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...