Evil is one of those things that, like Justice Stewart Potter said of pornography in 1964, we recognize when we see it. I saw the results of evil recently from the back seat of a vehicle inching along a Mexico City street lined with young prostitutes. Those emotionless faces haunt me still because they are among the more than 700,000 women and children who are mere commodities in the evil known as sex trafficking an international trade that brings in more than $10 billion for criminal networks and pimps. The girls and women are victims of the horrible practice that I don’t hesitate to call evil: modern-day slavery.
Yet, calling something evil has always been difficult for the intellectual left. Their worldview doesn’t allow for its existence.
Remember the vehement reaction when President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”? Remember the furor over President George W. Bush referring to Iran, Iraq, North Korea and their terrorist allies as an “axis of evil”?
Even in the face of Stalin’s monstrous actions, which cost the lives of tens of millions, and his efforts to build the Soviet Union into a world-dominating empire, many in the media and universities scoffed at the idea that these efforts somehow represented evil at work. Their reactions were especially ironic since they had reacted similarly to Stalin’s remark that “a single death is a tragedy, but a million a statistic.”
Sadly, leftist intellectuals even refused to use the term “evil” for the terrorists who struck our homeland, slaughtering thousands of our citizens on 9/11.
Evil, of course, is not new, but its scale in the 20th century is a challenge to those who are unwilling to acknowledge it. When Hannah Arendt wrote about the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker in 1961, she caused a stir. She described his actions as reflecting not so much a matter of evil intent or animus toward the Jews, but as simply a matter of obeying orders without thinking through the immorality of his actions. She described Eichmann as nicht einmal unheimlich (not even sinister) and famously subtitled her account as “A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Later she reportedly wrote to someone about evil: “I don’t think of it as profound.” Rather, she said, “I think of it as a kind of fungus, shallow but very deadly.”
What could be more evilly banal than enslaving a child to serve momentary sexual appetites? What could be more shallow and deadly than sex slavery?
If postmoderns do consider the topic of evil, they can perhaps accept Arendt’s description. But the view of evil as an active agent with an intentional design to do harm to innocents threatens the liberal worldview. The attitude is: People, of course, make mistakes, even horrendous ones; pathologies abound, but the idea of a transcendent force influencing people’s actions to evil ends is abhorrent.
Lance Morrow, author of Evil: An Investigation, said in an interview on National Public Radio:
Well, evil’s a mystery. It’s impossible to define a mystery exactly. That’s why it’s a mystery. But you can describe it and you can tell it by its effects. It seems to me that if you looked at, for example, the history of the 20th century, it would be kind of hard to discuss a lot of the things that went on in the 20th century without using the word “evil,” and in fact it’s a wonder that we emerged from the 20th century believing in anything except evil.
This is about as far as the postmodern mind can go. Never mind details of history, such as the Hutu people’s 1994 slaughter in Rwanda of something like 800,000 Tutsis many of them literally hacked to death with machetes in a matter of months. What helped make this seem so barbaric was that the slaughter was out in the open for everyone to see. It was not hidden from public view, as are the “clinics” where abortionists destroy pre-born infants with sterilized instruments producing a toll that dwarfs the slaughter of the Tutsis.
Most of us sooner or later see the effects of evil up close and personal. The hollow disassociation in the faces of young girls caught in the trap of sex slavery gives silent, but powerful, testimony to the devastation of evil.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse serves as Concerned Women for America’s point person in combating human trafficking.