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Essay of the Month: Evil

Issa - Bonfires Burn Out, acrylic on paper, 2008, Mark W. McGinnis

Our understanding of evil has many times been tied to our understanding of religion. Evil has been presented as the opposite to Good/God. But this is an oversimplification and to some degree a manipulation of evil. By making evil supernatural we remove ourselves from it and make it a controller of humans. In today’s world few people do this with other conditions of nature. We do not see storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, or other violent and destructive forces as being evil. But many people still see human beings as being under the control of evil. Is this the case? Can we excuse ourselves from behavior considered evil because of forces beyond our control? Most legal systems do not think so.

Certainly there are some evil acts and evil people whose actions can be explained by physiological mental conditions. When parts of the brain are not functioning properly or defective evil results can happen. But this does not explain the vast majority of evil that human beings create. The genocides, destruction of the environment, murders, rapes, torture, physical and mental cruelty are not for the most part done by people with a defective brain, it is done by human beings with just as healthy brain tissue as you and I. What then can lead them to do such things? For many people this is where the supernatural explanation gives some relief, and relief that they would not be capable of such actions as they are not under the influence of such evil. I fear that we are all capable of such evil; we all have the potential of a torturer within us — it is not an easy possibility for many of us to confront.

In religious context our association with the Good/God has been believed to counter the Evil (from without or within). To some degree this has been successful and some people have subdued their negative potential with religious belief. For others religion has not been successful. The Inquisition and terrorism at the World Trade Towers are just two examples. Other more personal examples can be found in the lives of millions of people of many faiths.

People who create evil are for the most part disconnected. They do not see themselves as a part of or connected to what they are imposing evil upon, be it other people, creatures, the environment, the planet. They believe themselves or their group as unique and deserving whatever they wish, physical or mental, which may be obtained by whatever means necessary. What I believe mitigates our potential for evil is our degree of connection. We can see obvious examples of this in family groupings. While there are unfortunate and sometimes hideous exceptions, people are less inclined to perpetuate acts of evil on other members of their family. This inclination was extended to clan, tribe, country, race, and species – with more exceptions as the circle widened. As we reach the far circumference of the circle and to other species of life the system breaks down. There are some regulations that try to inhibit people from cruelty to some animals, especially pet species, but when we reach the realm of animals raised for food and wildlife there seems no limits on the levels of cruelty that may be imposed on them.

To minimize evil the understanding and realization of connection must be broadened and deepened. We can understand that our connection to other people is not merely a philosophical or religious but physical and material. The differences between two people are so minimal as to be nearly non-existent, the commonality is nearly total. Tinny genetic differences give us a miraculous uniqueness, but the truth is that we all have the same basic needs; we have the same, or nearly the same; potential, we are all made of the same stuff. When this understanding reaches beyond surface intellectual level and finds its way to core of your being the potential for evil dissolves, the other is you, you are the other – again, this is not philosophically or spiritually, but physically – reality.  This sense of connection does not have an end-point, it can be extended to all of existence. The animals, birds, insects, plants, stones, planets, stars, galaxies, the entire universe is made of the same stuff, the very same stuff, just organized, temporarily, in certain packages. We are one of those packages and what we are will change to other packages. We are not only connected, we will be and have been all others.

Copyright 2011 Mark W. McGinnis

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