Warren Dunn

Evil is as Evil does?

by Warren Dunn April 10, 2020

On next Friday I begin a new weekly opinion commentary on the political environment we are all living through.  I am doing this because I believe that Americans need to speak up about the unprecedented issues of disparity, diversity, and disunity that we are experiencing in a nation that professes to hold the values of equality, fair play, and compassion as founding principles.   If we who hold those values do not express our allegiance to them, our nation will flounder and the light from that shining city on that hill will flicker and die out.

I don’t believe I am being an alarmist.    There is ample evidence that the nation has problems.  Sixteen million unemployed as a result of a virus that was detected early and ignored until it was too late.   The division between the haves and the haves-less and the have-nothings is as great as it has ever been.  Organized religion as a moral force has become the domain of the elderly.  The public schools that were once the envy of the world seem unable to stay relevant by teaching the skill sets needed to survive in a society where brain power is more important that muscle power.   The “home of the brave” seems to fear those who are brave enough to abandon homelands in search of a better life.   It took a pandemic to demonstrate how vulnerable our health care system is to “managed” care.    Nothing is 100 percent.   Progress has been made in many areas, but what’s right and good needs much less attention than what is wrong and bad.

As Kurt Vonnegut has written, “And so it goes,” which I choose to be an indictment of those who led us into two world wars within the time it takes to come of age, but what he may have meant is that the wrong and bad are always with us.  So there is much to write about and my goal is keep it fact-based.   Although what I write may be only opinion to some, my hope is that there are others who will regard it as interpretation based on fact.   Time will tell if I’m successful and I invite criticism.

While I want to be provocative in these commentaries, because no one wants to be bored, I intend to choose my words carefully.  Or try to.   For someone who made his living with words, there are some I don’t like and won’t use in formal or public settings.  “Hate” is one, because it is too categorical and mindlessly provocative; liar is another because it isn’t nuanced enough, and “love” is another because it is too general and too confusing (23 different definitions.)  Nonetheless, to be clear, “love,” when expressed privately between individuals, family, and friends is one of the most thrilling words in the language, but also one of the most dangerous when misused in public.  Among the wrong-headed uses of “love” is to claim from the pulpit that God’s love will protect you from the coronavirus. I do not hesitate to suggest that to make such a claim is “evil.”  No.  Masks and social distancing will.    It is reassuring to note that most of the faithful are finding creative ways to worship, but those who keep their church doors open and invite the malleable in are, in my opinion, public enemies and what they are doing qualifies as “evil.”

I do not use that word lightly.  It is almost anathema to me to do so because to use that word to define  somebody is to claim they are irredeemable and their actions inexcusable.   Although the apple that fell from the parental tree rolled down the hill at a pretty steep clip, the core remained somewhat intact. When Mom said you’d better be pretty sure of your facts when you use any of the loaded words above, it stuck.

So when someone at a six-foot-between-guests-virus cocktail party said that what the Republicans did to the voters of Wisconsin recently was “evil,” I winched.   All the years I lived in Washington, D.C., I don’t think I ever called someone who disagreed with me “evil.”   A lot of other unflattering names were applied to their mental capacities, but not that one.  

Nonetheless, what had been said at that party intrigued me, so I decided to go to my Oxford Dictionary and look up the word to see if the accuser was justified.  The central issue to me was whether evil was primarily defined as an individual character fault, and whether it could be attributed to a collective. I brought with it some preconceived notions.   Jim Jones was evil.  Hitler was evil.   But were Jones’ victims “evil” to believe in him sufficiently to commit suicide?   Catholics are struggling to reconcile the difference between suicide as a denial of God’s intentions or whether it might be an option to avoid needless pain.  Were all Germans mesmerized by Hitler?   Of course not.  So even “evil” is subject to revisionism when applied too easily and too broadly. 

When I looked up “evil” in the dictionary, here’s an edited version of what I found.   You can make up your own mind whether you thought what the Republicans did with the Wisconsin primary election was  “evil” or just a smart political move.    

“Evil: morally wrong…(action) characterized or accompanied by misfortunate or suffering…due to actual or imputed bad conduct…marked by harm, mischief….anything causing injury or harm. “

It’s an easy call for me.

The long lines of voters, most wearing masks, waiting hours just to vote, risking their lives to exercise their right to be heard despite the Republican efforts to make it not just difficult but dangerous speaks volumes about what is morally wrong with a political party that has long outlived its usefulness at a time when an efficient and benevolent Federal government is essential to life itself.  

3 replies on “Evil is as Evil does?”

Was it solely a Republican effort to hold the primary vote in Wisconsin? I’d like to believe there was a sane and competent Republican running against Trump in the primary. Or are you suggesting the Wisconsin Republicans, whoever they might be, just wanted democrats in line waiting to vote and thereby risking their lives? It appeared to be a lack of leadership in the face of crisis at best and more likely just stupid, stupid, stupid. Another word that needs to be considered wisely before using but I need to listen to Gov Cuomo’s live announcement….

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