Evil Masked As Good (Part 1 of 2)
Consistency is difficult and I have never entirely understood the degree to which we deride those that patently lack it.
A politician changes ideology over the course of time and we are critical. But surely we should be allowed to change with life circumstances and experience? Someone “says one thing and does another”. This is more problematic I agree but even so I want to make an assertion:
Someone who consciously does evil and admits it is far more terrifying than someone who does evil while saying that they do good. This is true for an isolated sociopath but is all the more true for political movements.
So I’m discussing ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ here. These are somewhat fanciful words in the modern era. We tend to use them only in some contexts and frequently those contexts are fictional or historical. It is as if we live in a world removed from morality. Fiction and romanticized history are partly to blame here. We see Good and Evil in terms of absolutes. In practice they are much more mixed phenomena. I have had to define these terms for the sake of my own fiction but I feel that mine is a reasonably realistic one if you care to take a look.
For me good and evil are defined by everyday acts big and small. On any given day a person can enact both. However most of us will think of ourselves as good and will very much wish others to perceive us in that way. Why? Well good is good right? Our tendency is to edit our perceptions and memory in such a way as to present ourselves as good to others and ourselves. The same is true for movements and for those with a lot of power. We never admit evil acts to the public. We rarely even admit them in trusted private settings. And only sometimes do we even admit them to ourselves.
There are plenty of ways of making evil (harmful) things seem like good (helpful) things. We can talk of the ‘greater good’ – what is harmful to a minority is good for a majority. We can propose actions that are good in the ‘long-term’ – what is worse right now will soon make things much better.
We can even say that we are practicing the euphemistic ‘tough love’ and suddenly I think of phrases like “this will hurt me more than it hurts you”. I normally find cartoonist Leunig rather abstruse but this cartoon is incisive. How cleverly we can twist things so that abuse and neglect can masquerade as care!
Utilitarian. Forward-Thinking. Parental. All these acts of mental acrobatics are ways of making evil look good and they are insidious. However the fact they are so very common I think demonstrates how powerful the concept of good is and how lacking in power the concept of evil is. You can be openly good and have to hide your evil. A person or movement that does this can be combated and exposed because they still agree with you on some basic notions of right and wrong. But now I move onto something I find more disturbing.
So far I have discussed ways of making evil acts look good within some agreed definitions of morality. But what of those who re-define morality? Some religious fundamentalists do it very simply by saying that morality is whatever God says it is. Any independent concept of good and evil is replaced by consent and dissent (respectively) to a supernatural authority. I suspect that rarely are the 'representatives' of that entity consciously self-serving. This is very scary but there are non-religious re-definitions of morality that are also scary.
Nobody needs God to define groups that are worthy and unworthy of care. I must admit that I exclude from my care or consideration both food animals and human embryos. Is this the product of conditioning or convenience or necessity? These are topics to be discussed another time. For now I will just discuss help and harm for born humans.
I have discussed prejudice here. There are degrees of prejudice however and I want to look next at a particular case of extreme prejudice and how a movement recnogized on some level that they were committing evil while still preserving a good character. In my next post I will turn to the Posen Speeches of Heinrich Himmler of the Nazi Party. I am taking the time to compose a separate entry because – as I say – this is difficult stuff. In it I will argue that those who recognize that they are evil are worse than those that deny it. Come back next month if you feel you can stomach it.