The nature of evil truly confounds most people, thus preventing them from dealing with it effectively.
A huge source of confusion comes from confusing facts with mental constructions. For example, evil in fact has one and only one source: certain kinds of actions of human beings. Yet, people will talk of "evil" as though it is some entity striding the earth like a titan, bringing pain, suffering, and destruction. In fact, apart from certain types of actions of people, there is no evil in the world. There certainly are not ephemeral specters of Good and Evil in a battle to the death.
Some people will confuse natural events and the behaviors of some living things as evil. Tornadoes, for example, will be called "evil," but they are not. Man-eating sharks will be called "evil," but they are not. Tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, asteroids, etc., have no capacity for evil. They passively follow the laws of physics and have no choice in their existence or behavior; they are not conscious.
Sharks are conscious, as are komodo dragons, predatory animals, etc., but none operates on the voluntary, conceptual level of consciousness. They simply follow their biological programming. Moral choice never figures into their behaviors.
So, while physical events may have horrible effects on people, and while some animals may maim or devour humans, all of these are bad, but they are not evil.
That brings us to humankind.
Humans, and only humans, can be the source of evil. [Yes, I exclude mythical entities such as "Satan," by this or any other names.] This capability comes from the nature of morality, from the necessity to choose one's behavior.
What are good and evil, then? I can do no better than quote from the brilliant philosopher Ayn Rand who put ethics for the first time on a fully human and liveable level:
The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics--the standard by which one judges what is good or evil--is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua [i.e., properly in accordance with the nature of man] man. Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil. (From "The Objectivist Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness)
There are other quotes which pertain to where we are going with this discussion, from the same philosopher:
- Evil, not value, is an absence and a negation, evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us.
- The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.
- The truly and deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser's intellectual abdication that invites them to take over...
Now, to set the stage for the heart of this discussion, read this, please:
When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it's picked up by scoundrels--and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorious good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.
I defy anyone to read the foregoing quotation and not think of the state of our culture, of the war with Islam, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and that monument to evil, the United Nations.
(to be continued...)