The Problem of Ordinary Evil

I am preparing to possibly move house from my sweet little apartment in an increasingly bad area of town, to another sweet little apartment in a very nice part of town. Yes, folks, I am about ready to hang up my gutter-sniping ways and head out for suburbia. The only question now is whether it will be approved after an inspection and just how fast I can pack. The answer to the former is yet to be revealed, but as to my ability to pack and move, the frightful stick and my bouts of tumbling over will not stop me from hauling both myself and my plant collection to another quadrant of the City. I even get to change zip codes! What an absolute delight! So I am huffing that hope-ium and crossing all available fingers. I really, really want to get away from the mice, the constant screaming and fighting, drug dealing and prostitution outside my damn window.

When I visited this other quadrant of the City I was amazed, shocked even, to find there was a peaceful and sedate San Francisco after all. Over there the police have not given up, the City has not given up. The Tenderloin is a sacrificial lamb, where suffering, crime, homelessness and danger are allowed to run rampant. I might not be able to move, but if this actually works out, I will be very grateful for the peace and safety.

There are different types of evil. By far the most easy to accept is the most extraordinary kind. The kind of evil which is so vast it is almost supernatural in its scope and power. This unfathomable and rare slavering beast of evil is the evil of horror movies, those demonic possessions, the vampires, the werewolves, the absolutely unable to control itself or be controlled power and fury of the evil that we cannot even try to comprehend, and merely hope to avoid.

Beware the ordinary evil of ordinary people. This is the evil that slips past us unnoticed, the evil that is born from the minds of killer nurses, domestic abusers. This kind of evil is the evil of the drones of war. This is the evil that causes ordinary people that stand by, perhaps even help a little with the evil acts at hand. This is the evil that breaks bones, that kills, and and lurks using the faces and minds and souls of the ordinary folk who become either too corrupt or too weak to not do evil things. This is the evil of a hit and run. This is the life destroying evil of a medical system that doesn’t try hard enough to save people that it does not deem worthy of their full effort. This is the evil we all really need to worry about. This evil whispered in the ears of Nazi soldiers about where the neighbors were hiding Jewish families. This is the kind of evil that keeps me awake at night.

Ordinary evil does not announce itself with bloody jaws and talons. It does not hang upside down to sleep at night. This kind of evil does not fly, does not possess, and does not creak up from a slab like Frankenstein’s monster. This is the evil that persuades most of America that all their ills come from undocumented people. This is the evil that causes racism and irrational hatred. This is the force we need to actively fight against, and strike blows for good, for freedom and for compassion.

I am not sure how much longer I can cope with the petty mundane evil of this part of town. I can barely read the news reports that tell me no solutions are offered, only an increasing call for criminalization. People have to go somewhere, they cannot simply disappear. If that happened, that would be a symptom of this mundane evil that I fear so greatly. It is simply ridiculous to put someone in jail for not having enough money to pay for housing. It is not fair to move someone on when there is no bed or alternative to offer. Human beings need rest, food, water and sanitary facilities. This mundane evil blames the victims of the system for not being able to secure these for themselves. Down here with the rest of us, there are truths we know to be real and self evident: the problems of the City will not be solved by anything other than kindness and compassion and a large dose of pragmatism.

Whilst flogging the dead horse that is the war on drugs might be good for a few knee jerk votes from the unenlightened masses, it will not fix the very real suffering that could be alleviated on all sides by not fighting a group of unwell people who need help, but instead pragmatically realizing that prohibition does not work and instead providing safe supply and safe use centers. That way human life can be preserved and the street would clean themselves up. If there is no market for illegal drugs, there is no ‘business’ and there is the way to solve the problem. Prohibition of alcohol didn’t work, and nor does the prohibition of most other substances. The mundane evils are amplified by such negative aspects of city life, such as judgement of the victims, and the seductive charms of feeling better than other people.

So how is this mundane evil defeated? With compassion, understanding, kindness, decency, and loving our neighbors. San Francisco is better than it thinks it is. We still have that spirit of 1969 running through our veins, and tipping out towards the sea. We just have to find the love once more, and move away from the mundane evils of this City and that are all around us. I see the world tipping to the authoritarian right once more, and it makes my heart sad, because when this happens, we all suffer, each and every one of us, good or bad, or somewhere in between.

The good news is that mundane evil is only truly powerful in numbers. If the tipping point is reached, it can be easily overturned. We are not talking about zombie hoards or a clan of vampires, but simply a zeitgeist which tends towards the negative and neglects the positive. We can turn that zeitgeist around, and put its unrestful ghost to sleep. We just have to try.


  1. Alan Conrad

    You’re so right here, all the way through. I too fear mundane evil. It’s present in our societies now from top to bottom.

    Jesus said (I’m not a Christian) that we should treat each other the way we wish to be treated. All that has to happen, as you’re saying, is that enough people decide to try that again and the evil would disappear like a phantom.

    As someone who spent 7 mths last year living in Airbnbs because I was homeless, filling my credit card, and had to move not to suburbia but to remote rural Ontario where I happily share the place with Mennonites, have learned to appreciate them, and have to keep reminding myself that this escape was real, I empathize with your hopes for your new residence. Good luck to you.

  2. Pkmundo

    Nice blog. I am a new follower. I hope you also follow my blog and we follow each other and interact in our posts. Greetings from the south of Spain πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ πŸ’―

Leave a Reply