Defining Evil

 Defining Evil

Me: What do you do?

Guy at Networking Event: I’m in a creative think tank at (shall-remain-nameless) bank (that was recently re-branded after receiving government bail-out funds). We generate ideas for ways to increase revenue.

Me: Sounds interesting–what kinds of things do you come up with?

Guy: We pioneered the practice of crediting withdrawals from an account in order from largest to smallest, instead of the order in which they arrive. That way, if an account becomes overdrawn, we get to charge the account holder for as many late fees as possible. This can account for millions of dollars in earnings per month. Things like that.

Me: Oh. That must be… soul-crushing work.

Guy: [Blank stare]

Different Guy Standing Nearby: [Laughs nervously] She’s got a point.

Guy: Well… I did tell them once that they might get sued. We do get sued sometimes. But we still make more money this way, so I guess it’s worthwhile. [Swigs beer]

Me: [Blank stare] Clearly, we have differing views of what constitutes “worthwhile” work.

Okay, I only *wish* I’d said that last bit. The rest is absolutely true. I had that conversation. For reals.

I like to think that the world is populated entirely by good people, even those who are difficult to love, that underneath it all they are basically good, caring people.

Sometimes I meet someone who challenges my ability to believe that. Sometimes I meet someone so blandly unaware, so pointlessly devoted to a course of harm, that I cannot think of any better word to describe it than this: Evil.

It’s not the obnoxious drunk guy in the check-out line, or the abusive spouse screaming outside the neighbor’s window, or even the child predators in the news who define evil for me. Somehow, I still find their humanity, can feel sorrow for their miserable lives.

No, to me, evil is defined by this: It’s the corporate Joe, with his buttoned up shirt, his conservative haircut, the beer in one hand. It’s the bland pride he takes in finding ways to make his government-bailed-out employer rich again at the expense of ordinary people. It’s not just a lack of remorse: It’s the lack of awareness that remorse is even necessary.

In my book, evil is not a genius. Evil is not ugly. Evil is not even aware that he is evil.

Evil sells himself to a faceless giant. In exchange for a paycheck, he offers up clever tools to squeeze profit from the lifeblood of struggling citizens. For 30 shekels of silver, he sells out his fellow man, and then stands around boasting about his worthwhile work. It’s his obliviousness, the blank stare. The swig of beer.

What is evil to you?

4 thoughts on “Defining Evil”

  1. Heather – I could not agree with you more. In recent years I have begun to understand why greed is one of the seven deadly sins – why money can in fact be the root of all evil when used as strings to manipulate people. Well written Heather. I always enjoy your musings.

  2. This is incredible. I could not agree with you more. (I think I subconsciously scanned/read Deborah say the same thing and repeated it, but it works, so.)

  3. I had a college professor who once tried to explain this to me. I did not understand it then. He said evil was meaningless. Then he tossed my shoes out the window to show me what he meant. It didn’t work because, obviously, my shoes being tossed out the window might have *seemed* pointless, but he was in fact trying to make a point so…

    Now I get it. This guy… these guys… don’t even make that much money. They’re not the guys at the top making millions of dollars a year. They’re just ordinary joes, working for $60k or so a year, in a nice snug little job. Just punching out ordinary bits of evil each day.

    It’s the sheer mindlessness, the sheer meaninglessness of it that takes my breath away.

  4. In Little Rock the people bear
    Babes, and comb and part their hair
    And watch the want ads, put repair
    To roof and latch. While wheat toast burns
    A woman waters multiferns.
    Time upholds or overturns
    The many, tight, and small concerns.
    In Little Rock the people sing
    Sunday hymns like anything,
    Through Sunday pomp and polishing.
    And after testament and tunes,
    Some soften Sunday afternoons
    With lemon tea and Lorna Doones.
    I forecast
    And I believe
    Come Christmas Little Rock will cleave
    To Christmas tree and trifle, weave,
    From laugh and tinsel, texture fast.
    In Little Rock is baseball; Barcarolle.
    That hotness in July . . . the uniformed figures raw and implacable
    And not intellectual,
    Batting the hotness or clawing the suffering dust.
    The Open Air Concert, on the special twilight green . . .
    When Beethoven is brutal or whispers to lady-like air.
    Blanket-sitters are solemn, as Johann troubles to lean
    To tell them what to mean . . .
    There is love, too, in Little Rock. Soft women softly
    Opening themselves in kindness,

    Or, pitying one’s blindness,
    Awaiting one’s pleasure
    In azure
    Glory with anguished rose at the root . . .
    To wash away old semi-discomfitures.
    They re-teach purple and unsullen blue.
    The wispy soils go. And uncertain
    Half-havings have they clarified to sures.
    In Little Rock they know
    Not answering the telephone is a way of rejecting life,
    That it is our business to be bothered, is our business
    To cherish bores or boredom, be polite
    To lies and love and many-faceted fuzziness.
    I scratch my head, massage the hate-I-had.
    I blink across my prim and pencilled pad.
    The saga I was sent for is not down.
    Because there is a puzzle in this town.
    The biggest News I do not dare
    Telegraph to the Editor’s chair:
    “They are like people everywhere.”
    The angry Editor would reply
    In hundred harryings of Why.
    And true, they are hurling spittle, rock,
    Garbage and fruit in Little Rock.
    And I saw coiling storm a-writhe
    On bright madonnas. And a scythe
    Of men harassing brownish girls.
    (The bows and barrettes in the curls
    And braids declined away from joy.)
    I saw a bleeding brownish boy. . . .
    The lariat lynch-wish I deplored.
    The loveliest lynchee was our Lord.

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