I recently had a very intense conversation with a friend who shares most of my beliefs about the world, with one exception: he believes in evil as an objective, malicious force in the universe. I do not.
I believe in good, but not evil.
People do evil things, yes. They intentionally harm others, they intentionally harm themselves, they inject chaos and sadness and pain into the universe. But why?
Many people believe in a devil, in demons, in external forces that prompt us to do things we shouldn’t. In things beyond our control that draw bad things from us against our will.
Why is this a more attractive belief than the simple truth: that we have flaws in our understanding? That we don’t always know what’s good for us? That the mess and confusion of daily life can keep us from seeing simple truths? That we’re still a very immature species, struggling towards the light, making any number of missteps along the way?
It seems that, for the most part, we understand the simple concept that causing harm doesn’t bring true happiness, and yet we often label those who indulge in such activities “self-serving” or “practical,” and begrudgingly admire them and envy them for the things they reap as a result.
Toddlers, too, desire control over their environments. They, too indulge in destructive behaviors as they attempt to get what they want from the world. Do we call them evil? No. Because they don’t understand what they’re doing.
When we attribute the drive to do evil to some malicious, powerful being, we’re giving it far too much credit. We’re personifying a twist of logic, an imbalance, a certain kind of misunderstanding of the universe.
What we mean when we say “good” is that which benefits us. What we mean when we say “evil” is that which harms us. In this universe where we all share space, where we are forced to interact with one another, where we must negotiate for what we want with everything else alive, good is only sustainable through balance, and evil means, quite literally, the unwillingness to negotiate that balance.
It has no overarching agenda. It has no power over good. It is simply the absence of the will and/or intelligence, to good. When we start treating evil-doers as unlearned, as young, as mistaken, as self-harming and clumsy, instead of viewing them as a terrifying thing that we must somehow eradicate, we take a huge step towards a world without evil.
Because trying to eradicate people who haven’t yet learned how to do good is evil in and of itself. The more we try to eradicate evil, the more we become it. We’re trying to put out fire with more fire. Silly humans. Time for a paradigm shift.