What Is Evil?

Over at the Smirking Chimp, Ernest Partridge is riffing about evil,

In words consistent with what I have read of, and about, Gustav Gilbert, he is portrayed in the 2000 TV film “Nuremberg,” as telling the Head Prosecutor Robert Jackson (Alex Baldwin), “I told you once that I was searching for the nature of evil. I think I’ve come close to defining it: a lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants: a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow man. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

“Absence of empathy” is likewise, I submit, “the one characteristic that connects” most of the immoral and misbegotten tenets of Bushism: that dogmatic mix of market absolutism, libertarianism, corporatism and simple greed that falsely describes itself as “conservatism,” and which I choose to call “regressivism.” “Absence of empathy” is the essence of evil which, if unchecked and unreversed, is certain to bring about the demise of the American republic as we know it, just as it led to the fall of the Third Reich.

In contrast, empathy, the capacity to recognize and cherish in other persons, the experience, emotions and aspirations that one is aware of in oneself, is the moral cornerstone of progressive politics. It is a principle recognized and taught in all the great world religions reiterated by numerous moral philosophers, and validated by the scientific study of human personality.

Empathy is the foundation of the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. In that most-quoted New Testament verse, the golden rule, Jesus said: “as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31, also Matthew 7:2). Also, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39, also Leviticus 19;18). Both commandments imply recognition in others of the human dignity and worth that one recognizes in oneself. In a word, empathy.

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.

…And regrettably, the “moral cornerstone of progressive politics” isn’t empathy, it is selfishness. Take that for what it’s worth.

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