Last night on “The Story Telling Podcast” we were talking about what makes a good villain, and making them less cliche. So I started to think; What does ‘evil’ really mean?
The idea of something being inherently evil isn’t new. Man started walking upright and venturing out of their caves and into open land where more food was available, but so was more danger. I am sure the various monsters of the time trying to eat them seemed ‘evil’. As they developed into societies they also had to worry about rival bands of early hominids. Wolves, bears, and lone people out in the deep forests. That is why most of the villains in old fairy tales are woodland creatures and witches in the woods.
But society has changed. We now have scientific understanding of how ecologies work, and how to avoid danger in the deep dark woods. We know how to light up the night so they aren’t as dark anymore. Those old fairy tales that use to scare our children into avoiding “the evil places” aren’t relevant to our modern age. The idea of ‘evil’ has changed, just as we have.
Now our biggest fears are natural disasters that we can not anticipate or stop, and other people.
If you watch the news it is clear that the world is polarized as to who they think is really ‘evil’. Extremist religious groups blame other religious groups. One country blames another nation. Politicians blame social media and ban twitter or Youtube. Corporations blame taxes. Poor blame corporations.
So who, or what, is really evil? Who is capable of really deciding?
Religious folks will point at god, and say god decides. But which god? There are so many to choose from, many of which teach similar things, but none of which are in full agreement. Then you add in the fact that interpretations of religious text has shifted over the centuries as culture has shifted. That is as evident as the multiple branches of EVERY religion now seen. It doesn’t matter which religion you look at, Christian, Islam, Buddhism, pagan… they all have sub sects that have differences in their belief structure.
The scientific minded among us might look to culture, but culture shifts and turns. Culture depends on so many facets of human development. Just ten years ago we still taught our children “being gay is wrong”, now several states have gay marriage, and the number is growing. And while I admit that it seems like the spread of some religions is part of the reason being gay was deemed “wrong”, it isn’t the entirety of it, and it will take a lot of work to fix the damage done.
What is evil? I think the simplest answer is “that which threatens a persons livelihood.” Be that a wolf trying to eat you in the dark forest, a rabid st bernard named Cujo, a wall street tycoon sucking up every last dime he can at the expense of real jobs, or someone taking over a plane and flying it into a building.
Evil is in the moment. It is dependent on a myriad of circumstances in our lives, and while one finds it evil another will hail them a hero. The tycoon doesn’t think he’s evil, he thinks he’s doing a fantastic job and won at life. The man in the plane thought he was striking a vicious blow at the capitalist pigs. Cujo was only doing what the virus told him to do.
Or ideas of evil change as we change. So do the creatures in the dark. Of all the creatures that haunted our dreams (vampires, werewolves, and witches) only zombies seemed untouched. Movies sprang up and they were just as scary as before. No zombie with sexy eyes, or illicit love affairs. No zombies trying to make peace with the humans. Just masses of rabid creatures that once looked human.
Until “Warm Bodies”.
So many of our dark creatures have been changed into something that was just misunderstood, and now we can be friends. Or if not friends, grudging allies. Now all we have left to fear is each other, and maybe the technology we create.
If evil is “that which threatens a persons livelihood” then the only thing more evil then humanity is time itself.