For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Conceiving Evil
A Phenomenology of Perpetration
  • Wendy C. Hamblet
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Conceiving Evil. A Phenomenology of Perpetration
Sound Bite
When conflict is understood positively as the confrontation of differences, an unavoidable and indeed desirable consequence of the rich tapestry of earthly life, then a discussion can open as to how to navigate the countless confrontations of difference in the most skillful way. Through this lens, violence comes into view as the least skillful means of responding to, and working with, difference, since violence tends to "rebound" and leaves both victims and perpetrators worse off — shameful and vengeful.

About the Author

Wendy C. Hamblet is a Canadian philosopher, Professor at North Carolina A&T State University, Director of the International Center for Organizational Excellence, and Executive Director of the Concerned Philosophers for Peace.

Dr. Hamblet’s research approaches conflict as the essence of the human condition and investigates the role of identity and difference in positioning people for (more or less) skilled responses to conflict situations. She has two books with Algora Publishing, Daemon in the Sanctuary: The Enigma of Homespace Violence, and Conceiving Evil: A Phenomenology of Perpetration. Her prior books include: "The Sacred Monstrous: A Reflection on Violence in Human Communities" (2004); "Savage Constructions: the Myth of African Savagery" (2008); 'The Lesser Good: the Problem of Justice in Plato and Levinas" (2008); and 'Punishment and Shame: A Philosophical Study" (2011).

Hamblet also serves as a consultant in the international community, developing Anti-Violence programs for schools, corrections reform strategies, and organizational ethics frameworks.

About the Book
This book argues that the epistemological framework that permits us to see others as "evil" also resituates our own moral compass and reframes our moral world such that we can justify performing violent deeds, which we would readily demonize in...
This book argues that the epistemological framework that permits us to see others as "evil" also resituates our own moral compass and reframes our moral world such that we can justify performing violent deeds, which we would readily demonize in others, as the heroics of eradicating evil.

In "Conceiving Evil: A Phenomenology of Perpetration", philosopher Wendy C. Hamblet argues that the radically polarized and oversimplified worldview that sorts the phenomena of the world into "good guys" and "evil others" is a framework as old as human community itself, and one that undermines people's own moral infrastructure, permitting them to take up the very acts that they would readily demonize as "evil" in others. One's own violent responses to the human condition come to be reframed from unskillful and undesirable actions to valiant heroic reactions. In short, those who see "evil" in others are far more likely to do "evil" resorting to the least skillful means for navigating difference — violence.

In theory, violence is demonized as "evil" in popular and criminological discourse and calls forth "rebounding" like responses in the form of acts of vengeance in individuals and punitive responses in state institutions. However, punishment is itself defined as an "evil" inflicted by a legitimate authority upon a wrongdoer in compensation for a wrong done. This leads to the conundrum that the state, as much as the vigilante, must necessarily undermine its own legitimacy by taking up the very acts that it deems as evil in its enemies and punishes in its deviant citizens. By reframing conflict positively, Hamblet introduces a new way of thinking about difference that allows the reader to appreciate (rather than tolerate) difference as a desirable feature of a multicultural, multi-religioned, multi-gendered world. This resituates the discussion of conflict such that conflict response styles can be viewed as more and less skillful means of navigating impasses in a world of differences.


Introduction
Over the centuries, philosophers, theologians, religious clerics—and in recent years even politicians and military professionals—investigate, talk, write, preach, and reproach others about something they name “evil.” People seem to agree that such a thing as evil exists; they spend a great deal of energy discussing the phenomenon of evil when...
Over the centuries, philosophers, theologians, religious clerics—and in recent years even politicians and military professionals—investigate, talk, write, preach, and reproach others about something they name “evil.” People seem to agree that such a thing as evil exists; they spend a great deal of energy discussing the phenomenon of evil when they feel they have encountered it, arguing for their favored meaning of the term and disputing what does and does not constitute the real thing.

The term evil had all but fallen out of use in political and public discourse except in reference to the most egregious atrocities, such as genocide. However, since the “September 11” attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the language of evil has again emerged, beginning with fundamentalist Christian United States President George W. Bush, and later it echoed across the globe in countries long thought too secular to fall into the serious use of such imagery. Ironically, the new language was often directed at those who had reintroduced it. The use of the archaic and extreme imagery of evil by the leaders in enlightened democratic societies seems odd, archaic, medieval. But because in democratic societies, leaders rise and fall according to public approval (admittedly, people are democratically powerful only one day every four years), framing their political and military agendas in the seductive language of evil can prove can prove highly efficacious, especially during times of national or social crisis. Modern leaders have begun to resort to the use of this extreme imagery because it can greatly enhance their appeal to popular audiences and serve effectively their political needs.

Why do the imagery and language of evil come to find place in modern secular societies? When crises befall people, they tend to lose their nuanced sense of reality and begin to see the world in more extreme terms—good guys and bad guys. Threat tends to makes people more conservative and more extreme in their view of the world. People in crisis begin frantically to try to make sense of their chaotic worlds, seeking ultimate and time-honored answers to explain the source of the crisis, because if one can locate the source, then the hope arises that the source can be eliminated.

The language and imagery of evil is so old, so potent, so persuasive, and so steeped in tradition that it can have a compelling effect upon troubled audiences. This explains why unscrupulous politicians and military spokespersons will rally the extreme language of evil during times of crisis to ignite people’s fear and loathing of some enemy to serve their military and political designs. Whenever leaders use this archaic term, we may not know whether they are sincere (i.e., if their worldview truly includes a Manichean dichotomy of good and evil) or whether they are merely using the term for reasons of political expedience. However, when we see leaders using this imagery, we may be certain of two things. First, we may be confident that a declaration of war against some internal or external enemy is not far off, and second, we may be certain that it is time for a change of leadership.

In each of the varying differentiating centers of people’s lives—spiritual, political, cultural, familial—where identities are constantly under construction, evil takes on a peculiar character that is meaningful within that existential space. The imagery of good and evil gives moral texture to life events and assigns the work of the god and the duties of the faithful disciple. Evil sometimes is understood as an abstract, absolute force inhabiting the universe or infecting it from a transcendent sphere of reality. Sometimes evil is distilled into a personified figure, a devil or demon, a political personage, or a foreign culture or civilization. Spinoza has his “Turks,” Richard Hillier his “detestable scumbags” and “evildoers,” and George W. Bush his “axis of evil”. Sometimes evil is dissipated into a nebulous image or power within nature, a gnawing negative energy tainting an otherwise good world, a force associated with disease, untimely death, darkness, and chaos. The latter understanding undersits the philosophical dichotomy that has colored the history of ethical ideas—the idea that order and simplicity are good and disorder and complexity are bad—culminating in the belief that the enlightening force of knowledge is the secret to the expulsion of evil from the individual, from the decadent civilization, and from the human world. To paraphrase the Socratic dictum: if one could simply know the good, one would unswervingly do the good.

On the level of cultural identity, people interpret evil in uniquely ethnic terms, though there is a great deal of overlap in what is considered evil by each group. . . .

 


Categories

Pages 184
Year: 2014
BISAC: SOC051000SOCIAL SCIENCE / Violence in Society
BISAC: PSY013000PSYCHOLOGY / Emotions
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ISBN: 978-1-62894-093-0
Price: USD 19.95
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