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What is True Evil?

Updated: Apr 30

For more on my philosophy on Evil, here are some articles:


Unmasking True Evil: From Naivete to Reality

What is true evil? Earlier in my life, I thought that there were no such thing as evil people, and that even despicable despots are not fully aware that their actions are evil, if at all. However, the more I grew up and the more I used English to communicate with the world, I have realized that there are more truly evil people than I have first imagined.

I have studied ethics in university, and in fact, the philosophy of morality was my first introduction to my former academic life. According to what I learned, there are three interpretations of morality:

  • Objective morality, which claims that good and evil are universal;

  • Subjective morality, which means that the definition of good and evil is up to the individual; and

  • Inter-subjective morality, which means that morality is largely determined by one's local society or community (nowadays it can be applied to online groups too).

I'm not absolutely certain about which variant of morality is the most correct one, but I do think that there are common components that are more obvious than others. And no, I do not refer to having an evil laugh, which is absurd and cliché. Those who think that is a good enough evidence for true evil might as well be deep in Plato's cave.

Nonetheless, some villains from fiction do have some evil that can be applied to real life. Many classical villains can simply be regarded as crime lords, or people who run criminal empires or businesses. However, some are for some reason marketed as "supervillains" because they're rich and/or are high-tech (like the Joker, who does not even have superpowers). But I digress.

Morality, Deception, and the Quest for Self in a World of Villains

I found out that in order to be regarded as a villain, both in fiction and in real life, one must commit crimes, or at least, consider doing so as a likely possibility. I enjoy the idea of "taking over the world," but I would not overthrow legitimate governments just to do so, right? So, in a way, evil can be seen as a breach of legitimacy. And while breaching legitimate law is evil, some cases may deserve that the law will be broken in the name of good.

The problem with this idea is that crimes are relative to the place or country one is currently in. Criticizing the government is considered a crime in a few places (Hence one of the reasons North Korean philosophy fails without oppression), but in most of the world it is usually okay to do so.

It does not mean that disapproving the government is an evil act objectively. That notion would be ridiculous. Committing murder or attempting to do so, on the other hand, is evil, at least in theory, even when you are a government official or representative, which could mean that we shouldn't murder not only practically but also morally. I am not a lawyer, so I will leave it at that.

Being a jerk doesn't necessarily make one evil. Maybe it makes one less good, but not evil. Having an attitude problem is nothing more than behavior, is it not? Also, what if it's possible to be a jerk and also have a heart of gold? Some people simply have a different natural behavior than what is normally expected of them, which could cause problems in life. And yet, they could still be decent in some ways.

Thus, simply having certain personality traits, do not contradict morality. Nietzche, for example, might've opposed society, but he wanted people to become what he believed to be the best version of themselves: The Overman. Would you, then, call Nietzche evil for opposing social order in his philosophy (like sociopaths do in practice)?

Maybe it is desired for one to be kind and compassionate, as that would be a good behavior, but lacking in these is insufficient for goodness overall. Maybe the one who is deemed a jerk is in fact a good person, as evident by their deeds? Remember: Not all jerks are monsters, and some people, like the fictional character Gus Fring, use their niceness as a front to their true evil.

As you can see, a good attitude or even a gentlemanly one, is a good way to enable evil.

It seems that law is necessary to have a much clearer understanding of good and evil, and not just any law, but law that would be agreed by as many people as possible. Agreed, as good and as just.

And that is exactly why people who tend to be more evil, AKA, tend to defy good law, are deceptive and lie below the radar. It might be easy to use good acts not only to cover evil, but also for the long term -- as mere tools one can mention as excuse. This is how the fallacy of whataboutism flourishes.

After all, no one wants to get caught and have their reputation ruined, or at least, be condemned for good by society! It's for that reason, as to why I don't like deceiving anyone, as I have no desire to be evil, or even be tempted to become evil. It's simply not worth it.

Being an article baron and contributing insight is better than profiting over the misery of others by being a drug baron.

The internet is full of scammers, and this comes from someone who is online almost entirely. It's easier online to hide your true intentions and pretend to be someone you're not. In a way, those who tend to be more evil have much more interest in deceiving the external world. It isn't because they necessarily do anything wrong, but because they may be wise enough to understand that evading authenticity can save them from public condemnation and humiliation.

Hence the value of secrecy: Better not to ruin one's ambitions by being so recklessly open. That is the wonder of having a nickname or a false identity; it makes it harder to trace activities back to you.

And maybe, the main source of evil doesn't come from the desire of material gain, but from preserving our own self-interest above all. After all, we must care for our own skin in order to survive, otherwise no one else might do it for us, right? But when that self-preservation turns to greed and vanity, that is where it is corrupted, in the form of making others unnecessarily suffer for your own gain.

Unnecessary dependencies on validation have a potential to cause that kind of evil. I mean, if you think making others unnecessarily suffer or capitalizing on their addictions will help you feel important and respected (Like "Heisenberg"), maybe not all ends justify the means. And consider the fact that consumerism's ambition is to engineer and capitalize on otherwise-prevented dependencies!

As a result, some of us would not care much about morality, about justice, about equality, and would mainly, if not only, seek to satisfy their own ego, above that of others. Maybe the ego is the ultimate source of human evil, assuming other beings are not necessarily as evil as we, as a species, or capable of being.

What if the seeking of greater wealth is but a product of the ego, and not by itself, the "source of all evil," as they say? Even if an identity is necessary in order to exist and to identify other things in comparison, it could still contain the possible fact that it is the elementary source of (human) evil.

The ego is divided into the Id and the Superego. The Id craves fulfilling their desires at all costs, and the Superego seeks justice, punishment, and atonement. That's what I, at least, recall from my psychology class back in high school.

A Former Hospital Clerk's Awakening to the Cost of Indifference

What if some people just don't care at all about morality, about anything that is considered "good," "noble," and "respectable"? Maybe these people are the evilest of all, especially when they pretend they do, and raise no suspicion as a result. Maybe those who lack any remorse or compassion for another living being, human or otherwise, and would not care if this being will die, are those who are "worthy" of being called "true evil."

During my national service, I worked at a hospital as an archive clerk. I was told that the files I was working with were not numbers, but actual people. People with problems, illnesses, and injuries, who required medical assistance. Retrospectively, I am surprised I wasn't as motivated as I could have been, or, more correctly, as I should've been. Because these files were not just files but practical symbols with power over human lives.

I really worked hard there and entered into something I call "The Reaping Fatigue Era" but I digress. Good work has a lot of value to me over prestige. I felt small in comparison to my job at the time, and I probably underestimated the role, despite the hard work I put into it.

It is difficult for me to determine, for some reason, the fact that the numbers in my analytics are real people, even though I know they are and being very mindful, in a Shinto-ish manner, can definitely help. I must make sure that I won't become a disposer, so easily, if I want to avoid evil. It's important to realize that people are more than numbers, and that they deserve respect and tolerance too. Evil, while tempting, isn't a good idea. No pun intended.

I have no desire to treat anyone as expendable. For me that a degree of evil that easily led to horrible atrocities I refuse to enable with my behavior.

For me, at least, true evil is most clearly expressed when one is joyful due to the fact that someone died, who wasn't evil themselves. Maybe I am still too naive, though, given the joy of some when the British Queen Elizabeth II died. I can't see their reasoning, morally, at least. But they did put their own humor above grief, which fits my head canon on "true evil": Which is gaining a profit of some kind off the misery or misfortune of another.

What do you think? What is true evil?

Ms. Tamara Moskal argues:

Evil is difficult to define as suffering is subjective and depends on the individual sensibility and circumstances. Every action has the potential to cause pain and suffering for a universal right or wrong reason, and yet, in both cases, it’s suffering. Our Earthly existence is based on inequality as we must eat and “fight”/work to live. Therefore, to live, we kill (animals), banish, and fight other humans to make our families thrive in relative safety and comfort. We make choices and are subject to choices, making some happy and automatically others miserable.

Inequality and unfairness are a part of life itself, as one is born in a loving and prosperous home while another is an unloved and hungry child knowing nothing but evil around them. Yet, no species could survive too long with evil as a guideline, as evil is too destructive at its core. The universe balances good and evil, and our lives mirror it in its dualistic essence.

For our good, to survive, we are equipped with an inborn moral compass refined by intellect and education to make choices based on compassion and consideration of others. The morals are meant to prevent us from causing unnecessary suffering/evil and to understand the consequences of our actions for others. Not having or disregarding a moral compass might lead to evil deeds, which means an imbalance. In such a case, the unbalanced person can become a true evil” being.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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