I’ve thought long and hard on this for a very long time, years, in fact, ploughing my way through the moral maze of intent, unintended consequence and much, much more in my quest to find a working definition of evil and this is it (drum roll please…)
“Hell is paved with good intentions.”
Evil must be the willingness to advance your own goals at the expense of others. Do your actions cause suffering, no matter how well-intentioned? Do people feel abused, distressed, enslaved, exploited, helpless, persecuted, burdened, maltreated, suppressed, subservient, tyrannised or tormented by your words, deeds or ethical position!
In other words, do they feel that they are not being treated fairly as a result of your deeds, words or actions, do they, in fact, restrict the freedoms of others to live as they please, do your actions cause suffering? If so then you are undeniably evil.
You now have a yardstick with which to measure your own actions, but it can also be applied to others in the same way. So the next time you see some politician or civic leader, pontificating about policy, ask yourself will anyone feel abused, distressed, enslaved, exploited, helpless, persecuted, burdened, maltreated, suppressed, subservient, tyrannised or tormented or will their actions cause suffering should they get their way? If the answer is yes then they are advocating for evil.
A Good Life
A good life is one in which adults can live their own lives on their own terms, provided that they don’t harm anyone else in the process, either directly or indirectly. Please note that I have deliberately mentioned ‘Adults,’ for the simple reason that children and vulnerable people need good parental supervision until they can make their own way in the world so different rules apply to them.
Nothing in nature is bad, because that would be contrary to the Logos, (in stoicism: the great organising principle of the universe that behaves in rational ways) likewise, we are all born free so freedom cannot be evil, yet we all willingly agree to a code of conduct that helps others understand us and our motives and in doing so protects us from harm. This is what we refer to colloquially as ‘the law,’ and ‘culture.’
In my country cats have the legal right to roam, this is a simple recognition that cats are born free and do whatever they want whenever they want and in doing so are very unlikely to damage property or cause injury to people, not at all like keeping a pet crocodile! It’s in the cat’s nature to be free and no amount of man-made rules will ever change that. A man might erect a fence but a cat will still climb over it. Our boundaries and rules mean nothing to any feline worth his salt! Similarly, you are also born free and nobody can take that away from you.
You might not feel free, you might feel heavily oppressed by whatever government you live under, but such a feeling is, in fact, a falsehood. Your freedom is absolute, just because a law has made it on to the statute books doesn’t mean that it’s real, all laws are mental fictions and can only apply to those that understand them. Whilst you might understand the rules of the society that has raised you and depending upon your geography those rules might be minimal or heavily tyrannical, you are nevertheless free to break those rules anytime you want. You are always free to act in any way that you desire, just like my cat!
Seriously, you are free to break any law that you want right now (please don’t!). What you are not free from is the consequences of doing so (assuming that is, that you are found out!) The consequences of lawbreaking might vary from place to place from mild punishment to extreme forms of torture, the fear of which might lead you to feel oppressed but this is oppression is something that can only take place within your own mind. You are free to reject this sense of oppression at any time in much the same way that you can choose to be happy in any circumstances, refusing to give any desires the assent they need to have a hold on you and remove your peace of mind.
Like all good stoics, I advocate that you follow the law wherever you live and do your best to support your nation-state, because the state has given you everything that you need to live a good life and continues to do so, no matter how bad things are the alternatives are much worse, involving savagery and barbarism. I am mindful of dear old Socrates who, having been wrongly convicted to death by the people of Athens, willingly drank the hemlock and would not undermine the state by escaping even though he could.
If you are unhappy with any laws then you should try to change them via any appropriate legal means at your disposal. As long as you are honest to yourself and others around you making your actions in ‘good faith,’ then history will remember you kindly. If there are no legal means at your disposal then do your best to maintain your freedom of mind and take comfort in the fact that such regimes do not last. Paranoia at the top, results in instability at the bottom, given enough time the whole house of cards collapses. Governments that do not respect or understand human nature, never last.
“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”
You can afford to sit by the riverbank and watching out for the bodies of your enemies…