MARTHA SEZ: ‘Bad, worse, worst. Good, better, best. But Evil is Evil.’

When Adam and Eve took a bite of the apple, thereby gaining the knowledge of Good and Evil, they bit off more than they could chew. We humans have been arguing about the permutations ever since.

The knowledge of Good and Evil is different from the knowledge of good and bad. 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 a bunch of metaphysicians and philosophers together and they squabble just like a bunch of scientists.They would do this even if they weren’t competing for tenure or grant money. It’s their nature.

For the layman, I guess the best way to put it is, Evil is really, really scary and possibly supernaturally so, whereas badness is simply run of the mill; a drag, but hardly surprising. Compare the Evil One, evil eye and Dr. Evil with bad dog, bad apple, bad hair day. Evil is pure and spiritual, more deserving of capitalization.

Evil is rare, in shorter supply than badness, at least on this plane. Many people don’t even believe in it. Badness is more readily available, or at least more readily recognized.

Another thing about Evil: It isn’t quantifiable. A thing can be pretty good or pretty bad. Bad, worse, worst. Good, better, best. But Evil is Evil.

Then there is the thorny question of right and wrong. You always hear curmudgeons going on about how young people these days have not been taught right from wrong. I believe that most people actually do know right from wrong, but there is not widespread agreement about some of the finer points. Sometimes people take into consideration whether an act is normal, something everybody does.

When determining whether a certain act is right or wrong, my rule of thumb is to consider whether I myself have ever committed this act or am likely to do so in the future. If the answer is yes, I always 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 clearly only insane people could possibly commit, are not found to be insane if they are shown to “know right from wrong.” This method of evaluating mental health confuses many of us, but we don’t generally complain too much because, for example, Charles Manson remained in prison, right? That gave us all one less thing to think about at three o’clock in the morning.

When Manson was convicted of murder in 1971, AP referred to him rather glibly as “Charles Manson, shaggy leader of a cult-like clan of hippie types.” Since then his name has become universally synonymous with Evil, shagginess notwithstanding.

Even if we don’t spend much time analyzing good and bad, right and wrong, Good and Evil, we know what we know.

Tent caterpillars, native to New York, are bad, for example. I don’t care that they don’t permanently damage the trees where they spend their idyllic larvaehood. I don’t care that they eventually morph into innocuous mothlets. It should be obvious to one and all that tent caterpillars fall into the category of bad bugs.

Right about now, large tent caterpillars, hairy and black with yellow stripes, are falling from the trees. You will see them everywhere you go. Soon they will spin cocoons.

Two weeks later they’ll emerge as shaggy brown moths. I suppose that’s just nature, but I don’t have to like it.

We all know the good bugs from the bad bugs. Butterflies, ladybugs (except the foreign species that invades our homes), honeybees and fireflies are good. Blackflies are bad, as are most other flies.

Earwigs are bad, to the point where they may actually be evil. They are not out yet–they are still in their underground lairs–which is just as well. The mosquitoes and blackflies are enough to contend with. Only the females attack us and suck our blood, but I don’t think we need to extend an analogy to other species, do you? That would be wrong.

Mosquitoes, blackflies and no-see-ums. Everywhere, as I mentioned in last week’s column, you see people waving their hands in front of their faces, trying to fend them off. Blackflies rip off pieces of skin and inject their own special venom.

But it’s summer, and it’s all good. Or, as a scientist might say, “A statistically meaningful amount tends to be positive.”

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen, of Keene Valley, has been writing for the Lake Placid News for over 20 years.)

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