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Has evil stopped shocking us?

Father Victor Ferrao

Evil seems to be staging a strong comeback in philosophy. The idea of evil was discarded earlier and was viewed as a product of a mythical Christian worldview. With the growth of atheism, Satan as incarnated evil was declared dead. 
However, we cannot imagine a world without evil. Evil has not stopped fascinating thinkers and has become an aesthetic object that functions as the other in the context of the banality of everyday life. Evil is aestheticised in fiction, films, media, religions and in politics in our society and we seem to have lost sight of the horror of evil.
When evil is aestheticised, we become de-sensitised to its violence and we seem to tolerate it without worrying that the knife will cut too deep. The increasing incidents of mob lynching in Indian society necessitate us to use the word evil to express our horror.
Published records say in the past five years since 2014, mobs attacked and killed close to 50 people in incidents linked to attempts to protect the cow, an animal revered as mother-god (Gau Mata) in Hinduism. 
It is not easy to call these monstrous acts as evil as they are supposed to be committed in the name of God. Some even chant the holy name of God while they mercilessly kill their victims. All the same, these events do not exhibit any symbolic resonance of the divine and have to be named as evil for what they are.
Still there are among us Indians who cannot see evil in these heinous crimes. Often the recognition of evil in this context, if at all we have, is only done to be quickly forgotten. Jean Baudrillard says that evil resides everywhere and is omnipresent and hence we have lost our ability to grasp it. 
Maybe evil has stopped shocking us. 
Evil has been decentralised and can no longer be located in a single face. It has become faceless for us precisely because it marks our very face and we cannot see our face in the evil around us.
More than ever before, we need to problematise the evil as an idea. Paul Ricoeur suggests that evil is inaccessible to philosophical reflection but points out that myths and symbolism become resources that aid our understanding of evil. Humans have always attempted to represent evil through mythological symbolism. Unfortunately, these myths have been transformed into ontologies or visions of reality.
These ontologies then lose their symbolic or ethical value and become hauntologies—ideas that haunt our existence—that push some among us to indulge in active violence or passive violence that tolerates evil. Thus, the holy cow haunts everyone in India today. It haunts those that worship it as they believe that the holy cow is in danger and requires their protection. The potential victims of such violence are also haunted by the fear of the rampaging gau rakshaks (cow protectors).
We may have to carefully reflect on how these acts of violence align with the dharma—the key religious and moral principle of Hinduism. After all, Hindu religion defines itself as Sanatana Dharma, the everlasting principle of righteousness applicable to all humans on the globe. The issue becomes complex because evil action is employed to achieve a higher goal. But the conviction that an ideal is good does not make the action good. 
Aestheticisation of evil in this context seems to have been theologised and we seem to have hollowed out the moral dimension of evil acts, committed in the protection of the holy cow. Aestheticisation of evil has made it difficult to recognise evil altogether, or at best even if we recognise it, we end up justifying it. 
Evil is not simply an idea. It is a practical problem that challenges to seek a solution. It is not enough to explain or define it. Michel Foucault teaches that even mindless violence has a mind. We are all capable of doing unspeakable things to our other. Maybe we can ask a self-introspecting question: what will it take for me to indulge in such heinous crimes? This is important we always think that the other is always evil and we see ourselves as representatives of the good fighting evil. 
This ‘we and they’ divide is fundamental to ferment violence. It is this division that blinds us as we can easily employ violence against those whom we have defined as evil.
Hence, the ‘we-they’ dichotomy that operates in our life can become insane and generate violence because we love our people and tend to hate ‘them.’ This means we aestheticise the ‘we-they’ binary. 
Such an aestheticisation incapacitates thinking for oneself as it can become an act of disloyalty to the group. It leads to the depersonalisation of the self, which makes it easy to depersonalise the other. This is why it is difficult to recognise the humanity of the person who is construed as evil.
The solution lies in avoiding all aestheticisations of evil in our own lives. This does not mean that we should not fight evil outside of us. We are obligated to oppose evil, but we cannot use evil to do away with evil. We have to do good—ahimsa or non-violence—to break the chain of evil.
Ahimsa as a moral tool can be our strength in this project and Christian love can animate our war against evil. Christian theology of suffering and sacrifice can be our companion in our struggle to cast out evil from ourselves and our society. UCAN
Father Victor Ferrao, a professor of Philosophy in Rachol Major Seminary
in the Archdiocese of Goa, is a social commentator
for local dailies in the western Indian state.