Thursday, June 14, 2007

Elaborating on Evil

I meant to respond to a few of my commenters a while back, but life did as life does and prevented me at the time from doing so. Now that I have more time, I want to make sure I don't ignore the kind people who read and comment on my blog, so I'm going to bring those comments to which I'd like to respond back to the top of the queue. The first one is from my loooong-time friend Nick Jenkins regarding my April 20 post, In the Face of Evil. Nick said:

On the subject of Evil, I'm not sure this is a healthy way to deal with the situation. I think it aids people in distancing themselves from someone (like Dahmer) by saying "It's EVIL!". The fact is that he was a man. He had problems, serious ones, but none the less... he was a human being that fell apart at some point. Trying to recategorize him into something "mythic" to me kind of hurts the cause. It alleviates us as a society from trying to correct problems.

I appreciate Nick's concern, and if I were doing what he cautions against, I would be concerned as well. However, I think he has misunderstood the way I am using "evil" - perhaps I wasn't being very clear in my original post. In my understanding, "evil" is not some mythic category removed from the context of human nature. I don't view Dahmer, or Cho, as somehow less than human, ontologically, when I talk about them and their actions as being evil. When I look at someone who has done something evil, it is in full view of their humanity.

As a technical definition, evil is a privation, the absence of good, and not a thing in itself (taking a cue from Augustine) - in other words, that which deviates from the character of the God who is good. You'll recall that I spoke of "the core of evil in each of us"; I think that the pull, the desire to rebel against God's goodness is a part of each person's nature, yours and mine and Cho's, as broken image-bearers of our Creator. These men have done nothing that I myself, absent certain conditions, am not capable of doing. Evil, to me, is not an abstract; it is wound tightly around each individual's human nature. So I do not in any way lose sight of the fact that these are men (in the gender generic sense) doing these thing, nor do I endorse any view that would lead to this kind of distancing or a shirking of societal responsibilities.

As a side note, perhaps another difference at play here is one that I'm only inferring from what Nick wrote, so I can't be sure this is his actual position (please correct me, Nick, if I am wrong!). It seems to me that Nick is operating from the view of human nature similar to that made famous by Rousseau - that man is basically good and is only later corrupted by outside forces - whereas I see the seeds of man's corruption as being internal, pervasive, and present from the moment the individual becomes an individual. I may be wrong in attributing this to Nick, but it is an interesting subject that maybe I'll post on separately sometime later.

1 comment:

Nicholas Jenkins said...

Aaron... has it been long enough to require (1,2,3..) FOUR O's in Long? Wow... perhaps it has. I think you did misunderstand me slightly, though through no fault of your own. I understand that, especially to the educated, characterizing someone's actions as Evil can do no harm as it can be used as an adjective... the best way to describe an action. My point was directed more toward society as a whole. That is to say Society rushes to judge things as Evil/Good and allies itself accordingly. I think that is, quite frankly, bad. Bad because to classify things in such absolutes can, many times, miss the true problem.

My reference to Dahmer was actually a bad example as Dahmer was so completely human in front of cameras and in the court, that people were curious as to how this "normal" man could possibly commit the attocities for which he was on trial.

A better example would be Hitler... though probably pretty obvious. I recall a couple years back there being a German film which showed Adolf being very loving and kind to his pet dog. And people went INSANE saying that we should not show someone as evil as Hitler being "human"... huh? But... he was human. He wasn't a monster from a fairy tale. He was just as human as you or I am and that, honestly, is what makes him so frightening.

Society is comfortable to label someone as "Evil", I feel, because it is something that can be quickly categorized and understood. If we were to look at Hitler as, let's just say, "Troubled"... then do we at least have the opportunity to ask "troubled by what?"

I have issues with Society's branding of things as evil because it helps to remove responsibility and, in most cases, prevents us from asking questions. You see it in politics all the time. If you don't want people to ask question, it's much safer to label the opposition as evil.

I am not a philosopher. Rather a struggling filmmaker who takes too much time to think about things. My point is that I see too many people try to help themselves sleep at night by calling it "Evil" as opposed to actually trying to understand something. I know that your blog is built on trying to understand the world, which I appreciate :)

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. Hope this one made any sense... I'm a bit tired these days.