Saturday 25 October 2008

The Dark Truth About Evil

I'm on edge right now, as you might have guessed.

So today might result in lots of posts, because right now I really need to go into some of the things that really sit like shadows inside me.

Nietzche once said 'Take care looking into the abyss, or the abyss will look back into you'.

And of course, there is a deep wisdom in this. The truth about evil. In a sense, mankind has often taken the apparently easy option. It has created duality, fenced evil off as a separate concept. Against God, stands the devil, the ultimate source of evil. Evil doesn't need to be understood. It just IS.

Because it makes it easier. It means we don't have to imperil ourselves by looking into the abyss.
Because it's true. Try get your head around evil, you will lose part of your soul. Your ability to laugh will be blunted. Your ability to feel joy, will be something you can no longer accept without question. Your capacity to trust will be diminished. Because you are there staring at the face of evil and the problem is in what you see. It isn't a demon.

It IS your laughter. It IS your joy. It is everyone of those emotions that create good, just somewhow warped and twisted.

Ultimately, its a fault. A fault in reasoning. A flaw whereby an error has been made in prioritising. Where people have put the wrong ideals paramount. Where people have pursued one perceived good in a faulty way. That's the horrific point. The fact that there isn't really much more of a dividing line between good and evil other than capacity to reason.

It's nothing to with emotions. It's to do with logic. It's do with capacity to surmount emotions, and apply pure logic. And that's the terrifying thought. Because we know very well that none of us are perfect reasoners. The really terrifying thought is that determining what is good and what is evil can only be judged by one standard, it's relation to what ultimately benefits the whole mass of conscious beings. And we as individuals are not always in a position to know that. So the really scary point, is the obvious point that evil rarely knows its evil. In its own subjective sense, evil nearly ALWAYS believes itself to be good.

And that's the horror of the abyss. The realisation that evil does not a carry an identifying mark of Cain.
It's like the bit in Sixth Sense, when he realises he himself is dead. It's that realisation. The evil don't know they're evil. AND IF YOU WERE EVIL YOU WOULDN'T EITHER. The evil believe themselves to be good, just as much as you believe yourself to be good and there really is no higher judge to determine which of you is right.

Its that realisation that Good ultimately, is objective. Evil generally, is subjective application of love, without really understanding the greatest good.

I have seen into the abyss. And it disturbed me. I will never forget it, it changed my life. I'd like to thank Ms Smack for her in depth comments on this post below, because they really get to the heart of the abyss. I'm aware that these are issues that she has to deal with in a way I don't, and she has to be given credit for it, because just seeing into this abyss once, had a hugely profound effect on my thinking. For good or ill, it at one enlightened me and cut me off from the mainstream of human sentiment forever.

Tolkien fans will be aware that Legolas is the son of Thranduil, King of the Mirkwood Elves. It is often noted that the character of Thranduil as depicted in the Hobbit is quite a hard, untrusting character. The reason for this is revealed in one of Tolkien's writings where he says that after Sauron's first overthrow, Thranduil saw into the pits of Barad Dur. And at that point, he lived forever in awe of the possibilities of Sauron's return. It lay like a shadow on his heart from which he could not escape.

When I was inside, there was a remand prisoner I used to talk to. He was in a drama class with myself. And in a poetry writing workshop as well. Now, contrary to what you might think, even in the Green, not everybody is scum. All the time I was there, I had as good a prison friend as you can hope to have. You say you'll keep in touch when you get out, but you don't. What you going to do, meet up for a beer and discuss old times? It doesn't happen. And this guy, best way I can describe him is as Morgan Freeman. He was big, black and bald. And a nice guy. We played a lot of backgammon together. Now what he was in for, was never in any doubt. Nor was the fact that he wasn't guilty. But that's another story. It's the remand prisoner we need to go back to.

Forty year old male. He used to talk about his girlfriend a lot. And his eighteen year old son. He'd had a fight with his neighbour and was on remand for assault. And we all used to shake our heads and say 'You just can't see him getting angry enough to fight. Such a nice guy'.

Because he was. A nice guy. That was the point. He really would behave in a GENYINELY caring way. Not a mamipulative way, a caring one. He was at ease with the laddie, blokey staff that is the general nature of interactions in there.

And I often chatted to him about my case, girls outside, etc, etc.

And what was worse, I even talked about matters of a sexually explicit nature with him. And he'd laugh normally at the coarse ribaldry.
Nothing about him that stood out as anything other than a good guy you'd happily share a beer with. He had genuine warmth, he did. And he genuinely emoted with people, that bit wasn't fake.

Anyway. There was one time I did get a slight hackle. A doubt. It was when they were walking the convicted sex offenders across the yard to the library. This moment is kind of like a Two Minute Hate to any prisoner able to see this from the windows of whichever buildings they're in. And I'm sorry to say, I was no better. It really does take you over, you're there howling at them, snarling, if they weren't heavily guarded and the windows you were behind weren't barred, you and all the other inmates would probably hurl out like a pack and tear them into pieces. 'NONCES!!! WRONG UNS!!! DIRTY KIDDY FIDDLING BASTARDS!!! DON'T LOOK AT ME, YOU KEEP STARING AT THE GROUND!! NONNNNNNCCCCCEEESSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!'

Because it disturbs you. It disturbs you to look at them. It disturbs you to see them, knowing what they are.

What disturbed me this time, was when I turned back and saw the face of my remand friend. He looked uncomfortable. And for a moment a doubt entered my mind.

I put that doubt from me. I couldn't believe that he was one. I couldn't.

Indeed, a sad point about all this, is that one of my happier memories from the Green is clouded by this.

Our drama class was kind of a closed shop. Myself and my Morgan Freeman friend were kind of the stars, but my Harry Grout friend, who I may have mentioned, the big cheese extradited from the Costa Del sol who's having taken me under his wing in the first place had put me in the secure position in prison life that I enjoyed in the first place, he was there to lend his support. So the class was very much a recreational activity for those who were 'in' on wing politics. And because I looked after my remand friend- wrongly as it turned out- he was part of this class.

And we decided to do Julius Caesar. I was given permission to cut the play into a half hour format, cast the parts and direct.
I cast myself as Brutus- and keep most of his best speeches. I intended to make the performance symbolic. I intended my reduction to focus on the virtues needed to fight tyranny, a love of freedom so great a man will accept moral responsibility for killing his best friend, because he loves freedom so much.

My Morgan Freeman friend was Cassius. Harry Grout was Anthony. And my remand friend was Caesar/Octavian.

And he really came alive in the role. I had doubts about his ability to pull it off, but he really did.

And for those who know the play, you'll know there is a part where Caesar looks Brutus in the eye as that final blade goes in and says 'Et tu Brute?'

In my direction, the characters embraced at that point, as Caesar received that blade from Brutus, symbolic of the painful realities of the fact that they have sentiments towards eachother, even at this point.

I don't think anyone who saw that performance will forget it. I was proud, very proud, of the job we all did. And I think all the prisoners who saw it were morally uplifted by it.

A month later, my remand friend was convicted.

And then I heard one lunchtime. I passed Morgan Freeman on the steps down to get my dinner. Our friend had been given a damn good kicking, it turned out. The truth had come out. His conviction was for the kidnap and sexual assault of six children.

Six years.

I refused to believe it. The rumour was wrong. Had to be.

The next day, bizarrely, we were all to be escorted over to be awarded with certificates from the Governor. Certificates awarded to us for our play.

As we waited in the gym, where we were being held whilst they brought all the prisoners who were to be at this ceremony over, Harry Grout told me what he knew. He'd heard the facts straight from the officers on his wing (He was on that wing, and fact is, the officers will answer questions of CERTAIN prisoners. I could ask questions on my wing, and get answers.) In Harry Grout's mind, there was no doubt.

Then they brought him in. He was black and blue. Positively battered. And he walked up to the rest of us. As if nothing was strange.

'All right?' he said.
And Harry grout turned 'No, off you go. Piss off. We don't want you here.'
He looked uncertain 'What do you mean?'

And I watched him. I wanted that uncertainty to be genuinely not understanding. I wanted him to have been unjustly accused. I so badly wanted him to be- what I thought he was.

And then Harry Grout hit him with it 'We KNOW what you're in for. And we KNOW it's not your first time'.

It was like a Warner Brother's cartoon moment- you could almost hear the gulp that you could see. It was true. It was in his eyes. This wasn't a man unjustly accused. This was a man forced to accept that now, it was known by all the other prisoners who had trusted him and seen him as a friend, that he was a man who kidnapped children, imprisoned them in a shed and molested them.

I can't explain to you how I felt at that point.
First shock.
Then anger. Real anger. Because I could see, see how he could do it. Any child would trust him, I had. He was the most UNevil seeming guy you could come across. Warm, soft, caring.

Now he had been moved wing after his first beating. But he still wasn't on the sex offenders wing. He had managed to avoid that.

Now you may not like what I'm going to say now, but you have to understand my anger.

I had a visit that afternoon. And whilst I was waiting for my visit, I stood up in the holding room 'Anyone here on P wing?'

A few people looked up. I continued 'You got a nonce on your wing. Came two days ago. All beat up. Six kids.'

Yes, I'm handing him in. Handing him in to get what nonces get. I knew damn well in doing what I did, I was calling prison justice on him. Had he still been on the wing, I would have been partly responsible for the kettle of sugar filled water might well have been emptied in his face.
But the reply I got was: 'We found him, he's been done already. He's on G wing now'.

G wing being where they belonged.

Well. I was still quite disturbed by the whole thing, so I did what I always do when I'm freaked out. I asked to see the priest. For rites of confession.

And when he came in I was truthful.
'This isn't a confession. It's just I'm freaked out. And I can't call the Wing Listener for counselling because I AM the Wing Listener'.

I told him. I told him the full story.
And he replied 'It's hard. Hard because yes, he's an evil man. And by the sound of it, not able to deal with that in himself. You're probably right, he probably doesn't feel remorse, not in the way you'd think he should. In himself, he can't accept what he is. And I guess what you're saying is that YOU feel abused. That you feel somehow violated the same way he violated the children. Because you feel you gave trust and friendship on false pretences'.

I nodded. 'Yes. That's it. That's the point. Because I feel I looked into the eyes of evil and didn't see it. Because I feel my entire ability to know good from evil, is completely false- I fell for it, I fell for it, just like he does to children'.

The priest looked at me and said something that really didn't help. It didn't help then, and it doesn't help now. 'What is hardest to come to terms with is that his wish for trust and friendship, probably weren't false. That those emotions in him were genuine. That he wanted to be your friend, because he wanted a friend. Your acceptance of him was something he valued for its own sake. That probably, all his interactions with you were genuine. He may not have been false with you, you may have seen him as the person he is, in spite of the fact he does evil things.'

I shivered. 'That's the scary bit. Because I feel a powerful hatred towards him right now, so strong in fact that I could kill him in cold blood. But I also remember many, many moments, which were moments of warmth and friendship. And now I feel that all that is polluted, dirtied, that the memories I hold of good moments are in themselves a lie'.

From time to time I'd think of him sitting on G wing with the other nonces and wonder. Why, I'd think. What made what you are. I just don't get it. How can someone so evil be so human. Someone I thought was someone I could like and get on with, and not just, as is so often the case in here, because they're the only people around. I'd try to find some way to tell myself that he wasn't evil, but then you looked at the facts. Locking children in sheds. To molest them.

Really, the real problem was having seen into the abyss. And seeing the horrific fact that most people can't deal with. Because he was and is evil. But his emotions and his interactions are in so many ways- the same as those in me. That, that is the shocking point. That I was able to go so long thinking him someone just like me.

And isn't that it, really. Don't we find that so hard to get, to face. And the question is, do we need to face it?

Do we? Because facing it has certainly screwed my head up and really set me back in the trust stakes.

Yes, yes we do. Because otherwise, we'll never really come to terms with evil. So many people still don't.

Take Hitler. Was he evil? He certainly did evil things. But was the dog loving Hitler who liked doing conjuring tricks at children's parties a fake?
Was the Stalin who secretly prayed in a locked church in the Kremlin with only one guard to see him do it, a man totally without humanity?

You see, the truth is, evil isn't what it appears. Generally, people who end up committing evil are capable of the most positive human emotions in many respects. Just not capable of knowing how to rationally use such sentiments.

They may well be people of strong passions, they may be capable of great warmth, they may well be kind to earthworms, they may be capable of touching someone on the cheek and looking at them with eyes full of love.

But they may not be capable of using those human sentiments positively. They may not be capable of seeing the world through anything other than their own subjectivity.

They may indeed, only be capable of loving in a way that ultimately tends to evil. The very thing that makes them evil, is their human sentiment.

Evil is the man who loves his country so much, he hates those who come from others.

Evil is the father who slays his own children rather than give them up to an estranged partner.

Evil is the man who truly believes that the feelings he has of love for children just cannot be unwholesome, because they don't feel that way to him.

Evil is the woman who will put her own love for a man above his own best interests- even if those best interests mean she has to give him up.

Evil is when people permit greater misery, by avoiding lesser ones.

Evil is when we allow ourselves to be ruled solely by the love we ourselves feel for someone or something, and we don't actually do what leads to the greatest flow of love going round.

Evil arises from the fact we are all capable of love.

And evil is the result of love.
And so is good.

That's the abyss. The horror of that truth.

It's about understanding the selfless nature of love, that hard to grasp paradox of humanity.

That love is all about a flow. It's about sacrificing everything to a higher love, including your own love.

In other words, it's when you stop striving to love and be loved, but strive to genuinely spread love.

It's about being prepared to sacrifice love for yourself, so that the world as a whole has more.

That's the difference between Good and Evil.
The only difference.


Anonymous said...

so this was a good story about you being in prison...wait! WHAT?

Anonymous said...

This post disturbed me.

Anonymous said...

Poody- :) No secret.

Moggs- It is still something that disturbs me, very much so.

And I didn't realise till afterwards, actually. You bottle a lot of this stuff up at the time.

Anonymous said...

This whole issue is a thing. It seems clear to me that it must be a very unusual person who does evil thinking it evil or not justifying it to themselves some how. Also few can be wholly bad/evil and no one is wholly good.

But crushed, Society sets a penalty for the crime you say that man committed. Does it not seem to you it may also be another sort of evil that can tacitly, even actively, consign someone who is suffering the designated punishment to a whole additional unending penalty?

You talk of putting down dangers to society that can not be fixed in your other post.

This sort of thing though is done through revulsion, hatred. There seems the desire to punish, hurt, inflict cruelty. Is that healthy?