The Nature of Evil

A fellow by the name of Joseph Campbell once (or twice) aptly described Myth as “other people’s religion”.  Okay, so, he wasn’t just some fellow; he was fairly hyper-intelligent, massively well-versed in the areas of mythology, religion, psychology and philosophy, and has influenced many people with his works, including you, to a degree, if you’ve ever seen Star Wars or read Dan Brown.  If you need definitive proof that you’re not doing enough with your precious few years here on this earth, just go read up on him, and once you’re through feeling totally inadequate and have been sufficiently inspired to do something greater with your life, perhaps you will set out on your own hero’s journey, to “follow your bliss,” as he would say.  But before you do that, since you’re here anyway, you should go ahead and finish reading this post, which is not about Joseph Campbell, though that bit about myth being other people’s religion is important, so I’ll come back to it in a moment.

In the few months this site has been up and running, I have posted character pages for several of the main characters introduced in book one of The Eleventh Age, but so far I’ve only touched on many of the good guys, the heroes of the Eleventh Age myth, who are just embarking on their proverbial journey, which Elli Foote

Elli Foote, the hero of The Eleventh Age
Elli Foote, the hero of The Eleventh Age

believes is to find the Stones of Peace (or power, depending on who you ask), to protect them from Roviello Tofal, the ruler of the wizards, who happens to have survived the past ten thousand or so years solely for the purpose of destroying her, in order that he should finally become ruler of all of humankind (as her noble retinue has explained is her destiny, by way of a little story she comes to call The First Fairytale, which is the prologue in book one, if you’re interested).  While this may sound a bit far-fetched, as it does to Elli, I can imagine it would be a bit difficult to stand in the face of a sea of true believers, who have all sorts of completed prophecies as compelling evidence of your greatness, and say to them you simply aren’t the messiah they’re looking for, though Elli does try, and then that silly ten thousand year old wizard, Tofal, decides to send his army, including the treacherous blood wraiths, to destroy the only home she has ever known, and it turns out there is nothing like having your home ripped apart by the followers of a ten thousand year old villain hell-bent on killing you to inspire a little off-the-beaten-path adventure in the middle of the night, as many a hero before Elli Foote has discovered the hard way. I have purposefully refrained from writing much about Tofal thus far, so as to avoid spoiling the pure evilness that I believe you should get to know in the same fashion as Elli–slowly, one death at a time.

However, I will say that quite a bit of study of the nature of evil has gone into creating Tofal’s character, which has been a cumbersome task at times.  One only need to read a short way into this entry on The Concept of Evil (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) to understand that evil is a bit hard to pin down.  In fact, we all have our own distinct ideas of what evil actually is, believe it or not.  For instance, some people have a strictly religious sense of the term, and think about evil as being perpetuated by some supernatural force outside of oneself, while others have a totally secular sense of the term, and while they may or may not believe in a divine power, they do believe that there are some human acts that are so fundamentally abhorrent that only the term evil can apply, though that evil is seen as strictly of this world and man’s making.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe there is no such thing as evil in any sense of the term, either because it requires a supernatural entity in order to exist or because defining an act as evil has a tendency to beget more evil, and doing so is therefore incredibly dangerous, so such acts that would otherwise be deemed evil by the populous should be treated to less hostile terminology, so as to lessen the blow and the blowback.  Personally, I find it interesting and disturbing that the ideological divide on the topic of evil is not and will never be some line drawn in the sand and that the nature of evil allows for such varying degrees of understanding and reprehensibility that one person’s little white lie can at the same time be another person’s conspiracy to commit treason, which is why I think evil must exist, though I’m certainly no expert on the topic.

Consider for a moment the truth that one man’s religion is another man’s myth, as Mr. Campbell pointed out.  We have proof of this everywhere around us, and have had proof throughout all of recorded history, though somehow this fact hasn’t stopped us from killing each other yet.  The idea that such a paradox can exist in a world where there is no such thing as “evil” seems impossible to me.  In fact, I have recently come to the (inexpert) conclusion that it, one man’s myth being another man’s religion, actually requires evil in every sense of the word in order to exist.  This is not to say, as some evil-skeptics would try to claim, that I believe some religious supernatural power or another is required to bring evil into the world, though that may be what happened.  Rather, I think perhaps this is true of all things mutually exclusive, which is just about everything, and that, in itself, might just be the very nature of evil at its core–that it stands somewhere between definition. To take it out of the religious context, one man’s slate gray can be another man’s steel gray at the same time both men are looking at the exact same shade of gray, yet somehow simultaneously seeing vastly different colors that would not look so vastly different to a third party, who would call it verdigris because he’s a little colorblind.  This slight shift in perspective, and the very natural human application of mutual exclusivity, is where all difference comes from, and it is in this fertile soil call difference where evil blooms so splendidly.  Perhaps this is why there is just one tree of knowledge of good and evil in that old myth about the garden-you cannot eat of one without eating of the other, and that is the curse of our human condition.

I am still learning, but that is my thought on the matter of evil, for today at least.  I will just leave you with this bit of fruit in parting: An atrocious act can be seen as an act of heroism, all that is required is a change of author.

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