The Problem of Evil

A question asked on the conculture mailing list:

How do our various cultures — especially the non-human ones, and also especially the non-terran ones — view this Problem of Evil? Or do they even recognise it as a principle? Or do they see Good as the Problem…? Also, is Evil a “real thing” or a by-product of cultural evolution in a people?

Well, now.

The eldrae don’t really think of Good and Evil as contending cosmic principles.  Those would more accurately be described as Light and Dark – on the one hand, the Flame, the cosmic positive principle of volition, creation, excellence, and energy, and the Darkness, the negative cosmic principle of chaos, destruction, and entropy.  But while Dark may be Evil, in many if not all of its aspects, Light is not exactly Good (and nor is it, well, terribly nice – at least by human moral standards).  Unless you happen to identify the good really strongly with beauty, excellence, negentropy, obligation, the inevitable march of progress, and remorselessly enforced free will, anyway.

Neither of them is personified, strictly speaking.  Light arguably is in the form of the eikones (personifications of concepts) as a whole, but none of them represents the Light itself; they’re shards of it seen through a prism, individual colors derived from the light of the Flame.  Meanwhile, Darkness —

Well, that gets into beginnings.  The fundamental tenet of eldraeic theology is that the universe is fundamentally broken.  It obviously shouldn’t be, but something went wrong at some point, and we’re stuck with it.  (Explanations vary; the Church of the Flame doesn’t really have a consistent creation myth.  One common postulate is that it’s down to Aldéré, Divine Ignition, creator goddess of the eikones, being mad as a hatful of badgers inasmuch as creation is the only thing that matters, and what happens afterwards is “not her department”, which is why she coos every bit as much over the creation of say, Ebola, as the creation of a magnificent work of art; but there are many alternative cosmogonies.)  The Darkness is this brokenness; it’s entropy and its consequences, the reason we live in an imperfect universe in which energy dissipates, destruction doesn’t always lead to new creation, information can be lost, people die, flaws go unamended, and assorted other offenses against The Way Things Ought To Be In A Proper, Perfect Universe persist in happening.

(And that, of course, is just physical entropy.  Mental-spiritual entropy is also responsible for choice-theft and parasitism and envy and sloth and cacophilia and destructionism and humility and most of the other sins in the book.)

It’s almost gnostic, in a way, except that while the gnostics would claim that matter and the material world are inherently evil, the Flamics would claim that matter itself strives, self-organizing into stars and worlds and galaxies, crystals and snowflakes, and life, life everywhere, in one great outcry against the deathward fall of the universe, until eventually it produced sophont life, whose purpose, such as it is, is to continue to strive to make the universe better, and eventually fix it completely, restoring it to the flawless state it always should have had.

“Anything that is broken can be repaired.”

So, to return to the original question, evil (or Darkness, rather) doesn’t have an independent existence per se; it’s merely inherent in the flawed nature of the universe and everything within it.  In sophont terms, it’s that little inner voice that encourages people to take short cuts, to be satisfied with less, to be less than they can be, to bring others down rather than raise themselves up (relative status systems are, they would say, very entropic), to not strive, not achieve, not improve, and to prevent others from doing so.  That’s the hole in the world trying to suck out your awesome; good, or Light rather, consists of not letting it.  But it is a distinctly identifiable concept you can point to, and say “that’s it”.

(More on some related concepts at Blue and Orange Morality and Little Darknesses.)