I don’t think “evil” is something that exists.
By which I mean to say that I don’t believe in the idea that evil is a physical force which hovers in the air and enters people and makes them do things. Nor do I believe in the idea that “some people are ‘evil’ but some people are ‘good’.”
Many people throughout history, no less on social media recently, have expressed the idea that specific people or groups of people “are evil” based on their actions towards human or nonhuman animals. This can range from simply saying that non-Vegans in general are bad people, to saying that hunters are worse than others, saying that people who torture animals are the worst, saying that pedophiles are all monsters, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
However, the idea that “some people are evil, and some people are good” doesn’t make much objective sense. All humans have the capability to perform actions that seem either “evil” or “good”, depending on the perspective of the person performing the action, as well as the person observing the action. Because of this, the very idea that some actions are “good” and some are “evil” doesn’t really make much sense either.
This is not to say that some actions are not destructive or harmful. But ascribing the term “evil” to a person because of an action that they’ve committed, as if simply using that term puts the action into a category that divorces it or the doer from all complexity or renders the doer incapable of being anything other than “evil” is far too simplistic and narrow-minded.
Our human concept of morality itself is an automatic, logical response to the recognition that each being who is capable of feeling pain has an individual interest in not suffering. This recognition is the basis for our notion of whether individuals have such things as “rights.” A “right” is merely a term that we use to mean that we agree to a rule that allows us to protect an interest that we all have. Chief among the “rights” that individuals have is the right to not be used as merely a replaceable resource for human pleasure and other non-necessary (aka non-survival, non-health) interests.
Our human system of justice is based on the notion of a human interest in creating a “social order”; this order aims to regulate our behavior in a way which induces the most happiness, satisfaction and “good health” in general in as many of the members of our moral community as possible, and the least pain, unhappiness, and other forms of suffering. But this is only because we recognize that individuals who are capable of suffering have this right to not be made to suffer for the non-necessary interests of a human.
Now, from a purely practical perspective (before even considering any abstract notions of moral philosophy) if we examine the ideas advanced by Chaos Theory – for instance – we see that any choice we make between a wide array of possible actions means that our chosen action will affect everything else in the world. So basically, everything that happens in the world is a product of a near-infinite number of different inter-connected actions that are performed by everyone and everything in reality over “the course of time” (since by our commonly-held perspective, time is linear, even though from what we can figure out scientifically, it most likely is not): each action affecting or being affected by every other action.
This seems to indicate that any action we commit could have a near-infinite array of both positive and negative consequences. Indeed, each action, as well as each of the consequences which automatically follow from it, could seem either positive OR negative OR both from the perspective of the beings both observing and being affected by them (This has been recognized already for thousands of years by some cultures).
So taking all this into account, how do we determine whether an action that affects others is morally right or wrong? Its simple: we must start by asking whether their are other beings who can feel pain who could become a victim of our actions. Since our actions could be seen as either positive or negative depending on who’s perspective they’re being seen from, it should need no explanation why we should be using the perspective of a potential victim as the measuring stick, and not the perspective of a potential victimizer.
It’s not just the actions or the consequences which determine whether something is right or wrong, but our perspective on those actions and consequences. So that is the ruling factor in whether we should commit an action or not; our own knowledge of whether or not we ourselves perceive our intent and our resultant action to be morally justifiable, based on whether we know if others may or may not be harmed by them unnecessarily. In other words, we must endeavor to commit only actions that have the best chance of causing the least harm through causing the least violations of the rights of others.
In my estimation, this would indicate that the consequences of our actions have absolutely no bearing on our moral culpability. Our actions obviously need to follow logically from our intent, but only our intent means anything when we are determining whether an action fits within our notion of moral responsibility. In other words, only our intent, not the consequences of our actions, should give someone the ability to morally blame us or morally praise us.
People often try to prove the argument that evil people exist with the assertion “But there definitely are people who are evil. I know this is true because this person committed this, this or this horrible action.”
But the point that someone committed an immoral action is not proof that the person in question is evil. This is merely a list of wrong-actions that the person committed. Their actions can be morally justifiable, or not morally justifiable (what we call “immoral”) but that doesn’t make the person “immoral,” nor does it make them “moral.” Everyone, even those who have committed the most heinous acts, has the ability within themselves to change their moral stance so that they are never again going to commit such acts.
Many people often try to counter that argument with the assertion “But this person never did change, so this proves that they were evil. They committed those actions, never regretted it, and died without repenting. This means that they were evil.” But this argument doesn’t prove that at all. All it proves is that the person in question didn’t change, not that they couldn’t have, if they’d lived longer or encountered the right set of circumstances. No human has been proven to be able to predict the future, so saying that we know whether someday someone will change or not is nonsense. There are amazing stories of people who have committed the most heinous actions doing a complete moral “about-face” years afterwards. Add to this point the fact that there are plenty of people who, for one reason or another, have never let on about the regret they felt for their actions. In other words, we often have no way of knowing who will change their moral stance in a specific way, when they will change, or in many cases, even whether they’ve changed at all.
Even putting aside the obvious problems with considering people evil from a rational standpoint, there is a moral problem with just dismissing someone as evil before you’ve seen how their life will turn out. This is because it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that people are eminently capable of changing their moral actions based on new perspectives. In fact, the only real constant in human behavior is change. To dismiss or condemn the entirety of the person as morally worthless based on only some portion of their actions is illogical from a moral standpoint as well.
Also, keep in mind that there are a lot of factors involved in the viewpoints of various people on the myriad actions one could commit and how they relate to morality. In many cases, the intent of a person is to do good, but they are merely confused or unsure what the best course of action is. Some people have been heavily indoctrinated regarding whether an action or set of actions is morally justifiable or not, in various ways and regarding different kinds of beings. Some are more indoctrinated than others, and fear, especially when it’s not even consciously recognized by the fearful, is an incredibly powerful obstacle to moral consistency. There is also the existence of mental disorders, both created by physiological elements and also those related to trauma. These are only a few of the things that often cause perfectly “morally conscious” people to say or do immoral things.
The point is, when we consider the question of how we should be responding to the actions and even the arguments used by non-Vegans to attempt to justify their actions regarding nonhumans, we should keep in mind that we’re not dealing with monsters. We’re dealing with humans, and humans are fallible. They are also capable of massive changes in their moral stance as well as incredible acts of bravery and kindness. I personally have met or have heard the stories from many people who now identify as Vegans and would never have considered going Vegan (and some, in fact, who were die-hard anti-Vegans beforehand, including trophy hunters and slaughterhouse workers) if someone hadn’t been compassionate enough to forgive them and then educate them peacefully on why it’s wrong to use animals. If not for this, they would still be enthusiastically exploiting nonhumans to this day. They themselves admit this. If we want the people who are harming animals for palate pleasure and/or simple convenience -who would otherwise consider ending that behavior- to consider Veganism, then we have to be willing to put our hatred aside and educate them with understanding, instead of condemning them. Representing them as evil (or even “sociopathic,” “psychotic, etc.) to others merely causes them (and other people) to avoid our message about the rights of nonhumans.
Another point to consider: Many of our family and friends may be non-Vegan. They are inflicting just as much unnecessary suffering and death by living that way as any other non-Vegan. Are we ok with considering them “evil” as well? If not, we’re just arbitrarily picking and choosing whom we consider to be evil based on our own fits of anger, random self-interests, or whims. Almost all Vegans were non-Vegan at some point, probably including the person reading this (you). Were we evil? Were you? Doesn’t that mean you are still evil? If we think people are one or the other, good or evil, then where is the line? Where do we draw a line and say that this set of actions makes someone evil, but this other set of actions doesn’t? And who is the authority to draw that line? What makes one person’s opinion on what makes someone evil better than some other person’s completely different (and usually contradictory) opinion?
In summation, it’s irrational, not to mention cruel, to just dismiss someone as evil before you’ve seen how their life will turn out. And publicly stating that someone is evil is a great way to guarantee that they, and probably at least a few other non-Vegans, will refuse to go Vegan, which means that the nonhuman animals lose. Is that what we’re trying to accomplish? Is some sort of catharsis where we obtain a few moments of sick pleasure from publicly vilifying another person (which is almost always due to our own shame because we once engaged in the same non-Vegan actions that they currently are engaging in) worth the very real lives and suffering of nonhumans?
Veganism is a movement of peace. If you think animals have moral value, then follow the path of peace, towards human animals and nonhuman animals alike. Live Vegan. Educate others peacefully about why they need to live Vegan as well.
If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s incredible for the animals, easy and great for you, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.
To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:
Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.