Evil is as Evil does?

 It is man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways – Buddha.

A new subject I never gave much thought to before. I’m now however of the opinion that human beings are not evil, but that they are capable of evil doing. Sounds easy so far. Some externalize evil as a force or universal mechanism that influences us because primarily God has forsaken his shadow – and that Christ is God’s shadow. OK. Not so easy then, but that was Carl Jung anyway.

Christianity bases the concept of good and evil classically on that of Thomas Aquinas – or the absence of good. Machiavelli proposed that all acts that are intended for the protection of the state are not necessarily evil – even if they involve the cancellation of your enemies. For the most part, various psychological theories evidence the lack of good as conditioning, or abnormalities in the brain or personality – depending on which of the usual theories you subscribe to.

One of my more favourite ideas on evil was proposed by Spinoza. As a mathematical derivative Spinoza stated: 1. By good, I understand that which we certainly know is useful to us. 2. By evil, on the contrary I understand that which we certainly know hinders us from possessing anything that is good.

As someone who believed evil to be a separate characteristic, evil was hard to find and more of a mythical experience – a quality that one could only attribute through say the lens of religion. For me there was either good or bad; simple enough thinking, but that put to question actions such as murder or rape. Some believe the word rape is by definition evil, that things like slavery are evil while others are relativists. I know, hard to think that way with rape. But remember the experiment in which a subject is given control over the amount of electrical charge an individual receives – whom they cannot see, can’t identify with other than to be told the person is deserving? A lot of supposedly good people were tricked into accepting or giving up control to others and committing an evil act of electrocution and suffering.

But what are we really getting at here? What does evil have to do with my day? Does the 8 year old who took the chocolate bar become evil? Do they have the moral certitude to know the absence of good? At what age does this come about. Can we put a teenager on death row – and is death row evil? I think it is. How much does impulsivity or poor decision making take us down the road of evil doing? Does the interplay of reason and conscience delude us into believing we are good people, or are we all evil?

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What secret shame do you hold onto.

Have you ever been suspended from school for fighting? Did you run away from home as a teen, or get arrested? How many of you have shoplifted and been caught? Are we on the outside merely shadows of our inner stories we don’t let out? Which among you are the conformists or non-conformists, the rebels and the victims of circumstance, or the true deviants from the rest of your peers?

In High School I once tried to knock the hat off another kid in the class for a lark and caught him in the eye. Was I truly sorry or was I trying to avoid punishment? Another time I was playing with a lighter and burned the hair of the girl in front of me in science class. I begged her not to tell, and the teacher just chalked it up to smells coming from other labs.

I used to find special places – secret places as a child. There was the back of the trees that ringed the gardens in Scotland, between the old wall and the lawns. I was perhaps 10 at the time and I noticed others had been there: Crumpled beer cans and the smell of urine, I didn’t know about sex then. I could hide and watch passers by oblivious to my presence.

It would serve me well later in life in my early 20’s in High Park, Toronto. Secret paths allowed me to move from one end to the other. From the lake where I would take day old bread that the bakery used to leave for the seniors home to feed the ducks, across to the wealthy neighbourhoods where I would bin dive for anything I could find useful to cart back to the warehouse where I lived, or worse, take a carton of milk from a corner store’s delivery. The hours before dusk were my time. Time to visit the zoo from behind the paddocks, the bison snorting warm air into the night seemingly unmoved by my presence. As soon as the joggers began their early cadence I would retreat with whatever I had gained in the darkness, or step out from behind the bushes to walk the paved paths home.

What secrets do you hold that you can’t share? I once stayed in a Buffalo motel with a girl and a guy from my last high school in Toronto – after skipping the bus ride home. We were mature students and it was an alternative school where accountability was lax admittedly. I remember the neon motel sign outside the window and the metal desk with the wood-grained decal. I remember the taste of cheep brandy and Marlboro’s. Three distinctly different rebels – different backgrounds, one a rich kid, the other from a Catholic school, and me from the suburban working class Mississauga. Brought together because we didn’t fit in, from a school for people that didn’t fit in.

What’s in your recent past you have to live with, alone? What stories do you tell to make it go away? What makes a person good or bad? Is it possible to see the interplay between right and wrong; more right than wrong, or shades of grey? Do we cheat on our taxes, do we short change the parking meter if at all possible? Do we bend the truth ever so slightly in our favour? We alone absolve ourselves of guilt and shame, strive to do better, do good and err on the side of righteousness – but not too much. That would leave us open to the same deceit we are trying to overcome from within – a constant struggle.