Chapter I: First Cry


Evil haunts me.

Not poetically. Not in a romanticized way. It is not a beautiful tragedy to me. It is the worst of the human soul manifested in actions that reduce me – at 19 years old—to weeping angrily like a child. I have written and rewritten this article, shouted at my computer, and hated myself not being able to articulate my thoughts in any engaging way.

When I initially wrote this article, it was a winding six-page analysis of evil. It was objective and intelligent and hugely important in clarifying my thoughts…but someone I love brought to my attention that nobody would read it. The audience that I cared most about was too stressed and too busy and my words were too big and bland.

But I can actually hear their screams haunt me at night, slithering through my dreams and whispering for justice. They tell me that if I don’t try, then I have failed. They tear my moral relativism to shreds and remind me of the pregnant women who were stripped naked, paraded, and shot in the fields of Nazi Germany. The parents who watched their children starve in Stalin’s Ukraine, watching the life slowly, painfully ebb out of their child’s eyes as though waves from a leaking ocean. I must say what I think because I owe it to the faceless victims of evil that whisper to me at night, when I can most clearly hear their voices and feel the weight of responsibility. I refuse to bastardize what I say. There is no longer any moral relativism at play here. There is right and there is wrong. And I must understand the right. So even if no one reads it, I will say it.

Evil disturbs me so deeply because it stands as the antithesis to existence itself. It is the production of suffering for sufferings sake. A voluntary engagement with activities that seek to annihilate the very fundamental value of existence. Evil creeps around us in our own shadows and waits to pry apart our personal worlds if we let it. It is not a pretty concept for intellectuals to discuss, but a reality that we know humans are capable of. That we are capable of. Me and you. We love to think that the Nazi’s were terrible people of a different bloodline, but forget not that they too were ordinary people like you and me. They were the great fathers who loved their sons dearly and the hard working, funny guy who everyone loved at school. They were mothers and sisters and girlfriends who loved their family and were excellent students and were excited when their child would get on stage for the school play. They were loving and delicate people too. And we must have the moral courage to face this fact. Not a single comment above should be mistaken for a justification of their actions, but if it sends an angry shudder down your back and a sickened feeling in your stomach then you see what I see: they were us. Perhaps we too are capable of evil.

That is why I truly fear evil. Because I know that there is path to it, and history has shown us that ordinary men can stumble upon it. We can choose to devolve the parameters of existence until there is nothing and we can torture one another with that heinous perspective as though part of some cruel, self-destructive game. And I refuse to be an unknowing victim, a sheep herded into the atrocities of time.  I will stand on my own two feet on a firm and knowing moral ground and to do so, I must know what that ground is. And I need your help to find it.

Let us consider that the quality of living is comprised of a rather simple fundamental claim: you have found existence an acceptable outcome to the result of being born. You have decided to live is worthwhile.  Considering this premise as true we see that the quality of existence is bound by our capacity to suffer. When the threshold of suffering is surpassed, one can say that we can no longer justify the conditions of existence. It is significant that we view this claim earnestly, and not purely theoretically, because accepting it means accepting its devastating ramifications. Your answer to the ‘justification of life’ problem forms your reason to continue to exist, implying that if we answer this question incorrectly, (and I believe there are incorrect answers), then we become seriously dangerous to ourselves and society. Because the thought of a life filled with suffering until you just die is not acceptable to most of us, we must understand the mechanism we use to combat the limitation of suffering.


Consider when we tell someone on the brink of self-destructive behavior to “Think of all you have to live for!” It is not the actual “things” we have to live for that is significant in this example but the quality of considering that there are in fact things you have to live for. It’s a subtle but powerful distinction. That claim is based on a perspective that justifies the individual’s existence through the force of value.

The concept of Evil is so deeply frightening because it seeks to undermine this justification for existence. Manifestations of Evil induce such spine-chilling reactions because they affirm that there exist a set of actions that voluntarily seek to annihilate value from existence. That claim has the terrible ramification then that a set of activities is available to us that can produce that sort of outcome. What keeps me up at night is the implication that there then must exist a prerequisite set of activities that can build up one’s capacity to carry out evil deeds that can traced back to a chain of decisions and ultimately, a mode of living that leads one down this path. We are capable of being evil, and we may never know when we become compliant with it.

Actively decoupling value from objective reality was a skill the Nazi’s had perfected. Let us consider the common practice of guards to force prisoners to carry 100 pound sacks of wet salt from one end of the prison yard to the other for no reason whatsoever. Upon consideration, the malevolence of this activity becomes chilling. They have already stripped the prisoners of every inkling of culture and identity, leaving them in complete physical and emotional despair; there had been an active system of abuse applied to push them towards the edge of justifiable suffering. However, this abuse was perpetuated within a framework that still accepted the fundamental notion of value. They narrowed the prisoner’s justifications for life to only one valuable quality: work. Work held the promise of survival and survival promised freedom.

Until the Nazi’s decouple the notion of value from work.

By forcing engagement in such a self-evidently meaningless activity, the Nazi’s were actively deconstructing the fundamental theory of existence with a cruel malevolence that is ghastly beyond belief. They were asserting to the prisoners not that they had no value, but that nothing had any value. First, they wag work in front of their faces as the only salvation, then they show them that their work cannot save them, nor better their condition. It has no utility…they will be killed at random in a world where they have absolutely no control over their destiny and activity they engage in in the interim is utterly meaningless.

The darkness of this perspective is…honestly, language fails me. It makes me sick and sad and deeply anxious. This is an emotion barely fit to be explored, and yet to live with it is as a valid interpretation of the world is almost unjustifiable. How can one exist when life holds no promise? How can we be capable of such atrocities as a species? To murder someone, to torture them, to hurt them emotionally and physically is one terrible, terrible thing, but to strip someone of any reason to live is a crime that I cannot fathom. What must happen for one to voluntarily carry out any action that does this to another living, breathing human? Imagine if you find that every single thing you have ever done, will ever do, or have ever even thought of doing is utterly and completely useless. What do you do next? What justifiable action do you take? What motivates you to take it? It is an ideological war that is won in one cruel, deft stroke. And it only serves to make the quote on the entrance gates to Auschwitz’s more sickening: “Work will set you Free.”

Though I have much more to say, I think it best to conclude this specific set of thoughts here. I have much more to read and think about before I can make any more claims and need to evaluate the validity of what I have written from a distance that only time can afford. But let me end with this; evil exists. And it exists in small, daily interactions and thoughts. I have seen that when you leave the loving embrace of teachers and friends who protect you from it, the world will suddenly push and pull your character to mold you into a compliant member of society.

And I have seen that if we do not pay attention to who we are becoming, carefully guarding our light and monitoring our own character against the gentle darkness, we will become the product of another man’s mind. And when you are no longer master of yourself, history warns us that you become capable of terrible, terrible atrocities. It will not happen in one flash of activity that is self-evidently evil, but over time they will guide you towards actions of terrible consequence. This is not a theory; it is history. A history that I fear.

I intend to discover evil in its embryonic stages so that I can take every possible step to stay as far away from it as possible, and then become strong enough to fight it. It is this pursuit that I humbly ask your help on. Help me see what I’m missing. Challenge me. Argue with me. Agree with me. Build with me. My own mind is too small and fragile and narrow.

I am asking for the power of your mind to strengthen my soul.

Fight on courageously and let no man tell you who you are to become.


Siddharth Kumar


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5 thoughts on “Chapter I: First Cry

  1. Dear Siddharth,

    I must start of by saying that I am in complete awe of your mind; this series seems incredibly promising, and I will be certain to follow it.

    Though I agree whole-heartedly with your position on the dangers of evil, I would like to hear your answer to this question: can it not be argued that evil, in part, is responsible for the creation of value? That is to say, without evil, the spectrum of value would become so compressed that all action becomes meaningless – and so life would continue on regardless of what decisions one makes, resulting in existence being meaningless.

    The development of one’s morality through one’s understanding of their free will – regardless of whether they choose to act evil or not – gives actions their value, thus creating the drive to continue living and making choices. If the choice to act evil is not apparent, then it undermines the value of the other choices presented; therefore, it may be said that all manifestations of evil in our history, and the evil within ourselves, serve as a sort of periodic reminder of the value of life. Thus, distancing oneself entirely from experiencing evil (at least to a small extent) would lead to moral stagnation, rather than improvement – evil gives us a reason to search for something better within ourselves, as well as in others, as long as it does not reach the point where it makes life meaningless.

    Then the question would be, where, exactly, is the tipping point?

    I would also ask this: to what extent does one have control over their own capacity to do evil? Our society is built around the concept of free will, and so it is justifiable to punish another human for their evil deeds; however, we are not in control over our environment, which exerts an influence upon us. For example, it may be argued that all of my current thoughts are a product of my circumstances and not of my will; in the same manner, can it not be said that all evil can be traced back to factors rooted in the physical world (even if said factors are merely impulses of the brain)? And because we do not have as much control as we would like to believe over our circumstances, can we honestly blame an individual for acting in an evil manner?

    I’d like to end off by thanking you for posting such thoughtful pieces. I will be looking forward to your future blogs!


    1. Hi tarannum,

      thank you for taking the time to read it and comment, I really appreciate it. You’ve posed some interesting rebuttals, so let me see if I can rebut each one separately.

      Firstly, I disagree with your claim that Evil is responsible for the creation of value, because it is not the antithesis of value. The antithesis of value is no value. It is the ability to see something as valueless. Evil is the act of destroying value and destabilizing existence. The simplest example if this is our own lives. I assert that neither me nor you have ever experienced evil in our own lives, and yet we are capable of developing a value system. In fact, the majority of our value system if not based on the opposite of the value itself. Your value in education is not likely built on the fear of illiteracy so much as the promise of the future it opens up. The development of value is an internal process that we carry out regardless of the limitations of our external circumstances. This is explored in Viktor Frankl’s analysis of the psychology of the prison camps “Man’s Search for Meaning”. As a survivor of the Nazi death camps, Frankl argues that it was the self-development of small value in everyday prison camp life that allowed some to survive and hold onto their mental strength. So, if me and you can create value without evil, and Frankl could create it with, does this not destabilize your claim?
      Now to your second point, I would tweak your claim to say that it is in weighing two options of different and opposing moral outcomes that gives actions their moral value, not activities of evil and good. This is because evil is an outcome of morally based choices, not the choice itself, which is why I assert that there are decisions and a way of life that can lead to evil. So, if the choice to act in a fashion that is destructive is not apparent, I agree that opposing choices lose their significance. I also cede that manifestations of evil serve as reminders of the significance of life, but your next claim that this serves as a causal link to why evil is a necessary experience is false in my opinion.
      First I must make clear that I do not believe any of us have ever experienced evil in our lives. We have experienced injustice, immorality, brutality perhaps but not an outward display of evil. An experience with evil by all accounts I can find leaves a permanent and deep psychological scar on one’s mind, and so destroys the ability to develop a social identity, especially at our age. Perhaps I am wrong, and I apologize if anyone takes offense to this.
      But the notion that one must experience evil, even in small doses is not true much in the same way that experiencing drugs is necessary to understand why we shouldn’t do them. Evil is not what inspires us to seek for moral improvement, but our immoralities and our knowledge of Evil. Moral stagnation is not a concept I believe in, because every single decision made and consequence lived provides us with an almost infinite amount of moral lessons that force us to level up our own game. It is a simplification to say we need Evil to push our moral boundaries. Ask the child who broke his mother’s vase if he needs any more of a circumstance to push his own moral boundary of integrity.
      Now to your second claim I will offer that you read Frankl’s book aforementioned. If all of your thoughts are a product of your thoughts are a product of your circumstance, then you have contradicted your own claim that free will is what develops value because you have ceded your will to your environment and therefore, in your own words are living a “meaningless” life. We can absolutely blame an individual for his evil acts. Because though evil may be an insidious pathway that is not always apparent, we must hold one another to a moral standard that is unwavering. The Nuremberg Trials made one thing certain, it was not a justifiable claim to state that one was following the orders of an authority figure when committing crimes against humanity. I bring this up because it shows that as a global community we have already answered your question “can we honestly blame an individual for acting in an evil manner” when they are surrounded by evil circumstances. The answer is yes. Frankl’s main claim was that prisoners were responsible for developing a psychological state that allowed them to find value and beauty in the darkness of the camps if they were to survive, meaning that it was in spite of their circumstances that they were able and find reasons to survive. Much in the same way, regardless of circumstance, we must exercise our own capacity to follow through a positive moral compass in spite of circumstance.
      This is in fact my final claim. There will be a time when we are surrounded by immorality and “uncertain” moral grounds, and in this time, you are 100% responsible for your actions, albeit your circumstance. This is why we must educate and fight to mold our own minds and not be shaped by others, because there is an inherent and major danger in your claim that we are not responsible for our morality. For if neither me or you are, then evil and atrocity is not our fault. But history will no remember it as such.
      Thank you again for your thoughts Tarannum, I really appreciate it! My apologies if anything came across as combative, but I think that’s the fun of this forum. We can argue and banter ideas and really test one another. I appreciate your courage and your willingness. I look forward to hearing from you again.

  2. Dear Siddarth,

    What a pleasant surprise it was to see that you posted the first part of your series – I’ve been excitedly waiting to see what you had in store. I am just flabbergasted by the amount of wisdom and knowledge you were able to share in such a wonderfully worded manner. Your points were thought provoking and most certainly articulate – as you anticipated! Though I understand your fear that busy students will not be able to make time to read your blogs, I implore you to continue making them. If you are making good quality content – as you have – people are bound to invest in it; have faith in the process.

    As far as the points brought forth in your blog I agreed with the majority of the points you raised but also found myself questioning them (as is my nature). There was a continual mentioning of this darkness within every individual lying in wait to be ignited (correct me if I interpreted that incorrectly) which I agree with but I do not necessarily think it is our responsibilities as individuals to constantly ensure that it is being tended to. If we were to live like this I feel like that would lead to an issue of insanity and paranoia that would ultimately result in the very thing that was being avoided in the first place, no?

    Perhaps, rather than it being our responsibility to ensure we are “monitoring our own character against the gentle darkness” rather we should be “monitoring” the character of those we keep acquainted with. Seemingly cliche: you can tell a lot about a person by the people they keep around so is it not, to a greater extent, our duty to ensure we are keeping people in our lives who have morals and values which coincide with our own than attempting to caution a force that is an uncontrolled variable?

    This is not to say that I do not appreciate introspection, it is one of my greatest values; rather, I am questioning the validity of monitoring a darkness that has been within us all along, which cannot be altered, versus monitoring the darkness with the people in our lives, which can. (I really hope that made sense, I am sorry if it didn’t.)

    Further, to relate a tad to the whole introspection bit when you ended your post with “Fight on courageously and let no man tell you who you are to become” is that not a tad counter intuitive as it is the responsibility of each individual to determine who they wish to become, to some extent?

    Whew, consider yourself challenged! Once again, I really did love your blog, it gave me a lot to think about which I am so grateful for. As I said before, I am willing to support you in this, as I am sure many others are also, you will need to continue posting for that to happen.


    1. Hey Ibukun,

      First off thank you for your comment. I am sorry that it’s taken me so long to get back to you, but it’s been incredibly hectic here and I wanted to spend time crafting a response that befits your question. I really appreciate your engagement with this series from day 1 and hope that you keep contributing.

      So let’s consider your first argument: a constant energy expenditure on monitoring one’s own darkness would lead to an overwrought mind. I think the way you framed the question was very intelligent, because it reveals the human limitation of human energy. We get tired! Now I actually agree with you on the basis of personal experience. A constant, fearful monitoring of one’s mind with the intent of avoiding evil is a deeply emotionally and mentally challenging pursuit. But I argue that the pursuit of a vigilant mind that seeks to do good achieves not only the same, but perhaps even more beneficial results. Now we run into the problem of what is good. I think that the most efficient way of pursuing this is in the earnest pursuit of self-improvement. Seeking to resolve our own minor moral inconsistencies on a daily basis develops our moral courage and strength. As we pursue the path of self-reflection and self-improvement, we actually benefit the world around us by being less pathological. Imagine if every bully in the world managed to solve the deeper-rooted issues that drive them early on, how many fewer warring adults we would have. Now I think this claim holds weight because it develops moral courage without necessarily embattling us in moral decisions. See there is s set of things that we all know we should do in our lives, but do not. Perhaps it is fear, anxiety, sloth. Within this there exists a subset of things that are actively hurting us by not doing, although perhaps not greatly. If we can find the power to resolve these issues then we are growing our own moral strength by doing something we can actively see as being “good” without any sort of moral weightage of bad that we suffer for not resolving it, because you’ve been living comfortably enough without it. In this way, we can circumvent the neurotic approach of self-monitoring evil and replace it with self-improvement, because it is a reasonable base claim that our improvements are inherently socially beneficial qualities and therefore, “good” on a meta scale.

      Now, your claim as to the monitoring of each other’s evil I believe to be false and ineffective. We can reasonably claim that this is actually a system that we already follow in our pre-existing social structures. We use social pressure and “group” morality to ensure that we don’t break into chaos at any moment, which is why you worry about your friend when they act uncharacteristically negative or why we punish kids for hitting each other. We already use this. And it works to the degree that we encounter regular emotional phenomena. However Evil is not normal and had this approach been true, Hitler would have been a lone quack. But we know through history that when Evil is approached, group morality is meaningless. Look to the Gulag’s of Soviet Russia, or the SS officers of Nazi Germany, entire groups of seemingly regular people who suddenly shifted to an entirely new system of morality. Now we can micro-scale the argument and apply it so me and you. Think about how hard it is for me to change your opinion about any one thing. If you have an emotional response that is indicative of evil intentions, then why should you banish it at my word? History is evidence that this claim is false. The reason this argument falls apart is that it fails to consider the complexity of human interaction and emotional persuasion. Certain emotions are addictive and as opposed to finding ourselves fighting each other’s evil we find it as permission to pursue our own. I think you might find it insightful to look into the Stanford Prison experiment as further evidence!

      Finally, I think you may have walked yourself into a corner with your last point! It is because it’s your responsibility to become your own person that you need to make sure you don’t let anyone tell you who to become. That’s the point!

      Again, thank you so so much for your questions because they offered me a new piece of the puzzle in answering them. This set forced me to consider the role of self-improvement and I had never really fleshed that concept out, so thank you. I really appreciate your support and hope to hear from you and your friends soon! I am working on the next instalment as we speak.


  3. Dear Siddharth,

    Goodness, I loved your response! Though I agreed with you from the beginning, hearing your response has made me see and understand the nuances of your argument much more clearly. I am even more excited to see what you have in store for us next!

    Please do not worry about coming across as “combative”; so long as one targets an idea and not a person, rebuttals aid in the development of arguments. I, personally, was rather curious to see how you would respond to my questions (though they are not reflective of my opinions), and I found that our reasoning has many more similarities than differences. It was interesting, to put it simply, and I truly hope to see more blogs like this. You have the support of the class, so please continue posting!


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