The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 30 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The nature of evil

My brief time with an evangelical church had a lot of Satan in it. He was generally referred to as ‘The Evil One’ and regularly invoked, because the quickest way to make people band together and forget internal differences is to talk about an external threat that has dark desires for you. I doubt that, in 1940, people cared whether you’d voted Labour, Tory or Liberal in the last election because the threat of Hitler was significantly greater. In that spirit, the evangelical church used Satan all the time, as someone who menaced the church and everyone in it, and who wanted to shatter their unity and cart everyone off to hell.

There were good people at the evangelical church and, in spite of myself, I learned a lot about who my conception of God is. And it certainly isn’t theirs. But that also means that my concept of who Satan is also differs. And I don’t think he’s a single, unitary entity, for all that this satisfies a primitive need in all of us. You can Google up pictures of a beast with horns and cloven hooves posing in front of a pentacle, or variations thereof, for as long as you care to sit at a computer and, were you so minded, imagine him prowling around with all his hellish minions, looking for human weakness to exploit and manipulate. I think this is way too simplistic, to the extent that it allows real, palpable evil a free pass.

To be clear, I do think evil exists. It not only exists, but it does so in the guise of what is familiar and recognisable, because that makes it more effective. If Satan, as he’s popularly imagined, came to your door and introduced himself, he’d be very easy to recognise and to fight. But that’s not how any of this works. I’ve been to Majdanek concentration camp where evil happened and the reason it was allowed to take hold was that it happened incrementally. The Germans resisted Versailles, then they wanted their autonomy back, then they wanted a strong, proud country and then they wanted to fight their perceived enemies. The progression along these steps took time, but it led ordinary people to see Jews as an existential threat and to turn a blind eye when they were killed along with other supposed undesirables. These felt like logical choices to people who had been touched by the evil. With the benefit of hindsight and comfortable distance, we know they weren’t.

Majdanek is an extreme example of where humanity goes in the space of a decade if mendacious men are given their head. There are others, from the Serbian genocide to the Armenian genocide, but all of these are past. It is easy to look at a historical event which has already been set in its correct context by scholars using eyewitness testimony and documentary evidence and say that, yes, this was evil. It’s much, much harder to point to contemporary happenings and say that evil is being done, because you worry that you’re wrong or, rather, you hope you are. People will also mock you or, if you’re a woman, threaten you with violence and abuse. To speak out entails taking risks, often with your personal safety.

And now I’m about to do just that. I think the campaign to leave the European Union was driven, in a large part, by evil. I think it wanted to sow discord between nations and I think it wanted to build a Nazi-esque fear of the ‘other,’ whether that other is Islam, immigrants or refugees. This was, I think, evil in its purest form. Were it to be indulged, then it would end in people being murdered in a much more organised way than is happening now, with squalid hate crimes and talk of people turning violent if their bigotry is not appeased. In my world, a bigot who turns violent belongs in prison. He shouldn’t have the ear of government.

I can say the same about Trump. At first, I thought he was no more than a two-bit huckster, ennobled by his father’s money, trying to chance his arm and make himself even more money and earn himself some notoriety. But no. I think he has become an avatar of evil. He hates women who do anything other, dare to be anything other, than what he wants. He hates minorities whose narrative is not his own, who dare to suggest that white America exists on the back of others and scorns anyone who opposes him. Clinton isn’t perfect, by any means, but she’s a long way short of the kind of vivid, cheap, populist hatreds that this man wants to foist on the world. Should he be elected, people will die, in large numbers, in pursuit of whatever agenda he sets. This is what evil does and what evil wants. It delights in death, views it as some kind of testament to its power. When Brexit won, Farage said that ‘not a shot had been fired,’ ignoring the murder of Jo Cox and fairly unambiguously saying that if they hadn’t won, shots would have been fired, probably at his or his acolytes direction. This, to be clear, is evil. There is evil in the world and it has been birthed into it, in part, by these two old, white men.

So much for the macro level. Evil exists on the micro level, too. Everywhere we allow intolerance to go unchecked, or allow the lies and hatreds spread by people like Farage and Trump to stand unopposed, evil spreads in the world and harms people. And it generally harms people who are the least able to resist it. Immigrants, women, refugees, anyone who isn’t white, anyone who is poor, the vulnerably housed and so on. In short, anyone who is not white, financially comfortable and probably male. That is evil and its consequences can be seen, not in a church that thinks it’s under attack for reasons too obscure to mention, but in the lives of people who are the most vulnerable. We need to fight Farage, we need to fight Trump in a million practical ways, because the alternative, although we don’t see it yet, looks a lot like Majdanek.

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