Fear and Evil

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Evil and fear are Siamese twins. You can’t meet one without meeting the other. Or perhaps they are but two names of one experience – one of the names referring to what you see or what you hear, the other to what you feel; one pointing ‘out there’, to the world, the other to the ‘in here’, to yourself. What we fear, is evil; what is evil, we fear.
But what is evil? This is an incurably flawed question, even though so stubbornly and untiringly asked: we are doomed to search in vain for an answer from the moment we have asked it. The question ‘what is evil?’ is unanswerable because what we tend to call ‘evil’ is precisely the kind of wrong which we can neither understand nor even clearly articulate, let alone explain its presence to our full satisfaction. We call that kind of wrong ‘evil’ for the very reason that it is unintelligible, ineffable and inexplicable. ‘Evil’ is what defies and explodes that intelligibility which makes the world liveable… We can tell what ‘crime’ is because we have a code of laws which criminal acts breach. We know what ‘sin’ is because we have a list of commandments whose breach makes the perpetrators sinners. We resort to the idea of ‘evil’ when we cannot point to what rule has been broken or bypassed for the occurrence of the act for which we seek a proper name. All the frames we possess and use to inscribe and plot horrifying stories in order to make them comprehensible (and thereby defused and detoxified, domesticated and tamed – ‘liveable with’) crumble and [-p.55] fall apart when we try and stretch them wide enough to accommodate the sort of wrongdoing we call ‘evil’, because of our inability to spell out the set of rules such wrongdoing has breached.
This is why so many philosophers abandon all attempts to explain the presence of evil as hopeless projects – and settle for a statement of fact, a ‘brute fact’ so to speak, a fact neither calling for, nor admitting of further explanation: evil is. Without saying it in so many words, they relegate evil to the murky space of Kant’s noumena – not just unknown, but unknowable; a space that eludes examination and resists discursive articulation. Cast at a safe distance from the realm of the comprehensible, evil tends to be invoked when we insist on explaining the inexplicable.” (pp.54-55)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

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