Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday: The Meaning of Evil


I'm rereading Wicked and absorbing so much more this time around. The first time I read it was when I was 16, immature, and had an undeveloped mind. I'm so deliciously scandalized by the way the book highlights atypical sexual preferences, the gray areas of morality and values, and conflicting views of worldly issues and otherworldly theories alike. It's a really fantastic fictional take on real life.

In Chapter 7 of Part V (The Murder and its Afterlife), Elphaba (otherwise known as the Wicked Witch of the West) is in locked in a passionate, wine-fueled debate during a dinner party on what Evil actually is. Some suggestions offered were:

- Evil isn't doing bad things, it's feeling bad about them afterward. There is no absolute value to behavior.
- It's merely an affliction of the psyche, like vanity or greed (and vanity and greed can produce some pretty astounding results in human affairs, not all of them reprehensible).
- It's an absence of good. The nature of the world is to be calm, and enhance and support life, and evil is an absence of the inclination of matter to be at peace.
- Evil is an early or primitive stage of moral development. All children are fiends by nature. The criminals among us are only those who didn't progress.
- It's a presence, not an absence. Evil is an incarnated character, an incubus or a succubus. It's an other. It's not an us.
- Evil isn't a thing, it's not a person, it's an attribute like beauty.
- It's a power, like wind.
- It's an infection.
- It's metaphysical, essentially: the corruptibility of creation.
- It's not of air and eternity, it's of earth; it's physical, a disjointedness between our bodies and our souls. Evil is inanely corporeal, humans causing one another pain, no more, no less.
- Evil is moral at its heart--the selection of vice over virtue; you can pretend not to know, you can rationalize, but you know it in your conscience.
- Evil is an act, not an appetite. How many haven't wanted to slash the throat of some boor across the dining room table? Everyone has the appetite. If you give in to it, it, that act is evil. The appetite is normal.

I thought this was an interesting topic to mull over. I don't think good and evil have concrete definitions. For the sake of relatability, imagine a feral (excuse the term haha) human growing up completely alone from birth. If knowledge of good and evil is innate and inborn, then would this person just know that to kill someone for fun is "evil"? Would this person know that giving what you have to those less fortunate than you is "good", and would this act make this person be filled with feelings of joy, like it does for most of us? I think what we classify under good and evil is shaped by the society/world we were born into. Presently, our world is an overall relatively unified place in terms of morals and values; we've come a long way. Generally speaking, everyone believes the same sorts of things are right and wrong, respectively. But these labels, "right" and "wrong", "good" and "bad"I don't think they're real things. I can personally think killing someone for fun is evilI do think killing someone for fun is evil, but that's not the point; let's try to see this with an open mindbut is it actually evil? Is it actually bad? And never mind laws, rules, and religion. Someone may retort with, "It hurts someone, so it is bad." But I don't think that fact makes the action any more bad than the fact that someone feeling happy about killing another person makes the action any more good. Good and bad aren't real, they are made-up ideals that exist only for as long as the society that created them exists.

What are your thoughts? What is the meaning of evil to you?

This chapter in Wicked ended with Elphaba offering her point of view:

"The real thing about evil," said the Witch at the doorway, "isn't any of what you said. You figure out one side of itthe human side, sayand the eternal side goes into shadow. Or vice versa. It's like the old saw: What does a dragon in its shell look like? Well no one can ever tell, for as soon as you break the shell to see, the dragon is no longer in its shell. The real disaster of this inquiry is that it is the nature of evil to be secret."

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6 comments

  1. Like you said the common "definition" for evil is more or less constituted by the things that surround us. There are close to 7 billion people on this planet right now. Each one, a completely unique individual that can be shown examples of "good and/or evil" in 7 billion different ways. There will never be a explicit definition of evil, because evil is completely unknowable and ever-changing.

    The "meaning" of evil is programmed into us through the ideals of the people and events that we attach ourselves to. I read a story the other day that this little girl came home from school and asked her dad that being gay meant. Her father said that "It is when two boys or two girls like each other the way your mommy and I like each other." She then asked why a boy at her school was making fun of gay people, she also continued to say "If two people love each other, why would people make fun of that?"

    That being said my personal definition of "evil" is; that it is a mental complex of a specific level that something or someone is beyond/above in stature, bad or wrong

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  2. the concept of good and evil are simply just that - concepts. what defines them varies amongst cultures, religions, times, and philosophies. what's glorified in one may be taboo in another...for universal acceptance and appreciation, i like to think of good and evil as not so much a black and white dichotomy, but more of a spectrum that has lots of shades of gray in between. the spectrum starts with darkness representing selfishness, ignorance and progresses towards light representing awareness, enlightenment. the more enlightened one becomes, the more good will one wants to spread. the more ignorant one remains, the more suffering one feels and spreads.

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  3. I feel like anything that makes us feel any such way could be described as a mental illness. So I mulled over your thoughts, reordered mine, and was left with trifling and almost an alarming realization that maybe we're all just insane in accepting or rejecting the evil/good consciousness. But then I also had a moment of 'a-ha!' when all my life I've loved the crazy ones.

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