I have been wondering a lot recently about the nature of evil. Or specifically, how evil actions come about. It is pretty easy to look at the actions of lone crazed murders or rapists, declare them evil, decide there is something wrong in their minds, and move on. But what about the politicians we elect? Or the corporations we buy from and work for? Where does evil arise.
A lot of people, me included, would look at the actions of the banking and mortgage industry over the past few years and declare them evil. Actions that put good people out of their homes, devastated retirement or investment accounts, and generally brought about the failure of the American economy. The actions of the corporations were in direct opposition to the general welfare and well-being of the population and so would be considered evil. But each of those corporations is made up of people. Individuals. Individuals who, if you talked to them individually and looked at how they led their lives and fed their dogs, are what we would think of as good people. So how did these good people come together to perform works of evil? It is very similar, though no where near the same scale and deadliness, as Nazis during the holocaust.
Another example is the bill going before the House to protect the rights of LGBT people in the workplace. There are many, at least in the Senate, who supported and passed the bill in a bipartisan manner. But the bill looks like it will fail in the house – in large part because Speaker John Boehner is against it. Here is a man, who even if you disagree with is politics, is someone we would normally consider to be a good person. But in this case he seeks to deny rights and equal protection under the law to a group of people because it might cost jobs. Directly said – money is more important than human rights. Again, most would say that is a statement that borders on evil. So how does this happen.
I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions. I do not even go so far as to say I know how to react to the individual evidences of the actions. I am at a loss to explain how people, either individually or in a group can do evil. These action, to people of all races, colors and sexes, hurt me deeply. Cruel acts to animals and children hit me deep in the heart. Why does it happen? And how do you deal with it?
I do know that there is a fantastic quote attributed to Edmund Burke that says, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” And I firmly believe this. We must do something. We cannot sit idly by, and we must call out evil where we see it. We must cease worrying over our own discomfort, desire for wealth and status, and we must feel for the world. But the implementation of that? As hard as finding the root causes of evil actions.