DAILY PROMPT: WICKED WITCH
Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.
Cruelty, injustice, bigotry, selfishness, self-centredness, self-interested manipulation…
If we’re honest, we’d all have to admit we’re capable of any of them at some time or other – when the chips are down. Most of them centre on ‘self’, after all, and no one is devoid of that. We do our best, hopefully, but being human, we’re fallible.
But fallibility isn’t evil. Evil has extra components.
True evil, it seems to me, is made up of two things: quintessential self-centredness that has no interest in others, and a malicious intent to cause harm and suffering for the pleasure of seeing it.
There are those who’ll be quick to insist that evil is the inevitable result of your failure to allow God into your life. But whose God? Which religion? And which religion hasn’t committed acts of cruelty and bigotry in the name of their God? Does ‘God’ as a cause bestow automatic immunity to the accusations of ‘evil’?
So what about psychopaths? They have no interest in others, and some of them enjoy inflicting pain. But you could argue that they can’t help it: that their lack of empathy makes it impossible for them to fully comprehend another’s suffering. And bigotry? We were all brought up to believe certain truths that may not be other people’s truths. We need to be open-minded. But how easy is it to go against a lifetime’s conditioning? And are we evil if we fail?
There have been far too many acts of unforgiveable evil committed in the last century alone: The Holocaust; Changi prison camp; Tiananmen Square; Apartheid; The Stolen Generation; the bombing of the Twin Towers; Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo Bay… But does this make the perpetrators of those acts evil? However warped their thinking, most of them acted from an absolute conviction, born of their beliefs and ideals, that they were justified. Some were just abysmally ignorant, and some were adhering to the ‘truths’ of their upbringing. So are they innately evil? (Guantanamo Bay I have difficulty with: how can an intelligent and presumably civilised government justify flouting the Geneva Convention?)
So my jury is still out on evil. Evil acts – yes; innate evil – not so sure.
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t certain behaviours that I label ‘evil’ despite my better self: orchestrated teenage bullying; the use of children as pawns in parental disputes; emotional blackmail… Small, in the scheme of things, but all emanating from ruthless self-interest at the cost of others’ wellbeing. But maybe it’s the petty ‘evils’ we overlook that do the most widespread damage.