The Different Perspectives on the Definition of Evil on Example Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy

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Let's play a simple game to begin this. Which of the following is considered more evil: Letting someone die or killing someone? It's significantly difficult with just these two simple phrases but perhaps some context for these situations would help in that decision: Letting someone die by not fixing something they need in order to live, such as their water, or killing an enemy in a war who could kill you. The context helped in order to reach the decision you made. Both of these are clearly evil and our judging of them became easier with the added context since we have difficulty defining ideas without context. This is how our minds work for most ideas, be it how people act or in this case, how we define evil. Evil, as described in the Merriam Webster dictionary, is "Something or someone morally representable". The only way we can define evil is by the means of context in which it appears. This varies based on a worldly, national, state and person based levels. In short, evil is in the eye of viewer.

When someone says the word evil, many things and ideas come forward in our mind. The most common of these are usually in the vein of murder, theft, manipulation and crime in general. These are the most well-known archetypes of evil and follow the definition of evil, being morally repulsive. Angela Book (2014) explains that evil "is a concept familiar to many but has proven difficult to define and study" and that evil usually fall into the dark triad which is Machiavellianism (Defined by Book as manipulation, exploitation, and self-interest), Narcissism (defined by grandiosity, egotism and a lack of empathy) and psychopathy (antisociality, impulsivity, callousness and lack of remorse). Many of the archetypes mentioned before can easily fit into one of these 3 categories and with defining these categories more evil ideas are formed in our minds. With this new understanding of evil, allow me to explain the most well-known gray area of evil: war.

From a national level and even a worldly level, evil is more easily found and defined but one situation is commonly discussed that muddles our usual black and white view of evil, War. There are many forms of warfare banned by the United Nations and by nations themselves. These are called war crimes, an action that violates accepted international rules of war, and the Geneva Convention, which are a series of rules and regulations for the standards of human treatment during war times (Cornell Law, paragraph 1). Many of these banned acts are what most people would call evil and the most well-known are: torture, poison gas, and genocide. As with these acts, most of world agrees that the taking the life of another citizen from the same country or the stealing of another person's property. The reason we start a war is also a bit hard to explain in a few short sentences. Marlowe (2009) mentions that when we engage in a war we have difficulty figuring out if a war we entered was "a rebellion, a people's war, or when we were fighting." The main idea that differs between these countries is how they respond to crimes being committed and America is subpar on this aspect, primarily due to how they review them on their media.

When you turn on the news after an attack on someone or somewhere, we commonly see the assailant's face, name and identity splattered over the screen as though we have found a brand-new celebrity to gawk and chatter on for months about. Well-known names include Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. Our nation has a strange fascination with those who commit crimes. Almost all other countries prefer to mention the crime but only once without any information in the neighborhood of the criminal in question. Are we evil because of how our country covers evil characters or are less evil because we are reminded constantly of what you should never become? Based on how many of the serial killers and well-known criminals gain a new following upon their identity being found out, the logical assumption from this would be that our constant viewing of these evil individuals is wrongly done. Even our other forms of media and entertainment. As a country, can we truly say evil is evil when we savor the taste of it before us at almost every possible interval? If we continue to consume this visual and auditory onslaught of evil, do we eventually become numb to it and accept it just as we accept anything else we see on the news? Perhaps our discussion of a state based evil will give us a better understanding as to how evil is defined by how we view things.

Many states and cities have strange laws that passed years ago, that make little sense as being evil now, like Nevada's law of not riding a camel on the freeway or another state's law that prevents you from holding an ice cream cone in your back pants pocket. Now these are not evil but were at one point in the eyes of that government. This reinforces how different states have, or had, different version of evil. As to prevent my repetitious behavior, let's do an example of undocumented evil in our states. Based on the following description, please guess the time period of this event: A town of primarily minority people has lost their ability to get clean water to drink for several months at a time. Due to the contaminated water, multiple children were diagnosed with lead poisoning at varying levels and "E. coli And Total Coliform Bacteria were detected" in the water (Kennedy, paragraph 15). The most common guess for the time period of this event would be around the time period of Jim Crow laws and the racism that followed the civil war. This situation is currently taking place in a town called Flint which is in Michigan. I would like to draw your attention to currently. You might have heard about Flint a few months ago, in the news yet they are still under the effects of their politicians cutting corners and dooming the town. This is a textbook example of evil and for some unknown reason, no more news is being reported on this town. Perhaps it's due to another form of evil that stems from greed and other forms of sinful acts: corruption.

As a person, you and others have most likely preformed some actions you do not enjoy talking about. They spur embarrassment, shame and regret. It's a common trait in our society and even more common in others. The only fragment that seems original to this is that it lessens as your influence increases. Politicians, news anchors and celebrities all find ways to avoid or ignore following the law. Primarily, they become influenced by others to perform what we would call evil acts. Due to their affluence and high standing, they can merely buy their way out of the consequences of any action they perform. An example of this is the aforementioned situation that is still ongoing in Flint, Michigan. In this case, their actions and responses can both be counted as evil. Assuming you were able to spend a day in their lives, do you believe yourself to be of a good enough moral standing as to prevent falling for the same pitfalls they have fallen for or become another evil individual in the machine that is our country? In addendum, each person can find some way to justify their actions and it is a common thing between all races and creeds.

Let us go back to your main source of media one last time. We read through the headlines of a few stories, notice a few common traits like the killings or perhaps corruption of the government, and maybe read a story or two. A lot of the stories begin to sound extremely similar to each other. War crimes plague battlefields less and less as time moves on, the problems of race still afflict our country. You learn more about evil as you keep reading or watching the media you have chosen. The constantly shifting form that evil has and how each person views it in a completely different way. All this chatter on the topic still brings us back to the main way we view our examples that I have given: the media. This leads to my final question. What is more evil: the ignorance of not knowing or the muddied views we get if we only use one source of news and is this idea you believe to be fine really good or in reality evil that you have accepted as good?


  • Book, A., Visser, B. A., & Volk, A. A. (2014, September 7). Unpacking "evil": Claiming the core of the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 29-38. Retrieved November 21, 2016 from
  • Evil. 2016. In Retrieved December 10, 2016, from
  • Geneva Conventions. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2016, from
  • James, J & Prolux, J. (Eds.). (2016). Aggression and Violent Behavior
  • Kennedy, M. (2016, April 20). Lead-Laced Water In Flint: A Step-By-Step Look At The Makings Of A Crisis. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from
  • Marlowe, A. (2009, Summer). The Picture Awaits: The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from
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The Different Perspectives on the Definition of Evil on example Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. (2022, Dec 11). Retrieved September 25, 2023 , from

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