Sympathy for the…
The explanatory role of the devil
I suspect a main driver for the notion of a “devil” is not just any old evil, but the evil of collective irrationality, as we just spectacularly witnessed over three years of Covid.
When evil is done for greed, sex, power, revenge and so on, we all have no problem explaining it. We “get” it. It’s human to be self-centered in these ways. We ourselves struggle to silence our wild and barbaric selves. We don’t need to postulate an incorporeal devil to make sense of it.
But the worst evils are usually not of these forms. The worst evils are when groups enter a moral panic, or collective hysteria, and they become motivated to do terribly evil things, and come to have complex ethical justifications for them that they truly believe in.
In these situations, to the outsider — almost invariably who becomes the out group it’s ok for the movement to hate — it feels as though those in the group have become brainwashed, and, unlike the criminal sort of evil we all intuitively understand, there is no getting through to him or her.
This sort of evil is utterly mystifying because it is the result of complex emergent phenomena that people have no natural intuitions for. Instead, the only explanation that comes to mind is that something deeply powerful — something beyond a normal human — has “cast a spell” on the community.
Sometimes the “devil” in the explanation is given some corporeal form put upon some especially culpable person or group, and sometimes the “devil” is posited to simply be “out there” as a force of evil. Not in the “doing the evil itself” sense, but in the “whispering in the ears of the masses” sense.
In this sense, the devil has been hard at work over the last three years.
Find out more about the complex emergent processes that create such devils in my new movie of sorts….