This is day #12 of 30 days of blogs on philosophy. I will continue to attempt to provide answers to some big life questions as a learning exercise.
“The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” – Saint Bernard
Often, the most heinous and evil acts are done by the most righteous of people. People who think that the world needs saving and that they are the ones to do it.
Looking back into the past at Mao in China, Stalin in Russia, or Pol Pot in Cambodia, we can see power-hungry leaders with a lust for power and no respect for human life. It is clear, simple, and easy to identify them as evil. But at the time, they and their supporters thought of themselves as saviors. They were the people who were coming to save the proletariat, the workers, the farmers, the oppressed classes in society. The were the heroes fighting evil.
Looking backward, they become the real life versions of the caricatures of evil we see in books and movies. They become like Sauron, Voldemort, or Emperor Palpatine. Pure evil. Killing and destroying because they are completely corrupt. Government schooling almost teaches you in a way that makes you think they must have known they were evil. Like they had gone out and chosen the dark side.
Going through the educational system, you don’t dive deep into the philosophies that lead to these horrible acts. Events become stories, with good vs. evil. Where it is easy to know good and easy to know evil. You avoid talking about principles that were initially abandoned early on the road to evil.
It leads to the idea that evil people are evil for evil’s sake. They want to kill others, hurt others, and derive enjoyment from the suffering they cause. We don’t spend time thinking about how often the people committing the evil view themselves as the righteous ones fighting evil. Or at least, they often do initially.
I have no idea what was going through Hitler’s mind or anyone who has done horrible things, but it seems like the people who commit the worst actions have the most rationalizations. That it appears to be a human need to view ourselves as good. No matter how much self-deception that involves.
It is the self-righteous who abandon their principles in the pursuit of destroying “evil” that often end up creating more human suffering.
“More harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.” – FA Hayek
I set out trying to come up with an answer for what is evil, and I didn’t get to an answer. I will continue with the idea in my blog post tomorrow.
I’m going through these questions to clarify my thinking on them, and hopefully, provide value to others who are reading. If you agree or disagree with me, I would love to hear from you in the comments! Let me know how you would answer this question, or what you think my answer is missing!