Friday, January 21, 2011

Reflections on Madness and Evil

12 January 2011 and 21 January 2011

It seems to me that so many of our conceptions of madness (and evil) are grounded in this binary notion: Mad people do things “normal” people wouldn’t do and “normal” people don’t do things mad people would do. Similarly the logic of evil goes something like this: Good people do good things while bad people do bad things. In this tale people like Hitler are thus evil and beyond the normal human pale and so we other humans don’t, as a result, have to reflect on whether there is in each of us a potentiality for evil, small or large. Hitler in this equation, in other words, becomes fully other, almost nonhuman (dig the theodicy here). Apart from this being a classic example of meaning being constructed by a negative binary, is it a tautology?.

Some of you might be wondering what all of this has to do with the image of Orson Welles from his brilliant film, Touch of Evil at the top of this blog post. I put that image up there to remind you that evil is actually more complex than the binary of there's good and there's evil perpetrated by mad men would have it. In Touch of Evil Welles plays a cop, Captain Hank Quinlan, who illegally plants evidence on those he has a hunch committed the crime he is investigating. And it turns out his hunches are alwasy right. The film asks, among other things, whether the means, illegal planting of evidence, justifies a good end, convicting someone who committed a murder. You be the judge. What I think doesn't have to be judged here is that Quinlan, the man who has both bad and good in him, is a more realistic fictional character than the Hitler, Loughner, or Breivik of myth, particularly right wing myth, propagated by polticians, apologists, and the media in the modern West.

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