Conceiving Evil: A Phenomenology of Perpetration

Conceiving Evil: A Phenomenology of Perpetration

Conceiving Evil: A Phenomenology of Perpetration

Conceiving Evil: A Phenomenology of Perpetration

Synopsis

Philosopher Wendy C. Hamblet argues that the radically polarized and oversimplified view that sorts the world into 'good guys' and 'evil others' is a framework as old as human community itself, and one that undermines people's own moral infrastructure, permitting them to take up the very acts that they would readily demonize in others. We reframe our own violent responses to the human condition from 'unskillful and undesirable actions' to 'valiant heroic reactions'. In short, those who see 'evil' in others are far more likely to do 'evil,' resorting to the least skillful means for navigating difference--violence. When conflict is understood positively as the confrontation of differences, an unavoidable and indeed desirable consequence of the rich tapestry of earthly life, then a discussion can open as to how to navigate the countless confrontations of difference in the most skillful way. In theory, violence is demonized as 'evil' in popular and criminological discourse and calls forth acts of vengeance in individuals and punitive responses in state institutions. However, punishment is itself defined as an 'evil' inflicted by a legitimate authority upon a wrongdoer in compensation for a wrong done. This leads to the conundrum that the state, as much as the vigilante, must necessarily undermine its own legitimacy by taking up the very acts that it deems as evil in its enemies and punishes in its deviant citizens. By reframing conflict positively, Hamblet introduces a new way of thinking about difference that allows the reader to appreciate (rather than tolerate) difference as a desirable feature of a multicultural, multi-religioned, multi-gendered world.

Excerpt

Over the centuries, philosophers, theologians, religious clerics—and in recent years even politicians and military professionals—investigate, talk, write, preach, and reproach others about something they name “evil.” People seem to agree that such a thing as evil exists; they spend a great deal of energy discussing the phenomenon of evil when they feel they have encountered it, arguing for their favored meaning of the term and disputing what does and does not constitute the real thing.

The term evil had all but fallen out of use in political and public discourse except in reference to the most egregious atrocities, such as genocide. However, since the “September 11” attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the language of evil has again emerged, beginning with fundamentalist Christian United States President George W. Bush, and later it echoed across the globe in countries long thought too secular to fall into the serious use of such imagery. Ironically, the new language was often directed at those who had reintroduced it. the use of the archaic and extreme imagery of evil by the leaders in enlightened democratic societies seems odd, archaic, medieval. But because in

1 Following the 9/11/2001 crisis, Canada’s Minister of Defense, Richard Hillier, took a hard and demonizing line, following George Bush’s linguistic lead, and named enemy combatants in Afghanistan “evildoers” and “scumbags.” Globe and Mail, July 16, 2005.

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