Issue #28 / February 2019
How do you deal with evil? The casual, everyday evil, like throwing tobacco in the eyes of a beautiful animal in a zoo?
KATJA, COPENHAGEN, DENMARK
These days the word ‘evil’ is seen by many as anachronistic and outmoded. What much contemporary thought offers us is a representation of humanity as little more than a mass of twitching nerves, with no inherent purpose other than to merely exist, that there is no ultimate good or bad, and concepts such as evil are redundant social constructs. I disagree, of course, and I must answer your question through my own view of the world – that we are spiritual and transcendent beings, that our lives have meaning, and that our individual actions have vast implications on the well-being of the universe.
Throwing tobacco in the eyes of an animal in a zoo is an act of deliberate malevolence, and in that respect, evil. However, I think we must all look inside ourselves and acknowledge that we each have a capacity for malevolence. It requires little self-examination to envisage a situation where ‘good’ people could – under certain circumstances – perform acts that are wicked. This acknowledgement of our own capacity for evil, difficult as it may be, can ultimately become our redemption. If we don’t acknowledge our potential for malevolence, we disconnect ourselves from the unlimited ability for good that is contained within us. It is important to understand that as individual human beings we hold, in our own hands, the ability to both destroy and save the world.
The transcendent spirit for good can be accessed with profound effect through the imagination – the creative force can act as a counter-agent to evil. We cannot eradicate evil, yet it need not paralyse us – rather we should take what steps we can, however small, toward the betterment of the world, and our place in it. This is the essence of creativity.
Sometimes, the world appears to lean deeper into its evilness and feels reductive and devoid of light, but Katja, your letter of concern is a small and subversive act of goodwill that can help tilt the world the other way. You are never helpless in the face of evil (unless you sit in perpetual condemnation of the world, as some sadly do). Your simple act of solicitude is the spark of kindness that can illuminate the entire universe. The world already feels brighter.