The basic meaning of evil is to be found, not in fantastic images of the satanic, but in the plainer, more down-to-earth matter of doing harm, whether by aggressive assault or more passive disregard for human life and well-being. I said “human” because our attention has been focused most often upon the evils people do to each other, and upon reflection, we should add the damage people do to themselves because when evil is understood as harm, self-destruction may be considered evil, also, without necessarily becoming a matter of blame. Is cruelty inflicted upon earth’s non-speaking creatures not, then, evil? Indeed it is, whether done as the kind of brutality and neglect visited upon pets that makes for raging headlines and public outcries for punishment or as the routine destruction of animal environs that quietly kills off species. If, through biblical knowledge or other ways of thought that lead us to a sense of our stewardship responsibility for this planet, we are moved to see ourselves as care-takers for the earth rather than privileged overlords, then harm done to ecosystems as such may rightly be called evil also.
What, then, do I mean by “the current evil”? I am seeking to identify a source of great harm being done on earth these days, a contemporary evil with powerful and pervasive destructive force doing widespread and increasing damage to life on earth. As usual, evil so great and powerful must be couched in terms that make it sound reasonable and right, even inevitable in the course of human development. Such great evil must sound proper if not downright good and virtuous.
The two words are spoken as a command but also as a reasonable and well-recognized goal, a given elevated beyond question. They are: “maximize profits.” Not “make a profit” or even a nice profit. Not even “increase profits,” although that’s a step closer, sometimes. It’s not hard to imagine, though, a certain desperation even in that phrase when it speaks of a pressing concern, as in, “We must increase our profits soon, or we will not be able to stay in business.” No, the word that pushes the business necessity of making money over the line is “maximize.”