Is evil a fashionable and convenient label?

Evil became a fashionable word in the West after 9/11. Until then it was regarded as an old fashioned religious way of simplifying reasons behind events we disapproved of, instead of intellectually explain why and how they could happen.

Hitler, 9/11, far right, good & evil, yin & yang, Norway, Iraq,

If the majority of people stop turning a blind eye to evil, life would be much harder for people like Hitler. He may even have seemed pathetic.

Oversimplifying and implying that you are either “with or against God” led to statements like “you are either with us or against us”, remember? It also enabled calling countries the Axis of Evil and the erroneous belief that Iraqis would cheer their “liberators”.

Evil absolves us from blame

Calling something evil is easy because then there is no need to look at why it happened. It’s conveniently blamed on evil people which saves us from trying to understand why and how it could happen.

It allows us to do nothing because we are, after all, only human beings. Only God can do something about evil.

Truly wish that all evil was carried out by a few evil people and once they were behind bars everything would be hunky dory.  But it isn’t as simple as that.

What makes people evil?

The important question we have to ask ourselves is what is evil and what makes people commit evil actions. To understand the motives behind is essential.With very few exceptions, people are not monsters. It’s normal people, just like you and me, who can suddenly become dangerous. Everybody can in theory behave like monsters. Evil can happen anywhere at any time.

“But he seemed so normal”

Despite that, people are surprised every time they are confronted by evil. “How could this happen in our little town?” “But he seemed so normal”. Touching in the sense that we expect people to be normal and not dangerous. So much so that they don’t notice evil even when it happens next door.

It wasn’t monsters, but people like you and me, that committed atrocities in, for instance, Nazi Germany. Living under totalitarian regimes makes people do all kinds of things they would not normally do. The same applies when you live in a war zone. Killing other people frequently becomes normal. Same thing applies to soldiers who “have a licence to kill”.

People commit actions that can be labelled evil out of fear, for selfish reasons, to feel powerful, because they are desperate, group pressure or simply because they are obeying the law and carrying out what the regime expects of them.

Why do we turn a blind eye?

Less evil would take place if the majority of people didn’t turn a blind eye. If we look at the Third Reich again, some people did decide to see and hear what was going on. Sadly they didn’t survive the war. But what would have happened if all human beings decided to see and hear evil? People like Hitler and Radovan Karadzic would have been regarded as pathetic, would not they? We actually allow evil to happen by turning a blind eye.The massacre that took place in Norway a couple of years ago was swiftly called evil. The perpetrator was labelled insane and a terrorist. The easy option that enables politicians to ignore the rise of far right anti immigrant parties in Europe was chosen.

Time to take the inconvenience of facing up to reality

Wouldn’t it be better for mainstream Western politicians to face up to the reasons behind the massacre and talk about the real stresses and imagined strains that have come with rising immigration and the multicultural society that emerged?Unfortunately islamophobia, partly a result on the war on terror, has fueled the rise of anti-immigration parties all over Europe that sometimes have attained considerable political power.

If mainstream politicians are not willing to deal with inconvenient issues the only winners will be the far right. There will be elements of such a debate that everybody will find uncomfortable, but it’s something that mainstream politicians and authorities just have to engage in. It will really be difficult but is essential in order to increase understanding and make old and new Europeans live together in harmony.

Find solutions and stop hiding behind convenient labels

It’s not possible to keep on just calling atrocities evil and ignoring the underlying problems. The West has hidden behind the label evil for ten years and it’s time to move on. If not, it’s just a question of how long it will take before more evil is committed by another European fanatic or Islamic fundamentalist. It will benefit both Europeans and immigrants to make multiculturalism the wonderful society it can be instead of letting resentment grow on both sides.

Do you agree with me that it’s time to stop hiding behind the convenient label evil and start, again, looking at the reasons behind, identify the problems and try to find solutions to improve society and prevent further problems? Or should we keep on making life easy for ourselves by simply turning a blind eye to what’s going on that goes against our moral beliefs?

(Photo: Freenerd – Flickr)

45 comments to Is evil a fashionable and convenient label?

  • Abrar Ahmed  says:

    Agree with you. It’s time to stop calling things evil and leave it at that.

  • GuyW  says:

    In times of stress, we’re “programmed” to adopt a “fight or flight” response, and the characterisation of people as evil is very much part of the fight side. In so doing, one can more easily characterise an enemy and get one’s own “side” behind one. George Orwell’s ‘1984’ really highlighted this brilliantly, and his ‘Animal Farm’ showed other facets to it.

    For another study of how well the pack instinct in us works and how evil can surface quickly in even apparently normal people, William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a chilling story. It really highlights, too, how difficult it can be for people to swim against the tide, and why it is easier to ignore evil – and even go along with it, as we saw in Nazi Germany.

    Politicians, of course, understand all this and use convenient labels to characterise others in order to gain support for their causes/parties. Much is overstated, but few people look beneath the sound-bites to understand what is really happening. A strange feature of our 24-hour news world is that we actually understand less, rather than more, as the news programs only touch on topics, whereas newspapers have the space to go into them in more depth. But, such is the pace of modern life that few people read a newspaper fully every day – a skim of the headlines is often enough (or a news bulletin on the TV/radio which is more-or-less the same thing).

    The current global economic stresses are simply exacerbating the situation. People finding life tougher and tougher look to blame others, and immigrants (in any country) are an easily identifiable target. Sad, but true. Once economies pick up again – assuming they do – we will see a slow, steady return to the acceptance of multiculturism and hopefully it will be able to take a firm hold before the next disaster that will once again tend people to separatism.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad you agree with me Guy. However, don't you think we need to move beyond convenient labels like evil, move on and start trying to prevent things we disapprove of from happening? Am not sure it can wait until the economy picks up again.

  • James Styles  says:

    Catarina, I do not necessarily disagree with what you are saying. For many people language can be a bit fluid and change over time. The use of language is really critical in all forms of politics and therefore many politicians may misuse or "spin" language to seek support and enhance their own positions.Many authors have written books around this subject and I would point toward that badly written classic by George Orwell – 1984. When I was a younger man I tended to think that you can do a better job than the others and so therefore you should give the people their opportunity to support you. However my personal viewpoint is that there is good and evil, right and wrong, black and white albeit with shades of grey. Without wishing to be too banal about the matter I would say that we are all responsible to varying extents for our society and resulting civilisation.
    I am making a judgement call here. I think that you are doing a good thing bringing these matters to our attention. Keep up the good work!

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Seems you all in all agree with me, James.

  • Slim  says:

    Evil is, indeed, a too convenient label, Catarina. Not that evil does not exist. If it did not, there would be no label.

    We are very concerned, at least in my country about labeling. The more we become concerned with the “evils” of labeling, the more we label.

    Libya: NATO did not want to bomb Tripoli. They had their reasons. That was five months ago. Now, NATO is bombing Tripoli. From a military standpoint only–If NATO had bombed Tripoli 5 months ago, would the military action have taken perhaps 5 days?

    Starvation: There is a difference between hunger and starvation. People are dying in the Horn of Africa. Is this not an indicator that world leaders lack moral fibre?

    As you referenced Hitler: If we had bombed the airplane factory and the shipyards, before the NAZIS invaded Poland, that could well have put a stop to it before it started. No one wanted to listen to Lord Churchill before the war. Or after.

    We too often call people evil to shroud ourselves in the stole and mantle of respectability. Just as often, we accept responsibility as a way of denying the blame. [If we are going to assume the responsibility then it is obvious someone else must be at fault. Are we not wonderful for accepting the responsibility?]

    Sincerest regards,


    My recent post A Brief Word About Project Management

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad you agree with me Slim. However using simple religious retorik like good and evil is a phenomena of labeling that Americans should be concerned about. Problems that allow evil to happen can't just be ignored. If we do, it will just keep on happening.

      • Slim  says:

        That is true. I lived through the debate. "There are good and bad in all kinds." This was to excuse someone who did something bad. We refuse to deal with — let's say — bad people. Positive reinforcement of negative behaviour is a disincentive. It is that very way of thinking that is recognised as the support mechanism by someone who wants to do something bad. I first noticed it in the 7th grade. Now that everyone has grown up (Almost) people don't know why we have problems. Few remember. Those 7th graders are now our political leaders. Slim
        My recent post Congress: An Idiocracy, A Theocracy, But not a Democracy

        • catarinaalexon  says:

          Slim, most of your fellow countrymen still don't know why 9/11 happened. And worse,because of the simplified retorik they believe all Muslims are evil – in other words 1.5 billion people.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Seems we agree Keyuri. However, let's not forget if we had been born poor in Afghanistan and lived through decades of war, taking someone's life would most likely be just routine for us. Kill or die, simple as that.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Keyuri, what you say is correct when it comes to the West. But when you live in war you often don't have a choice, unfortunately. Apart from fleeing, if that's possible.

  • Susan Oakes  says:

    Saying someone or a group are evil I think is also a way of distancing themselves. As you mentioned people can commit what we call evil acts out of fear or in your comment to Keyuri what they are used to. I remember when we first had refugees and reports started appearing in the news about fights involving gins and knives. Many couldn't understand how this could happen, but to those participating it was what they been used to in their home country.
    My recent post Are You Enjoying The Social Media Rides?

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Good comment Susan. When migrants come from countries with honor-revenge cultures it creates problems. Some countries, even in Europe, have cultures where you are obliged to take revenge if someone in you extended family has lost face to someone from another family. Needless to say that causes a clash of civilizations.

  • Taral Vaidya  says:

    Evil rises under Good. Besides, we have now developed watertight compartments where the only colors we may see are Black or White. Call something evil, shout from the rooftops and create an opinion. The public accepts it as such. Sometimes, we need to question ourselves and think "IS IT REALLY EVIL?" Sometimes, what may be labelled evil may be "just" and the one labelling it as evil may be evil itself. We have somehow, accepted that absence of Good is evil when it may not be actually true.
    The other law applies is "Truth belongs to whosoever is right." So we deem Japan as evil too since it was an ally of Germany in the WW. But we know it not to be true.
    I believe that unless there is a renessaince of ideas with this ideology, we shall be guilty or promoting evil ourselves.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Good points Taral. Glad we agree about the misuse of the label evil.

  • keepupweb  says:

    To me, the term evil is a description of behavior and not necessarily a label. When something happens that is so bad we can't relate to it or understand how a human being is capable of doing such a thing, it's human nature to me to describe it as evil. Having been raised to believe that there is good and evil in all of us, that's just a term I've come to accept. The label that I despise is when we describe someone who has committed an evil act as being insane, Insanity is too often used as an excuse for unacceptable behavior. That is the label that I wish we could put an end to.
    My recent post Have You Been Innovative Today?

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Yes Sherryl, evil exists. But far too often we just leave it like that instead of trying to prevent it happening again. To ignore the reasons behind is convenient and human nature is lazy. But it's really detrimental to society to not try to just hide behind the label evil or insane.

  • Julie Weishaar  says:

    Wow Catarina – what an interesting post. In general, hiding behind labels and avoiding finding the root cause is not a good thing. I agree with everything you say but I tend to be more of a realist which unfortunately is somewhat of a pessimistic view. Not many people even accept responsibility of their own actions – how can we expect them to care about or try to find out the reasons behind others' actions? It is easier to blame atrocities on labels like "evil" than to try to figure out why they are happening. Sometimes people just snap or are actually evil – like psychopaths. They appear "normal" to their neighbors who are surprised when these same people commit brutal crimes. Their brains are just wired differently. I once had a conversation with a neuropsychiatrist family friend about whether or not Psychopaths can truly be rehabilitated. We both agreed that they couldn't. We both said at the exact same time, "They should all be thrown into one single room and throw away the key". Good point about the effect of where we are born and raised and the rules that govern the society we live in.
    My recent post LAUGH Gosh Darn It!

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad you agree Julie. Really good points you are making.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Glad you agree with me.

  • Sarah Russell  says:

    Catarina – I absolutely think you're on to something, but I think that arriving at the solution you described isn't going to be easy (if it's even possible). I'm not sure where you are, but in the US, the political process has become so polarized that apply blanket statements (like "evil", in this case) to opponents seems to have become regularly accepted.

    In a perfect society, yes, I think we should look beyond these labels, but when you bring greed, money, power and other compromising factors into the equation, it becomes a very difficult thing to accomplish. Not that I think we can't find a solution, just that it's going to be incredibly complicated.

    Cheers – interesting stuff!
    My recent post Case Study 3 – Final Tips & Tricks on Outsourcing Successfully

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Good we agree Sarah. Know that it's difficult to change but we definitely need to do so. The consequences if we don't are dire. Europe definitely has to start dealing with the rise of the far right both in Brussels and the different member states' parliaments.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Jeanine, glad you are of the same opinion as Guy and myself.

  • Marquita Herald  says:

    The term evil is really just another convenient label and life really is never that simple or tidy.
    My recent post The Most Important Factor to Success

  • Philip Harris  says:

    There really is no good or evil. Those were terms largely coined by religions to keep the 'flocks' in line. There are positive and negative forces, both of which are required for a manifest universe. All too often, what is termed evil today, is discovered to be a blessing tomorrow. Do what we perceive to be horrible things happen? Sure, but without infinite knowing, can we truly say that it was evil. Is a sun going super nova evil? Is a hurricane evil? So yes, evil is a cop out that keeps people blind and numb to taking responsibility for the world they create.
    My recent post The Bridge – Program Twenty & Twenty-One

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Those are good ways of describing the good and bad forces in the world, Harris. But evil isn't used to describe hurricanes. The label evil seems to be used mainly for events politicians don't want to deal with.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Thank you Bob. Glad you agree with me.

  • bbnaturally  says:

    I have never given much thought to the term 'evil' before. Sure it is used often – I think (as you say) because it is easy when we cannot comprehend the person and their actions. BUT is it NOT evil? The examples you presented were atrocious times in history. You seek to understand why things occur but this makes no difference to the victims and their families.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      True, but you have no idea how you would have acted if you grew up in Stalin's Soviet Union. If you didn't do as you were told your children were taken away from you, your parents got a shot in the head or were sent to the Gulag. What would you have been like under that kind of circumstances? It's easy when we live in a secure environment to believe we would have objected. But would we at the expense of our children and loved ones?

  • Deck  says:

    Another excellent post, catarina and totally agree with you on how evil is abused…!

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Glad you agree with me Rowena and feel it's time to identify the reasons behind and try to prevent "evil" from happening again.

  • JeriWB  says:

    This post brings to mind one of my favorite Bob Dylan Songs, "With God on Our Side."
    My recent post Revision Project: Ways of Seeing

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Makes me think of George W. Pity it didn't work oout according to "God's plan" in Iraq:-)

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    What a great conversation. Labelling anything as evil has always made me uneasy. It's a label which gives us permission to do anything without thinking of consequence. We can ignore all of the morality discussions if we are responding to evil.

    Resentment against newcomers has always been an underlying force here in North America. When I worked for MPs it was a consistent theme in the exchanges with constituents. "They" were the cause of all that was wrong. Imagine my perspective, I wasn't born in Canada but grew up here so my accent is "Canadian". That meant that when I sat on the phone in the MPs office listening to someone with a European accent bitterly complain about the immigrants (generally someone of color) I couldn't help but see the irony of the situation. They couldn't see me, so assumed I was white and therefore agreed with their perspective. Essentially you would have an immigrant complaining to an immigrant about an immigrant. We are all immigrants to First Nations People and yet I never heard the biases from those communities.

    When we add evil to an already ingrained set of biases we create an insidious and corrupting level of bigotry that allows us to shut our borders with impunity and treat those newcomers already present inhumanely. We absolutely need to lose the label of evil, we need to stop hiding behind simplistic descriptions and irrational fears. The economic challenges we currently face were created collectively and will have to solved in the same way.
    My recent post Saturday Morning Chit Chat, How Do You Know You’re Not Producing Crap?

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Thank you, Debra. Came across an American who left a comment in a Linkedin group stating that multiculturalism is evil. Was surprised to hear such an opinion voiced. Maybe it is more common in North America than in Europe? Since the crash of Lehman Brothers immigration has become more complicated. Immigrants get the blame for what Wall Steet caused. In Europe the open borders is a problem though. People smugglers benefit enormously. And those people are evil. They have sold people the idea that they will get a life of luxury in Europe for the small price of $10,000. Once here they find reality is different but they still owe the criminals. So people who would not otherwise even dream of becoming criminals have no other choice. Unless of course they want say, their mother in Baghdad, to be murdered. So how do we stop evil criminal gangs from ruining other people's lives?

  • Jeannette Paladino  says:

    Catarina — I agree that circumstances like Hitler's Nazi Germany can make normal people do evil things. But I also believe that some people are intrinsically evil. Pedophiles are one example. And the normal looking man in Cleveland, here in the US, who tortured, abused and imprisoned three young women for 10 years before they were finally freed. That, to me, is pure evil.
    My recent post Is This a New Trend – the Public Firing of Employees?

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Agree with you Jeannette. This article was about when authorities label something evil instead of taking an in-debth look at why it happened and do something to prevent it happening again. Like Breivik in Norway. They should have taken a look at how to integrate immigrants but chose not to.

  • Susan Cooper  says:

    Wow Catarina you have really written a though provoking post and are getting some wonderful comments. I believe evil is a definite reality as is good. Whether a person is good or evil is their choice and it is their actions that affect society. No I believe that just one "evil" person or act should dictate society? No. I believe we as humans can only be responsible for our own actions but when we are called to action to protect what needs to be protecting. This is not against any single person, nationality, or gender in itself… We all need to work together to become better people.
    My recent post Matua Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Wine

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Have understood that the concept of evil is, and has always been, applied more in the US than in Europe, Susan. Makes sense since Americans are more religious that we are in Europe. Here it has become fashionable after 9/11 because it enables politicians to do nothing about a problem. Not sure we will ever eradicate "evil" because the problem is human nature.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Don't you think society has come a long way since Darwin? Human nature though, hasn't and that's the root of most problems in the world.

    Evil as a concept has always been used in the United States. But in Europe you never heard about it until after 9/11. Do you really think it's a good idea to call events evil instead of dealing with the reasons that made it happen? There is no excuse for hiding problems by calling them evil.

  • rhawdon  says:

    Quite agree one shouldn't dismiss things as simply 'evil'. That is Darwin's point – that the aggression which leads to monstrous acts is embedded in human nature. And no Europe hasn't just discovered evil – it has been denounced and raged about from pulpits since medieval times and beyond. And still will be in a thousand years time – no, we haven't advanced much since Darwin's time.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Glad you agree that something that takes place should not be dismissed as just evil. Europe used to rage about evil in the past. But in the late 20th centrury it wasn't. Not until 9/11 when it became fashionable again.

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