Evil means not treating a sentient being the way that he, she, or it should be treated. Most of the evil that happens in the universe is out of human control and should be blamed on The Divine and/or Nature. Simply speaking, it is not our fault that this life is a painful struggle to survive and reproduce for most sentient creatures; and it is not our fault that some animals have to eat other animals just to survive; and it is not our fault that destructive weather, diseases, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, asteroid impacts, and the like happen.
However, much evil is still within human control. It is our fault that we have overpopulated Earth; don’t share our resources fairly; do evil deeds such as steal, rape, torture, and murder; and are just plain mean, doing things like bullying people to make us feel better about ourselves. We should, thus, ask ourselves, “What causes us mortal humans to do evil?” The complete answer to that question is the human sources of evil, and here is the complete answer. There are only two human sources of evil: ignorance and selfishness.
1) Ignorance. Ignorance means not knowing something, and all mortal humans are ignorant because they don’t know everything. If Human A is committed to always doing good and never doing evil, but Human A does evil because she or he does not know that he or she is doing evil; Human A does evil because she or he is ignorant.
An evil deed that is done because of ignorance is an involuntary evil deed, because the one doing it did not choose to do a deed, knowing that it would unjustly hurt one or more sentient beings. In other words, he or she did choose to do a deed, but she or he did not choose to do a deed that he or she knew was evil.
a) Mental illness is a wide range of mental health conditions—disorders that affect one’s mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Most mental illnesses do not include delusions or hallucinations, but some do. If one does evil because one is delusional or hallucinating, one does evil because one is ignorant.
2) Selfishness. Selfishness is being concerned excessively or exclusively for oneself regardless of others. Helping oneself at the expense of another is a common evil deed, and it is usually done for a selfish reason. If one does evil because of pain, cowardice, greed, or lack of self-control, one does evil because one is selfish.
An evil deed that is done because of selfishness is a voluntary evil deed, because the one doing it chose to do a deed, knowing that it would unjustly hurt one or more sentient beings.
a) Pain is an unpleasant psychological or somatic sensation that makes one want to change what one is doing so that one feels better. Sometimes doing evil makes one feel better, at least to an extent for a while.
b) Cowardice is choosing to not do good because one is afraid. Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that something might damage, destroy, hurt, or kill something that one cares about. Every human is afraid, at least occasionally. The question is, Will one do evil to avoid what one is afraid of? If the answer is yes, one does evil because one is cowardly.
c) Greed is an intense and selfish desire for something such as wealth, power, or food. Most (if not all) humans want at least some wealth, power, and food. However, if they take more than their fair share of one of these things, they have probably done evil because they are greedy.
d) Lack of self-control means that one knows that one’s deed is evil, but one does it regardless. If one does evil because of Nature, one does evil because of lack of self-control. However, technically speaking, lack of self-control might never be an acceptable excuse for doing evil. The reason is that if one greatly wants to stop oneself from doing evil, one can probably find a way. For example, before one does an evil deed, one can go to the police and asked to be imprisoned or one can kill oneself. Simply speaking, one can’t do evil if one is in solitary confinement or dead.
With all this in mind, if one does evil because one lacks self-control, one has probably actually done evil because one is selfish.
Rational means the ability to understand what good and evil are, and to choose good rather than evil. Nature is the non-rational part of the universe and the way that it works. Simply speaking, except for rational creatures such as humans who are above the age of six years old, the entire universe is part of Nature. Nature often unjustly hurts and/or kills sentient creatures. In those cases, Nature does evil.
The focus of this essay is on the human sources of evil, so this essay is not very concerned with all the evil that Nature does. It is much more concerned with the evil that Nature causes through humans.
An important part of Nature is Evolution Through Natural Selection. Evolution Through Natural Selection is the main way that species evolve to survive and reproduce in their environments. Because evil deeds often help one successfully pass on one’s genes, many creatures are programmed to do some evil. Many, if not most or all, humans might have such programming.
Simply speaking, genetic problems are part of Nature and are caused by Evolution Through Natural Selection. Relevant genetic problems include a psychopathic brain, high testosterone, or low oxytocin. Such genetic problems mean that one is biologically built to do more evil than most other humans.
Simply speaking, diseases such as certain brain tumors are part of Nature. Such diseases can make relatively good humans relatively evil humans through no fault of their own.
* Intoxication is what happens when one takes too much of an intoxicant. This state often includes impairment of one’s judgment and/or self-control. If one does evil because one’s judgment is impaired, one probably does evil because one is ignorant; and if one does evil because one lacks self-control, one probably does evil because one is selfish.
Originally, I planned on the previous paragraph to be the end of this article. But then I thought, Explaining the human sources of evil is good yet not good enough. I should also explain how to fix those sources as much as possible to limit evil caused by humans.
Because ignorance is one source, learning and teaching relevant knowledge and skills to defeat evil is one way to fix that source. One great resource to get such knowledge is my latest YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92Jkdm-tkaI&t=2372s .
That just leaves us with the other human source of evil (selfishness) to fix. The opposite of selfishness is working for the common good. The common good is what is best for all humans or at least most humans. We should continuously try to improve our understanding of selfishness and the common good, and try to choose the latter over the former as much as possible. As simple as it sounds, that might be the best way to fix human selfishness. I believe that the above video can once again help in this regard.
May reason, compassion, and hope prevail!