The hateful march in Charlottesville,
the so-called Alt Right, White Supremacy.
The massacre in Las Vegas, Mass Murder, Gun Violence.
Sexual Harassment in Hollywood and many other spheres of society.
Bullying, the trauma suffered by kids who just want to go to school without fear and being shamed.
Falsification of the News, The Corruption of the Truth, A Culture of Corruption and Greed, Cabinet officers flying all over the world at your expense, Social Media that is uncontrollable and claims no responsibility
These are just a few examples from current events. We are a country that seems to be finding it difficult to distinguish between “good and evil.”
In The Dark Knight, what I think is the best Batman movie ever, a man who calls himself the Joker is wreaking havoc in Gotham City, killing many innocent people. The question is why. He gives different answers, none of which seem to be true. Bruce Wayne cannot understand why someone would do such evil things. His butler and father figure, Alfred, tells him a story about when he was in Burma. There was a bandit who kept killing people to rob them of precious stones. But then he
just threw the jewels away. Bruce Wayne asks Alfred: So why steal them?
Alfred answers: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
I tell you about this scene because it’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard about evil. We try to explain why people do such evil against each other. Alfred tells Batman: We may not know how to solve the problem of evil, but we have to deal with evil with courage and strength.
In the Noah story, G-d deals with evil by destroying human beings and starting again with Noah and his family. G-d cannot tolerate how humans do such evil to each other.
G-d is saying that the fate of humankind depends upon the realization that the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, is superior to all other distinctions. But making the distinction between good and evil the most important distinction of all leads to the vital recognition that any social organization, in fact any relationship between individuals, spouses, children and parents, teachers and students and a multitude of interactions consists of knowing the good from bad and acting on that distinction.
The problem is that the existence of evil, of that which is “bad,” has become so corrosive that it has eaten away at our very ability either to recognize it, or speak up against it.
How is it possible that decades of violence against women perpetrated by one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood would be suppressed in an utterly misunderstood confusion over what is right and wrong?
How is it possible that we still argue over the “right” to own weapons of mass destruction so that madness and death can be sprayed over a group of innocent men and women?
How is it possible that with all the most sophisticated algorithms available to Silicon valley, that no CEO of any social media company feels the responsibility, the obligation, to find a way to distinguish between hate mongering, the falsification of news reports and filtering out that which is poisonous from that which nurtures real discussion and the exchange of healthy, if differing, ideas and points of view?
But first we have to recognize evil—not call it by another name, or place the blame for evil acts on demons, or
Satan or sin. That’s a cop out.
One cannot legislate away evil, but one must recognize it for what it is and then legislate those laws that would make it impossible for the kind of evil episode that occurred in Las Vegas to have ever happened in the first place.
Not to offer that kind of legislation is evil. Not to do so violates the foundation of human society. Not to subject the Second Amendment to a closer look as to how to maintain the right to bear arms while at the same time to confront the obvious scandal of giving arms to the mentally ill, to permit the purchase of military style weapons, or not subjecting everyone to a thorough background check before buying arms—that is evil.
There are not enough voices strong enough to prefer unpleasantness with an alliance for the good to make a difference and wake us all up. And that is true in a long list of issues confronting us from harassment which is kept quiet for decades to climate change whose science is unassailable; from Charlottesville and the Alt Right to the falsification of news and outright lies that poison our intellectual environment.
Knowing the difference between “good and bad” is a lifelong endeavor that is the responsibility of every human being. Some people just want to watch the forest burn. We have to stop them.