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MARTHA SEZ: Bad vs. evil

June 12, 2014
By Martha Allen , Lake Placid News

The knowledge of good and bad is different from the knowledge of Good and Evil. The difference is not easily explained except by metaphysicians and philosophers - and even then there is not widespread agreement, as you might imagine. You get metaphysicians and philosophers together, and they squabble just like a bunch of scientists. They would do this even if they weren't competing for grant money. It's their nature.

For the layman, I guess the way to put it is, evil is really, really scary, and possibly supernaturally so, whereas bad is part of everyday life - a drag, but not surprising. Compare the Evil One, the evil eye, and Dr. Evil with bad apple, bad dog, bad weather, bad trip, bad connection, bad road, bad hair day. Milk can go bad, a marriage can go bad, but evil is intrinsic, pure malevolence from the get-go. Luck can be bad, people can do bad things by accident ("Honey, it just happened"), but evil has intention.

Evil isn't measurable in degrees. Something can be pretty good or pretty bad. Bad, worse, worst; good, better, best. Evil is evil.

Article Photos

Photo by Tom Oates, 2010, via Wikipedia
Earwigs look evil, but they are among the few insects in which mothers care for their eggs and babies. So what does that make them?

Evil is rare, in shorter supply than badness, at least on this plane. Some people don't even believe in it. (Essay questions: 1. Can atheists believe in evil? 2. Can scientists believe in evil?) Badness, on the other hand, abounds, in myriad forms.

Then there is the thorny question of right and wrong. In every generation, you can always hear curmudgeons going on about how young people these days have not been taught right from wrong. I think most people actually do know right from wrong, but there is not widespread agreement on some of the finer points. What is right for some people in certain situations will be wrong for others, and vice versa. In determining whether a particular act is wrong, my rule of thumb is to consider whether I have ever committed said act, or am likely to do so in the future. If the answer is yes, I say, "Well, that's normal." Not that it's RIGHT, necessarily, but.

Legally, I believe - I have picked this up from television - perpetrators of heinous, even evil, acts that only insane people could possibly commit, are not found to be legally insane if they are shown to "know right from wrong." This method of evaluating mental health confuses many of us, but we generally do not complain too much because, for example, Charles Manson is still in prison, right? It gives a person one less thing to think about at 3 in the morning.

Even if we don't spend a lot of time analyzing good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil, we know what we know.

Take the subject of insects and arachnids. We could all go right down the list and identify the good, the bad and the ugly, with very little disagreement.

Ready? Tent caterpillars. Bad, even if they don't permanently damage the trees whose leaves they ravage. I don't care that they eventually morph into innocuous little gypsy moths. They fall into the category of Bad Bugs.

Tent caterpillars make their horrid webby nests when they are very tiny, from a substance they secrete from their heads. By day they crawl around eating the foliage off their host tree. At night, they crawl back into their family nests for protection. They eventually grow quite large and hairy, but even when they are still tiny, they are never cute.

Deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, are clearly bad. What about the lascivious Japanese beetles, soon to arrive, and the little red lily beetles, new to our area and already here, in various stages of development? All of the above are bad.

As you know, butterflies, ladybugs, honeybees, bumblebees and fireflies are good. Blackflies, houseflies and mosquitoes are bad.

Earwigs, however, may possibly be evil. You suspect this as soon as you look at them. Earwigs are not out yet - they are still lurking in their underground lairs - which is just as well. Right now, the mosquitoes and blackflies are enough to contend with. During the past week, everywhere in the North Country people are waving their hands in front of their faces, trying to fend them off. Only the females are bloodthirsty, but let's not extend an analogy to other species. That would be wrong.

Still, it's June, and it's all good. Or, as a scientist might say, "A statistically meaningful amount tends to be positive."

Have a good week.



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