This is an interesting little video on how we express our ideas about evil through various fictional and historical accounts on film. It seems a good time to examine such things as we are ten months into the fearful situation with the pandemic, in addition to the violence that unfolded this past week in the Capitol. People toss about the word evil like a balloon, floating it out there to describe any persons or events that we desperately wish to portray as “not who we are.” I tend not to believe in any traditional/biblical concepts of good and evil. Both seem entirely relative to winning and losing. Certainly some acts are so abhorrent that we would prefer not to think that anyone who isn’t manifesting some external, diabolical force could commit, yet enough of these acts are committed that it’s hard to deny that whatever we call evil exists within us.
You could argue this opinion, that evil is an abstraction and not a thing, but there seems to be substantial evidence that it as much an abstraction as the word “civilization.” Civilization is another word I have an issue with. Every “civilization” exists within a framework that will justify some continued pattern of heinous acts, and condemn others. The video is interesting though is that it is more of a thought piece than an exposition or definitive answer of what evil may be. That’s my takeaway from watching it.
Going back to this week though, or to any news cycle that describes really horrible events, there have been so many people showing a surprising amount of… well… surprise… saying “this does not represent us. This is not who we are.” In fact, these things happen often enough that there is ample proof that this is exactly who we are. There are outliers like serial killers, whom are often people that displayed a lifetime of anti-social behavior, isolation and emotional seclusion. Then there are others, who in the service of some ideal, go into frenzied acts of violence. The people involved in the violence in the Capitol are not largely defined, one by one, as dangerous people. They have families, friends, jobs. They have relationships to and within “civilization.” If you scan stills of their faces though, from events on Wednesday, and you see them contorted in fury and rage and most of all… fear. Fury and rage, I don’t believe, are emotions unto themselves, but rather byproducts of terror. Acts of terror are committed by terrified people. That’s not to excuse the acts, but to understand the acts.
And it’s an understanding of how “evil” as an abstraction manifests in a physical way that is anything but abstract. There is nothing abstract about the act of a young woman advancing on a man who says he will shoot her if she comes forward. Her motivation yes, but her body bleeding out on the floor, no. What was going through her head as she charged in? I don’t believe at that point it was that she was saving the Constitution and the Country (the latter of which is its own abstraction). I believe at that point there were no rational thoughts happening in her head. This was an animal, visceral, low-brain function. That is where the abstraction of evil manifests, often, in what is not rational. Some higher function needs to be shut down. That’s what happens in mobs. There were housewives in the crowd who might often be at home watching HGTV, or Fox News. There were family people who might often be found laughing and playing with their children. Their faces as they charged in on Wednesday though, reflected a part of each of them that was altogether removed from those parts of their lives. They were disconnected from reality, and that’s how the seeds of propaganda work anyway. That’s where it starts, in planting seeds of fear.
So… evil… an abstraction beginning with the externalization of blame and fear. Not a Satanic force and not inhuman at all, but very human. Good? Well, that’s going to depend on what side you’re on. I’m not being relativist about that, nor excusing anything. I’m only suggesting that good and evil and patriot and traitor and all these things are entirely subjective terms.
And also, consider the idea that God is everywhere or God is nowhere. The same could and should be said of evil. Both exist simply because they are part of us.