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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is Evil, evil?


Ok, let me start by saying that I need to do a little "lead into" for this blog topic - just to make sure that we're all clear on the actual topic - "Is Evil, evil?"  So I ask that each of you do me the courtesy of reading what I have written here prior to posting your comments.

Several years ago I heard a speaker while in college speak about the importance of properly analyzing history.  The reason that I remember the core of his speech was that I found the topic to be interesting and the questions he raised to be thought provoking; and as most of you know, I love thought-provoking conversations.... the deeper, the better!  To my "sick" academic mind, a good evening would be to have a bunch of people sitting around and engaging in a great discussion on "deep" topics.  Anyway, moving on...

The professor was Dr. Demos of Yale University (btw, one of the most interesting history professors I ever had) and he was stressing how it is important for students of history, professors of history, research writers, etc., to learn to analyze history as history.  In other words, not give what they may conceive as clear-cut labels.  According to Dr. Demos, when we do that, we enter into a "wrong way to attempt to understand history."  History, of itself, has no unambiguously good actors or bad.  There are just actors.  In fact, good and evil should not factor in a historical analysis at all.  Properly done, history must be examined and analyzed from a dispassionate, almost other-worldly, perspective. Let me give you an example using the Civil War.

Lincoln fought a war to preserve the Union—a union that had been voluntarily, democratically entered by the various states and subsequent territories.  Take away the repugnant institution of slavery, and the Confederacy had the better democratic claim for what they wished to do, if the critical ideal for a democratic republic is self-determination.  Had Lincoln not been able to wrap his cause of preserving the Union in the flag of ending slavery, the 600,000 dead would have been an atrocious cost to pay in order to keep a voluntarily-entered union from being voluntarily and democratically dissolved.

Stripped of moral judgments, history abounds with irony.   Lincoln had to subvert the democratic will of the Southern state legislatures in order to preserve democracy.  He eventually used the greater evil of slavery as justification for his fight against Southern democracy, but it should never be forgotten that he didn’t issue the Emancipation Proclamation until 1863, well after hostilities had commenced.   He pinned his cause on eliminating slavery only when it appeared his cause of preserving the Union was in jeopardy.  One wonders, what rationale to hold together the Union would be available, if in the future some state democratically determined it wished to leave?  Considering that even client states like Iraq and Afghanistan have no choice about their limited participation in the Union, it would be outlandish to imagine that something would not be contrived if, e.g., Texas figured it would be better off going it alone, again.  Lincoln was lucky.  He had the abolition of slavery to steel the people’s hearts and minds to battle against their own people, and in some measure, against their own ideals.  Artfully leveraging slavery to his purposes was part of Lincoln’s genius.  It would take an even more astute politician to conjure such a compelling purpose today, if one of the several states sought leave to end its association.

Ok, continuing my example using the Civil War (yes, one of my favorite period so history to study), let's take a look at the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee.  Lee is perhaps the most mythologized and romanticized military leader in American history.  His tactical brilliance is routinely praised, though there is precious little evidence supporting the view.  In fact, Lee led tactical disaster after disaster, not least Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, which as any reasonably astute tactician understands, and all Lee’s generals at the time fully well knew, was nothing more or less than Confederate suicide.  In many ways, Lee was the Union’s best general.  History is always written by the victors, perhaps explaining the enduring myth of Lee’s tactical brilliance.  The victors would not wish to imagine that Lee’s defeat was anything other than the product of their own valor and determination against a formidable foe.

So, are we correct to label something as "evil" simply to justify our own desire to elevate our own "goodness" or to justify something we consider (or in history's case - the victor) to be morally good.  Could not one claim that Lincoln was an "evil" man for leading the country into a war that, as stated earlier, actually went against the very principals of the Declaration of Independence? If you don't think so, maybe you should take the time to re-read the Declaration of Independence, for it clearly stated:

"...That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Would it not be equally justified to declare that Robert E. Lee was "evil" for leading the Confederate states into one disaster after another; only on the belief that for some reason the South was justified in it's succession?

What about other characters that we find throughout history?  Who is "evil"?  Why are they considered "evil?"  How will history look back at us 100, 500, or a 1000 years from now when they read that we aborted millions of unborn children (NO!!! THIS IS NOT AN ANTI-ABORTION MESSAGE!!!...but what if for some reason later on that it's discovered that a fetus at 1 week old can indeed feel pain...it would probably change the interpretations that some have about the "justification" of aborting a fetus...therefore the future may judge us completely different)?  Will we be considered an "evil" people?

Last but not least - the question must also be asked - is an individuals actions "evil" or is it the results of a given action that are evil?

Trust me, the topic is difficult to nail down and granted, the interpretations are just as varied as the events in history itself.  So here's the blog topic for this week.....

BLOG QUESTION:
Is Evil, "evil"?  Can we effectively and justifiably declare someone or something in history as being "evil" - if so how or why? 

60 comments:

  1. While wanting to argue that unlike “tall”, “short”, “warm”, or “cold”, “evil” is much more difficult to define due to its ambiguity. Though the word “evil” is ambiguous indeed, other such adjectives are actually unlikely to receive a simple, straightforward definition as well. Comparing to a gigantic guerilla, humans are obviously short. Comparing to the North Pole, Secaucus is no doubt a fairyland of warmness. In simple words, everything gets their description based on a comparison with others (that’s why we can’t tell the size of an object through a photo unless a ruler stick is beside the object). The reason for some people to perceive the same kind of sentiments regarding to specific objects or people may be the similar niche they live in, or similar ideals they belong.
    Now the word “evil”, aimed at personalities of living creatures or features of special events, is oftentimes used to criticize a quality of opposite absoluteness. Such as the white men in the eyes of Native Americans certainly did these “evil” actions by introducing diseases, depriving land, exhausting soil with large tobacco plantation, snatching their folks as voluntary labors, and massacring their villages and tribes. Such as the black slaves in the eyes of white men were apparently “evil” because of their indolence, ignorance, inherent racial impureness, ability to escape or organize rebellions, and to attack them back. Such as central authority in the eyes of many Americans is viewed as a necessary “evil” because it regularly goes against states’ righter and is possible to transform into a monarchy, yet is still required to avoid mobocracy and anarchy. Above all, actions alone don’t achieve any great significance or quality of goodness or evil, because they’re objects without a meter stick beside them. Nevertheless, the perspective of the reviewer becomes the meter stick that gives it length and depth – more importantly, its essence.
    The question comes down to whether people are able to effectively and justifiably declare someone/something in history as being “evil”. According to Dr.Demos in Mr.Gehm’s words, “good and evil should not factor in a historical analysis at all…history must be examined and analyzed from a dispassionate, almost other-worldly, perspective.” Though seemingly sound, this somewhat ascetic approach is almost impracticable due to its highly abstract and utopian ideology that eliminates the two fundamental elements of all human nature. “The American Pageant”, well known for its flowery patriotism, almost always dedicates compliments to the favorite side. Howard Zinn’s “A people’s History”, though much less egoistic, still weighs adversaries on the balance of good and evil. It’s impossible to face things without personal sentiments and connotations. People learn history through impressions; many are made in just a temporary moment – whenever Aaron Burr is mentioned, the brutal and violent impression of him holding a bloody gun at Hamilton would pop into my mind. Thus far, many Hamiltonians or pacifists can label him as being “evil”, murderous, unmerciful and a heinous antagonist. But history doesn’t stop right here, the labeling process is however only a phase within long-term study. When we look back into Burr’s political career, we would see his eloquent and talented side for winning a majority vote for Jeffersonians in taverns and halls in NY.
    Evil can only be analyzed as a portion of someone’s characteristics by supporting it with facts and evidences. Markedly, no one is totally evil and no one is totally away from evil. No matter what way one analyzes history, it’s still made for people – most importantly common people, to read and examine. If every history book we read is like a chronicle consisted of only facts, deprived of evil and good designations, which I personally am not sure if it counts for “a dispassionate, almost other-worldly” analysis. The result would be even more tedious, duller, and drier.

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    1. Oops I'm actually planning to write less this time........just an accident.................

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    2. Heck.. you better not write less... I'd miss your in-depth analysis. Yet, I have to say that in this case, I don't totally agree with you. Trust me, that does not mean that I'm "right" and you're "wrong" (no pun intended here). I think the key point is that when studying history or researching the facts of a person or event in time (your examples were great, by-the-way), I have to agree to restate that I believe that our "judgement" often gets in the way of our interpretation. I often say that to look "back" at history, one must always step out of his/her 21st century box or you will end-up judging a past event based on your own time's moral standards. A prime example of this would be the institution of slavery. From our 21st century moral standards, it is judged as something that is "evil" or "morally wrong" (same thing, in my opinion), yet is that a fair analysis when looking back through the annals of history? I argue "no." Slavery, historically, was an accepted practice (as I have mentioned in class). The practice of enslaving has very deep roots in human history.
      Please do not get me wrong - I am not advocating slavery or the practice of enslaving. My argument is that one can argue the merits of the practice of slavery as something "good" or "bad" (evil) but to label a people of a given time period as being "evil" for participating in slavery - based on our 21st century interpretations of morality would have to be wrong.

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    3. Oh My Gehm, 11 o'clock is really late for a witch! (plus it's not the time right after I replied Iqra last night)
      I get your point that in analyzing history, it seems that people have to put themselves in those ancestors' shoes to feel their feelings and enter their moral values. But would there be one drawback to this? Using the example of Columbus, he no doubt felt this tremendous glory when he noticed that he had found the new world; he may also feel absolutely justified to seize native land and enslave these Indies. Then should this positive interpretation offered by many history books, as you stated, be considered as a judgement out of the 21st century box? (though it's contradicting because the Indies were in a drastically different perspective, which may be ironically considered as the modern 21st century view since Columbus is so "evil"...) Tied into the "drawback" I mentioned before, if every time we looked back into the history and to understand their actions according to their ethic levels - would virtually everything become a justified and rational action? It kind of confused me and I guess that I've already confused you...would the 21st century perspective be equivalent to the perspective of the maker of that specific action? At least based on the slavery issue you brought up I felt this way...
      To the second part of your argument, if someone is practicing something that's labeled as being "evil" by the majority, it's quite hard to not judge the person upon the extant prejudice. Like the Founding Fathers were great to establish the country in the first place, yet the reason for them to not emancipate the slaves was because themselves owned slaves. Would owning slaves make them evil spirits? Definitely not, but it's a blemish that's hardly not to stuck in one's subconscious. Besides that, a handful of rumors about Jefferson in the presidential campaign of 1800 proved to be true, such that he had robbed a widow, fathered mulatto children by his own slave woman Sally Hemming. Although Jefferson had numerous glorious contributions to the country yet to be mentioned, the half-truth mudslinging indeed blew the minds of many of his followers. So this is partially the reason I personally felt about the impracticality of looking at something in a highly self-constraint way that transcends the mundane thinking process. Even self-denying in a sense. Because it seems like everything would be good away from potent evilness.

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    4. First, allow me to clarify. I was indeed mistaken about the time post. I just checked. I get notifications after post are made in my email and I was looking at the wrong time stamp. So, that one was truly my error.

      Yet, you aren't fooling anyone about 11 PM being "really late for a witch" - seriously, everyone knows how active witches are at night! Of course, you being such a young witch, you may have an argument.

      Ok, getting back on topic....

      You stated that "he no doubt felt this tremendous glory when he noticed that he had found the new world" - I seriously doubt that would have been true, since Columbus did not know that he had "found the New World" - remember he thought he was in the East Indies (even though there is evidence in his personal writings toward the end of his life that he believed that he may have accidentally discovered a new land).

      I agree with part of your argument that if the majority of a society decides that the actions of an individual or an event is horribly wrong or "evil" it would be hard to ignore or discredit. The measure of "evil" or the translation of its meaning is surely defined by society, as a whole. And by the use of the word "society" I do not mean globally, but locally (ever culture is different; with different morals or different ideologies, therefore it also stands to reason that they would have different interpretations of what should be considered "evil"). Yet, keep in mind that history is a very strange character and it acts as a mirror which reflects our past; it is a perfect mirror, for it only reflects what is there - the good, the bad, and the ugly; nothing more - nothing less. Yet, I still believe that when we study history it is somewhat incorrect for us to use our current day judgments to label something as "evil" or "non-evil" - but judge it on its effects, as a whole. History must ALWAYS be interpretative and we MUST always allow and accept the various interpretations that may exist; for it is through those interpretations that allow us to view an individual or event from many view points; many different angles. If students of history "label" events and even more "dangerous" (in my viewpoint) would be for history books to reflect such one-sided interpretations.

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    5. Yes Mr.Gehm you're right, young witches are designed to have a longer sleep, in order to sustain their energy to manufacture more effective potions.
      And I believe you're right again about Columbus. Considering your correction, I would change my argument to "he no doubt felt this righteousness to snatch the gold and hand it to the crowns while stepping upon corpses of the natives" (hope it makes sense this time.)
      I like your analogy that compares history to a mirror - it's interesting since in order for it to be an alleged "perfect mirror", it would not only reflect what's there. By that I mean it's very possible for some spontaneous generations to occur when synthesizing history (i.e. fabricated primary documents); on the other hand, it's almost indispensable that history would be distorted just like a mirror distorting its original image due to light refraction. A drop of ink can activate the butterfly effect and tie into an entire chain of "what-if history". Sometimes, perhaps the original evidence we based on to criticize a historical action - is non-existent, or fallacious.
      Just some thoughts here...anyway I would like to agree, as always, that history "must ALWAYS" be interpretative and be viewed at "different angles", which, would have to include "labeling" - rather than a single tag, would be a series of them.

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    6. Carrie, I strongly agree with two potions of your post.
      The first is the part that you mentioned all the examples on different viewpoints in our history, such as the white men looking at the blacks as "evil", or the Natives looking at the whites as "evil". This portion made me think about how differently people look at and study a situation. The white men thought the black were evil because of their "indolence, ignorance, inherent racial impureness, ability to escape or organize rebellions, and to attack them back" and the blacks thought the white were evil because they held them and forced them to do constant labor work in the fields, barely fed them, and were cruel to them. Looking at the two different perspectives of the same situation is unbelievable. This just shows that evil isn't one definition at all, but several depending on how one defines it.
      Also, I like how you mention how the "American Pageant" compliments the favored side. For example, in most books we study from, we are taught how America was right in most situations in our past. Aside from this year in APUSH, we rarely ever get to truly see the other side of a confrontation in our history, but just America's side.

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  2. Many words often have one, clear cut definition. "Good" and "evil" are among two that don't. This is because the idea of what is right and what is wrong is determined by an individual's mind. You could say that, for every person, there is a different definition of good and evil. This brings forth the question - is "evil" truly evil, or is it just a word that gains power when people don't interpret history for themselves. There are many examples of this. Christopher Columbus is often considered a courageous genius for knowing that the world was round, and braving the dangerous trek to the unknown world he knew was there. Often, people forget a few crucial facts - every educated person already knew that the world was round, Columbus actually overestimated the size of the world, he thought he had found the East Indies (why we call Native Americans "Indians") and he practically slaughtered close to two million people. Yet everyone knows him for his "extraordinary discovery." Also, many, many people consider Adolf Hitler, the chancellor of the Third Reich, and the leader of a genocide of immense proportions, as an extremely evil man. However, there are some who still consider him a good man. While these are mostly neo-Nazis who share his anti-Semitic views, this is still proof that no one man is considered evil by every single person in the world. Therefore, can we even judge someone without knowing what everyone else thinks of him or her? By this philosophy, someone can be judged as evil on two levels: absolutely, or if everyone has the same view, or if not, individually, which is taking everyone's separate mindset into individual consideration en masse. Since it is impossible for everyone to judge something the exact same way, meaning that someone will always be judged different, absolute judgment is impossible. Therefore, someone can only be judged based on what every individual thinks about him or her. However, since we can't know what everyone thinks about a person, especially since some wont even know anything or everything about him or her, someone's overall judgment, and therefore their being good or evil is somewhat of a variable. An excellent analogy is to the scientific works of Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist who is most famous for his "Schrödinger's Cat" experiment. The experiment details that, when a cat is in a box with a vial of poison that might or might not have been broken open, we don't know if the cat is dead or not, and therefore can consider the cat both dead and alive. Therefore, since everyone will have a different opinion about whether someone is evil or not, someone can be considered both good and evil. This is also true in that many people will consider someone good, and many will consider the same person evil. Since history is interpretive, one person can only judge a person to be absolutely evil on his own accord, and not on behalf of every single man, woman, and child on the planet. One can only judge by himself, knowing that his next door neighbor will probably think differently.

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    1. Brandon, what a great analogy! As you stated, it's paradoxical to a degree since every man is in a superposition state of both good and evil. To a completely unfamiliar person, the percentage of both qualities is even. But if you get to know a person - like opening the box and revealing the cat inside - you'll most likely identify him/her as either good or evil. Though human world is not absolute like the demonstration of "Schrödinger's Cat", the person is not totally "lived" or "dead" - being totally good or evil. Besides that, your methodology as to "take everyone's separate mindset into individual consideration en masse" is much more practical than the former. I believe that's the way social relations and reputations work - everyone is a stack of all those relevant praises and negative rumors.

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    2. As Mr.Gehm said about the conquistadors "They believed that they were doing the right thing, that there actions were just.” The same could go with any other controversial person in history. Those people are often judged in what you said “groups or individually”. Thus these people give off an influence that label someone. Like Christopher Columbus, people saw him as a swell guy who found the Americas, but completely ignored the sources of Christopher Columbus being responsible for the deaths of Native Americans. There will always be new information that leads to a new possible outcome which means different interpretations as well.

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    3. To think of historical events and people as Schrödinger's cats is an interesting point of view. I believe these cats are always being killed and resurrected in that (as Dylan already said) new information give potential to new interpretations. For example, back in Britain's imperial period, British scientists claimed Australian Aborigines were the missing link between monkey and man. These learned men abducted and executed hundreds for the sake of science. The British also kidnapped Aboriginal children and put them in white families so they could be 'civilized.' To the British, Australian natives were a 'dead cat', an evil they sought to eradicate. Obviously, in modern times, this is not the case. The cat representing Aborigines have been 'resurrected', in that the British government now works with the Australian government in an effort to unite families and compensate for their actions. As we unearth more information, we add more variables to be considered in judging the metaphorical Schrödinger's cats of history.

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  3. Evil, often used to denote something immoral, is used as a general context, which can have various meanings, based upon ones judgments. The question is what is our definition of immoral? There is no one single definition; it all depends on ones opinions and interpretations. For example, the founding fathers step toward the constitution can be labeled as “evil or good” While some people believe the Constitution has remarkably brought us together, others believe is was just a selfish act of our founding fathers. In some views, the founding fathers had written the constitution for their own benefits.
    This ideology can also be presented outside of history. Another example being the debate over whether animal testing is “evil” While some believe animal testing is required for innovations in science others believe the act of harming animals for ourselves is selfish and inhumane. There is no one label that can be put on the controversial issue.
    Now if we take a look at Thomas Jefferson, can we label him evil?
    He pardoned those that were imprisoned by the Naturalization Act of 1802, helped cement the two party system we have today, and purchased Louisiana. He also passed the Embargo act, damaging America’s commerce and was seen as a huge failure. Due to these positive and negative factors we cannot justify Thomas Jefferson as being evil. As we have learned history is a full of interpretations and these interpretations label something “good” or “evil”, therefore “evil” doesn’t have a meaning. It is a mere opinion that various among people.
    We can look at history from various scales (BIG HISTORY!!) on depending on the factors we look at they will never be fully “good” or “evil.”

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    1. Iqra, the non-history example you brought up is indeed intriguing. The controversy around animal testing, as well as abortion that Mr. Gehm brought up in His introduction, and the same may apply for homosexual marriage, the PRISM issue, religious issues, and various other ethic conflicts that are fervently evolving to this day. It's wondrous sometimes that we're living in such contradicting world where one may say "Oh that's so bad", and the other may reply with complete apathy "so what's that about?" And scales, yes, perspectives seem to have a dominating power in all nature. (I kind of miss the Big History Project)

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    2. I liked how you said that evil has no true meaning. It really showcases how evil has as many definitions as there are people. However, are you saying that judging something at a larger scale is impossible or simply invalid? The way I interpreted your post is that, if evil has no true meaning, wouldn't that mean that good, as a consequence, has no true meaning either? Thus, wouldn't that mean that, when you approach a higher scale, like you brought up, beyond the scale of an individual, judging someone at all is to some extent impossible?

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    3. I have to agree somewhat with Brandon. If "good" does exist, then doesn't "evil" have to exist as well? Likewise, if "evil" does exist, than "good" must equally exist.

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    4. yes i agree. Interpretation and opinion is what determines one as "good" or "evil". What i mean by my post is that there is no one definition to label someone as "good" to "evil"

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    5. I feel like "good" and "evil" both exist within a person or thing and that they cannot be labeled either one; however, It could be interpreted that it is more "evil" than not or vice-versa.

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  4. The process through which one is considered good or evil is, to put it simply, quite complicated. Others have already mentioned in their posts how interpretation falls onto the shoulders of the individual; I half-agree. I say this because it is a simplification. An individual and his beliefs were not built on his own. One must also look at the culture, society, and time period he grew up in, all of which shape his bias and "justice system."
    Culture declares its own set of good and evil; what is taboo to one may be perfectly acceptable to others. For example, it is still a common practice in Hindu-dominant countries to burn a living widow along with her deceased husband. Sharia law in Saudi Arabia orders the amputation of any thief's right hand. To Westerners, these seem to be overreactions, 'evil'. Yet to people who live in these countries, these practices are normal, 'good'. A subset of one's culture is also the beliefs expressed, which further complicates things: my Christian beliefs combine with my Filipino elders' rules in the importance of monogamy, but the same Filipino culture teaches the acceptance of polygamy in minority groups and Muslim Mindanao, as long as the man is able to financially support all his wives.
    Society, too, plays a role in one's "justice system." Vlad the Impaler is widely considered a monster while Romanians consider him a national hero for fighting the ottomans (said society's past and current situation also has to do with one's justice system: a few Romanians who believe the former argue that the latter may be due to leftover Communist teaching system or to an unconscious desire to cling to something they can be proud about, considering how poverty-stricken Romania is right now). In this way, our bias is shaped by how our society taught us: the interpretation of history they pass on is different from the ones we receive (and who knows if theirs is really watered down or if ours has been exaggerated).
    Finally, one of the biggest factors to consider is one's time period. Both society and culture experience changes as time goes by. Western society during the 1800s considered slavery 'good', partly because it helped stabilize the economy and also due to their own pervading set of beliefs (white superiority allowed for exploitation of colored inferiority). Obviously, modern society in general frowns upon slavery. Just look at women's rights history during the 20th century. Men put down women and showed discrimination against them in many aspects of life (work, hierarchy, etc), but most critics of equality for both sexes genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. It is the same thing in the fight for equality for all races. Both debates still present problems today, but modern society as a whole has at least embraced some degree of equality.
    Again, an individual certainly takes his own interpretation in consideration to what is nurtured in him, and he often fights for what he believes is right.However, he is still influenced by his society, his culture, and his time period. Even from birth and childhood, parents plant in him a sense of right and wrong. Without prior influence, he wouldn't have a justice system with which he can compare his against. By comparing, the individual may be able to find flaws in the preexisting system. It is when that person is willing to shed light to the flaw that progress is made.

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    1. I like how your brought up that the conditions in which a person grows up greatly influence his or her general mindset. Usually, many people tend to believe in the same thing their parents or peers believed. However, I feel that your point about how there are a few Romanians who still believe that Vlad the Impaler was a monster is self-contradicting to your post. To me, it shows that some people are willing to go against their taught mindsets, which reinforces the point that every individual will have a different point of view on a topic.

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    2. I truly agree with your point that society has a major effect on an individual. This further impacts the decisions we take to categorize someone or something as "good" of "evil" Various interpretations will have different results therefore there is no possible way to label one as "good" or "evil". i also agree with your point that an individual "often fights for what he believes is right" which ultimately once again alters the definition of "good" or "evil."

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    3. Hannah, the examples you brought up about "burning a widow", Sharia Law, polygamy, and Vlad the Impaler, certainly widened my horizon. And it's surely true that beside the factor of time period we usually consider, different social, regional or racial groups as well have enormous influence on our definitions on various things. Also my thoughts greatly resonate when you stated that "prior influence" primarily transformed one's "justice system". People always say that kids are reflections of their parents, which is reasonably true since we take many behaviors, qualities, and habits from them regardless of their values. Overall your post seems to be intertwined with the Transcendentalism beliefs (esp. embodied in your last two sentences) - we all inherit the knowledge passed down from generations, and it would be our decisions whether to keep them or to "shed light to '[their] flaw."

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    4. I found your example of Vlad the Impaler of Romania to be quite fascinating in the fact that you mentioned how Romanians revere him to cling onto a person to gather around in times of hardship. This is one of the most valid statements one can make about the concept of "evil being evil" because almost every single "horrible leader" had come into power in times of extreme hardships for the empire, state, or country. From Nero to Napoleon to Lenin to Hitler to Hussein, people gathered around these leaders to identify with the nation and establish a sense of patriotism.

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  5. Evil is often labeled by a communities beliefs, in which in most cases what we describe as evil today. Murder for instance is an evil with in our society that no one can simply ignore. However, the Aztecs saw murder as a way of appeasing their gods by decapitating people’s heads and rolling them down pyramid steps. If we saw that today we would go nuts! When the Europeans came to the Americas, they considered the Native Americans rabid for they did not act “civil”, which justified the massacres. Though in perspective the Aztecs just did what they thought was right because there was no justification for otherwise. Through various periods, evil has been defined by a bible or just the community itself.
    Evil isn’t just something that can be labeled from what we know, for it is differed throughout times of history and different cultures. Did you know that once a female Black Widow mates with their spouse they rips and eats their head off? HOLY !@#$! (Imagine if that’s how human relationships ended). I’ve never heard off an article calling black widows satanic or evil. Why? For it’s in their nature to do that, just as it is for us to interpret things as good or evil. Overtime opinions begin to change like with races, personalities, or even what gender to like. Though we do have the tendency to look back in time and judge people for what they did, but we would truly never know their mindset unless we were in their shoes, their position, their knowledge, and their ideas. People may look back us and say “Wow, what morons!”. Yet they will never truly know what the extent of our knowledge was. As long as I leave this world with a smile knowing everything I did was with the knowledge I interpreted and the goals I had, I’ll die happy, as would any other judged person in history would.
    Good and evil must never be looked at in a reflective mindset for it will just create an ignorance for the past. Both are two labels that can be switched pending on interpretation. Which is why there will truly be no world peace there will always be a conflict between two minds considering one evil and the other good. Even if both sides have a righteous cause it will still be looked at in different ways.

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    1. Dylan, you're example of hoe murder is interoperated according to the Aztecs compared to people today is quite interesting, however, it isn't clear is you believe evil actually exists or if the sword is somewhat misleading. You mentioned "Murder for instance is an evil with in our society that no one can simply ignore." What justifies this as being evil?? (I'm not saying its good either!!) There is no actual data or support you can use to justify your opinion. It is our mindset that has been influenced by various factors to label something as "evil" or "good"

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    2. I like how you brought up the concept of Black Widow cannibalism. When it comes to human thought, we don't consider spiders "evil," just less "domesticated." However, I feel that this said lack of domestication also, in a way, contradicts your argument. Spiders, while still living, breathing creatures, don't necessarily possess the complex thought structure of humanity. If we assume that spiders can't think at a level as high as humans (even if they could, they still wouldn't be able to use it, due to their lack of thumbs), then technically, they can't comprehend good and evil, and thus wouldn't consider if tearing their mate's head off and devouring it was actually okay by their standards or not.

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    3. Also, can anyone tell me how to set up a profile picture? I've been trying since I starting blogging this year, and I can't figure it out! I've got a cool picture of the HMS Dreadnought I want to use!

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    4. Your example involving the Aztecs and Europeans is certainly interesting and complex, especially since both justified their deeds with their religious beliefs. The Aztecs did not consider their human sacrifices evil, merely a ritual they needed to perform in order to appease their gods. Europeans claimed their actions of massacre and abuse were aligned with the Bible and that they were simply ridding the world of pagans. Both saw themselves as good, both saw the other as evil. It is, in a way, a variation of 'us' versus 'them', our beliefs and survival versus theirs.

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    5. Your example on how evil was interpreted differently between the Aztecs and the Europeans brought up a recent conversation I had. The discussion involved different interpretations on different subjects. The subject of knives and guns being violent weapons was brought up. Some people say a guns and knives are violent, even if they are locked up or buried under ground. Others say that guns and knives are only violent if they are used in a violent matter i.e to murder or seriously hurt someone. Once again, this all depends on your interpretation of the topic. Same applies to whether something or someone is evil or good. It all depends on the way an individual interprets the situation.

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  6. Iqra: In OUR society it is interpreted as evil. I'm pretty sure if someone killed someone in our town they would go to prison.
    Brandon: True, but isn't possible to make an example out of it? I mean some religions believe cows are a sacred creature, couldn't another consider them as an evil?

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  7. History is interpretive. People say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” well so “evil.” What one person thinks is evil, may not be what the other person thinks. One example could be with the NSA. They recently admitted to limited spying on American citizens. The argument boils down to America striking a balance between surveillance and what’s sacred. Some stand behind the paraphrased Benjamin Franklin quote “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Others worry that without a strong offense and defense, terrorism will displace our way of life. The NSA’s actions could be considered Evil or just. It goes both ways. There is no effective or justifiable way to declare that someone or something in history is “evil.” Hitler, in his own mind, thought he was doing the world a favor. He thought he was doing “good,” but obviously the masses now think that his actions were unjust and “evil.” And Columbus! We read in textbooks of how he discovered the New World and other great things, but from other sources we were able to see that he and his men raped, murdered, and mistreated the Indians. Whether or not these actions are “evil” cannot be determined because everyone has a different interpretation on the situation.

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    1. The problem with your stance on Columbus is that biologically and socially, murder for no reason and rape have been viewed as "evil" in all but the most obscure societies. From a biological standpoint, if rape and murder were acceptable in a society, that society would be plagued by pain, massively fluctuating populations, and would eventually crumble. This is why saying rape is "good" in some sane person's mind is biologically nonsense.

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    2. You don't see to be diving into the logics of evil and why these things are labeled evil the way they are. Such as, influences or higher powers could come into play. The Ten Commandments were for a long time cited by religions in order to identify the good and evil with in people. Yet today has lost its value from new knowledge and the advancement of humans.

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    3. Your example about Columbus was good (it's been mentioned a few times in this blog); however, it seemed empty, which might be why Pranav found it problematic. You did not emphasize the complexity of the good vs. evil involved in Columbus. Further explanation on the combination of white superiority complex; need for Indian land; the concept of "Indians=pagans that can be annihilated or toyed with"; and perhaps even an unfortunately common subconscious desire to enforce one's dominance over others, would have made your example stronger.

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    4. I liked how you used the quote in the beginning that really strengthened your argument, however, maybe you should have elaborated more on one certain topic then talk about a couple things at once. You brought up three different events during three different time periods sort of rushing the sentences. Elaborate more on one thing and it would have made your argument a lot better

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    5. Nirali, you and I share the same views on this topic. Like you said, history is interpretive, there are no facts here, just speculation.

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  8. As mentioned above several times, whether something is "good" or "evil" depends on the mind of an individual. Not everyone thinks alike, and most people have differing opinions, view points, stands, etc. on different topics. Whether one believes that something is good or evil depends on that person's mindset, beliefs or perspectives. What one person may think is evil, another may think is good.
    For example, in the 21st century, it is difficult to conclude that several people or actions in our history are good or evil since we now have different beliefs than those living back then had. The morals and rules we live our lives by today are different than the morals and rules people lived by in the 18th century. What we may think is moral or good now may not be what many back then thought good or moral was. Each person can define the words good and evil on their own.
    This topic also brings the point that there are always two sides of the story. Looking at a story from one side can often lead to assumptions that one side in a confrontation is evil. For example, over the years, we, for the most part, read America's side of problems faced in our history. We rarely ever read the perspectives of both sides of a war, argument, or dispute. This often leads to us believing that whoever was against America is a sort of evil. If we, however, took a step back, and looked at the situation from an unbiased and neutral view, many would have a different take on the situation.
    Bottom line, whether something is "good" or "evil" really depends on the way an individual looks at, analyzes and processes the situation. There are no real definitions for these two words. Instead, these two words are defined depending on the situation and the person interpreting and studying the situation.

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    1. I like how you brought up the each story has two sides. Depending on the side you're on, you can form an opinion on whether the situation is "evil" or not; however, everyone has opinions so you can't universally determine if someone or something is 'evil'.

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    2. Agreed Fedah, it truly matters on ones own mindset to identify evil from good. A 21st century mindset should NEVER be involved when looking back on history or it would just create the ignorance of the past. However, it must be mentioned that influences play a hefty role within opinions. A person for an upper class neighborhood would have a different opinion from someone from the slums. Perhaps someone has changed your opinion about something, expanding your horizons around it.

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    3. Something interesting I have seen in your blog that wasn't particularly brought up in other blogs (I could be wrong) is the fact that sense of what is good and evil can differ through the ages. I didn't think much about the different senses of good and evil through time, but when one does, one can see that these time-warped ideologies are what fuel many of the wars today in at least some part. For example the war in the Middle East can be viewed as a state with a progressive mindset (Western-civilization countries) vs extremists who try to retain old beliefs in the Middle East.

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    4. Your first paragraph was very similar to mine. I agree when you say that everyone has different viewpoints. Like noses, opinions are different and everyone had one. You can't base what you believe in on someone else's opinion.

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    5. Fedah,
      It was interesting how you brought up the argument of the two sides of the stories because your example was true. History books often seem to make the efforts against the United States seem intrinsically evil to large degree. It's just like Mr.Gehm said in class. When he was in school as a Southerner, he learned about the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression." Different bias lead to different perspective on a historical figure and for that reason alone, we cannot definitively label people.

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    6. Fedah, it is like asking a child to choose which parent he favors more, mom or dad? At some point he may say mom, later on he may say dad. In other words, as time goes on views change. Just like you mentioned, we cannot define an interpretation.

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  9. The concepts of "good" and "evil have been around for mellennia. Since pre-Biblical times, these conflicting concepts and their distinction have plagued human society. From a psychological standpoint, humans preform tasks for three main reasons: to affirm their inherent and individual sense of good, to comply with a person who is either politically or socially superior, or to gain something in emotional, material, or monetary value. It is in the first reason that the boundary between good and evil occurs, and changes with every person. Everyone's individual sense of good comes from many variables, including, but not limited to, upbringing, education, environment, social position, and religion. Since every person is brought up somewhat differently, everyone has a different sense of what is right and wrong. Wars, revolutions, and crusades occur when people of power and of different ideologies of good collide. One could say that these clashes of inherent senses of good is the main factor in shaping human history. Isn't it ironic that the person or empire that is ultimately vanquished is usually the one that is classified as bad? This is no coincidence, as history dictates that the winner of a conflict has the privilege of writing history as most of the world will know it. In Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Pasha's Ottoman Empire, people did not gather around these figures because they were "bad guys", but because they had radical, intelligent ideas that would change the state for the better (with obvious exceptions, such as the Holocaust, Great Purge, and Armenian Genocide respectively). Hitler's Mein Kampf did not sell 10 million copies during his rule in Germany alone because Germans liked reading about the inner workings of a racist psychopath, but because Germans at the time believed that his (non-racist) ideas would manage to revive the fallen Germany to its former glorious prestige. Evil is just as interpretive as history, because a series of various factors play in to the understanding of each, and each factor is interpreted differently by every person.

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    1. I agree with your point that the person's upbringing, lifestyle, etc. affects the way they interpret how "evil" or not something is. It truly depends on the interpreter, but since everyone has a different perspective and opinion, we cannot effectively declare someone or something "evil."

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    2. Pranav,
      This post contains a well planned analysis of the debated good or bad topic. You mention social aspects that may cause the forming of "the boundary between good and evil," which really analyzes why different opinions form to begin with. The examples of Hitler Germany, Stalin Russia, etc. exemplify a very important argument. Society as a majority may consider the person "bad," but the country and inside cabinet wouldn't do the actions if it was "bad," to begin with. Evidently there were people who think what these people were doing, was good, which should be left open to interpretation.

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  10. The word "evil" is intepreted differently by every person. The word doesnt necessarily have a specific meaning. The word is universal like the word "men" like in the Declaration of Independence it quotes "all men are created equal" which was also referring to women as well. The point is the word "evil" is just the absence of good such as the world "cold" which the absence of heat, cold does not exist. The word evil is so misjudged because until everyone on the planet agrees that one specific thing is evil,it would be possible to claim that evil actually exists. Hitler was a great man in the eyes of the germans even though he was respondsible for wiping out half the jews. In the eyes of the world he was an evil man, but that argument would be invalid because he helped his people,he was an idol therefore it would be impossible to say he was an evil man. Only because his own country didnt. The word is just a matter of opnion it will vary and there will never be 100 percent agreement to know what is good or what is evil. Evil will never have a real meaning.

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    1. Overall, you focused too much on the concept of "evil" instead of discussing about whether people can be declared evil or not. You should have also probably got an actual dictionary definition of the word "evil" because it would strengthen your argument. The discussion about "evil" also becomes redundant throughout your post, so more varied examples are necessary in the future.

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    2. I like how you used the example of Hilter during the Holocaust. You are right that the Germans and other countries surrounding them had different viewpoints on what was going on. In terms of what Hitler was doing they were never going to coincide especially since the Germans were for the plan and the Americans wanted to fight against it.

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    3. Ye, I'm with Vinit in this one, you went into too much detail explaining what evil meant and didn't leave the majority of your piece to address the prompt, that being said i definitely agree with your statement that the Germans looked up to Hitler while the Americans believed him evil.

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  11. One can think of history as a quarter. There will always be two sides of the coin, likewise there will be two sides of the argument in virtually every case. People will support either side due to difference in moral perspective on a historical figure. Unanimous decision on anything is extremely rare, with the exception of when George Washington was elected as president unanimously. Who are we to deem historical figures "good" or "bad"? In general, factors like the media and the majority's interpretation have a way of bending the facts to correspond to one side of the argument; it's especially lucid in news stations closer toward times of presidential elections. There is no way possible for this good or bad factor to measured. This leads to two gray areas with measuring the good or bad figure. Firstly, you would need to determine a particular scale of some sort to distinguish the difference between good or bad. After that, you have to determine whether the actual person is good or bad. Because of these two gray areas created, it wouldn't make sense to classify a historical figure like we classify animals into a fixed, concrete species. There is a prodigious amount of leeway with interpretation. People should be able to take in the characteristics and the actions of an individual and determine from their moral standpoint whether one is "good" or "bad." A very controversial character in this debate is Napoleon Bonaparte. Many misconceptions often make people think of Napoleon as evil. Many supporters of Napoleon being evil portray him as an evil tyrant with a bad temper which in many cases is true. Vehement supporters even portray Napoleon as an Anti-Christ. On the other end of the spectrum however, since he was a monarch, he was technically as "evil" as any other monarch because even other monarchs had absolute control of their populous. Some consider him a tyrant mainly because of his military aggressiveness, but then again some depict him as a hero since he wanted to unite Europe with common legislature and even money. He might have only acted this way because of circumstance with British enemies, but that is entering the realm of what-if history. Depending of how deep you look into his actions, everyone will form individual thoughts on the same person. In history, interpretation is extremely flexible, but history is based on a concrete foundation and shouldn't play a biased role in labeling individuals.

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    1. Vinit I liked how you used a quarter as a simile to your view in how history has two sides, one may think a man evil and the other a hero, I think this greatly added to your claim.

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  12. In history, whether you judge something by your moral values, you will always have different opinions compared to the other people in this society. People may value what they stand for based on the country they are from or the religion that they practice. By following in their footsteps, whatever they believe is right may be the same for you. For example, as a whole we believed that Lincoln was a great president and he was using his good judgement to do what was best for the country during that time. He abolished slavery as well as keep us intact, even after the war. On the other hand, even though for all these years we have been taught that Lincoln was a good man because he abolished slavery, that may not necessarily be true in others' eyes. It just depends on what you value more, the good of the people or what you think is right based on what you've learned since you were little. Others thought that because Lincoln led us into a war that caused the South to crumble may have been a sign of "evil", but it is up to the people and what they believe to decide right from wrong.

    Based on examples in history, and what I've learned since I was a little kid, I believe the torturing, or killing of someone should never be for the "good" or benefit of anyone. Any person even trying to make an attempt of taking another person's life is definitely evil. Long ago, people were killing left and right, for power, money, greed, and thought that it was their duty. However they had a choice, and they chose the wrong one. People crush anything that is in their way, and will do anything to get on top, especially heirs to the throne always fighting for their power. Whether they realize it or not, kings and queens do this to benefit themselves, and their lives rather than the people that they are governing. Now they would be classified as evil in my eyes. They are not worthy of being that high on the scale, especially when they are killing massive amounts of people in the process.

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    1. Juliet, you had a good post and I liked how you incorporated the fact that different people might see the same thing in different ways due to their backrounds and the environments surrounding them such as religion.

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    2. Juliet, you have a nice post. Although, I would like to ask, since you view murder as wrong (not saying I believe its right either), should what you believe be made fact? Or what if 10 million people believed that, should we apply the whole "majority rules" concept? It just would not be fair to the people who believe otherwise, and we cannot ignore them either because.. I mean, they are people too.

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    3. you are right, someone who kills many people isn't good, but that is how you were raised. other people praise him and believe he was doing it for the better good (hilted i mean). so just because you label him as evil doesn't mean everyone else would think so too

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  13. We can definitely classify someone as "evil" in history. Adolf Hitler led the nazi party in Germany during World War II. He twisted the moral views of the majority of people in Germany into his own. He wanted a strong Germany, something the people wanted, and in all honesty people of every nation want for their respective countries, but in doing so he placed all the blame of the previous depression on the Jews. In his concentration camps Hitler ordered the mass execution of millions of Jews and Gypsies. He tortured them and allowed for extremely cruel experiments to be enacted upon them, including incredibly inhumane experiment of taking a pair of identical twins, and boiling one to see the differences to the other. It is also true however that if Hitler and the Nazis had won the war we would not be hearing these stories in the concentration camps, we would be hearing about the great Hitler and of how brilliant the Third Reich is. Instead of the heroic Americans entering the war, we would hear tales of the terrifying Americans who killed thousand of people by dropping the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So although it is just to call someone evil in history we must remember that evil is not solely present on one side, both sides do evil things in times such as war, the difference is the losers efforts are deemed evil while the victors efforts are crowned necessary.

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    1. sure Hilter twisted moral values and killed millions of people, but he cannot be labeled as evil. evil is interpreted by people, and he cannot truly be labeled as evil if some people don't believe it to be so can it? i think not.

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  14. Evil is evil depending where your standing point is on the situation. To classify someone or something as evil is typically based on morals, your perception on life, or dictated by your religion. To effectively justify something evil in history is impossible. Yes, a large amount of people may agree that what someone, such as Hitler or Stalin did, was in fact works of the devil himself, however, there are the other groups of people who think otherwise. For instance, you could ask a psychopathic serial killer his views on murder, and he could honestly reply that murder is “okay”. You could ask a priest about his views on murder and he would reply hell is your destination. The world today is made up of so many different people and views, that it would be impossible to justify an opinion and convert it to be “fact-like”. If anyone would like to classify something as “evil”, I believe there should be a unanimous decision made, then making the decision to be almost like a theory.. So you would only have a partial declaration of someone or something being evil.
    I also believe that it is also impossible to justify something or someone in history evil because we do not truly know the truth of what actually happened. Were any of us there to retell what exactly took place, what if some things were omitted, lost, or just forgotten in time? We are going by word of mouth and textbooks; which are not entirely reliable because the author may also be biased on a certain opinion.
    To take an opinion and attempt to have everyone agree on it, especially with all the outlooks and various perceptions we have today, will be impossible. There will always be an objection or someone who does not agree.
    Additionally, as Mr. Gehm had mentioned, times do change. For instance during Puritan times, a lot of the population agreed that adultery was a crime and a deadly sin. Today, people cheat and divorce one another to and fro. Up until recently gays and gay marriage was outlandish. Today, states are legalizing it and society is embracing instead of rejecting these people. What if in a near or farther away future people accept murders, rapists, sociopaths etc, under some radical justification that they were considered “good”? (What would “good” be considered in that time??) In other words, that is just an opinion and as proven, over time, they change.
    So I believe that in fact, we will never be able to justify something “evil”, especially if it is from history which as we know, is interpretive.

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    1. i totally agree with you, evil used in history is something to be interpreted, not everyone in the world will label some one or something as truly evil.

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  15. this is a toss up, for everyone has their own opinion on history. no one can be labeled "evil" for it is everyone's interpretation that someone is "evil". if we take Hitler for example, most would label him as evil, but there will be those people in the world that believed he was right and just for what they have done. and with that said, who's to know what people did to him to make him do what he did, no one does. traumatic experiences in some peoples lives can totally mess up peoples view points, as for Hitler we don't know what or if event an event occurred in his life that made him do what he did. so my viewpoint is that all history is interpretive, some may think evil, some my think good.

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