Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Mask of Evil

This was originally posted on Jan. 02, 2007. I thought I'd bring back to the top in case some more recent readers haven't gotten to it yet. It seems apropos given the slant of recent comments on the last blog post. Oh, hey, it's my momster's birthday today. This one's for you, Ma.

My husband and I were just talking a couple days ago about the necessity for evil to cloak itself with the appearance of good, and how often this universal fact trips people up.

We watched the movie "Downfall" about the last 10 days of Hitler in his bunker as told largely from the perspective of one of his secretaries, Traudl Junge. The secretary expressed her confusion about Hitler's character. He could be so kind and solicitous. Then she would find out about his vicious actions in the outside world. She seemed unable to know how to reconcile the two. Was he that nice, compassionate man who seemed genuinely interested in her welfare? Or should he be defined by his evil acts?

I wish people could better understand how evil will never look completely evil. How it will cloak itself in everyday attire and mingle with respectable society. Evil often proclaims truth. Lies are unpalatable without a generous mixture of truth thrown in to disguise the taste of the hideous lie. People seem unwilling to label anything as being evil unless it is completely evil in appearance and presentation; this effectively eliminates almost all manifestations of evil as they present themselves in every day life. Which is dangerous for all levels of society.

Society will concede to the label of evil in special cases, for instance, Jeffrey Dahmer. When the horrid facts of his cannabalistic, cruel and tortuous murders and sexual perversion came to light, people were willing to call him evil. But do we really think he managed to hide what he was as long as he did if he wasn't, to some appreciable degree, able to cloak his evil with an appearance of good? To think otherwise is to be stupid and naive. Of course he was able to present himself as being harmless, otherwise he would have enjoyed no success in his predations. Do we believe there were no moments where Dahmer demonstrated personal charm and appeal and was seen to do a good deed here and there? I am 100% sure there were those (like his parents) who could point to things Dahmer did which seemed good and right. Things which would make it appear he wasn't "all bad". No one is all bad. But that little smidge of "good" is not enough to weigh against the scales when their evil deeds come to light. We must be willing to call evil by its right name even when we can see that not everything about them can be defined as evil. A life needs to be judged by the general consistency of the character. We should not be condemned for an occasional misdeed, nor redeemed by the occasional good deed. It is the general tendency of the life that defines the character.

We need to be willing to accept the fact that evil almost never will present itself as purely such. There will always be a disguise. The disguise will look good, charitable, righteous, loving, compassionate, etc. If we will only allow ourselves to define character by their "good deeds" while calling the evil acts the abberation, then we leave ourselves vulnerable at best. At worst, we will find ourselves cooperating with evil even while calling them and ourselves good.

The banality of evil is often times its best defense. It looks so ordinary and everyday. It loses its repugnance by virtue of its ordinariness. We need to study and overcome our reflex to excuse something due to its familiarity. Calling things by its right name is important if we are to succeed at having moral clarity and live lives which shun evil and embrace what is truly good and right. Never let yourself forget that evil hides itself most effectively under a cloak of goodness. Ultimately, appearances are not what define a thing. What a person does defines who they are. Remember, the narcissist would have us all believe that appearances are the sum of the thing. Don't fall for this superficiality. Do not let yourself un-know what a person does in order to maintain your good opinion of them. Know the truth. Stand by what you know. That is called integrity. There is no greater protection for your sanity than holding onto your integrity. There is no way for evil to ultimately triumph over your soul if you make truth your friend.


Anonymous said...

This is the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf didn't eat granny. Granny WAS the wolf all along! She just looked like a granny until Red was able to see the truth.

Anonymous said...

This posts reminds me of something M. Scott Peck wrote in People of the Lie:

“It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people, rather it is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.” (p. 69) ”In other words, the evil attack others instead of facing their own failures.” (p. 74)

So what if Ns sometimes do good things! Saints sometimes do bad things. (So I've read. I've no personal experience here!) People & life are complicated.

In my mind it comes down to truth and humility. Ns don't have either. Saints are all about both.

Thanks for the great blogs!

Anonymous said...

You hit the spot. I still am a bit in denial about my mother. She can be so kind then the next minute it is like I have just been hit by a tornado or basketball sized piece of hail. It amazes me when I look at her. She looks so innocent just like any other mother and in public that is how she acts. She is also physically weak. It is amazing how much havoc and pain she can cause. It is just shocking when I look at her. Some kind of freak of nature it seems. Hard to believe what she has done and will do when I do something to make her angry again......