I can’t make you believe me when I tell you that the world needs evil men. And I’m certainly not going to assume that you’ll feel better about current events if you end up agreeing with my revelation. But I can’t make you do anything else, either. Well, actually I could; there’s a proven formula I could apply to do so. But I’m not evil. So I won’t.
Nevertheless, the “need” for evil men and the formula for cooking up evil are some of what I learned while in Washington, D.C., last month. The collective “We” – all of us, each of us, and even the most vocal in displaying resistance against “them” – need evil men. We crave evil men. They feed our creativity, our grit, and our growth. When too much time passes between the emergence of each prominent, evil man, our social evolution slows.
How do I know? History. It would be helpful if a universally accepted definition of evil were possible, which it isn’t; there’s never consensus on what’s evil, or what’s good, or whether evil is actually good. Remember, I didn’t say the world needs evil men because people personally like evil men. Each evil man has groups who like him, groups who despise him, and groups who follow him without liking or despising him. Regardless of how blatantly contrary to morality the man is – or how clearly repugnant he seems to you, or to anyone – somewhere, someone willingly applauds him.
I know from previous blog comments that some people not-so-silently pronounce certain types of public figures as inherently or objectively “evil” on factually indisputable grounds. “Look at Hitler!” they might argue.
Well, I’m a Jew. I’m not very good at being a Jew, and I may not pray, but I’m a Jew. So this next part is hard to write. Even Adolph Hitler – as late as 1932 – was not always seen as evil. History tells us that, by almost every objective standard, he was a horrible, evil man. His followers, however, did not know that they were being led to destroy an entire population. He did not simply take the pulpit and convince his followers to kill Jews. It didn’t work that way. Instead, after World War I, from 1918 to 1932, Germany found itself amid major economic and social crises; its desperate population needed a leader and its government feared democracy more than it feared Hitler. To the downtrodden, poor, and hopeless who craved leadership, Hitler’s nationalist message was simple: There is a singular cause for your despair. You have one enemy: The non-Aryans. Stop them and hope will be restored.
It is difficult for modern people to imagine following Hitler. We’re rational, thinking beings who know where he took his followers’ fears and the atrocities his followers were ultimately led to conduct. When thinking so logically, however, we forget Hitler convinced his followers that they were trapped.
We employ reason when considering Hitler, but forget what it’s like to feel trapped. We forget that, when trapped, the first thing we want is a path – a way out. We may or may not understand that the one path that saves us does so at someone else’s peril. Rather, in a perceived state of emergency, most of us will do as we’re told when a leader explains that the people they’ve asked us to pass over are already injured and want us to go on and be saved. We do what we’re told by the emergency personnel who are leading our escape. We don’t knowingly stomp on the weak out of hatred, yelling, “Die! Die! Die!” In desperation, we obey the perceived or actual experts who have created a path for us.
Most people who read about the Holocaust in hindsight seem to believe that Hitler’s followers were fully engaged in the hatred; we want to be able to say that, “in any of these evil men’s followers’ shoes, we would do differently.” Believing that all were complicit helps justify our hatred for Hitler and his followers. But if we allow ourselves to believe that they were all equally motivated by the same evilness, then we negate our own argument that Hitler himself was the worst of all evils!
So, this begs the question: When do we get to define a person as “evil”? Is it only after a horrible outcome?
Take Steve Jobs, for instance. Can you Remember Silicon Valley before Steve Jobs? Shortly after his death, a Forbes Magazine columnist called Steve Jobs a “world class jerk,” citing friends of the Apple co-Founder/Chairman/CEO who wondered if Jobs might have been a sociopath or a megalomaniac. Perhaps you’re one of the many people who don’t think of Jobs as evil. Many people don’t. But many remember an Apple Inc. that, while producing beautiful things that changed the world, was led by a fear and control mongering man who was “rude, dismissive, hostile (and) spiteful.” But, his formula for getting people to follow him was no different than any other leader’s: A need, a common enemy, and a path. We needed his form of “evil” behavior. It exacted the kind of change that has propelled global economies for decades. Have the effects of his leadership been fully realized or will historians one day look back on Jobs and declare him actually evil?
While pondering that concept, let’s engage in a little exercise of imagination.
Picture two sets of people, both presumably well-educated. One of the groups views a leader as objectively evil while the other group either diametrically disagrees or accepts the evil as the preferred alternative to another leader. You’ve just visualized U.S. politics. I’m not talking about politics in 2017/18 or even politics under “Trump’s America.” I’m talking about U.S. politics as an entity. Whether we are told we are battling terrorists or trade deficits, a challenge to our freedoms, or a challenge to our Constitution, every U.S. President has followed the same formula – preach to the downtrodden, name a common enemy, and outline a path. Whether he is currently or ultimately deemed evil remains open for debate. Whether his followers carry out perceived atrocities out of their own evil or out of desperation becomes the stuff of history texts decades in the future.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to convince my employees that they cannot possibly be employed elsewhere; that a career change would severely compromise their wellbeing; that the economy is their enemy; and that only I know the path that they must follow to achieve total success.
Or, I won’t. But if I were truly evil, that’s how I would lead them.