Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” and recognizing evil

with one comment

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a very disappointing* movie, but it does point to a few issues that I have addressed repeatedly in the past.

*My main criticisms: The otherwise weakish predecessor was carried by streaks of comedy and the dynamics between/charm of the four main protagonists, especially regarding wizard–muggle interaction. These aspects were largely lost. (The comedy aspect is even replaced by dread and dire and a too depressing visual tone.) The plot is unengaging, seems poorly though-through, and is confusing to boot. New characters and relationships are mostly too bland, boring, and/or unsympathetic to warrant interest and emotional investment, which is a particular negative for several “tragic characters”.

This includes the fact that there will be persons, usually very many, on both sides of a conflict who are convinced that they are “the good guys” and that their opponents are “the bad guys”—implying that even the strongest conviction of being right (that the opposing party is evil, whatnot) does not, in it self, justify extreme means. Indeed, looking at e.g. party programs from more-or-less any party, I can find a lot that makes sense in principle or, at least, is sufficiently plausible that I can understand that weak thinkers are swayed—thought, a knowledge/understanding of the issues, and/or insight into other positions is often needed to see why the program is flawed or would make a poor policy.* Calls for evil actions for “the greater good” tend to be particularly dangerous—it is no coincidence that this phrase is often used by madmen, terrorists, dictators, dystopian societies, whatnot in fiction. (But note that those who call for the greater good in real life rarely do so using the explicit phrase.)

*Consider e.g. a simplistic “women earn 77 cents on the dollar; ergo, the government must intervene to create justice”, which collapses on closer inspection. (See several older texts, including [1].)

It also includes that opinions (goals, ideals, …; I will use just “opinion[s]” below) must not be a primary factor when judging who is more or less evil in most* conflicts.** Instead, we have to consider the following (overlapping) issues:

*Exceptions are sufficiently rare that I cannot give a strong example of the top of my head. They are likely to exist, however. (Possibly, relating to a legally clear situation.)

**With the corollary that condemning an opinion as evil, because of evil methods used to enforce that opinion, is equally as bad as (cf. above) using an opinion perceived as good to justify evil methods.

  1. What methods are used? Do the methods include e.g. unprovoked violence, censorship of dissent, character assassination, …?

    Overlapping with the above, I would even replace the common, misguided, claim that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” with “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to use evil means”. (Where, at least, my “good” refers to self-perception, as demonstrated by many Soviet/Chinese/whatnot Communists and the Nazis.) Very many evils in this world go back to the use of evil means for purposes seen as good; and by refraining from evil means, such evils are considerably reduced or avoided altogether. Vice versa, a believer in the naive original might well take it as a reason to cause, not oppose, evil in the name of good.

  2. How do the counter-parts interact with opposing opinions? Are the opinions evaluated neutrally and with an open mind or are they rejected as wrong, or even evil, in a blanket manner? Are the counter-parts willing to adjust their own opinions, should the evidence call for it? Are arguments engaged with counter-arguments or with insults? Etc.

    I note that this is not just a matter of fairness. Two other important implications is that (a) those who are more open-minded tend to be right more often, (b) a destructive attitude threatens the right of others to develop their own opinions and can limit both societal and scientific progress.*

    *Note e.g. the destructive effects of how parts of the PC movement denounce scientifically supported claims around I.Q., the influence of “nature”, whatnot—to the point that some scientists avoid certain research topics for fear of repercussions. The problems are so large that a pseudonymous journal is in planning to alleviate it (the linked-to article also contains several good illustrations of the problem).

  3. What basis do the opinions originally have? Are they based in reason or wishful thinking, factual arguments or uncritical belief in what one is told, correct or incorrect interpretation of statistics, …?

    Again, those with a good reason tend to be right more often. I note that e.g. pushing policies based on faulty ideas or premises can do an enormous amount of harm to society, as with e.g. how an unduly positive belief in the benefits of school* and a wish for more school (to solve any number of problems) wastes enormous amounts of resources, takes large chunks out of the lives of the students, and often leads to only marginal improvements—or even has negative effects (e.g. through taking time away from self-studies among the bright or frustrating and over-taxing the dim).

    *As opposed to education—a very important differentiation. However, even more education is not always sensible, being dependent on the individuals interests, abilities, and goals in life.

  4. With what degree of honesty do the counter-parts push their opinions and agendas? Do they believe what they say and say what they believe, or do they e.g. have a hidden agenda or do they use arguments that they do not hold-up to scrutiny?

    As a specific example: Was Grindelwald a true believer—or did he rather create and manipulate true believers for his own personal gain? (I strongly suspect the latter to hold.)

(Additional issues might be worthy of consideration, e.g. whether an agenda is driven by partisan benefit* vs. ethical principles or the good of society as a whole.)

*Not to be confused with the above case of e.g. having a hidden agenda of personal power: Here the issue is e.g. wanting to benefit a certain partisan group (say with a laborers’ party, a farmers’ party, a make-our-region-independent party, whatnot).

A particular interesting overlap between the movie and some texts is that the use of evil or disproportionate methods can drive people into the enemy camp, cause radicalization, or similar. This through at least two mechanisms, (a) that “mild” opponents might be left with no where to go but the camp of the “rabid” opponents, (b) that the use of evil methods causes a negative reaction. This, incidentally, appears to have some parallels in other areas, e.g. in that anti-drug legislation often does more to cause crime and worsen the life of the drug-users than to improve matters, or ditto for anti-prostitution* laws. Particularly the (b) case appears to have been working to Grindelwald’s advantage, when the government(s) used evil methods of its own.

*As claimed in an article I encountered a few days ago (note several links to further discussion).

Excursion on necessary evil means:
There might be situations where the use of evil means can be necessary even in a good cause. (A widely accepted example is using reasonable amounts of violence in self-defense against an unprovoked attacker.) However, here great care must be taken to not overstep a reasonable minimum, to minimize the effect on third-parties, etc. A more thorough discussion would be well outside the scope of this text, might be impossible without stipulating a number of ethical principles, and might have to include considerable analysis of individual examples. Consider e.g. questions like when and to what degree it might be allowable to interfere with civic rights for fear of terrorism or to accept civilian casualties during warfare.

Excursion on Grindelwald:
Is Grindelwald evil? In my opinion, “yes”—because I have the impression that he does let the end justify the means, is callous of the rights of others, has hidden agendas, … (Then again, my impression might be incorrect, seeing that the movie was not always explicit, that I might misremember previous information, and that earlier books, which mention him as evil, might have predisposed me towards this interpretation.)

Note that my reasons do not (at least consciously) include that he “looked evil”, that the main protagonists opposed him, that he was condemned as evil by officials, … Consider Professor Snape (from earlier books/movies) for someone who gave many superficial signs of being evil, but who was actually* a great hero and an important ally—and contrast him with several good-seeming-but-evil other teachers.

*Notwithstanding that an accusation of “being a mean bastard”, “having an unfair personal dislike of Harry”, or similar might have been true.

Here, as elsewhere, it is important not just to draw the right conclusion (X is evil; Y is good; …), but to do so for the right reasons. Evil in the real world often has a friendly face; good often does not—much unlike in children’s cartoons.


Written by michaeleriksson

February 21, 2019 at 10:41 am

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] This week’s text was intended to deal with the highly odd classification of the Nazis as a Right-wing movement, but recent readings make me postpone it in favor of some further thoughts on evil. (For older texts on this topic see, among others, [1], [2], [3], [4].) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: