Does having knowledge of evil cause a person to commit evil?


All Writings, Observations, Psychology / Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

This was saved as a draft and stayed among my unfinished writings for over a year. Finally, got around to finishing it with minimum revisions.

Evil exists.  Of this, human beings become aware much earlier than they learn to define what evil is.  As a little child, when that one experiences even minor hardships, it feels the evil, as opposed to feeling good.  Prolonged hunger, noisy environment inhibiting sleep, and not receiving the love of its parents all feel as evil to the child.  Every child enjoys being fed on time, to be able to enjoy sound sleep, and very much, of course, to be loved by the parents.  A similar thing happens as one gets more nuanced and detailed in comprehending evil.  Consequently, a grown person will learn to define evil and not just sense it.  It even may become the case that a person makes the defining of evils a defense mechanism.  He may define them for himself and on behalf of others – explaining its details – even if he may not alleviate the suffering experienced.  The latter becomes especially true in the case of the evil experienced by others.

Knowledge of evil

One would say, that the knowledge of evil has a twofold effect on the human mind.  On the one hand, as one understands the effects of lying or theft, one restrains the mind and the hand from such actions.  A person would also feel responsible in trying to stop another from engaging such either through teaching, or active resistance in the case of theft.  However, the very presence of the ideas, as they linger in the mind could precipitate those undesirable actions from some individuals.  Yes, this is a real possibility.  It is hard to imagine why someone would knowingly do what is wrong; why harbor such ideas of evil.

Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

To harbor is not to commit, but it is to remain burdened

It is how one keeps those ideas.  We call what is wrong, wrong.  Why do we do it?  We do it so as to remember to not give into it.  We remember the consequences.  We remember the intrinsic wrongness of some actions, our consciences working within us.

The important thing is, not to keep focused on such ideas.  How strange would it be that a man keeps thinking of not stealing, and then, is tired of this idea!  All the while, instead of focusing his attention on doing some work or helping someone, this man was thinking of stealing; whether to do it or not, then becomes secondary.

The weariness from the persistence of concern

Even with an abundance of caution – as one can see in religious circles or in politics, for understandable reasons – the persistence of concern will always become a burden.  The pre-occupation with evil, then, serves no good purpose.  Rather, it might very well become a reason for weariness.  To harbor (evil ideas) is not to commit, but is to remain burdened. Like someone, I knew used to say: “A person who is dieting shouldn’t keep thinking of how much he hates cake.”

The natural state of the mind finds peace in positive pursuits; an occupation with good

The human mind gravitates toward pleasure.  It is natural to do so.  Once again, going back to the example of hunger or sleeplessness.  The natural response of a human being, even a child, is to alleviate hunger or sleeplessness.  It is healthy to do so, for the mind and for the body.  Even in this, one would, of course, seek balance as in all other things.

Religious texts and the evil they contain

It has been said, and with good reason, that a book like the Bible is not good for a person’s psychological well-being.  It holds true also for many other religious writings.  The Mahabharata like much of the Old Testament, for instance, is also about wars and how families or kingdoms are divided over properties, ambitions, and envy.  However, those conclusions are surficial because when the human mind is applied in very specific ways in daily living, it is bound to then, find very particular ideas as solutions.

The seeking of solutions is, indeed, a very important human occupation.  We have surely gone so far beyond simply seeking solutions.  Humans have progressed so much in achievements, and then, spawned unforeseen problems – new and different kinds of evil.  Nuclear fission for electricity, and we must deal with nuclear waste or the danger of fallout.  Using fossil fuels, and we must deal with resultant pollution and the ill-effects to health and the environment.  Human living has been a competition with nature, and it has exceeded in losing the cooperative aspect.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”

— John Locke

Religion itself reveals an attempt toward good

The role of religion, whatever beliefs or systems of belief there may be, has been to clearly identify what is good and what is evil.  In this, there surely has been variation with time; there has also been an insufficiency of understanding during those time periods and in later retrospective studies.

One thing, though, is the repeated attempt toward good and the desire for such.  Yes, one does think of finally having arrived at a place, to a state of solution from which evil no longer rises.  Philosophers have wanted that; religious texts speak of it.  Both of these in the ideas of Utopia, of Paradise, or of Heaven (Hell, even, as a symbol of judgment) are ideas of that finality.  It is the human desire for relief, again manifest in what humans think and aspire for as societies and individuals.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it — always.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

Can the stages of evil be bypassed?

This is “the” important question.  The rise of evil even in very small ways in isolated places, or in some grand display spanning several nations seems to be an inevitable stage.  The cycles of good and evil seem to be as repetitive as the existence of human generations.  Every generation must find itself battling the same old issues, trying to understand in those historically existant ways, going through the same experiences… desiring those perfect outcomes, again-and-again.

Since learning is a part of what makes human existence, it has to be said that almost all humans seem required to start with a blank slate.  The exceptions seem to be born with knowledge or experiences implanted at a deeper level, ready to be expressed – science and nescience deriving different interpretations.  In this learning, it is each individual interacting freshly, or as trained, to existing information.  Aside from this, there’s a very complicated set of relationships that can be at work, and usually are.  Finally, we get individuals and their societies.  One would hope, such societies are disposed for what is good, not evil; although, it is, of course, understood that every society has its evils in teachings, in portions, or certain individuals.  It is simply not possible to predict at the individual level, but one does find signs of how evil starts to dominate and manifest itself in persons.  A large enough gripping of societies with madness is what we now wish to avoid at all costs, having seen the damages caused by wars.  And wars have never solved problems – only exacerbated them, or created a new cycle for evils to rise.

Bypassing at the level of information – a desire, an unrealistic expectation

It would seem that creating a system of perfect, flawless information is the best chance a society can give its persons.  There immediately seems to be a neglect of the fact that humans have creativity, artistic inclinations, originality, and autonomous thought-processes.  Given all this, attempting to curtail evil – if not eliminate it – at the level of information would seem the most justifiable desire.

However, the important consideration immediately is, if one is actually looking at the right thing to tackle the problem of evil?  Is it not a matter of the heart, more than of the mind?  And therefore, is it not a matter of qualities like kindness, compassion, love, and humility that have a major role to play?  And when one looks at matters this way, one immediately recognizes, there are sets of information that no matter how much one would try to, cannot be brought to become subject to those good qualities of the heart.  The killing of another human being, the theft of another’s goods or property, the deception through lying, etc., all of these break the principles that have brought people together in the first place.

So, we find, that civilization holds society together in its families. Families come together for a better existence. It is, however, the individual member, after all, who needs to have personal reasons, beliefs, and actions above all that will become the bedrock on which human society shall stand. It is the individual’s perception of good and evil, the willingness to communicate these with others, and to the holding of a high standard that words cannot fail; for they stand evidenced forever by actions and by patience.


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