The Resilience of Evil
December 7, 2015
In the wake of the most recent mass killings on U.S. soil, and the various posturings and evasions of our politicians, it’s time for another political column. However, in contrast to my usual rant, I’ll endeavor to make this post well-reasoned and scholarly. In the style of a philosophical treatise, the separate arguments will be enumerated, and footnotes will document the sources.
I. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”1
I.a. Syed Farook, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.
I.b. Dylann Roof, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.
I.c. Adam Lanza, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.
I.d. James Holmes, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.
I.e. Eric Harris, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.
I.f. Dylan Klebold, a U.S. citizen, born and raised here.
I.g.–I.z. Et al., et al., et al.
II. Evil cannot be eliminated from the world.
II.a. Evil has been with us since the first human beings.2
II.b. Evil will not succumb to bombs, ground troops, atomic weapons or—except in fantasy movies—magic light sabers.
II.c. Indeed, the resilient, slippery and protean nature of evil—its ability to pop up in new forms in new places—suggests a popular game whose name now connotes a repetitive and impossible task.3
II.d. As point I above indicates, evil lives in all of us, not in any particular place.
II.d.1. Hence there is no one place to attack it.
III. Nor can the enticement of evil be eliminated.
III.a. Some types of evil will always look prettier or sound more convincing than good.4
III.b. In the basic sense, each person is tempted not by outsiders, but by his or her own desire.5
So, if we can’t get rid of evil, what might we do as a society? No easy solution exists. But we could try to make the good—that is, sane, peaceful, life-respecting behavior—more attractive. For instance, we could work to reduce poverty and the huge gap between the privileged and underprivileged. By doing so, we would boost the sense that everyone has something to live for rather than commit murder-mayhem-suicide for. Instead of empty patriotism, we Americans could then speak with a justified pride in our country, as one wild-eyed Revolutionary-era radical suggested:
When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government.6
- Pogo the Possum, 1971; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogo_(comic_strip).
- Genesis, 300 B.C.E. or earlier.
- Whac-A-Mole; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whac-A-Mole.
- John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667.
- James 1:14, c. 100 C.E.
- Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791.