Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where does Evil come from..? -as a cultural phenomenon that is.

In Lynda’s post of March 10th she talks about perceptions of the theme of Evil that were the outcomes of the Audience evaluation. Again in this post I would like to ask a few question in regard “What is Evil anyway?” but try to retrace the ‘origins’ of Evil and look at cross-cultural explanations of Evil.

Illness, death, disasters, violence, crime – they are all considered to be evil influences and threatening and disruptive of the harmony and balance most people strive for in daily life. In this broad sense of the word ‘Evil’ is a concept and reality of all peoples of all times.

Evil or negative consequences happen to everyone at some point in their lives. Consequently people of all times and places have tried to protect themselves from that evil and ward of anything that could disturb the balance and harmony in their lives. People can protect themselves by wearing amulets or offering to protective gods and spirits to watch over them, or one can take preventative medicine and hope that this winter one will not fall sick. In most religions and belief systems there are laws and moral standards that followers should adhere to to ensure a good, virtuous and pleasant life (and sometimes even after-life). Derived from this many people accept superstitions and will not walk under a ladder, or get married on a Friday the 13th.

Interestingly though is that also from all time and places are stories that recall people that have wandered off the good path, have ignored the laws and moral guidelines, and were tempted and seduced by evil forces. The most infamous account in Western thought is off course Eve’s temptation of eating the forbidden fruit and condemning mankind to fall from grace and living a sinful existence. Other stories like in the Hindu-Javanese epic where the hero Arjuna is being visited while in deep meditation by seducing temptresses, similar to the occurrence of the Sirens in Homers Odyssee, or billabong dwelling female spirit beings, yawk yawk figures, in Aboriginal Dreamtime stories from Arnhem Land which may tempt people to ignore the Law of the Land by being tempted by these mermaid-like, female spirits.
It seems that stories and interpretations of Evil are universal and thus from all times and places, so in what way is ‘Evil’ relevant to us today.

How do we interpret ‘Evil’ today and how do we look back on it in our (not so) distant past? And also in what way are historical accounts, folklore, myths, and fairytales that deal with good and evil connected to the stories of good and evil in modern-day popular culture.
More to explore it seems...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rock 'n roll - the work of the devil!

Today I'm thinking about evil and music!

I've been inspired since I stumbled across the Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real album. As the cover attests - "Ira and Charlie pour out their beliefs and convictions born of a deep-seated religious upbringing. You will hear them raise their voices in honest opinion, in quiet beauty, then in the same breath, call out in furious outrage as they conduct, through their music, a personal crusade against the Prince of Darkness.."
And so I've discovered an entire genre of 'devil conquering evangelical country music' I didn't know existed yesterday... there a couple of really catchy guitar riffs in there too! While listening to ditties such as The drunkard' s doom and Satan's jewelled crown, my mind begins to wander...

What about evil themes throughout music history?

The history of rock 'n roll - from Robert Johnson's Me and the Devil Blues, the 1960s shakin' hips and "voodoo music" to Marilyn Manson's links with teenage suicide... What have been the defining moments, artists and songs associated with the work of the devil?

Back-masking - I've been looking at Youtube trying to find good examples of backmasking... gee there's some extreme views out there! I'd like to investigate it further though... I'm gathering a list of tracks that have 'satanic verses' when played backwards.

The sinister tone - why do all horror movie scores have that familiar creepy sound? Is there a formula for a chilling mood? Don't get me wrong I think theremins are amazing instruments and all; but.. boy they make my spine tingle!

I hope you can help shed some light!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is there evil in us all?

All These Evil Things in Me by Martin Pueschel 2009

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a while, but I’m back from exhibition changeovers and museum conferences and getting into some more reading and thinking and finally writing. I'm now investigating some of the specific subject areas mentioned in Lynda's last post.

My favourite bedtime reading these days is a fantastic overview of the subject “Evil- A Primer: A history of a bad idea from Beezlebub to Bin Laden, by William Hart.

I’ve been particularly engrossed with his chapters on Survival of the Worst, Postmodern Demons, The Monster Within, and Heinous, Cruel, Depraved. It gets me thinking about the nature of evil and some of the scientific viewpoints outside of the debates on ‘morality as a human attribute' and our continually changing ethical framework.

Hart introduces us to the field of Evolutionary Psychology (EP) and the principle question; “If natural selection drives changes in physical features then shouldn’t it also shape the evolution of humans’ brains and thus behaviour? Although evil is not the preferred path for humans, we routinely do bad and heinous things. The EP point of view suggests that perhaps this has arisen from some neurological misfire that occurred in our biological past. Furthermore, the force which drives us to commit evil, is simply an act of survival and our brains and nervous systems are biologically stuck in the past while our social systems and cultural world had evolved at breakneck pace”.

Other scientists such as Edward Wilson and Richard Dawkins in the field of sociobiology even go so far as to state that this struggle for survival has made 'aggression' a positive, and after all “we are survival machines guided by selfish genes”. While the debates around cultural (memetic) and biological evolution are complex, the simple idea of “us all being capable of evil and possibly biologically programmed to commit it” is certainly an interesting idea isn’t it?

Studies on psychopaths and people with antisocial personality disorder also bring up ideas of their disposition being a ‘wiring’ issue. While these people are described in Robert Hare’s psychopathy checklist as having certain qualities such as a profound disquieting boredom, lack of empathy, remorse and guilt, they are also described as rational, having a strong need for stimulation and superficial charm. These qualities make them great “social cheaters,” and Hart explains “it makes sense in terms of evolutionary drives for socially disadvantaged to employ deception, manipulation and even violence to obtain resources and access to reproductive opportunities”.

…and so “in every man, of course, a demon lies hidden” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What is evil anyway?

Participants in the front-end evaluation felt that it was the human dimension that underpins nearly all interpretations of evil: evil is something created or committed by humans. This means that evil is not random and therefore it generates a very emotional response.

So, how did the audience sampled conceive of evil? Their ideas were grouped under six thematic areas.

Abuse of Power:
* Abuse of power is seen as constituting evil when it results in unnecessary suffering or gross neglect
* Abusers of power have denied their victims the right to free will and fairness
* The abuse itself may be very deliberate (Nazis, organised torture, arsonists, corporate evil or animal abusers), or a neglectful shirking of responsibility (governments who tolerate homelessness)
“Terrible Unknown”:
* The Terrible Unknown is a distorted or disguised version of humanity
* Evil masquerading as goodness (in human form but really soul-less, behind a mask) includes an element of deception, amplifying the evil via a demonstration of intent
* Common disguises interrupt the accepted norms of safety: clowns or other common children’s icons of safety
The Other:
* The Other is evil as it disrupts conformity (EMOs, extremists, scientologists): humanity fears that which we don’t understand
* The lack of conformity is seen as irrational due to the breaking of accepted social norms, therefore it is possible for individuals or groups to be non-conformist and non-evil (goths, EMOs) –the evil occurs when The Other attempts to challenge social norms via recruitment/preaching (religious fundamentalists)
Vice Squad:
* Vices are evil willingly played out in the face of evidence and reason
* Cigarettes, alcohol, gambling and drugs were repeatedly raised as evil that is amplified because it’s unnecessary and preventable
* Interestingly, humans who fall victim to vices aren’t the evil, the humans who provide, create and encourage the vices embody evil (cigarette companies, drug dealers, pokie manufacturers)
Impotent Evil:
* Impotent Evil is a representation of the old manifestation of evil
* This version of evil has been so commonly used in public dialogue that the icons of devils, demons, skulls and the fires of hell have become impotent and kitsch
* Impotent Evil has been so neutralised it’s now commonly used for invoking humour rather than fear
Everyday Beasts:
* The only core theme that isn’t a human evil, Everyday Beasts invoke an emotional response from pure fear
* Sharks, snakes, spiders and aggressive dogs all represent a fear of violent physical harm
* Unlike the other themes, this evil is largely random, often heightening the fear
* This theme was strongest with kids, indicating the fear is often neutralised with age

Aspects of these themes of most appeal to potential visitors will be explored in my next blog post.