Monthly Archives: May 2022

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by Reid Fitzsimons

We respond to bad things, especially the suffering of others, in different ways, ways often meant to shield us from uncomfortable realities about ourselves. Ignorance, either woeful or willful, is effective, and denial and avoidance also work pretty well. There are those who thrive on the suffering of others, and indeed create it. Sometimes these people are referred to as evil. I guess there are degrees of evil, where at the extreme evil people view not just their victims as a hated enemy, but also those who stand up for those they prey upon.

One of the most profound and widely read books of the 19th century was an antebellum novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The author was abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the legend is that when she met Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, Lincoln said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." I contend that people who consider themselves well educated and informed should read this book (though I was over 60 when I finally did, so I’m not sure how that reflects on me). The story is, of course, about slavery, but it’s not some monolithic sermon against slavery, but rather includes all the pitfalls of human nature mentioned above when people confront, or more correctly ignore, evil. The ultimate antagonist is the brutal slave owner Simon Legree, at whose hands Tom is ultimately beaten to death because he was protecting slaves who had run away from the plantation.

Slavery, regardless of where it existed is one of too many examples in history where life was devalued so as to allow malevolence to be tolerated, and where those who refused to accept the inhumanity of it were marginalized and essentially became the enemy of the institutional powers: slavery is evil in its own right, but to justify hatred of those opposed to it took evil to higher level.