I am currently reading Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman. It is science-fiction, centered on an interface technology, surgically installed in the brain, that enables users to communicate mentally with machines and with each other. An effect of this technology is that users who “jack in” together are able to know each other fully.

There are a couple of villains in this story. Trained assassins who are also zealous members of a cult bent on the destruction of the world. For both of these character, and only these characters, the author makes the offhanded observation that they are fundamentally different from other people, even other murderers, in a way that suggests they aren’t really human.

Many Dean Koontz novels are populated with characters who are simply, unequivocally evil. Characters who delight in evil acts simply because they are evil. Characters who outright worship demons (and occasionally characters who are demons). One-dimensional characters who can be counted on to do exactly the most evil thing possible in any situation.

“The Fifth Element” contains a force that is essentially the embodiment of evil, for evil’s sake. Literally, a growing mass that is headed toward Earth and swallowing everything in its path.

Then there are authors like Stephen King, who portray methodically how a normal person gradually becomes driven to do terrible things. Stephen King villains aren’t inherently evil. They are (more or less) normal, relatable people who have suffered relatable trauma, pushed beyond their breaking point, and chosen to do wrong as a result.

I am fascinated by how many people believe in evil as a force unto itself, and how many more people believe there are good people and evil people. That people are either “good” or “bad”. That people who do bad things are therefore bad people.

I suppose it is partly mammalian tribal instinct, classifying other people as member of the tribe or not. Safe and trustworthy, or dangerous and to be shunned, simply as an identity. We employ short-cuts of logic by classifying people as friend or foe, rather than evaluating the benefit or detriment of their actions.

The Bible essentially classifies Satan and demons as evil. The Old Testament enumerates people who should be punished or put to death. The New Testament is clearer that we are all sinners, different only by degrees. Yet today’s Christian teachings so rarely drive home that we are all the same, each of us struggling with our own sin.

So much of today’s media focuses on good people and bad people. In fiction, characters are good or bad, and popular fiction rarely leaves any ambiguity. In news reporting media, people are criminals, evildoers of some form or another. In political media, the other political party is evil. Much of political discourse is spent drawing parallels between today’s politicians and parties to those of past wars and regimes, unironically ignorant that those past eras were painted with intent as evil by those who would control us.

We live in a world defined by evil forces that we have imagined for each other.