About The Author
D. R. Prescott has written a novel, a collection of short stories, a nonfiction book, a collection of essays, planetarium show/display scripts, two family histories, technical articles and business plans as well as written for and edited several newsletters.
Awards and published work include Writers' Journal, Long Story Short, Taj Mahal Review literary journal, The Orange County Register, Writer's Digest, and Writing.com and four books among other challenges.
As a former aerospace executive and planetarium program director, Prescott currently writes and explores life in Orange, California.
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"Sentience can be annoying."-DRP Abt. 1990
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Since 2008, Prescott has been a regular contributor of
essays and short stories to
The Taj Mahal Review Literary Journal
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D. R. Prescott

         Evil in a universe created by a perfect being is unsettling. How could something perfect make something imperfect? Is there such a thing as a perfect imperfect? Is evil imperfect? Or, is evil, indeed imperfection, necessary for measuring perfection? Could you identify goodness in the absence of evil, perfection without imperfection? Disturbing questions haunt us as we struggle daily with contradictions in what appears to be a flawed world fraught with human conflict, misery and suffering.

         I have just finished reading Evil: An Investigation by Lance Morrow. Mr. Morrow is a professor at Boston University and has written for Time Magazine, Harper's, among others. His style is eloquent. His anecdotal evidence is compelling--Auschwitz, Sierra Leone, the Wendy's murders, Hitler, 911, others. He poses questions about natural things that maim and kill. Are natural events, like earthquakes or other disasters, evil? As much as I enjoyed reading his book, his conclusions left me unsatisfied, oddly intrigued, definitely perplexed and uncomfortable.

         Ultimately, Mr. Morrow leaves the reader with “the opposite of evil is not good, but rather, hope--a more kinetic and practical thing. Evil, God knows, is energetic and needs to be opposed by something more vigorous than 'good,'…” He continues with, “Hope is goodness in a tight spot, and ambitious to improve things.” He concludes with “Rely on hope. Rely, simply, on love.”

         Eloquent but wow, I am left dangling! Hope? Love? A very adept writer leaves us wanting and, perhaps, that is what he intended. Perhaps, like most of us, Mr. Morrow felt inadequate trying to ferret out the nuances of purpose and the meaning of it all in the face of evil. I say 'most of us’ because there are those who think they have it figured out by faith in something supreme and need not spend energy working through complexities and inherent contradictions. They are followers. They are believers. They rely on someone or something else to explain it. Good for them. Yet, that may be good or bad. I have to applaud Mr. Morrow, apparently a man of faith. At least, he gave it a shot.

         To me, evil appears relative. It is not the same for everyone, everywhere or, even, every-when. Good and evil are shape-shifters, constantly reconfiguring themselves, morphing from one to the other, reliant upon point of view, culturally malleable, definitely obtuse in the longer view. One person's evil may be another's good, and vice versa, with no end in sight to the dilemma.

         With such a darting target, how can one know if something is really good or evil? We have many examples of evil today, those things that tear at our fiber, either physically or emotionally. A person kills his wife and unborn child. Soldiers torture, torment and kill prisoners. An insurgent views liberators as evil. Liberators see insurgents as evil.

         Is a crusade in the name of freedom or God any less cruel and inhuman than fiercely defending oneself from oppression? Is killing in self-defense better, less evil than killing for pleasure or out of anger. Is a hunter, a soldier or a policeman evil when they kill another living thing? Who defines what is evil and when it is evil? Better yet, and possibly more to the point, who defines good and when it is good? Is the only true difference between good and evil perception?

         Did it ever occur to you that you may be evil? Don't get defensive. I don't mean intentionally evil. I mean inherently evil beyond your control, through actions you rationalize away as necessary, or worse, inevitable. Have you ever been so angry you could smash another person in the face? Have you ever purposely killed anything merely for the pleasure or because it was expected by others? Have you ever killed out of fear or loathing. Ever squashed a spider because it sent a shiver up your spine? Have you ever belittled another human being, extracting from it a feeling of superiority? Have you ever taken pleasure from another's discomfort? Have you ever been smug, arrogant, haughty, vindictive, hostile or cunning? Have you ever cheated at anything, regardless of how trivial it seemed?

         If you answer yes to any of those questions, as I suspect nearly everyone can, you have displayed something other than goodness, either consciously or unconsciously. If it's not good, then it must be the opposite of good, some degree of evil. What a revelation. It is not quite an epiphany, just a disturbing glimpse of a world view that is the only ones that really count; ours!

         Now, I am annoyed. You should be too. Are we really that self-centered, egotistical and unthinking? Is avoiding the obvious a survival trait? Our carefully-erected, emotional fortresses crumble under critical appraisal. Children pick on other children mercilessly, sometimes viciously. Yet, we usually consider children innocent, needing guidance and training. Children mature; some manage to channel those negative urges into positive, even good results; unfortunately, some do not. Are foul and cruel deeds of youth evil? Does that mean we, as a species, are inherently evil, merely offset in maturity by self-control, training or both? Or, are children exempt for they know not what they do?

         Mr. Morrow suggests that hope and love is a more practical and powerful thing than goodness to oppose evil. Is not the opposite of hope despair? Is not the opposite of love hate? Many people, regardless of religious affiliation, seek hope in an afterlife and basking in the protective aura of a real or imagined superior being. That sounds comforting and inviting. Once outside places of worship, people face ambiguities. Hope is a belief system, subject to assaults from evil deeds, encouraging despair. Love is an intense emotion, which many of us have experienced in our lives. Yet, love can quickly be transformed into hate. I have to agree with Mr. Morrow on one implied point: hope and love must be inextricably connected. One without the other would be futile. Have not people killed for love? Do not people hope to win and sometimes compromise their values to gain advantage? Is not hope and love measured by despair and hate? How do you gauge one without the other?

         Suggesting that love and hope are stronger, more energetic, and more practical than goodness bothers me. Being more energetic makes it more volatile, more transient and less reliable. I don't think you can separate goodness, love and hope anymore than you extract evil from hate and despair. We are sent in the direction of seeking greater goods to even permit lesser evils to exist. Are we incapable of seeing or understanding a greater good offsetting all the evil we see daily? Is a perfect deity responsible for our plight? Is it possible that the universe is neither good nor evil? Are good and evil aberrations of inferior intelligence?

         Theists believe that there is a personal god, revealed to humanity. The atheist thinks there is no evidence for a personal god or gods, big G or little g. An agnostic suggests that we can not know if a personal god exists. A deist believes that there is some superior being behind it all but does not necessarily believe in divine intervention. With such a range of belief systems, is any one inherently good or evil? Does any offer more hope and love than its rival? Is atheism more evil than theism? Can the agnostic deflect responsibility for evil by claiming ignorance? Is a deist flirting with evil by dismissing divine intervention?

         Goodness and evil, love and hate, hope and despair seem to be inseparable components of something larger. Such a view seems to be predominately deistic. What the deity is or what its purpose (hence, our purpose) is obscure unless you rely on blind faith. Perfection seems impossible without imperfection to give it substance. Evil without good or good without evil seems insoluble, inert and monotonous.

         Evil in all its forms, as well as goodness in all its forms, are a bigger picture that humans struggle to understand. Perhaps, the struggle itself is goodness. Is there a greater good? Perhaps! Perhaps not! Where does that leave us? Unsettled, but with hope!


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© Copyright 2006 D. R. Prescott (donprescott at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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