Understanding the good through the evil

Darren D'Altorio

The world is littered with good and evil.

Granted, the moral and ethical implications for what qualifies a person or an action as either good or evil are debatable.

And that debate is of no concern to the following observation.

This observation is a simple one: All of the good deeds, actions, people and movements throughout history pale in comparison to the evil ones.

Billy Joel summed it up best: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”

No statement could be truer, in the sense that sinners and evil people are more fascinating than good people for many reasons.

See, the human mind wants to understand evil in every shape and form. Trying to deny that fact is impossible.

Just look at the news for proof. Injustice, murder, war, terror – these subjects take up most of the time on network news programs, with light-hearted stories about good people and events sparsely decorating the subject matter. “Conflict” is the word used to describe the entire broadcast news platform. And people watch to find out who is doing what horrible thing to whom and why.

Beyond the news, entertainment and evil go hand-in-hand.

How many “Saw” movies have been made? Over and over again, people pack movie theaters to see what deranged way people will be tortured and dismantled. Sure, girls shriek in fear and guys sit with their jaws dropped at the images flashing before them. But some masochistic trigger in the brain keeps their eyes peeled, forcing them to absorb the brutality. And they enjoy it.

Would a movie entitled “Mother Teresa,” a chronicle of one lady’s journey to the depths of compassion and care, make it to the fifth or sixth sequel? Doubtful. The first one would probably flop at the box office.

Somebody has to write the screenplays for all those twisted horror flicks. People actually let their minds wander to those filthy, murderous places in order to conceive the stories. This isn’t a new practice, but it is always intriguing. Shakespeare was exploring the perversions of humanity long ago, telling stories of brothers killing brothers and sons killing fathers for power, money and women. And these stories have been told over and over again, proving their effective impact on people.

These stories have such impact because the concept of evil is something every person can relate to. When presented with evil acts or people, a person can do one of two things. First, a person could chastise and criticize the evil, saying, “That is terrible. I would never do something like that or be like that evil person.” Or, a person could embrace the evil, thinking, “I want to know why and how any person can be or act so evil.” Both reactions conjure feelings, positive or negative, making a person think about what it means to confront and understand evil.

That confrontation can be therapeutic, such as how rapper Eminem kills his former wife, Kim, in his songs, but not in real life. He has acknowledged the evil thoughts in him and channeled those thoughts into creativity.

How do you understand the Holocaust? How do you understand the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center? How do you understand the genocide in Rwanda? These things happened and will continue to happen. Evil will manifest itself in people and horrible things will follow suit.

French philosopher, journalist and socialite Bernard-Henri Levy considers evil to be his main subject of inquiry because for him, being an intellectual is all about taking the long, crazy trip into “the brains of the butchers.”

“There is a true weakness in American thought today,” Levy said in an interview in Interview magazine, “the incapacity to be interested in the intelligence of evil.”

There is a certain intelligence that comes hand in hand with evil. That’s why evil is more interesting than good – because evil is like a big puzzle that needs to be solved. Good is just good. There are no selfish motives in being good, usually. There is no negative consequence for helping people. Goodness is a dead end. Yeah, there’s the idea that one good deed begets another. But there’s no guarantee in that. Some people are selfish and evil. A good deed could encounter an evil person, and that deed will die.

Psychologists, journalists, philosophers and religious types have tried to understand why people commit evil acts, exposing the mentality behind it. And the world eats it up like Skittles.

Documentaries on Charles Manson and other mass-murders and news stories about infiltrating enemy lines and terrorist organizations are all over television, the Internet and magazines. People want to experience evil in their lives in some way, either as part of the action, exposing the stories or as spectators attempting to understand evil from a distance.

Goodness in the world is obviously a good thing. And the world would be a better place if everyone would act like civilized, moral people. But utopia will never exist, so confronting evil will always be a part of humanity.

The good people in history and their actions have set good examples for others to follow. Evil people and their actions, when fully understood, have been the what-not-to-do examples, spawning good in a weird, twisted, roundabout way.

But, it’s more interesting to understand the good through the evil.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].