Few words are as misused as the word 'Evil'. In the present day America, Evil seems to have become something of a myth and an abstract concept. Movies, books, and songs have inundated us one recurring theme: Evil equals Cool. Unfortunately, this proposition is the direct result of a repeatedly proven wrong line of philosophy called Aristotelian logic.

The standard progression of misunderstanding begins like this:

People with wit, style, and poise are cool.
The villain has wit, style, and poise.
Ergo, the evil villain is cool.

If the common man had paid any attention in school, they would have learned about a Venn Diagram in at least one of their classes. If the common man did learn this, and bothered to actually let their brain think for themselves, as opposed to the media, they would be able to see for themselves the flaw in the example above. But enough about the stupidity of the common man; if you are spending your time reading an online encyclopedia, you are far from common.

Unfortunately the uncommon people fall for it as well, because no one ever puts it in quite the same words as above, so let us start with an example of ultra-cool villainy from the movie The Fifth Element: Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg, played by Gary Oldman.

Perhaps one of his most memorable roles ever, Gary portrayed Zorg as an extremely charismatic, confident, and ruthless leader with the gift of gab. He knew he was evil, and didn’t care because it made him one of the most powerful men on Earth. Sure he had his flaws, but what cool guns and clothes he had! How could you hate someone who can smile and delivery witty dialogue while killing someone?

This is a man who would see all life in the Universe destroyed, and yet his character is beloved by almost everyone who has seen this movie. Why?

Because he was just so damn cool. Which in and of itself is fine. The point of a villain like Zorg is to get the audience to sympathize and understand him better before he gets his just reward. It is a writing, directing, and acting technique that, if used well, can bring dimensions to a a character who might otherwise be a flat cliché.

The problem starts when people think that Coolness and Evil are one in the same. This has been a gradual progression over the course of history. For instance:

There are countless etymological examples of how words are twisted into other meanings. None have been so effective as reuse of words with normally negative connotations. We are a society infatuated with Evil. Need more proof? Here is a progression of words that once had positive connotations:

Over the course of a few hundred years, humanity has turned its collective face away from the reality and existence of Evil, and maintained the philosophy that ignorance is bliss. Evil, before the modern-day comforts and standard of living, was a real and tangible force. People knew the reality of persecution and tyranny. In modern-day America, these concepts have been reduced to outrage at the McDonald’s not serving breakfast after 10am. As we water down the language further and further to avoid offending anyone, we lose sight of what those words meant, and what they stood for.

And yet, despite all this, most people in modern-day America still believe themselves to have a good knowledge of what is, and is not evil. In truth, most are very sadly mistaken, and such lame uses of the word “Evil” continue to numb us to the very concept the word stands for. Overuse and replacement of meaning in words have stripped society of so many concepts of Good and Evil it’s almost a hopeless endeavor to bother writing about it.

So, how does the modern American society view Evil?
  • My parents are Evil. – Did they beat you? Did they molest you? Did they murder others? Do they feel no remorse for these heinous crimes? Or have they been dubbed evil because you got grounded for two weeks for doing something stupid. There are certainly evil beings out there who have spawned children, sometimes by force. But unless they have performed acts of true evil, it is more likely that you are simply displeased with their disciplinary measures. Disciplinary measures are a sign that they care, and caring about your children is not Evil.
  • The corporations are Evil. – Does this corporation force others to buy their products? Was a gun held to your head when you decided not to buy their product? Was your family dragged out into the street and systematically shot, because you commented negatively on their latest commercial? Or do they simply produce a good or service that you personally dislike?
  • The Government is Evil. – Historically, America has made many of the same mistakes of other countries. We have slaughtered civilians in the past. We have enslaved others. We have had ghettos and concentrations camps. We have committed genocide on indigenous peoples. I daresay you the reader will be hard-pressed to find a country that has not done any of these things in the past. This is the nature of man. To destroy. The fact that our government no longer performs or endorses these actions (and fights against them) should be a testament to learning from our mistakes. Instead, it is viewed as hypocrisy. Are regret and atonement such alien concepts that we can no longer believe that even the leaders of our country are capable of such things? If the men and women we trust to run that nation cannot be trusted, how can we even begin to trust the common man? In fact, who can you trust at all?
  • My pet is Evil”. – Is it? Has your cat or dog developed such a profound understanding of right and wrong, had such a philosophical epiphany, and a knowledge of history, that it has developed a remotely human concept of Good and Evil? Domesticated animals act the way they do because either they are the Alpha leader, and thus have free license to act as they please, or they are following the example of their Alpha leader, which is generally the pet owner. If the actions of your pet displeases you, consider being a better leader.
  • The (inanimate object) is Evil! – Even keeping an open mind to the concept that an inanimate object should become imbued with an unnatural intelligence, and that this intelligence actively seeks to perform acts of evil, it is hard to ever take these words seriously when constantly used in reference to common household objects from Wal-Mart. Your toaster is not Evil. Perhaps it does not work properly, that is called a malfunction. Evil does not give a damn about technological glitches, except when they pose an inconvenience.
  • This (food) is Evil! – Food comes in many forms, some of which are animal. (see above notes on “evil pets”). Unless your food is that of a human being, or has been corrupted by dark occult powers, it is doubtful that those little chocolates or the plate of sushi is actually a force of Evil unto itself. Food may be ingested, and assimilated into the human body, but Evil lurks in the heart, or more specifically, the incorporeal soul and mind. So, unless your food consists of souls and thoughts, (which, while very low in calories, offers nearly no nutritional value), it is even less possible for your food to be evil than it is for your pet to be evil. Addictive and delicious? Perhaps. But chocolate is no more evil than cheese.
  • I’m Evil when it comes to playing (game)… – Again, the assumption that evil means “cool”, or more specifically in this case “good at”. Perhaps the self-proclaimed source of evil would even go so far as to cheat at playing this game, but if someone is used to talking smack, they don’t generally need to cheat. And if someone cheating is the worst example of Evil you ever experience in your life, count yourself lucky beyond any imaginable odds. Still, most would never consider cheating on par with actually being evil. If the gamer were truly evil, beating him or her at the game would result in your being physically harmed or murdered as an example to others.

The line between humor and denial is wide indeed when it comes to coping with tragedy. As older generations die off, content in the assumption that future generations will fix the mess they made, the younger generations are less and less exposed to true evil. What is true evil? That is a subject debated for eons. Has true evil become any less vile? Doubtful. If anything, the increase in technology has allowed evil the survivability of the cockroach and forums with which to congregate and exchange ideas.

Within your favorite hangout, evil could be lurking, but you’d never know, because the concept has become such watered-down mush that thoughts of real atrocities rarely arise. They rarely arise, because the tools to warn the next generation of the destructive effects of Evil have been systematically worn down over the last century or two. Language no longer conveys a subtle reminder of darker times. Instead, those reminders have been turned into slang terms for pop culture. Television avoids any in-depth coverage of truly horrific events such as pedophilia and mutilation, and instead concentrates on less disturbing topics. Government attempts to combat Evil, but such rampant distrust of government has caused support for these fights to wane and eventually dissolve into bickering about petty details from a press conference months previously. The few parents and teachers who care, are unable to act, because discipline in the school and home has become all but completely outlawed. Nice guys continue to finish last, and women continuously fall for assholes.

Where, in the midst of all this, have people been prepared to face the reality and ugly face of real and terrible Evil? The only two situations left to expose and train us to deal with evil are real life, and the movies. Since most Americans have never faced an evil more real than mere violence, that leaves only the movies, where, if evil even has a human face, it is an attractive and charismatic one. And so, though I am not a Christian, I close with this quote by Charles Baudelaire

'Dearly beloved, never forget, when you hear anyone vaunt the progress of enlightenment, that the Devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist!’ - The Generous Gambler, 1864.