2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: Evil by Julia Shaw

OK, kudos to Julia Shaw for a VERY thought-provoking book – albeit one that I often disagreed with… Shaw has put together an interesting argument and analysis in support of it. I can agree with her basic premise that knee-jerk “that/he/she is EVIL!” pronouncements based on a small number of “facts” and/or singular details is destructive not only to the person/thing being pronounced but also to society as a whole because it oversimplifies and “other-izes” and ignores all of the shades of nuance and grey that underpin the world. BUT, that said, I cannot agree with her that this basically means everything/everyone is on a spectrum of ok-ness and we just need to understand the point of view of the thing/person and then everything is magically acceptable…

(Yes, I know I’ve over-simplified things a bit there, but bear with me.)

This is a great book for discomfort – and discomfort is a great thing when it comes to ideas. I am a lawyer by training and a philosophy student by education. I really enjoy considering where ideas come from and what underpins them, and enjoy having my perspective challenged. It’s uncomfortable at times, but it’s valuable precisely because of the tendency to oversimplify/other-ize mentioned above. The world is a complex place and the people within it even more so – motivations shift, as do perspectives, and it’s important to understand where opinions (and the “facts” we rely on to form them) come from. Shaw draws attention to all of this, and does a masterful job doing so. She has a generally engaging and easy-going writing style, even when addressing dicey topics that make most of us squirm. I like the way she focused on various types of so-called evil – from people with predilections to intangibles, her broad range 0f sub-categories was thorough and thought-provoking particularly in the comparisons/contrasts that it raised in my mind while reading.

BUT. (And you knew there’d be a but…) I just can’t say that I agree with the concept that there really is no such thing as evil. Her point that human slavery is just a continuum point away from Wal-Mart just doesn’t cut it for me. There’s a moral relativism here that I am struggling with mightily – while I certainly don’t agree that the presence of middlemen make bad acts magically good or less bad, I also can’t agree that a person’s conscious decision to intentionally do something with complete and utter disregard for the consequences to any-/everyone but themselves, knowing what those consequences will be, is somehow on par with a decision to sell cheaply made products from China. BUT (yes, another one) I DON’T HAVE TO agree or understand to have found the book a fascinating argument about the state of the world, the position of privilege many of us reside in within it, or the difficulty in comprehending the motivations behind actions we cannot imagine committing…

That’s the beauty of the book – while it infuriated me in many places, it did so because it made me question my own preconceptions and biases, and for that I say kudos to Ms. Shaw. There’s a LOT of food for thought here and even if I’m not 100% sure of the nutritional value of all of it, it was still satisfying…

Thanks to NetGalley for my review copy.

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