On The Nature Of Evil, Part 2

On Friday, I wrote the following about evil,

At the RightOnline summit at Austin, we actually discussed the nature of “evil” for a while. While most people think of “evil” as a greasy character, twirling his mustache while planning to hurt the innocent for the sheer joy of it, that’s not an accurate description of most evil people.

Saying that evil people lack empathy gets closer to the truth, but isn’t quite right. Even a person who isn’t very empathetic could be pure of heart, live by Golden Rule, and be a great person.

So, what is at the core of evil? I’d say selfishness.

Selfish people aren’t empathetic and they don’t care very much about how their actions impact others because it’s all about them. Oh, they may say they care about people and pretend to emphasize with them, but in reality, they do what they do only because it benefits them.

In retrospect, this wasn’t a complete enough description. That’s because selfishness, up to a certain point at least, is not evil. To the contrary, as Adam Smith said,

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Moreover, in Clarence Thomas’ book he noted the following,

“I thought of the many times that I had delivered fresh-picked farm produce to one of our elderly relatives. On such occasions he never failed to remind me that if we hadn’t worked so hard to grow it, we wouldn’t be able to give it to those who needed help. For the past few years, I’d been sneering at the simplemindedness of his philosophy of self-reliance, but now it was making sense to me again. If I was truly serious about helping other people, I’d have to start by helping myself…”

To help other people, you must have something to give, be it money, skills, or time. The people who are “selfish” enough to look out for #1 first are usually the people who are most capable of helping others.

Now, here’s where things get a little fuzzier, which unfortunately, is a necessity when discussing something as difficult to define as “evil.”

Evil is selfishness, but it’s more than simply looking out for yourself first. It’s selfishness without empathy, restraint, or regard. It’s putting yourself first and having no one else in 2nd place.

For example, both an honest businessman and a burglar want your money for their own selfish reasons. But, only the burglar, because he is evil and cares nothing about your rights and welfare, will break into your house and take it.

In reality, the most devout husband, to the virtuous housewife, to the most sincere Christian minister, all have the desire to do evil things at times because it’s our nature. The flesh is weak.

What ultimately restrains people from engaging in evil acts, particularly when they don’t believe that they will be caught, is their regard for other human beings. Yes, they may look out for #1 first, but it’s not ALL about them.

PS: Yes, this definition of evil can still fit sins like prostitution, using hard drugs, gambling, etc., that are considered “victimless crimes,” but that gets a little deeper down the rabbit hole and would probably be better explained in another post.

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