Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guest Blog: On the Nature of Evil by Chris Kelly

Having decided to blog about evil, I had a few options. I could look at what I believe evil is, or I could look at how/why people become evil. Finally, I could look at evil as an externalised being; ie, Satan as one example.

Being indecisive, I decided to do all three.

What is evil?

Evil is a very solid word. You can almost feel the weight behind it when you say it aloud. Evil. Like the closing of a door, it’s a word that cuts things off, that rings with finality. Evil. There’s no going back, once you are evil.

But despite the fact that it is a solid word, it is far from a solid concept. In fact, it is nearly impossible to define evil except in the most abstract of terms. Murder is evil. But if you murder someone who was just about to murder an innocent, does the fact that you were preventing evil stop your act from being evil?

Stealing is evil. But if your family is starving, and its steal or die, where does the good come from with dying?

Paedophilia is evil. In some parts of America I would be considered a paedophile, because I had sex with someone under the age of 21. In my country the age of consent is 16, and she was over the age. Surely you can’t be evil based on geographical location?

It is a difficult concept to judge. There are so many “what if...” scenarios that can crop up. For example, let us say that killing an innocent is evil. I doubt anyone would argue with that point, because of the word innocent. A convicted murderer is executed. Afterwards, it is discovered he was an innocent man. The executioner killed an innocent, but he was just carrying out his orders. It was the jury who decided the innocent man was guilty. The jury murdered an innocent man, and thus are evil.

Why people become evil

The only way to define evil that seems to hold up to these scenarios is the consideration of intent. To decide, after looking carefully at the evidence, to end the life of a man who has apparently killed does not have an evil intent. To murder an innocent because you want to steal his phone would therefore be evil.

A thug who goes around beating people up because it makes him feel good about himself is evil. A thug who goes around beating other people up because it makes strangers feel safe on the streets (ie Batman) is not evil.

With both the jury, and Batman, the intent was to protect society. With the thug and the murderer, the intent was some kind of personal gain. So it would seem from this that selfishness leads to evil whilst altruism is bound in with good.

Looked at this way, it is clear that two people could do the same thing, for different reasons, and only one would be considered to be being evil. Which suggests that when a person becomes evil, it is a personal choice.

Of course, no one chooses to be evil, and from here it becomes clear that evil is a path. When one decision is made, it becomes easier to make a second decision. When you are mugging someone, and it doesn’t go as planned, it is a lot easier to stretch to killing than it would be if you weren’t already so far down the path towards evil.

Evil as an externalised Force

If evil rises from intent, and is a path then it is, ultimately, an internal thing. Evil, in my view, is simply the consequences of choices that every body makes. If this is the case, then it becomes obvious that externalised evil cannot exist.

Evil in Matilda Raleigh: Invictus

Evil is a huge part of Invictus. Matilda constantly questions herself, wondering if she is evil. As a youth, she made a deal with a demon, but she did it to save her father’s life. By intent, this was not an evil act. However, it led to her being possessed by another demon, which led to the young Matilda committing several acts of evil. Cured of possession, she has spent her life trying to redeem herself. And at the end of her life, she faces a choice, with either option being considered evil. How do you decide, when no matter what decision you make will lead to an act of evil?

Dr Tick Tock, the mad steampunk and clockpunk inventor, has spent his life being evil, but wants to redeem himself before he dies.

And then there’s the non-human characters; vampires and demons. Self-centred and arrogant, they can be evil or good depending on the decisions they make.

That is my view of the nature of evil. I’d love to discuss yours...

Chris Kelly is the author of Matilda Raleigh: Invictus, a story about evil and redemption, betrayal and duty, steampunk and sword and sorcery. Find him on TwitterFacebook, and his blog.


  1. Love the image. Batman? I suppose I referenced the Bat...

    Thanks for having me over.

  2. Yes, Batman, who beats the shit out of people in the name of saving the innocent, and Joker, who beats the shit out of people, kills them, and causes general mayhem in the name of, well, himself.

    Is Bats evil? Nah.

    Disturbed? Sure. Twisted? Of course. But, evil? No.

    Is the Joker evil? Most non-sociopaths would say yes. Ask the Joker,however, and he'd tell you that he's the sane one and Batman is the evil bully.

    Like you said, people's perceptions of good and evil are all relative.

    Great post.

  3. Love, *Love* this examination of evil. I write tortured heroes/heroines who have done "bad" things (sometimes in the name of good, sometimes not) and seek redemption. This makes so much sense to me. Great post!