I have pondered the meaning of the word “evil” for a long time. I think this search, for the meaning I should attach to the word, is kept alive by the constant input of news of events labeled “evil”. At distressingly short intervals, there happens events which I believe richly deserve the word “evil” and these shift my pondering into high gear. I point to events as the recent murders of many persons, young and old alike, in settings where expectations of personal safety are high, for instance, an Elementary School. So,what conclusions have I reached? I have concluded all Human behaviors are normal and and some “evil” as we chose to define them so.
Human behavior has, for as long as we know, ranged between two extremes: unspeakably horrific to saintly heroic. But what about the rest of the behaviors, those between the extremes? The majority of Human behaviors observed are grouped in a narrow middle, between the two extremes, that is, mundane, everyday behaviors. Those Human behaviors not so grouped form gradients between the extremes and the center. The history of Human behavior informs us the behaviors at the extremes occur rarely and those at the center occur frequently. We Humans behave well most of the time, poorly a lot of the time, and at the extremes, rarely.
Given the range of Human behaviors, it seems inevitable Humans would divide the bad-to-good range into rhetorical parts to help the labeling and contextual placement of specific behaviors. In the English lexicon, we have range-dividing expressions such as: unspeakable, inhuman, dishonest, disloyal, disgusting, atta-boy, wonderful, highest honors, and saintly.The list is long and each word will have associated with it a judgment criteria to match the word to the presenting behavior. Other languages have such range-dividing expressions, but I am ignorant of specific examples, In any case, it is the “judgement criteria” I want to discuss. For the purpose of discussion, perhaps you will favor me by conditionally accepting the assertion: “all Human behaviors are normal”. This in the sense each human is capable of the full range of behaviors and thus all Humans are normal. This way I can avoid the bridge-less rhetorical abyss of “normal” vs.”abnormal”.
Acceptance of the assertion “all Human behaviors are normal” does not relieve one of the need to attach labels to observed Human behavior and thus bring into play the attached judgement criterion. It does not take much reflection to realize all possible judgement criteria are dependent on the personal belief system of the person doing the judgement and thus absolute criteria are an impossibility. As an example, I tell you that a group of men have been shot and killed. I then ask you if this behavior is good, bad, or, somewhere between. My expectation is you will respond with a variant of the question: “Who did the killing and why?”. You, like most others, need to place the behavior in one of the pigeon holes where you segregate the parts of your belief system before rendering judgement of the behavior. Yet, in spite of this rather obvious fact of life, there are groups which persist in the belief that absolute judgment criteria are possible. I disagree and I resent the on-going attempts to convince me otherwise.
Over the many years of the development of increasingly complex Human societies, it can be observed Humans are still killing each other on a regular basis for the same reasons as before. However, we have become more efficient at the task and clever at disguising the reasons. I believe progress has been made, in that Human societies have increasingly judged the majority of Humans killing one another as unacceptable behavior. But the killing goes on in spite of this condemnation by Human societies. Even with my dour outlook, I believe at least talking about societal attitudes toward Humans-killing-Humans is the path to a near absolute elimination of such behavior. I maintain this hope.
Is the word “evil” a noun or an adjective? This my way of asking: “Is it possible for something we call “evil” to exist as an entity in Human reality?”. I believe the answer is no. I believe this for the same reason I believe all Human behavior is normal – all entities in the Universe are neutral as regards their “goodness” or “badness”. The word “evil” was created by Humans to serve as an adjective to help describe Human behavior, not as a noun to name something that cannot exist in our Universe.