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"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."-Inigo Montoya (D), Vermont

Today, I heard someone refer to a film as 'evil'. After recovering from the jealousy I feel whenever someone sees something that I have not created as sufficiently harmful to the social and spiritual fabric of mankind to call evil, I became a little perplexed. And then I was offended, because the film in question wasn't evil by any stretch of the imagination. It was slightly irreverent, a little bawdy, and contained a few favorable references to Satan. All in all, a good family film. Not high brow, but definitely not evil.

It's been so long since I've heard someone refer to some pop-culture trinket as evil that I am shocked and amused to realize that this is the vulgar mindset of some folks. In a world where people starve to death not long after birth, where dictators crush democratic movements, where children are taught not to question authority, where people mutilate the genitals of infants at the behest of ancient crime anthologies, there are individuals out there who lose sleep over Harold & Kumar's latest hijinx.

They say that the smartest thing Satan ever did was to convince people that he doesn't exist. As a person who looks favorably upon Satan in general, I think this move was probably just good self defense. If the plebians who believe Lady Gaga has been sent to corrupt the souls of our young ever got wind of such a sophisticated and moral being, they would undoubtedly tear him limb from limb, or crucify him, just like they have done to all of our truly original thinkers. But there's something to this idea though: if you ask me, the greatest evils in this world are the evils Charles Dickens warned us about in 'A Christmas Carol': Ignorance & Want. Ignorance of the true extent of our human freedom--from gods, leaders, parents, authorities & traditions of every stripe--ignorance of each other that leads to tribal thinking and insular protectionism, want of education, housing, healthcare, a steady food supply, and access to the arts and other culturally enriching treasures. These are the real evils.

And while there are people out there who think their ears are too precious to be defiled with 'swear words' and ideas that challenge their personally preferred paradigms--and think that the naked human body is the most vile type of blasphemy--the real evils of the world will continue on unchecked.

If the devil is the same kind of vulgarian as many of the people who believe in him seem to be, then his best idea wasn't to convince the world that he didn't exist, but to distract it with something shiny.

CROSS POSTED AT EVERYTHING IN THE MEDICINE CABINET HAS EXPIRED.

Originally posted to Spencer Troxell on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 12:05 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Heh (20+ / 0-)

    I was going to comment on what you said in the second paragraph, but you summed it up nicely with the very last line.

    People can say something like a film is evil, or whatever. A live Ozzy performance. While they see it as evil to their society, it isn't really evil. Dictators starving their people and forcing them to hand over food for the military? THAT'S evil.

    Good post.

  •  Why (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, linkage, SherwoodB

    Vermont?

    "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State ..."- Vermont Constitution Chapter 1, Article 16

    by kestrel9000 on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 01:48:52 AM PST

  •  Maybe it's the season... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, DawnG, labwitchy

    ...while I agree with your sentiments about the misuse of the term "evil", I find there's an undertone of "all too hipness" that just borders on meanness here.

    of course, that could go away once I have my coffee.

    thanks for the thoughtful piece.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 03:32:41 AM PST

  •  I was just reading this article (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, greengemini, labwitchy

    on the perfectly possessed

    One point to remember ~

    The concept of perfect possession also reminds us that those who make a Satanic compact for whatever self-interested gains will eventually be betrayed because the Devil is no fool. His agenda is not our agenda; he hates humanity and is the father of all lies.
  •  What was the movie? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    labwitchy

    Just curious.

    Why do I have the feeling George W. Bush joined the Stonecutters, ate a mess of ribs, and used the Constitution as a napkin?

    by Matt Z on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 05:12:24 AM PST

  •  Inconceivable! n/t (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, Marie, DawnG, SherwoodB

    I promote fear of me because I am a coward; I promote equality because I know there's nothing to fear.

    by bristlecone77 on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 05:52:41 AM PST

  •  Evil is deception and destruction, (9+ / 0-)

    or deceiving to destroy.  Evil is jealous of creation and, being incompetent, destroys what it can't do--create.  Evil is jealous of the female's participation in creation.  That's why Satan deceived Eve and that's, in fact, the original sin.

    Eve being deceived can only be defined as the sin of disobedience, if the individual is assigned the role of subject and object in one--as self-centered conservatives are wont to do.

    The self-centered person perceives himself as subject and object because self-awareness and situational awareness are somehow deficient.  It's a common variant, down through the ages.  So, it's either in the DNA or a consequence of some common prenatal, perinatal or postnatal insult which perverts humans from the caring/sharing to the predatory mode.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 05:53:41 AM PST

    •  i'd love to isolate the gene (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hannah, labwitchy

      for self-centerness and tweak it, or get rid of it, whatever

      maybe i'm attracted to the simplicity, but the human world is divided into those who identify with others, and those who proudly assert "i've got mine" "and you don't"

      •  I don't think it's a gene. I'm more inclined (0+ / 0-)

        to blame "difficult births" where the brain gets fixated on self-preservation and the sense of the other gets disconnected.
        Since "difficult births" occur in all populations, that would account for these self-centered individuals being found everywhere, as well.

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 03:55:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Dicken's full quote about Ignorance and Want (14+ / 0-)

    "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy (Ignorance), for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

  •  Some people don't get out much (7+ / 0-)

    I saw a comment on the net some years ago about "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," in which the poster was incensed that she'd taken her children to see it thinking it would be a good and decent movie and then it turned out to be "the most sexually explicit film I'd ever seen."  I'm still boggled by that.

    I would not be surprised if this person would also think a Harold & Kumar movie was "the most evil movie I'd ever seen."

    "Shit-dripping pond scum" may not advance the English language but it shows people are working to see our common tongue doesn't stagnate at some elitist level.

    by Ratmum on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 07:27:00 AM PST

    •  Uhh what? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SherwoodB

      Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Chinese film. Like all Chinese films, it passed the notoriously prudish Chinese censorship board prior to release. I can't remember a single sexually explicit scene (plenty of violent scenes however). I guess some people really don't get out much at all.

      I support torturous regimes! Also, I kick puppies.

      by eataTREE on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 09:18:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SherwoodB

        The only thing I can think of as "sexually explicit" is that, while making out, Dark Cloud has his hand down Jen's pants for all of one or two seconds.

        "Shit-dripping pond scum" may not advance the English language but it shows people are working to see our common tongue doesn't stagnate at some elitist level.

        by Ratmum on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 09:37:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Heaven forbid. (0+ / 0-)

          It did make for an interesting contrast though between her impulsiveness and Michelle Yeoh's character which was far more disciplined and duty-bound.

          "And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right." Alexander Pope -Essay on Man

          by DawnG on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 01:44:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Ah, but for true evil, perhaps reading (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    laurnj, greengemini, sagesource, labwitchy

    The Master and Margarita. Is the devil real?

    "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H.L. Mencken, 1925

    by cv lurking gf on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 08:01:47 AM PST

    •  If the devil is real... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SherwoodB, cv lurking gf

      ...he has the easiest job in creation.  Leading people to sin has got to be one of the easiest things in the universe to do.

      "And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right." Alexander Pope -Essay on Man

      by DawnG on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 01:45:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radical simplicity, YellerDog

        The Book of Job makes it apparent that he's more or less God's quality control manager, and that has to be a depressing job in a world with Republicans in it.

        When we are no longer children, we are already dead. (Constantin Brancusi)

        by sagesource on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 02:58:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  that sounds kind of ridiculous. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SherwoodB

          How would an omnipotent, omniscient being possibly create something that wasn't exactly as he intended. Why would God need Qualitly Control?

          "And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right." Alexander Pope -Essay on Man

          by DawnG on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 03:32:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Does GOD Inc. qualify as to big to fail? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cv lurking gf
          •  Omnipotence.... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cv lurking gf, gzodik

            ....is an incoherent concept, one that is best left alone. To begin with, an omnipotent being would have full, absolute, and unqualified responsibility for any evil, pain, or loss that existed, without exception. That, after all, is what the "omni" part of the word means. If you are aware of something that should not be, and can with no loss or trouble to yourself prevent it, you are responsible if it occurs.

            The argument concerning free will does not get around this. Even if a divine being considered free will an absolute good, it would be a trivial matter to arrange circumstances so that anyone possessing sanity would of their own free will make the moral choice. Instead, outside influences and circumstances are sometimes configured to push in the reverse direction to morality, as you well know.

            What is the point of the Book of Job if God knows with absolute certainty how it will come out in the end? Were he and Satan just bored, and decided to put Job through the wringer as a way to pass the time?

            When we are no longer children, we are already dead. (Constantin Brancusi)

            by sagesource on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 09:45:48 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  And here I was thinking I was clever, (0+ / 0-)

              citing a book about the devil going to the USSR at a time when the State did not recognize religion or god, so they could not recognize a visit by the devil.

              "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H.L. Mencken, 1925

              by cv lurking gf on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 10:26:20 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  If one were beyond... (0+ / 0-)

              ..such things as pain, evil, death, etc. such things wouldn not be seen as the big deal that it is to us poor mortal slobs.

              "And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right." Alexander Pope -Essay on Man

              by DawnG on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 10:47:20 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  nah, his best trick ever was to convince people (6+ / 0-)

    that he couldn't pick up a bible and say "Jesus wants you to do this"

  •  I have always said ... (0+ / 0-)

    ... the smartest thing Broyfomsnark ever did was to convince people that he doesn't exist. In fact, most of you will continue to believe Broyfomsnark does not exist.
    You fools!

    The Dollar is a government program

    by billpuppies on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 10:05:20 AM PST

  •  You buried the best part too deep: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, maybeeso in michigan
    if you ask me, the greatest evils in this world are the evils Charles Dickens warned us about in 'A Christmas Carol': Ignorance & Want. Ignorance of the true extent of our human freedom--from gods, leaders, parents, authorities & traditions of every stripe--ignorance of each other that leads to tribal thinking and insular protectionism, want of education, housing, healthcare, a steady food supply, and access to the arts and other culturally enriching treasures. These are the real evils

    Unfortunately, for too many, evil is a list of thow-shalt-nots and good is blind obeidience to a list of thow-shalts.  Not a good basis for truly understanding good or evil.

    As an aside, for me evil is the supreme elevation of the self above all other concerns.  Which makes a certain someone's philosophy pure evil......

  •  Where man is not, there neither is truth nor false (7+ / 0-)

    Hobbes made the point long ago: people are good or evil, not things. No thing can be good or evil, for good and evil are moral actions. Further, "evil" hasn't a thing to do with Satan directly. In Christian thought, good is that which is toward God, and evil is that which is against God. That's all.

    Alcohol isn't evil, and movies aren't evil, although they could have an evil intent or evil actors or authors, and tobacco isn't evil, and money isn't evil. A 10 lbs. Butterball turkey given to a hungry person is good, but it's not good if it's given by hurling it, frozen, at the hungry person's head.

    As for the people tripping on Blake, they're entitled to their emotions.

    Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

    by The Geogre on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 11:11:51 AM PST

    •  I prefer the idea that things are not so much ... (3+ / 0-)

      ... "good" or "evil" as -- as shamanistic and Eastern spiritualities think more of it -- "healthy" or "unhealthy".

      In this way of thinking, the universe aspires toward balance and healthiness, wanting to go a certain way -- and when it is allowed to, things work out well overall.  That is "good."

      Similar to your examples, I always remember a native spiritual leader telling me, "If I put a big pile of manure on your kitchen table, you would call it unhealthy, and call me evil.  If I put that same big pile of manure on your farm field ten yards away, you'd thank me for helping your field and call me a good, kind friend."  

      Things that are out of place or out of balance are unhealthy.

      That said, while I think a lot of harmful, malignant things are done out of stupidity and ignorance, in my own mind acts reach the category of EVIL when they are conscious.  

      That is, when the people doing those acts know full well that they are lying, deceiving, manipulating, hurting other people, hurting the environment, and so on ... but because of their own selfishness and greed, simply don't care.  

      •  We agree on the criterion (4+ / 0-)

        Your good sounds less exotic to me than you might suppose, as it's awfully like what both the Stoic and Epicureans maintained. They both believed that satiation and balance were the good, that the mean and balance, with suffering as part of a greater system, was the good.

        I defined good, above, solely in theology. In wider Christian thought, civil good is either utilitarian (the best benefit to the best number with the least ill) or material (the longest life with the least labor).

        I absolutely agree with you, though. I use the word "evil" for people when they will something evil. For me that second is defined in the framework of a morality derived from revelation and reinforced by philosophy, instead of the other way around, but I agree. I also think that the fundamentalists who go running around saying "Eavul! That's Eavul!" are thiiiiiiiis close to the Bogomils. Their moral notions seem to have no room for sin as error.

        Me? I think most of our greatest harms have come from people who WISHED to save the world. Pol Pot, Stalin, and even Saddam were trying to improve lives at first. Take failure, add sycophancy, pour a paranoia sauce and steep in power, and you've got a poison stew that will go on to evil.

        Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

        by The Geogre on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 01:38:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Satan (5+ / 0-)

    means "adversary" in Hebrew. The opening chapter of Job makes clear he and God are good buddies.  Over the course of time this idea got corrupted.

    Scientific Materialism debunked here

    by wilderness voice on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 12:30:46 PM PST

  •  The entire classification... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maybeeso in michigan, gzodik

    ...of good and evil is defective, but some people can't escape that mindset.  Some take it to a whole absurd binary level that that which is not good, must by default be evil.

    There is no such thing as good and evil.  These are subjective points of view, not universal truths.  There is such a thing as constructive and destructive.  There is such a thing as benefitial and harmful.  These are somewhat objective but even then it's possible for something to be simultaneously benefitial and harmful or simultaneously constructive and destructive, or neither.

    A lot of what people attribute to "evil" is merely an expression of emotional or mental damage or a very unhealthy coping mechanism.  

    But make no mistake, "Good and evil" are entirely human concepts that have no place in nature.  A predator isn't "evil" because it kills to eat.  It kills to eat becuase that is its place in nature.  

    And then there's the whole idea that morality depends on knowing the difference between good and evil. And that's bogus too.  Morality depends on sympathizing with others, not some codified list of proper behavior.

    It's a touchy subject whenever I bring it up so...good luck witht hat.

    "And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right." Alexander Pope -Essay on Man

    by DawnG on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 01:39:18 PM PST

    •  Your moral code perhaps. (0+ / 0-)
      And then there's the whole idea that morality depends on knowing the difference between good and evil. And that's bogus too.  Morality depends on sympathizing with others, not some codified list of proper behavior.

      Which "others"? An inept scientist who tortures a thousand chimps in lab experiments trying to find a cure for cancer - if he sympathizes with cancer victims, does that mean his actions are moral according to your moral code?

      Christian Scientists who rely on prayer to heal their sick children instead of taking them to a doctor - if they sympathize with their children, their actions are moral according to your moral code?  

    •  That part is fair enough... (0+ / 0-)
      But make no mistake, "Good and evil" are entirely human concepts that have no place in nature.

      There's nothing objectively provable from first principles to establish an object good versus evil.  It's a construct of human beings and human society.  But that's not the same thing as to say it does not EXIST, any more than it is true to say there is no such thing as beauty.  

      We all have to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil.  Most of us pick this stuff up from childhood and through cultural queues.  Some people are able to create their own morality, and God bless 'em if it works for them.  

      Having established now that, sure, yeah, all that good and evil shit is subject, the question becomes what morality do we choose.  Saying it's subjective doesn't get you out of this dilemma.

      A good reference on the subject: A Genealogy of Morals, by Nietzsche.

  •  The only real evil is to cause harm through (0+ / 0-)

    deliberate ommission or commission.

    I started to clarify by adding persons, environment and governments or governmental or private entities that promote the greater good but it is still so tangled I gave up.

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Mon Dec 26, 2011 at 04:30:41 PM PST

    •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maybeeso in michigan

      Intent is a necessary component of "good" or "evil." If a mugger clubs you and accidently restores your eyesight, the result may be good, but it isn't a morally good action. Results can be good or bad, but they can't be morally good (morally right) or evil. The mother who locks up her children and starves them to death may be an evil person committing evil deeds,
      but the result, dead children, is bad, not evil.

      People can be morally right if their intent is good, but for an action to be morally right, the result must also be good. The intent may be good when torturing a suspect, but if the suspect is innocent and the result bad, the torturing wasn't morally right.

      OTOH, evil people and evil actions are defined solely by intent. The Grinch who steals Christmas is evil even if the result is good. The insane person who goes berserk and kills people isn't evil because there's no intent to do evil.

  •  It has long struck me that it is a film trope (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ender, SmartAleq

    (or cliche) that whenever it is needed to establish beyond a doubt that a character is evil, that character has to torture somebody.  

    Think the first Star Wars (Number IV, a New Hope).  You're not very far into the movie before Darth Vader establishes his bona fides by torturing Princess Leia on the upside down dental cleaning looking machine.

    It was even used in politics to demonize Saddam Hussein.  One of the big lies in the lead up to the war was the totally manufactured and carefully crafted lie that Captain Scott Speicher, KIA since the first Gulf War, was actually a POW somewhere in an underground prison being tortured by Saddam Hussein.  Scott Speicher was upgraded from KIA to MIA and then to POW in the space of less than a year, the year being the one prior to the beginning of the war.

    I remember the neocons had one of their fake "dictator psychologist profilers" making the rounds of the TV shows to hypothesize that Speicher was probably being tortured because (God, you have to love this), "It's the kind of thing he would do."  

    Of course, as it turned out, no Americans were tortured, until the Bush presidency, and under the Obama administration even today, if we understand how Private Manning has been treated.

    So this used to be an American cultural no-brainer.  Torture was equivalent to Evil.

    These fuckers took that away from us.

    I remember back during the Vietnam War how worried we all were about how American POWs were being treated by the Vietnamese.  There was never any discussion of the practicalities of torturing Americans.  It was just EVIL, a war crime, something that deserved the Hague, something civilized countries did not condone, something that deligitimized foreign powers that engaged in it.

    So the word has really been stripped of a lot of its meaning.  The same people now that worry about the Evil of homosexuals dipping their stick in the wrong oil pan now condone and even PRAISE torture.

    The same assholes that introduced phrases like "moral equivalence" and "moral relativism" into our public discourse to show that they were operating on a less hypocritical plane now seem to find it okay to torture prisoners in a way that we would have tried and executed others for doing to our POWs in all previous wars.

    By the way, I'm really fucking sick of Obama on the torture front.  I'm sick of him because the most anti-torture candidate in the running might be the guy who is going to win the Republican Iowa primary.  Obama has put us to the right of Ron Paul.  No, I don't endorse Paul at all.  I am just nauseated by the irony.

  •  Satan (0+ / 0-)

    "No soy moralista, soy realista."  La Barca Sin Pescador-Loosely translated, "I am not a moralist, I am a realist".

  •  SSSSpencerrr that was hot! (0+ / 0-)

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