The bad guy. The villain. Such a dramatic figure. Such an appealing concept.
If there’s a bad guy, all we have to do is defeat him and all will be well, right? He’s the problem. He’s pure evil. Let’s get him!
Too bad it doesn’t really work that way.
This came up for me while watching the recent KONY2012 hubbub. The makers of the film that that launched a thousand articles seem to believe that if we could just get rid of Joseph Kony, things would get better. Don’t I wish.
From what I can tell, the root of evil is almost always regular people doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Take Hitler, for example – he was a bad man, certainly. However, if Germany had been in good shape in the 1920s and 30s, he would never have had a chance at leadership.
But it was struggling under the burden of post-WWI payments, sanctions, and disapproval; a burden imposed in an effort at justice for the suffering of the Great War, and at keeping Germany from causing any more conflict. This was the Allies going after the ‘bad guy’ of WWI.
In that harsh environment, Germans were ripe for anyone who promised a return to prosperity, dominance, and pride: guess who?
Hitler also played on their emotions by introducing some ‘bad guys’ of his own – the Jews, for example. He sold Germans on the idea that their suffering was the fault of Jewish ‘bad guys’ who had to be punished and eliminated. In their misery and desperation, they bought it, and followed him into untold evil.
So what does going after the ‘evil bad guy’ get us? At best, not much. At worst, more evil. It’s important to resist this dramatic, oversimplified narrative – to realise that the real solutions are more subtle, more complex, and more effective.