Perhaps even atheists repeat the admonition that “the love of money is the root of all evil”… a phrase common to the point of cliché. Yet there are many who do harm without any clear profit motive. Is evil a character trait or a symptom of a greater, deeper problem? From whence do these behaviours arise? Is willfully inefficient social design an underlying cause of the public tragedies which proliferate on the news feed?
So what is the opposite of evil? Good? What is good? That’s easy… Good things make people feel good and well in their minds and hearts. Maslow’s hierarchy is a generalization of what things make people, in general, feel well and do good things. We like to call a lot of this “human right” territory. It’s easy to see that food, shelter and community (among other things) help people do their best work and have healthier relationships. Who wants an airline pilot or kindergarten teacher to have to rely on food stamps to buy food? Not only is it a wound to the soul, it’s also potentially dangerous.
When a bus driver or pilot or police officer is unduly stressed by the burden of simple things like the cost of fuel to drive back and forth to work or how to buy school clothes for their children, they don’t do their best work. At some point, their health will fail, and, certainly, one could have concerns about the quality of work they do. When parents are financially pushed to take one or more spare jobs just to make ends meet, the children suffer from their parents’ absence, and behavioural problems are bound to follow.
Although simplistic for the sake of brevity, I would like to propose that “evil” could be defined as willful inefficiency. The desire to value and be valued, to connect with others, and to share with others, is almost universally ingrained in healthy human psychology. Desires for vengeance, fear of further loss, and legitimate pain from being wounded, cause people to behave in ways that cause harm to others. We look for “reasons why” bad things happen… blaming parents or tools or faults in the brain… but the chain of blame doesn’t go far enough. The goldfish doesn’t think much about his water, and the citizen often ignores the structure of society as long as they can make it through one more season with some hope ahead.
Willful inefficiency is organized beyond the sphere of the “regular guy”. There is no single target for blame, but as science reveals further and further that working in the dirt can have anti-depressant effects, that parents being present for their offspring is a good thing, that working too many hours with too little reward destroys a body, there is a next question… Can the values of a society be changed to allow individuals to seek their own health and happiness without fear of devastating and inescapable stress and debt?
The nice lady at the corner store told me she worked ten days in a row with no break. I don’t have to see her bank balance to know that financial security is likely foreign to her. I don’t have to be in her home to know her fatigue and stress compromise her relationships and food decisions. She shows up to work and does her best and the best years of her life slip away. I do not suggest that a “hand out” is an answer, but I have serious questions for a society that considers this a normal way to live… For those who organize and legislate and take from the “peasants” who clean our floors, mind the till, and raise tomorrow’s children. This is not efficient, and it’s not human.
Inefficiency is in inadequate health insurance, overprocessed foods that fill the markets and don’t nourish. It’s in the corporations that allow misleading and harmful “food like products” to be produced and in the advertising professionals who find a way to make people buy more of them. It’s in the for-profit schools and prisons and in farm subsidies that still don’t take care of farmers. It’s in planned obsolescence of electronics and the marketing strategies that drive consumers toward the next car, phone, or gadget. This is the “death by a thousand cuts”. This is the manifestation of evil and we, the people, can do better, one vote, one purchase, at a time.