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Evil and Others

Richard Kearney

Job and his Tormentors by William Blake, British Museum; Wikimedia Commons.

Deconstruction is not the only postmodern response to the challenge of evil.

One of the oldest conundrums of human thought is: unde malum? Where does evil come from? What are the origins of evil: human, natural, supernatural? What is the character of evil: sin, suffering, catastrophe, death? Deconstruction cautions against a rush to judgment. While not for a moment denying that evil exists, Derrida and certain other postmodern thinkers counsel vigilance. The tendency of our media society, so prone to hysteria, is to anathematize anything that is unfamiliar as “evil.” The other thus becomes the alien, the stranger the scapegoat, the dissenter the devil. And it is this proclivity to demonize alterity as a threat to our collective identity that so easily issues in paranoid fantasies about invading enemies. Any threat to “national security” is met with immediate defense-attack mechanisms. One thinks of McCarthy’s blacklists and Reagan’s Star Wars, the Soviet show trials and gulags, Mao’s cultural revolution and Tiananmen Square, the embargo of Cuba and the mining of Managua, the bombing of Cambodia and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, Bloody Sunday and the introduction of internment without trial in Ulster, Kristallnacht and Auschwitz, Satilla and Chabrilla, Sarajevo and Kosovo. The list is interminable.

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