think you are on to something there, Francis. Evil in general may be simple opposition to what we consider good - and most of us have a need to see ourselves as good. One way to do that (not a good one) is to find evil or wrong etc., in others. This kind of polarity is reflected in so many layers of life, physical, emotional, rational, material...

I have also been openly called evil, although I knew that the term simply meant that I did not agree with the speaker, and they were so attached to their own agenda that my disagreement was truly felt as evil by them. Once it blew over, it was obvious that they held that solitary perception of me, although in the moment, my fear was that the opinion would be shared. I have learned over they years to rely on my own moral compass which has been pretty good to me.

The idea about evil energy is an interesting one, although energy without individual intent might not fall into that realm. Karma would, but I am not sure that everyone holds the same view on that. I don't believe that anyone else's negative thoughts about me can be harmful, although their actions can become malicious or dangerous. I do think that my own negative thoughts and feelings can have a profound effect on my experience, and that might be part of Neil's taking responsibility.

Neil said...

History, which I suspect will not be human, will not judge us well. We are excuses. Most situations are a riddle of stories. The young boy next door is still rather lovely despite his parents' madness and criminality. He has not had much of the much vaunted help supposedly available and is not an exception to the rule. His mother is presumably about to go to gaol, having petrol bombed other neighbours. It's a squalid story of drink, drugs, criminality, domestic and other violence. His parents have been allowed to lie to prevent help. Bureaucrats would rather character assassinate anyone trying to help than actually help anyone. 'Devolved budgets' mean that help is not given as jobsworths cling to jobs, trying to fob the real problems of this boy off onto the national criminal budget. In the mess, there have been obvious steps to take and these have never been taken. Some of this would have been for 'experts' (this they are not) to have listened to the goings on from our home as we have been forced to do. Up the road a woman who went to the same infant school as our daughter dies unprotected from a violent partner - perhaps the young boy next door grown up. In all the complexity there will have been obvious steps to take. In the retrospective no agencies will be to blame and they will bring their power to their own protection, not to the job we presumably want them to do. Evil has been written of as banal before. There is something very familiar in the baby killing factories treating victims as Soylent Green and the lust for bonuses amongst the failed bwankers. This is Mouseworld, where the kings ensure their riches by retaining all others in poverty. We are always at risk of being kings, even in our control of compassion as a resource. Price, an American who gave us an equation of altruism key in understanding it is not 'high minded', eventually gave in to schizophrenia and God (the Xtian one), but at least gave away what he had and his life through a madness far less grim than that of the lives we pretend to be living. Reality and not living in it is our problem.

Francis said...

It occurred to me,that the word, "evil" in English is used somewhat differently to its German equivalent "böse". In German the word is used much more generally, e.g. "Du bist böse auf mich," transl. "You are angry with me," "Das ist eine böse Falle," transl. "That's a dangerous trap,", etc. "Böse" means evil, but can also mean bad, angry, dangerous, unpleasant in English. The term "evil" in English has, for me, more sinister connotations, but I may be just confused.

It was in this narrower, English context that I asked my question about the "collaborators" during the 3rd. Reich. The question that arises for me now is whether there is a difference between the Germans in the 1930s and 40s who knew that their Jewish neighbours had disappeared and were reportedly working in camps somewhere in the east and those of us today who buy numerous electronic devices suspecting that some of the metals built into them were mined by child/slave labour working in poisonous strip mines in Central Africa? Does complicity with evil make one evil? Are there degrees of evilness? Does widespread structural and institutional evil make all those who (often unthinkingly) profit from it evil themselves?

Molly Brogan said...

I think the world had a different moral code back then. No other nation stepped up when the US was wiping out the Native American tribes. Indeed, the Canadians provided safe haven, but did not engage the Americans. The ancient Romans engaged in genocide, as have African's - we can go on and on. I think today, looking at Somalia, it can go on for awhile before anyone challenges it. But we are moving into an era where globally we ban together and work toward ending this kind of "evil doing." We live in a world where this cannot stay hidden.

Is the question, what in human nature is destructive? Or cruel? Or murderous? Here in Detroit, the populous has been electing members of the Kilpatrick family to office for many years (Mayor and US Congress.) After the Mayor was removed from office for abuse of power and suspected in the later murders of two strippers his wife took a baseball bat to during a party at the Mayoral mansion, the feds began to investigate. Wow. Did it really take something like that to come to our attention? The feds have not yet indicted, but it is rumored that the investigation will reveal that the area has been long ravaged financially by this family in payoffs and power mongering. Why does it go on?

I think there is a level in our individual and group development, when we are so entrenched in self survival, and so need to follow the group, that predatory leaders like this can emerge and pillage, using rhetoric that speaks of group unity and identity, superficially fulfilling the needs of the group while confiscating the less visible assets. New technology is not a be all end all for us - but the wire tapping, text message retrieval, cell phone recording does allow enough transparency that these folks have a much harder time of it now. My guess is, that for all their "evil" ingenuity, they will need to find ways to lead more honestly to survive now and in the future. Is it evil? Is it part of human nature or development? Has it always been here? Will it ever go away?

Neil said...

I tend to think of evil as a virus - though I don't mean I'd go looking for it on the bench. We can all catch it, but probably get inoculated against it too - though here we should also remember that simple measures would eradicate malaria and we don't bother. I find much less evil around when people will try to assess and accept facts and take responsibility - our machine politicians don't recognise the damage they do with their denials and public relations claptrap. One can think of us infected by a Bureaucron species from afar, but I find most evil is concerned with groupthink and rationalisation. Disaster is very close. Cracking the evil of bureaucracy requires courage, but this in turn trumpets the existential hero, perhaps Kierkegaard or Nietzsche ironically urging us to ever more holiness beyond the pretences of the holy. Most of the scandals emerging in the UK at the moment involve bureaucratic lying by the usual suspects. We really need some form of branding so we can get on with the cull.

Michael said...

Evil exists if and only if good exists. Both good and evil exist if and only if a morality exists.

Whether or not a morality exists depends purely on what one means by a "morality." It's a definitional question, no? Clearly, people have moral intuitions, reflected in emotional preferences between options - certain options feel "right," certain options feel "wrong."

There are at least two possible preliminary definitions of evil. First, is it having an incorrect or backwards moral map, such that actions that the large majority of people view as "wrong" are instead viewed as right? Second, is it the ability or tendency to act contrary to one's moral map - i.e., to choose and actually carry out options that "feel" wrong?

I would suggest that this discussion is best carried out by focusing in on which question is being asked. Does the question "Does evil exist" refer to the first question, or to the second, or to either?

Secondarily - and this is something I will have less agreement on - I will suggest that the topic basically turns entirely on definitions and hence not much headway can be made in thinking about it. Are there people who consistently choose actions, a much larger percentage of the time than do ordinary people, that are viewed by the large majority of people as being wrong? Yes, of course there are such individuals. Are such actions evil? That depends entirely on whether you assign blame to them. One can feel viscerally angry with such people yet, from a purely logical standpoint, assign no "blame" to them.

Of course, generally in society we do assign blame. My personal tendency is not to do so - I don't find it very helpful. Actions exist in the world, I have visceral reactions and judgments of those actions, but I choose not to have "rational" judgments of those actions. It doesn't feel to me like it gets me anywhere.

Ulysses said...

Does Cold exist only if Hot exists?

Cold and Hot exist only because we exist?

Good and Evil transcend that of humanity, that of human morality.

Good and Evil existed long before the presence of humanity and humanity's sense of morality.

Neil said...

There is no need of high minded human egoism for either good or evil. There is much we might make of Slip.'s 'noticing' that such stuff was about long before 'us'. Even the urge to be good can be bad. The arguments should surely be about how we are so easily swayed by trinkets and fetish whilst others starve. There have been urgings of stricter morality - these usually ending up in mad sects so holy they decide to kill everyone else, or the long shaggy-dog stories of Kierkegaard or evil Popes recommending abstinence to African hookers. We, I suspect contain the evil and we need a cure. We know what this is, but are too evil to be bothered.

Pat said...

Personally, I see evil as I do good, they are both perceptions based on our limited understanding of the entire chain of events. Simply put, events occur. We supposedly intelligent beings put those events into a limited context (our understanding of the situation) and declare the event to be good or evil. Without a complete understanding of the state of the universe, it's our arrogance (in spite of our ignorance) that declares any event to be either good or evil. Now, even I tend to coldly lump Mr. Fritzl into the category of evil, but I do so knowing that my declaration doesn't make it so and, more than likely, if I knew all the variables involved in the situation (like whether or not any future offspring may turn out to be vital to human history, for example) I wouldn't be so 'careless' as to classify the events as evil. And, alas, my ignorance also prevents me from defending his actions even though my science background (in particular, the geometry of space-time containing no missing points) tells me that whatever happened was 'required' by the universe to get us all from point A to point B.

Molly Brogan said...

I am not so sure that good and evil exist outside of our consciousness. Or anything else, for that matter. I am sure that Justin can do more justice to this point than I can. But I think, we sometimes take identity in holding ourselves separate from others as we judge and value the differences. Not good or bad, it is something we humans do. Here, good and sometimes evil come into play as we explore the "I am not" of I am. Trouble is, the paradox of the Pharisee comes into play in the subtle levels, and what we are so certain we are not, we become in our entrenched separation. It is a huge leap to accept all the good and the evil, both as integral to life as the polarity that allows change in time and space - our separate nature. After all, we are the many and the one. But if we can we see, that while evil exists, it no longer has an evil value, but becomes the way of yin and yang and balance and if seen with love, joy. Here, evil is removed from our direct experience. Still on the outskirts of our consciousness, as is the spectrum of human experience, but directly, we are protected because we are not holding it in our thoughts and feelings.

When "bad" things happen in our lives brought on by "evil" doers, we ourselves are assigning those values and blame, and hold ourselves separate, saying "that is evil, I am not that." By doing so, we ourselves bring more of that into our direct experience. When Shiva makes an entrance into the lives of non dual thinkers, no value is assigned to the event. It is seen in much the Buddhist way, as a natural cycle of events and often taken on faith that construction and creation follow the destruction. What was before a "bad" event brought on by the evil people around me, becomes the dawn of possibility, as Shiva's mighty sword clears the way for it. The non dual thinker has long gotten over the "woe is me" state of mind when difficulties arise, and open themselves to possibility in a quiet state of active anticipation while feeling the connection to everyone and all that is.

Michael said...

True, cold could exist only if hot exists. "Hot" and "cold" are cognitive constructs referring to the subjective response we all feel with respect to being in the presence of molecules whose average kinetic energy is higher or lower than a baseline number we feel as mild.

What transcends humanity is the fact that molecules have kinetic energies. What does not transcend humanity (arguably) is "hot" and "cold." You can make arguments for "hot" and "cold" on the basis of other organisms that arguably feel. But "good" and "evil" are way too abstract, and those I think purely depend on human definition.

re: Neil's post: In what sense do we contain evil and need a cure? From whose perspective? There's a reason some philosophers posited that humans are fundamentally good, and others posited humans are fundamentally bad. It's a definitional matter. (Unless, say, you believe in God and define good as "that of which God approves").

Needless to say, I agree with Pat 100%. Sure, I'm a normal human being so on a visceral / colloquial level, I "feel" and "know" Mr. Fritzl is "evil." But we're not having a colloquial discussion right now. If I were talking to a friend I might say something like "Dude, that Austrian guy is so frickin eeevil." But we're having high- minded debate right now, and that won't cut it.

Pat's key point, from my perspective, is: "Now, even I tend to coldly lump Mr. Fritzl into the category of evil, but I do so knowing that my declaration doesn't make it so."

I also posit this further view: Where does viewing things as "good and evil" help us, as opposed to the reductionist view that hey, people have visceral reactions borne out of a combination of brain structure, personal experience, and cultural absorption (part of experience, of course, but I'm breaking it out because it's important), and most people happen to have the same positive or negative visceral reactions to a wide array of things (e.g., everyone reacts viscerally negatively to the idea of killing a helpless baby).

Richard said...

I think two of the best definitions of evil come from German literature, specifically Goethe's Faust. Mephistopheles initially defines himself as the spirit that always negates, since all of creation deserves to be negated. Faust, for his part, states that the devil is an egoist, who does not help others. These terribly oversimplify a beautiful and powerful work, but they are helpful to us: evil is that which seeks to negate all that is good, both the beauties of the physical world and the better impulses in humans; and it seeks purely to further its own negative ends. In the everyday world, we rarely find unalloyed evil- usually the will to negate is combined with some constructive impulse--but our world certainly sees it, as with the millions of deaths in the Congo. It is perhaps significant that when Russian troops were overthrowing a Fascist regime in Romania toward the end of World War II, the Fascist radio broadcast, "Long live death!" That comes as close to a pure expression of evil as you can easily find.

Ulysses said...

"I" (me) feel it is simply pre human, morphogenesis, cosmic collisions of energies. The struggle to establish survivability became the essence of what we now "label" good and evil, which we could also identify as positive and negative. Any cellular combat could be considered the struggle between good and evil, think about that next time you take some antibiotic (a form of genocide). The ethereal aspect merely demonstrates the inability for humans to comprehend the fact that the Universe does not revolve around human perception. As Neil points out above: "There is no need of high minded human egoism for either good or evil." We are not the center of life for there are millions of other life forms that exist around us, many of which we are still discovering. I know what I know because I know it and without knowing why. Perhaps gnosticism perhaps cosmic knowledge channel, you remember my radio signal analogy? Those of you who know me well know the extent of my academic background, for all other I no longer wish to share that, however the point is that knowledge does not always come from learning but from spirituality. Einstein attributed many of his understandings to his dreams. For those who do not believe in spirituality, that is your loss. This is not about religion or any deity belief system but about the spiritual nature of life. As for "someone" who also wanted "someone" to explain, I say the Sun is Hot because it "IS" hot not because of cognitive construct or because the North Pole is cold. Again yours is a view based entirely on human perception disregarding pre human existence. Otherwise, I guess the Sun didn't exist until humans existed. You (someone) says......."What transcends humanity is.... molecules have kinetic energies",! Could it be that positive and negative qualities could be assigned and that those energies are part of something more intricate? Gee, I've never been someone before and I've always wanted to be someone, and now I am someone!

Vamadevananda said...

" We, I suspect contain the evil and we need a cure. We know what this is, but are too evil to be bothered."

This is cynicism, steeped in despair and inaction ... a commonplace attitude in people who continue to oscillate between ' feeling ' good and feeling miserable.

There is a world beyond such a life filled with worthless ( read, unproductive ) ' feeling.' It's the world of effort we discover within ourselves, of application day in and day out, regardless of ' felt ' results. We need the urge to be good, to build upon that urge and take ourselves beyond, into the world of effort, and succeed at restoring us to the solid ground of our true self. We should rid ourselves of crocodile ( read, fruitless ) tears.

We should end up being and knowing, as a matter of fact, that we are a part of the solution. Any fool can bray and harp about the ' problems !'

Sorry, Neil, if my response to your words hurts. I am pathologically against the thought world your post represents.

Chris said...

I was hoping someone was going to point out that everyone seemed to be making the point that Good and Evil were subjective ("Without cold there would be no hot..."), and then turning right around and following that up with something that seemed to imply they were somehow objective.

The problem with fixed perspectives of moral absolutes of good and evil, such as those handed out by a purportedly objectivist view, is that they can't possibly be such, and fail in scenarios which require moral relativism. Not every situation does, and some might argue few situations truly do, but some situations certainly do, or we wouldn't be able to sit up here and play "What would you do if a madman pulled a gun and said bomb the tube or I kill your daughter?" Belief in a god given moral set is the only possible justification humans can give for moral absolutes, because it's the only explanation which over rides the common sense which suggests that sometimes, it's ok to break the rules.

We further delude ourselves with this concept that our natural human instincts to eat, and take, and fight and fuck are wrong, and then we truly start to believe that there must be some dark thing outside ourselves which forces us to want to do these things which are "evil". We are not evil ourselves. There must be something outside ourselves which is evil. QED, there must be something good, and that something good can save us.

The premise is based on a flawed assumption to begin with; that our natural hungers and desires are themselves, not a normal, healthy expression of us. That we should all be naturally, unassumingly altrustic, and that to feel any other way is a sign of negative outside influence. Once we dispel that myth, and recognize that our conscious choices to become altruistic as a method for the improvement of society, ONLY because better society provides better personal quality of life, it all starts to make sense. We see how we still are on the same biological evolutionary track, how sociological progression has occurred, and how the long conversations over seemingly minor twitches of semantics somehow seek to mystify something as natural as grass growing, and chicks hatching in spring.

Organisms all act in a fairly similar fashion. We do not spend much time thinking about whether a lion is evil when it brings down a young gazelle, and tears it limb from limb. Yet the same act in a human is "beastly!"

Of course it is. We're beasts. Some of us are better adjusted than others. This is not the influence of outside radio waves of dark malice. This is straight up old school Maslovian progression, with all the standard textbook pathologies, and we understand it a million times better than we did a hundred years ago.

Debate the definition of evil if you like, but the fact is, there's a pill for that.

Ulysses said...

Nothing forces us to do anything. We still have choice, awareness, rationale. As much as we can accept the possibility that good and evil are innate qualities embedded in the psyche , we can't rule out that "forces/energies" beyond our physical space can have or attempt influence upon our action. There are no fixed perspectives or absolutes concerning good or evil other than those established by individual or group choice, for whatever reason. They still float about in the opinion pool.

Pat said...

Good and evil only exist because we tend to put events into a context, which is, necessarily, limited by our tenure on this planet. Put an event into its COMPLETE context and you'll see just how 'required' every step was. It's like the anti-teleology view in that, one simply CAN'T deduce, from the middle of the story, whether or not there is an intended end.

Molly Brogan said...

- "that "forces/energies" beyond our physical space can have or attempt influence upon our action." -

Loud music, strong odor, water and air pollutants, all effect my action/reactions I suppose. But does it make them evil? Does evil need intent? If so, can mere intention really harm us? Or is the combination of intention and action that destroys necessary for evil?
I am not sure that a force or energy by itself is enough to qualify evil, even on a scalar level (which some would say requires intent.) But the effects of an atom bomb dropped in Detroit would ruin my day and more. Is the bomb evil? The guy who pushed the drop button? The folks who loaded the plane with the bomb? The inventor? This example is a good one, I think, because many of us have heard and can empathize with the story of Oppenheimer. I think the Japanese would see the bombing of Hiroshima as evil. I am not sure everyone in the world does.

Michael said...

One thing I have to disagree with you on, Pat, is your seeming contention that people tend to view an act as good or evil depending on its unforeseeable consequences.

Even if it turned out Fritzl's actions turned out to avert World War III (through some chaos theoretical, butterfly effect chain of events), I don't think that most people would have that change their view of the morality of his actions. They might be *glad* he acted as he did, because it averted a greater evil (by the way, I'm not sure that's even necessarily true - his daughter went through some pretty horrific stuff), but they wouldn't praise him for his actions unless he performed them *intending* to stop WWIII.

Morality is generally seen as depending on one's knowledge and intent at the time of the act, not on its consequences.

(Notably, there are a few exceptions. In criminal law, attempted murder is punished less severely than murder. I'm not sure this means that the system views attempted murderers as less morally culpable than successful murderers, but for whatever reason the difference in punishment is there.)

Pat said...

What you describe in your hypothetical is a classic unwitting sacrifice in which an individual suffers hardship without realising that, in the long run, it works out better for everyone. More than likely, GIVEN the reality of perturbation theory, this kind of thing happens every day at some level.

One of the arguments FOR his behaviour, I suppose, would be that there are lives that exist, now, because of it and we can't state that 'they shouldn't exist', yet that is the hidden statement when we condemn the actions that brought them into existence. Irrespective OF his intentions, there are, now, lives, and potentially, generations of offspring that, in the future, WILL HAVE REQUIRED Fritzl's actions for them (those descendants) to have any. Is it fair to those who don't yet exist, to moralise and contend that, perhaps, it would have been better/easier for their (great-)-great-grandmother, if they didn't exist? Tough call and one I wouldn't want to make.