I remember a while back being bothered by a viral campaign for that anti-bullying movie. It had a scolding kid on it, looking back with a caption. “Bullying Isn’t Cool” said the caption, which was, while well-intentioned, completely wrong. Because bullying is cool. That’s the whole point of bullying; to show that you are cooler than someone, to assert some form of dominance. As a kid, I was sometimes bullied and, less often, a bully, and let me tell you; bullying is fun. You are cool and the other kid is not. What a rush, what validation!
I still remember what it meant to crack a mean joke. It meant, in the swaths of laughter, that I was good, and they were bad. It was bad to do, but it felt good. That, quite simply, is the tension between good and evil; how do you insist upon the moral when the alternative is easier or otherwise so tempting?
I’m sharing this story to illustrate something that bothers me. People today (internet people perhaps) seem too caught up in binary assessments of Good and Bad. You are Good and the people in the other political party are stupid and to be pitied at best, and evil, sinister harbingers of the apocalypse at worst. It’s not that simple. Humans are complicated people, and will often do what behooves them. If it is easy to be good, or there is incentive, we are good. If there is a reward for badness it is very easy to justify it with rhetoric or theory.
Badness often exists and perpetuates itself because it offers benefits. To completely neglect those temptations gives us a completely unbalanced perception of good and evil. The more we fetishize and remove evil and social ills as completely other, the more we misunderstand it. We all face the same struggle, just in different spots and levels.
I am not advocating bland centricity here, nor am I supporting a nihilistic “who cares” attitude. There is good and bad, and I am not here to argue for moral equivalency. But I will say it confuses me when people willingly ignore and obstruct their understanding of the other side, as though they themselves are so immune to those temptations. How could anyone be racist, we ask, indignant, as though that question exempts us. Sarte answered it very easily; it’s because being racist (or most “-ists”) allows a weak member of group X a feeling of superiority over others; by separating the world into groups and placing his group as superior, he moves from weak and scared to strong and angry.
Bam! Using that, let’s examine an eye-rolling sentence tweeted about; how could anyone be racist/misogynistic/a bully? Because it offers that person a mental benefit and comfort that turns their personal weakness and fear into righteous anger. That’s still not morally right, but it carries its own sad, dark logic. There are psychological, financial, and other benefits to any sort of evil, and to act like it’s this foreign impossibility is strange and insulting to humanity and historical proof.
I mean, It’s weird that there was ever slavery if nobody alive today would ~EVER~ have had owned them.
Let’s be honest. The systems of supremacy are comfortable and self-perpetuating, and we as humans are amazing at rationalizing to serve our self interest. To brand evil as completely separate from your life allows fantasies of the exceptional, and, as weird as it is to write, it’s overly simplistic to damn those bad people weak enough to choose comfort over the moral right. And, before you get furious, ask yourself how true that is of yourself on a micro level.
I mean, I walked by a homeless person today and didn’t give so much as a glance. Why? Because it was cheaper not to be good. And some would defend that and say that he might have used it for drugs or alcohol, but that in itself is a cop-out. It’s funny how we can construct logical assumptions that directly correlate with our selfishness.
The simple fact is a man needed help and I didn’t give it.
There’s a banality to evil, a universality and a simplicity in it. The potential for evil is in all of us and to dismiss it so violently as the trait of the other- is dishonest and unproductive. Again, I’m not talking about moral equivalency or advocating for bland, unmotivated centricity, but act absolutely SHOCKED that someone could be (racist or sexist or vegan or not a vegan) is insane. People are people, with all their flaws and potential. Don’t cut yourself off so fully from those worlds or be so quick to insist your superiority.
Good and evil live beyond personal values and political platforms. Your labels won’t save you or brand you as good. But understanding and even accepting the roots and systems of evil can help you better pursue the good.
It might not be pure or clear-cut, but few things are.