Monday, November 12, 2012

Evil, Inc.

A  former business associate once said to me that he didn’t believe there were any bad people—only good people who make bad choices. At this time I decided that I wasn’t terribly interested in pursuing a relationship with this individual, because clearly he lacked good sense.

I love a hearty debate, and I’m truly intrigued by and want to hear what others believe. But my associate’s opinion, which I’d heard expressed before in various other ways by other people, just doesn’t hold its own. It sounds good. It sounds charitable even—that no matter how bad the behavior, everyone gets the benefit of the doubt regarding intentions. 

Yeah, okay. Let’s talk about Hitler.

Is there anyone willing to state that Hitler was a great guy who stumbled upon a really bad idea and then found himself in over his head? Even Hitler’s fans (and I understand he still has a few) won’t say that. They’ll say that Hitler was a great man with great ideas.

If you think that was too easy, and I simply plucked the low-hanging fruit off the tree, forget about Hitler and insert the name of any one of a number of infamous individuals known for horrific crimes against humanity. Sadly, there are many. And before you cry “Foul!” asserting that these men, women—and in some cases—children are unique, be prepared to argue how it could be that any one of us is any more or less human than any other one of us, keeping in mind that, biologically, either someone is human or he isn’t. I’ll wait while you get your thoughts together.

My family likes to make fun of me for watching true-crime investigation shows, and I’m not entirely sure I understand all the reasons these shows interest me. But I do know one reason. The criminologists, detectives, pathologists, victims, and such portrayed in these shows are not shy about calling evil, evil. I find this reassuring in a world where, increasingly, anything goes, there’s no such thing as right and wrong, and it’s unpopular to judge behavior—let alone voice an actual opinion about someone’s behavior (unless she’s Lindsey Lohan, then it’s perfectly okay, go figure).

I don’t get it. I don’t know how we got so afraid of stating our opinions about the world around us that we’ve lost some of our common sense. We’re told that we can’t ever judge another’s intentions, only his actions, but that’s simply untrue and could even be dangerous. Are you a mind reader? Me neither. But when an intelligent, competent individual hurts me again and again although I tell him to please stop, I’m going to go ahead and assume that he means no good for me even while he tells me that he loves me. I could be wrong, but given that my health may very well depend on my beliefs, I’ll take that chance.

I have no problem believing that even Hitler had aspects to his character that we could call good. I’m sure there were people in his life who loved him, cared for him, and prayed for him. And I’m equally sure that not all people who repeatedly do destructive things to others are incapable of doing good. In the end, some of these people may even live a life defined by more good than harm done. 

But don’t give me this business about everyone having good intentions all the time. Some people have every intent of doing harm, and they do it and like doing it. Are they evil? I wouldn’t rule it out, because I don’t care if Ted Bundy had a few good days, I still wouldn’t have wanted to be locked in a room with him.

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