De-Evilizing Evil

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Evil seems to be staging a strong comeback in Philosophy. The Idea of evil was discarded earlier as it was thought to be viewed from a mythical Christian worldview. With the growth of atheism incarnated evil in the form of Satan was declared death. We cannot imagine a world without evil.  This is why evil has not stopped fascinating thinkers and has become an aesthetic object that functions as the other in the context of the banality of everyday life. The work of philosopher Lars Svendsen is vital in this regard. Evil is aestheticized in fictions, films, media, religions and in politics in our society and we seem to have lost sight of the horror of evil.  When evil is aestheticized, we become desensitized to its violence and we seem to tolerate it without worrying that the knife will cut too deep. The increasing incidents of mob lynching in our society necessitate us to use the word evil to express our horror.  It is not easy to call these monstrous acts as evil as they are supposed to be committed in the name of God. Some even chant the holy name of God while they mercilessly kill their victims. All the same, these events do not exhibit any symbolic resonance of the divine and have to be named as evil for what they are. But still several among us cannot see evil in these heinous crimes. Often the recognition of evil in this context if at all we have is only done to be quickly forgotten. Jean Baudrillard says that evil resides everywhere and is omnipresent and hence we have lost our ability to grasp it. Maybe evil has stopped shocking us. Evil has been decentralised and can no longer be located in a single face. It has become faceless for us precisely because it marks our very face and we cannot see our face in the evil around us.

More than ever before, we need to problematize evil as an idea. Paul Ricoeur suggests that evil is accessible to philosophical reflection but points out that myths and symbolism become resources that aid our understanding of evil. Humans have always attempted to represent evil through mythological symbolizations. Unfortunately, these myths have been transformed into ontologies or visions of reality and these ontologies  then lose their symbolic or ethical value and become hauntologies that push several among us to indulge into active violence or passive violence of tolerance of evil. Thus, the holy cow haunts everyone today. It haunts those that worship it as they believe that the holy cow is in danger and requires their protection. The potential victims of such violence are also haunted by the fear of the rampaging Gau rakshaks.  We may have to carefully reflect on how these acts of violence align with the dharma or rta. The issue becomes complex because evil action is employed to achieve a higher goal. But the conviction that an ideal is good does not make the action good. Aestheticization of evil in this context seems to have been theologized and we seem to have hollowed out the moral dimension of evil acts committed in the protection of the holy cow.  Aestheticization of evil has made it difficult to recognize it or at best even if we recognize it we end up justifying it.

Evil is not simply an idea. It is a practical problem and it raises the challenge to think how we can avoid it. It is not enough to explain what evil is. What is required is ways of tracing a response that will enable us to counter it. Foucault teaches that even mindless violence has a mind. We are all capable of doing unspeakable things to others.  Hence, to find ways of overcoming or avoiding evil become urgent. It is not enough to think that we all have a dark side. Maybe we can ask a self introspection question: what will it take for me to indulge into such heinous crime? This is important. We always think that the other is always evil and we see ourselves as representatives of the good fighting evil.  This ‘us and them’ divide is fundamental to ferment violence.  It is this division of ‘us and them’ that blinds us and we can easily subject those who are defined as evil to torture, violence and death.  Hence, it is important that we examine how the divisive ‘us and them’ dichotomy operates in our life.  This us and them binary can be insane and generate violence. We always like the ‘us’ side and dislike the ' them’ side of the binary. This means we aestheticize ‘us and them’. Such and aestheticization incapacitates thinking for oneself as it can become an act of disloyalty to the group.   Thus, it leads to the depersonalisation of the self which makes it easy to depersonalise the other. This is why it is difficult to recognise the humanity of the person who is construed as evil.   This means we have to avoid all aestheticization of evil in our own life. This is the best thing that we can give to our society.  It will increase goodness in our society.  This does not mean that we should not fight evil outside us. We are obligated to oppose evil but we cannot use evil to do away with evil. We have to do good to break the chain of evil. Ahimsa as a moral tool can be our strength in this project. Christian love can animate our war against evil. It is only by dispelling evil from our personal lives that we can begin cleansing its reign outside us. Christian theology of suffering and sacrifice can be our companion in our struggle to de-evilize ourselves and our society. God has already overcome evil of all kinds through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is for us to let God’s victory become real in our life and continue fighting this war on evil until the final full realization of it at eschaton.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao