Wednesday 14 September 2011

What is evil?


Modern man, me included, has great difficulty conceptualizing evil: what follows is my own attempt, which I have found useful so far.


Evil is nihilism.

Nihilism is not nothingness, because what is created cannot be destroyed by any except the creator; but it can be ruined.


If and when evil triumphs, there would not be nothing, nor would Good be utterly destroyed - rather, everything would be ruined (like Mordor) and all Good would be twisted to the service of evil: like the politically correct bureaucrat whose genuine kindness and compassion leads them to create a totalitarian state to crush those whom they perceive to threaten the possibility of universal harmony; like the (virtuous) courage of rapacious and destructive Vikings or other pirates; like the high principles of the young communist who (with his heart breaking) denounced his beloved parents for their ideological transgressions against the Utopian state; like the Nazi concentration camp guards who stayed until the last possible moment, expending their last bullets in killing as many Jews as possible, instead of retreating and defending themselves against the US/ British forces at the gates - this is as far as evil can go: to twist The Good (e.g. kindness, courage, loyalty, idealism) into the service of ruining The Good.


Nihilism is the ruin, the marring, the twisting of The Good.


The Good is (roughly) the unity of Truth, Beauty and Virtue.

Therefore evil/ nihilism is the ruin of TBV: it is LSD (lies, spin and disinformation) instead of truth; ugliness, shock and revulsion instead of beauty; and instead of virtue, the subversion, inversion and distortion of natural law and Christian revelation.


Therefore, evil is quite precise, and (making allowance for human limitations and sinfulness) is objective.

Any form of dishonesty is evil - which means the mass media as a whole is evil (since it is not even trying to be honest), so is politics, so is bureaucracy.

Any marring of beauty is evil - which means 'modernity' in the arts and architecture is evil. A healthy girl's face is beautiful, so fashions like facial piercing and tattooing are evil. Silence, birdsong and (real) music are beautiful - so noise that overwhelms these is evil.

Any attack on natural law (spontaneous morality) and Christian law is evil: which means that the tendency of most modern mainstream public discourse - including many laws and state regulations - is evil.


In a fallen world, some - many - evils are unavoidable - but unavoidable evil is still evil, and needs to be recognised as such (and repented).

Evil must not, ever, be re-labelled as Good - that act is in itself a triumph of evil.



The Crow said...

Good post! Jam-packed with revelation. Well writ, sir.


Nasty stuff, and to be avoided at all cost, by any decent being.

Ted Swanson said...

Bruce, I've been reading your blog for a few months now, and I think this is my new favorite blog. I'm so happy to read someone who takes Tolkien seriously. I also read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was VERY young and they are some of my earliest memories of reading books for the first time.

I'm not sure that I would call Evil 'nihilism.' However, it is the meaning and spirit of what you're saying that counts and I agree wholeheartedly with it.

Nihilism, as I understand it, is indeed a 'belief in nothing,' but as a BEGINNING point, not an END point. A nihilist assumes nothing at the outset.

As you say, evil is the marring and twisting of good. Taking 'good' too far. To assume that unchecked growth is unequivocally good, for example. But many people assume that 'growth' can never be bad or evil. A good nihilist would never assume such things and would actually be in a good position to say this is Evil. That being said, I don't think there is such thing as a 'perfect' nihilist, a person that can literally assume nothing. I also think that nihilism is not for everyone and many would be better served reading religious texts or Bruce Charlton's Miscellany!

Sorry for quibbling over semantics, I do agree with the upshot of what you're saying.

Great post, great blog, and I plan on commenting more, if you'll have me.

Brett Stevens said...

I disagree; to my experience, evil is narcissism.

That leads to a disbelief in anything but the self, covered up for by a fake "fatalism," or belief in the hopelessness of all things (I'm thinking Daisy's first conversation with Nick in Gatsby here) which is what most people think of as nihilism.

True nihilism, in my view, is a negation of narcissism, and enables one to see that all things including faith and science are not inherent, but choices.

There are no truths, only interpretations. An idiot will not seek reality, nor will a liar, nor will a criminal. There is no universal standard. There is an elective standard: some prefer to live with grace, elegance, beauty, truthfulness (not "truth"), and honesty.

Others do not.

What is the hinge of that choice? The equality of the individual -- another expression of narcissism -- and its ability to deny the consequences of its actions. In that I see evil.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brett - I feel that nihilism is a more advanced form of evil than narcissism - the frustrated or satiated narcissist becomes destructive for its own sake.

When confronted with the last chance, everything lost, the only hope repentance - repentance is refused and destruction is chosen - Hitler, Saruman, and Frost in That Hideous Strength, who:

"...walked back into the Objective Room, poured out the petrol and threw a lighted match into the pile. Not till then did his controllers allow him to suspect that death itself might not after all cure the illusion of being a soul – nay, might prove the entry into a world where that illusion raged infinite and unchecked. Escape for the soul, if not for the body, was offered him. He became able to know (and simultaneously refused the knowledge) that he had been wrong from the beginning, that souls and personal responsibility existed. He half saw: he wholly hated. The physical torture of the burning was not fiercer than his hatred of that. With one supreme effort he flung himself back into his illusion. In that attitude eternity overtook him as sunrise in old tales overtakes and turns them into unchangeable stone."