The Strangeness of Evil as a Force

23:52 Thu 26 Jul 2007. Updated: 02:24 27 Jul 2007
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It struck me this evening that the concept of evil being a force external to human beings is very odd. The same goes for good, but it seems that evil is more frequently cited—perhaps because people tend to take at least some credit for their own good works, while being generally happy to claim that their bad acts were at least influenced, if not coerced, by some outside agency. The idea that evil is a force, or that evil non-human forces seek to encourage us to do evil, pushes one’s conception of the world to a very different place.

There’s the fact that one looks for supernatural forces to influence events, but that’s usually part of a larger tendency to account for the world via these forces. More tightly entwined with the idea of supernatural evil is the result that explanations for evil are unnecessary.

In other words, if one believes this, then one seeks to look no further into human nature. More than that, one seeks not at all to look at other considerations that give rise to “evil” acts. Why bother, if they’re caused by whichever supernatural force you believe responsible?

I personally think that this characterization of “evil” is counter-intuitive but reassuring. People are often afraid to examine themselves—and particularly their flaws—closely, and this provides an easy easy to avoid this.

So evil is regarded as essentially individual, even if the individual’s transgression is really giving in to some supernatural agent. This clearly discourages any examination of whether the environment (and especially the political or social environment) might contribute or not, and so is naturally a mechanism that supports the status quo, or at the very least the in-group status quo.

The supernaturalization of evil also makes it easy to cast entire groups as somehow inherently evil: one can assert that they are dominated by the evil force, and without any examination of what “evil” is or what causes people to commit it, this explanation will be embraced.

In other words, the depiction of evil as an external, supernatural, force, and the denial of/refusal to examine the individual and social roots of “evil acts”, are tools for social control.

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4 Responses to “The Strangeness of Evil as a Force”

  1. Lev Says:

    I have a copy of Philip Zimbardo’s book “The Lucifer Effect” staring at me from my music stand. It’s been there for several months. A strange, external force prevents me reading.

  2. Niall O'Higgins Says:

    Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” is a worthwhile read. “What a time experiences as evil is usually an untimely echo of what was formerly experienced as good – the atavism of a more ancient ideal”. Etc.

  3. Jesrad Says:

    All evil is, is really a corruption of good in a warped, self-contradictory way that fails to deliver. You can call it the Lie of Satan, or the Curse of Greyface, it simply grows out of too-much consideration for good itself. Everytime someone does someting evil what they’re really doing is trying to achieve something deemed “good” too seriously – or forcefully. As pointed at by Niall and mentioned by Nietzsche, no one can really tell if that thing they tried to do really, truly was “good” or “evil”, the verily-evil part of it is the forceful, compulsive side of it.

    Some say that’s why Lucifer got tossed out along with some colleagues: they wanted to do good forcefully, not realising it’d be self-contradictory, and therefore self-defeating. Fnord.

  4. Tadhg Says:

    Jesrad—I see where you’re coming from but don’t think that all evil comes from trying to do “good” forcefully. Plenty of it, I think most of it, comes from people acting selfishly (regardless of the veneer they may put on top of that) and overtly disregarding the desires/needs of others.

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