The nature of evil

My guilty pleasure is “Evil,” a fictional show on Paramount+ that features a team (a priest, a skeptical psychologist, and a non-believing computer expert) who investigates the supernatural. In episode two of season three, Victor the spy tells David the priest, “You must have found two sources of evil, the supernatural and the human. I deal with the human, bad people doing bad things… They exist in the world, and they must be stopped.”

I’ve been thinking about the nature of evil. One historical evil was the Holocaust.

In 1957 Adolf Eichmann, known as the architect of the Holocaust, was recorded on tape. The tapes have been found recently, and filmmaker Yariv Mozer created a documentary titled “The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes.”

While the film isn’t in America yet, WBUR posted an “On Point” interview discussing the film and the new information. Writer Hannah Arendt observed Eichmann’s trial and coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” Eichmann had seemed like a “passive, mindless bureaucrat.” The phrase tries to explain that he killed millions by following orders without an original thought in his head.

Yet the tapes show an unapologetic man who brags about his planning of the murders: “Every fiber in me resists that we did something wrong.”

This is contrary to Arendt’s observation. Eichmann seems more fanatical than passive. There is danger in a zealot, refusing reason and logic.

Yet I don’t think Arendt is wrong either. Evil can flourish when good people do nothing.

Another kind of evil is profiting off of someone’s pain. And it seems like the courts agree. Alex Jones is to pay a total of $46.3 million for his conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, which resulted in harassment and death threats for the family of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis who died. Jones admitted his lie during the trial, saying the tragedy was “100% real.”

Most of that money the jury awarded is punitive damages. Perhaps the jury members are just as frustrated as the rest of us with the lies and misinformation created to make a profit. Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mother, spoke after the trial saying, "we can choose love," and "we're all responsible for one another."

Evil is more than a philosophical concept or an interesting plot for a streaming series. Perhaps evil is when we refuse to look at other humans through a lens of compassion and kindness.

The best way to learn empathy is through reading books, especially books outside my experiences or that might make me feel uncomfortable. Neil Gaiman, author of “The Sandman” and “Coraline,” said in an interview “…a book is a little empathy machine. It puts you inside somebody else’s head. You see out of the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s very hard to hate people of a certain kind when you’ve just read a book by one of those people.”

I’m not sure if Eichmann or Jones would have acted differently if they had read books about the experiences of their victims. But maybe when they had been young it would have made a difference. Can we prevent future evil by encouraging people to read outside of their comfort zone?

I don’t have all the answers. Circling back to quote from the character of Victor, yes, there are bad people doing bad things. But we have legal and ethical ways to stop them. We can’t change the minds of fanatics, but we can learn about each other, look out for each other, and “choose love.”

— This is the opinion of Linda Larson, a St. Joseph resident. She is the author of "Grow It. Eat It," which won a national award, and "A Year In My Garden." Her column is published the second Sunday of the month; she welcomes comments at

This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: The nature of evil