Recently, my friend*, MidLifeTraveller, wrote an interesting post on good and evil and free will. Please take a minute and read it. It’s very interesting and well thought out. It has been rolling around my brain for a few days and I felt I wanted to write about this.
I respect MLT very much. However, I disagree with her.
First, I find evil to be real.
Webster’s defines evil as:
Main Entry: evil
Inflected Form(s): evil·er or evil·ler; evil·est or evil·lest
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English yfel; akin to Old High German ubil evil
1 a : morally reprehensible : SINFUL, WICKED <an evil impulse>
b : arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct <a person of evil reputation>
2 a archaic : INFERIOR
b : causing discomfort or repulsion : OFFENSIVE <an evil odor>
c : DISAGREEABLE <woke late and in an evil temper>
3 a : causing harm : PERNICIOUS <the evil institution of slavery>
b : marked by misfortune : UNLUCKY
Let’s go with definition 1a. Hitler. Was Hitler evil?
In my mind, yes. He was "morally reprehensible". I personally believe that he was not a deranged person, but someone who’s thirst for power over took any morals he had. He was willing to sacrifice lives, and to think of other humans as lower life forms to get the power he needed.
While evil fits Hitler, this does not dispose his good nature. He could easily love others. He could be kind to some. Good and evil are not an all or nothing concept to me.
This leads right into her next point, are certain acts by people "good" and "evil"? Good question. I do my best to not label my kids as "good girl" or "bad girl" based on actions. I DO describe the actions as good or bad. It is BAD to hit another person. Why? It doesn’t respect them as a person or their space. It is BAD to bite another person. It is GOOD to share food with your sister. It is GOOD to use words to describe your feelings.
"Our whole justice system is predicated on a system of Punishment. This presupposes that we all have Free Will, and that every time a criminal commits a crime he performed a risk-benefit analysis first and decided that the consequences of being caught were outweighed by the perceived benefits of committing said crime."
I tend to agree that often there is a risk-benefit analysis. You don’t decide to rob a store without thinking of not getting caught. Similarly with speeding. How many of us drive over 55 (65) MPH? Yes, me too. We are aware that we could get a ticket, but we decide that going with the flow of traffic, or getting to where we are going at a certain time outweighs the risk. We may not do this in such a cut and dry thought process, but yes, we do a risk-benefit analysis.
The ideal justice system would be that people don’t do things because it is the WRONG thing to do. Not to be driven by fear of punishment, but because we know it is the WRONG thing. Unfortunately, we do all think and have our own systems of morals, and we are expected to follow SOCIETY’S rules of what is right and wrong, not our own. And, as Dr. Jay likes to tell Soleil, sometimes the rules are there just so we can all get along, not because it is the "right" thing to do.
As we have created our society over time, we have always had socially and "morally" acceptable behaviors. And we have consequences or punishments for violating these. If we disagree with these rules, we should make an honest effort to change them. And we have with changes to laws, Amendments to the (American) Constitution, etc.
MLT also stated:
"Now we do allude to "crimes of passion", suggesting that in certain moments of extreme emotion, a person will do something that he would not normally do. I say bullshit again. How can human nature be considered outside of so-called "premeditated" crimes? Crimes are part of human nature, premeditated or not."
I have to disagree here. I would expect most people find me a calm and collected person. I am not one who would hurt my children. However, in times of extreme emotion, I found myself in a situation where I was thinking of doing just that, hurting my child. Yes, I suffer from depression and a chemical imbalance. Does that excuse my violent thoughts at these times? No, but it is not in my personal nature to hurt a child. Is it human nature to want to kill another human? Or is it simply that because we are human and have the ability to do this that makes it part of human nature?
I don’t accept biology as an excuse for criminal behavior. I will agree that certain people are biologically tuned towards violent behavior. I remember learning in a bio class that XYY men (a trisomy involving an extra Y chromosome) are representing in prison as a higher percentage than in the free society. And yes, take a person whose behavior is altered by biology (which is all of us) and put him/her in a situation where we are not nurtured, but put down and abused and treated so negatively that he/she fails to accept the social constructs even for ourselves, he/she may fail to meet the needs of society.
I do agree with MLT on this point: Our societies fail these people that we call criminals, when we lock them into a jail and fail to give them the tools they need to turn around their lives. When teachers tell kids they are losers, we fail them. When we release a convict who has served their time and let them loose without anyone willing to hire them, we have failed them.
When we fail as a society to recognize those citizens in danger of criminal intent and fail to help them, then we are all to blame.
* When I say friend, I mean it. We met on a webboard. She moved to my area and we met and became friends. We have similar, yet different parenting philosophies, but we respect each other and that is one of the things that makes our friendship great!