With the release of the 7th book of the Harry Potter series, Lisa and I have been discussing the interesting and complex question of evil, and whether it is necessary to use evil in order to combat it. This idea is certainly not new – I’ve quoted Nietzsche here before in a different, but related discussion –
Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein. – “He who fights monsters must take care that he not become a monster himself. For when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”
The discussion isn’t confined to literature and theoretical philosophy – it’s immediately practical to the political and personal situations we find ourselves in daily. Is it acceptable to torture prisoners in order to gain information that could save lives? Are we justified in striking back at “the terrorists” in order to “preserve our way of life”? More importantly, at what point do we corrupt ourselves and become worse than the thing we are fighting? Commander Adama puts it very succinctly – “It isn’t enough to survive – one must be worthy of survival.”
The discussion is complicated by numerous difficult and potentially unanswerable questions – what exactly constitutes evil, and is any conception or definition we come up with able to be complete? Is justice simply another name for justifiable evil, since the intentional miscarriage of justice to an innocent person would often be seen as an “evil” act? And, moving back to Harry Potter briefly, is Dumbledore right – is love truly powerful enough to destroy evil alone?
While Rowling and other authors have the luxury of forging their own universe where their idealism is ultimately realized, it is often much more difficult for us to maintain an idealistic stance in the face of what sometimes seems to be overwhelming evil. My prayer for myself is that I would be more idealistic and less willing to compromise, more willing to be taken advantage of, knowing that in the end, love does triumph.