Evil, yes Precious, yes. We likes it, we do.
So, I am actually surprised that I have not written a piece on this yet, but time to redress the past I guess (so much for a joyous Paschal post, huh?).
At any rate, the existence of evil is one of the reasons why I started this blog, because way too many people have forgotten what it means. One of the reasons why philosophies like Platonism and even Christianity caught on so quickly in the ancient world and are not that popular in our modern times is exactly the fact that people understood evil back then. Life’s a bi*ch and then you die, the whole nine yards. In our times, we are taught that evil is some far off thing in some far off place, this weird creature that lives somewhere in Antartica and gets out every 2,000 years to terrorize the earth and then goes back beneath the ice. Our criminals are usually people who have had hard childhoods, it’s not their fault, those poor guys (implicit assumption here, “They are not like us, we are better than them.”). We might even get huge wake up calls, such as those terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but they are poor, stupid, brainwashed people (again, they are not like us).
There are two kinds philosophies you can hold on life. The first one is, “woe to him who cries ‘peace’ when there is war,” and the second “woe to him who cries ‘war’ when there is peace.” The first kind is where the philosophy of Plato, Jesus, and most other ancients fits in, the second one is where the modern psychologists fit in (if you want to read my rant on pop-psychology, look below, I believe it’s in the happiness post). We are at war and we better not forget it. Life is war, from the second we are born we start fighting. There are two kinds of evil in this world, natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil we know of every day when we watch the news, either there is an earthquake somewhere, or some volcano exploded, or there was a flood, and so on and so forth, I could go on forever. Moral evil is the other half of news, murders, rapes, kidnaps, you get the idea.
According to Plato, all evil comes from ignorance. Obviously, what he means is moral evil (or does he?). Well, the idea is, whenever you commit evil, you harm your soul (I’ve explained this is another post, I used an example concerning Horcruxes). Now, if you truly understand what this means, (this is the plainest version you’ll find by the way) then you would never commit evil, unless you are into hurting yourself, which is a little weird. Of course, most people do not understand this very basic idea, so it is up to us people who understand to show them (fly little bird, fly). Of course, this is one of those concepts that is really easy to shake your head to, but really hard to keep in mind, a lot like when you were in Calculus class, where whenever you could overcome the challenge of your professor’s accent (mine was Swiss, the TA was Bulgarian, really weird stuff) you understood the differential formula perfectly, then homework time came.
A quick point about the “hard childhood” b.s. Every single person to walk this earth has had a hard childhood. You will be surprised at who who has had the worst possible childhood. I seriously believe that it is the richest kids that have the worst childhood. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks to be born into a poor family, but you learn you have to fight from day one. When you are born into a rich family, you most probably have never even heard the word “no.” And then you come into real life. For most people, this is college, where they are made to realize that the Universe does not revolve around their a-hole. Believe me, you do not want to be there, I’ve had to pick up the pieces once or twice (I guess I am too merciful). Also, these are the people that write college essays about how they are going to kill their roommate (true story, I swear, was told to me by one of the SAP people at my school, of course, the guy got rejected), because they have never had to fight in their life, so the first time they hit a challenge, they want to jump off a cliff. So, no matter how poor or rich you are, your childhood has sucked, the question is what you do with it.
At any rate, moral evil is easy to explain, the problem comes in at natural evil. There is no one perfect explanation for this, but one theory that works for me (hey, it might work for you) is mentioned in Plato’s Symposium, but is known now as the “spiderweb” theory. The idea is, everything is connected, everything. In the Symposium, Eryximachus mentions that love is the way of the whole Universe, i.e. everything must be in harmony. So, you may not get hairy palms, you may not go blind, but what you did contributes to me freezing my behind off in a snow storm last Halloween, so thanks. Alright, spent way too much time on this, let’s move on.
Now, the reason why I wanted to write this thing is because I participated a few weeks ago in some weird thing in the hall of my cafeteria. This group on my campus does this thing where they have a bunch of pictures and they give you these stickers and you have to respond by placing your sticker in one of those choices (I really don’t know how to explain better). Well, one of them was, “Do you believe we can defeat evil?” I put my sticker in the “no” part. Of course, you get to talk about it afterward. Not surprisingly, the girl I was talking to was pretty puzzled (please notice, I did not say evil could not be defeated, just that we cannot defeat evil, let’s get that straight). It is really hard to explain the reasoning behind it, so I am going to illustrate it. Hopefully, you have read Lord of the Rings, otherwise you may have to SparkNotes this one (spoiler alert, by the way, but only if you have internet under the rock you have been living). After Gandalf comes back, when he meets up with Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas at Fangorn, they are all chipper, because “the white rider” has come back. Gandalf, on the other hand, says, “Aye, I am the White Rider, but Black is mightier still.” Put that together with what he says after the Battle of the Pelenor Fields, which is that even if they defeat Sauron, they will not be defeating evil, other people may rise like him, or even Melkor might come again, but their duty is to do what is at hand. In other words, evil is stronger than us, at all times. We can only defeat its temporary, physical manifestation, but we cannot defeat evil per se. That is actually what gets me about people who say they can end poverty. Of course, they strive to end starvation, but they could care less about the guy begging in the corner of their building. That’s what we call fake charity kids. At any rate, I do believe evil will be defeated, just not by anyone. See, evil is confined to evil, it is confined to oppression, it is confined to violence. In the Kaliopolis, Plato explains that something completely evil cannot exist. Two reasons why, first and foremost, if evil destroys part of you every time you commit it, then eventually you break it in so many pieces there is only dust left. The second is that there is no such thing as “no honor among thieves,” we have “the Pardoner’s Tale” to remind us of that. The basic plot is, three friends vow to kill death for killing their fourth friend, they are guided to a possible location for death, where they find a large sack of gold. They agree that one should stay with the gold, the other two will go back to town to fetch a cart. The one who stays poisons the drink of the other two. When they get to town, one of the friends kills the other, wanting to take his part. He goes back with a cart and kills the other friend, too. On his way from the scene, the poison starts taking effect and the third friend drops dead. “No honor among thieves” at work. Same idea with evil, it self-destructs. This is very beautifully illustrated in The Screwtape Letters, where the senior demon eats the junior one after his failure. Well, if they all fail eventually, then they’re all going to be one giant food chain.
Finally, onto death. This is the reason why a lot of people choose not to do the right thing, they are afraid to die. Well, a fresh dose of Socratic logic to you. Do you know what comes after death, for sure? If you reply “yes,” then you are either religious (by religious I mean Christian/Jewish/Muslim) or deeply conceited. The Romans were not sure about what happened after death, hell, they couldn’t even settle on what Di Manes exactly were. If you consider yourself part of one of these three religions, then you simply need strength of character, not what I’m about to write next. But, if you are not, which is the most common case these days, then tell yourself, do you know for sure that it is bad? Why, it could be the best thing that has ever happened to you, why would you risk missing a bad thing simply because people around you think it is a bad thing based on information that cannot be proved (no one has come back, or at least that’s what you believe). This is basically all over both the Apology and the Kaliopolis. The point is, if you know for sure that you have to do something and that something may lead to your death, which may or may not be a bad thing, should you try to avoid it? I digress.