Cosmolosophy: Good & Evil
To have any kind of philosophical framework worth it's salt, it needs to confront these two concepts. But what is a questioning mind to do here? What constitutes one or the other? And how is one to apply them in any meaningful way? The problem is confounded by the fact that, taken in the abstract, there can be no question that both exist. In practical terms, however, their utilization is fraught with dangerous consequences.
To understand the reason for this conundrum one must first grasp the distinction between the abstract and the practical. In the abstract it is quite easy to say that evil is anything that knowingly, and perhaps even more importantly, tries with great relish, to hinder or thwart loving structure. Good of course is simply the opposite of this. The devil in the details here is the practical application of the terms. And in this we need only refer to the Bible for guidance.
"...For Judgment is mine saith the lord..." (Morm. 8: 20, 40-41)
Why would a supreme entity go on at some length (in various parts of the Bible) about vengeance and judgment being only his or hers? Is it because a supposedly supremely wise individual was jealously protective of their power, and unwilling to share it, or because they know only too well the imperfect way imperfect beings would wield such power? And let us be clear here. What are we talking about when we think in terms of passing judgment? Is it not simply the process of applying value laden objectifications? Which of course is the naming of things. Could there be anything more powerful in the context of the ongoing creation of reality. It seems to me that when people are willing to do this without care, humility and great discretion, they only serve to do further violence.
We see people do bad things. Sometimes we are in the direct path of consequence from these bad actions. Real pain and suffering are the result. Children, siblings, parents and mates are lost. Homes and family life torn apart. We must not let the abstractions of "thwarting loving structure" remove us too far from this very real emotional and physical impact. And yet we must also continue to question. Why do people do any of the things they do, much less things that are so hurtful. If we are honest we have to admit that any of us are capable of such things. We are frail both physically and emotionally. We are subject to very powerful fears as a result. We live within a econo-cultural mix master where everything can be manipulated in the name of the "hard sell," and very little is sacred. We are thrown this way and that by the forces of money and social expectations as a further result. In all of this, at any given moment, how much can we ever really know of what has prompted one to do one thing as opposed to another? How can we know what we would have done for sure if we had lived their lives? In this, ignorance is the one thing we can be certain of. It is exactly in this context where the application of terms like evil becomes so fraught with danger. Desperation, despair, and very little loving socialization can cause people to make very bad choices. Does that make them evil? Or do terms like evil just make it easier to dehumanize and thus wreck vengeance upon those who have caused us pain. Do we, in our reaction to the pain of very bad choices, further the needs of loving structure by doing violence in return? Violence in the desperate belief that this will deter others from making such choices? Perhaps this might deter a few, but the whole concept of deterrence assumes a rational consideration of factors when one makes a choice. Given the forces, frailties and fears already discussed, how rational are any of us at any given moment? Even in the best of circumstances it probably varies greatly from one day to the next; which is why even good people do bad things.
None of this, however, should ever be construed to mean that one is not responsible for their actions. Even if you are insane you are still responsible for getting better; even if you are too lost of self to be aware of this responsibility. Society has it's own responsibility to ensure that personal responsibility is taken seriously. Making restitution, admitting fault, being confronted with the real pain that was caused (perhaps repeatedly over time), and even having your personal liberty restricted, is all part and parcel with this. That we have not applied much creative imagination on how to do this in ways that preserves loving structure only shows that it is vengeance in major part that is at work here. Having your liberty restricted in ways that ensure you will be sodomized, beaten, and fully indoctrinated in the ways of a hateful animal, may or may not serve to assuage a need for vengeance (it will never return, or fully repair what was damaged after all). One can be fairly certain, however, that it will accomplish little in preparing an individual to start making good choices once they are back amongst us (and they must necessarily be back amongst us as there will never be enough walled animal enclosures to hold all of the bad choice makers indefinitely. Any more than simply executing them all would be a solution. We'd just end up killing more of what is good in us than what is causing the original violence).
We must come back, however, to a form of the original question here. How is this philosophical framework to help us confront the general concept of evil? What does it mean to say it exists in the abstract when we feel it as a very real thing in our lives?
The first thing we must do is recognize that evil is a fundamental necessity to the entirety. This is so because everything has it's opposite. Asking why evil exists is like asking why there is dark, or why there is death, or why there is pain and destruction. How would we know we were in the light if we never experienced dark? How would we appreciate life if there were no death? How can there be creation without destruction of some sort? And so forth... All of this ought to be fairly self evident, but it is hard to hold on to when we're forced to deal with the harsh consequences that the negative side of each fundamental can cause.
Related to this aspect is the fact that, even though it exists, we cannot afford ourselves of the luxury of declaring that this or that specific thing is evil. That determination lies completely between the individual and the entirety (it should also be noted that the application of what is good can also be just as dangerous. Too often such applications are used only for self serving reasons. In fact, saying "I am good." And then saying "You are Evil" are nearly the same thing. Trying to cloak ourselves with the first serves to declare we cannot be the latter, while cloaking others in the latter serves to declare we must be the former. All of which goes on within the same fear, desperation and delusion as we struggle to accept all of the things we are capable of.). We have to have faith that the question of which of us (or the things all around us) is evil is not the important issue here. Evil is going to be a part of existence no matter what, and some of us must necessarily fill that role (perhaps even if it is done without any such intent at all; as the pavement of hell is supposed to attest to.); and no doubt some of us will do so gleefully and with great self justification. How we respond. How we work to keep the loving balance going is the important issue. Which of course brings us to the next point.
The second thing we must do is realize that evil can only be confronted successfully by building more loving structure; even as it tears that structure down. This can only be done with the realization that personal sacrifice is a necessary part of being a loving builder of structure. We must be willing to love knowing that it will entail loss and pain at semi-regular intervals. The notion that we can ever be fully, and enduringly safe over time is as much an illusion as thinking one can be in possession of perfect control from one moment to the next. To live a fully loving and engaged life is precisely the opposite of safe. "Safe" is a product we allow ourselves to be sold on. We let the purveyors of this product play on our fears of the loss of self, or the loss of loved ones, and in the process do great violence to our spirit and our souls. Life and death. Creation and destruction. These are all part of the entirety. We must learn to embrace all of it. Learn to accept pain as the price of loving as deeply as we can. Learn to understand that one cannot hold onto a thing indefinitely. Learn that how we confront the dark is as important as how we thrive in the light. We must understand that, even as we refrain from cursing the darkness, by lighting a single candle, that candle will always eventually go dark, and so we must keep lighting new ones.