The Irresistible Appeal Of Evil
Why ordinary people leap to embrace the chance to harm others
First of all, let’s do what very few people even think of doing when talking about abstract concepts: we will define our terms. What, therefore, do we mean when we use the word evil? As its etymology suggests, for much of human history ordinary people have ascribed acts beyond the normal realm of human unpleasantness to the influence of some supernatural entity. Judeo-Christian mythologies in particular liked to pretend that when people behave badly they are doing so because they are in some way possessed by an external power that forces them to commit acts they presumably otherwise would not do. This is a charming attempt to evade responsibility and so of course most people latched onto it as a wonderful get-out-of-jail-free card. Hence we have centuries of demonic possession, witchcraft, and all manner of other simple-minded nonsense guaranteed to appeal to a wide audience of empty-heads.
We cannot, however, countenance a definition of evil by making reference to imaginary entities. Moreover, such reference is entirely unnecessary. We have overwhelming evidence regarding the many and various acts we humans are at times eager to inflict upon each other, and a great deal is now understood about the neurochemistry that makes such acts feel desirable to the perpetrator. We can define evil, therefore, as any act that by its magnitude or intensity surpasses the ordinary range of nastiness we humans habitually inflict on one another.
Now that we’ve defined evil, at least in some rudimentary fashion, let’s consider how evil comes to exist in the world.
It’s apparent from our definition that if there were no humans, there would be no evil. In no other creature whether plant, animal, or fungus, do we see actions that drastically surpass what would be necessary for continued survival. While evolution has certainly fashioned a great many unpleasant strategies for life including fungal spores that embed themselves within the bodies of insects and then burst from them when it’s time to reproduce, plants that lure insects into pools of enzymes wherein the hapless prey is slowly digested, and even cats that seem to play with their prey prior to dispatching and consuming them, only humans regularly enter…