Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Thu Oct 20 14:56:46 2011
Evil as a concept

Today, on the way downtown, I met up with another cousin-by-convention for tea and a walk. She's working for a research group on the west coast that does treatment of PTSD and related mental problems for aid workers in hectic parts of the world. One of the topics we talked about was religion; I pressed my idea that "evil" and "good" are not sensible ways to look at the world, and she surprised me with a rather unusual (and not particularly religiously linked) notion of evil; when a harmful act's consequences resonate and cascade to create more harmful acts throughout society ("take a life of its own", as she put it). She wasn't talking about the kind of moral decay that happens when society's worthwhile norms are challenged so much as twistedness and damage to individuals. One example she gave (among a few) was when a victim of child abuse is more likely to both accept victimisation throughout their life and then go on to abuse others. Presumably another (this is an example she did not give) would be when people made fragile by PTSD snap in stressful situations.

I thought this was really interesting; I still would be loathe to use the term "evil" for this, because I think it's tied to religious superstitions, but this is a powerful enough idea that I want to give it a better name and add it to my library of things to think about. It's not that I was blind to the idea of cascading brokenness, but for me it was an unnamed and relatively unexplored consequence of a lot of first-class entities in my notions of human nature, while she has it as a first-class well-developed entity. With a bit of removal of the religious ties (I think she might be vaguely religious), there's stuff I can do with this.

I love having conversations like that. New ideas are to me now what new toys or software were to me in youtth, and the conversations themselves, while often uncomfortable, make me feel less lonely in my intellectual wanderings.