A while back, I was watching an interview Seth Meyers did with David Tennant. Tennant was on Late Night with Seth Meyers to discuss his role as the villain Kilgrave on Netflix’s Jessica Jones. In most interviews, you’ll get the usual chat about what it’s like working with Krysten Ritter and whether or not he was familiar with the comics before taking on this role, but this one took a really interesting, philosophical turn. Check it out.
Meyers asks Tennant whether or not he’d like to have Kilgrave’s mind-control powers in real life. Tennant responded, saying, “How do you have a conversation with anyone? How do you get on the same level with anyone? How do you build a moral framework?”
Meyers responded, “I guess that’s the thing with villains, though. It doesn’t really matter much to them, right?”
To which Tennant replied:
Evil is in the eye of the beholder, it seems, especially today.
The question of whether evil, in itself, exists, is something that’s been taken on by many. Some have referred to it as the question of the intentionality of evil. Others, like Simon Baron-Cohen, argue that there’s no such thing as evil, but rather just six degrees of empathy.
As for me, I’m inclined to believe the words of philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft:
“No man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”
That is, that no one believes they’re a villain, even if the acts they undertake are particularly villainous. The ends — whether it’s in cases of war, love, relationships, commerce, emotion, or society — justify the means.
In our political climate, this means applying these values to social issues.
Let’s take a look at how people try to justify treating people differently on the basic of sexual orientation. Here’s David French writing in The National Review about “the Left”’s attempt to “Destroy Religious Liberty” by way of not wanting to be discriminated against.
On the topic of whether adoption agencies should have the right to deny adoptions to same-sex couples:
“…the ‘discriminatory’ Christian agencies aren’t actually blocking gay adoptions. Gay couples looking to adopt or foster children just have to seek out one of the many secular organizations willing to serve them. Under current law in most states, Christian adoption agencies are able to place children — according to the dictates of their faith — with the mother/father families they favor, while gay couples are able to foster and adopt through other agencies. Where, exactly, is the oppression? Isn’t that exactly the kind of ‘win/win’ solution that allows pluralistic democracies to survive and thrive?”
On the topic of expressly secular businesses refusing public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity:
“No gay couple in America has been denied a photographer, a florist, or a baker. In the handful of cases where Christian business owners declined to participate in same-sex weddings, plenty of other vendors were willing to step in. Kim Davis could not block a single gay person from getting married. Even at the height of her stand, frustrated gay couples could drive a short distance and get a marriage license from any neighboring county.”
See? It’s not discrimination because… wait, why? Because the end (fulfilling God’s will, I guess) justifies disparate treatment. French almost certainly doesn’t think of himself as evil, nor does he think that of Kim Davis, photographers, florists, or bakers. He’s framed this as a clear-cut good vs. evil proposition in which it’s the responsibility of the good (religious conservatives) to defeat the evil (gay people).
On Baron-Cohen’s scale of empathy, this would certainly rank pretty low (why would you deny someone services when it in no way affects you?), but is it truly “evil?” They don’t see it that way, I’m sure.
So maybe “good vs. evil” doesn’t really exist.
But it’s a fair though. I mean, “good vs. evil” is usually an “us vs. them” type of argument. Most people don’t actually ask themselves “Are we the baddies?”
But the point I’m trying to make is that so long as we look at the world through the lens of objective good versus objective evil, we’ll never truly be able to understand why anyone does anything (nor will we be able to come to new understandings because, you know, evil is evil and stuff). The world would be a better place if we could all learn to empathize a bit more with one another. I suppose that going into the new year, that’s my one wish for the world: to try to understand each other, to not view people as pure evil or pure good, and to understand that we’re all in this world together so we might as well make the best of it we can, as one big happy human family thing.