Good and evil

There are evil ideas and evil acts. Are there evil people?

For white British people, there is a short list of evil people most would agree on: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, each responsible for millions of deaths. Black British people might add some British colonialists: I might add Edward Colston as a named signifier for thousands of slavery profiteers.

Hitler believed that Jews were dangerous to Germany, and desired that the German people prosper. He did not see himself as the baddie. Yuval Noah Hariri, in “Sapiens,” said the Nazis were “humanists”. It is a blindness, an absence, to fail to see the suffering caused, to delight in or not to care about it. Evil is not a force but a lack, an inability either to see the humanity of the loathed group, or that all humanity is one.

Quakers say, “Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war.” What in me is like that? Where does my lack of care cause suffering?

I might say the campaign against trans rights in Britain is evil. Trans women are in women’s services unless there is a particular reason to exclude an individual. So to demand “single sex spaces”, and by that mean spaces from which trans women are rigorously purged, is evil, a chilling lack of regard for the needs or feelings of other human beings. To name this- “we want women’s spaces without trans women” might be disturbing to some, so there are a variety of ways to obscure the truth. The anti-trans campaigners might avoid all mention of trans women, and use the phrase “single sex services” as code. Or, they monster us: they seek to incite disgust, fear and aversion, saying, That person might not be a real trans woman, but a sexual predator. That trans woman retains their penis, and is a threat.

As with Hitler, an apparent positive desire, to protect [cis] women, is perverted into a project to hurt a minority. Yes, “Women are entitled to discuss their rights”, but should consider who their changes would affect, and use clear language. “Sex-based rights” means, “No Trans women”. They would use clear language, expressing that, if they did not on some level know that their demands are mean and destructive.

It is hard to see where to draw a distinction. The final extremity is death, but the start of it is disregard, a failure to see the value of the human person, or consider their reality. That leads to disgust, to street abuse and violence. Again it is a blindness or a lack: the anti-trans campaigner does not see the effect of their campaigning on their victims, or does not care. And many people who would happily call Nazis evil would blench at the idea anti-trans campaigners are evil.

Possibly when you see them arguing against trans rights, you would see a light of fanaticism in their eyes, an inability to consider other points of view or the pain of their victims, which might be a little worrying. And yet in their lives and interests beyond anti-trans campaigning- a love of the music of Schubert, perhaps- they seem entirely normal and reasonable.

Jesus said, let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. If evil is a lack, or a blind-spot, most people have blind spots. A belief that there are monsters, separate from the Good People, might lead to attempts to cast the monsters out, and find they are Jews, or trans women. I do not believe there are evil people. No-one is good but God alone.

5 thoughts on “Good and evil

      • I have written a poem on the subject, about the abysmal treatment of migrants and their children at the southern border of the United States:

        Not Elves, Exactly
        by Michael R. Burch

        Something there is that likes a wall,
        that likes it spiked and likes it tall,

        that likes its pikes’ sharp rows of teeth
        and doesn’t mind its victims’ grief

        (wherever they come from, far or wide)
        as long as they fall on the other side.

        Many people misunderstand the most famous phrase in Robert Frost’s acclaimed poem “Mending Wall.” In the poem Frost’s neighbor quotes his father’s adage that “Good fences make good neighbors” as they work together to repair an unnecessary wall on the border of their properties. Talk about a misunderstanding: this phrase has even been used by politicians to justify apartheid walls and similar barriers! But Frost did not share his neighbor’s belief and compared him to a stone-armed savage who moved in primitive darkness and could not go beyond his father’s saying. Frost’s own belief about such walls was expressed in the poem: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out / And to whom I was like to give offense.” At the end of the poem, Frost considers teasing his neighbor with the idea that mischievous elves are responsible for the wall falling down, but decides to hold his peace. My title questions who builds such walls: “Not Elves, Exactly” but something much darker and more ominous.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Frost played with the idea of blaming elves for the useless wall falling down, but perhaps thought the stone-armed savage might not appreciate the humor. For me the moral is that sometimes we have to be able to go beyond our fathers’ sayings — for instance, going beyond what the Bible says about women’s rights and homosexuality. Major churches like the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptists are still mired in prehistoric beliefs they can’t go beyond.

            Liked by 1 person

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