The Evil that Men Do…

If you’ve read UhW for any length of time you may recall me going on and on (…and on) about the nature of evil.

I have said that most of what we call evil is really something else.  What, you ask?

Mostly it is carelessness.  Mindlessness.  Actions with unintentioned results. 

Many people disagree with me.  They point to who they consider evil and proclaim, “See?  There! Evil PURE AND SIMPLE by way of the Eighth Dimension!”*   …or some such.

Folks tell me that Hitler was evil.  They say that Pol Pot’s Killing Fields were evil.  But then, when they talk about the firebombing of Dresden by the RAF and US Air Force, or the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we call it a humane way to stop a war that would take even more lives. 

Is evil a real thing, or is it just a point of view?  Would the perpetrators of war crimes—people who call the actions just, change their minds if they became the target of the same fate if they were judged?  I think they would.  Evil is in the eye of the beholder, then, isn’t it?

I admit to being something of a stickler about this topic.  I bring it up over and over again.  And the reason?

I believe that our villains are, for the most part, cardboard cutouts or childish actors on a makeshift stage.   Why?  Because—for the most part—we do not give them sufficient reason for the acts the do.  Worse, we often claim that their actions are “just because they’re evil”.

In the past I’ve warned that even mass-murderers had a mother.  Most were loved as children.  Most, at one time or another, dreamed about a bright future.

Something changed those dreams.  Something moved the wide-eyed innocence of a child into darker realms, and it is that journey that defines the villains in your story.  At least it does if your villain is to be believed.

Today’s challenge: Create on a notepad, or even in your mind, a bad guy who has had a good family, true love, dreams and aspirations.  Create a villain that has sorrow in his or her heart, and who has suffered great loss.  Find it in yourself to make a villain that has friends who really care for him (or her).

Today’s challenge is to find a way to create a villain who’s defeat (if defeat there will be), will be more than just a “Hah, vile scum, eat flaming death!”

I challenge you to create a human villain.

* A special “No-Prize” to anyone who can attribute the quote above.

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17 responses to “The Evil that Men Do…

  1. “Love your enemies”. Won’t advertise myself; I note that you say to do this privately. Point well taken.
    But you know, Richard, that I agree with your perspective on evil. Very often it is projection of the evil within ourselves. Our inability to embrace the ‘evil’ within others, can also be a factor. But this is a very difficult subject, and consequently, can be dangerous to direct attention to, simply because it is easier to find the fault in others rather than in ourselves. As a philosopher friend of my pointed out, we choose to magnify ourselves as well as justify ourselves. The two are often confused. Thus the Idea of a God that is beyond all the confusions of idea, reason, opinion, and nature; a TRUE ETERNAL NOW, separate from ourselves, body, mind, and spirit, will, hopefully find anew a place within the universe of discourse. Thank you Richard.

    • Thanks, Loreen
      The point you bring up is one I often think about–that which I hate in others I despise in myself–is one truly worth investigation.
      I remember being very much annoyed by a friend many years ago. He had habits that drove me up the wall. But one day I noticed that I had the same habits. It took my seeing what he did in “relief” for me to see what I was doing.
      I can’t say I always notice, but it has been a fair rule of thumb for me from time to time.
      Thanks for bringing that up.

      • Well Richard. Like everything else, I find it problematic, and thus my tendency to analyse, analyse, analyse. nrhatch can'[t stand this of course. But there is always the difficulty, yes even in analysis!, of making something into an absolute truth. Sometimes I wonder whether it would ever be possible to say, thing, and do the ‘right thing’ at the ‘right time’. But finding the appropriate time and place is always a big conundrum. And we have to ‘fight’, if I may use that word, against what we ‘consider’ (we may be wrong) to be the ‘real injustices’ in this world.
        Another problematic. Do we or do we not ‘fight’….? Or is it finding the appropriate place and time again.

  2. Thank you Rik, in the interests of really getting to fiction writing, I will take up this challenge and report my results as soon as I have them.

  3. Hey I just remembered: My thanks to nrhatch for the words – she’s good at that.
    You gotta know when to hold ’em
    Know when to fold ’em
    Know when to walk away
    Know when to run.
    You don’t count your money
    When you’re sitting at the table
    They’ll be lots of time for countin’
    When the game is done.
    Just the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn in my lifetime, and one which I think I always have to learn and relearn, again and again.

  4. Oh, I have some good villains in my novels. If only I could just finish one of them.

  5. And villainesses. Is that a word?

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  7. Very interesting, and I believe if I inferred correctly, that I agree. I believe evil IS, but I believe that evil is more an action than a person, and that we are all capable of it in one form or another. The fact of whether or not I believe there is also and “evil entity” that exists separately, and that instigates such actions is really beside the point. If we weren’t all capable of evil, there would be no need really for the Greatest Commandments. (Matthew 22:36-40)

    When my children behaved badly, or acted cruelly (in my eyes, anyway), I always took pains to tell them that I disapproved of what they did, not who they are. There is a huge difference. Also, in terms of Hitler, Pol Pot, the USA, GB, etc., while I believe that evil is as evil DOES, it is important not to JUDGE the motivations before KNOWING the motivations, and since they can only truly be known by the perpetrator, we therefore should not judge. What we DO have to do is clean up the (or our) mess and deal with those affected by those (or our) actions. It is not enough to acknowledge them. True repentance is key.

    Probably the reason for so much judgment of the “evil” people you mentioned is the perception of pride, justification, and/or disavowal (among other things) in the action/s they took.

    God created us all, and we were created for great things, and my belief is that we were created to make manifest God’s glory. Since we were also given free will, it is up to each of us what we do and how we do it. Whether those actions are done because we FREELY ALLOWED an evil entity (the devil, for want of a better word) to take over our actions, or simply responded to the “(worse) angels of our nature,” now THAT is a great springboard for understanding the “evil-doer” – whether in a novel or history.

    Thanks for the wonderful, though-provoking post! I just might give your suggestion a try!

  8. Paula. Just thought I’d take a moment to comment on your mention of repentence, which I also believe is a necessary or important mode of being. It keeps us ‘humble’. The reason I want to comment is that I have learned that recently many elements within Christianity have gone back to the ‘original’ meaning, interpretation of this word. The emphasis on guilt, and shame that I experienced as a child, with Christianity, is no longer necessarily the most pressed interpretation. Certainly soul searching, (for me analysis) is necessary to understand, and even discover where we ‘err’ in life, but the original concept would be what follows as a result of that soul searching, i.e. leaving ‘death’, (a difficult concept, (and coming alive with ‘life’) These are kinds of real-metaphorical/living concepts however, and they can be easily confused within our search to find application of their proper distinctions in our quest for Truth, Beauty and Goodness or Truth, The Way and The life. (If you accept this analogy). In other words, it is possible to repent, and still be in error. Such a thought, I believe keeps me anyway, ‘humble’…..(Oh Oh, what a proud thing to say!!! grin grin)

    • I think I must be forced to say that there is justification for the use of Light, as in Spirit Lights the Way, as a possible substitute for Life. But as Life as the opposite Death, which we must learn not to fear, so too does Light have the opposite of Darkness.
      I am saying this to explain
      l. Plato’s discovery that all such words naturallly entail the opposite.
      2. The postmoderns such as Jacques Derrida are suggesting therefore that we accent ‘differance’ ‘difference’ between the paradoxical existence of such terms, rather than accent one, through stressing the importance of ‘Identity.’
      As this is a new philosophy, and has not really been tested through time, we may at least regard it as an interesting alternative to explore. It does at least recognize the paradoxical nature of language if not reality.

  9. Pingback: FRIDAY FLASH 55 WORDS : A HUMAN VILLAIN « The only Cin

  10. I just read Cindy’s post. A running theme with some of my stories’ villains is childhood abuse, one of them could be the subject of her poem.
    I don’t believe you get to be that evil with a happy childhood. It might have looked happy on the outside, but families are great keepers of secrets.

  11. Yes, it was hard for me to write. I tried to motivate for my slasher villain to be viewed with a ‘what if’ sympathy. What if he had not been abused as a small boy?

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