Evil tries to be complicated. Its methods are tricky–working by indirection and opposites, by mirror-effects and sleight of hand. But how evil operates is not the same type of complexity as it is in every day thought. What evil means in our context relates to a collapse of faith in the markets. If radical enough, and global, evil opens a trapdoor upon yet another dimension of chaos, wherein unarguably evil characters emerge–evildoers, indeed–and do terrible harm in the world. This is the point that evil harkens back to its roots of the word in Old English (yvel) suggest ” exceeding due measure” or “overstepping proper limits.” Therefore evil in the organizational sense is the word we use when we come to the limit of humane comprehension.
The question of evil is one of why we, as rational and capable beings, cause avoidable suffering?
Permissible evil has the sanction of custom and experience. It is the human compromise with a force otherwise too corrupting, too radioactive, too horrifying, for ordinary life to tolerate. Permissible evil accommodates hypocrisy and, in doing so, domesticates evil. Permissible evil is the evil we can live with. It allows us to escape from the intimidating absolute that the word “evil,” used alone, implies.
We have good reason to fear the understanding of evil, because understanding seems to involve some sort of identification. But what we do not understand at all we cannot detect or resist. We have somehow to understand, without accepting, what goes on in the hearts of the wicked.
So, for example the retributive function of justice, exercised in the name of outraged society, overrides the prohibition against killing, even thought that prohibition comes with nothing less than the warrant of Sinai. So as war makes evil permissible. So, at its worst, does religion, which, like war, has its rationales of righteousness and grants itself moral indulgences. The evil is often transformed by war and claims of necessity: laundered from spotty and veil to gray and tolerated.
What is the law then? That the atrocious act committed in retaliation for great evil is permissible and therefore, somehow, not evil? If you initiate the evil, you are evil; but if you reply to evil with more evil, then that retaliation is not evil, but something else?