Trigger warning: violence against children, women, and humanity at large. Also, cults.
As much as my lizard brain would love me to, I have a really tough time (intellectually) branding someone as ‘evil’. Sure, I am happy to call actions, ideologies, and institutions evil. By their fruits ye shall know them and all that – judge things by their consequences. Even in yesterday’s condemnation of neo-Nazi and murderer J.T. Ready, I avoided (with middling success) implying that Mr. Ready was an organically evil person. I find such descriptions do little to further our understanding of how to prevent these kinds of problems in the future. We only know who ‘evil people’ are after they’ve already done something evil, by which time it is too late. Plus, nobody ever thinks they’re evil – just misunderstood or held back by the forces of political correctness or something.
People are not ‘evil’ in the sense that such language use would suppose. People are people, and we are all occasionally cognitively lazy enough to embrace ideas uncritically. The worst offenders among us embrace ideas that, directly or indirectly, hurt our fellow human beings. When we see that behaviour in someone else, we should be able to recognize our own shared failings. In so doing, we are better equipped to act with compassion and critical thought rather than knee-jerk blame, which only narrows our own field of vision for potential solutions.
I know all this, and have believed it for some time. That being said, it’s sometimes hard for me to put that principle into practice: [Read more…]