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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #16, 9/8/2006

Evil Defined

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

This issue was later rewritten and vastly improved as a printed newsletter: Evil Explained (pdf file), released as Issue #38 on 12/4/06.

The text below is retained only for historical interest (because I don't like to disrupt the sequence of old issues). It is not nearly as good as the newsletter. —G.C.

evil — /'E-v&l/ n. An internal delusion of external responsibility that makes people do destructive things.

In its simplest form, evil is detaching yourself from something unpleasant that you yourself are responsible for. You claim, to both others and yourself, that you are not to blame, and this begins a chain of warped reasoning that can lead to some terrible acts.

If you do something you know is wrong but then start explaining it away as someone else's problem, that is evil. Evil is a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar who insists that he is not responsible for that hand.

Evil is choosing to accept a false view of reality because it serves ones private emotional needs. Destructive actions—from rudeness to serial murder—then flow from this internal lie.

It may seem absurd to think of evil as something so simple, but the jump from self-deception to genocide is not that great. Once you accept any hypocrisy in your internal world and start generating more lies to defend it, there is no telling what terrible act it may lead you to.

Evil is not an innocent mistake but a discretionary fraud. You are accepting a falsehood in spite of obvious contradictory evidence and the inherent "knowing" that the lie exists. This automatically creates internal conflict and disrupts your nervous system.

Because of its processing problems, evil is not merely a theory but an objective and measurable physiological phenomenon. Like other lies, evil can be detected with the right diagnostic equipment.

To some, evil is an action: Murder is evil. Rape is evil. Genocide is evil. The court system is frequently concerned with evaluating evil acts and passing judgment on them, usually long after they have occurred and sometimes after the evil itself is long passed.

To me, bad actions are the results of evil and not the evil itself. Evil is an internal inconsistency that often leads to destructive acts, but the acts are not necessary for evil to exist or be proven by modern technology.

Evil can be detected just like other lies: by hooking the subject up to a polygraph machine and asking a series of questions. Actually, the read-out from the polygraph isn't important, only the subject's obvious reactions to the test. If someone is lying to themselves and you ask the right questions, pretty soon they are going to squirm. They are going to get angry. They may object to the whole line of questioning. They may demand that the test be stopped this minute. They might even rip off the equipment and storm away.

When this happens, you know you have found it. Evil.

Some people think there should be a special category for especially heinous acts, like killing a lot of people or starting a war, as opposed to the simply treacheries we encounter every day that aren't even illegal. I say that it is all the same evil, just empowered by the world in different ways.

Take that quintessential evil dude Adolf Hitler. Hook him up to the machine, and of course he is going to get upset and flustered, especially when you ask him about the Jews. As long as he can't control the questions, then he'll soon be fuming and spouting angry nationalist rhetoric the wouldn't sway any jury. His evil, however, is no different from any kid who has been caught stealing cookies and refuses to admit it.

We have all been seduced by evil from time to time. We have all lied to ourselves. What distinguishes us, the transient evil-doers, from the truly entrenched Adolfs and Saddams is that we are capable of eventually detecting and correcting our own mistakes. We can say, "I was wrong," while some people can't.

Some people with weak self-esteem will let evil build upon evil until they are trapped in a path of self-annihilation that may takes countless others with them.

There is not much you can do about evil from the outside. You can try to place boundaries on it or throw its ass in jail, but truly changing evil is difficult.

Evil can be stopped by force but it cannot be repaired by it. Paradoxically, the only way to heal human evil is with love. You have to venture into to the belly of the beast and offer something different. You have to offer a truth to contradict the lies.

Evil is dangerous, especially in any concentrated form, like a war zone or Stalin's Russia. If you try to take on too much evil at once, you might get killed. You got to know your limits and preserve your own integrity first.

You will never defeat all the evil of the world, but you can try to control it in yourself.

The first thing you have to do is admit that it's there, then you can begin to address it.

Some further thoughts on evil...

Reader Comments

“Truth and error and speculation were in this essay.” —Minister 3/19/07 (rating=2)

“Great essay, I've had to deal with evil in family court. I will never understand how a person can lie under oath and not have any guilt or sympathy for the one who is having a their child taken away. I know what evil is but will never understand how some people thrive on evil.” — 2/17/08 (rating=3)

“Very understanding of the whole object/subject, great work.” —indpl2eD 10/25/08 (rating=5)

“Very interesting. If anyone knows of any reading material that gets more into this, please submit it.” — 12/21/08 (rating=5)

“Is "good",like "evil" a mere state of phisiology, or is it a concept we discuss, therefore giving distance to it like a lab experiment? Perhaps evil is generated from an evil source like goodness is generated from "Godness". I don't believe evil is just an absence of right programing. I tend to see evil as a very real entity with powerful influences. Finally, evil must have some positive or actual existance because evil seems to act in and destroy in deliberate ways in the world.” — 10/5/09 (rating=2)

“excellent and probably worth a four.” —grant 3/23/10 (rating=3)

“how sophomoric and totally lacking in any definitive context other than the simple mindedness of what is written” — 5/2/10 (rating=0)

“USA” —tpppdffsmi 8/14/10 (rating=qpGlKk2a)

Ratings so far: 2 3 3 3 5 5 4 4 2 3 0 qpGlKk2a 4 (Average=2.9)

Family Court Philosopher:
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