Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane, co-author Rainy Day Thought, where they write about experiences, ideas, nature, creativity, and culture. The latter might appear at times political, but we will try to avoid partisanship to speak to the broader issues that impact a culture. This is just too important a time not to sometimes speak to problems that impact society. As she and I do, readers will find we often disagree and have for over 50 years-- still able to be close friends. You can do that if you can be agreeable that we share more than not despite the difference.

Diane posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments, relating to the topic, are welcome as it turns an article into a discussion, but must be in English, with no profanity, hate-filled comments, or links (unless pre-approved).

Fantasy, the painting by Diane Widler Wenzel, cropped a little to fit the needs of a banner.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Question of Evil

When we hear the word evil, many of us are repelled. Who wants to admit they are evil? Or even that evil exists? When President Bush talked about an Axis of Evil, some Americans went Amen-- while others, including me, shuddered and wished he'd never used that expression. Evil is defined very differently by different people. Who decides what it is? Some would say the Bible defines it but still disagree on what it is.

A friend and I had this debate a while ago-- does evil exists or is everything shades of good? If evil is real, how do we recognize or define it? The word is easily misused and serves to allow some to do what most would consider bad things with the excuse of combating worse things. There are some words with so much emotional clout that as soon as they are used, others quit thinking and simply react.

Although Sinclair Lewis did not say it in exactly these words (his books do reflect the theme), Ron Paul quoted him recently-- "It reminds me of what Sinclair Lewis once said. He says, 'When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.'" The gist of this goes beyond politics. What something is often is not apparent in the beginning-- even to ourselves.

The actor Will Smith got lambasted last month (most especially by the Jewish Defense League) as he tried to say something that I think is pretty profound-- "Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'let me do the most evil thing I can do today.' I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good." Smith was crucified by those who, I believe, misunderstood his point. Of course, using the word Hitler is another of those emotional words that causes unthinking, instant reaction.

One step at a time people can lose the ability to see where something is going and whether it is bad-- no, actually evil. One choice leads to another-- each one sinking deeper into a moral mire. We have seen that today with those who attempt to justify torture, something which has been condemned by all civilized cultures for a long time, but now to some is okay to do-- of course, only in certain circumstances and when they decide.

Some kinds of choices don't seem obviously bad at the start. Perhaps at some point people do know they have done wrong, but by then they see it as too late to change course. They have to say it's all been done for good-- even to themselves! Evil isn't born overnight in a person or a culture.

When I was thinking about this, I had a dream that was ironic given how I see evil-- which is somewhere and somebody else, not me and nobody I actually know. The dream was the first I have ever had like it and hopefully will be the last if it was given to me to help me see something:

I think the woman is me. There is no particular setting for this dream. She lives a normal life except for one thing-- she has appointed herself as a one-woman vigilante committee to rid the world of certain people she considers to be vermin. Each of these people (six of them) had done evil things and yet gotten away with it. The world was not going to punish them. I don't recall all the ways she killed, but she went off on trips. Each time and for each of her victims, she would find a natural method to rid the world of the bad guy. The one I remember was because it seemed so horrifying. The man was scuba diving as she must have been (unless she shape-shifted). She bit his arm very badly and left him for the sharks to get. Each killing was like that-- looking natural. When she got home from the sixth murder, she was congratulating herself on how clever she had been when a person she knew commented casually that because she had had a baby carrier with her on each trip (who knows why), they knew where she had been because it had had a global tracking device installed. Nobody had yet connected the fact that deaths had occurred each place but suddenly she knew she might be caught and hadn't been as clever as she thought. (I woke up at that point.)

What got me about the dream (besides its obvious violence) was that I was the bad guy. I have never had a dream where I committed a violent act. In my waking life, I have never even slapped or hit someone in anger, not thrown anything, never wanted to do so. There have been dreams where I had to face villains who intended bad by me and I had to use self-defense, but this was different. I was the villain which is what I would see as taking the question of justice into your own hands through murder. I was thinking later that maybe the dream came to make the point that it's a series of decisions that we make, ignoring our moral sense, that starts us down a path that can lead to anyone which meant even me becoming an evil person. It's a process, not an instant happening.

Does evil exist? Well, I believe it does, just as I believe good exists. People will disagree about which is which. Incidentally, there is an excellent book on the subject-- 'People of the Lie' by M. Scott Peck-- about human evil, how he saw it, and tried to treat it in his practice. His examples of human evil were chilling (he also believed in possession and cited instances of it).

So what does the word evil mean to you?

[Incidentally, I did check out what would be the dream interpretation for murder; and it said that if I was the one doing it, it meant I was dealing with negative traits of which I was ridding myself. Since in no case were the ones in the dream people I recognize in my life or the world today, maybe that's so. The baby carrier might go along with that. Perhaps that means some of those habits or qualities would be from childhood.]

The computer painting is one of mine, which seemed to fit this topic, not to say she is evil...


Maya's Granny said...

I hated it when Bush started talking about the axis of evil. Labeling people evil is the first step in treating them as less than human.

What an interesting dream you had!

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I have trouble with the word "Evil". The work "Evil" is a pied piper's lie. My denial of the existance of Evil doesn't at all mitagate the badness of bad. Dennying the use of an emotional word just facilitates clear thinking. It has always interested me that the French language doesn't have a seperate emotional word for "mal" meaning bad.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I like the painting of you very much but I do not see any connection to very, very bad. The lock of hair partly hiding the left eye appears to me both shy and mistrustful. The fire is warm and cozy not from Hell. One eye has a high light and is lively.
Very nice job on the painting.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Very, very powerful dream, Rain. Look at those symbols--water, weapons, babies. I have argued this question in my younger philosophical years, but now I believe both good and evil exist. I do not know how, but I don't think of it as the biblical way I was taught as a kid. I'd like to shift it off to reincarnation and karma, but it's just not that simple.

Unlike you, I often have violent dreams where I am being chased--and ones where I kill others. I know there is a dark side of me--the shadow. I have spanked my children, I have screamed into pillows, I have gone out in the car "screaming in the night" like Dorey Previn's song. I stood in line to buy ammunition for my husband's gun during the first Watts Riots. I am capable of killing someone else, but there have been times in my life when I was capable of killing myself. When my marriage was ending, though I didn't scream at my husband, I argued endlessly and righteously. I did some emotionally bitter things to him and indirectly to him in my rage period. I had a boss once whom I fantasized about shooting in the back as I watched him walk across campus from the top of a four story building.

The shadow will make itself known in our lives even when we appear outwardly "nice." And dreams are one way. By the way, I think your self-portrait is incredible; it looks just like you.

I also think this dream could be the basis for a short story or even a novella. What do you think?

When I first started reading your entry I thought perhaps you were going to talk about politics, beyond the axis of evil, but you didn't.

Rain Trueax said...

Interesting comments. Yours are very introspective, Fran. You really know yourself. I also spanked my kids but not when angry and never really hard enough to even hurt. I did it because I felt in some situations, it was the only way to make a point but didn't hit them if I was mad at them. I have had some fights verbally with my husband where I have also said cutting things but always regretted it; so avoid that as much as possible.

On the painting, it was intended to present an ambiguous image, parapluie :) My idea being that what we think is evil isn't necessarily what looks like it. That was the point that Peck made so well in his book on the subject of human evil.

It is indeed a word that has a lot of emotions attached to it.

Dick said...

I think there is evil in our world but as you pointed out, the definition of evil is probably somewhat different for everyone. I am not sure that I could come up with a specific definition that would explain my idea of the meaning of the word. Maybe your idea of degrees of goodness is really the better way to approach the idea.

Anonymous said...

Good and Evil are fractal in nature

Rain Trueax said...

You do have a way of bringing something unique to a topic, Stu... and in this case, sent me to my dictionary to be sure I understood what you meant by fractal. Do you know that old Websters don't even have the word in them? That's how times change. But online I found several definitions, two of which follow... Interesting way to look at this to say the least...

"A geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry. Fractals are used especially in computer modeling of irregular patterns and structures in nature."

"Contraction of “fractional dimension.” This is a term used by mathematicians to describe certain geometrical structures whose shape appears to be the same regardless of the level of magnification used to view them. A standard example is a seacoast, which looks roughly the same whether viewed from a satellite or an airplane, on foot, or under a magnifying glass."

Rain Trueax said...

For the new year, I had given my husband a fractal calendar... it's lovely and combined two elements in his life-- science and creativity

Ingineer66 said...

Catching up. You made me look up what a Fractal Calendar is. I was thinking maybe it was like a Mayan Calendar or something ;-)
I even found a fractal flower calendar.

Anonymous said...

I do believe in Evil, but I think we have to be VERY CAREFUL with it. Giving it too much "air time" or ignoring it completely are both bad. I don't think we can just attribute evil to anyone we disagree strongly with (a la Bush), but we do know it. Our hair stands up on the back of our arms and neck. As Monty Python said, "Run away, run away!" Evil is qualitatively (not just quanitatively) different from "bad," which can run the gamut from vegetables to decisions.

Rain Trueax said...

good points here. I have done a lot more thinking about what I believe is evil and will probably write about this again when I can put words to what I am thinking.