Types of ‘evil’

Previously I have proposed that we can be ‘free’ by refusing to simply let the flow of life guide us – that we become free by seizing ourselves and subjecting ourselves to our own rule.  I have also proposed that ‘evil’ is a property of action (as opposed to a property of individuals.)  Now I would like to explore a few ‘types’ of evil that seem to fall out of my project.


I have just recently finished a brilliant book called Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie.  In this book there was one character who always took the ‘easy way’, and this was the character’s greatest flaw.  The character would flee from danger, he wouldn’t protest when he disagreed, he’d leave projects half-finished.  He wanted to do the right thing, most of the time, but he just couldn’t bring himself to act as he thought he should.  This character well highlights what I take as one of the most prominent and powerful sources of evil – our inability to free ourselves from the flow of life and act as we think we should.  Instead, we often let life dictate our actions to us.  I would say that this dictation can be something we are aware of, but it can also guide us without us noticing.  When we get in an argument and get angry, for example, we let reality run away with our control – we lose ourselves to the emotion.  I would add the influence of negative emotions as an evil of this kind.  When we let negative emotions control us we allow the world to control us.  That is not to say that we should not do things like run, or stay silent, or many other things that emotions such as fear and nervousness prompt from us.  However, it is a very different thing for us to do something because we have consciously decided to do it, and to do something just because our emotion dictates it.  I do not mean to claim that all things that we do unthinkingly are evil, just that this factor unites a category of evils.


Another category of evils that I would place as closely related but very similar are evils of dogmatism.  I define these evils in a very existentialist manner – to paraphrase Simone these evils come about when we take ourselves and the world too seriously.  These evils are caused by people who act for THE CAUSE, or THE TRUTH, believing that they understand it entirely and therefore acting without doubt.  They are closely related to evils of entrapment because the dogmatist is similarly caught up in the world – he may resist some impulses, but he does so because he has an absolute impulse.


To further clarify my concept of evil I will now explain a part of action that I do not consider evil – mistakes.  We can make some pretty awful, terrible mistakes.  It is a part of living that we have imperfect information, and as I have previously discussed we inevitably must act – so most of the time we inevitably act imperfectly.  Sometimes we mess up.  I do not consider these mistakes ‘evil’ though if they were considered actions – the best the person was capable of given the circumstances.  Evil, at least as I am discussing it here, is not about the results (how Kantian of me).  Instead, evil is something ‘brought out of us’ by the world.


I think in my next post I need to examine human nature a bit.


Ryan Workman


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