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23/11/2017  
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Against evil, or against ´evil´?

Intellectuals against ´Evil´


A comment to a piece by Madelon Sprengnether in Psychology Today—today.
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This is a comment on a paper by Madelon Sprengnether in Psychology Today, "Against 'Evil'—the Las Vegas Massacre".

Sprengnether writes 'against 'evil'"—meaning not that she is against evil deeds, but rather arguing, instead, she is beyond good and evil, and rejects the use of the term 'evil' to characterize any action, given that it is morally and intellectually simplistic.

My comment, then:

STRONGLY DISAGREE. 

 The piece seems aimed at discrediting the judgement of "good" or "evil" even in the face of such heinous acts as the Las Vegas massacre. In this sense, I am sorry to say, the piece largely qualifies as "evil" to me.

While there is much of the reasoning that can be understood and shared, the basic assumption is that we should ALWAYS try to empathize with the others who commit evil acts, and try to understand their motives. The assumption is that this is the only decent, intellectually and morally acceptable response.

Well it isn't. There are many contexts for human judgement and human positioning, and they cannot be exhausted. While I do not deny that part of the response to evil acts or massacres or genocides etc. may be an effort at understanding circumstances and motives etc., and (not for me though) an effort at empathizing with the perpetrator, in most cases, and for most ordinary purposes, the shorthand evaluation of EVIL is useful enough.  And it is NOT to be rejected or discredited in favour of the 'fallacy of the only context', i.e. the context of the writer of the present piece.

Fortunately, while educated intellectuals try and make their best efforts at blurring good and evil, and empathizing with criminals and psychopaths, most ordinary and decent human beings will stick to the decent shorthand of calling their acts plain EVIL.  It may not be an elaborate or publishable attempt at moral philosphy, but it is the basic decency on which human society is built. It is not to be discredited, least of all in favour of an empathy with evil.

The use of the term 'evil' positions us, indeed, with or against the person or rather the action being qualified. The person might have other qualities, e.g. beautiful hair, but the act is evil, and qualifying it as such only positions you with common humanity against a psychotic and nauseous action. You prefer equal distance, as a rule? Well, please yourself. But do not pass this as a universal moral criterion.

This piece is, sorry to say, an instance of the kind of writing and the kind of reasoning that gives "academic" its worst possible sense—and it is actually a fine example of 'la trahison des clercs', failing to stand on the side of basic human decency against what is commonly recognized as evil.

   


—oOo—

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