When I taught at the Univ.of Central Florida, my most popular course was called The Faces of Evil. I led the students through a variety of readings dealing with racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other types of hate. We also looked at the "problem of evil" in philosophy and asked unanswerable questions about the nature of evil.
I remember an exam question: Do you agree with the ancient Greek thinkers who said that ignorance is the greatest evil? Many of the better students questioned whether any one aspect of evil can be singled out as the greatest; many argued that extreme selfishness lies at the heart of nearly all evil actions; many others explored fear.
Now, as I watch the faces of the so-called Tea Party critics of the current administration on the TV news, I am reminded of that question. The tendency to oversimplify the complex issues of the day and to ignore facts in favor of demagoguery follows a familiar pattern: fear, based on ignorance, leads to anger, anger to hatred, and hatred to violence. Hitler used this tactic effectively in the 1930s.
Critics of the health care reform law do not seem to want to know that it is not a government takeover nor do they know what socialism really means when they use that term. The grotesquely ignorant Sarah Palin questions Obama's nuclear START treaty as if she knew what she was talking about. Of course, the media report more of her know-nothing speeches than the facts, based on the belief that most people find it much easier to remain uninformed and opinionated, relying on Fox News for a daily dose of biased reporting. Consider the recent statement by Glenn Beck, the ultimate yahoo, that his news network really exists for entertainment. If only the alarming levels of fear and hatred in this country could be so easily dismissed as entertainment.
If today some politicians are retreating from the public stage, horrified at the vicious attacks levelled at them, how far are we from seeing our leaders assassinated? Isn't violence the logical next step for some of today's yahoos, with their not-so-subtle racism?
In this dangerous climate, I see the face of evil as essentially one of ignorance.