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Evil and the Propaganda of the Oppressor
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
What evil was Burke referring too in his famous quote? Was it abortion, preventing an abortion, man on man sex, preventing men from marrying, premarital sex, killing Jews, not killing the evil Jews, believing in a sun centered universe, believing that we evolved from apes? We have been told over time by various people that being Black is evil, as is being Jewish, being Native American, being Muslim, being non-Muslim, being an atheist and so forth. Does that mean it’s true? Who is the judge?
Are liberals evil, as Ann Coulter tells us, or is Ann Coulter evil? How can it be true that liberals are evil when Ann Coulter is also evil? The use of the term evil is rhetoric from propagandistic con-artists.
Evil is dreamed up by man, more often than not, by men we call evil.
Someone once said that, “The moment a man arises who profoundly understands the distress of his people and, having diagnosed the evil with perfect accuracy, takes measures to cure it…” (bold and italics mine from here forward). Yes, once you recognize evil, you must work to remedy it, as did this same man who wrote this line in his famous work, “...the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.”
"Evil" appears 70 times in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. The concept of evil is used by the oppressor to dominate the weak and control the weak-minded who are too uneducated or lazy to not repeat what they are told. They become tools of the oppressor and attack those labeled “evil”.
In this way, most important of all, the evil consequences which are now associated with the conduct of big industry will be abolished…a society which was, to be sure, free of the evils of present-day society but which brought it at least as many evils without even offering to the oppressed workers the prospect of liberation…
Karl Marx uses the term evil only 14 times in his Communist Manifesto, but it doesn’t improve his prose or argument. What were “present-day evils” in the 1800s? Certainly, industrialization causes harm to workers, more harm than did pre-industrial work. Those harms are differentiated and delineated throughout the Manifesto. Using the term evil is not needed.
People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us... It's people who claim that they're good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.
Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Evil is used to accuse others of causing harm when it is the accusers themselves that harm others. As Hitler accused the Jews of being evil and then ordered their mass killing, the U.S. accused Iraq of being part of the “Axis of Evil” as they bombed the country, killed civilians and detained and tortured its people. Saddam Hussein accused the United States of being the evil while he gassed his own people. Osama Bin Laden accused the West of being evil while he pushed war and murdered infidels. The rhetoric of evil is a tool of the oppressor and murderer and it is used to recruit people to kill, bomb and exploit their fellow man.
Evil is a term used as a warning to others, to tell them that we know who and what they are, “We have to warn these intellectuals that if they don't stop their meddling, they will be crushed. We have treated you gently so that maybe you would stop your evilness, and if you don't stop, we will have the last word… If you don't stop your evilness, we will mobilize an even higher mobilization, and we will clean out all of you.” Ayatollah Khomeini (in a talk to the Iranian people, August 8, 1979) After rallying support for his Islamic revolution, the Ayatollah murdered thousands of Iranians.
To believe in the concept of evil, you have to accept one or more of the following:
1. language that is less than clear and is manipulative
2. metaphysical forces such as devils and demons that fight for our souls
3. evil as an explanation for actions you don’t like
4. the manipulative power of the concept and how it can be used to justify crimes committed against our fellow humans
5. that there is one absolute frame of viewing life and that you are correct in all of your beliefs
6. a moral certitude that allows for judgements of good or evil and does not require explanation nor description.
7. be okay when others call you, your friends, heroes and allies “evil.”
Any or all of these requirements will make you a believer in the idea of evil.
Can the U.S. be the evil empire while Iran and North Korea are part of the Axis of Evil? Maybe they are all evil, or perhaps they are terrible to their citizens and citizens of other nations in different ways. It would be more useful to explain the harm nations and peoplle perpetrate against others and eschew meaningless terms like evil, good, bad, wrong and right.
President Obama calls ISIS evil (while killing civilians with drone strikes), as does Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, ““[Isis] need to be eliminated. They are an evil organisation.” At the same time, many on the political right call Obama evil. It’s all meaningless banter. Powerful people (and others) use this empty rhetoric to rally the troops to action, often violent action against others. When we label others as evil, we leave little room for negotiation and make violent conflict more inevitable. Being evil means that they are less than human, beyond hope.
Christianity, with its dualistic world view of heaven and hell, good and evil, is filled with rhetoric that justifies violence against the heretic. This violence includes the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch trials and pogroms against Jewish people in Eastern Europe. Islamic dogma used by current fundamentalist groups like ISIS, with its emphasis on salvation and righteous action, is currently promoting the idea of the evil West to justify killing and torture of all that don’t hold to their strict ideology.
Unfortunately, even liberals and atheists have bought into the idea of evil, even though, “In its official forms, secular liberalism rejects the idea of evil.” However, unable to explain why people harm others or commit horrendous atrocities, many liberals and atheists “have resorted to a language of dark and evil forces much like that of dualistic religions.” (ibid)
Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) tries to address Eichmann’s horrendous actions, even calling them common place, not evil. She suggests that all men would act as Eichmann did under the rule of the Nazis. However, while Eichmann, one of the architects of the holocaust, was not evil (for evil does not exist), his actions were also not innocent. He knew exactly what he was doing, and harming others for his own benefit and the benefit of the Nazi Reich and Hitler did not bother him as it does most humans.
There is a modern, scientific term for that. Eichmann was a sociopath. The term evil is unnecessary to the understanding of his pathology, “What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation.” (ibid) It is our predisposition toward self-preservation during extraordinary distress that leads us to ignore how we treat others in order to survive. Homophobia, racism and misogyny are all part of system where “Toxic ideologies express and reinforce responses to social conflict…” (ibid) They are not evil actions, they are misguided, anti-social responses to stress.
People labelled as evil are “The monsters of fictions, such as vampires, witches, and werewolves...paradigms of evil. These creatures possess powers and abilities that defy scientific explanation…” And that is exactly what evil is, a non-scientific fiction. We excuse people's actions and stop looking for causes of those actions when we label them "evil", as if they didn't have a choice.
The term evil lacks explanatory power, “For instance, we might wonder why two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venerables, tortured and murdered two-year-old James Bulger while other ten-year-old boys with similar genetic characteristics and upbringings cause little harm…the concept of evil is employed in these cases to provide the missing explanation…” (ibid) Shelters points out the tautological nature of the term evil, that evil doesn’t exist in nature and only exists sociolinguistically. Calling an action evil allows us the space to move on and stop looking for explanations of pathological behaviors. It give people comfort in a chaotic, violent and seemingly inexplicable world.
Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic contends that the powerless and weak came up with the concept of evil to attack their oppressors. Shelters explains that the powerful have used the term evil to describe the poor and weak in order to justify elite repression and abuse of the lower classes and outliers, “During humanity’s history, those that stand apart, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Darwin, Marx, union members, atheists, homosexuals and other outliers have been labeled “evil”. Being labeled evil can justify your murder.” (ibid) Thus, the slave owners considered their slaves evil, Hitler thought of the Jews as evil and of course, heretics of all kinds were evil in Spain (and all over Europe) during the Inquisition (late 1400s to early 1600s).
Using words like good or bad or right or wrong or similar words that require subjective interpretations do not provide any better explanation than the use of the term evil. However, evil is a term used as propaganda for the oppressor. Evil has cultural power to move people to emotion and action.
Philosophy professor Claudia Card defends the concept of evil in her work, Atrocity Paradigm. She falls into the same trap as other defenders of the term by suggesting that it is more useful than actually describing actions that are harmful and unjust. Words such as genocide, slavery, and murder are not enough for the defenders of the term evil. Moreover, adding the word evil to a description does not make those actions easier to understand nor more barbaric.
Is it so hard to describe the violent and murderous crimes against humanity of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Idi Amin and others that you must resort to the using the vacuous term evil? Is it not enough to say that Hitler caused the death of 6 millions Jews, millions of Slavs and millions of others? Are people restricted to 140 characters and thus must use the inaccurate and misleading shorthand, 'evil'?
Evil is the tofu of philosophy. It takes on the flavor of the writer and has no inherent meaning.
Some argue that by using the term evil, it will lead us to take action to prevent crimes against humanity. Need I remind you that one man’s evil is another man’s freedom fighter? Who defines what evil is and who should be taken down? It is a subjective term that propagandists use to get you to defend their interests, not your own.
Remember, every time you call others evil, you are following in the footsteps of some of histories most notorious mass murderers.