the term "evil" is thrown around a lot. i hear it mentioned by various people to describe the acts of others, or the motivations behind actions and few people use the term more than i do. i notice inconsistencies in the way it is applied by many folks. they may consider an act by one person as evil, but not condemn the same actions of others. often, acts may be labeled as evil when committed by one, but praised as good and right when committed by another.
a good example is the wars of aggression by g.w. bush and w.j. clinton. i don't think any rational person would disagree that bush's imperial wars are evil, but i never hear the same clamoring about clinton's evil war on the innocent people of kosovo, or of his relentless bombing of children and families in occupied iraq, or the bombing of innocents in sudan.
today we see the the same in relation to the madoff fraud. i see plenty of people criticizing him about ripping off $50 B from hapless investors, but where is the outrage against the much larger rippoff staged in the exact same manner called "social security"? they are both outright, naked ponzi schemes.
what is it that makes an act evil? first, we have to assume that there is such a thing as evil in the first place. i'd say that any action that is systematically, or knowingly harmful to the rights of individuals is evil. since those who read this blog know what rights are and where they come from, it is easy enough to classify this. there's nothing particularly new or interesting there. what does seem to be a problem for people is consistently identifying evil from non evil. there are often emotional ties to evil that blind an observer to the essence of many actions.
if murder is evil because it denies to one the right to his own life, then why aren't soldiers, who routinely kill innocent civilians, derided as murderers? why are they worshiped as "heroes"? why aren't IRS agents or the politicians and bureaucrats who oversee them, considered thieves? don't they extract money through the threat of force? why are private criminals, who take responsibility for their own crimes and commit them in small amounts, afterward running away to the shadows, commonly recognized as threats to society, yet agents of the state who commit much larger crimes in the same manner considered necessary to functioning of society? if anything, private criminals are far more acceptable than public ones. i think spooner summed it up best: "The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: 'Your money, or your life.' And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a 'protector,' and that he takes men's money against their will, merely to enable him to 'protect' those infatuated travelers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful 'sovereign,' on account of the 'protection' he affords you. He does not keep 'protecting' you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villanies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave."
the violations of one's rights are crimes, regardless of who commits them and are rightfully referred to as evil. it doesn't matter if you are taxing for "national defense", stealing your neighbor's lawnmower or asking for the seizure of someone's land for a memorial, rights violation is an act of evil.
let's get consistent on this very important point of language. it is a very important term in the curbing of language corruption. as john milton wisely acknowledged, "When language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin and degradation."