Is anyone evil?
In class we were having discussion about ethical leaders of past and present; imagine my surprise when someone mentioned Hitler. An unusual suggestion by all criteria, the reasoning provided was the fact that Hitler was simply looking out for his people’s needs and interests.
That got me thinking. Is any leader, or any person for that matter, truly without ethics? No person believes themselves to be evil, or without ethics so to say. We judge others by their actions whilst we judge ourselves by our intentions, an inadvertent consequence of us being able to read our own minds but not others.
Ethicality in itself, while currently quite the global concept, is in the eyes of the beholder. Even a monster would look out for those dear to him, a murderer is capable of fatherly love, Hitler loved his dogs, an adulterer might love his spouse. The Vikings of old committed atrocities, raped, pillaged and murdered in foreign lands. They sacrificed people for their bloodthirsty gods in blots, yet when they returned home expressed love for their family. Were these Vikings unethical or evil? Or were their views on how to behave, how to be ethical simply different? How can we be sure that our ethical views are any better?
If Vikings of old believed themselves to be righteous, what makes us to be “just” ethically? How can we know our perceived ethics and conduct to be virtuous or correct? How can we know these beliefs are not simply fed to us by society and subconsciously accepted through herd mentality? The only guidance we have for ethics is the feeling that something is right but can that feeling deceive us?
Is ethics a variable?
In Islam, it used to be commonplace for thieves to have their arm or hand cut off. Whilst not very usual anymore, it is still practiced at times. Regardless, I think most of us can agree that such punishment is overly brutal and thus unethical, especially considering these thieves often only had the option of starving or stealing.
If we consider the Vikings and the previous example of Islamic law, it is safe to assume that ethics evolve with time. What is considered just in one time might be considered atrocious is another time. On another hand, what is considered sinful at one time might be okay in the future. Homosexuality is an excellent example of this.
Additionally, it would seem that while ethics are deeply engrained to our society, that they can are only upheld if circumstances so permit. Ethics are a luxury that we can afford due to the advanced nature of our society, but let’s say in the case of a major crisis as nuclear apocalypse it is almost certain that most people would degenerate to a stage where they only look out for themselves and perhaps their immediate family and friends. It is not wrong – that is simply human nature, the drive to survive above all.
How are we mistaken?
Have our ethics evolved fully – or is there more to learn still? One might assume in the future people will judge us for our treatment for animals – as such a revolution has already begun. But are there more examples – more evil we do in our time without even realizing it? Are we simply modern vikings slitting the throats of our brothers on a fictious altar without even realizing it?
Ethics is a concept molded by time and circumstance. The more advanced and well-off we are, the more ethical solutions we can afford. Or so it would appear. Knowledge, information and empathy walk hand in hand with ethics and these are the values that must persevere in order for us to reach a societal status where everyone flourishes.
Written by Lauri Happonen
Editor: Trang Dang