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The Origins of Evil
by Michael Maciel

Evil and the devil are concepts constructed by the ego to make itself look important. In the movie Mission Impossible II there's a very interesting line that goes, "If you want a hero, you must first have a villain." What better villain than "the" Lord of Darkness to set the ego up as a hero?

Evil is a false belief generated by the ego in order to justify its existence. It must have an "other" against which it can struggle. Survival becomes its raison d’être—not survival of the body (because, Lord knows, there are lots of things more important than safety) but survival for itself. Our self-image, under the guise of “honor” (read pride), is worth dying for. Our own beliefs are always more important than those of our enemies, and theirs, to them, are more important than ours. Therefore, evil becomes a matter of perspective, a condition of self-interest—in short, anything that threatens the ego’s well being.

In order for the ego to sustain the artificial mindset it needs to survive, it has to create an adversary. Evil and the devil are the biggest sideshow the ego has going. We’ve all seen people who create crisis after crisis just to draw attention to themselves. They're called "drama queens". The ego isn't "bad"; it's just a drama queen. As long as the drama continues, it gets to remain the center of attention. Evil is drama. And great dramas need great villains.

We take ourselves way too personally. There is no GREAT POWER out there in the universe devoting itself to our destruction. We would like to think so, because it would make us look really important (you and I against the world!). The very notion that the world actually doesn't care one way or the other is just too unbearable for our fragile sense of self. If our guilt prevents us from accepting a “loving” God, we will substitute our faith in that love with a faith in an avenging devil. By pitting ourselves against an “evil” world, we can justify our attempts to dominate it. It is this “us against them” mentality that is at the root of all of our problems. All of the evils in the world depend upon it, everything from our collective disregard for the environment to our predominantly male-oriented culture that regards women as a commodity. Nature becomes the enemy, human nature the flaw, and everything “natural” becomes merely “raw material”.

Let It Begin with Me
To understand the origins of evil, we must first understand the origin of the ego. If evil is a matter of perspective, then the ego creates it, because the ego is what makes perspective possible. Without going too far into it, we might say that ego is what happens when Being intersects with matter. It is a virtual self having only an apparent existence, like the image we see in a mirror. The ego wants to cohere the images it perceives into a meaningful picture, and then protect that picture for the sake of its own identity (it tends to identify with what it sees). Like a living cell, the ego forms a “membrane” around its set of perceptions and meanings, warding off anything that doesn’t fit and searching endlessly for things that do. This “membrane” distinguishes the ego as separate from the whole, which, of course, prevents us from seeing the world as it actually is. Nearly every spiritual discipline begins and ends with the attempt to dissolve this membrane, or at least render it transparent, so that we can glimpse, perhaps for the first time, reality. When we do, everything appears as it is - infinite (William Blake).

The Myth of Safety
Most of what we call evil occurs as a result of placing our self-image ahead of our well being. Self-image and evil (evil being the opposite of our well being) go hand in hand; each serves the other. Our obsession with self-image is evidenced by the way we live our lives, since there are many things more important than safety. Because of this skewed prioritization, we buy cars primarily for how they look and not for their safety features, we would rather have cheaper air fares than safer airplanes, we eat food for how it tastes rather than for its wholesomeness, and we “thrive” on stress, feeling guilty if we’re not constantly doing something. All of these are mistakes, but they are self-generated mistakes. The “evils” of the world are their logical outcomes.

One Man’s Meat…
Ego is an epiphenomenon of being, just as reflection is an epiphenomenon of light. There is nothing inherently evil about the ego — it is just a phenomenon. Is the cow evil for feeding on the grass? Are we evil for feeding on the cow? Is cancer evil for "feeding" on us? Or are these things simply phenomena? The world has become a maze of separations - differing points of view between nations, individuals, species, and ecosystems. If we are to undo the evil that precipitates from these differences of opinion, then it is the perspective that we must address and not the outer conditions.

Love Thine Enemies
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t real problems in the world; it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight the good fight or try to establish systems of justice and equity. But hating the opposition does not serve anyone — it only makes a bad situation worse. In The Godfather III, Michael Corleone tells his protege, “Never hate your enemies…. it affects your judgement.” Hatred blinds the hater, and blindness (ignorance), along with fear and greed, according to the Buddha, are the causes of all suffering. Conflict is automatically de-escalated when we understand our opponent’s point of view. It’s the beginning of negotiation.

Know Your Enemy
Evil is crisis. Crisis is evil. Evil is, well...anything we don't like. Something awful happens, and we take it personally. The more random the evil, the more important the ego becomes, because, obviously, the entire universe is out to get US! The events of 9/11 gave us a huge opportunity to become heroes. With each passing month, Evil gets more and more personified—nothing rallies the troops like a well-defined enemy. And, politically speaking, whether that definition is correct is irrelevant. The important thing to our collective Ego is that we have something legitimate to protect and that we are clear about who we’re protecting it from. There is a sense that the real issues are being addressed, but through back channels, out of the public eye. The news media continually stokes the fire by keeping the story simple and the enemy easily identifiable.

Naming the evil in our lives is tricky business. We can achieve a much higher level of accuracy in our assessment of evil if we take responsibility, even partially, for the things that bother us.

More great lines from another great movie, Contact:
“It’s unfortunate that we live in an imperfect world, Ellie, a world that doesn’t reward your kind of idealism.”

“That’s funny, David…I always thought that the world is what we make of it.”
Evil is a game created by the ego to keep itself in play. Evil disappears as we refuse to participate in its story. The instant we cast ourselves as either heroes or victims, we get sucked in, and the drama begins.