‘What is Evil?’

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21st March, 2023

I recently read a book  called ‘Evil- The science behind humanity’s dark side’ by Julia Shaw.

It looks at why people do terrible things. One of its points is that most evil people do not think they are doing something wrong, because they can justify their actions in a way most victims aren’t privy to:

“Evil usually enters the world unrecognized by the people who open the door and let it in. Most people who perpetrate evil do not see what they are doing as evil. Evil exists primarily in the eye of the beholder, especially in the eye of the victim.”

But evil, Dr. Julia Shaw argues, is all relative, rooted in our unique cultures.

What one may consider normal like, gambling, using cuss words, adultery, eating meat, corruption or following certain customs, others find abhorrent. And if evil is only in the eye of the beholder, can it be said to exist at all?

Evil is but rarely found in the perpetrator’s own self-image. It is far more commonly found in the judgments of others.

The crazy part of this is that it makes everyone underestimate the odds that they themselves could do something evil.

Primo Levi, the Holocaust survivor, said, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Ordinary people are brainwashed into believing outrageous things that, in their minds, justify outrageous actions.

I remember reading about World War II, through the eyes of German soldiers. One soldier said, “he couldn’t understand why the American soldiers were so angry at Germany – couldn’t they see that the Nazis were there to save Europe, that they were the good guys?”

It’s astounding to read, both because it’s crazy and because it offers a glimpse into how evil actions are justified in the eyes of those committing them.

Be vary of justifying a ‘wrong act’ – an ‘evil’ act as something good and stay blessed forever.